The Garden

A blog by Marijn van Hoorn

An incalculable loss

Marijn van Hoorn

It was in May of 12020 that the number of people dead of covid in the United States ticked over 100,000. The New York Times marked the event with a grim front page, blaring U.S. deaths near 100,000, an incalculable loss and listing the names of just some of the myriad dead. You probably saw it. It looked like this:

A newspaper composed almost entirely of black and white text listing the names of the dead.

In our comfy trans-Atlantic chairs, the lesson we learned was: “it can’t happen here”. It was a fluke, attributable to a population many times the size of ours and a renegade, negligent president. Our first wave was over, and we would weather the storm.

And yet.

Deaths within 28 days of a positive test. Daily: 1,631. Total: 100,162.
From the government’s covid-19 dashboard.

I try to stay aloof from the ills of the world when writing for this site. If a reader wants to hear about the news, ze can simply go and turn on the TV or open up zir nearest newspaper site; if ze wants to hear someone’s angry opinions, there are presumably plenty enough of those on zir local social media platform. There is no point in me contributing to the ever-whirling storm of outrage.

But there are some things i cannot hide, and the truth is, dear reader, that i am absolutely fucking incensed that we let it get this bad. I suppose, yes, there is little sense in tutting about about what could have been done with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but if we’re all being honest with ourselves, everyone knew perfectly well at the time that the government were a bunch of incompetents and that they could have avoided this.

Maybe if we’d locked down the country earlier without all the moaning about whether schools should stay open.

Maybe if we hadn’t constantly reshuffled counties across the Nando’s tier-o-meter and given everyone a headache trying to figure out which rules applied to them.

Maybe if the government hadn’t completely undermined our trust after Dominic Cummings went on his Durham holiday.

Maybe, just maybe, if the Tories hadn’t gutted the NHS years ago, a hundred thousand people wouldn’t have had their life snuffed out and turned into a fucking statistic.


The government’s public messaging has changed in recent weeks. “Eat out to help out” is long gone. First it was grim photos of ICU staff telling you to “act like you’ve got it”. Now they’ve replaced it with photos of patients on ventilators, begging, pleading that you follow the rules.

Three NHS posters consisting of portrait shots of covid-19 patients with ventilators. They read as follows: Look her in the yees and tell her you never bend the rules. Look him in the eyes and tell him you always keep a safe distance. Look him in the eyes and tell him the risk isn’t real.

Can Boris Johnson, after Cummings’s holiday, look us in the eyes and tell us that he never bends the rules?

Can he, after sending people back into restaurants and changing “two metres’ distance” to “one metre plus”, look us in the eyes and tell us that he always keeps a safe distance?

Can he, after deciding to exhaust every option well after it was too late rather than go into lockdown, look us in the eyes and tell us that the risk is real?

Boris Johnson looks away from the camera.
Original photograph by Think London. Licensed under CC-BY 2.0.