On February 21st 2022, Boris Johnson announced the end of most Covid restrictions in England. A few days later, on the 24th, whatever domestic legal restrictions were still technically in force disappeared (most had long since vanished in practice) and our rainy island became the West’s first Great Experiment in just y’know, letting things happen. See how they pan out, sort of thing.
In between him saying so and it being so, 321 people died and were subsequently added to official tallies. We don’t need to know their names of course, it’s a lot more than any average person could remember in any case. When numbers get into three or four figures it’s all about comparisons, “equivalent to the population of the Draper Estate main tower” or somesuch. One death is a tragedy, a million a statistic, as Stalin didn’t say once.
Those were, fortunately, way down from the dizzying heights of Delta in the winter of 2021 when 1,700 were dying in a day, a whole Hatfield Heath keeling over at a time. By the summer of that year deaths were at a legitimately paltry four or five a day, so low they could be named in the local papers. A relatively tame winter in the low hundreds followed.
Everyone really wants things to be back to “normal,” or at least not to have disease continue looming in our peripheral vision alongside the other three members of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. That’s the honest truth. Some of us are more or less wary about it, but no-one wants that coughing git to continue taking up precious headspace.
So journalists and social media mavens, already bored, moved on to opinioneer and research about other topics. Boris and the semi-related partying gaffe. What “hypersonic missile” actually means. Chuck in a climate story if it’s been a while. Lists of Covid deaths dropped down, or off, the agenda. Eventually, as March moved on, even conspiracy theorists had nothing left in the tank and quietly stopped grousing (for those who didn’t immediately sign up to Great Reset tin foil hattery to scratch that itch, do please try and remember this pipeline for next time).
But this doesn’t mean deaths have stopped happening. Far from it. In 2020, where the first wave somehow missed hitting in the winter, there was a rough (official) cumulative death count of 77,300 (approximately the town of Bury). The following year, particularly over the winter months, saw a further 72,600 (almost all of South Shields) with 22,500 of those (Felixstowe) taking place from April, after the Delta wave had subsided.
Through the first five months of 2022 we had two mini surges, with an average death rate of 200 people per day through to May 1st. It seems we may have reached the promised land that the Tories had been eyeing for so long. The rate which, in the words of our esteemed Prime Minister, “we’re going to have to learn to live with.”
If we extrapolate that as an annual average of sorts, evening out winter surges with (hopefully) summer recesses and with fingers crossed that the NHS’s slow collapse is gentle, that would come to 73,000-odd deaths a year. An annual Devastation of Walsall, give or take.
And by “we” will have to live with it, I of course mean people with vulnerabilities and/or who need to rely on the ruins of public healthcare under multiple neoliberal governments.
So now we know what is and isn’t the number of direct deaths which will galvanise the British government to fart around pretending it has a plan in ways that might actually require some sort of sacrifice to business as usual.
Where 75,000 is the low end of potentially double or triple that number, they’ll clap for carers, tell us to wash our hands and make a sort of haphazard effort to enforce mask wearing. They’ll chuck a lot of shady money at businesses (no point in wasting a good crisis), a bit of money at getting people temporarily off the streets, and make a showing of getting people jabbed when the option becomes available. That’s Action Numbers.
Losing a Walsall made up primarily of the economically marginal though? No probs. Job done. They can live with that in any given year.
The bigger question is whether we can. Because it won’t be the ruling classes’ well-protected lungs, drawing in clear fresh air at the tops of skyscrapers and in green rural idylls, that fill with fluid and shut down.
It won’t, in the main, be them waving goodbye to loved ones whose existing health complications were pushed over the edge by a dose of omicron or whatever Greek letter we’re on by that point. It won’t be them, working from home because they’re too senior to bully back to the office, crushed into buses and on trains and Tubes sucking down polluted, infected air.
That joy is all for us. And what has become true for those who traipse the streets in defiance of State callousness is there’s now more than one reason to mask up.
This article first appeared in the Summer-Autumn edition of Freedom journal, available at our online shop for the cost of postage.
Pic: Number 10