I begin to think the virus blame-game is even more misleading than the rest of the political hot potatoes put together.
When the whole masks and lockdown thing started, many of us thought it impossible to ‘stop’ a virus in a crowded country where many people still had to go to work. Many more realised it was impossible to do so with late lockdowns and kids being sent back to school. Anyone who was really paying attention knew from the start that it was impossible when there never was any reduction in the international travel of ‘business class’ people.
So why get angry with ordinary people who did or didn’t observe lockdown properly for whatever reasons?
What we were trying to do
Most of us however, threw ourselves into dealing with life in lockdown with the aim not of ‘stopping the virus’ but of ‘flattening the curve’ – of preventing the inevitable wave of hospital admissions happening all at once, when the NHS was already near the danger-level of overwhelm.
Well, the NHS is up against it now, and it’s not because you or I didn’t do virus precautions properly, it’s because the government didn’t attempt to refund the NHS to cover shortfalls – was that most obvious of options even discussed? Nor did government deal with any of the serious gaps in lockdown compliance. We just had a few police forces harassing people who stretched the rules whilst walking on the prom whilst, as we now clearly see, government ministers led the tide of non-compliance.
At no stage in history did a vaccination campaign ever reach 100% uptake. They do not need to. Depending on the nature of the virus, most vaccination campaigns aim at reaching between 80 and 90% of the people. There is room for those who are allergic, or who have phobias, and those who just won’t be persuaded so, as the vast majority of people did take up the vaccination offer, there’s no need to have rows over who did or didn’t.
That terrifying calm
At first, many middle class professionals, especially those who thought they could maintain their income from home, were filling social media with the joys of lockdown calm. I enjoyed the calm, despite watching my business going down the tubes – but that enjoyment of a reduced traffic, reduced commerce world scared the pants off most government ministers. In lower and middle income professional areas, they saw people beginning to learn that they quite liked it when the wheels stopped. We were heading for a nationwide Reggie Perrin attack.
Worse yet for the government, we began to realise who ran the country – who really were ‘essential’ workers.
In ‘lower class’ areas (yes, ‘lower class’ is how people like our government ministers describe families that produce and maintain our keyworkers) in those areas, they first saw the truth that lockdown was ‘the middle class staying at home while working class people bring them things’. They saw the immediate suffering caused by reduced access to foodbanks. They saw the extent to which schools and other community facilities had been left to take over where social services and community health projects had long ago been cut to pieces.
There, we see the true reason why the government was reluctant, late and incomplete with every lockdown or virus limitation plan. Like it or not, they gave us ‘herd immunity’ by stealth. They could not even get enthusiastically behind the ‘flatten the curve’ argument, because that laid them open to more people realising how badly they, along with previous governments, had underfunded and fragmented the NHS.
We rejected the idea of ‘herd immunity’, or ‘letting things take their course’ for very good reasons but the government did not provide us with effective alternatives, so now we have to rely on it – but…
A few days ago, a study came out suggesting that having a case of the common cold is quite a good defence against catching a bad case of Omicron. I said well, [unprintable] I should have been getting on with my life, riding trains amongst the coughing sneezing winter crowds, and spent half the winter with a cold, like I always used to.
And according to todays papers, health authorities are concerned that there is another virus threatening, and that this year children will have “much lower immunity” at a time when the NHS is already under extreme pressure.
Who is to blame?
In normal times, babies would be born with a fair amount of natural immunity from ‘the bugs of the year’, and would take in more protection from their mothers’ milk, because it would contain immunity from any bugs their mums had had in the year or two before they were born. In many cases, our reductions in activity and partial lockdowns have stopped that happening.
So we are now at the stage where we do depend on natural immunity, but we really haven’t got much, because so many people have kept aloof, and have not had the normal winter viruses.
And the blame rests with the government.
So next time you’re tempted to sneer at someone who happens to have a different opinion to yours on virus measures, do please remember where the blame actually lies. Diligent keepers of distance and washers of hands, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, the efficient keepers of lockdown and the indignant flouters of it, were all reacting to a situation in which the government was working against the people, and everyone just tried to sift an opinion out of a mass of PR and lies. No-one but the government and the stingy, irresponsible employers they serve should be shouted at over this situation.
It’s notable that since the Downing Street parties story has brought many people’s attention back to government culpability, the Wuhan lab theory is getting media attention again, with remarkably little emphasis on the international aspect of that lab, of the American and Australian scientists there, because if all else fails, blame the Chinese. And what of the opposition? Oh, but it’s been a difficult week in Westminster and by coincidence, Keir Starmer is self-isolating again.
The good thing in all this is that the admirable response to a difficult situation that we saw in the NHS, in community volunteer groups and in the trade unions revived the taste for collective action inspired by the Corbyn movement.
‘Government’ or ‘opposition’, Westminster is not your friend. Your best protection is always to get along with the people around you. Discuss these things, beyond knee-jerk differences, and plan some collective action. It will make you happier and it does far more good for you and others than a whole partyful of career politicians ever will.