Re: Letter to the Editor dated July 9, 2020 – “Welcome to the UK … not!”

Dear Editor,

I read with great interest the comments made in the above letter by Tom and Gill Blades regarding their experiences on their return to the UK on July 7. However, my interest was tinged with a mixture of disappointment and anger.

I was disturbed to read of the Blades experience at the UK border control with regard to procedures, attitudes and behaviour of the Border Control Agents. Of course, I was not present at the time of your contributor’s arrival into the UK, therefore I am not in a position to challenge or comment on their findings. If their experience was as described, I firmly believe the alleged failings are worthy of investigation and, as a concerned UK citizen, I have therefore sent a copy of your article to my MP, and the Home Secretary, for their comment and investigation if appropriate. I await their responses with interest.

However, I was astonished and angered by the comments made by the author about the UK population in general. I resent the tone, and inferences he makes, especially because, – by his own admission, – he had been absent from the UK for the previous four months, – the period covered by the UK “lockdown”. He was therefore not in the country to see first-hand the public’s response to the lockdown. I have to assume that his “views” have been formulated, therefore, from media tittle-tattle, and by second and third hand (- or more) comment and misinformation passed on by other third parties.

Mr Blades states that the UK government’s response to the pandemic was “chaotic”. I am sure we could all criticise any government from afar, and we could all make suggestions for improvement to a government’s response (such suggestions being notably lacking in Mr. Blades’ essay). The messages and regulations imposed by UK government have been clear from the outset, and “unlocking” the economy has, so far, largely been orderly, without incident and without any significant major upsurge in the infection rate so far. To criticise an individual government’s actions as “chaotic” without any evidence or factual support is, I believe, reprehensible and unfair. There will always be a time in the future for retrospection, judgement and “lesson learning” regarding a government’s performance. I am sure that the same can be said with regard to the Portuguese government’s response to the pandemic.

Mr Blades then comments on an apparent “laissez faire and arrogant attitude of large numbers of the British public to the seriousness of the situation”. I resent this generalisation, which is to my mind patently not true. Adherence to the guidelines has largely been universal in the UK and, as always, the British public have excelled in helping others less able to help themselves. Support for our NHS and all frontline workers has been widespread. Contrary to the opinion voiced by Mr. Blades, I can say there has been palpable concern over the seriousness of the situation we have had, and continue to face. As with many other emergencies experienced by the British throughout history, the vast majority of the British public have stepped up to the plate. How could Mr Blades possibly know what attitudes have been in the UK? He tells us he has been resident in Portugal for the last four months.

Mr Blades then goes further with yet more astonishing and outrageous generalisations. “As ever, the all-too-common British mind set of disregarding authority or the lack of common sense (no one tells me what to do!) has manifested itself”. I find this comment offensive and without foundation. The pictures of the so called “covidiots” to whom I think Mr Blades refers show a number of people flocking to the beaches during a spell of hot weather not usual in the UK. They make up a very small proportion of the UK population, which currently stands at about 67.9 million people (Portugal’s at circa 10.2 million). Common sense and respect for others, and for the rules has prevailed within the vast majority of the UK population throughout this emergency. We have seen similar breaches across Europe.

These related to, for example, the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and in some cases anti lockdown protests. These protests not only took place in the UK, but also in Germany, France, Spain, and, my word yes, Portugal too! (Lisbon, Porto, Braga, and Coimbra). In line with Mr Blades’ assertions, would he class the participants in these protests as “covidiots” too?

Mr Blades’ comments regarding the UK police are equally offensive and, as with previous generalisations he makes, are not supported with a jot of evidence. The UK prides itself on the success of policing by consensus, – a method of policing which may be unfamiliar to many police forces elsewhere in Europe (for example, the UK police are not armed with guns as part of their everyday equipment). Mr Blades can rest assured that the UK police are quite capable of, and do act when required, often without the force required elsewhere on the continent.

Mr Blades then goes on to make a ridiculous assertion without any empirical evidence in support of his argument that Portugal is “probably” the safest country, and the UK is “definitely” the least safe country, in Europe. We are often told by qualified commentators that making any international comparison is difficult and not particularly useful, and cannot be so definitive. Comparison is made difficult by the circumstances found in each country. Data used in such exercises varies significantly between countries, such as population, demographics and, perhaps more importantly, in the methodology used in each country when computing the statistics and data to be used in any comparative exercise. Mr Blades asserts Portugal is perhaps the safest country in Europe. When comparing deaths per million of population as at June 22 for example, Portugal was 19th in the continental European “league table” (not just within the EU).

Notably, both Greece and Norway perform better than Portugal. In relation to the author’s assertion that the UK is “definitely” the least safe, under this deaths-per-million measure, Belgium actually fares worse than the UK. If we look at re-infection rates (or the R factor) across Europe, the UK comes in with an R factor of around 1, whilst in Germany the R factor is thought by researchers to have risen from 1.06 to approx. 2.88 (Source Robert Koch Inst). On the face of it with this measure, it looks like Germany is less safe than the UK. There are so many other factors we must consider before arriving at an objective conclusion one way or the other.

Given all these arguments above, can we really make definite conclusions, assertions or generalisations regarding individual countries in terms of governmental responses and public attitudes, or make such damning international comparisons between countries as Mr Blades does? – I think not.

David J Burkhardt
By email