Terina Hine looks at the growing crisis around sky-rocketing Covid transmissions and the miles of backed up lorries on the M20 ahead of the Brexit deadline
Brexit and Covid have morphed into a perfect storm only a few days before Christmas and just nine days before the end of the transition period.
The county of Kent is the setting for the latest crisis. Until now Covid and Brexit have followed parallel paths, but yesterday they converged on the M20.
The new Covid variant, first identified in Kent, has led to a doubling of cases in a week in the south-east and London. Kent, along with the capital and other SE regions, was moved into Tier 4 on Sunday in an attempt to stem this rapid rise, while Matt Hancock admitted that here the virus was out of control.
And now, the Port of Dover, through which 90% of Britain’s lorry traffic passes, is closed. Hauliers have been parked in makeshift lorry parks and the tailback on the M20 goes for many miles. Thankfully, the fear of no-deal Brexit chaos means some contingencies were already in place. But there are still reports that lorry drivers have little access to food, water or sanitation. Not good at any time but especially not in the Covid hot-spot of England.
At yesterday’s press conference Boris Johnson misled the public over the numbers of vehicles parked on the M20 and the imminence of a resolution. He also insisted there would be no change to the Christmas tiers. Kent Highways, the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel soon ‘corrected’ his numerical mistakes via twitter, and viewers were made aware that yet again the government were failing to follow the science by the scientists flanking the PM.
As Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK's chief scientific adviser stressed the importance of keeping ahead of the virus, it was unclear whether he was speaking to viewers or to the bumbling PM standing next to him. Currently, the expectation is that a new national lockdown will begin on Boxing Day - but most scientists, virologists and statisticians think it should start now. A view clearly shared by the PM’s chief scientific adviser.
This new Covid variant won’t wait until after Christmas. It doesn’t recognise dates - religious, cultural or otherwise. What it does recognise is an opportunity to grow and spread when people gather and mingle.
Greater Manchester - at last seeing a reduction in infection rates after months of being in high-tier lockdowns - has pleaded for all those who left Tier 4 areas before the midnight curfew on Saturday to self-isolate. There is no national call for this to happen. But regardless, the chances of stemming the spread of the new variant are minimal as long as people mix over Christmas.
Graphs being shared today show that transmission is out of control not just in Tier 4 areas but in Tier 2 - particularly in Tier 2 areas bordering Tier 4. This is very serious: there are now almost as many Covid patients in hospital in England as April’s peak. The government needs to act today - not Boxing Day.
And what about a plan for the return of schools and universities? Or is it the usual one of chaos and confusion and last-minute changes?
As for the Kent traffic - the promised resolution following a friendly birthday chat with President Macron has yet to materialise - reports this morning suggest there will be movement soon. A Covid testing regime will most likely be implemented at the port, then traffic will move but delays will be considerable. Especially if compounded by a no-deal Brexit.
Unsurprisingly faith in the government is at an all-time low.
Research from the Financial Times last month found that although the UK spent more on fighting Covid than almost all comparable countries, we still languish at the bottom of the league tables on economic performance and Covid deaths.
A YouGov survey on Sunday found that 61% of the public thought the government was handling the crisis badly and that the majority support stricter measures. Once again the public is ahead of the curve - while the Tories follow behind at a murderously slow pace.
Even among his own supporters, the PM’s popularity is fast deteriorating; according to Conservative Home, Johnson’s approval rating among Tory activists is at an all-time low of 2.9%.
The storm that hit Kent over the last couple of days has shown the government has lost control - lost control of our borders and of the virus.
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