More of the same

Use, do not abuse… neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy

The most over-used phrase in the last few weeks – apart from “It’s OK, it’s just a cold. Not covid” – is probably “you couldn’t make this up”.

As more and more evidence appears of party after party, all held in and around Westminster, when London was in tier 3 and all and sundry were supposed to be staying home, protecting the NHS and saving lives, the credibility of the ruling Tory Party is eroded more and more.

I went off on one in last week’s blog and I still feel as strongly this week, that there is a real sense of ‘do as I say, not what I do’ at the heart of Government. However, since then more and more evidence has appeared that they are making it up as they go along.

OK, so a global pandemic is not something they teach you how to manage in How to be a Prime Minister studies at Eton or Balliol or whatever alma mater it is our esteemed leaders belong to. I get that this is not, and has never been, an easy situation to manage. But did they really have to manage it quite so badly? You would like to think that if you are going to announce a programme to deliver one million doses of the vaccine booster a day, you might have already come up with some sort of delivery plan to do so. Maybe warn the organisations tasked with delivering such an ambitious target. Instead, most GPs and health authorities heard about this at the exact same moment we did, just as the post-Strictly kettles came to the boil.

Maybe that’s unfair of me. The roll-out of the vaccine programme, the hard work of the Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford and Astra Zeneca scientists, plus Kate Bingham and her team who basically Got Stuff Done, not to mention the NHS staff and volunteers who got 82% of the UK population double vaccinated all deserve plaudits. We are where we are now because of their dedication and hard work. We are also where we are now because too many things were missed, too many decisions were made at the wrong time, either too quickly or too slowly.

The vaccine programme was supposed to be our passport through the pandemic. No-one ever promised that we would kill Covid for good. The vaccines were about letting us learn to live with it. If, as the worst-case scenarios would have us believe, Omnicron has worked out a way to evade the vaccines and is spreading faster than a YouTube kitten video, was all the pain and effort of the past year in vain?

Yes, we need some breathing space so that the scientists can work out how best to handle this new variant. Yes, we need the breathing space so that we can work out whether it is, in fact worse than the other variants, or not as bad. Yes, we need the breathing space to allow the NHS to try to heal the sick – Covid sick and every other type. Do we need to be dropping hints about new lockdowns and cancelling Christmas? No, we really don’t. There have been enough businesses gone to the wall over the past two years as it is. Hospitality cannot cope with anymore lockdowns. Chef Tom Kerridge posted a video today showing the number of cancellations at one of his restaurants for the next few days: 654 guests. I felt horribly guilty having to postpone our pre-Christmas family outing due to teenager inconsiderately catching Covid at school. Businesses simply can’t keep handling this indefinitely.

I do appreciate that the government is in a tricky situation. They didn’t act fast enough when news of the delta variant broke; if they are now implementing, as some Tory rebels seems to believe, Operation Overkill, can we really blame them? I don’t know. And that’s the problem. No-one really knows what is going on. Every day you can read something different about the Omnicron variant: it is worse than delta/it’s not s n=bad/you won’t get as sick/you won’t end up in hospital/this is the big one that will wipe us out. If you look hard enough you can find a scenario and data to back up any number of theories about what happens next.

Of course, there is always the conspiracy theory that all this is just a smokescreen to take the public attention away from the government’s duplicity. But even I’m not that much of a cynic. Maybe.

But then if a picture tells a thousand words, what story do these three tell?

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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