After alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson gave his sombre assessment to the nation last week, telling the public that many of them were going to lose loved ones “before their time”, the initial response from the press, and indeed many of those ordinary people, was to trust the advice, and the information, that they were being given. But in the intervening three days, this frail consensus has begun to fracture.
As the BBC has reported, “More than 200 scientists have written to the government urging them to introduce tougher measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19. In an open letter, a group of 229 scientists from UK universities say the government's current approach will put the NHS under additional stress and ‘risk many more lives than necessary’”.
There was more. “In the open letter the group of scientists argue that stronger ‘social distancing measures’ would ‘dramatically’ slow the rate of growth of the disease in the UK, and would spare ‘thousands of lives’”. The scientists also warned “Going for 'herd immunity' at this point does not seem a viable option”. Matt Hancock has now toured the broadcasters to stress that the Government’s goal is not “herd immunity”.
Which has reassured not at all. Especially as the second factor is the concern over the ability of the NHS to cope with an increase in Covid-19 cases. The BBC once more: “the prime minister is to urge British companies to join a ‘national effort’ to produce more ventilators and other medical equipment ‘at speed’ to help the NHS deal with the coronavirus outbreak … Work is also under way to buy up thousands of private hospital beds to boost NHS capacity should it be needed”. Will the equipment arrive in time?
How did the “herd immunity” idea gain traction for three days, only to now be shot down by Hancock’s denial? If the over-70s are to be “shielded” from Covid-19 in coming weeks, why not just do it now? What are Government “sources” doing briefing their information to favoured hacks and broadcast journalists? Who is in charge? What is the message? Where are the clear, unequivocal, and indeed regular public information broadcasts?
The problem is that, around Bozo The Clown, we have a team that is very good at information warfare, and not good at all at information provision for all - including openness and honesty. They are far stronger on falsehood and misinformation.
And that’s not good enough. The Government needs to answer the scientific dissent, equip the NHS, and keep the public informed. Because if it doesn’t, it will be in deep trouble.
The more worrying problem is that so will the rest of us. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
[The Legalballs Fund has now closed]