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The Comedy of Errors

Nadia on... The Pandemic

5 February 21 words: Nadia Whittome
photos: Fabrice Gagos

In her monthly LeftLion column, Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, discusses issues effecting both Nottingham and Westminster. This month, she discusses the ongoing pandemic, and the government's response... 

I’m writing this column on a day when a further 1,610 deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded. That's equivalent to more than one death per minute for 24 hours. The highest daily total so far, at a time when the UK has the highest death rate in the world.

Over 100,000 people have now died from Coronavirus – more than 400 of them in Nottingham. Behind every single death is a life cut short and a heartbroken family grieving for their loved one. The pandemic has been a devastating blow for our community in a myriad of ways. People have also lost their jobs, their businesses, and their homes.

How could this have happened in a country which, on the face of it, is better setup than many others to deal with a pandemic? A wealthy country with a universal healthcare system.

Around the world, other governments have made different decisions – better decisions. In New Zealand, Australia, and large parts of Asia, they have aimed to eliminate COVID-19, not just reduce it. And it has worked. New Zealand has not recorded a single case of COVID transmission in the community for more than two months. The number of people currently dying from COVID in a single day in the UK is forty times the total number who have died in Vietnam throughout the entire pandemic.

In contrast to these strategies, our government has bungled its response at almost every turn. At the start of the pandemic it failed to take the virus seriously, to lockdown early and to effectively trace and isolate cases.

The NHS was not adequately prepared, despite previous warnings, and the government was slow to order PPE, leading to shortages for healthcare workers on the frontline. The ill-thought-out “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme fuelled the second wave of the pandemic. Scientists’ concerns about the return of students to universities were ignored. Then there was the last-minute Christmas bubbles U-turn fiasco.

Throughout the pandemic, the government has also failed to properly support those affected by lockdown and self-isolation measures, making it harder for people to stick to the rules and more likely to suffer serious financial problems. The list goes on and on.

Where the government has failed our community, so many people in Nottingham have stepped up to the plate

While the government is keen to blame the current wave on the new variant from the South-East, it is their failure to suppress the virus that helped it to mutate. It is clear that so much of this mess was avoidable. How many lives could have been saved if the government acted swiftly and decisively from the start?

The problems also run deeper than the last twelve months. The effects of widening inequality over recent years have been borne out in the pandemic. Ethnic minority communities have experienced a disproportionately high number of deaths. Studies have shown that systemic disadvantages – like overcrowded housing and jobs with a higher risk of exposure to the virus – are large contributing factors. Going forward, we must tackle the structural racism and inequality that pervades our society.

But where the government has failed our community, so many people in Nottingham have stepped up to the plate. From mutual aid groups helping people in self-isolation, to local enterprises like Nottingham Street Food, The Pudding Pantry and Greyfriars providing free meals to school children, and charities such as Autistic Nottingham supporting people’s wellbeing and mental health. I have felt exceptionally proud to represent this city and I know that we will take this renewed community spirit into 2021 and beyond.

The other light at the end of this tunnel is the vaccine. Like everyone else, I am keeping my fingers crossed that this programme will be the exception to the government’s catalogue of errors. We need a quick and effective roll out to protect those most at risk and get our lives back on track. When you are offered the vaccine, please do take it up.

In the not too distant future, there must be a public inquiry into the government's mishandling of the pandemic and justice for the families of all those whose deaths could have been avoided. I will be pushing in Parliament to make sure this takes place. We need to learn the lessons of this dark episode to ensure that such a disaster can never happen again. We need to rebuild our society to put economic, social and environmental justice at its heart.

In the meantime, I am here for you if you need support and representation. I hold telephone surgeries for constituents every week. If you have a problem, if the pandemic has turned your life upside down, if there’s an issue you care passionately about, let me know – I want to hear about it.

Nadia Whittome website

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