As we approach the much-heralded “UK Freedom Day” from the grip of the Covid pandemic [Monday 19th July], my most recent review of the Government’s plans and preparedness for our ‘return to normal’ leads me to a significant degree of confusion and a whiff of suspicion that the forces of conservatism – viz. the scientists and leading figures in what I’ll describe as “Public Health England” on the one hand – and Conservatism (with a large “C”) on the other, are both contradictory and at odds with each other.
We seem to be in the position where those whose primary concern is the health of the population are seriously concerned about current upward direction of the “R” (infection) rate – and the likely impacts upon it of both “going back to normal” and new, more dangerous, variants of the virus developing as inevitably it seems they will.
Nevertheless, as Boris effectively hinted yesterday, it appears that the Government is about to remove the imperative rule/guideline to wear masks in certain public situations and thereby leave it to each individual to be responsible and decide for themselves in which circumstances they will don one … and in which circumstances they won’t.
In response psychologist Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Government’s SAGE committee – whom, it appears, is personally going to continue wearing masks in public whatever the Government decrees – has attacked new Health Secretary Sajid Javid in a series of tweets:
“It is frightening to have a “Health” Secretary who still thinks Covid is flu … Who is unconcerned at levels of infection … Who doesn’t realise that those who do best for health also do best for the economy … Who wants to ditch all protections while only half of us are vaccinated.”
“Which is why we accept that I shouldn’t have the choice to act in ways that remove your choice, that I can’t drive as fast as I like in town and why – as the BMA council chairman puts it “It makes no sense to remove restrictions in their entirety in just over two weeks’ time …”
“Above all, it is frightening to have a “Heath” Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is “this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.”
To be frank – having had my views confirmed by the recent behaviour of some huge crowds generally, e.g. those following their nation’s teams in football’s 2020/2021 Euros tournament not least England’s – I have long despaired of the ability of the masses ever to take “responsible” decisions for themselves.
One only has to tune in to late night radio phone-in programmes to be exposed to extraordinarily wide range of human beings that presumably every nation on earth contains – from the erudite and intelligent to … er … the simple, vulnerable, crackpot, stupid, weirdo and easily-manipulated.
I’m of the view that – generally-speaking (by which I mean to suggest in the pursuit of “the greatest good for the greatest number”) – it is best for Governments to dish out simple, straightforward rules and require everyone to follow them.
The alternative, which it appears the Government is adopting, is to give out some basic guidelines but then leave it to each individual to decide what he or she will do in response to the potential public health threat of Covid in a “returned to normal” world.
In my view, for what it’s worth, this is either a hostage to fortune and/or a recipe for disaster.
By way of illustration [and here I should perhaps add a disclaimer that I have no way of checking and/or confirming the original source(s) of these examples and so all of them could have been dreamed up by a lover, and/or malicious spreader, of “Fake News”] over the weekend I was sent by a good pal some examples of complaints sent by dissatisfied British customers to “Thomas Cook Vacations”, a selection of which I shall now set out below:
“… They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”
“… On my holiday to Goa in India I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”
“… We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”
“…We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us that we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.”
“… The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”
“… We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”
“… It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallartato to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time – this should be banned.”
“… I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts”.
“… It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”
“… When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish. No-one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”
One might venture to suggest that, whilst you probably wouldn’t (or couldn’t) make it up, this is how things are out in the real world.