You may know by now that the Sars-Cov-2 virus and its associated disease Covid-19 are respiratory in nature. The virus is transmitted from person to person through close contact via droplets in the air.
Notwithstanding widespread vaccination, its spread can therefore only be slowed by drastically reducing close contact between people. There is no other meaningful way of controlling or eliminating it.
Well, there is one other way, it turns out. You can just hold a press conference, give the virus a very stern talking to, and hope for the best. If infection rates, deaths and hospitalisations are on the rise, if all the evidence indicates that the measures you’ve taken aren’t working, you can always wheel out the Downing Street lecterns, look down the barrel of the camera and show the virus who’s boss.
That’ll work. Won’t it? This sort of thing has worked before. In the wake of appalling terrorist attacks, political leaders tend to like nothing more than to reach for as much steadfast resolve as they can personally summon up, and to tell the watching terrorists that we will not be terrorised, that they cannot win, that our values will long outlast theirs, etc etc etc.
And this is where Boris Johnson now is with the coronavirus. There can be no other explanation for the sudden return of the 5pm press briefing, the return of his two chief scientific advisors, for an address to the nation, weighed down with all the gravity of great importance, but in which nothing of any significance at all was said.
Britain, he said, doesn’t want to “throw in the sponge” it wants to “fight and defeat the virus.” These words, we must assume, were there for the virus’s benefit. There it was, just latching its little glycoprotein spikes on to the fleshy walls of some poor person’s oesophagus when, partly obscured by its victim’s dangling tonsils, it catches the sight of Sky News left on in the corner of a room. It sees the prime minster talking as tough as a man who feels far more at home deliberately getting himself stuck on a zipwire for attention can. And, in a state of sudden panic, the virus decides to just give up die instead.
That’s the strategy, anyway. There certainly isn’t another one. Just read out the numbers, roll out the graphs, make it clear that everything’s getting much worse very quickly so just carry on what you’re doing.
Or not doing, as it happens. According to a fairly large and serious survey recently undertaken by the Financial Times, only 18 per cent of the population are currently adhering to the current Covid-19 restrictions.
The number who actually understand them was not made clear. But given, when asked, Johnson got them completely wrong on live television on Tuesday afternoon, 18 per cent seems optimistic.
Still, nothing wrong with that. It’s still not too late for optimism to sort all this out. We can still send the virus packing can’t we? By Christmas? In the ongoing coronavirus crisis, optimism is currently taking the role of the German car makers. It’s definitely going to step in and save us at some point. Just not quite yet.
That the chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance said two things of note, one that we “don’t have the virus under control at the moment”, and the other the pointed answer to a question that scientists just give advice, ministers must take decisions, strongly intimate that, you know, maybe there had meant to be a point to all of this, but now there wasn’t. And that maybe the scientists weren’t all that happy about it.
Still, I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. There’ll certainly be another press conference. It appears to be all we’ve got left.