When a friend of mine in Switzerland called this morning to say that the covid debate in the UK had become extremely polarised, it made me think about the need for rationality and proportionality in reporting. I was therefore appalled when I switched on the BBC and saw:
“Covid: 2020 saw most excess deaths since World War Two”.
In fact, further down the report it says that, when the age and size of the population is taken into account, 2020 saw the worst death rate since the mid-2000s. We do not need sensationalist reporting like that, particularly from national broadcasters, because there are real questions to be asked about mortality.
There is no clear way to measure covid mortality. We measure excess death rates, those who died within 28 days of a positive test and those who have covid on their death certificate, but that does not tell us what we really need to know: who actually died of covid as the primary infection, who died with covid—died of something else but was diagnosed as being positively exposed—and who died as a result of covid, either because of the lack of access to healthcare during the lockdown or because of the diminution of healthcare capacity because of high infection rates. That is why I reiterate my plea for a cross-party, cross-House commission to look at how we can actually get better data, which we will need for the future.
I turn to the success of the Government’s vaccination programme. The seven-day average of doses administered per million population show the UK at 2,500, Denmark second top in Europe at 1,500, well ahead of Germany on 571 and France on only 340. This is a great success for the Government. The success in the availability of the vaccine is the success of the strength of the Union. The UK Government took action to invest £120 million
between 2016 and 2021 on new vaccines. The United Kingdom Government, on behalf of the whole country, secured access to 367 million doses from seven vaccine developers, with four different vaccine types.
The people of Scotland are asking as a response to covid, “Will I get my vaccine soon?” and “Will I get my business support?” What about the Scottish Government? The Deputy First Minister says that a second referendum is a “critical response to covid”. What a damning indictment: nationalist fanaticism over independence taking greater importance than the needs of the Scottish people. We can deal with public health emergencies much better as a United Kingdom. It is not the Government of England who are cutting the number of vaccine targets in half for the rest of January. We can not only do better within the United Kingdom, but help to lead the global response to this and future pandemics better together.