Nitin Mehta, Published in the Sunday Guardian, Mumbai, June 5 2021.
Over the last two months, the British media led by the BBC has continuously reported on the Covid deaths in India. Images of burning funeral pyres and grieving relatives were shown again and again. India, they said, was ill-prepared to fight the virus; some smug politicians were out of their depths they claimed. Vincent Cable, Liberal leader, called the scenes of public cremations as lighting up the sky like a recreation of Bosch’s hell. Bosch was a Dutch 16th-century painter whose description of hell was as a place of torture, monstrous creatures, and never-ending suffering. In this collective fetish to report on the misfortunes of India, the almost 150,000 deaths in the UK from Covid were forgotten. The 150,000 and more relatives of the dead would have to wait for an inquiry on the deaths which would take years.
However, an individual called Dominic Cummings, chief advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson between July 2019 and November 2020, has caused a sensation. In a House of Commons inquiry into the Covid issue, the former aide to the government has claimed that the government inaction and lack of strategy to fight Covid have resulted in “tens of thousands of deaths” which could have been avoided. He said the government under Boris Johnson had no sense of urgency or direction. At the outset of the pandemic in December 2019 and January 2020, it was not taken seriously. Up until mid-March 2020, the plan was to pursue “herd immunity”. Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwell suggested that Boris Johnson should address the nation and say that the herd immunity would be like Chicken Pox parties. A lockdown at this stage could have saved tens of thousands of lives and avoided the suffering of more than a million people living with long Covid. NHS lists the following ailments from which Covid individuals suffer:1. extreme tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath; 2. chest pain or tightness, problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”); 3. difficulty sleeping (insomnia), heart palpitations; 4. dizziness, pins, and needles, joint pain, depression and anxiety, tinnitus, earaches; 5. feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite, a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste; 6. Rashes.
Explaining the decision not to order a lockdown in September, Johnson was alleged to have said it was “only killing 80-year-olds”. Cummings claimed that the health secretary Matt Hancock had lied continuously during the pandemic. The Health Secretary had claimed that Covid tests were carried out on elderly patients going back to care homes from hospitals. This was only partially done. Around 25,000 patients were transferred to care homes without Covid checks to free up bed space in hospitals. Of the 48,213 Covid deaths registered between mid-March and mid-June 2020, 40% were care home residents. The toll could be even higher as there were around 35,000 extra deaths in care homes than normal. Up to 8,700 people died after catching Covid in hospitals. These poor people must have gone to the hospital for other health issues and died of Covid. According to the British Medical Journal, 850 health care workers died between March and December 2020. Around 52.000, NHS staff had to take sick leave due to Covid.
On the question of imposing a lockdown in October 2020, Johnson is alleged to have said that he would rather let bodies pile up high than impose another lockdown. Between March and April 2020, 9,96 million people were in transit from British airports when most countries had closed their borders. The way lucrative contracts were handed out to individuals and companies will also have to be investigated at some time. There is also the question of the Nightingale hospital built in ExCel for Covid patients. It was hardly used at all.
While the British media was busy reporting on India, the debacle we had here in the UK was diverted from the public’s consciousness. The only people who were searching for the answers were the relatives of those who died. Almost all of the media never visited them, never expressed their grief. Most of the British media actually tacitly supported the government’s version of events, instead of questioning the cause of Europe’s highest death toll from Covid-19.
Just like in India the, UK faced the challenge of coping with the burials or cremations of a huge number of people, and mass graves had been dug up in London to cope with the emergency. In his article on India, Liberal leader Vince Cable celebrated the fact that Britain is cheerfully looking forward to opening up, while India remains mired in the pandemic. However, even with partial opening, the number of Covid cases is rising and GP’s are reporting on a tsunami of patients as the country emerges from the pandemic. This virus is a tough nut to crack and some humility from political leaders and the press would not be out of place. The BBC urgently needs a complete overhaul and an independent body to keep a watch over it and the paper media needs to be bias-free and ethical in its reporting if it is to be taken seriously. media needs to be bias-free and ethical if its to be taken seriously seriously