Pandemic? What’s that then?
I realise that statement probably sounds more than a little crass. According to the official statistics, in excess of 200 Britons died from Covid yesterday after all. But look around you. Life is more or less back to normal, with most restrictions having been dropped. You can go to the pub, see a movie, visit the shops, take the kids out. Those big hand sanitiser dispensers are commonplace, and there’s a spray where you pick up your baskets at my local Tesco. But they’ve rather become part of the furniture.
So have those signs saying we’d sort of like you to wear a mask for your own and others’ safety if you feel up to taking that step. But we’re not going to push it. Masks are supposed to be a requirement on many forms of public transport, but it’s not always observed, in part, I think, because it isn’t a government requirement. Sometimes the maskless will stand out in, say, a tube carriage. Sometimes they’ll even get the odd glare, in violation of the unwritten underground travellers’ code. But sometimes the reverse is true.
Larger theatres and live music venues are, commendably, requiring proof of Covid status, as I wrote last week. Getting that through the NHS app is a little fiddly, but if all else fails, stick a cotton bud up your nose, register your lateral flow, and you’re away.
Otherwise, we’ve allowed ourselves to relax. The cue, inevitably, comes from the top. When someone like Jonathan Van-Tam stands up to warn about a “hard winter” and talks about the need for booster shots and masks, he is undermined by a disreputable and corrupt government. Its leader, Boris Johnson, eschews wearing a face covering even when sitting next to a national treasure – that would be Sir David Attenborough – at Cop26 or when he’s visiting a hospital.
You have to feel a bit for the doughty deputy chief medical officer. He must sometimes feel like he’s turning into the pandemic’s Jeremiah. A lonely prophet at the top of a hill saying: “Oi, you lot down there, there’s still a bloody virus that’s killing people you know. It can still muck you up royally if you survive it. And do you know how much being put on a ventilator blows?”
The problem with the laxity outside the offices of the nation’s public health officials is rather obvious. When people get their texts saying come for a booster, it’s really important, will they answer?
I confess, despite being part of an at risk group, and writing columns as if I’m Johnny Covid-Safety, I didn’t immediately book when I got mine.
I’m not proud of that fact. I eventually did it within a couple of days – when I realised that I had tickets to see a couple of bands, at which time the extra protection would obviously come in handy. Comprehensive cover as opposed to third party fire, theft and virus.
But it was quite a contrast to the early roll out when I was on tenterhooks awaiting the call from the GP’s surgery. They actually asked whether I was “interested” in a Covid vaccine, like it was BT calling about a potential upgrade to my broadband.
My response: “Are you kidding? Sign me up now! Tell where and when and I’m there. Sod any inconvenience.”
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Van-Tam, and his colleagues, keep saying the boosters are important to avoid a nasty viral blowback during the winter as our immunity wanes, as it inevitably does.
But will people take them up in the current atmosphere, especially those lower down the risk curve? Or will they just put it off, for longer than a couple of days, and maybe forget about it because life gets in the way. It has a habit of doing that.
I fear that we’ve all become just a bit too blasé about all this.
So think about this: 200 or so deaths mightn’t look like a big number, if you can separate yourself from the fact that it means 200 personal tragedies, 200 people having the breath squeezed out of them by a microscopic murderer as their family’s look on, probably via Zoom.
But rack up the numbers, and if it continues at that rate, it will have depopulated twice the population of Great Yarmouth within a year. Maybe our leaders need to think about that, especially if the numbers start to surge around Christmas time. The public will not react well to being blamed for taking its cue from them. And it shouldn’t. The current messaging is all wrong, and the responsibility for that is on the government.
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