The message is go back to work. The guidance is stay at home. So that’s clear then

Tom Peck
·5-min read
The official word on masks from Downing Street is that they either increase or decrease the risk of infection, they're not mandatory but you should wear one, or perhaps not: Reuters
The official word on masks from Downing Street is that they either increase or decrease the risk of infection, they're not mandatory but you should wear one, or perhaps not: Reuters

On the off chance humanity survives long enough to get there, most futurologists foresee a digital, Matrix-like end state for the species, perhaps within a hundred years.

One in which the full sensory experience of, say, an orchestral concert at the Royal Albert Hall, can be streamed directly into the appropriate neurons of the brain, while you just chill out at home in your own little microbial sludgepod.

And given that we will all be needing this technology within a matter of months rather than centuries, it is pleasing to see the giant steps that were taken over the weekend to get there.

Perhaps for the first time, actual real life is now tailored to the specific tastes of individual people.

Whether or not you had to get up and go to work on Monday morning was entirely dependent on what TV shows you had watched over the weekend. If you happened to catch the most recent Boris Johnson’s “People’s PMQs Facebook Live” on Friday (which is sadly no longer live but pre-recorded, after most if not all of the live questions in the last session pertained to the still-unknown number of children the prime minister has), you will have been told to “go back to work if you can”.

And if you watched Michael Gove on Sky News on Sunday morning, you too will have heard that it was time to get back to work, and thus been dusting down the pinstripes and beating a sorrowful march to the bus stop.

But if you didn’t see either of these, then you’ll still be going by the official government guidance of “work from home if you can”, which remains unchanged fully 72 hours after the senior and second most senior of the government directly contradicted it (Gove and Johnson, for avoidance of doubt, and yes, in that order).

Still, for those who really weren’t sure whether or not they were meant to be going to work this morning, the justice secretary Robert Buckland issued a timely clarification to ITV News at around 10am, which was that the “guidance” is still to work from home if you can, but the “message” is go back to work if you can. So that’s clear.

Of course, this government has a long track record of attacking and undermining political journalists, who are the only people who actually watch this stuff, so it cannot be ruled out that this ruthlessly targeted premature shutdown of the Pyjama Spring is just more of the same.

One unfortunate consequence is that now that Boris Johnson is both telling you to stay at home if you can and go to work if you can, it is now officially, scientifically impossible to believe a word he says, which will be deeply unsettling for the one person alive that still does, especially as he is still grieving after accidentally ruining David Starkey’s life.

It’s kind of fun, this, in its way. For those of us not going to the secret raves and the ram-packed beaches, the now official relaunch of life as “Coronavirus: Choose Your Own Adventure Story” at least gives us something to do.

When we did or didn’t go to work this morning depending on what TV we’d watched, there’s also the question of whether we should or shouldn’t be wearing a mask. Anyone just casually dipping into the game might still be following the advice of 12 March, when the deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said wearing one could increase the risk of infection by “trapping the virus”.

Now they’re officially mandatory on public transport but not in shops or restaurants, but you should wear one where possible, as Boris Johnson did on Friday, but Rishi Sunak didn’t two days before while serving katsu curry in a Wagamama.

Again, justice secretary Robert Buckland has popped up to clarify everything, telling ITV News face masks should be “mandatory perhaps” in shops.

So, just for a quick recap. They either increase or decrease the risk of infection, they’re not mandatory but you should wear one, or perhaps not.

One increasingly popular option, or indeed survival strategy, is to just ignore absolutely everything the government says, and follow the public health advice of a country that hasn’t managed to visit upon its people the highest per capita death toll in the world.

Masks have been mandatory on public transport in Spain for months. No Spanish public health director has suggested they might actually make things worse. Other adventure stories are out there, which are a lot less adventurous, involving a lot less death.

The other government guidance issued on Monday morning came in the form of the latest Get Ready for Brexit campaign, which makes clear that from January you’ll have to pay more for your travel insurance, you’ll no longer get free data roaming in the EU countries, there are vast amounts of new restrictions for business and the construction of an enormous customs clearance centre for lorries in Kent, which has already been christened the “Farage Garage”.

You don’t get to listen to the sensible people on this one. Johnson’s adventure is your adventure and there’s only one ending.

The message is we’re leaving the EU. The guidance is that it’s an absolutely terrible idea.

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