WE’VE been fighting a war over the past year. The enemy has been Covid-19, and the UK has fared badly because we chose the wrong battles and had incompetent generals in charge.

In wars, you have three choices: (1) attack the foe hard from the outset; (2) protect people from the bombs being dropped by putting up air-raid shelters; and (3) look after the casualties.

A year ago, we had the same choices with the pandemic: (1) attack through an effective track and trace system; (2) provide protection through lockdowns and, ultimately, vaccines; and (3) build up the NHS to care for those struck down.

We focussed far too much on options two and three, and neglected option one. It was all about having enough PPE and constructing emergency hospitals, while the real priority should have been to attack the virus through track and trace.

Look at the gulf between the Covid-19 rates in the UK and New Zealand. New Zealand has had 2,597 cases and 26 deaths. In this country, it stands at 4.39m cases and 127,000 deaths. Staggering.

People say it’s different for New Zealand, but the only difference is that they got it right and we got it wrong.

From the outset, New Zealand had Professor Michael Baker, who persuaded his Government to do the exact opposite of what the World Health Organisation (WHO) was advising.

The WHO’s guidance was to keep borders open, only use lockdowns as a last resort, and not use masks. Instead, New Zealand adopted a strategy of elimination by issuing an initial seven-week stay at home order, and investing in track and trace systems that actually worked. While the UK dithered, New Zealand went for all-out attack, won the war, saved lives, and got their economy back quickly. If the rest of the world had done the same, fewer people would have died, and normal life would have returned months ago.

The truth is that the WHO is useless, just like the United Nations – full of bureaucracy, and narrow-minded, self-serving leaders.

In the UK, we had the likes of Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, blindly following the same path, and getting it fundamentally wrong. It defies belief that the ‘experts’ wasted so much time telling us face masks wouldn’t help, despite it being obvious the virus is transmitted through the nose and mouth.

Finally, we’re getting something right, with excellent progress on vaccinations. That said, the Royal Mail delivers to 25m homes daily, so it shouldn’t be that hard to get the logistics in place. In any case, vaccines will never fully eradicate Covid-19, because they don’t work on a small minority of people, and some refuse to have one.

Even today we ignore the success of countries like New Zealand. What we need is a worldwide track and trace system, not run from call centres, but using trained people on the ground, nipping transmissions in the bud. Ultimately, that’s the only real solution and it’s incredible the penny still hasn’t fully dropped.

“Lions led by donkeys” was a phrase used during the First World War to describe how soldiers were sent to their deaths by incompetent leaders. The lions on the frontline of the NHS were badly let down by the donkeys responsible for strategy – and that’s a monumental tragedy.

  • John Elliott MBE is founder of dehumidifier and washing machine manufacturer Ebac, of Newton Aycliffe