Why, ask investigative journalists Calvert and Arbuthnott, is Britain’s Covid death toll “so tragically high”? Their answer in two words is Boris Johnson, due to his inclination for hands-off government, an instinct for herd immunity, and his distracting obsession with Brexit. If Boris had imposed an early lockdown, “between 6,700-13,400 people might have never have lost their lives”. Almost an indictment for manslaughter.
Yet, to establish Boris’s Covid culpability, Calvert and Arbuthnott resort to dubious methods. There is, for instance, the repeated half-truth that the UK has suffered “the most deaths from coronavirus in Europe”. Well, Britain’s population is a little larger than San Marino’s.
Per head of population, Slovenia, Belgium and the Czech Republic all have higher mortality rates. This is typical of the book’s lack of rigour.
Then there is the character assassination – nine pages detail Boris’s extra-marital dalliances.
The authors do acknowledge his achievement in procuring vaccines. They also poise the scalpel over Britain’s poor Covid capability.
We have “fewer intensive care beds than most” First World nations. And how. The UK has seven such beds per 100,000 people compared to Germany’s 29. For decades, NHS funding has failed to keep step with population increase and ageing.
Also, the UK has a waistline problem (Boris being a case in point).
According to the World Health Organisation, our obesity is a major cause of our Covid fatalities.
That said, the research into the origins of the disease in Wuhan, China, is exemplary (and mightily suggestive that coronavirus “escaped” via an accident with the city’s virologists).
Also, if you want a cogent narrative of Westminster’s Covid response, or a graphic recounting of those terrible scenes on hospital wards, as doctors and nurses sought to cope with the first waves of the pestilence, then this is the book for you.
But its diagnosis of the body politic in the time of Covid is skin deep and jaundiced.