ON Wednesday a committee of MPs quizzed Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty during an inquiry titled Coronavirus: lessons learnt. One thing these arch-alarmists certainly have mastered during the past nine months is how simultaneously to petrify the public and prod our pusillanimous PM into ruinous restrictions on liberties and livelihoods.
The pair’s most notorious scaremongering scenario was of course their spectre of 4,000 deaths per day – a far-fetched forecast which, as intended, made headline news and immediately bounced Boris Johnson into England’s second national lockdown. That, though, was just the most egregious example; throughout the coronavirus crisis, the doomsayers’ admonitions have repeatedly trumped any positivity from politicians.
Which is why this week’s hopefulness from Matt Hancock and Michael Gove, that because the vaccination programme is under way ‘life will return to normal by spring’, is best filed under I’ll-believe-it-when-it-happens.
Bear in mind that Gove was the soothsayer who on July 12 ruled out face coverings being compulsory in shops because ‘it’s always better to trust people’s common sense’. Within 48 hours, masks were made mandatory in England.
This week, no sooner had nonagenarian Margaret Keenan received the first vaccination than Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific officer, pricked the national mood of optimism by warning that ‘it’s going to take a while before we’re back to full normality’.
Far from life being ‘normal by spring’, as Hancock and Gove have prematurely predicted, Sir Patrick envisions enforced distancing and masks still being in place next winter because ‘we don’t know yet how good all the vaccines are going to be at preventing the transmission of the virus’.
One lesson from 2020 is that our craven Cabinet will ultimately defer to the medics myopically focused on the single metric of Covid transmission. But it is not the doomsayers of Sage who in due course will be answerable to the electorate for the ramifications: the innumerable business failures and job losses; the serious illnesses left undiagnosed and untreated; and the multitudinous miseries exacerbated by every day that Government continues to constrain everyday activities.
In particular, anyone still hoping to re-open and operate a pub or restaurant during 2021, and who briefly had been buoyed by the prospect of vaccinations offering a return to normal trading, will be deflated by Vallance’s vision and the concomitant prospect of joyless and dehumanised hospitality continuing throughout next year.
This bleak ‘Covid-secure’ business model will be welcomed by the country’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam – he of the tortuous metaphors. Last week he appeared alongside Boris Johnson and expressed his hope that the public will continue to live by the slogan, emblazoned on his lectern, of Hands/Face/Space: ‘I think these kinds of habits . . . will perhaps persist for many years, and that might be a good thing if they do.’
A confident and assertive prime minister – imagine such a thing – would instantly and unequivocally have made clear that while it is for individuals to choose, a Conservative government will neither impose nor encourage such suffocating safetyism a moment longer than is strictly necessary.
Instead, Johnson hesitatingly ummed and ahhed (from 0:58): ‘Erm, yeah, maybe a good thing. But on the other hand we may want to get back to life pretty much as close to normal, but you know, I mean, I, I, I, anyway . . .’
Our pathetic PM should have left the DCMO in no doubt that there will be no Government support for prolonged mask-wearing, (anti)social distancing and obsessive hand-sanitising. Wham, bam, no thank you, Van-Tam.