February 15, 2021
Like my chosen country, I grew up in the shadow of the British monarchy. Most of my family still lives in the UK so I get regular updates on the news from across the pond – and lately the news has been grim.
The primary cause of the bad news is the impact of the pandemic. Somehow the country has managed to find the worst of both worlds: a very high rate of death compared to other nations and a significant contraction in the economy as a result of the COVID-19 related restrictions. To add to the misery, the initial implementation of Brexit is not going smoothly.
Britain’s current COVID-19 per capita mortality rate is worse than anywhere in the world except for Belgium and Slovenia, according to Statista. This level of loss cannot be attributed to the indifference of British politicians. I doubt there are many countries that have done as much to create regulations and requirements to enforce restrictions and lockdowns. Moreover, the rules are regularly adapted, to the point where the British weather might be more reliable and predictable than the latest pandemic rules. The government-run National Health Service (NHS) has creaked mightily under the strain. In fact, some of the rules and restrictions have been developed to try and prevent a collapse in the NHS.
While the restrictions have had limited success in controlling the virus, they have been very effective in slowing down the economy which contracted by 9.9% in 2020 (compared with a 3.5% contraction in the US). According to the Bank of England’s latest data, the UK economy contracted more last year than at any time over the last 300 years. Even the post-World War I depression during its height produced less of an economic downturn. Apparently, you must go back to the unimaginatively named “Great Frost” of 1709 to find a year with worse economic performance. The fact that the Bank of England provides such data with almost poetic historical references says quite a bit about how the British view adversity. The ability to cope with misery still seems to be a badge of pride.
There is hope on the horizon. The British have been fast to move forward with vaccinations. They were one of the first countries to authorize a vaccine and are implementing a vaccination program aggressively. Already almost 20% of the population has received the vaccine according to the Wall Street Journal. This compares with 14% in the USA and around 4% (yes – four!) in France and Germany. Not surprisingly, the Bank of England is predicting an economic recovery later in the year. The Bank’s Chief Economist has likened the British economy to a “coiled spring.”
One of my sisters has not yet been allowed to visit her nearly 4-month-old granddaughter so I will be very pleased when my family can move around the country again. And while we might be unhappy with the way the pandemic has affected our lives, please Keep Calm – Be Glad We Are Not In Britain.