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Shortly before 5pm in the UK, president-elect Joe Biden gave a press conference. The results of the trials were very promising, he said, but there was still a long way to go before a vaccination programme could be rolled out nationwide. So it was now more important than ever not to let your guard down and to carry on wearing masks. It was coherent, informative and in less than five minutes Biden had told Americans just about everything they needed to know.
Boris Johnson likes to do things rather differently. Almost to the second after Biden had finished speaking, the prime minister stepped out into the Downing Street briefing room, flanked by the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, and Brigadier Joe Fossey, dressed in full camo gear that had the reverse effect of drawing attention to himself. A new form of anti-camo perhaps.
After a few introductions, Boris went on one of his long rambles. He didn’t really have anything to say that couldn’t have been wrapped up in minutes but he considers a press conference not to have taken place unless he’s wasted the best part of an hour of everyone’s time.
Perhaps it was the excitement of having a real life soldier standing next to him, but Johnson’s explanation of the new vaccination was relayed in a series of metaphors straight out of the movie Stagecoach. The arrows were in the quiver! The cavalry was on its way, the toot of the bugle – Michael Gove’s presumably – was getting louder but still some way off. Having a prime minister who manages to trivialise something really important is getting extremely draining and it’s hard not to zone out within moments of him starting a sentence. So much for the great communicator.
Next up was the brigadier who is in charge of the mass testing in Liverpool and looked uncomfortable throughout. “Two thousand troops have answered the call,” he said, making it sound as if the soldiers had had some say in their deployment rather than been told they were off to Liverpool for the next four weeks.
He then pulled out a piece of plastic from his pocket. “You know what a swab is,” he continued. “Well this is the lateral flow that gives you a result within an hour.” And that was all he had to say. He didn’t seem at all sure what the lateral flow actually was or how it worked but then he was only following orders. If he’d had his way, he’d have saved the taxpayer a return train ticket from Liverpool to London.
There was no slideshow this time – obviously No 10 has started to wonder if they are more trouble than they are worth after recent events – so Van-Tam was left to ad lib on the vaccine trial. Even though he had no more information than Boris, so all he could do was repeat the fact that it was exciting but we shouldn’t get carried away just yet. Try to think of it as a penalty shootout, he said – Boris’s crap analogies are as contagious as the coronavirus. We’ve scored the first goal, so we know the keeper can be beaten, but there was a long way to go before the match was won. No one seemed to have told Van-Tam that the expectation in a shootout was that the penalty-taker would score.
Things carried on in much the same vein when questions came in from the media. The brigadier tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible – merging into the background was part of his SAS training – and so the only other thing he had to offer was that he was just on day four of his deployment so it was hard to tell whether things were going well or badly. Van-Tam desperately hunted around for new ways of saying the vaccination trials were still at an early stage, but things were looking more hopeful for next year.
Try to think of yourself as being on a railway station on a wet and windy night, he said, doing his best to channel his inner Fat Controller. You could see the lights of the train two miles away. Then the train pulled into the station and you didn’t know if the door was going to open. Next you couldn’t even be sure of whether there would be enough seats for everyone. The UK had only ordered enough vaccine for about a third of the population, so unless more doses came online most people were going to miss out. It didn’t sound quite as hopeful as he had suggested. But maybe that’s just the way he tells them.
Boris, meanwhile, just looked relieved to only get one question on the US presidential election. And that wasn’t even on if he had spoken to the president-elect – he hadn’t as Biden has been too busy taking calls from Micronesia – or if he had any reaction to being called a “shape-shifting creep” by a former adviser to Barack Obama. The Democrats still haven’t forgiven Boris for his remarks about Obama’s part-Kenyan ancestry giving him a dislike of the British empire.
“I congratulate the president-elect,” said Johnson, sidestepping a suggestion he give Donald Trump a call to persuade him to throw in the towel. The US and the UK had had a close relationship in the past and no doubt would do so in the future. He had nothing to say on Brexit. Rather he chose to accentuate the shared climate change objectives of Cop27. Or Cop26 as the rest of the world knows it.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: PM channels his inner John Wayne in vaccine metaphor meltdown | Coronavirus