For once, I disagree with the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam. Well, a little bit, anyway. “People,” said the deputy chief medical officer, “had relaxed too much (about the coronavirus).” At first, I nodded enthusiastically. Prof Van Tam was, not for the first time, telling an awkward truth: the rise in infections was the fault of the bloody public for not doing what they were told. Then, it was pointed out to me that the reason why people might have “relaxed too much” was because the government told them to relax.
From Boris Johnson downwards, via a compliant press, we’ve been on the end of a powerful campaign telling us to get back to the old normal. Schools are safe, workplaces are safe, pubs and restaurants are so safe we are giving you free money to visit them, holiday accommodation is safe, public transport is safe and, by the way, did we mention the virus has gone? It’s hardly surprising people had “relaxed too much”. Our so called leaders told us they could.
I’m not having a pop at JVT. He’s unquestionably one of the most effective communicators of the lot. He calls it like it is and his comments may have been nuanced. I suppose he could hardly say Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson were 100% responsible for government messaging so in fact the seeds of complacency had been sown by them. Not if he wanted to keep his job, that is. Anyway, he’s a government employee and so is not allowed to give his opinion.
Let’s face it: the public were always going to be the ones to blame when COVID-19 came bouncing back. It could never be the fault of Cummings, Johnson, Matt Bleeding Hancock or any of the bumbling idiots that constitute this government. They told us what to do and we didn’t do it. They were trying to save our lives, we are untrained killers. To which I say, bollocks.
Whatever you think of JVT, he is one of the smartest men in the room. He’s at the other end of the scale from resident clown and chat show host, the dishonourable member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. And in the end, what he says is very important. Many people have “relaxed too much” about COVID-19 and others never gave a toss about it in the first place. Since Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham and his subsequent eyesight test, I haven’t so much relaxed about this killer virus but I have interpreted the government rules in ways that suit me. I’ll go further. I haven’t relaxed at all and even when I go out to public places, my sense of danger means I stay more alert. Cummings’ slogans work. But when and if people start dying again – and sadly, I believe they will – it was Johnson and co who encouraged us to drop our guard, not the lumpen proletariat who did their best amid deliberately complex and confused messaging, designed specifically to make us think COVID-19 was no longer a danger.
JVT also urged the government to think about how the virus is managed not in the short term, but over the next six months and “until the spring”. That’s far more interesting than his comments about people having relaxed too much. The responsibility is with the government and it suggests the government is not doing what he suggests. What he didn’t say directly seems to be more important than what he did say.