The British character still exists – and it will get us through this crisis

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How coronavirus can change things - just a matter of weeks ago, the nation was divided into two tribes who apparently loathed one another Credit: SIMON DAWSON/Reuters

H538prom精品视频在线播放ow incredibly rapidly the prevailing mood changes. Just a matter of weeks ago, the nation was divided into two tribes who apparently loathed one another: families were divided, old friendships were abandoned and workplaces were poisoned by mutual antagonism. Remember all that? What was it about again? Oh, yes... And what a big deal it seemed at the time. Surely such bitterness was not to be forgotten for a generation.

Well, that was then. We have come a long way, almost literally overnight, from a period in which one half of the country was so enraged with the other that it was openly wishing it would die off. (How deplorable that thought seems now.) Whatever side you were on – whatever you thought back then about whatever that thing was – it is now beside the point. Never has that American expression “reaching out” seemed more appropriate.

Families and neighbours are seeking and offering more constant contact than many have done for years. Old friendships are being restored with careful, compassionate enquiries. (How many times have I emailed the message: “Hope you and yours are well” to people I haven’t seen for months?) Is it too fanciful to suggest that we were looking for a reason to be a united country again? And, it becomes clear, we are not just united but equalised in our trouble538prom精品视频在线播放: the heir to the throne and the prime minister are clearly no more protected than anyone else. So for a time, all the old animosities will be set aside.

It is not just unembarrassed affection and concern that are coming into play. The British are doing what they have always done in a crisis: not only pulling together and offering their support to the national effort when they are asked, but instantly and ingeniously producing new creative solutions to totally unexpected dilemmas.

538prom精品视频在线播放Some of those businesses whose survival has been threatened are devising ways to repurpose themselves so that they can fill the needs that have emerged. Food suppliers which used to provision the cafes and restaurants that have now been forced to shut are gearing up to make home deliveries. Cab firms that are losing their usual trade because people are staying at home are setting themselves up as grocery delivery services. London’s black cab drivers are offering to transport NHS staff to work under a contract arrangement with the government so the hospital staff will pay nothing – a service free at the point of use, you might say.

The small innovations are coming thick and fast, as resourcefulness and determination prove to be indomitable. All this makes an absurdity of the Left’s argument that this crisis proves that they were right all along: in truth, it isn’t the state that adapts most quickly and effectively – it is people and communities. So if you are desperate for a bright side to all this, here it is. The British character – with all its fortitude and quiet kindness – is still intact.

But all this does not extinguish the need for debate. Given the truly drastic demands538prom精品视频在线播放 for changes to people’s lives, some of which are quite literally impossible to meet without risk of pauperisation or starvation, there must be open questions and frank answers.

Why is it, when the mortality numbers are lower than is usual in an annual flu epidemic, that the NHS is in such an unprecedented crisis? The answer presumably is because these critical cases have all come in such a short space of time. A flu season generally lasts for several months but this virus being so highly infectious and so new is compressing the demand into a much shorter time. But given that the possibility for such a pandemic was well known, why was the NHS (along with virtually all other healthcare systems in the world) not geared up to cope?

The answer to this is more politically complex. Almost every advanced country in the world now assumes moral responsibility for the medical care of its population. The NHS is exceptional in its virtually unconditional free-at-the-point-of-use principle, but most countries have some form of social insurance as well as supplementary provision for the poor. Even the United States has Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for those who cannot afford health insurance.

When governments undertake to provide universal, comprehensive healthcare, they must see to it that it does not bankrupt the nation. The priority must be treating as many patients as possible with as little waste of resources as possible. It is not feasible to keep ready huge numbers of expensive critical care beds on the off chance of an unforeseen catastrophe.

I recall a conversation with a Labour Health Secretary under Tony Blair who proudly proclaimed that the NHS was the most cost effective health provider in the world: the objective was not to have an empty ward or unused bed in any hospital. But what that means, I said, is that there is no slack in the system, no room for the unexpected surge or a sudden increase in demand, or even much scope for the kind of flexibility that permitted patient choice.

538prom精品视频在线播放That conundrum is still at the heart of government subsidised medical care and, of course, ministers and NHS planners are aware of it but it is a longstanding, contentious political dilemma that is not likely to be resolved during the course of this emergency.

538prom精品视频在线播放The thing to note here is a significant change in the understanding of the ethical role of governments in the postwar world. Providing medical care for the needy was once the province of charities. The expectation that governments will take on this role for the whole of society is really very recent. No previous era, however civilised, has tried to do this. So it is hardly surprising that virtually all of the present systems are flawed.

There may never be a perfect solution. But we are finding our way through the problems it presents with extraordinary dedication and conscientiousness. There is simply no question that it must be made to work. What is happening right now makes that clearer than ever.