Is Covid a Christmas or a disaster movie?
Saturday night. The fire’s lit, the dog is curled up, and it’s time to pour a glass of something warming and turn on a seasonal disaster movie, or, as the BBC likes to call them, a Downing Street press conference.
The Sketch will believe the government is taking Covid seriously when Jacob Rees-Mogg wears a mask in Parliament
The Omicron Variant: Vaccine Escape was not, to be honest, a classic of the genre. It lacked the drama of last year’s Halloween: Lockdown or its sequel Home Alone: Christmas. But all the familiar parts were there: Boris Johnson, cast as prime minister for reasons no one fully understands, tucking his shirt into his trousers as he tells us he wants to “slow down the seeding”; a smooth Sir Patrick Vallance assuring us that science will find a way; a worried Chris Whitty asking for the next slide. There was even the promise of a review of restrictions in three weeks, a proper throwback to the early days of Covid press conferences.
Whitty, very much the moral centre of these dramas, really did have an edge of anxiety in his voice as he pleaded with the public to “please” get vaccinated or boosted. He’s spent much more time on hospital wards than the other two, and knows that, while the numbers are far lower than they were, this disease is still killing people.
There were twists on the traditional format. This press conference didn’t have the usual teaser campaign of Labour asking why the prime minister wasn’t acting and then the prime minister promising us there was absolutely no way he was going to act before finally and reluctantly acting. But there were familiar aspects too, especially around the attempts to reassure us that Christmas is definitely still on.
Sajid Javid, who is apparently the Health Secretary, will be giving us all further updates this week
Most of the new restrictions Johnson announced affect people coming from abroad. Travellers arriving in the UK will be required to spend the standard hour coughing over each other at Heathrow before returning to their homes to take a test. The rest of us are being asked to wear facemasks in shops and on public transport, though, in fact, that has been the guidance for months, unless you were a Conservative MP, open-minded journalist or, tobacco’s-no-longer-doing-it-for-you think tanker, in which case, for reasons that scientists aren’t asked about enough, you can apparently do whatever the hell you like. The Sketch will believe the government is taking Covid seriously when Jacob Rees-Mogg wears a mask in Parliament.
Sajid Javid, who is apparently the Health Secretary, will be giving us all further updates this week. Given that his last public health intervention involved touring TV studios to insist that you couldn’t catch Covid from people you know – another piece of advice that it would be really interesting to see Whitty and Vallance asked about – we can only guess at what he’s planning to say. Maybe he’ll reveal that the Omicron variant, as well as dodging round vaccines, is also unimpressed by membership of the Conservative Party.
The broadcast ended on an upbeat note. Vallance pointed out that the vaccines can be tweaked, and that treatments had been developed to help those who do get ill. Whitty asked us to raise a glass to the scientists. Johnson managed to avoid too much reckless over-promising.
And then they were gone, and it was back to our scheduled programming, and we were left hoping they were right. Maybe they will be. In the words of the great philosopher Hans Gruber, in Die Hard: “It’s Christmas. It’s the time of miracles, so be of good cheer.”
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