Tory Partying as the Alpha Covid Variant Took Hold is a Grim Symbol of Their Pandemic Response

Photograph Source: Winniepix – CC BY 2.0

The most interesting anniversaries are often those which governments fail to publicise and people are unaware of or would like to forget. This is certainly true of 8 December, when it will be one year since the “Kent variant” of coronavirus (aka Alpha and B.1.1.7), was first identified. By then this new, more infectious virus was ravaging the north Kent coast and was to lead to tens of thousands of deaths in Britain between October 2020 and 31 March 2021.

I still think of it as the Kent variant because the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium said that the key sample came from “near Canterbury”, where I live. A local medical source, who wanted to remain anonymous, gave me more precise information, saying that the first patient suffered from a weak immune system and lived in Margate on the Isle of Thanet, which is 15 miles from Canterbury.

As Britain faces the onset of the potentially more infectious and vaccine-resistant Omicron variant, it is worth comparing this current wave of the pandemic with the one that started in Kent a year ago. Much has changed since then because of mass vaccination, but many medical, social and political factors, both negative and positive, remain the same.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).