(Image: AAP)

As Americans went to the polls yesterday and the long count began, a different set of numbers was emerging, more horrific than any polling result. The United States racked up its second highest ever number of new infections — over 94,000 new cases — and reported just under 1200 deaths from COVID-19

The number of new cases doesn’t represent a spike in testing, but a rise in the number of positive tests, with the positive rate rising back over 6% last week for the first time since August. A number of states are setting new records for infections while other are racking up day after day of sustained, high numbers of infections.

America does not have the virus under control.

Across the Atlantic, the UK had 492 deaths, the highest number since May, and over 25,000 cases, the second-highest figure. And while testing levels have increased substantially in recent months in the UK, the latest numbers come after a noticeable fall in testing levels.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox

By submitting this form you are agreeing to Crikey's Terms and Conditions.

That’s why Boris Johnson has humiliatingly reversed himself and re-embraced lockdown to try to stop a surge that he says could overwhelm the UK’s health services.

The UK isn’t alone in seeing another wave of infections — lockdowns are being reimposed across Europe. And Johnson at least is prepared to belatedly follow expert advice on the need for action — something Donald Trump has given up doing.

But in both cases the death tolls — 239,000 so far in the US, and 48,000 in the UK — stand as grim testimony to how Trump and Johnson failed to take the pandemic seriously and failed in the most fundamental government responsibility of all: protecting their citizens.

The UK is already braced for the economic impacts of another lockdown. The Christmas-New Year period will be bleak, socially and economically, until the virus is again brought under control, with prolonged recession and the Johnson government — already with a deficit of over £220 billion — going ever deeper into colossal debt to fund its national furlough scheme while trying to get deaths back down.

It’s a different story in the US, where the Trump administration is content to let the virus rip, meaning that country will accumulate a vast pile of corpses while suffering a shallower, but more extended, economic impact.

Remember Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell’s words in June: “The path forward for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain and will depend in large part on our success in containing the virus. A full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to re-engage in a broad range of activities.”

That is not going to be the case for a long time to come, even if a vaccine can start being rolled out this year.

At least there is now the prospect that a Biden administration will move to fight the pandemic more aggressively, reining in the horrific death toll and providing greater certainty for US households. But that won’t even start until February.

A bleak winter lies ahead for the two countries cursed to endure government by grifters and frauds.