The View From Abroad: UK death toll highest in Europe

June 13, 2020


2 min read

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What's going on here?

As of 28 May, the UK had registered 59,537 more deaths than usual since the week ending March 20, indicating that the virus has directly or indirectly killed 891 people per million. The absolute number of excess deaths in the UK is the highest in Europe, and second only to the US in global terms, according to data collected by the Financial Times.

What does this mean?

These statistics are uncomfortable viewing for not only the UK government but also the British public. During the early weeks of the pandemic, the government willingly displayed a graph of international comparison comparing the death toll against other countries. On 9 May when it was last displayed, Britain was the highest in Europe. It has now disappeared from the briefings. In light of this, the government has claimed it would be premature to make international comparisons until a considerable and accurate date of worldwide excess deaths became conclusive.

What's the big picture effect?

While public support of the government’s response to the pandemic is dwindling, there still remains a base of support here in the UK. Venture outside our borders, however, and the view is not so rosy. Chinese parents have panicked on social media, citing the fear for their children studying in the UK. In Europe, the response to the pandemic has reinforced views during the Brexit Saga. The German Press have claimed that unequal and unhealthy Britain made a “good breeding ground for the pandemic”. Poland’s government has cited Britain as an example of what not to do. Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, has referred to herd immunity, the UK’s initial strategy, as a “death sentence”.

More recently, the easing of lockdown has been compared to Boris Johnson’s disregard of potential issues the UK will face as a result of leaving the EU. The result of the EU referendum followed by a three year negotiation period has already significantly changed how the UK is viewed by its foreign counterparts. Countries with strong ties to the Union that were already sceptical will now be considering the response of the UK Government in respect to the pandemic, compounding their views on the UK’s “poor” decision making. This may lead to a situation where the UK’s role on the world stage slowly weakens, as countries who view us as less reliable will be unwilling to cooperate with a partner whose value is depleting.

With the virus still spreading in the UK, the possibility of a second wave increases. Further, the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the UK in this transition period are set to conclude at the end of the year. While the likelihood of a second wave and completed trade deal remains uncertain the world will be watching the UK and contemplating its decisions. 

Report written by Kasey Cummings

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