UK deaths amongst highest in world – Stop lifting the lockdown

FT article on 27 May headlined 'UK suffers highest death rate from coronavirus'

By Robin Jackson

The United Kingdom is currently experiencing one of the highest death tolls from coronavirus for any country in the world. Plus thousands of new coronavirus cases are being identified on average every day. Despite such a dangerous situation the Tory government is pushing forward as rapidly as possible with easing the lockdown. Unfortunately the Labour leadership is giving support to the government, just making weak criticisms on minor issues. To protect the population it is necessary to oppose the lifting of the lockdown. Workers, particularly in health and education, are at forefront of the resistance to the government’s deadly policies and should be supported.

On a number of measures the UK coronavirus death rate is amongst the highest in the world, as can be seen from the graphs below produced from the data available at the website Our World In Data. The website uses the UK government’s official figures, that under-report such data, so if anything these graphs understate how bad the situation is in the UK.

Total deaths

Despite the UK only ranking 21st in size of population, it ranks in the second position for total numbers of deaths from coronavirus, as can be seen in the graph below.

Total deaths per capita

The UK has also suffered one of the worst rates of death per head of population. The graph below includes all countries with a population of more than one million. The UK government’s official death figures place it in the top three of per capita coronavirus deaths.

Daily deaths per head of population

The UK’s daily deaths per head of population, averaged over 7 days to smooth out fluctuations, are still amongst the worst in the world. The graph below covers all countries with a population greater than 50 million. It indicates that the UK daily deaths per head of population have been coming down during the government’s partial lockdown, but that the rate of decline has been slower in the UK than all the other countries. If countries with smaller populations are also considered then only Sweden is experiencing a greater 7 day average deaths per head of population.

Excess deaths

On excess deaths, the Financial Times (FT) reports that the UK currently has the second highest death rate per head of population in the world. The FT’s figures are illustrated in the chart below.

Measures of mortality by country during the Covid outbreaks – Number of deaths observed
in excess of historical average for same time of year.
Source FT analysis of mortality data as at 27 May.

Daily new coronavirus cases

Despite the low number of coronavirus tests carried out in the UK, it is still reporting high numbers of new cases per head of population. The graph below covers all countries with a population greater than 50 million.

Far too early to ease lockdown

Whilst the UK’s daily official coronavirus death toll is reducing, the rolling seven day average of new deaths is still above 250 people dying per day. The rolling seven day average of new cases is still more than 2,700 per day.

It is possible that the number of cases has already started to rise. Skwawkbox has reported that hospital admissions for coronavirus are at their highest for six weeks in London, having risen sharply over recent days.

The government is loosening the partial lockdown when the number of daily new coronavirus cases and daily deaths are both high in comparison with other countries.

Big business wants the workforce returned to work, regardless of the dangers to workers’ lives, so that profits are generated. That is why the government, backed up by main stream media including the BBC, is waging such a relentless campaign to force people back to work. In addition to the propaganda the government plans to increase the economic coercion by reducing the financing of the furlough scheme – in effect to starve people back to work.

From Monday 1 June, the government wants schools to start reopening and it is encouraging more people to meet up with each other. But the population is not convinced this is safe. According to an Ipsos MORI poll, 54% believe that lockdown measures are being lifted too quickly, twice as many as the 27% who think they are being eased at about the right pace. Saving lives remains the top concern. , according to this Ipsos MORI poll.

The ‘Independent SAGE’, which is a group of scientists who are not accountable to the government in the way that the official ‘SAGE’ is, has published a report explaining why schools should not reopen on 1 June.

Easing the lockdown, including re-opening schools, risks increasing the transmission rate of the virus. Even if the UK government was planning a thorough mass tracking, tracing, testing and isolation programme, which it is not proposing to do, the current level of daily new cases is far too high to be able to track, trace and test all the people who have been in contact with each newly identified case. As it stands even the government’s more limited test and trace system will not be fully operational until the end of June, according to Baroness Dido Harding who heads up the programme.

Tory government losing public support

Approval of the Tory government’s actions, which rose as the  coronavirus crisis started to unfold in the UK, has been declining since the beginning of May as can be seen in the chart below from YouGov.

As disapproval of the government’s actions has overtaken approval, YouGov is also reporting a decline in voting intention for the Tories, as indicated in the chart below. In the week from 19 May to 26 May Tory support fell from 48% to 44%.

Having pressed the government to come forward with plans to lift the lockdown since the restrictions were introduced in March, the Labour Party leadership is supporting the government’s measures to ease the lockdown. It is only criticising the government on marginal issues, such as its defence of Johnson’s key adviser Dominic Cummings breaching the guidelines by making a trip to Durham. Despite its role, Labour is benefiting from the decline in Tory support, and has risen in the same week from 33% to 38% in YouGov’s polls.

Within the Labour Party the Starmer leadership is determined to consolidate its election victory. It is intolerable for the Labour right wing that the party has a mass membership with a significantly large left wing, so a right wing General Secretary has been appointed to try and purge the left.

Aside from some Labour left agitation against the Tories’ failure to defend the population, including from MPs associated with the Socialist Campaign Group, the principal opposition to the premature lifting of the lockdown is coming from sectors where workers are already, or soon could be, highly exposed to the risks of catching the virus.

Representatives from the health sector continue to be highly critical of the government’s lack of action and most of the main education unions, led by the National Education Union (NEU), are resisting the arbitrary re-opening of schools on 1 June. The stance taken by the NEU during the coronavirus crisis has been a hegemonic one – in that it has put a position of putting lives before profits that is not only right for its members but society as a whole. The result of that has meant that people have flocked not only to join the union – with 20 000 new members – but also to step up and take responsibility for organising – with 2 000 new Reps.

The fact the government is trying to force people back to work while the UK death rate from coronavirus is one of the highest in the world, needs to be widely publicised by all those who are seeking to protect lives in this pandemic.