Dear West Country Voices,
All morning I’ve been reading posts by healthcare professionals who have been working long shifts and going the extra mile for months now. Metaphorically-speaking, they are physically and mentally on their knees, and now in a state of astonishment at learning prime minister Boris Johnson’s new plans at the same time as the rest of us. They desperately needed a little bit of leave over the festive season to recharge their batteries, especially after what happened last Christmas when we weren’t allowed to be with our dying loved ones and nurses had to hold their hands at the last so they wouldn’t die completely alone.
Imagine how they felt when they heard Johnson announce that as of today, he is bringing the booster target forward by one month, and as a consequence the NHS would offer 1 million jabs a day until the end of the month? He has effectively cancelled whatever plans they may have had without even having the decency to inform them, or to ask them to once again sacrifice and make yet another superlative effort for the greater good. I am sure they will do it — they’re wonderful — but it irritates me on their behalf that Johnson takes them for granted, but won’t ever do things to really show appreciation, like giving them an above-inflation pay-rise or waiving parking charges.
Johnson appeared on our screens, flanked by flags, looking as if he had avidly studied every single one of President Emmanuel Macron’s televised announcements so that he could imitate his sober “serious politician” style. The pre-recorded statement meant there would be no tricky questions from journalists about the awkward situation of him having been caught in delicto flagrante, on camera, breaking covid laws last Christmas.
Arguably, this was an announcement that should not have been broadcast in the first place, but instead made in parliament, as Sir Lindsay Hoyle never ceases to remind him. No doubt he would have faced a barrage of hostile questions there, too, with at least 75 of his more ridiculous MPs having gone on public record to say they will vote against covid passes this coming Tuesday. Johnson was too much of a coward to face such scrutiny, so he retreated to a more luxurious equivalent of that fridge again.
Of course, Johnson got what he wanted: every newspaper carried his announcement as front-page news, without questioning HOW we would go from the current rate of less than half a million jabs a day to one million jabs a day. The absolute best performance of any day since the booster campaign began, but by no means the average rate, is 450,000. At the start of the year, when an army of volunteers and the actual army was mobilized, the best we managed was 850,000 jabs on one day in March, but it takes time to set up that kind of response.
The newspapers with the favourable headlines Johnson craved were barely off the presses before the trouble began.
The NHS website crashed due to volume of people trying to get booster appointments. People – especially school-age children – trying to get their first or second jabs have been told boosters are the priority, so they’ve been sent to the back of the queue. There has been traffic chaos around jab centres. Two-hour queues aren’t unusual, but many walk-in centres have been inundated to the point that they’re turning people without appointments away and, worse still, running out of doses. The government’s own website is reporting that they’ve run out of lateral flow-tests, despite telling us we all need to be testing ourselves twice a week at least.
How can this have happened? After all, Plan-B was devised 5 months ago. Surely Sajid Javid has done some contingency planning? Is it possible that our prime minister has made a hugely important announcement without first checking that the NHS has the capacity, the resources and the stock to fulfil his blond ambition? Might Operation Booster turn out like Crime Week did last week, which began with the prime minister trying to look tough by imitating a police officer and going on a raid, and ended with his own law-breaking activities coming to light?
I am afraid this is what you get when you appoint as health secretary a former banker who sold the financial instruments that brought about the financial crash of 2008 and who instead of stars has NHS privatisation dollar-signs in his eyes. Let’s not forget the lying charlatan in charge of the country who saw this as a chance to knock his hypocritical lawbreaking-activities off of the front pages and to give himself a boost in the flagging polls, especially ahead of the tightly contested North Shropshire by-election on December 16.
Could they possibly be that cynical? Yes, yes they could. They’re already back-pedaling. “When I said 1 million jabs a day as of tomorrow, what I really meant was … something completely different, but hey — I got my headlines!”
The word “confusion” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in Vicki Young’s tweet. Johnson’s announcement was a thinly-disguised party-political broadcast. It’s an excuse to rally his base by wheeling out one of his golden oldie “greatest hits” lies that our highly successful vaccination programme was only possible due to Brexit. (Untrue. The EU stressed a safety-first approach because of initial vaccine-scepticism. The UK was still applying EU law, but used the regulation passed long before the pandemic to allow member states to approve temporary authorisation during an emergency. They stressed speed, because the bodies were piling high in their thousands due to Johnson being so unacceptably late with mitigations.) Also, as one Cabinet minister anonymously told a journalist last week, Covid-19 is “good” for the Tories (his or her words, not mine).
If Johnson were serious about the response to new covid mutations, which as sure as night follows day were bound to emerge, would he have been so complacent over the past few months? Would he have rested on his laurels of the UK having been one of the first and fastest with the initial dose of vaccine, but now languishing somewhere in the middle of the ranking of OECD countries? Would he not have treated the vaccination of school-age children with greater urgency, as other EU nations have done? Might he not have used the summer holidays to kit out classrooms with adequate ventilation and HEPA filtering? Or how about doing something about the toxic anti-vax propaganda which is clogging up the channels of public discourse in this country? Even his own MPs think Johnson is doing too little too late. As David Davis pertinently asks, why weren’t we doing this in September?
Let nobody be deceived. If Johnson cared about us, he would not have announced this new target in such a shambolic way, seemingly without any prior preparation. We may yet have the last “laugh”. #ToryCovidDisaster is already trending. It is, of course, not a good situation for families or NHS workers, but at least it looks as if Johnson’s attempts to get a ballot-box boost out of our suffering may have backfired.
I would urge EVERYONE to write to their MP to complain about Johnson gambling on our health and using us as pawns in his political games.
Conor Burns constituent,