This week our Sheffield grandchildren are with their parents at a cottage in Anglesey and our York grandchildren, having spent a week near the sea in Galway, are now similarly ensconced in a cottage in a valley somewhere in the west of Ireland. Last year we were with them all in a country house surrounded by fields of artichokes near Morlais in Brittainy. We are still taking social distancing very seriously so are having to share their holidays vicariously via Face Time and Whatsapp, and very much appreciating the fact that they are taking the trouble to share them with us, and, once again, thankful for the difference technology has made to the experience of the past few months. Within a few minutes of arriving at the cottage in Anglesey our two granddaughters, aged 9 and 7, were showing us around the cottage with palpable excitement, one giving us the guided tour of the ground floor, the other of the first floor. The family in Ireland have to climb a significant hill get any signal so we are seeing and hearing much less of them.
The excitement of the children at the prospect of holidays, their anticipation and enjoyment of new places and new experiences, are infectious; their crushing disappointment if the holidays they have been looking forward to have to be cancelled for any reason is equally contagious. Our two Cape Town granddaughters look forward all through the year to the week they have been able for the last few years to spend at our timeshare, sometimes with us, in the Drakensberg in Kwazulu-Natal. So the bad news had to be broken to them well in advance this year that Covid-19 had resulted in the resort being closed and none of us being able to go. I can imagine how devasted they would have been had they counted down the number of sleeps until their holiday, packed their bags and gone to bed early the night before their crack of dawn departure for the airport, and then discovered when they woke up that the government had during the night issued a decree that meant their holiday had to be cancelled after all. I feel for all the families to whom that has happened in UK today as a result of our government’s sudden decision to impose two weeks’ of quarantine on anyone arriving back from Spain from today. Many parents will be in serious need of a holiday after months of lockdown and home schooling, and will be disappointed and angry too, but it is the bitter disappointment and bewilderment of the children that strikes the strongest chord.
We know that Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson are both geographically challenged. Cummings thinks that London and County Durham are indistinguishable when it comes to rules about social isolation. Boris was reported by The Times in 2012 to have thought that Brussels was in Spain; he referred to Africa as a ‘country’ at the Conservative Party conference in 2016; and he had to be corrected by Theresa May at a cabinet meeting in 2018 when he repeatedly confused Yemen with Lebanon, a mere 1400 miles distant, in spite of being Foreign Secretary at the time. So it would be too much to expect him to be able to distinguish between different parts of Spain. As it happens, Las Palmas, which is included in the blanket quarantine rules, in spite of having a significantly lower Covid-19 infection rate than UK, is almost exactly the same distance from Barcelona, where there is a spike of infections, as Yemen is from the Lebanon. The Balearic and Canary Islands all have much lower rates of infection than we do, and one might expect people living on an island to be able to recognise other islands when they see them. So what does the government think it is doing repeating the stupidity of forcing people coming from areas with significantly lower infection rates than ours to quarantine themselves for two weeks after arriving here?
Belgium has distinguished the six regions in Spain where the Covid-19 spikes have occurred from the rest of Spain in its response to the surge of infections in Spain. If our government can draw a distinction between Leicester and Coventry, 25 miles apart, when it comes to infection spikes and regulatory responses, why can’t it draw a distinction between, for example, Las Palmas and Tenerife on the one hand, and Barcelona and Zaragoza on the other? I suspect that there are two reasons for this. One is that they aren’t interested in fine distinctions: all ‘foreigners’ (as a polite generic term for a plethora of racist sobriquets) are inherently threatening and to be distrusted, so there’s no point in distinguishing between Brits coming back from different parts of a country run by foreigners. The other is that the motivation behind this illogical, abrupt and very contentious imposition of a blanket quarantine may well be very similar to the reason for the last one. Simon Calder discloses in an article in today’s Independent that Dominic Cummings phoned The Times shortly after his return from his notorious visit to Durham to let them know about the imminent imposition of the blanket quarantine. The aim, it is said, had much more to do with distracting attention from the adverse publicity being given to the government’s lethally carefree treatment of care-homes than it had to do with people arriving from other countries. If that is true, it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that last night’s abrupt implementation of another quarantine had equally little to do with the safety of UK citizens and was intended, rather, to distract attention from the fuss around the Intelligence and Safety Committee’s Russia report. Whatever the reasons, the adults whose holiday plans have been ruined can always vote for a different government in four years’ time. It is the bitterly disappointed children, abruptly denied their summer holiday on the beaches of the Canary Islands, I feel most sorry for.