Despite what you may have read, heard or seen, Boris Johnson’s approach to tackling Covid-19 has been remarkably consistent: His goal is to keep society as open as the National Health Service allows. When the pressure on health services eases, restrictions must also ease. When health care capacity begins to crumble, lower the shutters again.
But having a single goal is not the same as having a coherent strategy. Like Johnsons own instincts, the government has veered in many different directions. Matt Hancock, the Prime Minister’s first health secretary, wanted to keep the country as closed as possible until science pushes back the disease. His allies argue his approach has been validated by the emergence of vaccines, although opponents say the Hancocks department has failed to deliver on its promises: a testing and tracing device capable of allowing restrictions to be eased permanently.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, called for looser restrictions and a less generous support package for businesses and individuals, creating the ideal conditions for the virus to spread. As a result, some of the chancellors’ fiercest critics have dubbed him the coronavirus secretary of state. But Sunaks allies argue that any criticism should be directed at Hancock for failing to live up to his end of the bargain by providing an effective tracking system.
Sajid Javid, the Prime Minister’s first Chancellor and (after Hancocks resigned in June) now Health Secretary, has, like Sunak, argued that now is the time for the UK to learn to live with it, rather than curl up, the virus.
After Javid tested positive for Covid-19 on July 17 and Johnson and Sunak, who had both come into contact with the Health Secretary, overturned their decision not to self-isolate, Labor MP Karen Buck tweeted a quote from Javid’s beloved Ayn Rand, in which the American writer talks about a government free to do whatever it wants. But Javid’s allies would say it’s the job of scientists at Pfizer and BioNTech, not Rands Fountain, which influences its decision-making.
Johnson himself is prone to openness, hence his resistance to imposing a second lockdown in the fall of 2020. On July 19, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former aide, leaked WhatsApp messages appearing to show to the Prime Minister suggesting, in October, that because most patients dying from Covid-19 were over 80, we are not going for the nationwide lockdown. The revelations had a mixed impact in Westminster because Johnson’s reluctance to introduce restrictions was already well known. But Johnson is also avoiding decisions that will make him unpopular, which is part of why his government’s natural state of rest has been to open up the country as much as possible and then shut it down whenever the NHS starts showing signs of signs of strain.
After most restrictions are lifted on July 19, this pattern could repeat itself in the coming months. Those who are vaccinated are less likely to contract Covid-19 and if they do, they are less likely to pass it on to others, or to have it severely. But while vaccines can reduce the pressure on hospitals, they can’t eliminate it: Every time the lockdown ends, a significant increase in the number of cases and therefore more hospitalizations will follow.
[see also:Boris Johnson is focusing too much on things he cant control]
Part of the rationale for unlocking England on July 19 and not after the summer is that in the fall the NHS will experience additional stress due to a combination of the usual seasonal factors, such as the flu, as well as the consequences of more than a decade of cutting public spending. But the problem, as one Conservative member ironically said, is that you can bring a country to the water, but you cannot make it drink. Just because the Prime Minister says it is safe for people to come out and mingle does not mean that they will. If they are reluctant or take their time to get out and enjoy their new freedoms, an increase in coronavirus cases could still occur in the winter.
You can’t force people to take risks on command or on the government’s schedule, and it doesn’t help that the prime minister’s preferred register of public communications is a warm comfort. For all of Johnson’s administrative shortcomings, many Tory MPs argue he was probably the best politician to run the country during the lockdown: he’s never more comfortable than when he tells people that the sun is out. will rise tomorrow, or when it encourages British innovation and the competence of our scientists.
Now he must communicate a difficult trade-off: between maintaining the capacity for care or inflicting the social costs of confinement, which weigh particularly heavily on the very young and the very old, who in different ways have to give up time and experiences that ‘they can’t live. after the end of the era of containment. When it comes time to speak frankly to the country about these compromises, Johnson’s usual register falls flat. In his statement of July 19, his argument was, if not now, when? a rhetorical question that hides the true case of unlocking.
The question that worries some Conservative MPs is: will the average day in the life of this government look more like March 2020, when the Prime Minister’s job was to raise a rallying cry and a dose of optimism? ? Or will it be more like July 2021, when the prime minister’s job is to compromise and tell the public things they don’t want to hear?
Those who think it will be the first still believe that this government can do something tangible to accompany its series of impressive electoral victories. But other MPs fear that as British politics return to normal after the pandemic, an average day in Johnsons No.10 will be a day in which very little gets achieved and a Conservative government elected to a considerable majority will go to the next election without a single political victory to its credit.
[see also:After two years as Prime Minister, Boris Johnsons unfitness for office has never been clearer]
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