The world’s media has lined up to savage Britain’s coronavirus response this week after the UK’s death toll surpassed Italy’s to become the worst in Europe.
Headlines describe the UK as a ‘the problem child of Europe’ and the policies of Boris Johnson’s government as ‘the biggest failure in a generation’.
A shortage of protective gear, a late decision to go into lockdown and an ‘inadequate’ testing policy are all identified as reasons for Britain’s huge death toll.
There is scathing criticism not only from countries such as Germany and Australia which have been widely praised for their handling of the virus, but even from nations such as Italy and the United States where the crisis has been equally severe.
Italian media said the UK had not heeded warnings from northern Italy where the outbreak was in full swing two weeks before it reached a similar stage in the UK.
Boris Johnson (pictured at a Downing Street press conference) has come under severe criticism after Britain’s death toll became the worst in Europe
This chart shows the latest number of deaths in several European countries, with the UK in an unwanted lead. Germany’s is the lowest despite having the largest population of the five
The UK’s official death toll is now 30,076, compared to 29,684 in Italy. The only country with a higher tally is the United States with 73,431.
In Australia, which has seen only 97 deaths after taking early action to shut its borders, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a feature about Britain under the headline: ‘Biggest failure in a generation: Where did Britain go wrong?’.
The newspaper described a ‘growing chorus’ of experts and members of the public who regarded the UK response as a ‘series of deadly mistakes and miscalculations’.
The Herald laid out four main failures: a shortage of protective gear, a late decision to enter lockdown, a ‘bungled’ testing policy, and a failure to protect care homes.
Boris Johnson did not announce a lockdown until March 23, after ministers had initially played down talk of shutting down schools and public gatherings.
A public health expert told the paper that ‘the countries that moved fast have curtailed the epidemic. The countries that delayed have not. It’s as simple as that’.
The newspaper quoted the editor-in-chief of medical journal The Lancet as calling Britain’s response ‘the most serious science policy failure in a generation’.
Australia: The Sydney Morning Herald described the UK’s response as the ‘biggest failure in a generation’, pointing to a series of errors including on testing and lockdown
Germany: A story in news magazine Focus described the UK as Europe’s ‘problem child’ and said Britain’s response ‘reads like a chronology of failure’
Austria: The newspaper Kleine Zeitung used the same expression of ‘problem child’, saying there were ‘wrong measures’ and a lack of restrictions
Italy: This headline in Positano News said the situation in Britain was a ‘disaster’ – as Italian media wondered why the UK had failed to learn lessons from Italy’s experience
In Germany, which has seen far fewer deaths among a larger population, the news magazine Focus described the UK as the ‘problem child of Europe’.
The magazine accused the UK government of ‘carelessness and arrogance’ and said Britain’s response ‘reads like a chronology of failure’.
‘There are many signs that the government in London massively underestimated the pandemic,’ the article says.
The report said Boris Johnson had ‘shown little interest’ in the health crisis as late as mid-February and highlighted his statement on March 3 that he was still shaking hands.
‘Only when the Brits became aware of Germany’s successes did London convert to mass testing, but that took time,’ the magazine said.
In Austria, which has similarly been praised for its mass testing strategy, the newspaper Kleine Zeitung used the same expression of ‘problem child’ to describe the UK.
The newspaper said the scale of the crisis in Britain was ‘a story of wrong measures and a lack of restrictions’.
It said Britain had abandoned mass testing in mid-March only to revive it in recent weeks after seeing how it had worked in other countries.
‘It is feared that this late realisation could have cost many people their lives,’ the report suggests.
The WHO’s recommendation that countries should keep carrying out as many tests as possible was dismissed as advice to developing countries, the newspaper said.
In Italy, where there has been plenty of introspection about the scale of the country’s own crisis, La Repubblica laid out a series of ‘mistakes’ by UK authorities.
‘From herd immunity to mask delays: All the errors of the Johnson government,’ one headline read.
United States: A comment piece in the New Yorker referred to ‘Britain’s coronavirus disaster’ and said the UK was having a ‘terrible encounter with the virus’
United States: This story on CNN said the UK’s rush towards mass testing ‘only served to illustrate the inadequacies of Britain’s testing regime in the first place’.
Spain: This story in El Pais pointed out how ministers have tried to play down comparisons between countries as the UK death toll mounts
Sweden: This report by SVT blamed the UK’s huge death toll on a failure of testing and tracking
In a reader’s letter, one Italian living in London remarked semi-jokingly that ‘I begin to think that the British government is trying to make me feel at home, giving me the familiar show of incompetence to which we Italians have been used to for so long’.
‘In theory we had a few weeks ahead of Italy, but instead of gearing up, perhaps copying from the Germans, the government first did nothing, then tried to run for cover,’ the letter said.
A separate report in the Italian edition of HuffPost described Britain’s death toll as ‘the result of contradictory choices’.
‘Britain has therefore overtaken us in Europe in the sad lead of the number of people who lost their lives due to the virus that came from China,’ it said.
‘This was despite the fact that the pandemic hit the United Kingdom almost two weeks behind us, giving the British government ample time to organise the most appropriate measures to tackle the epidemic.’
Another Italian outlet, Positano News, described the situation in Britain as ‘a disaster with over 30,000 victims’.
In Spain, which has also seen an appalling death toll, the newspaper El Pais said Mr Johnson saw himself as a ‘classical god’.
‘For the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead, cunning, daring or rhetoric do not serve, but rather rigour, seriousness and perseverance,’ the article said.
The newspaper also pointed out how ministers have tried to play down comparisons between countries as the UK death toll mounts.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty’s call to avoid comparisons was a departure from his usual ‘phlegm and temperance’, the Spanish newspaper said.
In the United States, a comment piece in the New Yorker referred to ‘Britain’s coronavirus disaster’ and said the UK was having a ‘terrible encounter with the virus’.
Acknowledging the similarly awful death toll in the US, it said: ‘Each nation that has failed is more likely to have its own particular story of what went wrong. We are unhappy in our own way.’
But it said the ‘most obvious misstep by Boris Johnson’s government was its hesitation to implement a national lockdown’ until late March.
The article said there was a ‘directionless ten-day period in mid-March’ after the government insisted it had never been following a ‘herd immunity’ strategy but before the UK went into lockdown.
Meanwhile, CNN said that the government’s jubilation when it claimed to have reached its 100,000-a-day-testing target ‘only served to illustrate the inadequacies of Britain’s testing regime in the first place’.
However, it says that ministers have clung on to the fact that the NHS has not yet been overwhelmed as ‘one crucial measure of success’.