By Umair Haque
In this essay Haque argues that Britain’s new plan to have 50,000 Covid Cases By “Freedom Day” is dumber than Brexit which has left its economic future in tatters
Imagine that I told you there was a country which was plunging into a new wave of Covid. The Delta wave — made of a more infectious, more vaccine resistant variant. Cases were exploding — doubling every week or so. Right about now, it had 10 times the number of cases per capita as America, or 100 times the number of cases as a place like Pakistan.
And this — this critical juncture — was the moment the government decided to lift all restrictions. No more masks. No more distancing. No more anything of any kind, in fact. This country was going to throw all caution to the wind, it’s Prime Minister declaring: “we have to learn to live with Covid.” And, presumably, die with it.
Said Prime Minister’s health secretary had recently resigned after having a tawdry affair with an aide — both were married — breaking his own lockdown rules. And his replacement, the new health secretary, was an “investment banker,” meaning a man with no discernible skills whatsoever, except looting companies and countries. The investment banker turned health secretary promptly announced, yes, all restriction would be lifted, just as fresh wave of a worse variant was surging — and he expected more than 50,000 cases a day.
That, for comparison’s sake, is about 10 times the number America has, and 30 times the number Pakistan has.
The Prime Minister, not to be outdone, promptly jumped in, and raised that figure to 100,000 cases per day. That’s 20 times America’s, and 60 times Pakistan’s.
And these are the numbers the government’s expecting. Targeting. Wants.
After all, the same PM said, too, “we must reconcile ourselves… to death.”
What on earth? Was that a Prime Minister literally sentencing his own people to death? Telling them to shrug at it? Is your mind boggled yet?
So: what country would you guess I’m talking about? The title’s probably clued you in, but if it hadn’t, I’d bet you’d guess something like: a poor, war-torn African state, led by a lunatic despot. Or maybe a desperately poor Asian country, with no resources. Or maybe a hardcore authoritarian state, like North Korea.
Nope. I’m talking about modern-day Britain.
Britain has officially lost its mind.
Covid is just the beginning, really, but let’s go through the evidence, wearily, for the sake of an argument that shouldn’t need to be had at all. The beginning of a fresh wave of a new variant is the worst possible time to lift restrictions. Obviously. It’s going to cause Covid to explode all over again. How badly? In Britain’s case, it’s going to be really bad: just about half the population has had two vaccine doses, but that’s of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has just 60% efficacy against Delta. At just one dose — and about 17% of Brits have had just one dose — it has just 33% efficacy. And 33% of Brits haven’t been vaccinated at all yet.
The beginning of a fresh wave of a new variant is the worst possible time to lift restrictions. Obviously. It’s going to cause Covid to explode all over again. How badly? In Britain’s case, it’s going to be really bad: just about half the population has had two vaccine doses, but that’s of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has just 60% efficacy against Delta. At just one dose — and about 17% of Brits have had just one dose — it has just 33% efficacy. And 33% of Brits haven’t been vaccinated at all yet.
Averaged, that’s just about 40% efficacy for the British population overall against the new variant.
Those are dire numbers. They tell us that hospitalisations and deaths both will explode — which is why, indeed, they already are. Will they will be “lower” than the first peak or two? Maybe, or maybe not — because the government is expecting 100,000 cases per day, literally targeting that number, which is way, way higher than during the first wave, when the peak was just 60,000 per day.
Britain’s government wants to have twice as many Covid cases as it had during the last wave. Yes, “wants” to. It’s not even going to vaccinate kids anymore. This is a literal government of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers.
What on earth? The idiocy is stupendous, incomprehensible, total, surreal. It’s like if John Cleese from Fawlty Towers were put in charge of a country, with a little help from Mr Bean and Auric Goldfinger.
It seems to be beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand levels of human folly this absolute, unforgiving, merciless, and extreme.
(At the last wave’s peak, Britain had about 1500 deaths per day. There’s no reason to believe that if cases double at the peak, and efficacy is only about 40%, Britain still won’t have a staggering numbers of deaths and hospitalisations per day.)
Don’t take it from me, by the way. All that’s why the WHO literally called Britain’s approach “stupidity.” Those aren’t words you’ll often hear from the UN. They use diplomatic language, couch things in politesse. “Stupidity” is the diplomatic equivalent of pointing out someone dropping a nuclear bomb on themselves.
That analogy is really the only thing Boris Johnson’s government can be likened to. It’s effectively declared a war against its own country. A massive, unending one. In World War II, approximately 70,000 civilians in the UK were killed. Covid has already taken more than 128,000 lives in the UK. That means more civilians have already died in Britain from Covid than did during the last World War.
Covid is a tragedy. And yet Johnson plans to let it rip — and, as he’s reputed to have said, “let the bodies pile high.”
Yet even the word folly is an understatement — in fact, grotesque obscenity is a far better description. Why?
Are you reeling from all this yet? Then consider the next part of the story.
You’d think that any sane populace would vehemently object to all this. That it’d respond in fury, disgust, and rage. That if a nation were a democracy, the government would be toppled, for literally hoping for a wave of mass death, and then letting it rip.
But Britain is no such place. The average Brit seems to be quite happy with all the above. They believe in the amazingly foolish idea that they’re going to have a “Freedom Day,” where they get their “freedoms” back, because fighting a pandemic is “personal responsibility,” and simply a matter of “individual liberties.” Of course, no such thing is the case. I don’t just wear a mask to protect myself, I wear it to protect you, which is why I also get vaccinated. Public health is a public good in this sense — we all create it together. Or undo it.
Johnson’s government is doing the equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb on the country. And we know what the outcome will be, or at least anyone who understand science, logic, reason, and evidence does. It’s going to be a needless catastrophe, cresting in another wave of mass disease, suffering, and death. It’s going to be Covid going permanent in Britain. It’s going to be Britain becoming a factory for new Covid variants, because of course the best place to breed them is in a half-vaccinated population where all protections are suddenly lifted. If you’re the virus, that’s paradise.
If you’re a human being, though, it’s going to be closer to hell.
But Brits don’t care. Yes, some of them do. But the number of sane and thoughtful ones has dwindled to the point they are not even a nuisance irritating Johnson anymore. He doesn’t care about them and comes up with these absurd, lunatic plans because he knows the resistance in society has anything but lunacy and extremism has simply more or less vanished.
Johnson and his coterie of insane cronies can get away with anything — like loudly, proudly dropping the equaivelnt of a nuclear bomb on Britain, because, by and large, Brits don’t care about anything anymore.
The destruction of a nation’s public health? That’s just — as I said — the beginning.
Let’s take the now-famous example of Brexit. It’s left Britain’s economic and political future in tatters. Swathes of the economy have simply died overnight — as exports to Europe came to a sudden stop. Small businesses, unable or unwilling to take on the now onerous costs of dealing to their largest export market, are simply going bankrupt.
But those are the very farmers, fishermen, and factory workers who ardently backed Brexit. They’re the ones who don’t have jobs anymore or farms or fishing boats because Brexit — in one fell swoop — destroyed their livelihoods. And yet they back Johnson harder than ever.
What can even begin to explain levels of human folly this extreme? How can people back, ardently, the loss of their own livelihoods, incomes, jobs, homes — and then, adding a whole new level of stupidity to the dismal, grim affair, back the loss of their health and lives, and those of their loved ones?
That’s why I say: Britain’s officially lost its mind. Sane people do not think this way. They do not make these bizarre, lunatic, delusional, rampantly self-destructive decisions. But by and large, Brits cheer Johnson on in destroying what’s left of their country, society, future, right down to their lives.
What explains the average Brit backing Johnson in taking away everything from him — home, income, job, family, health, life — is, in the end, as horrific as it is stupid as it is ancient. Johnson and his coterie of third-rate demagogues gave the average Brit someone to hate. While, with the other hand, they were busy picking his or her pocket. They seduced the average Brit with the poisons of nationalism and extremism, preaching the gospel that the cunning, sinful Europeans were to blame for the woes of the pure, noble, virtuous Brit.
Of course, none of this was true — it just misdirection. But the average Brit, desperate — and desperation makes people gullible, weak, and stupid — believed it, euphoric to have a found a scapegoat, instead of having to reckon with the fatal stupidity of having voted in Johnson in the first place. And while the average person grew seduced, hypnotised by the lewd, tawdry temptations of nationalism — Johnson and his cronies proceeded to pick their pockets, reducing their incomes, shattering basic public goods like the NHS and BBC, eviscerating the social contract, turning Britain into a poor country and a failed state.
Some commentators say: this act of political misdirection was dazzling. It wasn’t — it’s as old as time. It’s the very one that mullahs use, and every dime-a-dozen dictator use — think of Kim Jong Un, and then think of how British kids are to be made to sing “Britain, Britain Strong and Great Nation,” while Johnson privatizes their healthcare and lets a deadly pandemic rip. It’s the one that felled the great city state of Athens, in fact. Demagoguery is not some noble trick to fall prey to. It is the cheapest, oldest, dumbest trick of all.
Shame on Brits for being stupid enough to fall for Johnson’s cheap, tawdry tricks. The world used to think of Britain as a better nation and people than this. A wise and gentle and expansive nation, that had learned the lessons of the follies of cruelty, greed, and empire the hard way. Britain, around the turn of the 21st century, was one of the world’s most successful societies — trusting, happy, prosperous, and kind. It’s NHS and BBC were the envy of the world, its social contract was one of the globe’s most pioneering and robust, and it was so widely admired and respected, for its kindness and generosity and sophistication that it counted nearly all the world’s nations its friends, from America to Europe to Asia.
How times have changed. Britain today? It’s a laughingstock. A cautionary tale. Of how fast and hard societies can fall. It’s not the envy of the world anymore, like it was a few short decades ago. It’s a warning.
Societies, too, can lose their minds. No matter how rich or powerful they are. They can be seduced by the glittering temptations of nationalism — while plutocrats and demagogues pick their pockets. They can back their own self-destruction and ruin, voting for everything for their own poverty to immiseration to falling life expectancy to mass death, like Brits have spent decades doing now.
A European, looking at all this, with a certain knowing smile, might say: “Ah! But the Brits have never wanted to be happy, have they? They delight in being miserable, after all!” True enough. But there is a line even between the fond melancholy of nation calling itself, proudly, Blighty — and the rampant, lunatic self-destruction of one gripping its own future, economy, public health, polity, society, tearing them all apart manically, and then smiling and cheering proudly like a raving, deluded zombie.
Britain is a society so backwards and foolish now even words like “failing state” don’t do it justice. Pakistan’s a failing state. America’s a failing state. Britain hopes to have, like I said, respectively, 25 and 200 times the number of Covid cases they have. Pakistan would love, kill, steal, cheat to have had all of Europe at its doorstep, as its friend, ally, and partner, and so would much of America.
Britain had it all. Or just as close to “it all” as a human society has gotten so far in the course of history. Money. Health. Wisdom, truth, beauty, kindness, decency, respect, friends, admiration. Remember that Britain? I do. But the story, like so many tragedies do, it turns out, only began there.
It threw all that away, for a laughing, joking clown with golden hair, that hid a mind whirling with buzzsaws of malice. He promised this island a tawdry, gleaming fantasy, of being a nation of bubbling brooks and quaint villages again, with nary a meaning foreigner in sight, the very ones who he claimed were and always had been responsible for its woes — after all, Brits themselves, being perfect and strong and virtuous, couldn’t be responsible for their own woes, having elevated the clown and his circus to absolute power, could they? What a tempting lie it was. Who could resist that?
And so while the fools the world had once admired as the British weren’t looking, but cheering each other on as they told one another the lie, the clown with golden hair and his circus of greed, malice, and hate picked their pockets. And then, having used them for all they were worth, led them to the edge of the nearest cliff, and told them to jump off.
The world, laughing, astonished, in horror, glee, disbelief, watched. As they did.
*Umair Haque first published this essay in Medium. Haque is the Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab and heads Bubblegeneration, a strategy lab that helps discover strategic innovation