DAN HODGES: We don't have the worst Covid-19 death rate in Europe

DAN HODGES: We DON’T have the worst Covid-19 death rate in Europe and it’s wicked of the Left to pretend we do

Dr Chiara Lepora, of the disaster relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, sounded exhausted. ‘Everybody here is working beyond their limits,’ she admitted. 

Lepora wasn’t speaking from the scene of a catastrophic famine, or an overwhelmed refugee centre. But from Lombardy, Italy.

‘We have a team of about 25 people working here in the Lombardy region,’ she explained. ‘The health system here is very advanced but the virus has outpaced all attempts to deal with the increasing number of cases.

Workers for Medecins Sans Frontieres have been working beyond their limits to fight the coronavirus in the Italian region of Lombardy

The region of Lombardy, which contains major Italian cities such as Milan (above) and Bergamo, has been one of the worst affected areas by the global pandemic

‘The hospitals are at their limit… the only way to refer a new patient in is if another patient recovers or dies as all hospitals have reached their capacity. 

‘There is no choice but to treat some patients with less severe symptoms at home.’

There is no questioning the dedication and courage of Lepora and her colleagues. But according to reports over the past week, they had made a terrible blunder. 

MSF should not have been focusing its precious resources on Italy, but deploying them here in the UK. Because it’s the UK that is supposedly the real ground zero of the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘UK coronavirus death toll is now the worst in Europe,’ screamed The Guardian on Wednesday. ‘How on earth did it come to this?’ demanded Sir Keir Starmer, as the Prime Minister returned for his first PMQs since so nearly becoming a fatality statistic himself.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (pictured) was quick to criticise the Government for the nation’s mortality rate

Clearly unprepared for the more aggressive approach, Boris bumbled his way through a response. But he shouldn’t have. Instead he should have set out the truth. It has not come to this. 

Britain does not have the worst Covid-19 death toll in Europe. And the Government’s critics know it.

The grim threshold was supposedly crossed when the UK’s mortality rate reached 29,427 deaths, seemingly surpassing Italy’s figure of 29,029. But those bald figures are like any other statistic, utterly devoid of meaning when stripped of context.

The most obvious is the differing size of the respective national populations. Britain’s population is ten per cent larger than Italy’s, and 40 per cent larger than Spain’s. 

So to be relevant, any mortality figures have to be adjusted to reflect that. If they’re not, then WHO statistics reveal the European administrations most ruthless in tackling Covid-19 have been the Holy See and Monaco.

Another major difference is that, unlike the UK, other nations’ coronavirus statistics don’t include deaths outside of hospital. But in Italy, the effective collapse of the country’s health provision meant that significant numbers of patients were sentenced to death at home.

Coronavirus figures in Europe do not include deaths outside of hospital. The UK, whose NHS staff applauded Welsh resident Danny Egan (above) out of hospital do include this figure

As the Associated Press reported at the end of April: ‘Because Lombardy’s intensive care units were already filling up within days of Italy’s first cases, many primary care physicians tried to treat and monitor patients at home. 

‘Some put them on supplemental oxygen, commonly used for home cases in Italy. That strategy proved deadly, and many died at home.’

Then there is the situation in the care homes. There has been huge focus on deaths in those facilities here in the UK. But these figures are now included in our fatality statistics. 

Yet for some reason those who were desperately lobbying for their inclusion have suddenly chosen to turn their back on the carnage occurring in Spain and Italy.

Last month, a leaked Spanish government report estimated that 57 per cent of the country’s Covid-19 death toll was care-home-related. In Italy, the public prosecutor in Milan is now formally investigating what the WHO has described as a care-homes ‘massacre’. 

Data revealed that the majority of Spain’s death tolls came in their care-homes (above) and Italy are launching an investigation into their ‘care-homes’ massacre

More than 1,800 care-home patients have been identified as dying of coronavirus in Lombardy alone, but it’s believed the figure is much higher because many victims were not even swabbed.

Yet to those intent on driving Britain to the top of the Covid-19 death league table, the Italian and Spanish death figures are sacrosanct, and the UK’s are not. Which is odd, given that last week Italy’s own statistics agency acknowledged their official mortality totals represented a staggering underestimate of the true death toll.

In March, there was a recorded increase in excess of deaths of 50 per cent across the country. In northern Italy, the number of excess deaths virtually doubled. In Milan, the increase was a horrific 180 per cent.

But none of this matters. Remember the footage of the Italian field hospitals that resembled a scene from M*A*S*H? ‘This is Britain in 14 days,’ we were told. It wasn’t.

Last week, the Nightingale Hospital was mothballed. It never expanded beyond the first ward. A couple of days after the closure was announced, social media reacted in horror as images circulated of Covid-19 patients being forced to lie in corridors in another London hospital. Until it emerged that the hospital in question was actually in Spain.

Coronavirus patients in Spain were caught lying on hospital floors due to a lack of space in their wards

But the Government’s critics don’t care. Cast your mind back to the referendum campaign, and the attacks on Leave’s ‘£350 million for the NHS’ pledge. The claim was devious and bogus, we were told. The bald figure may be accurate, but it didn’t stand up to the most simplistic statistical analysis.

The assertion that Britain has the worst Covid-19 death rate is the coronavirus equivalent. Those peddling this fake news have stopped short of painting the Grim Reaper on the side of a bus and touring it round the nation. But the effect is the same. They are working the political angles on the most deadly global pandemic for a century.

To what end? Obviously part of it is base hostility to Boris and his administration. As I’ve written before, there are those on the liberal Left who will never forgive him for winning that Brexit referendum, then cementing his victory in last year’s General Election.

There are also some who are astute – and cynical – enough to see political danger in the NHS’s remarkable resilience in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. For decades, the Left has hammered the mantra Britain’s health service was 24 hours from destruction. 

The Left have often repeated the mantra that the NHS is 24 hours from total destruction

 As the scale of the crisis unfolding in Italy became apparent, I lost count of the number of times I was told: ‘Just you wait. Italy has double the critical care capacity we have.’ But it was Italy’s health service that buckled, and ours that withstood the coronavirus impact.

But to point that out is to commit a sacrilege. When I did so last week, one social-media commentator accused me of ‘pushing pro-virus propaganda’. A slightly less hysterical charge was that I was guilty of ‘British exceptionalism’.

Yet the problem is not British exceptionalism, but British nihilism. A need among sections of marginalised liberalism to debunk the simplistic notion British is Best by replacing it with the even more simplistic notion British is Worst.

Whatever the facts or the reality, they must somehow be twisted to show ourselves in the poorest possible light. Because if we don’t, what might happen then? If people realise the NHS isn’t actually on the point of implosion. Or Europe’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has not actually been superior to our own. Or that self-obsessed charlatan Boris Johnson has in fact been listening to the experts and following the science and doing everything he can to keep the British people safe.

Perhaps Boris Johnson has been listening to scientific experts and been doing all he can to keep the country safe against this terrible virus?

There are no championship medals in the battle against coronavirus. Every single death is a tragedy. The construction of a global league table of death is as tasteless as it is meaningless. 

But last week, the Government’s critics decided to spotlight this morbid benchmark.

Which makes it appropriate to grab that spotlight, and pivot it. Britain does not have the worst Covid-19 death toll in Europe. So why are the proponents of British nihilism so desperate to pretend that we do?

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