‘Cheers Boris! Here’s to a brighter Britain!’ screams the Express. ‘Summer’s back on,’ is the Mail front page. ‘Independence Day,’ appears to be the Sun’s lead, although I didn’t want to waste much time looking for it. Having sat through Boris Johnson’s final daily news briefing, these were not the conclusions I took from it. This is what I heard:
“I’d be surprised and delighted if we’re not in this current situation through the winter and into next spring. I’d expect there to be considerable Covid circulating in that time and think it’s unrealistic for science to come to rescue in that time. For medium and long term I’m optimistic but for the short to medium term until this time next year then we should be planning for the long haul on Covid into 2021.”
These were the words of Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, and neither he nor Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance were quaffing a glass of Champagne in celebration at Johnson’s political decision to end the semi-lockdown. Whilst Johnson is getting all the headlines (‘hibernation is at an end’, ‘the bustle is coming back’, ‘you must go on the piss’, that sort of thing), I was struck by the more downbeat comments of the experts. Johnson is not an expert. On anything.
The daily news briefings were useful in two ways. Firstly, it enabled journalists to hold politicians and experts to account on our behalf. Secondly, it exposed the sheer levels of ineptitude and incompetence of those who run our country. The prime minister in all but name, Dominic Cummings, has concluded that their usefulness to Johnson has come to an end. Not only that, by ending the news briefings the government would be sending a clever, subliminal message that everything was back to normal. Now, we are left with prime minister’s questions once a week where Keir Starmer tries to pin down the slipperiest eel in politics. Anyway, back to the end of lockdown.
Well, the end of the lockdown, or rather England’s semi-lockdown, has effectively been here for weeks now. It was over when people ‘celebrated’ VE day with local on street piss ups and perhaps even before that. Walking around supermarkets, which are just about the only places I go to these days, there are large numbers of people, particularly those who wear masks and, unaccountably, gloves, who simply don’t bother with social distancing. Despite the best efforts of the stores and staff, the two metre rule, which is about to be relaxed, has never existed. It is no wonder that the levels of infection and death today remain so high, higher than they were when we went into semi-lockdown.
For what it’s worth, reopening things now just feels too early to me. I know there has to be a balance of risk because the economy is, as things stand, heading for an imminent and mighty economic crash, the like of which we have never seen. It might not feel like it on this blazing hot summer’s day, which is part of the problem. Boris Johnson’s relentless optimism and cheeriness is part of his self-styled image but it will only distract worried minds for so long. I know we have to start doing ‘normal’ things again – I have already booked a table in my local pub for 6th July and a haircut on the same day – but I know also that I could be infected by COVID-19 at either location. And just imagine if I did. Everyone in the pub that evening and everyone in the barber’s would have to self-isolate. The same would apply if anyone else in the pub or at the barber’s acquired the virus. We’d all have to lockdown.
Whitty said “Until this time next year then we should be planning for the long haul on Covid into 2021.” Think about that one for a moment. What will change if there is still “considerable Covid circulating” for another 12 months? If gyms, nightclubs and Christ knows what else can’t open today, what will change between now and a year’s time? And what happens when the winter coughs and colds come along? How do we know if that ‘persistent cough’; is just a cough or a symptom of Covid-19? I can’t see crowds being allowed into sporting events, gigs and so on, certainly in significant numbers, until late next year, or even after that, unless the terraces and concert halls are packed with folk in full PPEs. No thanks. But thanks for asking.
Once again, the hope of ‘when this is all over’ can be kicked back into the long grass. We could have years of this until the body count is finally filed. This isn’t ‘independence day’, as the Sun calls it. And with a huge recession already underway, a cold wind will blow across Britain like never before.