Ahead of the publication of Dr Quin, Medicine Man, John Quin turns his hand to a Biteback blog explaining the limitations of the UK's Covid-19 response...


How Twitter and three literary greats (a Vichy collaborator, an Italian Fascist and a Wehrmacht captain) ludicrously helped make sense of the British government’s woeful response to the Covid-19 pandemic.




Friday 17 April 2020

Back to work for the first time in four years on Wednesday there. The front entrance to the hospital has, as ever, a couple of dossers fannying around: smokers, of course, embracing death. The old pastel-coloured Philip Dunn prints of the pier and the seafront still line the walls, a desperate gesture of levity. I overhear a conversation about some patient or relative being thrown out for ‘threatening to kill the ward sister’. I think: nothing’s changed.

I’m issued with a new security badge. Bat ears sticking out in the photograph because I’d just removed my mask. The canteen is closed, which is inevitable but sad because it has a great view of the sea. I say hello to the staff I know there and then the team at OP, where they take my temp on entering. Right. Let’s get to work. The computer and new IT is the biggest bugbear. The phone consults are fine, the patients touchingly accepting of the limitations, of my frank admission that I’ve not seen anyone in forty-seven months. Talking about erectile dysfunction over the blower is not ideal. ‘How’s your libido?’

Only one guy gives me grief – he asks three times if I can call back. He hasn’t had any of his investigations done. I’m not surprised to see that he’s in his early twenties. He’s moved to Bath, seems not to know the country is in lockdown, that there’s an emergency going on.

A colleague tells me that at least four of his old pals are currently on ventilators in various parts of the country. The BAME risk seems way too high. Maybe all BAME people over fifty should be offered immediate redeployment away from true frontline duties i.e. ITU/acute Covid streams.

‘Our survey shows: 22 per cent of physicians could not get the PPE they needed’ – Royal College of Physicians. Fuck sake. The days of austerity have crushed the NHS.

68 per cent of the British think that the government is handling the crisis well. Jonathan Coe writes: ‘That weird noise you just heard was my head exploding.’

‘We are resigned to getting it’: frontline NHS staff quoted in The Guardian. Cabinet still not meeting. Parliament not sitting. This country is now very, very sick.

Mary Agyapong, a nurse, dies of Covid. She was pregnant. The baby is reported as ‘doing well’. Imagine this poor kid aged twenty reading that in the future. Doing well. Another returnee – Peter Tun, aged sixty-two, a neurorehab consultant, dies. Over 100 docs dead in Italy.

The woman who discovered the first coronavirus – June Almeida – was born in 1930 and grew up in a tenement near Alexandra Park in Glasgow. She worked as a lab tech in the Royal. Left school with ‘little formal education’. The countries with women in charge: NZ, Germany, Iceland, Taiwan, Finland, Norway, Denmark – all doing a fine job. Those with sleazy geezers at the top – the UK, the US – not so good.

Helen Ward, prof of public health at Imperial, goes for it and accuses HMG of ignoring advice for eleven fateful days. Between 12 March and 23 March, tens if not hundreds of thousands were infected, including Boris Johnson himself. Ward is explicit: his stay on ITU ‘may have been avoided if the government had shifted to remote working on 12 March’.

Reading Jünger again, he’s still in Paris. Lunch at Prunier as he hears about the atrocities in the east: ‘You want to close your eyes to them.’

There are a lot of people who want to close their eyes right now. The atrocious cost of government health policy is not being stared at presently, but, as Jünger hints elsewhere, we will need to be forensic in our later examination of the facts. Study the pathogenesis.

Jünger says: ‘The totality of life does not dawn on us sequentially, but rather as a puzzle that reveals its meaning here and there.’ I’m trying to unpick the mystery of this trauma from the daily headlines and look for glimpses of truth in the comments.

Thursday night and at eight the pots and pans, the clapping, begin again. Kemptown sounds like an Alpine meadow, the tinkling of Swiss cowbells. Stupidly touching if naïve and the product of bad conscience in not a few.


Dr Quin, Medicine Man is out on 26th January. Pre-order your copy here!