The 1st June saw the first stage of the government’s plan to ease the lockdown. Although, saying “the government’s plan” suggests the country is run by a well-oiled machine, operated by good, honest people, and that we have a decisive plan of action to follow. Unfortunately, as we all know, none of those things are true. The machine is a rusty, sputtering old jalopy, the good, honest people are nothing but a band of self-centred professional liars, and the decisive plan of action – well, excuse me whilst I tape my sides back together.
As with every stage of this laughably executed lockdown procedure, there has been nothing approaching clarity from the people we need it from. And as this is perhaps the most significant step forward towards normal life thus far, it logically follows that there is the most amount of confusion, disagreement and frustration, all brought about by a bumbling government, led by a cartoon Prime Minister seemingly without spine, common sense, ethics, decency or conscience.
What’s more, it seems that the Tories have spent more time defending their party’s bad-boy pin-up, Dominic Cummings, in recent weeks than actually providing the country with a cogent plan of action. Not only does Boris Johnson refuse to see any wrongdoing by his puppet-master overlord, despite his flagrant flouting of the lockdown rules and his pitiful excuses, but it seems the majority of the cabinet are also happy to play lapdog to this blood-boiling excuse for a man. This was beautifully demonstrated by bug-eyed sycophant, Michael Gove, who almost kept a straight face when claiming that yes, he, like Cummings, tends to test his eyesight not by having an eye test, but by driving a two-tonne death trap around unfamiliar roads.
I mean, honestly – can you people hear yourselves? You’re naughty school children! And not even clever ones! You’re making our country an international laughing stock, and it’s embarrassing. But worse than embarrassing, it’s negligent; wilfully and criminally negligent. People will die as a result of your bare faced lies. I would ask how you sleep at night, but as you’re clearly without morals, I expect the answer would be very well, surrounded by unearned privilege and luxury.
And with this complete lack of accountable leadership from the people that should be providing it, it’s no wonder that people have looked elsewhere for clarity and some sort of direction. And this is where the bewildering and often conflicting guidance from the government proves even more dangerous, as people start to believe the proliferation of fake news, wild rumours and flat out lies that they read on the internet, because, let’s be honest, practically anything written down sounds more convincing than the government’s confounding edicts of flimflam.
There are conspiracy theories all over the internet about how COVID-19 is being spread by 5G networks or that it’s being deployed as some kind of weapon (one even claiming that the US registered it in 2003, in order to attack China). Others claim that coverage of the pandemic has been an exercise in fearmongering. Indeed, according to a survey by Ofcom, 24% of people think that mainstream media is exaggerating the seriousness of COVID-19. And I know of at least one person who, somewhat staggeringly, believes the whole thing to be a hoax from the government! (As if this government could organise a piss up in a brewery, let alone a hoax).
Amongst other false claims to be found on the internet are the various Trump-like suggestions (think bleach) that cocaine, whisky and sex are all ways of treating or preventing the disease. Presumably started by someone trying to encourage drink and drug-fuelled orgies (ok, I’m listening…) these claims, to most people, are clearly bogus. But it only takes a few to believe it and to wolf down enough golden gut-rot and white lines to floor a buffalo, and before you know it, that’s a large number of hospital beds that are no longer available for people with coronavirus.
Some sources claimed that Prince Charles, having self-isolated in March after displaying symptoms, cured himself using homeopathy and Ayurvedic medicines. Once again, this is both wrong and dangerously misleading. But you can understand why some people are looking for these types of answers elsewhere, when their own government aren’t providing any for them.
Of course, fake news isn’t just limited to this country. And, to be fair to our government, they don’t have the monopoly on incompetence and lies: across the pond, another prize turkey (or should that be liar bird?) rules the roost, and seems happy to deceive to suit his agenda. Here, Twitter has tried to do something about that, by introducing factchecking on some of Trump’s Tweets, a sensible course of action given he is someone in such an influential position of authority, whose childlike, lethal ramblings are (perhaps inexplicably, knowing his track record, obvious ignorance and rumoured IQ) listened to by some and taken as fact. (President Trump acted in the only way he knows how: like a baby. He immediately tried to pass an executive order that would strongly regulate social media companies and could even close them down. And quite right, too – how dare a company try and ensure their service is used responsibly and to spread truths instead of lies.)
And it also plays out on a localised level, for example here, in Brighton and Hove. There were worrying claims recently that the R (rate of infection) for the city was the fourth highest in the country at 1.68 (it needs to be below 1 to relax the lockdown), and that this meant a second wave of infections. However, Alistair Hill, director of public health for BHCC, explained that this is based on a rise of just 8 cases, from 10 to 18, an extremely low figure. This beautifully demonstrates how a kernel of truth can be spun into a purposefully misleading headline, which then becomes the story in whole, and is subsequently spread as fact.
What we need is for one voice to be clearly and concisely explaining to us the current state of play and the best course of action. This is clearly the role of the government, and even more clearly, they have spectacularly and, frankly, murderously, failed in their feeble attempt to provide such a service.
The government’s official advice on their website remains “stay alert”. This in itself is confusing as, when they break it down to explain what staying alert means, they say we should stay at home, work from home, limit contact with other people, keep our distance, and wash our hands. None of these things come anywhere near a definition of alert, and appear to be much the same as the infinitely clearer prior message to “stay at home”. They also contradict with their own advice by suggesting we can go out, go anywhere and meet numerous people. Yes, there may be nuances to differentiate between the two, but populations don’t deal in nuances, but in definitive, fact-based guidelines.
They go on to provide us with a document entitled “Staying safe outside your home”, which does little more than recap the five points it makes under its “stay alert” banner, and adds a soupçon of common sense, which we all already know, such as ventilate rooms and wash your clothes. They might as well include things like “don’t lick strangers” so they can bray about having more “advisory” bullet points.
They also don’t seem to be able to make their minds up within their own policies, with seemingly spontaneous U-turns coming out of nowhere. For example, having advised 2.2 million vulnerable “shielders” (people with underlying health conditions, such as lung disease) to stay at home until the end of June, they then, without any suggestion of it in previous announcements, or any advanced warnings to health professionals who could advise, told them they could go outside as of the following day. This was in stark contrast to what many had been told less than a day before by their GPs, that they should shield for at least another month. And it must be said, Harold Shipman aside, a local GP is infinitely more trustworthy than this ill-informed, blindly-guessing government.
Logic would dictate that with the lockdown easing and more people being around, this is actually likely to pose more of a threat to those vulnerable people. So, what is the grounds for suggesting shielded people should now be encouraged to head outside, other than being able to promote some positive news, in an attempt to make themselves appear like they’ve achieved an iota of progress? Well, of course, we don’t know, as the government, in their mighty wisdom, have deemed it unimportant to reassure those shielded people with any evidence whatsoever. It feels as if the news was delivered by Johnson whilst walking out of the press conference, turning back and popping his head round the corner: “Oh yeah, and shielders can go out tomorrow. Anyway, must dash, I’ve got a ping-pong match.”
It is, of course, beneficial for people to be able to go outdoors, both for mind and body. But surely this needs to be done with some careful planning, not just tagged on as an afterthought. In Dublin, for example, over-70s and vulnerable people have been provided with a daily designated two-hour window to exercise in parks, whereas the Spanish government have set up a timetable for walks to ensure the vulnerable are protected. Are these things so difficult?
And the government’s plan for care homes has been equally absurd. We hear frequent reports from care home managers who have asked for their residents to be tested time and time again, with no action whatsoever, despite Matt Hancock’s repeated assurances that this will happen. Not to get too personal but my Granny is in just such a care home where the wonderful staff have made numerous requests for testing and have been told they have to ship all their residents 40-odd miles to do so – with no form of transport other than the staff’s own cars. Are they joking? They expect careers to safely shepherd dozens of elderly people with mobility issues, many suffering from dementia, in some kind of Canonball Run convoy across the country and back?
Have you ever seen a care home, Mr Hancock? Have you any idea of the impracticalities of such an insulting suggestion? Or do you simply not give a shit? This, let us not forget, is the generation that just a few weeks before, on VE Day, you and Boris and all your PR-stunt-loving colleagues were making a big show about championing, saluting them for the heroes they are. Is this how you treat your heroes? By leaving them to die? Shame on you.
What’s most frustrating in all of this is how, at the beginning of the pandemic’s spreading throughout the world and across Europe we were actually in a relatively advantageous position: we had seen how the disease had impacted other countries with devastating effect. But that gave us both time and precedent. We had time to react, to close borders, to order PPE, to stop our citizens who, following government advice telling them it was still safe to do so, continued travelling to and from infected areas. We had precedents of how best to go about limiting the impact, examples to follow, such as New Zealand, whose Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, reacted decisively and quickly, and in doing so saved thousands of lives.
But we squandered all the opportunities that were afforded us. Our government didn’t react, other than to say that there was little or no cause for concern. And where, in our time of need, was our imperious leader? Who knows? He certainly wasn’t at any of the five Cobra meetings discussing the pandemic.
A paper in The Journal of Risk Research concludes that the UK government failed to address systemic weaknesses of the health service were it to be faced with a pandemic, recognised as early as 2016. Now such a pandemic has occurred, they have failed across the board of measurable actions taken: from the unacceptably high death rate, to the woeful failure to meet their own targets of providing sufficient testing, PPE and ventilators.
So, what do we do now? Again, who knows? The government are going ahead with the easing of lockdown, despite numerous calls from health experts, scientists and unions that it’s too soon. We’re allowed to meet in groups of 6 in parks now, but we can’t go and check on our loved ones at their homes. We’re encouraged to go out and exercise, but we’re told not to go to all the places we want to because everyone else will be there. We can send our children back to school where, despite the best and valiant efforts of teachers, true social distancing will surely be impossible, yet we’re not allowed in the same house as brothers, sisters, parents, where social distancing is far easier to achieve. And all the while, we have to accept these rules despite those people making them being the first to break them, and refusing to show the slightest ounce of remorse or decency when they get found out.
We’re confused and frustrated and exhausted by inaction, incompetence, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and constant prevarication.
You need to get your house in order, Mr Johnson. And it can’t be done by the irritating way in which you’ve coasted through your privileged life so far, by adopting a bumbling chuckle and Hugh Granting your way through any awkward situation. Why not start with an apology: admit you’ve not exactly nailed this. And then demonstrate your contrition by decisive actions not PR stunts. Get rid of that lying evil prick Cummings, see if you can stand on your own two feet. Put the nation ahead of that snake’s political career and your own ego and see if you can’t give the 65 million people looking to you for guidance, some actual clear policy to follow.