Lockdown – Reflections at the end of week 53
Before this week, few of us would ever have heard of the Ever Given. My grandfather, who was born in 1890, left home for the life of a merchant seaman when he was 14 and sailed around Cape Horn on a commercial sailing ship. He would barely recognize the enormous piece of floating engineering, packed with navigational and other technology, which is blocking the Suez Canal. The importance of the Suez Canal, over which Britain went to war with Egypt in the 1950’s, remains undiminished, as evidenced by the hundreds of ships carrying billions of pounds worth of cargo which are queued up, waiting, it seems, for someone to find some more diggers. A mighty machine suffers a simple breakdown and chaos ensues.
The government had been doing pretty well recently. The vaccination programme has, bar the occasional supply chain hiccup, gone very well. The R rate has not, as yet, jumped significantly following the return to school, and whilst there are still daily infection rates in the thousands, the numbers of Covid related deaths have fallen. The narrative around Covid has been science led, and as we wait for and look forward to next week’s start of the easing of lockdown restrictions, few have questioned the wisdom of this week’s warnings of vigilance against a third wave. The machine was working well, and Boris Johnson must have felt rather as the master of the Ever Given felt as his vessel made its stately progress towards the Suez Canal.
But then, just as it seemed to be going so well, the bow has veered alarmingly towards the canal bank and it’s generally been self-inflicted. The throwaway comment about greed and the vaccine programme, although immediately retracted, brought unwelcome echoes of Gordon Gecko into a sensitive situation. Whether some form of vaccination passporting makes any sense at all, and there are many, ranging from civil rights organisations all the way through to pub landlords who don’t believe that it does, it’s peculiar that the thinking aloud is so public. Colourful headlines are unlikely to be helpful in policy formation and acceptance, and it’s been a quieter and easier world since the government has been publicly deferring to the scientists, regardless of the content of private debate. And then there’s the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, or rather those parts of it that deal with the conduct of protests. I don’t for a moment condone the violence of recent protests against it, but there is considerable irony in the inability of police forces confronted by those protests to control them in circumstances where, under Covid restrictions, the laws governing protests are rather more stringent than the rules in the Bill. It will be interesting to see how Parliament deals with the Bill from this point on particularly given the strength of expression about policing by consent and freedom of speech.
To be fair to our friends in Westminster, they have been made to look like paragons of prudence and calm decision making by a number of their European counterparts. As many parts of Europe face a third wave, the attractiveness of the UK as a scapegoat has increased for elected politicians and commissioners alike. At the top of the list is the speed of the UK’s vaccination rollout against the relatively glacial pace in Europe. Having been slow to give regulatory approval to the vaccines themselves, and in consequence been slow to order them, having questioned the Astra Zeneca vaccine early on, in some cases citing entirely bogus figures and in others questioning its efficacy in older age groups, they now have to explain both why they’re short of supplies and the Astra Zeneca vaccine is ok to have. The UK becomes an easy target, especially when its Prime Minister appears to embrace the concept of greed in the context of Covid vaccination.
And so to next Monday when, blessed by a favourable weather forecast, small groups will be able to meet outdoors for the first time in months, heralding, all being well, the start of regular social contact for families in particular. Outdoor sporting activities can also start which is great news for those who participate in them, albeit less good news for my dog who will lose the freedom of the golf course which she’s enjoyed for the last few months. I haven’t seen one of my sons since October and will be seeing him on Monday, a pattern that will be repeated thousands of time over in households up and down the country over the days that follow. The freedom to meet, once taken for granted, is now a hard won privilege to be relished and enjoyed. Let’s hope that we can continue to have the patience, wisdom and luck to retain and build on it.
A weekend of compulsory gardening beckons - not my favourite thing to be doing but I always feel oddly better for having done it. I hope that you enjoy yours whatever you have in store.