16 May 2020

Clarity in Wales; confusion in England

A long, long time ago, Boris Johnson noticed there was a pandemic going on. There was some testing and tracing. And then that was abandoned. And people were free to travel around. Mass events like horse racing, football matches and pop concerts still happened. And then, only days later, Johnson suggests people should socially distance. If that was a good idea then, then were events with tens of thousands of people crammed together only days before a good idea? One thinks not. And to make it worse, he advised people to not go to bars and restaurants without ordering them closed. That is just not consistent. If they are allowed to be open, they will attract clientele. What is the point of having a restaurant open if there are no diners in it? And then, on a Friday at around 5pm, he suddenly ordered such places to close by the next day. No warning, no chance to change to takeaway, no chance to have people eat whatever food had been ordered in. And then a few days later, we went into full lockdown.

The entire UK had been in lockdown for six weeks. And that did stop the increase in the spread of the virus. But it came with disadvantages, of course! Many people's livelihoods were put on hold. Nobody could visit people that lived further than walking distance away, and only at distance. People did not see their elderly parents or struggling friends or any of that. People died alone. It's obvious why people want a situation like that to not continue longer than necessary! But lifting a lockdown is not something to be taken lightly.

Scotland, Wales and northern Ireland have decided it's too early to lift much. Here in Wales we can now go out for exercise more than once a day, and garden centres are allowed to reopen. Otherwise everything stays the same.

In England, though, they have now changed the 'stay at home' slogan to 'stay alert'. What does that mean? The police have said they can't police it, the public have said they don't know what he means, epidemiologists point out that alertness doesn't protect from viruses. So what are the English going to do?

They are supposed to go to work, if they can't work at home. But not get there using public transport. That runs anyway. And if they use it they should turn away from other people. Even though the thing about public transport is that quite often, there are people on all sides. If you have a car you're ok of course, but in cities, who has a car? And will employers pressure people to get back to work? People on precarious contracts won't be able to say no. The people that may need to come by public transport.

And kids can go to school, even though deaths per day now are much higher than they were when they closed. And teachers can now go into a school with tens of kids, but not catch up with their own grandchildren. They can see one at 2m distance, but if the kid is rather small, it can't operate alone. And you can't see a grandchild plus a child. Two people is too much! Even in the open air and with 2m in between. But tens of children in a school is fine.

And you can work with your colleagues but not go see them in a park. And there may be obligatory quarantine for people coming into the country, but not yet, and only some countries. So if you come in from, say, the USA, you can just travel through France and then it's OK (although I heard on the radio this may be reconsidered). It makes no sense whatsoever! I agree that one day people will need to go back to work. You can't forever have only home-working people, and some select people like medical professionals, supermarket workers and waste collectors, work. And you can't keep families, friends and lovers separate forever either. It wouldn't work! But I don't think that issuing self-contradictory and completely arbitrary policies is the answer. This looks like the government just wants the economy back on track, will allow everything that facilitates that, and keep banning everything else. Can't visit grandma and she dies alone? No problem. Factory not working? Problem! And if people then die they just say these were not alert enough.

It was interesting to see that Johnson had announced he would make an announcement on a Sunday evening. The first ministers of the devolved nations decided not to wait for that. Some reporters questioned that; I heard Wales' first minister Mark Drakeford answer that with the dry remark that he would reassess the situation every three weeks; the three weeks were up and he would make his announcements. What Johnson did was his business. Rightly so. I am increasingly glad I fall within the realm of Drakeford! I wouldn't wish Johnson on anyone, although it would be rude to not wish him onto the people who voted him, but here I am selfishly happy that the person making decisions about my life is a sensible Labour politician. And is it ideal that the various nations now do different things? Well, no, but if they do anyway I'm happy I'm on the Welsh side...

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