Doing everything they can

The standard accepted narrative in public is that the governments of the world are doing everything they can in the face of unprecedented threat, to tackle the Covid / economic emergency. And for those ahead of the curve – China, South Korea, New Zealand, Iceland – it does seem as if their quick and decisive action early on, their willingness to heed the signs and act on them fast, has helped these countries to get back to something like a new normal relatively soon.

But what about governments that fail to take heed? There are a few obvious examples: Brazil, Belarus, The USA Federal Government… Our Westminster Government failed to act early when it saw the crisis unfolding in January this year and spreading with startling rapidity. If I can see this happening in December as I check in every morning for my news update on my phone, it is fatuous of any government to claim that they “didn’t realise”. In fact, the evidence is increasingly that not only did they realise, but they pretended not to, downgraded the threat and tried to believe, as all scared children will, that if they put their heads under the covers, the monster in the room would not see them and go away.

But surely, with all the resources at its call, the government really should have seen this crisis coming and could have taken decisive action earlier. And arguably, their failure to do so has cost their population dearly and amounts to a failure of duty. Is this why Westminster talks about “a war” and “our courageous NHS workers fighting on the front line against an invisible enemy”? To obscure their own culpability in a situation in which they were repeatedly warned about the dangers and did too little until it was, arguably, much too late?

It is an argument no-one wants to have; and yet, the fact that the Westminster administration is offering families of health workers who have died a capital sum might suggest that someone somewhere has warned about the possibility of litigation. Let’s face it: in any civil legal action for damages – compensation – which only needs to be proved on the balance of probabilities – not only are the obvious heads of claim actionable, but also any outcome that is reasonably foreseeable as a result of the main failure.

So, if a person loses their job, breaks up with their spouse, loses their home, gets sick or dies, are these actions reasonably foreseeable as a result of the government’s failure to take reasonable steps to prevent the spread of an epidemic that they could see coming? In the UK, we were exceptionally fortunate in having had at least two months’ warning of the coming crisis. That we failed to make the most of that period of grace is, arguably, not only a shame, a pity and an awful waste, but, given the foreseeable fallout, actionable as well.

And I dread to think what the USA, noticeably more litigious in personal injury claims, will make of the hotch-potch of claims, counter-claims, advice and misinformation that is currently circulating there.

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