The rising tide of bad news doesn’t seem to stop in the UK

Britons are living under lockdown, weather is woeful, Brexit isn’t quite as it promised


Popcorn psychologists and those engaged in the pseudo social science of mindfulness will circle the third Monday in January as being the bleakest day of the year.

They refer to it as ‘Blue Monday’ — a day when the financial pressure of the Christmas just passed hangs over many, the weather is at its worst, and the extra kilos in weight acquired over the holiday season are proving harder to shift than we anticipated.

Almost on cue, Storm Christophe was blowing in from the Atlantic across the British Isles, dumping 200 millimetres of rain in some place and bringing flooding to rivers that had already been swollen by a recent snowmelt and fields that were already unable to soak up any more wet.

In communities living to rising rivers across the Midlands, the Northwest and Northeast of England filled sandbagged, nervous families moved their furniture and belongings to upstairs rooms, council workers made sure drains were kept free of potential debris that might cause blockages, and all kept their eyes on the fast-flowing and steadily rising rivers.

And for those living in Scotland, there was a warning that the storm could bring as much as 40 centimetres of snow with the potential to cut off communities and certainly bring power outages.

There were warnings too that if people were forced out of their homes and had to seek shelter in community halls or other dry refuges, the normal social distancing and rules of gatherings would not apply. Yes, the UK is in the middle of Lockdown 3.0 because of the pandemic. Whatever about the potential for flooding and inundation of the home front, the news in and around Blue Monday just kept getting worse.

Rise in cases

According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, an estimated 5.4 million people in England had coronavirus antibodies in December, and the rate of infection has almost doubled from the beginning of October to the end of the year.

The sudden rise in cases likely reflects the impact of the virulent strain of Covid-19 identified first by the UK in the Southeast of England in November. And as the ONS figures were being announced, the UK Health Secretary

Matt Hancock said on Twitter that he is now self-isolating after being alerted by the British Covid-19 app that he had been in close contact with somebody who tested positive for the virus.

He said that as a result of the alert, he would be staying at home until Sunday. “We all have a part to play in getting this virus under control,” he tweeted. Somehow, it seemed a bit hollow.

The ONS figures show that one-in 10 in Wales have already had the virus, with one-in 13 in Northern Ireland and one-in 11 in Scotland testing positive.

National newscasts are dominated by the depressing state of UK hospitals struggling to cope with the sheer volume of news cases — with one showing a morgue at Imperial College Hospital in London full and the morgue attendants in tears at the situation while one new Covid-19 case was admitted to hospital on average every 30 seconds across England.

On Tuesday, the UK recorded its highest-ever death toll from coronavirus since the pandemic began almost a year ago, with 1,610 more families grieving lost ones. Soon, by the end of next week at the current rate of fatalities, or certainly by the end of January, the UK’s death toll will pass 100,000.

Endless bad news

Yes, it is depressing. And yes, the bad news just seems to be endless.

Even fishermen, who were ardent supporters of Brexit, have taken to protesting outside Downing Street because they can’t bring their catch to market in Europe because of the delays and paperwork caused by the UK leaving the European Union.

If there is a source for hope, it is that the UK is promising to vaccinate 15 million people by the middle of February. By then, all living in care hopes, health care workers and the elderly along with those considered to be the most clinically vulnerable will have had a jab.

Each night, along with the daily infection and fatality figures, the UK government also publishes the numbers of those inoculated — and I find myself doing quick arithmetic to make sure the government is on track to meet its target.

I fall into the over 50 bracket, and the government says I will have a jab come the end of April. But right now there is anger at those who are excluded from getting the vaccine. Yes, medical staff are getting jabs, police are not. Teachers neither.

In Oldham, a rough-and-tumble former mill town in the fringe of Greater Manchester, where crowded housing and poor social and economic factors meant it had some of the consistently highest rates of infection since the summer, local health officials made the decision to provide vaccines to homeless people.

Burden on health services

It seemed like a good idea as they had no resources to protect themselves from the virus and would be a heavy burden on the health service should they fall ill.

No sooner had the cameras clicked and reporters filed their stories on the first pair receiving their jabs before a very vocal minority were needled and took to social media to express their outrage at these bums — their words, not mine — who didn’t pay taxes and lived on state benefits, were jumping the queue. And as anyone who ever visited Britain will tell you, Britons will queue simply to begin one.

While all of this depressing news was filling the airwaves, could things get any worse? Well … at Westminster, Members of Parliament were exchanging words in a debate over the nation’s universal credit scheme. That’s what the public welfare scheme is called now and some 6 million families across the UK rely on it right now.

It’s a paltry figure of roughly £420 (Dh2,100) a month and, because of the coronavirus, the government of Prime minister Boris Johnson increased it by £20 a week. But that’s only a temporary measure and opposition parties are trying to make that permanent. The political sandbags were brought out by the Conservatives as they abstained en masse in the symbolic vote.

Vaccination, after all, will cure the current woes.


Mick O’Reilly is a Foreign Correspondent of Gulf News. 

Source: Gulf News