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The limits of laissez-faire… and the crisis April 6, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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The news that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital on foot of continuing issues from catching the virus is telling. On a human level one has to feel sympathy for him. Any accounts of the progress of the virus in some people does not suggest that it is a pleasant experience for many who catch it, even short of the worst outcomes.

On a political level one has to wonder what the implications of Johnson removed, temporarily or permanently, from office might be – consider as an example Brexit. Johnson ducks and weaves, but perhaps that is preferable to the sheer certainty of others who might come into view on the Tory side in such a context.

Then there’s a broader level again, which is the sheer recklessness of the behaviour of British government members in the last while in the face of the crisis. Johnson himself took a most curious approach in the weeks and months leading up to his own illness as outlined here in the UK Independent.

And this sort of approach, one part seeming indifference, one part bombast, one part… well, I’ll leave it to others to describe, was of a piece with a broader approach by the UK government – something akin to laissez-faire. When the advice from the WHO was to shut down and constrain social, education and economic interactions their approach was to obfuscate and delay. Party this was driven by a most strange understanding, or lack of same, of ‘herd immunity’ that as soon as the actual blindingly obvious implications of what that approach would mean in terms of stressing and likely overwhelming the NHS were aired, was was reversed, albeit far too slowly. This has had knock on effects on this island, but given the nature of population densities and such like on the island of Britain such effects were always going to be even more problematic there.

Far too often one has had the sense that the sheer scale of what is happening just hasn’t been processed by those whose role and function was to do just that. We see this in various states, and far too often it is apparent this is driven – at least in part, by denial, complacency and ideological positions that simply do not engage with reality. In essence far too much of the political response has been built around rhetoric rather than fact. And often self-serving, albeit self-destructive, rhetoric at that. Andthis is of course typical of the politics more generally of those taking this approach as evidenced time and again over recent years.

There’s no such thing as light-touch government or laissez-faire in the face of a virus that can only be pushed back by states imposing restrictions on their citizens.

In response to Mr Johnson’s coronavirus diagnosis, Professor Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said: “A virus does not respect authority or position. From lowly virologists to powerful prime ministers, all of us are susceptible to infection.

“This news highlights just how easy it is for this virus to pass under the radar and spread through our communities.”

Comments»

1. EWI - April 6, 2020

And he’s now on a ventilator.

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WorldbyStorm - April 6, 2020

It’s a bit like that story of the tiger in the Bronx Zoo. The basic lack of care and attention and even precautions that allows a society to function in such a way that a tiger catches a disease not apparently easily transmissible to other animals from human (I’m not dissing the keeper who I have huge sympathy for and I hope is recovering, rather the lack of structures to prevent what would be in any reasonable context entirely preventable). And that anecdote, small and in some ways as long as no one dies perhaps even trivial, just seems to me to encapsulate the ‘nothing to see here folks’ attitude that has led to terrible outcomes.

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EWI - April 6, 2020

Just as with the aftermaths of WWI and WWII, there’s going to be a lack of public patience for ‘business as usual’. After those wars the clear channel was towards a more advanced form of social democracy, but the neo-libs are experts at spinning privatisation as the opposite in order to line their own pockets.

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CL - April 6, 2020

Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo “Because some of our animals are so closely related to people, especially our gorillas, we have primate protocols in place all the time,” Breheny said. “Whenever anybody works with primates, they will have masks on and face shields. That is both to protect the staff and protect the animals from any pathogens that might pass back and forth.”
https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-at-the-zoo-social-distancing-with-gorillas.html

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Dermot M O Connor - April 6, 2020

For a man constantly flaunting his ‘classical knowledge’, you’d think he’d be familiar with the story of Hubris and Nemesis.

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Pasionario - April 6, 2020
EWI - April 6, 2020

The ‘disinformation’ has been the UK gov’s statements as to his condition, as should be abundantly clear (I heard this from earlier from someone with access to such information on the Irish side).

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2. roddy - April 6, 2020

If its a Tamil Tiger ,Trump will be shouting conspiracy!

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3. makedoanmend - April 6, 2020

You have to wonder what constitutes the components of a laissez-faire attitude in this particular instance. I can’t help but feel that most of us in affluent societies really don’t understand the huge implications of large social disruptions of any sort, and of course we haven’t experienced a debilitating pandemic in over a generation. This later may explain why I see so many people still seem somewhat cavalier in their individualistic responses, as if social restrictions in these pandemic circumstances are in any way onerous. A cult of the self?

I would contend that Merkel and Johnson hold equivalent economic philosophies. Yet Germany’s response to the pandemic, while low key in MSM terms, seems to have been informed by a need to systematise a response (especially focusing on testing/screening) based on hard scientific evidence according to an article on RTÉ today while the govt. of the UK really let itself be lead by a fundamentalist social belief in laissez faire as a guiding principle. I also think a bit of hubris has certainly set into the Tory party and many neo-liberal economic parties in general. Some leaders may have confused their ability to hood-wink the public with PR shenanigans as an ability to control all situations to their advantage. As the good scientist cited in this piece states – viruses don’t do politics and belief.

And, of course, capital and its too numerous cheer leaders in the MSM are ramping up their cries for a return to “normality” with each passing day. Today’s Guardian does it’s usual run with the hare and hunt with the hounds reporting – mixing articles with social concern but still mentioning the initial herd-immunity policy bs when it can.

Maybe the illness of PM Johnson, and hopefully his full recovery, might change a few attitudes in the UK. But I won’t be holding my breath.

It’s all so depressing on so many, many levels.

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4. Joe - April 6, 2020

One of the big puzzles in all this is the (on the face of it) wide variations in death rates in countries within western Europe. Maybe it’s early days but Germany seems to have maintained a very, very low death rate among people who get the virus compared to say Italy, Spain, the UK.
There are so many factors and actors involved everywhere that it will take some serious study after the event. But that serious study would be very worthwhile if countries could learn from it and put stuff in place to prevent such high death rates the next time.

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WorldbyStorm - April 6, 2020

Interesting piece in the Guardian that argued federalism rather than a centralised health service in Germany was in part responsible, allowing amore flexible response and greater involvement by other agencies. I don’t know enough to comment. Might post that up and see if others would know better. Agree many factors involved. This BCG thing seems to be a bit more than a rumour, though it is obviously not a silver bullet, but if it blunts the virus that’s a good thing.

Thought Holohon’s comment this evening was solid:

“Tony Holohan says he has seen evidence for the last 10 days that we are “flattening the curve”. They should manifest themselves in the figures this week. “As we get to the end of this week, we will see what the full impact of this will be. We think we will hit a peak from here. We are continuing to grow in optimism that we will push the peak out and soften it:”. He says the HSE is not in a position to test everyone who should be tested. They are trying to build the laboratory capacity. “We will lift restrictions when the disease starts behaving like we would like it to behave”.”

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tafkaGW - April 6, 2020

Ok – briefly on Germany.

1. A lab in Berlin associated with the Charité in the first half of January saw the pandemic coming, and developed a qPCR lab test based on Chinese samples. This test protocol was given away at cost to a large number of test labs internationally, an in Germany some public the capability to test was genuinely as opposed to ramped up. This meant Germany was able to test suspected cases on a profligate scale. In Berlin for instance only 8% of the people tested turned out to be positive. This meant test coverage was good and contacts could be traced to persuade them to go into isolation. It’s the second hop in an infection chain that you want to get to ASAP. It also means you can get to people who may develop serious illness earlier.

2. The number of hospital beds per head of the population here is higher than anywhere else in Europe, including the UK. There are also a large number of ICU units with, as importantly, staff trained to run them. This leads to a lower death rate.

3. There’s a good pharmaceutical and biotechnology academic and commercial base, capable of researching and producing, for example, test kits.

4. The policy has been driven by virologists and epidemiologists, and politicians have been willing to listen to them. It sticks in my craw to say it, but Jens Spahn, the CDU health minister is intelligent and effective in a crisis, however repulsive his politics may otherwise be.

5. There is a general acceptance in the population, apart from a minority of the need for a lockdown, and the policy has been evidenced based again in allowing people to get exercise and escape from their flats within reason. I think part of this is the fact that the government stepped in quickly with rapid support of workers, small to medium businesses and the self-employed.

6. Coming down the line there is active development of an app which will combine the ability to warn people who have been in contact with a verified case while preserving anonymity and privacy. That will be an interesting job of convincing people that it should come into widespread use. Modelling suggests that this could automate contact tracing and drive the virus transmission rates down. Watch that space.

7. Genuine devolution of administration has meant that the measures have been introduced on the basis of a federal consensus, which means central and regional administration are pulling together in a coordinated way, and sharing the load.

8. The long tradition of Prussian public medicine, starting with Robert Koch, has survived. This meant the the first hot spots in Bayern and NRW were contained for a while, and a fair amount was learned about the disease in the process.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cyto.a.23999

The biggest threat are the voices of capital and their political representatives, who want to loosen the measures way before they are epidemiologically advisable, in order to minimise their losses, or even profit from churn in the classic disaster capitalist manner.

Anyhow this if just the first stages of the pandemic, it will be with us until we have a widely available vaccine, which will take at least a year. The relative success of Germany could change depending on what policy decisions are adopted in the longer run.

In Europe more widely it will depend on how the load is shared.

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tafkaGW - April 6, 2020

I typed in a longish reply Joe, but it seems to disappeared into the WordPress aether, and I haven’t got the energy to repeat myself.

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tafkaGW - April 6, 2020

No it hasn’t. Phew. Apologies for typos – written in haste.

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Joe - April 6, 2020

Thanks TGW. There’s plenty there to look at. Two things that stand out – 1.Germany seems to have prepared earlier, particularly around ensuring they had the testing capability for when the pandemic hit and 2. More hospital beds and icu beds and basically a better acute hospital service than basically anywhere else.
If the figures stay similar to what they are, everyone should be looking at Germany and trying to replicate what they’ve done and what they have in terms of facilities.

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WorldbyStorm - April 6, 2020

Fantastic overview TAFKA and your point in the following really resonates.

“The biggest threat are the voices of capital and their political representatives, who want to loosen the measures way before they are epidemiologically advisable, in order to minimise their losses, or even profit from churn in the classic disaster capitalist manner.”

BTW, I suspect some of us here share your conflicted feelings, albeit on a more local basis, re the CDU Minister.

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CL - April 6, 2020

“Germany has drawn up a list of steps, including mandatory mask-wearing in public, limits on gatherings and the rapid tracing of infection chains, to help enable a phased return to normal life after its coronavirus lockdown is set to end on April 19.
the Interior Ministry ….says the measures should be enough to keep the average number of people infected by one person below 1 even as public life is allowed gradually to resume….
The document envisages a staged return to normality, backed by mechanisms that will make it possible to track more than 80% of people with whom an infected person had contact within 24 hours of diagnosis. Infected people and those they had contact with will be quarantined, either at home or in hotels….
The document assumes the pandemic will last until 2021….
As soon as enough protective masks are available, it will be made compulsory to wear them on trains and in buses as well as in factories and public buildings.”
https://www.france24.com/en/20200406-germany-outlines-plan-for-scaling-back-coronavirus-lockdown

“Germany still needs to increase its coronavirus testing rate dramatically if it wants to successfully manage the virus, scientists are advising the government.
The country has the capacity to carry out up to 500,000 tests a week, but must increase that to more than a million, or 200,000 tests a day, they say. This is despite other countries looking to Germany because of its comparatively high testing rate and relatively low death rate from Covid-19 of under 1%.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/02/germany-told-it-needs-to-massively-increase-coronavirus-testing

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5. Tomboktu - April 6, 2020

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WorldbyStorm - April 6, 2020

Words fail me.

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Tomboktu - April 6, 2020

Guardian reporting that No 10 was lying recently about his health.

The only delay that I think is justified is about an hour while family are phoned before the country is told.

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WorldbyStorm - April 6, 2020

Yes completely agree.

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Tomboktu - April 7, 2020

From a locked account on twitter

If I read “no matter your politics” one more time. Actually, politics do matter. Always. I wish him well. But that’s because of my politics, not in spite of it. It matters to me if people die from governmental negligence. Every life counts. Politics is very much the matter.

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Dermot M O Connor - April 7, 2020

Noticed this phrasing in the indo:

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/uk-prime-minister-boris-johnson-moved-to-intensive-care-in-hospital-after-coronavirus-symptoms-worsen-39108370.html

QUOTE: Buckingham Palace said the Queen was being kept informed by Downing Street about the condition of Mr Johnson – the 14th prime minister of her reign.UNQUOTE

Implied: the old woman can expect #15 soon.
Not subtle!

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CL - April 7, 2020

“There is a chance that a change of tack, with a real commitment to “test and trace”, could make the difference, but all the indications are that the health establishment will block any such move.
And if Johnson showed no sign of understanding the issues, there is no likelihood of Raab proving any better. Between a prime minister, potentially unconscious under heavy sedation in intensive care, and his (so far) healthy deputy, there is very little difference. As long as we have our present system of government, it wouldn’t make an awful lot of difference if we had a zombie at the helm.”-
Richard North.
http://eureferendum.com

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6. Joe - April 7, 2020

Trump is literally a snake-oil salesman.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/07/trump-i-have-asked-us-pharma-ceos-to-offer-johnson-experimental-covid-19-treatments
I hope the doctors in St Thomas’ have given a clear message to the security staff not to let these fakirs past the front gate.

Liked by 1 person

7. tomasoflatharta - April 7, 2020

A bombshell story appears on the same day that most Mainstream Media Outlets Worldwide are Over-Blitzing readers about the British Prime Minister staying in hospital.

Leading London hospitals are running short of vital equipment in intensive care wards, including blood dialysis machines needed to treat patients suffering from coronavirus-related kidney failure, according to a leaked memo. The shortages, which go far beyond concerns about the lack of ventilators and protective equipment, emerged from a conference call of some 80 senior National Health Service doctors. They illustrate the way Covid-19 can damage much more than the lungs and respiratory system in patients who become seriously ill — affecting the kidneys, heart and occasionally even the brain. The 1,000-word memo, seen by the Financial Times, is written by Daniel Martin, head of intensive care for serious infectious diseases at the Royal Free Hospital. It paints a picture of doctors and nurses still scrambling to develop treatments for coronavirus as the shortages bite.

The Financial Times Uses Excellent Editorial Judgement – Covid-19 Can Trigger Multi-Organ Failure – Critical Shortage of Dialysis Machines in the British State – “Johnson remains in hospital” a minor story. https://tomasoflatharta.wordpress.com/2020/04/07/dialysis-machine-shortages-lay-bare-wider-threat-from-covid-19-bombshell-story-from-the-financial-times-april-7-2020/

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