Now that Boris Johnson has announced the restrictions will end absolutely definitely on 19 July, I wonder how many believe the restrictions will end on 19 July.
If you held a poll, I expect 19 July would be the date chosen by the fewest people. More people would say, “I expect they’ll finally end on Christmas Day,” or on a day that hasn’t been invented yet, such as Pondomber the 35th.
Thousands of events have been cancelled again, and now most people have given up even trying to understand the rules. For example, music festivals aren’t allowed, while the tennis can be at full capacity. So organisers will get round this by organising a heavy-metal weekend at Wimbledon, with Napalm Death shrieking, “New balls please!” to a deafening bassline on No 1 court.
There are so many contradictions, such as: “You can attend a sword fight but only if you travel by jet-ski,” or: “You can go deep-sea diving in groups of six or less as long as you all wear a mask over your goggles,” that it’s pointless trying to arrange anything.
Ministers come on the radio to explain: “Gatherings of more than six people indoors are not permitted, though if someone has been fully vaccinated they are allowed to use your toilet, but they will have to stay there until 19 July.” Or Boris Johnson says: “The maximum number allowed in a room at any one time is nought. So if you find yourself in a room, you must leave immediately.”
There have been so many changes to wedding regulations that there must be hundreds of people in Britain now who don’t know if they’re married or not. The latest is that you’re not permitted to dance at the reception, but you may jiggle one limb for one minute, remaining in your new position until you attend another wedding, when you will be allowed to jiggle it back again.
Each time the rules are changed, the government announces that this is because something completely unpredictable has happened that no one could possibly have anticipated, such as the realisation that if people who haven’t been vaccinated mix together closely, the virus will spread. Every time the government has had to postpone one of its “freedom days”, it’s been caught out by this.
You can’t blame them, because the idea that a disease spreads more quickly if everyone squeezes up together is a new concept. It’s only as recent as the 14th century, when the authorities learned to keep people isolated for a while if they had the plague. So with only 700 years of data, it’s far too early to come to any conclusions.
This is why they can proudly proclaim to have always “followed the science”. It’s true that they’ve followed it, but a year after the scientists first announced it.
The Catholic Church can make a similar claim. When Galileo discovered those moons, the Church threatened to execute him for disturbing the medieval idea of the planets. But 300 years later they pardoned him, at which point I expect the Pope gave a press conference saying, “We have followed the science.” Not only that, he’d have said it in Latin, which would have appealed to Boris Johnson even more as a catchphrase.
At the moment it’s people in their twenties who haven’t been vaccinated who seem to be getting the virus. Who could possibly have guessed that would happen? And at the last moment, the government seems to have cleverly worked out that the clubs that were about to open would mostly be full of that age group, all squashed together.
Up until this week, I expect they imagined these places would be full of 80-year-olds who had already been jabbed, queueing up for hours to squeeze into Coalition on Brighton beach.
Even the Indian variant that’s causing the current problem was known about when the government invited thousands of people from India into the country with no testing or isolating. Instead of their normal attitude towards human migrants, they decided to be much more welcoming to virus migrants. Johnson was probably a week away from inviting the Indian variant to tea with the Queen and asking it to address parliament.
So now we’re at a point where everyone is in a daze about what we’re allowed to do, and when we’re allowed to do things again, because the whole response has been a wonderful exercise in spontaneous hopelessness.
Because of Dominic Cummings’s latest revelations, we know that if you told the prime minister that his health secretary was hopeless, he would disagree, saying: “He’s not just hopeless, he’s f****** hopeless.”
But we should give credit to Johnson for staying loyal to his friends. Other people might have decided that if you were entering the worst health crisis since 1920 with a bloke in charge who you regarded as f****** hopeless, you ought to consider replacing him. But luckily, our prime minister sticks by his mates; so Hancock’s still here, and hasn’t been made to feel awkward, so that’s the main thing.
Johnson has responded by saying he has “full confidence” in Matt Hancock, and it would be a fun party game to see how you can tie together the phrases “full confidence” and “f****** hopeless”.
I expect that in a few days, some more of Johnson’s text messages will have been disclosed. So he’ll issue a statement saying that he has “complete faith” in Priti Patel, despite having called her “a f****** unbelievably fruitbat sociopath”; and, “I am delighted to work alongside Michael Gove, regardless of the fact I described him as an unfathomably f****** oleaginously slimy amoral sleazebag of hitherto incalculable, monstrous, and implausibly sickening proportions.”