Count me out! Allowing people inside pubs is foolish – and Matt Hancock knows it

The government is aware that the vaccine programme is in a neck-to-neck race with the fast-spreading Indian variant, and that the race is being lost – but no-one is brave enough to say it

Sean O'Grady@_seanogrady
Monday 17 May 2021 15:20
Minister urges people to ‘use judgement’ as restrictions ease

Question: how do you know that Boris Johnson is lying? Answer: because you can see his lips move.

An old joke, I know, but it comes irresistibly to mind as ministers tell us it is perfectly fine to go inside a pub or restaurant to enjoy ourselves – but, erm, well, actually they’d prefer it if we stayed outside and, maybe, didn’t bother going out, all things considered.

Watching Matt Hancock’s nervous calls for “caution” gives me the distinct impression that here is a man who doesn’t really believe that the easing of lockdown is wise, is terrified that Johnson’s latest gamble with other people’s lives will fail, and that this – more infectious – Indian variant of the coronavirus will indeed “spread like wildfire” and cause untold misery in the months ahead.

Will there be jolly publicity shots of Johnson getting a round indoors at the Red Lion (assuming he’s remembered his wallet)? Will Rishi be dishing out the pizzas this evening? Where can we see Kwasi Kwarteng propping up the bar? Are they going to encourage us to go out and get smashed in an indoor setting, or give it a miss?

As with some previous premature unlocks, the mixed messaging betrays the truth, which is that they should have postponed the latest unlock, but didn’t have the guts to do it and so went ahead and hoped for the best. Which, as we know, is not really best public health practice and generally leads to a tougher, longer lockdown later on.

If it is so safe to open up indoor venues, why is there a second-dose vaccine surge being rushed out to shield the more vulnerable in society? That says to me that the government knows that the vaccine programme is in a race with the fast-spreading Indian variant, and that the race is being lost.

Another fortnight would have probably pushed the vaccination rate up to a more robust level of community “herd” immunity, and allowed the time to see just how dangerous the Indian variant is. But they went ahead anyway. Cheers, Matt, and what’ll you be having then? Treble trouble is what he’ll be getting, served with ice, lemon and no tonic, and he knows it. It’s etched all over his haunted face.

So no wonder they’re throwing resources at testing and tracing in the “hot spots” in Bolton and parts of London, as well as pushing vaccines out even faster (though perhaps we should already be up to maximum velocity already?).

Here we find more odd messaging, pre-spin, if you like. If certain communities are identified as “vaccine resistant” then they can be subsequently blamed when the unlock fails, rather than the ministers who authorised it before it was truly safe to do so. And, of course, the public can be blamed for going inside the pubs that are now legally open while minsters tell them that they really shouldn’t.

It is a repeat of the original sin of the Covid crisis, in March 2020, when the government initially told us to “avoid” going to pubs, theatres, restaurants and the rest, but tried to keep them open, even though they were losing custom and takings. It was ludicrous, the first of many attempts to have their cake and eat it.

So sadly, mine won’t be an indoor pint, and that hurts. The government wants us to take personal responsibility, so that is what I’m doing. Of course “personal” judgements don’t really work in a pandemic because we’re always taking risks on behalf of other people, which is why we have rules and we’ve learned that they work best when they are clear and unequivocal.

But this ain’t about you taking personal responsibility, it’s about the government evading it. This time, though, they might not get away with it.

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