A national scandal whose gravity cannot be underestimated – the Editor of the Lancet

This is an article in The Lancet by the editor of that journal; Richard Horton. Everyone should read it. It isn’t long.

He makes two substantive points:

  1. The UK did not follow (and still is not following) WHO guidance to deal with a virus epidemic. The advice is to relentlessly test, trace and quarantine. This is how you beat an epidemic. As Horton says:

They didn’t isolate and quarantine. They didn’t contact trace. These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque.

2. The NHS leadership missed a vital chance to use February to prepare for  the epidemic. At this stage the WHO had already advised that a worldwide pandemic was on the cards. [1] Yet they did nothing to prepare and are only now starting to try to source the necessary equipment (e.g. ventilators) and personal protective equipment and testing devices. This wasted month will lead directly to many more deaths than would have occurred if they had prepared sooner. As  Horton says:

The NHS has been wholly unprepared for this pandemic. It’s impossible to understand why. Based on their modelling of the Wuhan outbreak of COVID-19, Joseph Wu and his colleagues wrote in The Lancet on Jan 31, 2020: “On the present trajectory, 2019-nCoV could be about to become a global epidemic…for health protection within China and internationally…preparedness plans should be readied for deployment at short notice, including securing supply chains of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, hospital supplies, and the necessary human resources to deal with the consequences of a global outbreak of this magnitude.” This warning wasn’t made lightly. It should have been read by the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Executive Officer of the NHS in England, and the Chief Scientific Adviser. They had a duty to immediately put the NHS and British public on high alert. February should have been used to expand coronavirus testing capacity, ensure the distribution of WHO-approved PPE, and establish training programmes and guidelines to protect NHS staff. They didn’t take any of those actions.

Richard Horton sums up:

The gravity of that scandal has yet to be understood.

What I, the editor of this web site, find amazing, is that all of this is absolutely clear. Anyone with any basic modicum of intelligence can read reports by, for example, the WHO – who were already advising of a serious risk of a worldwide pandemic on 31 January.  If I, an “educated layman”, with no medical knowledge at all can have seen this coming why could not the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, England’s Chief  Medical Officer and the whole NHS England Board?

It isn’t the main point – but all these people no doubt enjoy lavish salaries – and they are paid to be able to handle health crises. Yet nothing. Complete inaction. It is not just the lack of preparedness for the unexpected which, itself, would be a major omission. It is the inexplicable lack of preparations even when the epidemic was 100% predictableWhy, for example, were they not trying to buy ventilators at the start of February when the virus started spreading outside China? It seems they didn’t even start taking these essential steps in mid to late February when it was clear that Italy was in crisis and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the UK was hit by the virus.

Richard Horton says that the reasons for this are “opaque”. He must have an idea. Part of the answer may lie in the government’s ludicrous and unscientific plan for allowing everyone to become infected – a plan based on a misunderstanding of the concept of “herd immunity”, a plan which, by a simple mathematical calculation would have result in 400,000 deaths, a plan which was hastily abandoned as soon as the real deaths started coming in, a plan which the government is trying to deny every existed and which the media is helping them cover up.

One possible explanation is that someone in Downing Street actually thought about like this like a Nazi. They consciously decided that many elderly people should die in order to save the economy. They did this so they would look good – Britain would emerge with a strong economy while the UK’s European partners struggled. They tried to get away with carrying out this plan (for mass murder in effect) hoping that no one would notice. This sounds fantastic. However; it is supported by the evidence. Indeed it seems to be the best fit for the evidence.

Of course other factors will be in play. The strange lack of action from the NHS Board cannot be fully explained by the theory that the government’s initial strategy was based on leaning almost entirely on advice from behavioural scientists and government advisers who don’t understand the science of epidemics. Surely there should have been push-back from scientists and the board of the NHS England?  How can we explain the lethargy? The sheer apathy in the face of the avoidable imminent mass death of thousands of elderly and medically vulnerable people? Is the level of selfishness and lack of care in power structures in the UK really so high?

And why is the media letting this pass? True there were articles in e.g. The Guardian and The Independent giving voice to critics of the government’s lunatic and unscientific policy of “herd immunity”.  But at the editorial level there has been very little criticism.  The papers should have had headlines demanding the government act. Why did people have to take matters into their own hands? Even now there is only very muted criticism of the general lack of preparedness, for example, the lack of covid-19 tests for health workers – a truly disastrous state of affairs.

Richard Horton says: “The gravity of that scandal has yet to be understood.”. But the gravity of the scandal is evident to anyone capable of understanding basic science who has been watching the news recently.

My guess is that the gravity of the scandal will not be exposed. That somehow, for some reason, everyone (or the vast majority) of people who are in a position to publicly expose this scandal – senior figures in government, the media, the scientific academic environment, CEOs of engineering and health firms and senior figures in public health – will join forces in the cover-up. If nothing else (and whether the scandal is exposed or not) this seems to show that the country is governed by an elite who have zero active concern for the welfare of the citizens of the country.

(Now they are throwing money at people for job support payments – but whose money is this? This could be seen as a bribe to ensure that everyone in the country joins in the cover-up)


This is another piece in the Guardian by actual scientists. They give some theoretical background to the UK’s disastrous SARS-Cov-2 response – based as it is on what they call “scientism” – poorly understood science by people who have no real expertise. I especially like the image of people standing in a valley seeing an avalanche come towards them. You don’t need to spend hours playing with models to know that now is the time to take action.

And this is another piece by a Professor of Health at Edinburgh University which lays out the whole failure of UK government in clear, dispassionate, scientific terms.


  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51318246

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer