Just as we expected

I am shocked, shocked to find that Covid is going on in here


To Downing Street, for an important public health update: Covid’s back! Or, possibly, as anyone with a child in school could have told you, it never went away. 

This was, Sajid Javid explained, “just as we expected”. However, the Health Secretary said, the government was not going to be activating “Plan B”. Indeed, it has been far from clear that they’ve activated Plan A, unless Plan A is “just act like everything’s normal and hope the virus takes the hint”.

Nevertheless, he went on, “we will be staying vigilant, preparing for all eventualities.” Which is probably more reassuring for people who can’t remember the last 12 months. 

“We cannot be complacent when Covid 19 remains such a threat,” Javid said, in the face of a great deal of evidence that complacency is the one thing this government can always achieve.

“None of us want to go backwards now,” he went on. “We must all play our part in this national mission, and think about what we can do to make a difference.”

Tory MPs heal people by breathing on them

And what can we do to make a difference? Get vaccinated, absolutely. Is there anything else? “Wearing a face covering in crowded enclosed spaces.” This would have been deeply confusing to anyone who had seen, say, Sajid Javid in the crowded enclosed House of Commons on Monday, not wearing a face covering. He went on. 

“These little steps make a big difference,” he said. “They’re more important now than they have ever been. Everyone should follow that guidance and think about others around them.” Unless they’re a Conservative Member of Parliament, obviously.

He turned to Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, for more detail.

“There are things the public can do,” Powis said. “Wear that face mask, it makes a difference, it really does.” Not if you’re a Tory MP, though. Tory MPs can actually heal people of a number of diseases by breathing over them. We don’t understand it, but there it is.

This is only one of a number of things we don’t know about Covid. For instance, it’s not clear how the virus can tell whether, as Javid put it, you’re with people you “normally hang out with”, in which case he seemed to be suggesting it decides not to spread itself, or whether you’re with strangers. One theory is that it shuts down if it hears you use someone’s first name.

“This pandemic is not over yet.” Except in the Conservative Party

And it’s still a mystery how being a Conservative MP prevents you from catching or passing on Covid. There’s a clear suggestion on the Commons benches that the effect doesn’t only work on Tories: their DUP allies enjoy a similar benefit. Does it also apply to UKIP, and whatever party Nigel Farage is leading this week? More research is needed: does this effect also work on Conservative councillors and party members? The clear implication at conference earlier this month is that it does. But what if they’re behind in their subs? Epidemiologists are working round the clock. 

Back to the press conference. “In my remarks, the entire focus is on what we can do to help ourselves,” Javid said. Unless you’re a Tory MP. The Sketch really cannot stress enough how important it is that Tory MPs should continue to ignore what Javid was saying.

Powis, too, reiterated his warning. “This pandemic is not over yet,” he said. Except in the Parliamentary Conservative Party, where it absolutely is. “Be cautious.” That’s the message to people who haven’t been elected to Parliament in the Conservative interest.

Could ordinary people muck in to help the fight against the virus, someone asked. “That public spiritedness of coming forward and doing your bit, we need that,” Powis replied. Though not, please not, from Tories. For all our sakes, they need to carry on acting exactly how they damn well please.

Should MPs follow government advice?

Public health boss Jenny Harries weighed in. “There’s a message to all who are vaccinated,” she said. “Put a face covering on, it’s important.” Unless you’re a government minister. Government ministers should spit into other people’s drinks at every opportunity: it passes on antibodies and also improves the flavour.

And then, finally, after an hour, a reporter from the FT asked the question that the Sketch had been very much screaming at the television: shouldn’t, maybe, government ministers and government MPs follow government advice?

“That is a very fair point,” Javid said, as though it was the first time it had been put to him, and not an idea he has repeatedly rejected over several weeks. “We’ve all got our role to play in this. That is a very fair point, and I’m sure a lot of people will have heard you.” Though not Tory MPs. It turns out their immunity to Covid also makes them blind to the obvious.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover