Hands. Face. Space. Get a test. And self-isolate. If you have symptoms.
As slogans go, it is perhaps the most confusing of Boris Johnson’s lockdown soundbites – which is saying something for a campaign that has also included “stay alert by washing your hands”.
Johnson may have taken his cue from Donald Trump, who repeatedly chanted the words “person, woman, man, camera, TV” during an interview about his mental aptitude last week.
But what does it mean? Why did the government cancel thousands of people’s Eid and wedding celebrations with a few hours’ notice? What happened to staying home, protecting the NHS or even controlling the virus?
Let’s begin with the announcement of the new catchphrase.
“Of course we’ve got to explain things as clearly and as crisply as we can!” said the prime minister as he stood in front of a podium emblazoned with his old slogan.
“The only real utensil we have for containing the spread of this new virus is...”
Across the nation ears pricked up as Brits eagerly anticipated the discovery of a tool for fighting coronavirus that had been hiding next to the spatula in their kitchen drawer all long.
″... is human behaviour.”
And we haven’t even got to the slogan itself yet. Here is what the PM later tweeted which makes it very clear the new slogan centres on “hands, face, space”.
So it’s slightly baffling that he only said this once. On seven other occasions he tacked on the additional advice of “get a test”, “self-isolate if you have symptoms” or both.
The scene was reminiscent of Donald Trump reading out the “very hard” answers to a dementia test he took in 2018.
"Person, woman, man, camera, TV" - Trump 2020 pic.twitter.com/MqmcwPWNv1— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) July 23, 2020
Here’s Johnson at the very end of the address and even he doesn’t appear sure what the three monosyllabic words in his new slogan are.
Inevitably, “hands, face, space” took social media by storm, for all the wrong reasons.
In case you are confused about what our new slogan means:— Parody Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson_MP) July 31, 2020
Use your HANDS to touch your FACE in a crowded SPACE. #handsfacespace
Meanwhile outside Downing Street the impact of the PM’s new slogan had been negated around 12 hours earlier when Matt Hancock decided to drop a big bag of rules on large parts of northern England just as most people were going to bed.
And if any of those people were getting into beds not in their own houses, they had two hours to get dressed and get out or risk finding themselves branded criminals.
The government decided the best way to make this major announcement was to limit the information solely to Matt Hancock’s Twitter account.
The new restrictions in the north haven’t yet been posted to: The government’s coronavirus website, the Number 10 Twitter or Facebook accounts, The Department of Health website or Facebook account. pic.twitter.com/9KsizWJN6i— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) July 30, 2020
Not even the mayor of Manchester knew what was going on and he’s mayor of the very area it was supposed to going on in.
Lot of people asking for clarity on the Government’s announcement. Our understanding is:— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) July 30, 2020
▪️ no visitors to your home or garden from tonight
▪️you can go to the pub but stay within your household/bubble
▪️further openings planned for 1/8 on hold
Everything else remains as is.
The next morning, hours after the rules came into force, Hancock himself insisted that new localised lockdown rules for the north-west were “crystal clear”.
So crystal clear that Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, was spending his night time desperately seeking clarification.
Hearing reports that No.10 are advising separate households should not meet up for meals or drinks together in pubs, bars and restaurants in Greater Manchester. I have requested urgent clarification on this and how operators can/should manage this.— Sacha Lord (@Sacha_Lord) July 30, 2020
The leader of the opposition thought the government’s handling of the announcement was a “new low” and while it is basically his job to slag off the government, he did have a point.
No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) July 30, 2020
But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.
To top off the shambles, one Tory gent then felt the need to blame minority ethnic people.
Craig Whittaker, whose West Yorkshire seat of Calder Valley was one of the areas affected by the new measures announced on Thursday night, told LBC there were “sections of the community that are not taking the pandemic seriously”.
When asked if he was talking about the Muslim community, the Tory MP replied: “Of course.”
Here’s a bunch of people not taking the lockdown seriously, none of whom appear to be BAME.
Clearly buoyed by how well that rules announcement went, Johnson then decided to have another pop, only this time for everyone, not just “sections of the community” in northern England.
Face coverings will be made compulsory in museums, cinemas, art galleries and places of worship from August 8. Adding to the gloom that the new catchy slogan failed to permeate, England’s chief medical officer warned the nation has “reached the limit” of what it can do to ease lockdown.
According to the ONS, between July 20 and 26 there were 0.78 new Covid-19 infections for every 10,000 people in the community population in England.
This is equal to around 4,200 new cases a day. This is up from an estimated 2,800 new cases a day in the previous week.
But it’s all fine because we have a lovely new slogan: “Hands, face, space. Get a test. And self-isolate. If you have symptoms.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.