Sometimes one just has to laugh, not that there has been much to laugh about this year for most people, although I suppose that the people who called out the antics of various government ministers and were vilified by the sheep in the mainstream media only to be proven quite correct in their assertions will surely have had the last laugh. For the rest of us however there has certainly not been much to laugh about but definitely much to get annoyed about.
It was supposed to be much better of course, didn’t the Prime Minister himself say so during one of his ‘little chats’ to the nation at the end of last year – or was it at the beginning of the New Year, “2020 was going to be just fantastic for Britain”.
I have no idea where he got that idea from, as even in January following the great euphoria of the election there were serious issues that were not addressed and were in fact mostly ignored by the ‘serious’ press, obviously far too busy with trivia or later with hyping up the covid pandemic, reporting every breathless inanity trotted out by politicians and experts playing their part in the Brexit Theatre show, destined to be like Agatha Christie’s play ‘The Mousetrap’, playing to an audience for years and providing a reliable source of income for the main participants and their supporting cast.
Mystic Meg retired a few years ago so Boris must have had access to his own crystal ball or a script written by one of those special aides we kept hearing about. So many ‘good’ things were going to happen: reviews of the Lords, the Civil Service, HS2, Immigration, the BBC and getting Brexit done, but in all fairness (I think ‘fairness’ was still en vogue at the end of 2019) no one could have foreseen that the nation and most of the world would have been turned upside down three months later. Or could they? Reports of a mysterious new virus causing concern in China during the late autumn were already circulating outside of the British media and many people here were experiencing symptoms that their GPs, as positive as ever, were dismissing as ‘nothing to worry about, it’s just some new virus that’s going around’.
Goodness knows who finally woke up to the fact that this new ‘flu’ could be a danger to some sections of the public and was already rife in some areas of the country, but eventually the traditional media, at that point still dying on its collective feet, smelled what they thought would be the ‘big’ story, blew the dust off ‘flu’ archives and started to build their own narrative which was mostly critical of anything Boris or Hancock did.
Pundits by the dozen started to appear on mainstream breakfast shows, all apparently experts on virology, protective equipment, tracking devices, infectious diseases, intensive care equipment, vaccines, the Corona Virus itself and the best one: ‘evidenced based medicine.’ Now there is a thought – can’t you just see people queueing up to take some advice or medication from a ‘health care professional’ saying, well there is little or no evidence that you have Arbuthnot’s Disease and there is no evidence that this medication will work, but give it a whirl anyway?
It’s not as if any of this was new, what was new though was the way ministers and health professionals appeared continuously in the media, apparently revelling in the attention, almost like premier league football managers, reporting infections, cases and deaths as if we were in some sort of macabre worldwide competition.
Looking back to media reports during the 09 ‘Swine flu’ epidemic is quite illuminating, although by modern standards ancient history. The situation was well covered at the time by the BBC and the left leaning media supporting the Labour government of Gordon Brown and the then Health Minister, ex-postie and union official Alan Johnson who, unlike Matt Hancock, did not have his competence, decisions and qualifications to do the job put under the microscope.
Alan Johnson was concerned enough to make various statements in the media, without the frenzie that has accompanied anything that Boris or Hancock said or did earlier this year but neither were obscure officials and professors from this university or that paraded on our screens and quoted verbatim as ‘Britain’ followed the science and battled the virus once again, if the media was to be believed, ‘alone again naturally’.
A catchy slogan – ‘catch it – bin it – kill it’ – was announced with the usual fanfare intended to persuade people to use tissues if sneezing and then ‘bin it’, transmission was thought to be the same as seasonal flu: coughing or sneezing when a metre or less from another person, shaking hands with an infected person, touching surfaces, particularly door handles, along with touching your face, eyes or mouth without first washing your hands was said particularly to be a cause of infection, people were asked to stay at home if they had symptoms, medics suggested that prolonging the school holidays would reduce infections, daily and weekly reports on the outbreak were published – does any of this seem familiar?
By mid year Imperial College London (yes, you read it correctly) considered that the ‘flu’ had reached pandemic levels and early analysis suggested that spread and clinical severity would be similar to 1957 levels but less than 1918, some good news then but British Citizens were advised to consider if they should remain in or not travel to Mexico where it was thought that the virus originated. No travel bans or closed borders, it seems.
There were no media or expert calls for face coverings or masks to be worn as it was not supported by something called ‘scientific evidence’ which in those days was obviously thought to be more reliable than ‘opinion’. In fact, the wearing of masks by people who were not ill (‘asymptomatic’ had not at that time entered the language of the media) during normal activities were said not to protect the wearer from inhaling the virus, while Prof John Oxford, a virologist at Bart’s London, was quoted as saying: ‘really there is very little evidence that masks actually offer much protection against the flu’.
[To be continued tomorrow …]