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Three More Weeks - But How Much Longer?

Cooped up for three more weeks, maybe longer. A lot longer, some of us. But there’s a sense the government may at least be nudging towards a kind of get-out of strategy. Although, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, get out of jail free it ain’t.

‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.’

Stirring words from Winston Churchill after the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation that saved nearly ten times as many troops as he’d dared hope.

Minus heavy weapons, mind. Which is why, the story goes, as our wartime leader sat down he murmured to colleagues: ‘and we'll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that's bloody well all we've got’.

Still, he wanted everyone to keep calm and keep buggering on – to use his expression – and he succeeded.

We did rearm in time. And, with a lot of heft from Moscow as well as Washington, got away with it.

Spotting the parallel? These days America’s as much help as a dinghy in a hurricane, but ministerial bravado is bolstered by stuff coming our way from other sources.

Our acting PM’s talk of light at the end of the tunnel might sound fanciful. But if Covid-19 home swab-testing kits really can be delivered to our doorsteps, with results texted back within a couple of days, the NHS will look more viable, and hospitals less dodgy.

Also, huge numbers of other people may find they can return to something like normal in something like the foreseeable future.

Wishful thinking maybe, but it’s reported a pilot’s being tried. And, if successful, it’d junk the row between government and health service over why the existing mass testing plan isn’t really working.

Longer term, obvs, is the need for a vaccine. Or a cure. Not much sign of one just now, and it normally takes at least ten years to develop one from scratch.

However, the oft-reviled drug companies are making an effort. One of Britain’s biggest, GlaxoSmithKline, is teaming up with a French rival to put together a treatment they hope to test on humans in a matter of months.

In addition, Oxford University scientists are aiming to turn out at least a million doses of vaccine by September this year. Large scale production will start before the trials are even completed.

Even sooner than that, a potential new treatment may be offered to patients at a hospital in Wales within weeks.

Blood from people who have recovered from Covid-19 will be given to those who have the disease, to see if antibodies in the plasma they receive can save their lives.

Early days, but specialists describe what they’re doing as a ‘glimmer of hope’.

Meantime, there’s the nation’s financial health to be considered. According to spreadsheet wizards at the Office for Budget Responsibility, there could be two million job losses, and the biggest drop in what we turn out each year since the 1700’s.

Against that, all being well says the Chancellor, the economy could bounce back spectacularly later in the year, clawing back something close to half the losses.

Also, he’s stressing he’s neither one of those so-called ‘hawks’ who think money matters more than people, nor a ‘dove’ who sees things the other way round.

‘The single most important thing we can do for the health of our economy is to protect the health of our people,’ he says. ‘It's not a case of choosing between the economy and public health. Common sense tells us that doing so would be self-defeating.’

That seems to chime with the public mood. A major survey from a relatively new kid on the block, Kekst CNC, reveals three quarters of the UK population thinks it’s more important to limit the spread of the disease than to protect the economy.

And party preferences don’t come into it, at least not this side of The Pond.

Asked by YouGov whether they’d trust medical advice from Donald Trump, nearly half of Republicans said yes. Among Democrats, the figure was, ahem, two per cent.

Good to know the fine fellow’s got his own folk onside. Not that he intends to be too troubled by anyone, judging by his new masterplan.

Congress? Who needs it, when there’s a pandemic to sort? Hasn’t come to it – yet – but he’s threatened to close it down so he can hand out jobs to his buddies, on his own say-so.

Basically, he’s talking about government by decree. An ugly echo of last month’s ‘coronavirus coup’ in Hungary, giving that country’s Prime Minister similar new powers.

A bit hairy-scary? A tad mediaeval? But Trump’s got form on that. Remember, he cut off Yankee funding to the World Health Organisation, on the pretext they’d been too nice to the stinky Chinese.

This at a time when coronavirus is taking its inevitable toll on the American economy, while a presidential election is just over the horizon.

What better way of uniting a nation behind its leader than picking a fight with Johnny Foreigner? Worked wonders for our King Henry the fifth, beating the merde out of the French at Agincourt.

Not that government by decree always worked for monarchs. Final thoughts from Charles 1st that January day in 1649? ‘Bit parky out here, chop chop lads.’

Whatevs, just down down the road from where the execution took place, Parliament will be strutting its stuff, virtually at least, this week.

With nearly everyone appearing on screens rather than in person they’ll have to be more polite, sensible and constructive than usual. We can but hope it’ll bed down for the future.

There are other lessons it’d be worth not forgetting. The help given by people from overseas, like the nurses from Portugal and New Zealand who kept Bojo alive. And the fruit and vegetable pickers flown in from Romania this week to meet demand.

Of course there’s the horror of it all. The deaths, the suffering, the crippling anxiety of those missing out on state support, with nothing in reserve. Also the fate of those at the wrong end of abusive relationships. More women were killed by men in the first phase of the lockdown than at any comparable period in the last eleven years. Chilling.

But others have had time to reflect. On whether life is about who we are rather than what we do. Maybe giving a clearer handle on priorities. Certainly we’ve learned to be awed by stuff that normally passes us by.

Not just the sudden proliferation of wildlife everywhere, striking though it is. There are also dramatic survival stories that fire the imagination.

Great-grandmother Connie Titchen was admitted to hospital last month with suspected pneumonia, and later diagnosed with COVID-19.

Three weeks down the line she got the all-clear to go home. Sorted. And she’s a hundred and six years old, for god’s sake.

Next to her, Tom Moore is a mere stripling. So what’s the big deal about him wandering up and down his garden a few times?

Actually it’s looking to be a few hundred times, with the aid of a frame, necessitated by the fact he’s ninety-nine.

Little wonder he’s caught a fair few imaginations. So many that his hope of raising a grand to help the NHS has been exceeded somewhat. At the time of writing, the total topped twenty million.

Let’s be honest. How much interest would the sight of an old bloke tottering up and down his garden excite in normal times?

But Mr Moore, an army Captain in WW2, is surely as inspirational as some of the speeches made by his boss during those dark days. This one, after the allies’ first big break of the war, might just fit with where we’re at.

‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’

I see no swastikas. A good sign.

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.


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