January 15. The Government has taken, or has had forced upon it, a decision of principle. The Covid vaccines are not on the market. The rich cannot buy immunity.
There is a sense, indeed, in which the vaccine programme offers a temporary reversal of the pattern throughout the pandemic of the poor suffering more than the prosperous. Many of the staff in the NHS and care homes who are now at the head of the queue are amongst the relatively low paid who have been most at risk in recent months.
Initially it looked as if the wealthy were to be punished for their self-indulgence, as holiday-makers skiing in northern Italy came back to Britain with the virus. But as it became embedded across the population, the most vulnerable were those who could not afford to work at home, or who lacked adequate domestic space, or who had acquired underlying health conditions though decades of poor diet and inadequate health care.
Now all were to be equal in the programme. However, the Government reckoned without the culture of the rich. The Daily Telegraph, where else, has just reported on the offer being made by the private concierge service, Knightsbridge Circle, which charges a basic £25,000 a year for membership. It looks to be worth every penny. “A carefully curated membership”, says its website, “ensures that clients receive unparalleled access to the very best of everything that life has to offer.”
This includes jumping the vaccination queue.
The founder of Knightsbridge Circle, one Stuart McNeil, explained to the Daily Telegraph the recent addition to his service:
“the inoculations are already well underway, with members based both in the UK and abroad flying out for vaccination holidays, many on private jets. ‘It’s like we’re the pioneers of this new luxury travel vaccine programme. You go for a few weeks to a villa in the sunshine, get your jabs and your certificate and you’re ready to go,’ says McNeill, who assumes that many such members have flown out under the business/education trip exemption. ‘Lots of our clients have business meetings in the UAE.’”
The cost for a curated member is certainly manageable:
“While the potential upper end cost of such a trip is mammoth, McNeill approximates a cost of around £40,000 for a month-long trip to Dubai with first class Emirates flights, meet and greet, accommodation in a sea view Jumeirah Beach apartment, vaccination and membership for two.”
But, dear reader, you ask, is this not illegal?
Well yes, but then again no, but then again it depends on whether Priti Patel wants to enforce her own laws.
It is certainly illegal to take flights for pleasure. The wording of the new lockdown is clear enough: “You must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This is the law.” However, a “reasonable excuse” includes “work, where you cannot reasonably work from home.” As it is well known that the super-rich live in hovels without desk space or internet connections, it is of course necessary for them to go out to earn their weekly pittance. As for distance, the rules also say, “if you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of the city where you live.” The UAE, as we know, is just next door to the City of London, particularly when you have a private jet. No problem.
What is so heart-warming about Stuart McNeil is that he has not lost his moral compass in supplying this service. According to the article, he “is keen to note that Knightsbridge Circle has not vaccinated anybody under the age of 65.” “We still have a moral responsibility to make sure that people that really need it get it, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”
Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. McNeill’s only regret is that the Government has yet to make the vaccine available to his private clinic in Harley Street: “I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that Boris allows us to do this.”
It can only be a matter of time.