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Little England’s Big COVID Problem

The United Kingdom’s spiraling COVID-19 infection and death rates can best be understood as reflecting a tragic, and distinctly English, set of failures and delusions. The exceptionalism widely championed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers is proving fatal.

LONDON – In late September, English schoolchildren were sent home with a letter from Public Health England, the official body in charge of dealing with the pandemic. It warned parents not to have their kids tested for COVID-19 unless they had one of three symptoms: a fever, a continuous dry cough, or a loss of smell or taste.

It was a puzzling message, given mounting evidence that the most common COVID-19 symptoms in children are in fact fatigue and headaches – and the government’s own admission that up to 80% of cases in adults (and possibly even more in children) are likely to be asymptomatic. As recently as July, the United Kingdom’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, was urging citizens to get tested “if you have any doubt.”

But the letter spelled out the reason for the change in tack: “Every time a test is used inappropriately, a person with COVID-19 symptoms may miss out on getting tested.”

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