June 13th, 2024

COVID death rates and arrogance

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 2, 2020.

Slowness to act has led to high fatality rates in U.S., U.K.

Something has gone wrong in the “Anglosphere,” as the English-speaking countries are known in some other parts of the world.

Smaller English-speaking countries are coping with the COVID-19 emergency quite well. New Zealand’s coronavirus death toll as of April 26 was 18, and Australia’s was 83. Even Canada, despite being next-door to the United States, had only 2,500 fatalities at that time.

But the two big English-speaking countries are taking worse losses to the coronavirus than anywhere else. The United Kingdom had 20,000 dead by last Sunday, and the United States was scheduled to hit 60,000 by Wednesday at the latest. At the current daily death rate, the U.S. will reach 100,000 in about two weeks.

Last month Sir Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said that keeping deaths below 20,000 would be a “good outcome,” but the final British death toll in this wave of the pandemic will probably be between 30,000 and 40,000 people – the highest loss in Europe.

The United States is almost as bad. Early this month President Trump congratulated himself for his belated conversion to lockdowns, boasting that “The minimum [predicted] number was 100,000 lives and I think we’ll be substantially under that number.”

American infection rates are still going up, so that is highly unlikely. But even if the U.S. stops at the “minimum” level of 100,000 deaths, that would mean Americans are dying from COVID-19 at 80 times the death rate that Chinese citizens suffered before Beijing got the virus under control. Or, if you doubt China’s statistics, at 1,515 times New Zealand’s death rate.

Other English-speaking countries, including those that use English as a common second language, like Kenya, India and South Africa, are not showing anomalous death rates. It’s just the U.S. and the U.K. – so what might they have in common that none of the other English-speaking countries share?

Oh, wait a minute. Weren’t these two countries the superpowers that dominated the world one after the other for most of the past two centuries?

Might that have made them a bit arrogant? Unable to see the experience of other countries as relevant to their own situation? Reluctant to follow the advice of international bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO)? Am I getting warm here?

Britain ticks all the boxes. It has a nationalistic government obsessed with the “greatness” of the country’s past and unable to grasp the reality of its modest current stature. Hence the Brexit project, for example, but exactly the same attitude is manifest in its coronavirus policies.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was saying “Test. Test. Test.” as early as January. In early March, however, Britain defied the conventional wisdom and all but abandoned both community testing and contact tracing (which is the other essential part of the “Test” strategy).

Instead the U.K. wandered off into the lethal fantasy of seeking “herd immunity” by letting infections rip, ignoring what first the East Asian countries and later all the other European countries were doing. It only panicked in late March when it realized that its National Health Service would collapse under the weight of so many deaths.

It finally declared a lockdown after all its neighbours, and it is paying the price for the delay with its death rate. This was sheer arrogance at work, with only a slight tincture of ignorance. And even now, with pressure growing for an early release from the lockdown, the U.K. government is still playing catch-up.

The United Kingdom is only now starting to work on building an organization to test on a national scale (hundred of thousands of tests a day), trace the contacts of infected people, and isolate them all in order to break the chains of transmission. Yet you cannot safely ease the lockdown until the testing and contact tracing network is up and running.

Wrong at every step, Prime Minister Boris Johnson must be very grateful to have Donald “Lysol” Trump to make him look good by comparison. The American president’s sins of omission on coronavirus are why the U.S. has one-third of the COVID-19 infections in the world, with only one-20th of the world’s population.

Trump downplayed the threat as long as he could, then became a last-minute advocate of lockdown. He has now moved on to being the liberator of the American people from lockdown (without any contact tracing, of course). The problem with him as a leader is that he is not only arrogant but flighty and astoundingly ignorant.

But his flightiness and ignorance are merely personal attributes, and Boris Johnson is not ignorant at all (just lazy). What the two men and their respective countries both have in abundance is an arrogant exceptionalism that is leading them into increasingly grave errors.

As Joseph de Maistre remarked, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is “Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).”

Share this story:

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The wrong focus is being promoted in this article. Instead of criticising some world leaders versus others, the real question should be why did the powers that be promote and arrange the destruction of the global economy in pursuit of a pandemic that is only marginally more dangerous than flu epidemics of the past.? The vast majority of patients fully recover and those that don’t were mostly suffering from a range of other maladies. Even in the devastating 1918 flu , life and commerce continued, as you should be isolating the sick not the healthy.


I see that families having jobs ,businesses, and incomes is of no concern to you ! One might apply the term “shallow” to your own position

Southern Albertan

New Zealand is mentioned in the article…further, who needs to be mentioned is New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who orchestrated their early, fast and strict action on COVID-19. So not only were thousands of deaths prevented in New Zealand but they were thus, able to open up their economy much sooner than other western countries. So, good for their people, and, good for their economy, since people, money and economy always, talks.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership skills are so impressive that it has been said that she could give the western world a master class on leadership.
And another plug for New Zealand, their government has been judged to be the best democracy in the world, and, they have a form of proportional representation with their elections. Not too shabby……and perfect for emulation.
PM Ardern also came down hard on assault rifles after their horrible mosque shooting deaths including their buy-back program. She also called up PM Trudeau and congratulated him/Canada on our assault rifle ban, and good on her!


Hear! Hear!

tom mcdonald

Such drivel from Dyer. Why the Herald publishes this progressive hack is beyond me. At least try and look objective by printing an opposing opinion and add Sean Hannity as a contributor (or some-such)…. Lyer, I mean Dyer, is as objective as the Fox News darling. I’m bored by the garbage you chose to print – predictably biased each and every day… No wonder the ‘news’ business is dying. Good riddance.


peigan – issues with progressive thinking? still fuming over round world conspiracy; earth is not center of universe conspiracy; sun is not center of universe conspiracy; trump is not a genius conspiracy?
buck, not sure why the supposition you have created. dyer has focused on two leaders that provide far more bombast than intelligent leadership – they each have fumbled, and have cost more in terms of lives and long term economic hardship than have most other western nations.


Wonder what Dyer will have to say about the Darling of the UK and world lockdown Neil Ferguson,who while infected with Covid invited his married sweetheart over for a trist or two. DO AS I SAY SLAVES, I WILL DO WHAT I WANT. Typical attitude of the duly anointed. Fortunately this jerk was forced to resign.