Boris Johnson in Bolton, December 2020. Photo: Flickr/Pippa Fowles Boris Johnson in Bolton, December 2020. Photo: Flickr/Pippa Fowles

A catalogue of mismanagement exposes an incapable government that must be removed, observes Alex Snowdon

The latest press conference from Boris Johnson revealed the dreadful incompetence and political failure of Johnson’s government. The newly-announced measures have been left too late and are only necessary because of repeated government failures.

A new Tier 4 category has been devised. Christmas social interaction is banned in Tier 4 areas: London and the south east. This will affect around a third of England’s population. 

Mixing between households will not be allowed even on Christmas Day, while – more generally – measures including the closure of non-essential retail are taking effect from midnight, with ‘stay at home’ orders in place. 

Elsewhere the relaxation of Christmas rules is being shrunk from 5 days to just Christmas Day itself. Huge numbers of people will be feeling disappointed and frustrated by having their Christmas plans ruined. 

Reckless and irresponsible 

It was always gimmicky and irresponsible to plan to allow widespread mixing over 23-27 December. Changing those plans is the right thing to do in the circumstances, but it is astonishing incompetence – and reflects disastrous planning – to announce it so late. 

How humiliating for the prime minister to do this after hyping the intention to allow people to still celebrate Christmas as usual. Johnson was ridiculing suggestions of tighter Christmas measures as recently as Wednesday. 

The earlier rhetoric about promising people that they will still be able to celebrate Christmas in extended families also means that non-compliance will now be more likely. We also know that people are less likely to follow the rules when they keep changing – and when there are different restrictions in different areas. 

Repeated failures 

It is a dreadful mess that this tightening of restrictions is necessary. It is precisely because of the failure to take the required measures over the last few months. 

Expert advice from SAGE in late September was to introduce a two-week circuit breaker. That was ignored. Infection rates continued to rise throughout October as result. Inevitably, a terrible rise in hospital admissions and deaths soon followed. 

When a national lockdown was finally announced, starting in early November, it was too soft. Most recklessly, the decision was taken to keep all schools open fully. That was despite mounting evidence that schools have been a massive source of transmission. 

That soft lockdown was subsequently lifted too soon. Since it ended in early December, the government has been banking on the roll-out of the vaccine. But that is a slow process: only 350,000 people have received the vaccine so far. It makes next to no difference to the impact of the current virus resurgence. 

Resurgent virus 

Infection numbers are officially rising again. One day this week, they rose to a record daily high of around 35,000. The evidence is that this reflects a genuine rise in transmission rates. 

The R number is now reportedly above 1 in a great many areas, which means that the numbers are likely to continue rising. A powerfully infectious new variant of the virus has in recent days been identified, especially in the south east. 

Daily death figures have been consistently high recently, with as many as 600 deaths a day. The rise in hospital admission numbers – with an increase of more than 2000 coronavirus patients in hospitals in just one week – indicates that those death figures are not going to fall very soon. They also suggest that NHS capacity is under increasing strain. 

This is the latest chapter in a story of government failure in handling the pandemic. An endless cycle of ineptly-handled lockdown and release is costing a huge number of lives, putting hospitals under great strain and threatening jobs and livelihoods. 

This really must be Boris Johnson’s last Christmas in Downing Street. 

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Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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