On the 24th November, a whole month before Christmas Eve, the UK government (read government of England), under extreme pressure from the libertarian loons on its back benches, who regard any restrictions on their freedom to do whatever they like as an unwarranted imposition, corralled the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into agreeing to a five-day Christmas ‘amnesty’ from whatever Covid19 restrictions the devolved governments happened to have in place at the time. The national November lockdown was about to end, but the three-tier system was destined immediately to be re-imposed, and it was assumed that the virus would be sufficiently suppressed by then for there to be no problem with families being allowed to travel the length and breath of the UK to join two other families for overnight stays between 23rd and 27th December for a close-to-‘normal’, no doubt boozy, Christmas knees-up. Extra trains are being laid on; extra time for travel to Northern Ireland is being allowed; all stops, apart from the one that says STOP, are being pulled out.
Strangely enough, the virus didn’t just remain unsuppressed and unimpressed by the November lockdown, it went into overdrive: it has not only increased its infection rates exponentially in the three weeks since the amnesty decision, but has spun-off a Southern Counties mutation which appears, although the science is still out on this, to be even more infectious than the original is. So greater London and parts of adjacent counties have been elevated from Tier 2 to Tier 3 exactly seven days before an amnesty that lifts their newly imposed restrictions kicks in. Chocolate fire-screens come to mind. Whether or not the virus is equity-minded and made a mental note that no cognisance whatever had been given by the powers that be to Eid, or Diwali, or Holi, or Hannukah, Covid19 is not going to regard Christmas as a season of goodwill to all mankind and take a break from its job of infecting anyone rash enough let it anywhere near.
If the virus is certain to be unimpressed by the Christmas amnesty, so is the medical profession, as represented in particular by the editors of the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal who view the approaching amnesty with such trepidation that they have published a joint editorial for only the second time in 100 years. In similar manner to President-elect Joe Biden’s excoriating demolition of Donald Trump’s undermining of US democracy as soon as the electoral college had formally approved his election, the editorials don’t pull their punches where the UK government is concerned: ‘The government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring and again in the autumn…. We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives. If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be “protecting the NHS”.’ The joint editorial predicts that, even without the time-lag between the inevitable Christmas amnesty infections and consequent hospitalisations, by January 1st there will already be as many patients with coronavirus in UK hospitals as there were at the height of the first wave in April.
So will the UK government respond to the increasing pressure and change its mind about the wisdom of its amnesty? Not a chance. They always ‘follow the science’ – just as long as the science suits their short-term political interests. They are running too scared of the loons, whose numbers are sufficient to annihilate the Tories’ 87 seat majority, and no Tory government, never mind one elected with a ‘land-slide’ majority barely 12 months ago, likes having to rely on Labour votes to get its legislation through parliament. True to their tradition of hopelessly muddled, and often contradictory messaging, the government is maintaining the amnesty in law but strongly advising people not to make use of it: Boris Johnson is wishing everyone a ‘Merry Little Christmas’ and implicitly granting the NHS a potentially overwhelmed and not at all happy new year. In the meantime the Welsh part of the ‘United Kingdom’ is changing the legal limit to allow only two families to meet, and the Scottish part is strongly advising against any overnight stays and against meeting for more than one day.
Boris Johnson and his equally out-of-their-depth chums would, of course, deny that it is in any way contradictory. It was Mr Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose turn it was to be the ventriloquist’s dummy justifying government policy on the Today programme yesterday. Asserting that you “can’t legislate for every eventuality” he expressed the libertarians’ total confidence that people could be relied on to “weigh up the risks to their own loved ones” and “exercise their own good judgement” about their Christmas plans. You couldn’t expect a ventriloquist’s dummy to realize that that makes a complete nonsense of putting 38 million people into Tier 3 today, and, indeed, of maintaining any kind of Tier system at all. The entire rationale for having any restrictions can only be that people can’t, in fact, exercise their own good judgement.