11 August, 2022


How They Are Doing It In The UK

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Colombo Telegraph has a readership of Sri Lankans living in the country, a worldwide Lankan readership, and also non-Lankan well-wishers. Columnists should make their communications of interest to a broad spectrum, but this time I am going to renege with a column that may be informative for those of us in Lanka but stale news for people living in the UK. It’s a note from a good old Lankan friend in London about how corona-things are being done there – I quote without comment. Since our media starves us of news or regurgitates government views only, people need to see how it’s done elsewhere. Which is not to say they are always better. (Some that do not have curfew or stringent lockdown are in bad shape, USA and UK among them, others with no curfew or lockdown are progressing well, Hong Kong, Taiwan, New Zealand and Vietnam among them).


“When it hit Wuhan, people and government here ignored it; spectators watching troubles in Wuhan!  They felt that like MERS and SARS it would not reach Europe. When it spread to the Far East, they still ignored it. South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore tackled it using experience with SARS, implemented a regime of test and trace, isolated infected people, controlled spread and suppressed it. In Europe it started with the skiing population in the Alps, but Germany successfully implemented a test and trace regime.  When it reached UK, through a skiing family, the authorities were caught unprepared. The initial government response was based on the following: a) There is no treatment, b) there is no vaccine. It concluded that people have to live with it and the strategy chosen was what is described as Herd Immunity. That failed, the numbers started to rise!

In March Imperial College scientists dropped a bombshell and predicted up to 500,000 deaths and said National Health Service (NHS) was not equipped to cope with these numbers. Government panicked, accepted scientific advice and changed strategy to flatten the peak, enable NHS to cope and dampen the so-called vector “r”. First it encouraged people to work from home and adopt improved hygiene; some companies followed, but it did not stop the spread. Transport and schools were the conduit for spread. People withdrew children from schools, parents stopped going to work to look after children. The government was in a soup and around March 15: 

1. Closed schools, restaurants, pubs, gyms and sports and advised against any public gatherings.

2. Advised people to stay at home to relieve the NHS and save lives

3. Keep 2 metre distance between individuals not of the same household

4. Practice improved hygiene

5. No unnecessary travel

6. No social gatherings of over 10 (funerals, weddings etc.)

Now, supermarkets and shops are open during usual hours. They implement the advisory 2 metre distance within their precincts by controlling numbers entering and employing one-way rules. Corner shops and banks are open normal hours but allow only one person to enter at a time. Both government and opposition are against reduction in personal liberties and rely on citizen’s self-discipline and a benevolent policing regime.

Both Prime Minister and Health Minister were infected, so they are sympathetic to victims. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has thrown in Treasury money to the delight of Labour. The Conservatives who vilified Corbyn have become generous in providing a cushion to the affected.


Coming to your specific questions

1. ‘I suppose you are all encouraged to stay home?’ Most are indoors except essential workers such as NHS staff, shops, police. Employers who can keep 2 m between workers can keep business going. The construction industry is exempted. Self-employed in the building industry who do not qualify for relief continue to work.

2. ‘I suppose you are requested to work from home?’ Yes, encouraged as it stops workers coming into contact at work and in public transport. Several bus drivers have died. 

3. ‘Is there something like a curfew?’ There is no curfew, no restriction on personal freedom. Association is somewhat curtailed; I cannot have a party. I am not stopped from going out or driving. People cannot live forever in a small flat or houses and are allowed to exercise, walk and go to parks. Parks and beaches are policed and close proximity is allowed only with family. 

4. ‘Restrictions?’ My wife and I are over 70, categorised as vulnerable and discouraged from contact with outsiders. My eldest who is a doctor does not come inside our house and converse observing the 2 m rule because a doctor must not carry the virus. My youngest, the naughty one, lives close by and does not practice social exclusion! We see that family almost daily. Restrictions are voluntary and imposed by my family not the state. 

5. ‘Are liquor/wine stores and pubs in London open?’ They are all open; usual hours. If you can get here, I can offer you the best Highland Park 12-year-old Scotch 24/7! 


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Latest comments

  • 3

    UK is paying the price for the systematic wrecking of the NHS under Thatcher and the post-Thatcher political leadership which was the effectively Thatcherite, including under Blair and Brown.
    I could not help laughing when Boris J emotionally thanked the NHS for saving his life.
    The problem is more fundamental than the late start, and I wish that the writer dealt with it in depth.
    There is, however, an option for governments that failed miserably to protect their citizens, especially US and UK.
    The Blame China game can go on, although prospects for supportive evidence is fast shrinking, as there is always a market among Third World middle classes for imperialist fiction.

    • 3


      “The Blame China game can go on”

      Here we go again.
      Don’t blame Mao
      Don’t blame China
      Don’t blame Siri Mao

    • 3

      Agree wrecking the NHS is major issue (also agree B & B were just Thatcher’s children), but even if the NHS had much better capacity, it would not have mitigated the serious political failure. A failure to learn from others. It was arrogance and corruption than stupidity that caused the miserable way the UK handled this. After a false start early December, China acted fast and gave precise and useful information for the rest of the world to follow, but oh no, we were not going to learn from them, were we? Nor did we think Italians could be taken seriously — they don’t stand in an orderly queue when they wait for a bus, no.
      Of BJ, it is said, rightly so, that he would wait to see which way the crowd is about to run and then quickly stand in the front and shout “follow me”. His ministers are better at telling lies than him, and do it on television daily. The mainstream media is simply Tory party propaganda machine, incapable of asking even the simplest of critical questions. Spin doctoring by BJ’s political advisor (a rather cunning character) keeps the population cheering BJ, and on Thursdays at 8.00 clap from their doorsteps, following the leader — just as the herds he thought they are. Scientists who are at the top, when they come on television, make one wonder if their best days were when they were post doctoral researchers and it has all been downhill since. There is absolute leadership vacuum in the UK. But it will win votes.
      But that is not to say you guys in Sri Lanka have anything better.

      • 0

        I am not among those who say that all is well here because they are not too well elsewhere.
        The comment is only on the article on Britain.
        Our problems are complex and complicated by narrow nationalist politics.
        It is not easy to extricate the country from the political, economic and social mess that it is engulfed in since 1978.
        At least, unlike the US and UK, we rarely sermonize to others about how to manage their problems, except to boast how we defeated terrorism.
        I was impressed by the initial handling of COVID-19. But my joy was brief. Even if the slip-up in late February was forgivable, what happened in late April is a disgrace.
        We are lucky that the virus is largely local and much manageable, thanks to the medical personnel and a fairly socially responsible community of ordinary folk.

    • 1

      It is not all it’s cracked up to be – people dreamt of a better rule under Gotabaya. There is no change Rajapakshes are rajaakshes.

      But the numbers are on a rise, and not even 50 000 tests done yet for a 22 millions of people …

      You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

      ― Abraham Lincoln

      • 0

        You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
        ― Abraham Lincoln

        This is not applicable to President Gotabhaya Rajapakshe because he is not trying to fool anybody.
        Anyway, this applies very well to ‘Para’ Demalu who thought that they can fool the International Community all the time with the loads of lies bombarding about discriminations by Sinhalayo, need to create a separate State based on a bogus claim ‘Traditional Homeland’, Tamils are an Indigenous minority in Sri Lanka etc. etc.

  • 1

    And stay safe prof.
    God bless.

  • 3

    Thanks Prof. Kum for the information. Those are countries that valued the continuation of the economy and the daily lives with an attitude “If you get it! Hard Luck!”. I further understand that in UK just because one is infected he/she should not come to hospital unless it is serious. That would have been the policy had a continuation of a government of the “Yahapalana” type prevailed. MORE DEATHS which once caused this writer to comment that the country had a President who did not know the differences between “a virus, a viper, and a windscreen wiper and a Prime Minister who is “cock-less”. That would have added the wrath against the motley coalition of Government on top of the 04/21 carnage. On the whole, it must be said that at first, judging from a Sri Lankan context we only knew it was fatal and had no remedy and under such circumstances measures taken at that time are appreciated. Now we know that apart from high risk categories such as obesity, diabetes etc. others can be successfully nursed with ayurvedic medicated steam and other oriental dietary supplements. Now it calls for a different strategy instead of curfews.

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