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Hospitals 'Close to Collapse'.

Criticism across the country of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party government has grown markedly over recent days as the mandatory use of face coverings in all shops and stores comes in to effect. But is such criticism justified? And is the situation in the UK better, worse or no different to elsewhere? We take a look at the situation in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, and Kevan James offers his view on the Johnson-led UK government.

Reporting for Reuters, Andres Rojas and Herbert Villarraga write that Doctors in Bogota are calling for a return to a strict city-wide quarantine to slow coronavirus infections in Colombia's capital, warning that medical services are close to collapsing, a leading medic said on Thursday. The Andean country has reported over 165,000 cases of the coronavirus and around 6,000 deaths. Bogota accounts for more than a third of the country's total cases and over 20% of its deaths.

"We're in a critical situation," the president of the Bogota College of Medicine, Herman Bayona, told Reuters. "We are close to collapse."

Colombian President Ivan Duque declared an ongoing quarantine to slow the spread of the coronavirus in late March.The quarantine is due to be lifted on August 1, with certain sectors of the economy and parts of the country already starting to reopen.This week the capital began strict, rolling two-week quarantines by neighbourhood, something Bayona said was ineffective.

"We don't think zonal quarantines have the power to slow the speed of infections," he said. Bayona said a number of medical associations had met with political leaders in Bogota to argue for a return to a strict city-wide quarantine.Bogota's intensive care units (ICUs) were at just under 90% capacity as of Wednesday evening, according to local government figures. Mayor Claudia Lopez visited a public hospital on Thursday and said between 20 and 30 new ventilators will come online daily to increase ICU capacity.

"Bogota's hospitals haven't collapsed," Lopez said. "The hospital system and ICUs are serving everyone who needs attention." Though some ICUs are at full capacity, patients can be moved to hospitals with space, she said. But ICUs are not the only measure of a stretched health system. COVID-19 wards in the city are full, Bayona said, while emergency services are operating above capacity.

Lopez is set to hold a meeting early next week with the health ministry to determine whether all of Bogota will be placed under a strict quarantine.If hospitals reach full capacity as the peak of the pandemic hits, it will spell disaster, Bayona said."The possibility of a great number of deaths in our city is a latent risk," he said.

© Andres Rojas and Herbert Villarraga / Reuters 2020.

Image - Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bogota


KJM Today Opinion

Kevan James

It might seem unfair, at least in some respects, to compare one country with another. Even countries that share a continent and a border can be dramatically different, in the outlook and behaviour of their people, their social views, traditions and culture. Yet all species of animals on the planet - including the human variety - share the same basic mechanical features. Blood is red, however one may outwardly look, whether one walks on two legs or four. All feel emotion and pain. All are born, live for a finite time and ultimately die. And all can fall ill.

It is these features that we share so perhaps some comparison is not only fair but indeed appropriate. The people of Colombia and its capital city have endured much that we in the United Kingdom have not. But we share our susceptibility to Covid-19 (C19) and other coronaviruses. That by the way, includes the common cold, or three strains of it at least. Always overlooked is the fact that Covid-19 and the common cold share not only the same symptoms but are also coronaviruses - again we see how comparisons can be made. And all countries, their health systems, those who work within them, media reportage and governments, still insist on calling Covid-19 'The Coronavirus.'

Technically speaking, since C19 is 'a' coronavirus, it might be considered correct - maybe - to call it 'The Coronavirus' but the fundamental flaw with this is that it fails to differentiate between all forms of the condition. And since the symptoms of all coronaviruses are almost identical, or at least very similar, it is important to stress that they are different. This is also important as there are other ailments, like Flu, which also have similar symptoms. Flu is not a coronavirus but again, the symptoms are very, very alike. So it is vital to distinguish between them. Yet there isn't a country anywhere that has.

So if we are to compare Bogota with say, Leicester, currently in lockdown due to a 'second wave' of C19, we can suggest that both cities are suffering in a similar way. Is therefore criticism of UK Prime Minister fair? I would suggest that it is not - at least in his and his government's handling of C19 and its effects. What Boris Johnson has done is not very different to others around the entire world.

So why are some (many of whom voted for Johnson and the Conservatives at the last general election) now being so critical and to the point of saying they will never vote Tory again? Who such critics will vote for instead is another question since, as we have seen, all governments, of all kinds, have responded in almost identical ways to C19. What makes Johnson so different?

It is here that differences in tradition, culture and outlook come into things. Perhaps more than any other country, the United Kingdom has stood like a beacon in terms of freedom of the individual to go about their daily lives without undue interference from the state and its agents. Unlike many countries (including Colombia) the British do not, as a general rule, go about nationwide, violent mass protests and most certainly do not overthrow its government - which has happened in Colombia. And there are some notable exceptions to the British way of making a point, as we have seen rather graphically recently. The South American country also saw the the first constitutional government in South America, and the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas. So perhaps, despite reputation and occasional exception, some comparisons are indeed, apt.

The most telling of all however, is that of government response to Covid-19. What C19 is, is real - it does exist. Some enthusiasm has been shown on social media for the view that it is all a hoax. This it is not. C19 (like the common cold and Flu) can trigger a number of other conditions that can prove fatal. And this is where confusion reigns and where criticism of Boris Johnson is fair.

If there is an outbreak of Flu - which there is every winter, despite there being a vaccine for it - will we shut down the world because of it? No - we won't. If there is an outbreak of an ordinary cold, will we shut down the world because of it? Still no.

What many people in the UK find upsetting is the distortion of fact behind C19. In this, Johnson and his government are no more liable than any other anywhere in the world. However, if one accepts that the UK is where democracy began, where its place of governance is known as 'The Mother of All Parliaments', where freedom has been the byword for centuries, the actions of the Prime Minister and his colleagues goes against the grain. What many in the UK are saying is, "If you are going to suggest we must stay at home, give us the truth. If you are going to suggest we must cover our faces, give us the facts. Give us truth and facts untainted by sublime political bias and untarnished by an unthinking desire for power and control."

In a country where the freedom of the individual, a country where democracy and a government that does not interfere with the live of its people are supposed to be paramount and above everything else, it doesn't seem an unreasonable demand.

© Kevan James 2020.

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