From John in Brighton: Only Turkeys vote for Christmas relaxation

21 December

My Christmas plans are hardly affected by the announcement forty eight hours ago. After much mulling (no wine involved) I’d decided a walk was on but indoor contact better avoided.  In fact I’d pretty much concluded that a month ago before the recent surge in cases. And what is more I felt back then that the Government policy of five days relaxation was both illogical and dangerous. And it was compounded by BJ refusing to change tack until the last minute and talking with a forked tongue exhorting extreme caution and having a “jolly careful Christmas”. For one day of relaxation we’d need five of further lockdown was the previous message. To my mind that’s facile and I’d like to know the evidence base seeing as we “follow the science” (except when it doesn’t suit). I visualise a spiky haired BJ negotiating with spiky coated virus for a bit of yuletide leniency but with about as little success as the Brexit talks. That’s not the viral modus operandi – leave a window just slightly ajar and it’ll be in, thank you very much. Would you leave the door unlocked with a mass murderer on the prowl? The banality could be demonstrated by an analogy – I really want to get from A to B quicker over Christmas so Boris could we please add 10mph to all speed limits for five days? Only if it keeps the people happy, boosts the economy and shuts up 70 of his restless back-benchers so I can’t see that happening. Call me cynical if you like but I think one new mutation has enabled another – in his policy. With the flaws exposed he’s offered a  “get out of jail free” card as this could be blamed as the trigger for the change. Yes it’s true that numbers have escalated but they were still high before with the R only just below 1. And for all the talk of following the science he ignored SAGE advice at the end of November advising that relaxation could lead to a surge in cases and a third lockdown. Perhaps another 5:1 ratio might help and tho’ I say it myself I think my science trumps Boris’.  Supposing the payback for a lockdown Christmas was surviving to see at least another five in the years to come then I’d go with those odds. 

As inferred in previous blogs my personal view has always been that the priority should have been control of the virus. First and foremost this protected the NHS and minimised death rates.  Restrictions needed to be tougher and sustained until there was a definite decline and / or vaccination became available. Business and economy, eat out to help out and relaxation could follow as and when. After all the second world war lasted over five years and we eventually recovered to the golden age of the 60’s. But BJ is a libertarian and is seeking public adulation and endearment so he prioritises the popular policies. Counter-intuitively in the cold light of day he may actually have lost a lot of public backing as people realise we have the worst outcomes for both health and economy compared to most other countries.

Maybe I am in a position to see things differently to most people. I’ve been shielding and very cautious since the outbreak started so will be minimally affected by tighter restrictions. Secondly I spent nearly forty years confronting so-called NHS “winter pressures” when the beds run out, difficult and potentially risky decisions are needed and staff burn out. Historically the NHS is at its busiest in January and February which is when a post-Christmas surge would hit – Covid will exacerbate this perennial problem. Instead of just clapping we should institute policies that genuinely minimise extra workload and risk. Churches can stay open even in Tier 4 but containing viral spread should not be sacrificed on the altar of a day or two of fun and festivity.
Then add to that the Government pledge to address the huge backlog of just under 4.5 million people awaiting hospital treatment including a 123 times increase in those waiting for over a year. The greater the Covid numbers the less will be the capacity to do that. And of course our yuletide saviour alias the vaccination programme is going to need significant input from NHS staff. The ultimate tragic irony would be if that was stalled as all hands were needed to care for Covid cases.

Yes every individual has a responsibility to act in both their own and society’s best interests by adopting all the safety measures. Despite reports of breechers I believe that the vast majority do and perhaps an undercurrent of fear of infection is more helpful than threats of fines. But equally important are the government setting appropriate rules that are proportionate, logical, clear and consistent and strictly adhering themselves. I’m not convinced that has always been the case.

I have no doubt that many will disagree with me and will see me as some miserable old Grinch….but nevertheless I could live with that. I certainly don’t want to catch the virus…I could die with that. Only a right turkey would take unnecessary risk however appealing in the short term.