Coronavirus lockdown: Boris Johnson is being tested like no leader since Churchill

Tuesday 24th March 2020 09:30 GMT

What began as an epidemic thousands of miles away in China has turned into a global pandemic that is now materially affecting all of our lives.

Tens of millions of us now in lockdown, our freedom of movement restricted in ways not seen since the Second World War. All of us are now conscripted to fight this new enemy.

Mr Johnson is a libertarian. Locking down the country goes against all his instincts and that torment showed when he told the nation "no prime minister wants to enact measures like this" but said there were "no easy options".

And there wasn't really much choice either for the prime minister when you look at the trajectory of COVID-19 cases and casualties across not just the capital but the whole country.

Mr Johnson himself laid bare the enormity of our predicament only this weekend when he told the public the UK was now only a "matter of weeks - two or three - behind Italy in the progression of the disease".

A fortnight ago 463 Italians had lost their lives to COVID-19. As of Monday 6,077 people were dead. But a glimmer of hope too that the Italian lockdown brought in two weeks ago might just be beginning to slow the disease. The death toll slowed for the second day in a row, while the growth rate of positive COVID-19 cases in Italy fell too.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker.

The policy decisions now in the UK must mirror those of nations further along the coronavirus curve than us. For when the death toll ticks up, as it will, the public will need to feel that their government did as much as they could to save lives.

For this is an unprecedented health crisis which calls for unprecedented action. In the past week alone, the government has partly nationalised the private sector - it is helping to pay the wages of millions of workers, it has closed our schools and boarded-up our bars. It has drafted the army in to help deliver food. And now it has ordered - not asked - us to stay at home for three weeks.

These huge economic and social shifts could take years to unwind. All of it trying to prepare us for what is to come - a health war that no country could possibly really prepare for and no nation begin to imagine.

Packages for workers and businesses being rolled out - the government will have to offer more support for the self-employed in the coming days - and now draconian social measures. As the country hunkers down, the attention in the coming days will shift to the frontline of this health war - our hospitals.

Those in that daily battle are demanding the government provide the equipment they need, and quickly: the Royal College of Nursing on Monday wrote to the prime minister to ask him to "personally intervene" to ensure there is enough protective gear and testing for frontline staff.

Deliveries of personal protective gear are now being rushed out as the NHS gears up for a pandemic as best it can; buying bed and nursing capacity from private healthcare operators, re-enlisting thousands of former nurses, doctors and NHS staff to help care for patients. Thousands more ventilators are being produced and field hospitals being prepared to care for patients as wards fill up.

This lockdown ordered as the last resort measure in trying to help the NHS to cope. "If too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it, meaning more people are likely to die."

Drastic, draconian measures all designed to buy time for the NHS to prepare, the prime minister taking the decision he needs to try to save lives.

These are once-in-a-century circumstances that demand day-by-day colossal decisions. Mr Johnson is being tested like no leader since Churchill and in the coming few weeks the public will decide whether he has met the moment.

Now On Air
West Kernow Sounds
Craig will be playing local original music from bands and artists based in Cornwall, with a focus on Penwith. Also including a mixture of live and recorded interviews plus a weekly What’s On section.