England is still in crisis, and its government are in denial. It is very clear from Boris Johnson’s ‘address to the nation‘ last night (Sunday 10 May) that the government are trying to wish their way out of this crisis and that their top priority is the economy, not human life. There are clear differences in the attitudes of the UK government, applying directly to England, and the governments of other parts of the UK.
From the start, the Scottish and Welsh first ministers had to force the issue of closing schools; England then followed. Despite opposition from the London Mayor, people in England were told to go to work if they couldn’t work from home; in Scotland, people were, and are, forbidden to go in to non-essential work.
The situation in all parts of the UK has been bad, due to high levels of poverty, a run-down NHS and social care sector, and a shortage of PPE. The indifference and incompetence of Johnson’s government is leading England to disaster.
New data on extra deaths
There is some dispute about how Coronavirus deaths should be counted. In England until recently, only hospital deaths were counted. It is still not clear that official figures – though the worst in Europe – include all relevant deaths. The best way round this is to compare all deaths in a week with the seasonal averages in other years.
The EuroMOMO website does just that, for 24 European countries including the different sections of the UK. It was established to detect and measure excess deaths related to seasonal influenza, pandemics and other public health threats. It presents data in a clear visual form, as maps and graphs with adjustable timelines.
To make a fair comparison in countries of different sizes, the national comparisons are presented in z-scores rather than raw numbers (a statistic based on standard deviations).
England is still in crisis
The first message from this data is that England’s peak figures are higher than the peak for any European country: a z-score of 43, compared with 29 for Belgium, 21 France, 22 Italy, 24 Netherlands, and 34 Spain. In each case, the peak was week 14 or 15.
The second message is that England has had least success in reducing these figures. The z-score for week 18 is 31 in England, compared with 4 or lower in all the other countries. (In some it is below 0, i.e. fewer deaths than the seasonal average.)
Compare these graphs for England and Spain:
The failure to deal with the crisis is illustrated dramatically in these maps. There was a widespread crisis across much of Western Europe in week 14.
By week 18, the crisis had been largely contained… everywhere except England.
Excess deaths among working-age adults
The EuroMOMO website also allows us to study particular age groups. The vast majority of deaths have been among over 65s, with very few among children. What stands out, however, is deaths among 15-64 year olds in England.
In the peak week (15), England’s z-score for this age group was 28. The peak score was 5 or lower in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and between 5 and 10 in the worst affected parts of mainly Europe. Spain was the highest, at 10 in week 13.
England has still got a substantial problem. In week 18, England’s z-score was 15. The highest for other parts of the UK was 2 (Wales) and the highest in mainly Europe was 1.5 (Netherlands). These are the graphs for England and Spain.
To get an idea of the scale of this in real numbers: in week 17 2687 15-64 years olds died in England and Wales, compared with 1480 the previous year. That’s over 1200 additional deaths. (Source: Office for National Statistics)
What is the reason for excess deaths?
Firstly, there are geographical reasons for the high number of deaths in England. It has a dense population, with some very large conurbations. Large numbers of people have to commute to work because housing is unaffordable, especially in London. Given these factors, it was lethal to keep non-essential workplaces open.
Second is the high level of severe poverty. The greatest number of deaths are in the poorest areas. (This is true in Scotland as well, but the Scottish Government compensated for some of the hardships brought about by Westminster’s punitive policies.)
Thirdly, the health service has been run down for years and entered this crisis with too few beds, intensive care units, equipment or protective clothing.
Perhaps the biggest factor distinguishing England from the rest of the UK has been the attitude of Johnson’s government towards attendance at work. Across the UK, people have been encouraged to work from home if possible. But what about people who can’t? That is a key difference. Scottish workers have been forbidden to attend work in non-essential jobs, and still are. The government in England have insisted on opening building sites and other non-essential work. Last night’s speech, with its ‘encouragement to attend work‘ and its reckless push to reopen schools, has only added fuel to the fire.