Coronavirus is as serious as it was in March – the only difference is Boris Johnson isn’t taking it seriously

Tom Peck
·4-min read
 (Sky News)
(Sky News)

There are currently more coronavirus patients in hospitals than there were on 23 March, when the first lockdown began, which is the clearest indicator of where we currently are, but there are at least two reasons that you definitely don’t need to worry.

The first is that the government’s panel of scientific advisors have presented a package of measures it says must be introduced in order to suppress the exponential rise of the virus, and Boris Johnson has thought better of it.

The second is that there’s a now a brand new “3 Tier system” for managing local lockdowns, and that when the new system was announced by Boris Johnson on live television, the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, made sure he put on record that it was his view that the third tier doesn’t go far enough.

It was toward the end of the press conference that Professor Whitty said very clearly that he is “confident” the Tier 3 measures “for the very highest rates, would be enough to get on top of it.”

And it was right at the end of the press conference, that the Sage advice was published. That it was their view a two or three week lockdown should be introduced “immediately”, and that Johnson disagreed.

Watch: PM faces backlash after announcing three-tier COVID restrictions

Anyway, the tiers system. Without wishing to get too bogged down in the technicalities that everyone will ignore, Nottingham’s in Tier 2, Liverpool’s in Tier 3, you can only have a pint with a hot meal, and absolutely all this is based on the data provided by a test, trace and isolate system that doesn’t work and everyone’s decided it’s best to stop talking about.

Everything’s fine, in other words. Everything’s fine, in the cartoon dog gif sense of the word. The main thing is that Boris Johnson has done a little address to the nation. Things aren’t as bad as March, he explained. We know so much more about the virus now, about how it’s transmitted, about how to treat the disease it causes.

It’s still slightly unsettling that evidently Johnson does still seem to think that it responds to his now unimaginably tiresome puerile schtick. We were invited, once again, to “squash” the rate of transmission. For some months now, I have been desperately trying to think precisely who it is that Covid era Boris reminds me of, and I think I now finally have it. It is the very much former BP boss, Paul Hayward, who somewhat memorably spoke of wanting to “get my life back” a few days after one of his oil rigs had exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven people and turning an entire ocean black. A couple of days later, he would be photographed taking part in a sailing race.

Being a seasoned but nevertheless poor liar, Johnson is never fully able to conceal the slight irritation that Covid-19 has really spoilt his fun. That 2020 really was meant to be all about him, and then along came this pandemic.

It’s also especially revealing that tens of thousands of deaths are not considered the kind of thing worth suppressing the jester act over. A few years ago, I happened to be in the House of Commons for one of his “resignation” speeches. The Churchill impression was out in force that day. The finger-pointing, the jaw-jabbing, the tragic grandiosity. But then, the subject matter that day was himself, and that stuff really matters.

This was just, you know, some pubs are going to shut early somewhere or other in the north, I’m not doing the full lockdown because I can’t be bothered with the hassle, and if it all carries on spreading then it’ll be up to the mayor of Doncaster to sort it all out.

It was, as responses to a re-emerging pandemic go, very much a case of “will this do?” And unfortunately for us, it is very, very much a case of unfortunately it will have to.

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