Arrogance pushes up death rates

Something has gone wrong in the Anglosphere, as the English-speaking countries are known in some other parts of the world.

Smaller English-speaking countries are coping with the Covid-19 emergency quite well. New Zealand’s coronavirus death toll so far is 18, and Australia’s is 83. Even Canada, despite being next-door to the United States, has only 2,500 fatalities.

But the two big English-speaking countries are taking worse losses to the coronavirus than anywhere else. The United Kingdom has 20,000 dead already, and the United States will hit 60,000 by Wednesday at the latest. At the current daily death rate, the U.S. will reach 100,000 in about two weeks.

Last month, Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said that keeping deaths below 20,000 would be a “good outcome,” but the final British death toll in this wave of the pandemic will probably be between 30,000 and 40,000 people – the highest loss in Europe.

The United States is almost as bad. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump congratulated himself for his belated conversion to lockdowns, boasting that “The minimum (predicted) number was 100,000 lives, and I think we’ll be substantially under that number.”

American infection rates are still going up, so that is highly unlikely. But even if the U.S. stops at the “minimum” level of 100,000 deaths, that would mean Americans are dying from COVID-19 at 80 times the death rate that Chinese citizens suffered before Beijing got the virus under control.

Or, if you doubt China’s statistics, at 1,515 times New Zealand’s death rate.

Other English-speaking countries, including those that use English as a common second language, like Kenya, India and South Africa, are not showing anomalous death rates.

It’s just the U.S. and the U.K. – so what might they have in common that none of the other English-speaking countries share?

Oh, wait a minute. Weren’t these two countries the superpowers that dominated the world one after the other for most of the past two centuries?

Might that have made them a bit arrogant? Unable to see the experience of other countries as relevant to their own situation? Reluctant to follow the advice of international bodies like the World Health Organization?

Am I getting warm here?

Britain ticks all the boxes. It has a nationalistic government obsessed with the greatness of the country’s past and unable to grasp the reality of its modest current stature. Hence the Brexit project, for example, but exactly the same attitude is manifest in its coronavirus policies.

World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was saying “Test, test, test” as early as January.

In early March, however, Britain defied the conventional wisdom and all but abandoned both community testing and contact tracing (which is the other essential part of the test strategy).

Instead, the U.K. wandered off into the lethal fantasy of seeking herd immunity by letting infections rip, ignoring what first the East Asian countries and later all the other European countries were doing.

It only panicked in late March, when it realized that its National Health Service would collapse under the weight of so many deaths.

It finally declared a lockdown after all its neighbours, and it is paying the price for the delay with its death rate.

This was sheer arrogance at work, with only a slight tincture of ignorance. And even now, with pressure growing for an early release from the lockdown, the U.K. government is still playing catch up.

The United Kingdom is only now starting to work on building an organization to test on a national scale (hundred of thousands of tests a day), trace the contacts of infected people, and isolate them, all in order to break the chains of transmission.

Yet you cannot safely ease the lockdown until the testing and contact tracing network is up and running.

Wrong at every step, Prime Minister Boris Johnson must be very grateful to have Donald ‘Lysol’ Trump to make him look good by comparison.

The American president’s sins of omission on coronavirus are why the U.S. has one-third of the COVID-19 infections in the world.

Trump downplayed the threat as long as he could, then became a last-minute advocate of lockdown.

He has now moved on to being the liberator of the American people from lockdown (without any contact tracing, of course). The problem with him as a leader is that he is not only arrogant but flighty and astoundingly ignorant.

But his flightiness and ignorance are merely personal attributes, and Boris Johnson is not ignorant at all (just lazy).

What the two men and their respective countries both have in abundance is an arrogant exceptionalism that is leading them into increasingly grave errors.

As Joseph de Maistre remarked, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Premier Jason Kenney participated in a livestream on Oct. 17, 2020. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
O’Toole and Kenney sit side-by-side for livestream without wearing masks

NOBLEFORD, Alta. — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole praised Alberta Premier Jason Kenney… Continue reading

Commuters wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk out from a subway station in Beijing, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
China’s economy accelerates as virus recovery gains strength

China was the first major economy to return to growth

Shipping containers are seen at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal in Halifax on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. Statistics Canada says wholesale sales edged up 0.3 per cent in August to advance for a fourth consecutive month, though at a much slower pace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2020 file photo the Glass Fire burns a hillside above Silverado Trail in St. Helena, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
‘First guys out:’ western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

RED DEER, Alta. — A family-run company providing air-tanker support to control… Continue reading

Safe Harbour Society recently moved its daytime warming centre and overnight mat program for homeless adults to the former Cannery Row Bingo. (Photo contributed)
Safe Harbour Society more ready than ever for winter shelter rush

Move to former Cannery Row Bingo building means more shelter spaces available than ever before

Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann (33) stops a shot from Vancouver Whitecaps’s Lucas Cavallini during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Koreniuk’s goal helps Galaxy beat Whitecaps, snap skid

Vancouver has lost five of its last seven games

In this file photo, Mike Weir, of Canada, hits out of the bunker on hole one during the 2017 Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey golf club, in Oakville, Ont., on Friday, July 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Weir settles for second as Mickelson wins to go 2 for 2 on senior tour

PGA Tour Champions’ stop at The Country Club of Virginia

In this April 12, 2019, file photo, Vasiliy Lomachenko celebrates defending his WBA/WBO lightweight titles after knocking out Anthony Crolla, in Los Angeles. Lomachenko fights Teofimo Lopez on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. Boxing fans should be thankful. They’re getting a quality fight _ and they’re getting it for free.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
Lopez upsets Lomachenko to unify lightweight titles

LAS VEGAS — Teofimo Lopez dominated early and finished strong Saturday night… Continue reading

Patrons enjoy the patio at the Revival House restaurant in Stratford, Ont., Friday, Aug.10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins
Restaurants near virus hot spots weigh safety-vs-profit with locals-only dining

Some southern Ontario restaurants are making the tough financial choice to bar… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam takes part during a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.  As parts of Canada face a new round of COVID-19-related restrictions, Canada's chief public health officer is urging Canadians to continue making a "collective effort" to tackle the pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Chief public health officer calls for continued ‘collective effort’ against COVID-19

TORONTO — Canada’s chief public health officer is urging residents to continue… Continue reading

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

Most Read