by Ben Soton
Blinded by Corona: How the Pandemic Ruined Britain's Health and Wealth and What to Do about It by John Ashton, Gibson Square Publishers 2020. Paperback: 256pp; £12.99. Hardback: 256pp; £40. Kindle: 256pp. file size: 461k; £5.99.
IN THE months and years ahead there will be numerous articles, books and even television dramas about COVID-19. With this in mind, John Aston’s book will be one amongst many critiques of how the pandemic was handled and for the most part mishandled.
Prof Ashton’s book is without doubt a mine of useful information. The author, who is one of the world’s leading experts on public health, gives accounts of previous plagues starting with the Black Death, which hit Europe in the 14th Century. Cholera came in the 19th century; Spanish Flu after the First World War, and more recently the SARS and Swine Flu pandemics of the early 21st Century.
The book lists the Tory Government’s litany of mistakes and failure to act. These include Boris Johnson’s failure to attend COBRA meetings in the early stages of the pandemic. At the same time David Halpern, the head of the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team, was stating that self-isolation would encourage people to take unnecessary time off work.
A chapter is devoted to the infamous concept of ‘herd immunity’ as misappropriated and advocated by Dominic Cummings and upheld by the Trump administration and the Brazilian regime, to let the plague run uncontrollably through the population to devastating effect even though, as Prof Ashton explains, the best way to achieve herd immunity is through vaccination. But the Johnson Government’s greatest blunder was ordering the first lockdown too late and then easing it before even its own criteria had been met.
In terms of which countries to follow in view of our Government’s disastrous response, there have been numerous alternative models. The real left has looked to Democratic Korea (DPRK), which has kept the plague completely out of the country, and Cuba, People’s China and Vietnam, who all acted promptly and have seen a low death toll.
Cuba and China even sent medical aid to European Union member states such as Italy. The EU’s response was to fine pandemic-ridden Italy for infringements of EU Competition Law. Meanwhile anti-lockdown campaigners talked-up the ‘Swedish model’ – a Nordic version of ‘herd immunity’ that eventually led to the worst death toll in Scandinavia.
For his part John Ashton prefers the Bahrain model and the effective way in which this oil-rich island kingdom beat back COVID-19. Not sure why he calls this feudal Arab Gulf state a “constitutional monarchy” but perhaps it’s because he’s the Advisor to Bahrain’s COVID Task Force...
Prof Ashton makes several excellent observations but views the Governments failure largely in administrative terms.
He cites the downgrading of the position of Public Health Officer in recent years; a position largely a product of Victorian municipalism. In the same vein he also speaks highly of the ground-breaking work of Dr John Snow in dealing with the terrible cholera outbreak in 19th Century London.
The author, ably assisted by his wife, health specialist Maggi Morris, endorses the demands of the independent SAGE committee. These include strengthening the social safety net for vulnerable groups, the establishment of a sustainable health and social care infrastructure system rooted in the community, and an integrated Health and Social Care System. Sadly, he makes little obvious reference to the ongoing privatisation of the NHS that has been taking place under successive neo-liberal governments.
This book is an easy read and well worth reading as a useful source of information on the Government’s epic mishandling of the pandemic. It’s available from all high street bookshops and online booksellers.