Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire for mismanaging his country’s response to the covid-19 crisis in the United Kingdom, almost as poorly as President Donald Trump across the Atlantic. But Johnson’s latest comments, made on a conference call with British CEOs, might be the worst thing he’s said yet about the pandemic. Johnson reportedly suggested calling the UK’s desperate efforts to produce more ventilators, “Operation Last Gasp,” according to a new report from Politico EU.
The UK, much like the U.S., is facing a critical shortage of ventilators right now as both countries brace for an influx of covid-19 patients that will be swamping hospitals in the coming days and weeks. And Johnson’s comments make it clear that he’s not taking this crisis seriously.
Johnson was on a call with about 60 CEOs of major manufacturing businesses last night, hamming it up while the UK has at least 1,553 confirmed cases of covid-19 and 56 deaths.
From Politico EU:
Individuals privy to the call said that the aim was to have the ventilators “on stream” within two weeks. The government is leaning toward having manufacturing firm Unipart spearhead the national production drive.
Some participants came away from the conference call less than impressed with Johnson’s own performance. “He couldn’t help but act the clown, even though he was a on call with serious CEOs from goodness knows how many companies,” one participant told my POLITICO colleague Charlie Cooper. This individual said the PM “joked” that the enterprise to build more life-saving ventilators could be known as “Operation Last Gasp.”
The UK health care system has about 5,900 ventilators for its population of 66 million people, according to the Guardian. But health experts believe it may need 20,000 when the covid-19 crisis really hits.
The U.S. has roughly 160,000 ventilators for its population of 330 million, according to estimates from the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, with another 12,700 in a national reserve. Germany has about 25,000 ventilators and France roughly 5,065.
Doctors in Italy, the current epicenter of the covid-19 crisis, has been making some incredibly difficult decisions, forced to prioritize younger and healthier patients under wartime-like rules and not giving ventilators to older patients who are less likely to survive. Italy’s sole producer of ventilators, Siare Engineering, has been asked to start making 500 ventilators a month, according to the Financial Times.
It’s clear that the entire world is now scrambling to find ventilators, so much so that President Trump told state governors on a conference call Monday morning that they should be looking for the devices on their own.
Britain’s response to the covid-19 crisis has changed dramatically in the past few days after government officials apparently learned that their previous approach of letting the virus intentionally spread wildly among the younger population would still result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
From the Financial Times:
Boris Johnson announced stringent new measures — including social distancing of the whole population — on Monday after modelling from Imperial College warned the government’s previous more measured approach would have overwhelmed hospitals with demand for intensive care beds.
The new coronavirus strategy could cut UK deaths from Covid-19 to “a few thousands or tens of thousands” through to the autumn, but the researchers questioned whether such extraordinary restrictions could be sustained beyond that point.
While it’s important to keep a sense of humor during dark times, it’s probably best for world leaders not to make jokes about the lack of ventilators. Johnson’s quip about “Operation Last Gasp” might have been funny in a different era, but people all over the world are dying right now. And leaders like Johnson need to wake up to the fact that the new coronavirus doesn’t respect national borders and can’t be persuaded by new slogans or having a stiff upper lip.
Prime Minister Johnson, who’s 55 years old, is no spring chicken, and covid-19 is taking an especially hard toll on older people. Get to work, and don’t waste your time coming up with silly names for completely avoidable apocalyptic scenarios.