Covid-19 and Brexit: a lethal combination

Deaths from coronavirus dominate the news, but behind the headlines other sources of mortality are taking their toll.

This has been the case from shortly after the start of the lockdown, but is becoming more evident. If we look for instance at the figures for week ending 3rd April, there were 3475 deaths from covid-19 in England and Wales, but a total of 6082 excess deaths from all causes, compared to the five year average for that week. Contributory causes to these excess deaths probably include delayed cancer and stroke treatments, failure to seek necessary treatment for fear of attending hospital, suicides through worsening mental illness and the debilitating effects of unemployment. But often the cause is unclear, as when bodies are found by accident weeks after death, their stories untold.

If we factor in the relatively young age of the non-covid deaths compared to coronavirus victims, it becomes clear that the price being paid by the general population, in terms of life-years lost, is a heavy one. Adding a no-deal Brexit to this already dire situation has been aptly described as like fitting concrete overshoes to a man who is already close to drowning.

Organisations including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have already pointed out that no-deal could disrupt the supply of medicines to the country for up to six months. This includes life- saving agents for cancer diagnosis and therapy which cannot be stockpiled.

But surely Johnson, who is not a true believer in Brexit or in anything much apart from himself, will have the confidence, backed by his 80 seat majority, to mitigate such a potential disaster by extending the transition period? Unfortunately these early hopes have proved illusory. It is the all powerful European Research Group who now control the Conservative Party. These zealots are the descendents, in spirit, of the eurosceptic ultras whose agitation first dislodged the stones which precipitated the avalanche of Brexit. Their sole aim now is to rip Britain out of EU as quickly as possible.

Perhaps they are gambling on the early arrival of a vaccine, so that the no-deal mortality can be buried under the general jubilation which will accompany such welcome news. Or perhaps they simply want to bury it beneath the accumulated coronavirus chaos. Either way, their ruthless determination is not in doubt.

Of course the Government will claim that they are well prepared for no-deal, but this is the same government that said a deal with the EU would be a piece of cake and the easiest thing in history.

Covid-19 and Brexit are a deadly combination but the two are very different. The first is a natural disaster, the latest in a long litany of plague and pestilence which has afflicted our species since the dawn of time. Those struggling to contain it will make mistakes, but their good faith is seldom in doubt. The second is entirely man made, wilfully inflicted in the name of ideology in the sure and certain knowledge of the damage it will cause. Those responsible may not run down the street shouting “Britain first” before they plunge a knife into a fellow human. But they will have blood on their hands just the same.

* John King is a retired doctor and Remain campaigner.