If you started at the beginning of the pandemic and plotted a graph of soul-crushing depressiveness over time, then I’m afraid to report it’s just busted its Y-axis. If anyone is keeping a league table, then Chris Whitty’s latest Downing Street press conference would surely have smashed all records.
There have been murmurings, over the last few miserable days, that omicron might be milder, that we might be better protected against it, that the data out of South Africa is encouraging. And here was the professor to say he was having absolutely none of it.
A few quotes leap out. “There are some things we don’t know about omicron but everything we do know is bad.” Cases might be soaring but what about hospitalisations? Well, hospitalisations are already up by a third in London. “There will be large numbers going into hospitals, going into intensive care.” And of that large number, he didn’t quite say, a large number will face the inevitable. This will start happening after Christmas and to describe the likelihood of it happening, he used a rather uncomplicated scientific term: “Nailed on”.
Wednesday was a record-breaking day, already. Some 78,610 new cases, a record by miles, and this on a day when most people were complaining that they couldn’t get hold of any tests. Over the coming weeks, the data will be “staggering”. All records will be broken.
He also spent a very long time explaining why there was absolutely no reason at all to be optimistic about the data coming out of South Africa, where soaring Covid rates don’t seem to be matched by hospitalisation rates. Well, actually, hospitalisation rates are now going up in South Africa. They also have far greater immunity from a recent Covid wave and, somewhat crucially, a much, much younger population.
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He was there to tell us not to do any socialising that we didn’t deem essential. To prioritise the thing that matters most, which for most people will be a Christmas day with the family.
It all had that very March 2020 feel about it. You might recall what it was like. They didn’t actually shut the pubs, they just let people get frightened enough to stop going to them. We all got rather stunned about mass sporting events taking place that definitely shouldn’t have been. Well, this press conference took place a few hours before a full slate of Premier League football fixtures, one of which has been called off because of an outbreak of Covid among the players. There are 22 players or so. If there’s an outbreak among them, you don’t have to be too tidy a mathematician to speculate on the likelihood of an outbreak among the 50,000 or so spectators. It couldn’t have been made any clearer where we’re going, the only difference being that this time we’ve been there before.
It may also be worth recording, if only for posterity, that to his left stood a wobbling word blancmange that couldn’t even manage to read out the correct numbers and who couldn’t be bothered to answer any of the questions about how none of his own MPs, not even his own party, care a toss what he has to say anymore, so it’s not worth the keystrokes to type any of it out.
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