Thursday, 28 May 2020

Covid-19: UK Government 'back on track', tragically late and heading for political derailment

Today sees the return of trace, test and isolate, an essential service in viral containment consistently advocated by the World Health Organisation.

Test and Trace is being rolled out in England, with a coming version in Wales, and another already running in Northern Ireland.

From today, Scotland will also have its own system. 

Test and Protect, as it will be known, brings back into use a proven contact tracing approach abandoned on 12 March by the Scottish Government as it fell into joint-policy line with the UK.

Collating and using localised data - all overseen by NHS regional health boards, rather than the private-run, centralised system being rolled out in England - it offers a vital front-line tool in virus suppression.

It comes a day before phase one of relaxed lockdown restrictions come into force in Scotland, a much more guarded and gradual easing than that already being green-lighted to worrying effect by Boris Johnson in England.

We must now hope that, combined with continued public vigilance, this key intervention will be decisive in helping to stem any major second virus wave, particularly as we head towards the winter months and new flu season.

Yet, for all this welcome shift, it's tragic to think that fully 11 weeks have now passed, with a damning death rate and over 60,000 lives lost, since that fateful Thursday on 12 March when contact tracing was discontinued by the UK Government.

And we cannot condemn that UK decision and its disastrous impact without asking why the Scottish Government felt compelled to follow and participate in that fatal policy.

It seems that Nicola Sturgeon's approval ratings can only go up as the 'R' number in Scotland comes down. 

And, alongside Trace and Protect, her 'Stay Home' and other public awareness messages have been much more clearly and effectively conveyed.

But so too was her advice back in March to dispense with contact tracing. Saying clearly and consistently that we should adhere to a mistaken policy only reinforces false adherence to it. 

That deeply-mistaken UK alignment and policy message might return yet to trouble Sturgeon, a recognition intimated even in her own daily mitigations that, 'yes, we've all made mistakes along the way'.

But whatever the political fallout to come, it's Johnson's own government that will be most duly haunted by this fatal policy shift.

And, as with the UK's lead in abandoning containment, so too was it's late call on lockdown that led to many thousands of avoidable deaths. 

As Professor Tim Spector from King's College London has now concluded from the largest Covid-19 data analysis of transmissions due to large gatherings, "people will have probably died prematurely" because of this decision.

Critical examples included the opening of the Cheltenham race event on 10 March and Liverpool's Champions League match the following evening which saw 3000 fans allowed to travel from then virus-ravaged Madrid. 

As this study now shows, both locations became major virus 'hotspots' shortly after these events.

Yet, as late as 16 March, Scotland's own National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch, was still defending the policy that had permitted attendance at mass concerts and football matches. 

Again, why had the Scottish Government been following this UK line, against all the contrary advice of the World Health Organisation?

We need transparency on the entire chain of policy-making here all the way back to Number 10 as it pushed the whole 'herd immunity' line.

And as the spectacle of Dominic Cummings and 'Durhamgate' continues, it's important to see the more crucial part he played with Johnson in formulating this 'Darwinian' policy.

It's this corrosive relationship that may provide some of the deeper reasons for Johnson's dogged refusal to ditch Cummings. 

What was Cummings doing at the heart of a decision-making process that should have been driven only by science and experienced public health advisors?

The story concocted by Cummings over his lockdown road trip, and signed-off by Johnson, is plainly risible. It's a damning example of rules for us, 'exceptions' for them, and will only encourage people to dismiss those rules and help spread the virus.

But it's not even enough here to say that Cummings should be sacked.

The much bigger issue is his role in the policy itself, the outcome of which should really be treated as a major criminal, rather than resigning, matter.

And wasn't it perversely convenient that, amid the great media 'interrogation' of Cummings over Durham, no journalist used this rare chance to probe that dark policy collusion? This is the real story the media should be tracking and tracing.

An entire populace, from life-saving health workers to those most vulnerable souls in our care homes, have been exposed, disregarded and discarded as 'collateral' losses. Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson stand jointly responsible for that policy.

As John Pilger so damningly writes: "Britain's Covid suffering is a crime against humanity".

And, of course, we have some major precedents for such co-criminality and uncaring abrogation of life.

David Cameron and George Osborne hatched an austerity programme that, according to a major report, led to 120,000 excess deaths in this wealth-laden country.

Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell between them cooked-up the policy and cover narrative for the mass slaughter in Iraq. Now they're both back on the news platforms peddling their 'virtuous anger' and 'country-saving advice'.

And now Johnson and Cummings are trying to spin, deceive and divert attention from their own major crime scene.

Here again we see the truly awesome mendacity of elites attempting to save their own political skins and tawdry 'reputations'.

With Cummings now a derided figure and support for Johnson collapsing, it seems that the emergency impasse of the pandemic itself is the only thing now saving this government from falling completely.

Denounced at every level, including senior religious figures and many within its own party ranks, it stands utterly disgraced.

Yet, like the dark prevalence of the virus, it carries defiantly on. And despite brooding public discontent, it seems to be surviving on wider feelings of weariness, resignation and, like Johnson's populist lockdown relaxations, any feeble signal of a return to 'normality'.

We may have reached a point of 'peak shock' over the fatality numbers and the devastation for so many bereaved families. Even as that curve flattens, the scandal that so many people are still dying each day now barely seems to register. 

Perhaps the very onslaught of graphs, country comparisons and wall-to-wall coverage has partly inured, or desensitised, people to the ugly scale not only of mass deaths but the criminal policies behind them.

Still, we continue on optimistic track and in good human hope that things will soon be okay. 

But, as our understanding of the virus and its effects grows, so too must our comprehension of the dark forces, policies and decisions that allowed this terrible calamity to happen. 

Tracing and dealing with that level of political negligence and criminality will pose as many challenges as tracking and checking the virus. 

And, beyond all the scientific and public health lessons for Scotland, the political ones on the urgent need to de-link and fast track a new route forward should now be glaringly obvious.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

From containment to mitigation: March 12 and the lurch to 'catastrophe'

The UK government's multiple failures over the Covid-19 crisis, including its shocking negligence in planning and preparation, should be the subject of the most probing and critical inquiry. 

However, as Professor of Global Health at UCL, and former World Health Organisation director, Anthony Costello insists, key answers need to be provided right now on the chain of advisory discussions and policy decisions that went on within the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), including the presence of non-science-based figures.

And high on that list of required public information should be the sequence of events that led to the UK government's abandoning of 'contact, trace and test' on 12 March, a central part of the so-called 'containment' strategy.

As Costello notes:

"This question about testing policy is far more than a matter of bureaucratic sophistry. The government’s decision on 12 March, when the UK had 590 confirmed active cases and nine deaths, led to the uncontained explosion of the Covid-19 epidemic. Imperial College London researchers have estimated the baseline R value – the rate at which people are passing on infections to others – at that time to have been just below four. Between 12 and 24 March, when the national lockdown started, cases exploded. By 28 March, Imperial researchers estimate that more than 1.8 million people in Britain were infected. The official death toll in the UK from Covid-19 stands at nearly 35,000 people, though estimates from the Financial Times put the number of lives lost at more than 62,000."

This comment from Devi Sridhar, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh Medical School, and Director of Global Health Gov, reinforces the point with alarming effect:

"I’m not sure the British public understand the health, educational, economic & social implications of abandoning containment on 12th March. Who made that decision and on what basis? Truly catastrophic."

Sridhar also laid out the vital importance of this containment policy in an article on 23 March, lamenting even at that point how the UK had "lost the window of containment several weeks ago":

"The UK’s head start in managing the outbreak continued as our confirmed case count remained lower than our neighbours’. However, on 12 March, Boris Johnson announced that all minor testing and contact tracing would stop and passive self-isolation would be introduced for those with symptoms, all part of a herd immunity strategy supposedly endorsed by the “best science”."

It is clear from the considered analyses of Sridhar, Costello and many more notable public health figures that the UK's decision to move from an effective policy of containment to one of mitigation on 12 March was a monumental mistake resulting in mass, unnecessary loss of lives.

And despite Nicola Sturgeon's subsequent 'policy distancing' from Boris Johnson, we must also ask why Scotland went along with abandoning that well-regarded approach.

On 21 March, Allyson Pollock, Clinical Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, wrote a detailed letter to the Scottish government pointing out the dire implications of not having a comprehensive contact trace policy in place, and urging them to do so:

"I am writing as a public health physician who is increasingly concerned about the apparent failure to implement fundamental public health measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak – specifically, community contact tracing and testing – and about what seems to be one of the knock-on effects of this failure, namely the blanket closure of schools. Tracing and testing of contacts, isolation and quarantine are the classic tools and approaches in public health to infectious diseases. According to the WHO, they have been painstakingly adopted in China in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, with a high percentage of identified close contacts completing medical observation; and they have been strongly recommended by the WHO for other countries."

Two months later, she still awaits a reply.

A Scottish government policy paper published on 10 March had set out the many benefits of contact tracing. As explained, it allows for the relatively quick identification and containment of infected individuals and clusters, particularly in the early days of virus suppression.

And, indeed, it had been used to reasonable effect by the authorities in Scotland after the reporting of such an early cluster following a gathering in Edinburgh of Nike employees on 26 and 27 February.

Yet, by 12 March, just two days after the publication of that paper, the Scottish government had followed the same Westminster line and discontinued the policy, with the same disastrous consequences.

Responding to questions on 21 May, SNP Health Spokesperson in Westminster, Dr Philippa Whitford, said that "looking back, the mistake right across the UK” was for Scotland to stop contact tracing on March 12, claiming, in apparent mitigation, "at that stage we still had this four nation decisions influenced by SAGE". 

Whitford also says that she herself advised at the time that any form of testing and tracking, even in nominal form, should have continued in Scotland in order to help break any chains of transmission.

Again, this shows the importance of Costello's demand to know what was going on inside SAGE, and to what extent Scotland was 'unwittingly' drawn into such a negligent and tragic UK policy position.

The sense of exasperation over the UK's failure on contact tracing was also duly expressed by Dr Rachel Clarke on 20 May:

"The WHO declared a pandemic on March 11th. That's 71 days ago. #COVID19 has killed over 40k Britons. And yet we *still* don't have adequate contact tracing. Not even close. This is a truly scandalous failure of government."

Nor did that UK shift away from containment on 12 March see any immediate implementation of a UK-wide lockdown. 

Alongside the abandoning of contact tracing, the results of delaying lockdown until 23 March has proved calamitous.

Again, Nicola Sturgeon had seemed ahead of the game here in recognising the need to close down schools and offering earlier closure advice to businesses. 

But this difference was at best nominal. As with contact tracing, Scotland was still in effective lockstep with London over lockdown, once more against all the better advice and warnings from the WHO.

A disturbing study from Scotland has been used to evaluate the UK-wide impact, revealing the shocking human cost of Johnson's late lead on lockdown.

As noted at Media Lens:

"University of Edinburgh researchers have estimated that at least 2,000 lives would have been saved in Scotland – a staggering 80 per cent of the total – if the government had introduced the lockdown two weeks earlier. Rowland Kao, professor of epidemiology and lead author of the study, said there had ‘definitely’ been enough information about the coming pandemic in mid-February. If the lockdown had been imposed across the whole of the UK on March 9, rather than March 23: ‘you would expect a similar effect to the one seen in our research on Scotland.’ In other words, there would have been an 80 per cent reduction in the death toll across the whole of the UK: around 26,000 lives saved (assuming the official undercount by May 3 of 32,490 fatalities). This is a truly shocking statistic and a damning indictment of the Tory government."

Increasing public criticism over this staggering rise in avoidable deaths has seen Johnson, Hancock and the daily 'briefing' make its own shift from political containment to deeper denial and mitigation.

But the stark truth is now all too evident. This government has failed to protect an entire population, most shamefully its elderly, poorest and most vulnerable. 

It has failed on planning, prevention, mass testing, contact tracing and isolating, mass gatherings, airport and border control, PPE, care homes, lockdown and protection of key workers.

It has also failed to prevent a widespread mental health crisis.

With over sixty thousand deaths and another possible surge, the UK sits as nothing less than a 
And the abandonment of people to crude economic and political priorities goes catastrophically on.

Johnson has permitted a too early and highly irresponsible set of lockdown exit measures before any promised track and trace system is even in place, risking, as alarmed NHS leaders have warned, a major second wave of infection and another crisis overload on the health system.

His pledge to have a "world-beating" contact tracing system up and running by 1 June also looks like more faux Churchillian bluster

Nor does the proposed model augur well. Professor of Public Health Linda Bauld says she is “not convinced at all” that this very late, untested and highly centralised, rather than provenly localised, system will be efficient or useful.

But, again, even if Johnson did deliver, there's still the reckless folly of permitting dangerous lockdown relaxations before any such programme is doing its work.

In welcome contrast, Nicola Sturgeon's 4-phase 'route map', announced on 21 May, has laid out plans for a much more "cautious" and "proportionate" exit from lockdown. 

Phase one includes more outdoor activity, a limited easing of household restrictions and re-opening of certain retail outlets. By phase three, schools could re-open on 11 August, again subject to all the same key controls and as part of an agreed position with teaching bodies.

Yet, while expressing greater resolve than Johnson to match these gradual measures with contact tracing, Sturgeon's plans still suggest no immediate urgency in ramping up the strategy, intimating that it may only come into greater play in later phases. 

However, the model being rolled out in Scotland does fit the kind of well-established localised approach approved by Sridhar, Pollock, Bauld and others, rather than Johnson's centralised system, with its cumbersome technology, contracts to corporate giants like Serco, and much more worrying surveillance/privacy issues.

Northern Ireland has also rejected the UK version, building on its own more encouraging results.

As Sridhar, Pollock and others warn, there has to be an urgent application of track and test in these traditional, decentralised forms, with the devolved governments and regional health bodies in England best utilising their own health and educational capacities. 

For Sridhar, the critical question of re-opening schools has to be seen in this same key context. 

While there can be no completely risk-free environment yet for returning pupils and staff, any evaluations and decisions can only happen where an intensive test, trace contact policy is in place to provide real-time localised data on the relative risks and safety levels.

Yet, as rash plans for an early return to schools in England shows, basic lessons in public health monitoring still haven't been learned.

In stark contrast, Germany and Denmark are key examples of how such localised and vigilant measures have been used to guide major decisions such as schooling, helping to bring these countries back much more quickly and safely to points of relative social 'normality'.

Lamentably, the UK looks nowhere near this level of intelligent engagement.

Yet, while England in these regards now seems like the worst 'outlier' of the four UK members, a more general and worrying UK lockstep still prevails, seriously inhibiting any more efficient use of containment strategies at devolved and regional levels.

Nor, unlike successful infection-managing countries like Denmark, is there any indication across the UK of significantly increased capacity for mass testing, including asymptomatic people, in order to better track and evaluate clusters and suppress the spread.

As lockdown starts to scale down, containment needs to scale up, warns Devi Sridhar:

"We need to think ahead to next winter when flu season hits and activity moves indoors. How can a second lockdown be avoided? How can more deaths be prevented? How can we best use the summer to create strong public health infrastructure (incl. mass testing)?"

All told, even after so many avoidable deaths, and the looming threat of a second wave of infection, the entire UK is still lagging alarmingly behind what a wealth of science and public health analysis is saying about the need for dedicated and effective containment.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

The tragic costs of Scotland's failed political distancing from Johnson over Covid-19 shows the even more urgent need for independence

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's retention of the #StayAtHome message for Scotland is a clear and welcome refutation of Boris Johnson's confusing and dangerous lockdown exit plans.

It puts public health before reckless economics and will surely help save lives.

Alas, it comes as a very late and still too nominal form of political distancing from Westminster and the catastrophe Johnson and his government have unleashed.

A BBC Scotland Disclosure programme has revealed disturbing  evidence of the Scottish government's early failure to get on top of the coronavirus situation.

In particular, it highlights a containment and tracing approach that was highly-approved in a Scottish government policy paper on March 10, yet abandoned two days later on March 12 in order to help bring Scotland into four-nation lockstep with Johnson and the UK.

It reveals how a gathering of international visitors at a Nike conference in Edinburgh on February 26 and 27 allowed at least one entry point for the virus, and how many of those infected were traced in an effort to prevent further spread. Yet, the significance of the cluster was not made public by the Scottish government.

The programme airs the views of notable public health figures all registering deep misgiving about the Scottish government's abandonment of this vital containment strategy, alongside more implied criticism of its policy alignment with Westminster.

It also highlights the tragic case of a family which lost three grandparents following a party at which the virus appears to have spread. Agonisingly, they now reflect on whether earlier advice to avoid large gatherings might have saved their lives.

As an epidemiological study for the programme on the timing and surge in the virus shows, implementation of lockdown even two weeks earlier than March 23 would have likely reduced the fatality rate by eighty percent and saved two thousand lives in Scotland.

Of course, in this moment of 'national unity', we're being reminded that it's not timely or appropriate to be making political points. Yet, in rejection of that same spurious UK lockstep, that's exactly what we should be doing.

If this isn't the point to speak about the politics and political implications of this public health crisis, when is? 

For all Sturgeon's more assertive and caring performance during this pandemic, there can be no avoiding the deep and fundamental error her government has made in joining with Johnson and his government's disastrous policy.

We can speculate about the level of Scottish government complacency and uncertainty in confronting such an unprecedented situation. But we cannot accept that  the administration was hindered by any lack of vital scientific advice, notably from the World Health Organisation, or the terrifying forewarnings from what was happening in Italy and elsewhere.

In short, it could have negated the UK government approach and gone its own way under the more assured guidance of the WHO.

Coming inquiries may want to probe not only the chain of scientific advice and policy formation, but also the inevitable political calculations behind it. 

Did Nicola Sturgeon's apparent concern to be seen as not acting in a politically divisive way - a political posture in itself - lead her towards the UK option and what she thought was the safest form of political cover?

Lamentably, Sturgeon's choice of political positioning here looks a lot like the same safe centrism that's kept any more radical agenda and the push for independence itself under party lockdown.

And this begs immediate questions of political cause and effect. Had Scotland not been denied independence by a determined UK establishment in 2014, or neutered by the continuing prevarications of an SNP hierarchy, might we now be sitting in a very different virus landscape?

How much more readily might a small independent country, looking to similar others around the world, have initiated its own much more suitable set of preparation, prevention and containment policies? 

How more easily could it have closed and controlled airports and borders? 

How more quickly and easily could it have implemented and maintained a responsible lockdown? 

Indeed, how much more likely, with early test, trace and isolate, might Scotland have even avoided such a major lockdown scenario?

If New Zealand could do all these things, why not Scotland? Even allowing for geographical and border differences, why couldn't a similarly advanced small country make the same kind of decisions?

All told, these are tragic and disturbing questions of avoidable loss and what could have been.

Yet while this programme has shed crucial light on key government miscalculations, it's worth asking additional questions about BBC Scotland's own institutional failings here.

Where was its own earlier efforts to scope out and report such mounting negligence and looming crisis? 

As with the BBC at large, where was the critical questioning of the whole calamitous approach being taken by the UK government and Holyrood's fatal part in it?

Given the BBC's own deep role in the 2014 take-down, some will see such exposures as part of an ongoing effort to question the SNP's fitness to govern and undermine the case for independence.

Yet this Disclosure not only provides vital evidence of Holyrood failings, but a perhaps more unintended political message.

While damaged by these revelations, Sturgeon's public standing still appears strong, given her seemingly assured presentation of the crisis, and particularly now with her belated distancing from Johnson. Again, this suggests what might have been had such positioning and very much more been enacted earlier.

But the real lesson to be drawn, and likely taken, from this programme is that Scotland's political as well as public health has been further ill-served by it's default decision to stay linked into the UK. 

Whatever the immediate fallout and inquiries yet to come, such evidence shows just how unnecessarily exposed Scotland has left itself to Westminster rule, Tory negligence and actual viral spread.

With no obvious end to the infection and very likely second and further peaks, the Johnson government's lockdown relaxations, failure to test, trace and isolate, drive down the 'R' number and contain borders means the UK could be "destined for a disastrous end."

In this sense, any exposure of the Scottish government's own mistaken and ongoing part in that alarming failure can only be welcomed.

And, even in the still long-term stretch of this pandemic crisis, that understanding can only but strengthen the public mood and political demand for independence.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Resisting virulent power and its political contagion

This pandemic and lockdown has me reflecting on some major past events which, like now, seemed to offer the possibilities of new awakenings and real change.

I remember back in 2010 watching the leaked grainy footage of those civilians in Iraq being shot down in the street (in 2007) while their US helicopter assassins communicated 'light 'em all up', laughing like hyenas as they fell. 

And in witnessing such inhumanity, I recall thinking that, good, at least Wikileaks have this taped, other damning documents filed, the villains behind it all now exposed, and that justice might now prevail.

I remember, too, the Lancet and ORB reports around that time charting the rise of over one million mass deaths in Iraq and thinking, yes, now there really could be a day of justice for that suffering country and the families of so many lost souls.

I also think back to 2008-09 and 2014 when Israel was bombing and slaughtering the civilians of Gaza en masse, and people who don't usually 'follow' this 'issue' asking in astonishment 'how are they getting away with this?', and 'why haven't we been getting told about it by the BBC?' 

And I recall thinking that surely these are now key tipping points, where the sheer weight and wickedness of it all would bring sufficient global pressure on Israel and help start some kind of just resolution for Palestine. 

The indiscriminate shooting of hundreds more innocents during the recent Right of Return marches in Gaza was another such wishful case in point.

Further back, I recall when Obama came to power, and all those much more lofty hopes that he was going to break the economic chains of poor and black America, end the warmongering and act as a fair arbiter in the Middle East, maybe even, in his quiet disdain for Netanyahu, bring some hope for the Palestinians.

I also think back on the 2011-12 Occupy movement, how it rose and spread like a benign wave from city to city, seemingly ready to enact a global revolution against the one percent and break the tyranny of corporate capitalism.

And I reflect with special, emotional memory on that beautiful, hopeful summer of 2014 here in Scotland as we covered the streets in mass, joyous and colourful numbers in the campaign for independence.

I think also about the ebullient mood of the Sanders movement in 2016, and again in 2020, and the hopes that some kind of humanist, socialistic politics was about to be realised in the heartland of neoliberal capitalism.

And, of course, many of us had those same anticipations in 2017, and even 2019, that this was finally the breakthrough at last to some kind of just and progressive country through the election of Corbyn.

The reader, of course, is well ahead of me.

Where are we now?

Julian Assange is languishing in virus-ridden Belmarsh jail, ten continuous years on from house arrest and enforced incarceration in an embassy room, an almost broken man, a journalist of major repute derided by his liberal media 'peers', denied bail liberty by a ruthless establishment judge and about to face a 175-year sentence back in the 'land of the free', all for breaking the story of those mass US crimes.

Chelsea Manning, a hero of our age in helping to gift such damning information to the world, has just emerged from years of cruel imprisonment, close to suicide, burdened by colossal fines and still facing the threat of returning to jail.

Edward Snowden, the other famous whistleblower who sacrificed his career and liberty in 2013 to reveal mass US malfeasance, remains in effective exile in Russia, an ongoing fugitive from the same vindictive state forces.

While Iraq remains tragically mired in war, conflict and displacement, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and their villainous cohorts not only walk free, but are actually feted as national sages. 

Some even urge Blair's return as the man to deliver us from the virus crisis. 

There has never been any formal apology or reparation by the British state for the historic crimes inflicted on Iraq.

In Israel, mass criminal and corruption charge-evading Netanyahu is not only still in office, but now even more ascendant over the Palestinians, with virus-threatened Gaza now under even more terrifying lockdown, the West Bank about to be annexed, and Israel now enjoying US 'authority' to call Jerusalem its undivided capital.

Back in the US, Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Democrat 'hopey changers' went on to ravage the globe with more war and destabilisation in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, running coup plots in Latin America, massively intensifying drone killings across the Middle East, ignoring Palestine and giving increased support to Israel.

Both helped bail out the banks at the behest of Wall Street after the corporate crimes of 2008. 

Both remain sanctified by the liberal media and revered as 'model' political figures.

The Occupy movement faded and folded, beaten up in the streets, infected by corporate 'friends' and appropriated by the same liberal media.

In Scotland, we still await our moment of realisation, a hope crushed by the mighty weight of establishment forces in 2014, and now stalled by the reticence and collaborations of an inner SNP sanctum determined to put select party interests before the all out push for independence. 

Alongside its obsessions over Brexit, this new centrist vanguard has been more interested in Westminster residency and aligning with the British state, from its concerns over UK 'defence and security' to demonising claims that 'Russia is infecting the planet with disinformation.'

And while Sturgeon has acted more humanely and erred on the better side of caution over any lockdown exit, there still remains the more fundamental miscalculation of her government's actual joint partaking in the UK's calamitous Covid-19 policy.

Meanwhile, associated dark forces are still going after the awkward figure of Alex Salmond, despite his acquittal on politically-contrived charges, as well as his sturdy backer Craig Murray - a tireless campaigner also for Assange - who now faces contempt of court charges and possible jail for bringing true journalistic light to the Salmond story.

In the US, Sanders is now history, finally broken and displaced by the Democrat establishment, leaving Trump, despite all his undisinfected stupidity, swagger and menace, ready to take America and a virus-laden, climate-collapsing, nuclear-triggered world even closer to the abyss.

And in this most fragile moment, we also now have Boris Johnson standing where Jeremy Corbyn could have been, the latter taken down by the greatest infection of lies and smears this country has ever seen, the former now bringing his own brand of power-striding buffoonery to a land under crisis lockdown.

It's astonishing to think that not only has our version of Trump overseen a similar policy of criminal neglect resulting in thousands of avoidable deaths, but that he's still standing at a podium proclaiming that disaster an "apparent success".

It's equally depressing to watch what passes for a 'watchdog' media provide him dutiful cover.

The UK's virus death rate is now the highest in Europe, second only globally to the US. 

Yet on the day of infamy and shame that the ONS made this announcement, our major press were headlining stories of an errant scientist and 'fears' of Russian and Chinese hacking.

Instead of a massive media onslaught holding his government to account, we've seen relentless, fawning stories on Johnson's personal life, alongside repeated, sterile and out-of-public-step questions from 'leading journalists' like Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston on 'when the lockdown will end'.

In a laugh-cry reveal, the BBC has even intimated its readiness to 'stand down' some of its "journalistic values" rather than allow a "great big bust-up over what's gone wrong in the recent past", all so that it emerges "having looked after the interest of the nation." 

Similar 'selfless restraint' has also been shown by establishment-approved Sir Keir Starmer - or 'Sir Safe Murmur'. While evading the scandal of how his party associates worked to lose an election, Starmer's timid centrism and 'responsible support' for the government's handling of the Covid crisis confirms that there is now no meaningful opposition in this virus-afflicted state, no political 'antidote' to this Tory disease.

No peak to the power elite

If this all seems like a grim catalogue of beaten humanity and progressive failure, it nonetheless serves as a wake-up call to the 'pandemic of power' that continues to sweep the world, keeping vast swathes of the populace under economic, physical and political lockdown.

These are all lessons from the past and present, with surely more to come, of just how able, resilient and aggressive establishment forces are in forming, mutating and returning to take down seemingly healthy and progressive bodies.

There is no 'peak', as yet, to this pandemic. From Trump and Johnson to Bolsonaro and Netanyahu, it's on a rising and increasingly dangerous trajectory.

And a backs-to-the-wall elite are now moving into even more zero-sum mode. From Trump's startling 'bleach remedy' to Johnson's resumed bluster on taking down the virus "mugger", it's clear that they and the malignant forces they represent are resolutely not going down over this or any other crisis.

Indeed, as the least willing to enter lockdown and the most eager to exit, the US and UK have shown just how mercenary they are in exposing their populations to extreme and continuing danger, all driven by populist rhetoric about 'liberating the economy' and 'extending personal freedoms'.

Faced with now daily damning evidence of negligence and policy failure, elites are doubling down, using even greater levels of denial, deception and spin to mislead the public, as in Matt Hancock's concocted claims to have 'achieved' 100,000 virus tests a day.

Even the damning exposure that Johnson's zealot advisor Dominic Cummings has all along been part of the SAGE scientific process merited no dismissal or apology, showing that it really is all about political rather than human survival.

The 'antibodies of power' are now working flat out to contain the 'virus of dissent'; protection of office before protection of people.

Identification and eradication

Like the almost certain coming waves of new infectious disease and the world's ability to control it, crucial questions now confront humanity on how to handle the growing threat of power-infected leaders and the systems of death they oversee.

Just as our best scientific minds race for vaccines and cures, so too must we seek urgent ways to 'inoculate', protect and finally rid the world of such malignant forces.

And any hope of actual eradication has to start with elementary 'test, trace, isolate' questions about the very nature of this political contagion and health of the body politic itself.

Can we any longer trust in the basic idea that we live under a meaningful 'democracy', and that the entire process hasn't now been invaded, infected and mutated to serve elite interests?

From war to virus, why are human beings being killed and sacrificed in such huge numbers under this neoliberal system?

In seeking to understand the leading US and UK virus death rates, might we start looking more forensically at these states as 'source hosts' and 'super-spreaders' of violence and killing, given their 'epidemiological' histories as leading warmongers, invaders of countries, weapons suppliers, and the most rabid exponents of neoliberal economics on the planet?

And, in examining these key states, we might ask, how do so many people come to die in so many brutal and avoidable ways through decisions taken by so many of their deranged leaders?

Might we begin to see how the disease of craven power in such leaders assumes such ready residence within that host neoliberal system?

And what protective service does our 'guardian' media really provide in the surveillance of that system and in holding such leaders to account?

Again, might we trace the answer to the same process of neoliberal infection, corporate ownership and establishment control?

In short, how do we begin to deal with this contaminated system, political malady and the propaganda serving to hide its virulent spread?

Resistance, immunity, survival

While acknowledging the aggressive resilience of neoliberal power and its ability to debilitate progressive bodies, this doesn't mean the ineffectiveness of human resistance to it. 

The same cases for economic justice, rejection of war, struggle against occupation, push for political rights and demands to be protected from global threats are just as enduring. 

Nor are challenges to power of no real consequence even when dissenting movements or figures are stricken down. Lessons are still learned, strategies altered, campaigns rebuilt.
Over time, cumulative disillusion with that system is still helping to build a kind of 'reserve resistance', a sort of 'acquired immunity'.

Like the momentous public movement against war on Iraq, elites know that they now have to work much harder to win approvals for their invasive actions.

Real challenging media and critical information is growing, despite the combined efforts of alarmed governments and big online corporations to block its progress and assume 'authority' over what constitutes 'disinformation'.

The massive surge in global awareness and action against climate change shows just how resistant the human collective can be in a situation of looming catastrophe.

And, as we've seen with growing public criticism over the UK government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, there still remains a very healthy 'herd community', caring of people, increasingly alert to the virus of political lies and developing its own slow 'antibodies' to the deception.

A more unlikely array of media agencies and notable figures within and around the establishment are also now raising alarm bells over government policy, from key Financial Times and BBC Panorama exposures to combative questioning of ministers by Piers Morgan.

This suggests a deeper realisation of the huge damage being created, and an attentive positioning in response to public disquiet, but also a more fundamental understanding that this entire catalogue of negligence and disruption has threatened the very corporate-establishment 'order' within which such media and figures exist.

In laying bare the gross failures of Kuenssberg et al, such disclosures and attacks are likely to meet the same swift establishment response. 

Yet these are all signals of a much more profound unravelling. For all it's resilient and vindictive capacities, this is now an accumulated moment of reckoning for the system itself.

Covid-19 and the even larger threat of climate change has exposed the stark inadequacies of an entire elite, beckoning the need for a whole new set of political priorities and values: attentive leadership over crazy brinkmanship, vigilance over negligence, health over hubris, immunity before impunity, people before profit, humanity over insanity.

When the virus death toll eventually declines, when we begin to contemplate the true scale of the economic, political and social challenges coming, the massive adjustments, special measures, and whole new way of looking at how we live and function, it will become evermore apparent that there can be no credible return to neoliberal 'normality'.

In a fatefully perverse way, coronavirus has bought us vital time, setting the stage for nothing less than a coming existential showdown, the decisive choice between a system driven by unsustainable greed, relentless death and planetary destruction, or a last chance moment for civilisational survival.