Now’s no time for hard questions about coronavirus – save them for when there’s nothing the government can do about it

If the British media had been at a press conference on the Titanic as it began to sink, they’d have told the captain: ‘Obviously you have my full support while we drown, but if I’d survived, I’d have asked you whether you could have prevented us from drowning’

Mark Steel
Thursday 16 April 2020 15:25
Coronavirus in numbers

Aren’t people marvellous? Nurses, for example, are marvellous. This is why it’s so unfair that politicians have been reminded they cheered, when they passed a bill three years ago that blocked a nurses’ pay rise. These MPs have no need to feel embarrassed, because what our workers treasure more than grubby money is being clapped.

So for their next pay deal, the government can announce they’ll clap them every Wednesday morning as well as on Thursday nights. This will amount to a staggering 100 per cent rise in applause, which will more than compensate for their 20 per cent cut in pay.

Boris Johnson said the Portuguese nurse who cared for him is marvellous. So it would be unkind to mention how that nurse would be banned from coming here under the government’s proposed immigration scheme. There would be a simple way around this. Maybe said nurse could pop over from Portugal in the morning if he needs to look after a senior member of the cabinet, then pop back home straight after his shift. That way, he can’t sponge off us by looking at our parks or using light from our lampposts. Imagine if the nurse had caught the virus himself, the way many NHS staff do, while he was caring for the prime minister. We’d have been expected to look after him with our health service, paid for with our taxes. Is it any wonder people voted for Brexit?

Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old who raised £13m walking around his garden, is also marvellous. And the government could use his efforts to learn how to fund a health service. Because we’ve been using this outdated method, in which we take part of everyone’s income in “tax”, and spend it on plasters and X-ray machines. But that’s unfair on certain people in society, such as those groups who don’t want to pay tax because they’re selfish arseholes.

So instead, from now on, we should find out how much our health service needs for the next month, and then tell Captain Tom Moore how far he has to walk to raise it.

In a normal summer, when there are fewer people in hospital, he’ll only have to do a few miles a day. Then in winter when we need more beds, he’ll need to get a bit of a trot on. It’s so simple it’s amazing no one has thought of it before.

Matt Hancock also understands you have to be cruel to be kind, which is why he told NHS staff the “shortages” of protective equipment were because they weren’t using it properly. “We need everyone to treat PPE like the precious resource it is,” he said, and “use the equipment they clinically need, in line with the guidelines.”

I hope they take notice, because he knows so much more than medical staff, about how to use medical equipment. Maybe he should pop into a hospital and show them how to carry out a liver transplant, without wasting bandages and paracetamol like they usually do.

Then he should be even sterner with the wasteful nurses, and tell them: “You can’t keep changing your protective gear every day just because it’s covered in virus. This is no time to worry about fashion. Who do you think you are: Gwyneth Paltrow?”

You Clap For Me Now: Video highlights black and minority ethnic key workers during coronavirus pandemic

In any case, the government can’t be doing anything wrong, because they’re “being led by the science”.

If you were picky, you might ask why Germany has tested 10 times as many people as we have and has one-quarter of the death rate. The answer is simple: in Germany science is different from here.

German molecules of virus are easier to control, because they move in straight efficient Germanic lines and obey when they’re given orders. Easier science has always been Germany’s advantage. For example, they don’t have gravity, which is why they were able to get those zeppelins up and running so quickly. And the laws of motion make objects travel faster there, which is why they always win at penalty shoot-outs.

Similarly, no one seems to ask why didn’t we take part in the EU scheme to distribute ventilators. The government said it’s because we “didn’t get the email” and that was accepted.

Tony Blair must wish he’d thought of that after the Iraq War. Instead of that annoying inquiry, he could have explained: “The email that said Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction got mixed up with one announcing a special offer on armchairs at DFS, so I didn’t see it, I’m afraid.”

So now, journalists and opposition parties agree we should save difficult questions until later. This seems fair, because it’s always best to wait until a crisis is finished, when there’s nothing you can do about it, before you ask why nothing’s being done about it. Instead of wasting time asking why our testing rates are lower and death rates are higher than anywhere else, it’s now time our journalists and politicians asked what went wrong at the Battle of Hastings.


If the British media had been at a press conference on the Titanic as it began to sink, they’d have told the captain: “Obviously you have my full support while we drown, but if I’d survived, I’d have asked you whether you could have prevented us from drowning.”

Then a week later, when 1,500 had perished, the first 10 minutes on the news would be: “Wonderful news, as reports are coming in that the captain is sitting up straight and has enjoyed his first breakfast since leaving hospital. ‘Let’s get the iceberg done,’ he joked. Isn’t he marvellous?”

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