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An End in Sight? Don’t Hold your Breath

Updated: May 20, 2020


An End in Sight? Don’t Hold your Breath Weeks turning into months, maybe longer. While advisers advise, it’s down to ministers to decide, and the understudy’s been doing his best in Number Ten. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, we won’t know what the government has in mind for us all until Bojo’s back in business. ‘Wake me up when September ends, ring out the bells again. Like we did when spring began, wake me up when September ends.’ Lines from a song all about loss, by Yankee punk rockers Green Day. A huge hit when it came out fifteen years ago, and getting a lot of plays again now. Not surprising, given the relentlessly rising numbers of victims coronavirus continues to claim, and the sense everyone’s feeling of time slipping away. Little more than a throwaway line midweek from the government’s medical guru Professor Chris Whitty said it all. It’s unlikely lockdown restrictions will be fully lifted this side of Christmas, as it’ll take at least that long to get viable antidotes on stream. That said, human trials on a vaccine have already started at Oxford university, after the scientists managed to compress five years’ research into just four months. The team says there’s an eighty per cent chance it’ll work, which is why the government’s prepared to stump up for mass production before even the results prove they’re right. However, plenty of other ideas have failed to live up to their promises in the past, and got their cheerleaders into trouble in the process. Donald Trump thought giving folk an anti-malarial drug might get America going again. But had to think again when tests killed more people than they cured. Same with his suggestion that injecting people with disinfectant could be a sure-fire winner. Medical opinion was robust. ‘Irresponsible and dangerous.’ Words from the eighteenth century English poet Alexander Pope spring to mind. ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.’ Not that The Donald need trouble his pretty little orange head with such thoughts. He’d probably tell you Mr Pope is a great guy, alive and well and living in Rome. His namesake was shrewder. Donald Rumsfeld, one-time US Secretary of Defense. He of the quote that resonates to this day. ‘There are known knowns .. there are known unknowns .. but there are also unknown unknowns.’ Settling for that knowledge, or lack of it, the British public is reacting to the unfolding crisis with sadness and anxiety, but also stoicism. A YouGov survey for Sky News last week suggested more than half of us would not support key parts of society and the economy being reopened in the next few weeks. Instead, getting on for that figure say they’re doing more housework, cooking and gardening these days. Fewer than one in ten, however, say they’re having more sex than usual, though a clear majority say there’s no change – or they aren’t sure. Which begs two questions. How can you not know if you’re having sex or not? And how would the same survey have played out in gay Paree? One thing we do know about life their side of The Channel is that very few smokers are catching Covid-19. A study in a Paris hospital suggests there’s something in tobacco protecting them. For this reason, nicotine patches are to be tested on coronavirus patients and healthcare workers treating them. Then again, the dreaded weed was once regarded as a universal panacea. And some kids would actually get beaten for neglecting the baccy. In case you’re wondering, I’m not making any of this up. Any more than the following snippet about what suits you, sir – or doesn’t – in the new look virtual parliament that began sitting last week. A Twitter poll carried out by waggish Tory MP nicknamed Micky Fabb, on what best to wear while zooming in from his living room, produced a clear winner. ‘My pink shorts.’ Mr Speaker’s response? ‘Michael, I really don’t want you in pink shorts asking your question. How one would keep one’s face straight will be a real difficulty, and wouldn’t leave a lot to the imagination.’ But on the whole Westminster’s tilt at the twenty-first century has turned out to be relatively glitch-free, in spite of fears about what could go wrong. According to one senior member ‘there’s nothing to stop an MP logging in then going out and leaving their wife, husband, child or dog to vote on their behalf’. Or put another way, by a member of the opposition, ‘it’s crap’. And the Welsh Assembly did prove pitfalls await, when the health minister forgot to turn off his microphone and was clearly heard saying of a Labour colleague who’d asked a question ‘what the f**k is the matter with her?’ Back in the commons, the British government faced multiple charges presented at the first session of virtual Prime Minister’s Questions by the new Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer. ‘We were slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment and now slow to take up those offers from British firms.’ Acting Prime Minister Dominic Raab could hardly plead not guilty. Nor can we expect a coherent exit strategy from anyone other than the boss. Though it’s expected Boris Johnson will be at the despatch box this week. Meantime, there was the promise of speedy delivery of planeloads of the life-preserving clothing from Turkey that medics have been crying out for. It took days for just half the consignment to finally get here. And UK companies have resorted to making their own deals to supply local hospitals because the government failed to tell them how to feed their products into the national supply chain. On the plus side, the Health Secretary says Britain has now reached the peak of its coronavirus epidemic and that the NHS will now reopen for routine care. Not a moment too soon though, after doctors warned many thousands of cancer patients could die through lack of treatment or diagnosis. Little wonder another YouGov survey this week showed four-fifths of us think the pandemic has made the future of the health service more important. And six-year-old Frank Mills, who has spina bifida, has decided to take matters into his own hands. Inspired by the war veteran Captain Tom Moore, who’s raised millions for the NHS, little Frank has been using his walking frame to cover ten metres a day. By midweek he’d already chalked up more than a hundred grand in donations. Money well earned, when you think of what the dedicated staff are witnessing every day. Not a question of numbers and spreadsheets, but heartrending events unfolding in front of them. Staff Nurse Sophie Bryant-Miles at Bradford Royal Infirmary responded to a plea from a desperately ill patient with suspected Covid-19 by calling the hospital chaplain. On being told he wasn’t expected to make it through the night, the cleric hurried to the young man’s bedside, along with his fiancée. Kitted out in gloves, apron, mask and visor, he performed a kind of wedding ceremony. The couple had been meaning to tie the knot for years, but life had always got in the way. Now death had concentrated their minds. His breathing made it a struggle to say the words. For his partner the problem was tears. But they both wanted to make the commitment before it was too late. And they managed it. Just.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter. Click the banner to share on Facebook

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