There was bad news on Covid, and it was time for Boris Johnson to be a man. It was no surprise that the man he chose to be was a man who gets other people to break bad news on his behalf. As one imagines they like to say in Number 10, there’s a Matt for that.
“We have identified a new variant of coronavirus,” Matt Hancock told Parliament on Monday afternoon. “Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.” Also, Merry Christmas, everyone.
Older readers may remember that two weeks ago, this was going to be the week that the Tier system had worked so well that people were going to be going down a Tier. Readers who have seen any single thing that Boris Johnson has been involved in, literally any single thing, won’t be surprised to learn that this is not how it’s working out.
So, into Tier 3 go London and a number of surrounding areas. But only until next week, when the capital’s plague-ridden residents are, by edict of Boris Disgustus, to return to the place of their birth and hug an elderly relative. Trust me, it’s easier if you don’t try to understand the logic of all this.
Hancock has an air of seriousness about him, these days with a hint of desperation
Something else that it’s probably best not to interrogate too hard in search of coherence is the government’s insistence that schools in London shouldn’t move to online teaching this week. I know anecdotes aren’t data, but the reality round the sketch’s way is that with increasing numbers of bubbles infected, large chunks of secondary schooling have been happening online for at least a week now. When Hancock’s mobile testing centres get to schools in south east England, they may not find that many children to test.
There were protests from MPs whose areas were going up a tier. These generally followed the model set by Iain Duncan Smith. He told the chamber that infections in his borough were only among children and that hospitals had plenty of space, only for Hancock to reply that actually infections there were high among the over-60s and that the hospital admissions were up. Readers will have to decide for themselves who is the more plausible witness.
But one outfit we didn’t hear much from on Monday afternoon were the Covid Research Group, the MPs who want us all to get ill in order to keep the economy going. They were largely silent, as they were preoccupied trying to stop Johnson from agreeing to a trade deal that would keep the economy going. Really, I can’t urge you strongly enough not to look for logic.
It’s probably for the best that Johnson was in hiding. Hancock at least has an air of seriousness about him, these days with a hint of desperation. When he urged people to “exercise self-restraint, not see the rules as something to push against but as something to act well within” he sounded like he meant it. Johnson delivers that kind of line in a way that suggests he really thinks you should go out and lick a stranger’s hands.
Hancock went from the House of Commons over to Downing Street for the press conference, what with Johnson still being sadly unable to face people. Here he was, if anything, even grimmer.
The question he struggled with was whether, if things are as bad as he says they are, a Christmas relaxation is a terribly good idea. The scientists on either side of him were fairly clear that it will, in Chris Whitty’s words, “put upward pressure on the virus”. The best explanation for it, also offered by Whitty, was that people are going to meet family anyway, so you might as well let them do it legally.
Hancock stopped short of that. “Our message around Christmas is really clear,” he said. “We understand why people will want to see their loved ones. It must be done in a way that is careful and responsible.”
In the words of the old song,
Have yourself a responsible little Christmas,
Let your heart take care,
For next week, our troubles will be everywhere…
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