Coronavirus: Are we watching Dad’s Army?

“It truly is Dad’s Army in the UK, and we badly need a new general, new field marshals and a new battle plan. And perhaps to be a bit humble and learn from others.” As the coronavirus outbreak worsens, with testing and even thermometers almost non-existent, Green Party member Alan Story calls for the government to look to the example of countries like Iceland and South Korea and step up the number of virus tests carried out in the UK.

Checking a thermometer
Checking a thermometer
Alan Story

Boris Johnson says the country will need to go on an almost “wartime footing” in the battle against coronavirus. 

What we are watching instead is an old episode of Dad’s Army.

For example, the non-availability of thermometers is a scandal.

The government says that if you have a temperature, you need to “self-isolate.” Good advice. But to be certain if you have a temperature, you need to use a thermometer. That’s something even Health Minister Matt Hancock should understand. 

Here is what happened to me yesterday (18 March). I live in Crookes, Sheffield, and I am 72 years old. I am in good health, but we all need to be vigilant and those over 70 face special risks. I am also a member of Crookes Mutual Aid, which is getting geared up to help our local community during this coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday, I phoned eight chemists within a few miles of here to try to buy some thermometers, both for my own personal use and to be available for our group’s volunteers to hand out as needed.  

Not a single chemist had a thermometer. Several told me their manufacturer was also out of stock. No one knew when they would be available. 

I put up a query on Facebook. “Anyone know where thermometers are available?” Someone replied and said she had bought one at a chemist on the other side of the city the day before and “there were lots left.” 

I phoned that chemist. “Well, we have a few left,” said a clerk. 

“And how much are they?” I asked. 

“They are £35.00.” 

“Nothing cheaper?”

“We were selling ones for £6.99 and £15.00…but we won’t be getting them anymore.” 

I phoned the Guardian in London with a tip for a story. I talked to a journo on the news desk. “Just the same here in London, none available,” she told me.  

Rather than imitating Donald Trump and fooling around for weeks in Covid-19 denial and mouthing general bafflegab – yesterday it was we’re putting “downward pressure on an upward curve” – Johnson should have acted deliberately two months ago like they did in Taiwan. 

How many deaths in this country of 23 million people located on an island just off China where the virus began? One. 

And what’s been happening in another island nation closer to us, namely, Iceland? They’ve tested more people per capita for coronavirus than any other country in the world. 

Read a few paragraphs of this story on Iceland where aggressive testing has been placed at the heart of its response to the Covid-19 outbreak, and weep for us.

Or read about South Korea and its outstanding testing programme – rapid, widespread and community-based – and its “well-organised contact tracing programme.” The number of South Korean cases is dropping daily.  

Meanwhile, here in the UK  – and as more and more of us “self-isolate”, many are not sure if they have Covid-19 or not, and we are told not to contact the NHS – testing remains “largely  restricted to all those in intensive care units, and those with pneumonia or significant respiratory infections in hospital.” 

Or restricted to Harley Street clinics where the rich and celebs are buying coronavirus home testing kits at £350 a pop.  

It truly is Dad’s Army in the UK, and we badly need a new general, new field marshals and a new battle plan. And perhaps to be a bit humble and learn from others. 

Alan Story is a member of the Green Party and lives in Sheffield.