The most important bit of any news story is what’s not in it.
And for all the leaks we’re getting about Boris Johnson’s map-reading skills, for all the TV demands by Tory agitators, there is one glaring omission. Annoyingly, for them and for us, it is the only thing that is capable of getting us out of lockdown.
Because while there are a few scientists talking about how things may start to ease slightly following the success so far of the vaccination programme, each and every one of them is blowing a big bugle of calm-the-f***-down.
The vaccines we have at the moment are great, but not perfect. Not enough of us are having them, and especially not enough of health and social care staff or minorities, who are all more likely to spread, contract and die from this disease.
The new vaccines we have coming on-stream, according to Professor Brendan Wren of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, should be better, but might not turn up until next year. Others have warned that masks and social distancing could still be with us next winter.
And Professor Tim Spector, who’s leading the Covid symptom study, said: “We’re not going to suddenly wake up one day and say we’re all cured like in the Hollywood movies and wave flags… we’re going to need to be cautious about new variants coming in, keeping an eye on how our vaccines are doing.”
Yet we all want that release. Pub chains are demanding full opening in April. Travel companies want to “save our summer” by having full international travel from May 1. And backbenchers are calling for complete freedoms, stat, on the basis of a vaccine programme that is not completed and which is about to slow down considerably.
Of the 15m vaccinated so far, only 500,000 or so have had their second jab. That’s 14.5m people who need another dose in the next three months, at the same time that millions of others will be expecting their first. You don’t need a degree in higher maths to work out the vaccination rate will decrease.
The drop in infections and hospitalisations we’ve seen is not, yet, because of the jab. It’s mostly due to lockdown, and following the same pattern and timescale of what happened after previous lockdowns.
And it doesn’t take a history degree for any of us to recall that, after previous periods of house arrest, the same people were saying everything should reopen immediately and “this must be the last lockdown”.
Yes, things have changed since last year. We’re all a lot more fed up. The NHS is more likely to save you from Covid, which means you’re more likely to be in hospital for longer and put more of a strain on its staff and resources. And Covid has changed, too.
By the end of this year, perhaps a billion humans will be vaccinated against coronavirus, and another 6.5bn won’t be. That gives the bug plenty of space to evolve, mutate, and reinfect those countries from which it had been banished with a strain the vaccines cannot stop.
It has taken Boris Johnson’s government more than a year to not close the borders. It has taken 3 months to establish that ethnic minorities, and those who work in healthcare, don’t believe what he says. And it’ll take you just 10 seconds to open a window, sniff, and ask yourself whether it smells like this isn’t over yet.
Everybody wants to have something to look forward to. It would be marvellous, even for a paid complainer like me, if we could forget about the early mistakes and see them as history. Unfortunately for all of us they are still having an impact, because the first refusals to listen to science let the virus in, then let it rampage, and finally produced a predictable mutation which, post-Brexit, is our first successful global export.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, that the same people who crashed us into this pandemic are now finding it so very difficult to reverse us out of it. You can normally expect selfish lunatics who could not be trusted to pick their noses properly to be brilliant at cleaning up the mess they create. Why, it reminds me of the time Henry VIII rebuilt all those monasteries, Piers Morgan offered Harry and Meghan his best wishes, and Amanda Holden said: “It’s a fair cop, gov, I’ve no excuse.”
And the principal reason for what has gone wrong, and is still wrong in terms of economic damage, waiting lists for cancer treatment, and the incredible amounts of screen time given to the headbangers of the Covid Recovery Group, is that this is a government that wants to look good now .
It wants to use the words freedom, over, vaccine, British, roadmap, and normal. It does not want to use words like whoops, oo-er, Pfizer does appear a bit more effective, where are we going, or sorry.
The vaccine would be enough to cure our problems only if the rest of the planet did not exist and viruses were incapable of evolution. The principal cause of everything we are now enduring is that this Tory government is less capable of change than a microscopic bundle of RNA.
It could be done – they could say some of the more difficult words, and decide that looking good in the long-term would be better than repeating all their past mistakes. They do, after all, have four years before the next election.
Johnson could appeal to care home workers, and minorities, by admitting that he’s not the best person to speak to those he’s referred to as “bank robbers” and “picaninnies”, or to whom he’s promised hospitals and nurses and cash that have never materialised.
They could start with a cross-party, ‘blue riband’ committee of our most thoughtful and respected minds to decide on lockdowns, vaccine passports, and public health messaging. They could show they have learned the lessons of 116,000 deaths that came about when they spent too much time last year listening to travel firms, pubs, and less-than-brilliant backbenchers.
That would be a route out of lockdown, a plan which would get us out of the crisis which, in truth, is a world-spanning multiple pile-up we cannot escape until everyone else has likewise reversed.
There are so many brilliant things which have happened in the past year – not least a means of tackling disease which could be repurposed to fight not just other viruses but perhaps cancers and immune conditions too. We should be delighted, as a species, about where we are and how quickly we can make the world better.
But relying on a government that not enough of us trust to get us out of this will not work. The pandemic is over when science says it is, and we’re still waiting for that part of the story.