Saturday 30 January 2021

Recurrent themes


Going back to Tuesday...

One conspicuous feature of the BBC's reporting of the moment when UK deaths from/with Covid-19 passed the 100,000 mark was how its high-profiel reporters managed to make it 'about' their pet subjects. 

On BBC One's News at Ten, for example, Mark Easton made it about his perennial theme: how unequal the UK is. 

And, over on Newsnight the same night, Lewis Goodall made it about his perennial theme: how bad the Government is. 

Here are the transcripts: 


Mark Easton: In the year since Covid first swept across Britain's shoreline, it has killed 100,000 people, among the worst death rates of any country in the world. The corner of northwest England around Blackpool has proved particularly vulnerable. So, could this part of Lancashire help explain why Britain has been so battered by the virus? There are political questions, of course - too little, too late, is the criticism - but the germs of this pandemic catastrophe were here long before Covid washed up. The poorer you are, the more likely it is that Covid will kill you. And while Britain is a rich country, it's also a very unequal one. The virus death rate in England's most deprived neighbourhoods is 2.5 times higher than in the richest areas, and this part of Lancashire has some of the poorest communities in western Europe. Cath Powell works with a charity that delivers food and blankets and hope to what she calls 'the left behind' on Blackpool's Grange Park estate. 

Cath Powell, Grange Park Community Centre: We had no idea how many people were behind these doors. Really lonely, really isolated, and who are really struggling but, actually, nobody knows about. Nobody knows about them, and they are the forgotten people. And, as a society, I don't know how we let that happen. 

Covid preys on people with existing health problems, particularly those who are overweight. Britain is among the most obese countries in Europe. In this part of England's Northwest, poor diet, smoking, hazardous drinking and a lack of exercise has contributed to a quarter of the population living with a long-term health problem or disability. 

Dr Mark Spencer, GP: We have created ideal conditions for this virus. I believe by not paying attention to public health. This has been decade after decade after decade. I've been a GP here for 30 years and, despite all of the advantages in health care over those 30 years, the health of this community's got worse. 

Mark Easton: Why, though? Why, we are a rich country! 

Dr Mark Spencer, GP: We are a rich country but the richer communities are getting substantially more benefit than our poorer communities. 

Mark Easton: And that left us wide open to Covid? 

Dr Mark Spencer, GP: Absolutely wide open when Covid came. 

Age is a measure of your vulnerability to Covid. Britain is actually younger than most European countries but our system for caring for the elderly has been in desperate need of reform for decades, and it proved disastrously vulnerable when the virus arrived. More than 30,000 care home residents have died after contracting Covid. This Lancashire home has been virus free but the manager remembers how it felt when the government sent a box of out of date facemasks as the pandemic raged back in March. 

Adam Purnell, Kepplegate Care Services: Fury, anger, upset. We are drowning in lack of money and lack of support. There is a pandemic now, and you've sent us out of date PPE! You know, do you really respect us that little that you can't actually give us the stuff that we need? 

With the UK at the forefront of developing and administering Covid vaccines, there is hope the country can emerge from the virus nightmare earlier than others. But there are 100,000 reasons why, as well as offering immunity, we should seek to fix the inequalities that left Britain so exposed to the pandemic's deadly power. Mark Easton, BBC News, Lancashire.




Lewis Goodall: For nearly one long, terrible year, it has been the drumbeat of our lives. The daily reminder of how many have lost theirs. It has climbed higher and higher. And five times as high as those in charge said it would be if this had all gone well. For so many, it has felt like time stopped in March 2020, like our lives were put on hold. But for more than 100,000 of our fellow citizens, our mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings, their fate was far worse. 100,162 people have died within 28 days of the Covid test. That is roughly one in 660 British people. That's the capacity of Wembley Stadium and then some more. It's roughly 128 Airbuses at full capacity, 114 Eurostar trains, the population of Carlisle or Exeter or Derry. More than all the casualties of every war the United Kingdom has fought since 1945, 14 times more. And remember, this is likely a conservative estimate. Excess death figures are best to fully capture the effects of the pandemic, and they have been increasing again. Since 2020 they are running at 110,100 higher, 15% higher than the norm. And although it is a little difficult to compare, the UK is at the very top of the table in terms of international deaths, with 1,400 Covid deaths per million. Behind every single one of these, someone who meant something to someone else. Unlike the last great pandemic of 1918, this has been a plague primarily on our old, not young, its victims those enjoying their later years, their years of rest to enjoy their families, because 78% of all deaths have been those aged 80 or over. The biggest single group of deaths have been those aged 90 or over. But this isn't the whole story, because you are also more likely to be an ethnic minority if you died from this disease, more likely to be poor and more likely to have to go out and work for your living, unable to sit at home, working from your laptop. This list of 100,000 people is dominated by the old and, all too often, the working class. People who work in factories more likely to die than those who work in offices. People who are in caring professions three times more likely to die than those who are in the professional classes. Indeed, it is all too credible that if you lost your life from this disease and you are young, you were trying to prevent someone else from losing theirs. This January is about to surpass April as the deadliest month, with nearly 24,000 deaths and five days still to go. Indeed, this winter has been even deadlier than spring. And whatever the month, it has been care homes which have been one of the most tragic theatres of this virological war. Over the sweep of the year, that figure didn't stop climbing. Indeed, as of this week, we now know that nearly 23,000 people have died in care homes from Covid-19 in England and Wales alone. That's about one in 14 of the entire care home population. A minister once famously said that a protective ring had been placed around our care homes. The figures tell a different story. One of the sadder things about today is that it isn't even an ending. The drumbeat will get longer and louder still. The Prime Minister said the Government had done all it could. The thing that must haunt us is whether that is right or whether different choices at different times might have meant that the daily rhythm had been all the quieter and the pain of those of us left behind all the lesser.

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