Boris Johnson’s plan? Bring on the stupidity and hope for the best

·4-min read
The PM confirms Covid restrictions will end on 19 July at a No 10 briefing (AP)
The PM confirms Covid restrictions will end on 19 July at a No 10 briefing (AP)

The sad thing about this most recent, absolutely identikit dereliction of governmental duty is that we may never be told exactly why this one happened, even if we basically already know.

We’re in the middle of a huge third wave of Covid-19 infections but we’re unlocking anyway. Why? Something about the school holidays, peaking now not later, the latest attempt to ride the Covid wave from a government that has very much shown itself to be less Point Break and more Big Break with Jim Davidson and John Virgo.

Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any unhinged and soon to be aggrieved special adviser rampaging around Downing Street this time, who will later can the lid on the sadistic chaos of it all via his £10 a month blog, like a sadistic peep show for political nerds and the odd normal person who just wants to know why granny died. That said, Johnson being Johnson, it is surely only a matter of time before Carrie goes rogue.

If we don’t know the why, we do appear to know the what, and it’s the kind of what that is usually abbreviated to a mere “w”, then followed with a “tf” and a very long string of alternating question and exclamation marks.

The latest numbers are terrifying, but when aren’t they? Unlock next Monday, as is now the plan, and the third wave will apparently peak in August, but it will be different from previous peaks, in that there will be no action taken to ameliorate it, and so, according to the latest Sage documents, we are looking at potentially a full six weeks of 100 to 200 deaths a day, and that is likely to include a very high number of fully vaccinated adults, between the ages of 50 to 74, and over 74 an even larger number.

That adds up to another 8,400, which is itself just under half the “20,000 or fewer” death toll that, about this time 15 months ago or so, would have been, according to Patrick Vallance, a “good outcome”. (The time for good outcomes has alas passed.)

Naturally, all sane and sensible people are queuing up to point out why it’s a terrible idea. Various medical bodies and associations are breaking their own rules about not intervening in political matters to point out, in as forceful a language as they can bring themselves to, that it’s very clearly mad.

This time last year, most of Europe, but especially Italy, looked on the UK with despair, as it didn’t bother to learn from its example in any way. And now, on the day Johnson made his announcement, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, was issuing an apology to his people for ending Covid-19 restrictions too soon, then reimposing them three weeks later.

There isn’t any doubt, at all, about what will happen. Surging rates of infection are what will happen. Last March, Dr Michael Ryan of the World Health Organisation had this advice for a world staring down the barrel of a surging pandemic. “Be fast, have no regrets. The greatest error is not to move.” This time round, Dr Ryan is on hand again, to describe the plan of not seeking to limit the spread of infection as “epidemiological stupidity”.

Still, one man’s epidemiological stupidity is another man’s freedom, as no one has ever been stupid enough to say or think before. For Johnson, and for the Tory right, this is about giving people their freedom back.

These are rarefied days in the storied history of freedom. Thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people, have died fighting for freedom. Not many people have actually died of it, as they are about to do, in horrific numbers, yet again. Now is the time, apparently, for people to make their own decisions. You don’t have to wear a mask, but maybe you should. If you’re 75, fully vaccinated, and quite keen on popping round to the shops, it will be up to you not to decide whether you want to wear a mask, but rather to work out how many people in said shop will also be wearing one, now that they don’t have to anymore.

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Isaiah Berlin and the rest – none of them ever dreamt up a freedom variant quite like this one, which, if you’re elderly or vulnerable or merely living a life that involves occasional close proximity to someone who is, will essentially amount to staying at home, hiding from the freedom you never really wanted back.

As we gear up for “freedom day”, there remains absolutely no evidence at all that the wider public, who last March had very much begun to lock themselves down before Boris Johnson even got round to it, even want this freedom back at all.

Still, too late now. Bring on the stupidity and hope for the best. Whatever happens, we are at least all wearily resigned to it by now.

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