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The British people are being played for fools

Doctors hold a silent protest during a national 'clap for carers' as they battle with the novel coronavirus pandemic, outside Downing Street. Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

In an eviscerating essay, LIZ GERARD says the UK is being misgoverned, misled and manipulated, with doublespeak and double standards.

They are playing us for fools.

They said we were prepared for the coronavirus. That we had ‘fantastic, world-beating’ testing; that the NHS was fully equipped and ready. Then the bug arrived. And it turned out that we’d sold all the fantastic equipment abroad or run it down in austerity.

They told us not to worry. We must wash our hands while singing Happy Birthday, but apart from that, it should be ‘business as usual’. Shaking hands – even with people in hospitals treating virus patients – was just fine.

But, just in case, they appealed for ventilators (having ‘missed the email’ about joining a European procurement programme. Maybe, post-Brexit, anything from the EU goes to spam).

Boris Johnson speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire) – Credit: PA

Ventilator manufacturers and suppliers put up their hands, but they didn’t return the calls. Maybe a ‘patriotic’ vacuum cleaner tycoon with a Singapore HQ could help?

The World Health Organisation urged every country to ‘test, test, test’. So at that very moment, we stopped. Because ‘the science’ said so. Except it didn’t; we simply didn’t have the capacity to carry out the tests. Because they had ignored offers from university research labs and instead relied on friends in private industry.

It didn’t matter, though, because there was a ‘game-changer’ antibody test round the corner that would check whether healthy people had ever been ill. That, they said, would be far more effective in this ‘battle/war’ against our invisible ‘invader/enemy/foe’ than a system to check whether ill people had Covid and, if so, who else they might have infected. They were still making the same promises two months later.

They toyed with the idea that it would be a good thing if more than half the country became ill because that might stop them becoming ill later. Then denied ever thinking such a thing.

Chief advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson Dominic Cummings makes a statement – Credit: Getty Images

People started dying. But they had ‘underlying health conditions’ or were very elderly and probably would have died soon anyway. Most people would get only ‘very mild’ symptoms.

While China, South Korea and New Zealand limited movement – and their death tolls – the British way was to keep calm and carry on. Perhaps they thought we valued ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ over life. The liberty to watch football in Liverpool in the company of fans from Covid-riven Spain; the freedom to travel across the country to watch horses jump fences in Cheltenham.

People started dying in larger numbers. Including younger, healthier people. So they told us to make only essential journeys and not to visit – or even isolate – in our holiday homes (an instruction guaranteed to irritate millions of families that don’t have a second bedroom, let alone a second home).

So we went to the seaside instead. And created essential traffic jams all the way to Cornwall, the Lakes and the Peak District. Tougher measures had to follow. Schools were to close.

Pubs could stay open until midnight, but customers were urged, pleeeeease, to forgo the ‘Englishman’s inalienable right’ to enter them one last time. Funnily enough, the advice was again disregarded.

Finally, they told us all to stay indoors, full stop. The Queen was enlisted to tell us we were all in it together and – in keeping with the favoured wartime motif – to echo Vera Lynn’s promise that we would meet again. A week later, a cabinet minister was caught jaunting to his second home. Was he sacked? Did he resign? No. He was wheeled out to speak for the government at the Downing Street briefing that very day.

There were mumblings about a lack of hospital equipment, and Michael Gove promised on national television that ‘thousands’ of ventilators would start arriving the following week. A few duly appeared. Have the rest ever surfaced? Who knows?

Soldiers built pop-up hospitals in exhibition centres, stadiums, airports. Anything Wuhan can do, we can do too. Except protect lives. But there were no extra nurses or doctors to work in the new hospitals, so they couldn’t take many patients and were mothballed.

Home Secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photograph: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire. – Credit: PA

And still people died. But the only ones they were counting were those who had gone to hospital and had been tested – while alive – to see if they really had the virus. And they still weren’t doing that many tests. So the numbers weren’t too frightening.

Anyway, everyone was too busy praying for the prime minister, who was in intensive care ‘fighting for his life’. Even when the death toll hit 1,000 deaths a day, they found reasons to rejoice: Boris was safely back at Chequers with Carrie and an old man called Captain Tom had raised a million pounds for the NHS by walking round his garden, the last lap witnessed and saluted by a military guard of honour.

Doctors and nurses begged to be tested because they couldn’t work if they had a sniffle, even if it wasn’t the dreaded Covid. Who was to know? They promised that testing would be ‘ramped up’. It wasn’t. But they clapped for carers on Thursdays.

Doctors and nurses begged for protective equipment so that they could do their jobs safely. They said they’d bought billions of ‘items’ (a single glove counting as an ‘item’). There was plenty to go round – ‘if used properly’. And they clapped on Thursdays.

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty during a media briefing in Downing Street. Photograph: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

. – Credit: PA

Doctors and nurses died. They paused for a minute’s silence, then carried on telling us how wonderful the country and its heroes were. Especially Captain Tom, whose reward for a walk that had by now raised £30 million, was to ‘virtually’ open one of the ghost Nightingale hospitals.

They promised again and again that testing would be ramped up to 100,000 day by the end of April. This time they ‘smashed’ the target – by sending 40,000 in the post (who knows if they arrived, were conducted properly or ever processed) and thousands more to university labs for research purposes.

Hidden away from all of this, old people were dying by the dozen in care homes all over the country. But they weren’t counted. Was that because they didn’t count? Hadn’t that genius pulling the strings of government expressed the sentiment that if a few old people died, so be it? There was, however, one old person to be venerated above all others. Captain Tom, now the proud owner of an England Test cricket cap, was promoted to colonel for his 100th birthday.

Carers pleaded for protective equipment, but there was none to be had, because the rest of the world had gone to market in January while they were worrying about bongs for Brexit, and the limited supplies were needed for the NHS heroes. Never let it be said that they weren’t imaginative in seeking to make up the shortfall: they bought some gowns from a Turkish T-shirt salesman – but they weren’t up to standard. So the Daily Mail helped out by flying in a few bits and pieces amid great fanfare.

Matt Hancock in the House of Commons heckles Keir Starmer during PMQs. Photograph: Parliament TV. – Credit: Archant

At last they started counting everyone whose death certificate included the word Covid. But even then, there were 10,000 more deaths this spring than last that they couldn’t explain.

But no one should think that they didn’t care about the aged dying. They’d issued a blanket order for over-70s to stay indoors and see no one for 12 weeks. They’d thrown a ‘protective ring’ around care homes ‘from the outset’. By block-booking 160,000 places to free up hospital beds? Great idea, if only they’d tested the patients before discharging them. Yes, they ‘isolated’ residents, but the staff caring for them had to go back and forth in the community like anyone else who had to get to work.

MORE: ‘We want you back’ – PM urges EU workers to return to UK to help the economy

Michael Gove appears in the House of Commons. Photograph: Parliament TV. – Credit: Archant

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Never mind. We were soon rejoicing again because Carrie had had a baby. Yet the natives were still restless, stuck indoors, home-schooling their kids and Zooming. So they let us visit garden centres. The Queen was rolled out again for VE Day. And they knighted Captain Tom. He ended up raising £39m, against an original target of £1,000. Amazing. Would he have been honoured for the £1,000? The actual walking would have taken no less effort, his personal achievement no smaller. Of course not.

The difference was a PR-savvy daughter and a government/country desperate for something joyous.

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We needed it. We now have the highest death toll in bald numbers in Europe and, last week, the highest daily toll per capita in the world. But, having spent seven weeks proclaiming our ‘success’ in combating the virus, they suddenly declared international comparisons ‘unhelpful’ once we’d claimed the European championship.

The scientist whose research prompted the lockdown was caught having a visit from his lover in breach of the rules. They got rid of him pronto.

The man who effectively runs the country – and probably wrote the rules – was caught driving his sick wife and their son 260 miles to his parents’ country farm because he thought he was about to get Covid. They clung to him like ivy to a willow tree. For he was all they had. Without him, they’d be even more clueless.

These were, they said, exceptional circumstances. Because who would care for the boy if both parents were ill? As though no one else had faced such a dilemma. He was, they said, right to follow his instincts as a father. As though no one had set aside their paternal instincts in order to obey the rules as most of us understood them.

It was reasonable, they said, for their man to drive to a beauty spot to test his vision when his eyes were ‘wonky’. On Easter Sunday, his wife’s birthday, or ‘Day 15’, as he pointedly called it, knowing infected households are supposed to isolate for 14 days.

So reasonable that Michael Gove asserted on LBC that he, too, ‘on occasion’ had driven to check his eyesight.

So reasonable that cabinet ministers dutifully and desperately tweeted in unison that we should ‘move on’ – unaware or untroubled that their jarring corvid tone offended the nation’s Covid ear.

To take our minds – or rather media minds – off Cummings, they launched the ‘track and trace’ programme early – but it didn’t work – and upped testing capacity to 200,000 – but didn’t actually do that many. On the back of these ‘advances’, they started doling out daily treats, patronisingly aimed at what they thought the proles wanted: promises of pubs reopening, horses racing again. The Premier League helpfully announced that the season would soon resume.

The supportive papers duly obliged with the good news non-Dom headlines, but for once the people were not convinced.

‘See friends and family from Monday,’ they said on Thursday. But please not over the coming sunny weekend (the last weekend before many go back to school or work), they added on Friday – knowing full well that we wouldn’t listen to that bit.

Having declared for months that they were ‘following the science’, they defied the scientists who refused to lower the threat level and tempted with goodies as dangerous as anything Snow White, Hansel or Gretel might be offered in the woods. ‘Go outside’, they told the vulnerable.

People are dying. The economy is wrecked. We’re heading for a no-deal Brexit precipice. And still they use words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘world-beating’. This isn’t a competition; we don’t want to beat the world. We just want our families kept safe and to be able to hold our mum’s hand as she dies. Instead we’re living in an Orwellian dystopia ‘led’ by an absentee prime minister of Churchillian delusion who signed up for the glory, not the gory. A man devoid of integrity, insight and ideas; a man totally lacking the appetite, application or ability to perform the job attached to the title he craved.

A world where three-word slogans masquerade as policy. A world where clapping on Thursdays and seeing the NHS as a charity case have become a substitute for paying and equipping health staff properly. A world where they fly the Union Flag, publish photos of babies, dogs and princesses, and get the Queen to talk to the nation from time to time. In the hope that we won’t notice the rest.

They are playing us for fools.

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