Coronavirus: Kiwi in London reacts to national lockdown, Boris Johnson's 'astonishingly bad' job at leading

Once again, Brits are being asked to stay at home.
Once again, Brits are being asked to stay at home. Photo credit: Getty.

A Kiwi living in London has reacted to Boris Johnson's dramatic COVID-19 lockdown announcement on Tuesday, criticising the local government's response to the pandemic.

The United Kingdom's Prime Minister on Tuesday (NZ time) revealed England would return to a national lockdown, with residents told to stay at home, businesses ordered to close, and most schools to shut.

It comes as a new, more transmissible variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes havoc, with more than 58,000 cases of COVID-19 reported on Monday alone. 

Among those again asked to stay at home is New Zealanders Sophie Bateman, who described to Newshub her reaction to Johnson's announcement. 

"You know when you drop your phone and react way too late to grab it, but your hand shoots out anyway and you hit your fingers and break a nail, and then look down and see your hopeless reflection in the shattered screen? Like that," she said. 

The UK government has been regularly criticised for its response to the pandemic. Johnson - who won a landslide election victory in 2019 on the back of his promise not to "dither and delay" with Brexit - has been accused of doing exactly that with COVID-19, reluctant to implement full-scale lockdowns. 

Instead, over December, as the new variant began to take off, a localised tier-system was used causing confusion ahead of the massive Christmas season.

"I relish Johnson's misery at being Prime Minister, a job he wanted for so long and is so astonishingly bad at, but he's only a symptom of a hollowed-out state that probably never had a chance at handling a pandemic," Bateman said.

"What's been brought home to me is that the British government does not have the public's safety at heart and is under no obligation to pretend otherwise."

She said data was difficult to find and actions to lower infections rates were implemented "too late or followed by something breathtakingly stupid like when they offered everyone vouchers to go and eat at indoor restaurants".

In August, the government introduced the 'Eat out to Help Out' scheme, which provided a 50 percent discount to customers eating at registered restaurants on certain days. The idea was that the subsidy would get more Brits out and about spending money after months of restrictions.

However, it's been reported that as the scheme kicked off, the UK began to see a rise in COVID-19 cases. A study from the University of Warwick found that between 8 percent and 17 percent of newly detected infection clusters could be linked to the scheme. Cases dropped after the programme finished. 

The local Treasury, however, didn't recognise those findings. 

"Many other European counterparts have experienced an uptick in cases - irrespective of whether similar measures for the hospitality industry have been introduced," a spokesman for Treasury said.

Bateman also said the government had "abruptly reversed" policies "with no acknowledgement that there's been an enormous U-Turn".

An example of that could be found on Tuesday when Johnson announced schools would close for all but vulnerable children and the kids of key workers. Just on Monday, Johnson had said schools were safe. 

"Prime Minister announces that primary and secondary schools will all close in England, having insisted just a day ago that it was safe for them to reopen," ITV political correspondent Paul Brand said on Twitter. 

Bateman told Newshub there is also a "void where you'd expect an opposition party to be". 

"Keir Starmer's Labour is too terrified of being branded socialists to call for anything that would actually help people survive whatever the next six months will be."

The messy state of affairs in the UK contrasts deeply with the current situation in New Zealand where there are no restrictions other than at the border.

"I've lived in a state of dissociation for so long that my brain has become a fine mush and nothing feels even slightly real, so photos of parties and concerts from the other side of the world register sort of like dreamy memories of a film you half-remember," Bateman said.

So would she be tempted to come back?

"If anything the pandemic has proven how determined I am to make a life in the UK, because not once have I seriously considered it," she said.

"Even in the first few weeks when things were very uncertain and frightening I didn't see any other way forward than hunkering down in our flat in Hackney, which we'd only just moved into. 

"I also hate flying so the apocalypse levels would have to be dialled up a lot higher for me to go through that again."