03/10/2020 06:00 BST

Let's Be Clear, Another National Lockdown Would Be Boris Johnson's Failure – And No One Else's

It would not be a failure of the public to adhere to ever-changing guidelines, writes Dr Meenal Viz.

In the year that has lasted forever and a day, I cast my mind back to early March. Spring was threatening to come into bloom, and I was struggling through my first pregnancy.

At five months pregnant, I was looking forward to a summer full of baby showers, family picnics, and a new chapter in my life. Even as I suffered from severe bouts of vomiting during my shifts in hospital and struggled with my health throughout winter, I knew that there would be something to look forward to.

There was a sense of optimism, a genuine feeling of hope that my future child would be the balm to solve all.

Yet, as a frontline doctor, myself and my colleagues were already seeing many patients with suspected coronavirus – we were unable to confirm most of these cases at the time due to a lack of testing infrastructure.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on the latest situation with the coronavirus pandemic.

These patients were cursorily asked to “self-isolate”, without any second thought. There were plenty of concerns being escalated by doctors, but we were either given false reassurances or batted away altogether.

In March, while other countries across the world were facing lockdown, there was a reflexive indifference from our leaders.

We were one of the last countries in Europe to be badly affected by an influx of coronavirus, and as such, we were assumed to have had the most time to prepare.

It was roundly assumed that our island status would confer an obvious advantage against the import of any disease. We had plenty going for us.

On March 3, 2020, Boris Johnson proudly announced that he was still shaking hands with patients, while on a hospital visit. This was a colossal misstep that set the early tone for a pandemic which was to be confirmed by the WHO just days later. The entire world was morphing before our eyes, and we were perilously slow to react: why?

Exceptionalism, hubris, and outright arrogance were the hallmarks of our leadership throughout Spring. They saw us heading straight into the iceberg; they told us we’d miss it by miles, and then they told us life was better living on the ocean floor anyway.

This is what has made this country’s leadership so objectively poor over the past months. Johnson has been at the head of a dysfunctional group of decision-makers who seemed to view themselves as picaresque characters – often behaving as lone heroes in their solipsistic fairytales, never accepting of any criticismEver

All the while, we were constantly reassured or misled completely. Take the PPE debacle, which is still being peeled back thanks to the good work of investigations and judicial reviews – it was up to doctors like my husband to raise serious concerns at great professional risk; these concerns were first rebuffed by Matt Hancock, and then euphemistically described as “distribution issues.” 

Another lockdown would not be a failure of the public to adhere to ever-changing guidelines. It would be an admission of failure by our government.

When Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries then told doctors that we needed to have an “adult conversation” about PPE, at a time when healthcare workers across the country were dying with coronavirus, we came to understand that any semblance of mutual trust had been eroded.

The consistent thread in our country’s handling of the pandemic has been an abject failure of leadership from our decision-makers. For politicians to make effective decisions during a pandemic, there must be a mutual level of trust.

Regrettably, at every opportunity, our politicians have reached from the self-aggrandizing to the outright farcical. Having compromised our trust, there is no contrition and no apology for the wasted months – millions were spent on a defunct app, and the promises of widespread testing continue to be inconsistent at best.

As cases rise once again, the government faces a familiar dilemma. At the time of writing, forty-eight areas in England have recently been subject to restrictions.

Our greatest concern should be that in recent months, only Luton has been able to emerge from a state of pseudo-lockdown and escape these restrictions, although local cases are still rising.

What is absolutely clear is that while the whole world pours its resources into developing a vaccine, a subsequent rollout would certainly not happen overnight.

It’s well-established that a functioning contact tracing system is the only way to achieve something approaching a “Zero Covid” society. This government has forked out hundreds of millions to private industry to work out a functional contact tracing system. On occasion, this has even been subcontracted to the likes of a humble travel agent. 

Why involve public health doctors, district nurses and GPs, when you could pay twice the amount to a person whose only unique skill set was to book stag trips to Magaluf? 

Another lockdown would not be a failure of the public to adhere to ever-changing guidelines. It would be an admission of failure by our government.

It would be an admission that whether you consider our national response in terms of infections, death rates, or testing, we deserve leaders who stand tall during a crisis.

Instead, we have been hindered by people who have shown themselves capable of turning a blind eye to our suffering. 

We deserve better. 

Dr Meenal Viz is a writer and hospital doctor. She hosts the podcast Meenal’s World and tweets @MeenalsWorld.