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History repeats itself. Sort of. There are now more people in hospital with coronavirus than there were in March when the prime minister imposed a lockdown on the entire country. The difference back then is those restrictions came with the promise of some kind of strategy. Measures to reduce the pressures on the NHS while an effective local track-and-trace system could be introduced that would allow targeted lockdowns where necessary.
Six months on with countless broken promises on testing targets, including the deranged Operation Moonshot, and a track-and-trace system clearly unfit for purpose, Boris Johnson was back in the Commons to announce a new plan for the country. Only this one came with no end in sight. There was no glimmer of hope. Just an exhortation to keep aimlessly buggering on. The only upside was that if you did get Covid-19 then you were less likely to die of it than before as hospitals had become better at treating it. Unless the hospitals got completely overloaded. Then it was back to as you were.
Johnson looked knackered before he even started. His complexion even more pallid than usual and his eyes mere pinpricks. For a moment it looked as if the narcissist had been confronted with his own sense of futility. A situation that he couldn’t bend to his will, no matter how delusional the thought process. He is cornered by hubris: a man hating every second of his life but condemned to experience its unforgiving horror. Not even the health secretary could be bothered to attend to watch this latest meltdown.
“We have taken a balanced approach,” Johnson began. As in he was too slow to react back in March with the result that the government has one of the world’s highest death tolls. As in he did next to nothing during the summer when we had a chance to prepare for autumn. As in he actively encouraged people to go back to work for weeks before switching to advise them against it. As in unlocking the north at the same time as the south, even though infection rates in the north remained higher. That kind of balanced.
What Boris had to offer now was a new three-tier approach. Bad, very bad and very, very bad. Bad would apply to most of the country and would involve people doing pretty much what they had been doing for the last couple of months. Rule of six and all that.
Very bad would mean that those areas that had already been under the more stringent lockdown restrictions would remain so, though if you wanted to meet a few friends outdoors in the garden for a beer to let each other know how depressed you were feeling you now could. And very, very bad meant that you could only see your mates if you happened to be in the pub at the same time and order five Cornish pasties to go with your bottle of scotch.
It was all verifiably a bit nuts. Because as of yet the government has no scientific evidence that the hospitality industry is the prime source of infection, so it could all have been a waste of time. Because the government was in a fight with local leaders from around the country as to which tier they should be in: so far only Merseyside is classified as very, very bad and London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, was pushing for London to be upgraded within days. Because local areas were economically better off to be classified as very bad, mostly because the R rate was between 1.2 and 1.5 nationally, so the virus was going to continue to spread whatever happened.
Often in the past, Keir Starmer has been unequivocal in his support for the government’s coronavirus measures. This time he was rather more circumspect. Mostly because it was hard to see how much difference the new measures were going to make other than to relabel every area of the country, but partly because there are a lot of Labour MPs who fear for the economies of their constituencies and are keen to be downgraded as far as possible. Not to mention those MPs who didn’t trust the government to know where their constituencies actually were and to wrongly allocate them. For Boris, anything further north than Islington is the wilderness.
It was no surprise that most other opposition MPs were sceptical, wondering whether stopping community transmission and an effective test-and-trace system would have been of more value, but what was most striking was how few Tory MPs were wholehearted in their enthusiasm. Some because they believe that any restriction on an Englishman’s liberty should be resisted – if you die, you die: get over it – but most because they too have no faith in Boris. The loss of trust in the prime minister is more contagious than the pandemic. It’s slowly dawned on them that he really is just fumbling around in the dark.
Boris still had to endure a Downing Street press conference where he was called on to repeat much of what he had said in the Commons. Though this time he had Rishi Sunak and Chris Whitty to offer a limited helping hand; the chief medical officer’s most uplifting message was that things could easily have been a great deal worse and that the restrictions in all tiers would have to become more severe to be effective. Which rather undermined most of what the prime minister had been saying.
Johnson did his best to retrieve the situation with the vague hope that things might be a bit better by Christmas. But even the eternal optimist didn’t sound confident. Boris had intended his new simplified guidelines to be reassuring. To let the country feel he had the situation in hand. Yet all he had really achieved was to remind everyone that he was out of his depth and had no real answers to anything. Like all of us, he was just dancing in the dark. Beam me up, Whitty.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Boris Johnson’s latest Covid strategy: no hope and no end in sight | John Crace | Politics