Sketch

Surely the final series

Script writers attempt to spice up “Covid briefings” with the Brazilian variant

It was out of the door and onto the podiums for Boris Johnson, Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance. The three original panelists from the first lockdown stepped into our view for another episode of the show that has captured the nation’s freedoms. Past series have made us laugh and made us cry, but not this time, as the current restrictions in England have wiped away all tiers.

Mr. Johnson began by noting that the success of the vaccine scheme meant the chance was high that we would know somebody personally who had received a jab. He then gave a long pause as he turned the page of his notes, as if giving people a bit of extra time to bring the person to mind. He then began breathlessly rattling through a list of statistics as if he was commentating on the grand national – on Tuesday there were 4134 new admissions to hospital – 37,000 Covid patients in hospitals throughout the UK – 55,761 positive cases since yesterday and 1280 deaths.

But then the speed changed and now whole words were being elongated. He warned people against thinking the disease could “be passed on by standing too near somebody in a supermarket queue but also by h-andling something to-uched by an infected per-son” To the untrained ear it might have looked like he was having a convulsive episode or had suddenly gone deaf, but seasoned body-language experts realised he was reinforcing the message by socially distancing his own syllables.

Chris Whitty was also keen to distance himself from the Prime Minister’s words. When he was asked by Ben Kentish from LBC whether things would be back to normal by Easter like he had previously suggested, he replied: “I don’t recall I’ve ever personally said things will be better in Easter in public but the Prime Minister may have quoted me as saying that rather generously”. Trying to resolve the apparent inconsistencies, the Prime Minister interjected: “there is a spring after Easter”, which Whitty accepted, since, God Willing, there will be several springs after this Easter.

The big message of tonight’s performance was the ban on flights from South America and Portugal to stop the sassy and excitable, I mean, Brazilian strain arriving and so an end to travel corridors – the mechanism that let people saunter into Britain from certain countries as if they were still free. But Boris Johnson announced that from “Monday 04 hundred hours” and for the next four weeks all travellers to the UK will need a negative test from 72 hours before leaving and need to quarantine for 10 days. The UK leader suggested he’s managed to persuade the devolved governments to do the same thing too, so that people coming from abroad won’t make the mistake of imagining the devolved governments now have the power to set their own immigration policy.

Viewers were left thinking the process was like trying to evade the security systems in a scene from Oceans 11

Diehard viewers will be pleased they haven’t dropped one of the staple features of these shows. Today it came from Hugh Pym of the BBC who looked puzzled and comically mouthed his question before the PM said the magic words “you’re on mute”. The gag is getting a little old to be honest and the producers should consider dropping it or trying variants like the “you’re on dalek” joke that Scott Mann MP performed in the House of Commons to much mirth earlier this week.

But for those expecting a succession of mixed metaphors about scientific cavalry arriving to score basketball goals on the train, the writers of the show let them down this episode. Everybody kept asking what level the death rate would have to get to before they would start removing the restrictions. Patrick Vallance said if we “take the lid off now then this is going to boil over for sure”. Before removing the lid, the UK had to “wait until it’s cooled down”. It seems that the lid is the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the sides are the more restricted UK borders. One imagines Northern Ireland is in a separate pan, but with a fair bit less food on the boil.

Boris praised certain places like Cockermouth that were “shooting the lights out” in vaccinating 80-90 per cent of care home residents but without JVT and his gift for analogies it was unlikely to get any better. Chris Whitty tried his luck: “It will have to be walking backward by degrees, testing what works, and then if that works going the next step”. Viewers were left thinking the process was like trying to evade the security systems in a scene from Oceans 11.

It’s a tried and tested format but the show clearly needs a step-change to re-capture viewers’ attention. New topics like the “Brazilian variant” feel irrelevant, especially as the cast keep playing down the chance the new strains will be, in the words of Boris Johnson, “vaccine-busting”. The repeated plotline of lockdowns and relaxations is also getting a little tired. By the time the anniversary of the first lockdown arrives in March, the producers should think about giving everyone immunity and drawing this current series, and show, to a close.

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