Vaccine is just the shot in the arm Johnson needs

Success of UK programme signals Brits might be willing to forgive the PM’s early blunders

Published : 14 Feb 2021 09:56 PM | Updated : 15 Feb 2021 12:41 AM

This past year has been difficult for everyone. Who could possibly have imagined as 2019 rolled into 2020 that the following 12 months would be so horribly traumatic — a full-on assault on society, life, liberty, economics, travel, entertainment, sports. This pandemic has been the challenge of our lifetime.

For any political leaders, the existential and practical challenges in fighting coronavirus, trying to strike a balance between saving lives and keeping nations open, organising new levels of social care that require an inordinate level of logistical planning and execution, are mind-blowing.

No one nor no one thing could have provided anything but the merest indication of what would be required for governments, econo­mies — yes, and as many people as possible — to survive this pandemic against an individual enemy with the ability to spread seemingly at will and while changing shape and variant also.

And that was the challenge faced by our scientists, researchers and media community also with big pharma — find a vaccine that works so we all can return to life as we knew it at the back end of 2019.

An overarching truth

And with life and death on the line, every decision made by leaders had real and immediate consequences on those who had or might succumb to coronavirus. 

There will be much written to try and put these past 14 months into perspective — there is an overarching truth out there, just as there are some 7 billion truths held by everyone on this planet who have lived through this. Those truths are immutable.

Scrutiny by opponents and the commentariat are part and parcel of life. Criticism is necessary to enhance debate, to possibly offer insight into what might or might not be. And few political beings such as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson attract as much scrutiny — he was a scribe in the ranks of the commentariat before shape-shifting to politics.

He is a politician who led the charge for Brexit and seized the citadel at Westminster in the process. But no sooner that he got Brexit done than the great plague of our darkest age fell upon the land, and the people soon began to murmur.

The government was slow to lockdown when elsewhere across Europe, nations were shutting down and imposing restrictions on movements and personal freedoms to an extent not seen since the Second World War. When Europe closed, some 200,000 in total were watching horses at Cheltenham or Liverpool playing football in the Champions League — perfect super-spreader events. How long it is since we have used that very term ‘super-spreader’.

We have all moved so far from that now, knowing that keeping apart, wearing masks and social distancing are our allies in this pandemic.

Many promised tests

Testing was key to figuring out who had the bug. The UK’s testing regimen was a mess. There were too few facilities available to process the too many promised tests, and the government programme fell woefully short.

There were images of homecare and hospital staff wearing bin bags as makeshift personal protective equipment (PPE) at National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and homes in the UK because the service has been so chronically underfunded for years through successive Conser­vative government cuts.

Through this crisis, the government of Boris Johnson

 has always held that vaccines would be the way out of this crisis.

 And with so much going wrong, then betting so

 much on the strategy seemed like a 

gambler’s all-or-nothing hand

The lockdown rules came with little teeth compared to Europe, where police issued on-the-spot fines to those who dared stray too far down their streets or stepped outside without masks. In Britain, mask wearing wasn’t mandatory and police generally preferred a softly, softly approach.

Financial support for those laid off was slow to come and didn’t go far enough, and too many were simply not covered and left to fend for themselves through the generosity of friends and strangers. Food banks and foodlines became a reality of our throwaway and consumer lifestyle. And Manchester United footballer scored goal after goal for the poor, hungry and underprivileged who simply, please, wanted some more food.

And the UK was divided time and time again under changing sets of rules and changing messages into regions and fiefdoms where different rules applied to different people.

While Northern England languished under Tier 3 regulations, Londoners could mix and mingle in Tier 1, then Tier 3, and not until the very last, Tier 3 rules.

There was one rule for most people and another for the few who had the counsel of the government or who needed to drive while testing their eyesight.

At the stroke of a pen

Local leaders in Northern cities were held as rebels by the government for holding out in talks to try and ensure that those who needed the most help got the most help as their jobs vanished at the stroke of a pen.

International travel was possible when it was shown that mutant versions were spreading. Quarantine in hotels has yet to come into force a full year into this pandemic.

Yes, there is bitterness across the land.

But there is hope too.

Through this crisis, the government of Boris Johnson has always held that vaccines would be the way out of this crisis. And with so much going wrong, then betting so much on the strategy seemed like a gambler’s all-or-nothing hand.

But it has won.

Yes, the UK leads Europe in its vaccine roll-out. Some 15 million of its most vulnerable, the most elderly, their carers and all over 70, will be vaccinated by February 15. And by May, everyone over 50 will be offered doses of at least three vaccines that have been approved by UK health regulators.

If this were a Disney animated fairy tale, the dark storm clouds would be receding, so too the thorn bushes that have spread over the kingdom; birds would fly, flowers bloom and animals once more 

frolicking in the woodlands. Yes, there is a happy ending after all. But who knows if we will all live happily ever after.

Mick O'Reilly is a Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News