Recently the UK government announced its plan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak: a plan to limit but not halt the spread of the virus. PM Johnson quite casually admitted that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time” while defending his and his government’s lack of any real action against the outbreak. Their idea of letting the virus spread in the hope of achieving “herd immunity” has been slammed by WHO, who said in no uncertain terms that the UK government doesn’t understand either the virus or the concept of “herd immunity”.
On WeChat (China’s dominant social app) articles and opinion pieces with headlines such as “UK officially admits: to achieve herd immunity tens of millions must be infected” have been circulated widely. A massive thread on Zhihu (the Chinese equivalent of Quora) has received 10,000 answers and 35million views.
Browsing through these it becomes apparent that the Chinese are shocked and angered at the UK’s foolish strategy for tackling the coronavirus, especially when compared to China’s own tough but effective response to the outbreak. “After leaving Europe, they now want to leave the world”, one user quipped sarcastically.
Others have described the strategy as an example of social Darwinism – “survival of the fittest” in action.
Theories abound about how exactly Johnson and co arrived at their approach. Some think it may be a premature admission of defeat, while others speculate that it could be intended as a means of population control (not such an outlandish theory when one considers the Tories track record of causing premature deaths among the most disadvantaged demographics in the UK, with policies that have literally killed the disabled and the elderly for example).
Many here in China are outraged at the callousness of the herd immunity approach, an approach which accepts the loss of potentially hundreds of thousands of lives as collateral damage. This outrage is further understandable when it can quite rightly be viewed as an insult to the frontline medical staff who died fighting the virus in Wuhan, and to other countries who have sacrificed short term economic growth in order to contain it. As many Chinese netizens have pointed out, this UK strategy points to the inherent dangers of capitalism – where economic priorities are thought of as more important than humanitarian concerns.
That UK government officials have since stressed that herd immunity is an inevitable by-product of the virus (ignoring WHO advice that it’s not) rather than an official policy in no way forgives the Tories for their evil decision to do nothing and just let people die.
The truth is that the UK is frighteningly close to a catastrophe. After years of austerity and NHS budget slashing by the Tories (and gleefully supported by New Labour), how could the British health system even hope to cope with such an event as is currently unfolding? The UK isn’t responding to the crisis because it can’t respond to the crisis – austerity has crippled us.
And as is always the case, it’s those the least responsible who will bear the brunt of things in Tory Britain. The bankers crashed the economy, and the government inflicted austerity on us so they could bail out their banker chums. They’ll be mostly fine of course.
Its the people who rely on the crippled-by-austerity NHS who’ll suffer. The vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions. But these people are often “economically inactive” or “poor”, so they don’t matter to the Tories. Their deaths will be mere collateral damage in the eyes of the Tories, rather than the strongest possible condemnation of the Tory led vandalism of not just the NHS – but all our public services, our communities and even our country.