Pandemic profiteering

Karin Lock reviews Blinded by Corona by John Ashton

With national euphoria over the vaccine rollout, it is easy to forget the systemic political dysfunction that Covid-19 has exposed so well over the last sixteen months. Calls for a judicial inquiry from families of the deceased have been refused but when it comes, the investigators might read Blinded by Corona to refresh their memories.

This is a damning account of the government’s failure to respond intelligently to a global public health emergency. Many of the facts we know – late lockdowns; insufficient PPE; no border closure; an inadequate test and track system. This paperback goes to the heart of the crisis, exposing the secrecy and inaction that led to, what the writer calls, ‘social murder’.

Focussing on the pandemic’s earlier months, the book examines why Covid-19 is now endemic. Health officials requested funds for local testing to contain outbreaks. Instead community testing was abandoned, and testing equipment requisitioned for a super lab which became overwhelmed. Tests were sent overseas and results not shared. Test, track and trace never stood a chance.

Contrasting Britain’s response with lockdown-free Bahrain (whom the author advised with its Covid-19 strategy), Ashton confirms a lack of planning, complacency and over-centralisation fuelled the spread of the virus. His criticism of absentee leadership, despite news of struggling European hospitals, shows how the country was left to fend for itself – with 720 citizen mutual aid groups taking the strain.

A shout goes out to the heroes of early prevention. In Wales, Ceredigion Council conducted its own low-cost community tracing, contacting every symptomatic case instead of waiting for delayed test results. The Isle of Man bought a second-hand PCR machine to test and contain the virus, with 24 deaths in a population of 85,000.

Whether you support the use of vaccines or not, Blinded by Corona speaks truth to power. It documents the treatments and interventions found useful elsewhere but rejected here. It remembers those who broke their own confusing rules and then blamed the public for their own failures. It presents the right to protest issues as symptoms of a deeper malaise; a darker truth.

The book examines the profiteering and cronyism of private sector corporations (and newly set-up companies) close to government offered exclusive PPE and testing contracts. In a time of deep recession, public money was diverted away from small businesses capable of, or already making what was needed. Those “overpromised and underdelivered” resources – like the test and trace app – have wasted billions.

Written in a non-academic style, with literary references and satirical comments, Blinded by Corona is a wake-up call. Questioning why the silent mainstream media failed to challenge the government narrative, the author wonders if it was more than a lack of journalist access to officials. He is most disparaging about SAGE, the advisory group which initially had no named public health officials on its board.

As a public health expert with experience of Ebola and HIV, John Ashton is well-positioned to argue against the “naïve belief that public health is a cost rather than an investment in economic and social development”. He sees ongoing NHS privatisation as one of the many problems – including ill health, unemployment, debt, and homelessness – that will be Covid-19’s legacy.

Blinded by Corona leaves no doubt in the reader ’s mind that individuals must be held accountable for incompetency and corruption. Just as with the
Hillsborough, Bloody Sunday and Grenfell tragedies, it is the citizens themselves who will identify and isolate the unjust.