Matt Hancock says Britain has saved the world – but you still can’t go and visit any of it

·3-min read
<p>Matt Hancock at the Covid-19 briefing </p> (AP)

Matt Hancock at the Covid-19 briefing

(AP)

At the time of writing, you are free to travel abroad but you probably shouldn’t. If you’re listening to a government minister on the radio on a Monday morning then you can go to “amber list” countries like France to see friends. But if you’re listening to Matt Hancock on the TV on a Wednesday evening, then you can’t.

You can go to the pub but you shouldn’t get drunk. You can hug who you like but you should exercise caution. You can, in short, do whatever you want but if it goes wrong it will all be everyone’s fault except the government’s.

We’ve been here before. The outsourcing of blame from the people who make the rules, to the people who can’t possibly understand what they are, has been a hallmark of the Covid-19 pandemic – at least in this country, to the point where nobody appears to care very much anymore.

The current threat to the return of normality is the Indian variant. It was more prevalent in India weeks ago than it was in, say Bangladesh or Pakistan. But these countries were placed on the red list long before India was, meaning that thousands of people arrived on direct flights from the country last month.

Asked to explain why this had happened, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said that it had been to allow people “to return home safely”. It’s not an answer, of course, for so many reasons, but none more so than that the right “to return home safely” was not extended to people returning home from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Brazil or many other countries in the same way.

But it’s the best answer we are going to get so it will have to do. Still, the government appears to have at least a vague strategy for the position it finds itself in, which is very much on the brink of toppling over backwards.

The big picture strategy is the same as ever, and that’s to wheel out Matt Hancock. If you see Hancock on your TV these days, you’re wise to treat it with the same degree of panic as a failing Middle Eastern despot finding out that John Simpson’s just come through passport control.

But the sub-strategy is a new one. Matt Hancock did the now mercifully rare 5pm press briefing on Wednesday. We would learn that the “shield of restrictions” are being replaced by the “sword of vaccination” all of which, we must assume, are still red hot to the touch having spent the last four months exposed to Hancock’s flame of hope.

Mainly though, he came out swinging. People, it turns out, don’t really want to know whether they can go abroad, or to the pub, or round to grandma’s for a hug, because Hancock and co don’t have an answer on that, only obfuscation. What Hancock can tell you is that Britain has saved the world.

Most of his 51 minutes of prime air-time was dedicated to how great the British government was, and how it had saved the world through the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which “all three of us, together” had worked on. Those three, by the way, being Oxford, AstraZeneca and the UK government.

Hancock is evidently a little upset that that last one got left off the label. There could have been a jab named after him as well as an app. Maybe it’s just as well. Once you’ve had one dose of Hancock it’s highly uncertain how many people would turn up for the second.

We would learn that the UK has done more than any other country to cure Covid-19. The Oxford-AstraZeneca jab has been given to 65 million people through the Covax scheme. There’s 185 million doses of it in India as well.

So that, by the end, was clear as well. Hancock has saved the world, but you really shouldn’t go and see any of it unless you absolutely have to.

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