Boris Johnson’s briefing on the latest restrictions reveal only that the government is ignoring the science and has no plan, writes Terina Hine
The main take away from Boris Johnson’s address to the nation was that the government has no plan, has lost control and is ignoring the scientific advice. So it wasn’t surprising that flanked by his Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, the PM was in an unusually solemn mood.
With the admission that the over-60s are increasingly at risk and more people are in hospital now than when we went into lockdown in March even Johnson found it impossible to find a positive spin.
But the most shocking moment of the press conference came when Chris Whitty admitted the tough, new restrictions would be inadequate to “get on top” of the virus.
The announcement of the new 3-tier system of regulations to curb the virus was intended to provide clarity and reassurance, but in fact did neither.
What began life as a simple 3-level scale is likely to end up even more convoluted and complex than the current set of regulations. Last night we learnt that those local authorities in tier-3 will need to add further local measures if they want to stem the spread of Covid. It appears tier-3 regions will soon become 3+ or 3++, or perhaps like GCSEs we’ll end up with a 9-level scale.
And soon after the press conference ended we learned that Whitty was not alone in the belief that the new measures would not work. The release of the minutes of the 21 September SAGE meeting clearly show how the government is ignoring the science.
Sounding the alarm bells in September, the government’s scientific advisors recommended the “immediate introduction” of a “circuit breaker” and four additional measures to curb the spread of the virus; the government implemented just one.
Since then case numbers have grown dramatically across all areas of the country, as the PM himself pointed out, a quadrupling of cases in as many weeks.
The CMO’s slides showed the rise in cases cover the entire country, with the fastest increases among 10-19 year olds. Yet no measures were announced for schools. Nor were there any for universities, where outbreaks on campuses have been up to seven times those in surrounding areas.
For all the fanfare of the big announcement, for most of the country there will be no change to the current regulations. The rule of 6 has been in place now for four weeks, we have had a 10pm curfew for three, but still cases are rising. Apparently case numbers must be out of control and the NHS on the brink before new measures are introduced.
Tier-2 areas such as Manchester, where case numbers have grown dramatically even while being under special measures since August, and Nottingham, which includes Tory Housing Minister Robert Jenrick’s own constituency, fought hard to resist tier-3 status. But in so doing local businesses will fail to qualify for extra financial support. As one tier-2 council leader said: “It was almost like we were being bribed to go into tier-3 because that’s where all the money is.”
The government is doing all it can to avoid bailing out businesses or extending the furlough scheme, and there is palpable and growing anger among MPs, council leaders, the business community and workers over the lack of adequate financial support.
Johnson claimed to want to keep the public and local leaders on side. Three times during his speech he name checked Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotherham as having been party to the city’s tier-3 status, however, at best this was misleading.
While the press conference was still in progress Rotherham tweeted, “I've been saying all day it's totally false that myself or anyone else locally agreed to measures - they were dictated to us by government.”
And as for keeping local MPs on board - many from both parties were excluded from the key meeting, or invited just moments before it began. So much for attempt to gain local support.
Boris Johnson said his aim was to squash the virus, simplify the rules and prevent a national lockdown. So far he has failed on two counts and it appears he may soon fail on the third.
In the words of Chris Whitty, “winter is going to be difficult.”
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