Now that Dido is in charge, we can expect calls from gig-economy contact tracers to tell us we’ve been in contact with infected persons – if that is ever the case. Apparently, the famous app isn’t ready yet, and experience in the Isle of Wight indicates that people prefer human beings to tell them they are suffering from a potentially fatal disease.
Presumably though, once told, one can take one’s cue from Robert Jenrick. He seems to suggest that one can drive immediately to a convenient location and hole up in a spare house kept for the purpose – especially if one might at some time need child care from relatives.
Once safely ensconced, you must isolate for 14 days, even if you don’t have symptoms. This, at the moment, is voluntary but you must do it anyway because Matt Hancock says it’s your “civic duty”. And just to make sure the message is clear, prime minister Johnson tweets us with the message: “play your part – don’t put all the good work at risk”.
However, if you don’t happen to have a spare house knocking about, you can isolate with your family – if you have one – in your current home. Family (or other household) members do not have to isolate unless they have symptoms. They are, therefore, free to spread the disease to their communities. Thus is Dido in the familiar position of having another train wreck on her hands.
Furthermore, as many people will only get statutory sick pay when isolating (if that), they will not be able to afford the luxury of Mr Hancock’s “civic duty”. The best thing for them, if a contact tracer comes calling, is to pretend they are someone else, and offer to take a message.
Prime minister Johnson says that if people don’t lock themselves up for the duration, he may consider fining them. But, no doubt, they could claim “exceptional circumstances” if they need to drive out to take an eye test, or have an urgent need for childcare.
Moving on, as one does, we are told by Matt Hancock – who is also good at moving on – that the test and trace system is going to be run alongside a new system of “local lockdowns”, where individual “flare-ups” are to be investigated, with localised measures taken.
This is only what should have been done from the very start – more than ten weeks ago. The problem is, of course, that the traditional public health system had been dismantled and the capacity was no longer available. Now, under the gifted management of Dido, a whole new system can fail afresh, if for no other reason than our masters seem determined to reinvent the wheel under the NHS brand.
Launched into a post-Cummings world, however, the new system will not enjoy the best of starts. Most people, we are told, now believe there is “one rule for them, and one rule for us”, as long as Cummings remains in post.
This is according to Stephen Reicher, an advisor to government on human behaviour during disease outbreaks. He has told Channel 4 News that research on compliance with authority shows that it depends critically on thinking that “authority is part of us, is with us, is for us”. Once you create that sense of “us and them”, you undermine trust and you undermine compliance.
Furthermore, as another commenter observes, the cost of defending Cummings’s actions is “shredding the government’s public health messaging”. Ministers can no longer give a clear answer on anything for fear of accidentally incriminating him. And without clear rules, the whole lockdown edifice collapses.
As so often with contentious political issues, though, this still has a major element of the ever-present and increasingly tedious binary tribal culture war. But, as Pete complains, “why do we have to pick a side and cheer for any of them?”
Worse still, this is being conflated with Brexit, to the extent that some claim that the outcry over Cummings’s hypocrisy is exclusively to do with Brexit. That, it would seem, is the narrative we’re being schooled to accept. Says Pete: “If they can turn it into a tribal issue then they can count on the unequivocal support of the bovine populist grunters who worship Boris”.
One certainly doesn’t have to pick sides to agree with the Guardian editorial, which asserts that Johnson’s “refusal not only to sack Mr Cummings, but even to express regret for his behaviour, amounts to a crisis of leadership and authority at the top of British politics”.
And that’s where the real conflation lies. The management of the Covid-19 epidemic has become caught up in the backlash of a failing prime minister who puts his own interests above that of the nation.
Johnson has created a remarkable situation where one cannot disagree with the Mirror which notes that the government is telling the public to do its “civic duty” while the prime minister still backs “aide who broke rules”. It thus asks of Johnson: “why don’t you do your duty?”
It’s a small wonder that the prime minister wants us to “move on”. But, as always, it’s one rule for us, and another for him. We must, but he can’t.