There’s a new advertisement on Plague Island. Its surface aim is to curb the spread of Covid by showing the public critically ill victims of the disease and hard-working, pressurised NHS staff. We are reminded of the of the toll of the disease, both in terms of what it has done and continues to do to it’s victims and healthcare professionals through evocative visual and spoken language.
On the surface, these things are correct. We should take responsibility for own actions and do what we can to safeguard ourselves as well as those around us. Healthcare workers are at the front line of the fight against Covid.
However, there is something very underhand about this ad with how it aims to manipulate our feelings about why we are at this awful point now on Plague Island. The language of this ad plays into the narrative that the government would like us to believe: the blame for the disastrous response to Covid is firmly upon our shoulders.
We are asked to, ‘Look them in the eyes and tell them you’re doing all you can to stop the spread of Covid-19′; we are asked to look into their pained, haunted eyes.
Look at your neighbour/Look to see what visitors they are having/Look and see if people are wearing masks in the supermarket /Look around you and see if people are social distancing when walking/Look at immigrants/Watch the BBC news about the latest gathering that has been broken up/Follow the story in the tabloids about the possible £500 grant for people who cannot work because they are infected with Covid/Follow the opinion pieces in the papers about how people will deliberately abuse the kindness of the government.
The ad dropped this weekend, they day before the £500 grant story leaked. We have already seen Professor Chris Whitty only a few days ago reminding us that just because we can do something within the rules, it doesn’t mean that we should. The BBC seem to keep looping the story about a large wedding gathering that was broken up. Whilst not wishing to get into conspiracies, the timing of the leak, the story, Prof. Whitty and the advertisement seems like it is pushing towards a linked narrative.
Let’s be very clear that there are people who aren’t following the rules and that there will always be a minority of people who will not take personal responsibility or heed advice. In the broader context of the situation we face though, these people are relatively inconsequential and have not put us into the catastrophic infection and death cycle we are in now.
We must look instead to the government who:
- Initially pursued the doomed and unethical policy of herd immunity (you would be forgiven if you doubted they’d ever moved away from this position).
- Did not stop air travel to and from the country and are only just thinking about closing borders now, 10 months later.
- Buried the findings of Exercise Cygnus (a pandemic preparedness practice from 2016 that accurately predicted the shortfalls seen at the beginning of the real pandemic).
- Set unclear and confusing rules in the first instance.
- Outsourced test, track and trace after promising us it would be ‘world-beating’, only to provide us with an inadequate, overpriced privatised nightmare that still not fit for purpose (remember it is run by Serco and not the NHS).
- Sent healthcare staff to the frontline without adequate PPE (you may remember stories of NHS staff wearing bin bags as PPE because they had nothing else).
- Sent elderly Covid positive patients back to their residential care homes, which then resulted in the disease ripping through the population of those places (again, many of the staff there had little or no PPE). Look to the government who later pretended and said they had ‘thrown a protective ring’ around care homes.
- Defended a senior advisor when he broke lockdown rules despite knowing how this would erode public trust.
- Instead of preparing for the next wave, spent money on promoting ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, which defied scientific advice and contributed to the spread of the variant B117.
- Told clinically extremely vulnerable people not to shield at the end of last summer.
- Forced schools and universities back last September (when there was no real test, track and trace) as they became aware of the new variant, but kept silent about it as it spread from Kent to the rest of the country.
- Insisted schools were ‘absolutely safe’ on the Sunday before the start of the spring term, sent children in on the Monday – despite all the evidence from even their own scientific advisors to the contrary – and then did a complete u-turn on the Monday evening.
- Broadened the criteria of what constitutes a vulnerable child and kept nurseries and early years settings open, so that schools now have many more children in this time.
- Handed billions of pounds in Covid contracts to people affiliated with the Conservatives, whilst telling us they don’t have enough money to extend Free School Meals to vulnerable children.
- Locked down too late the first time, raced to unlock, locked down too late again the second time, and the third.
- Knew this was coming, not once but three times, and still cannot effectively manage it.
(Please read Catalogue of Catastrophe I and Catalogue of Catastrophe II for more details).
Look to the government who prioritised the economy over people and managed to save neither, time and again.
As decent, caring citizens, we need to take personal responsibility for our actions during this pandemic (and indeed, at all other times). Our significant issue here is that we have a government who never take responsibility for anything; they never accept and never apologise. Our concern is that whilst the government is asking us to reflect on our behaviour, we need them to do the same. Let them be the example which we all follow. However, this government cannot allow an open, honest and respectful conversation to happen because they would be found to have been asleep at the wheel as Covid hit and intensified. They botched every response possible.
The numbers of lives lost to Covid continue to climb. Our tiny little island will pass 100,000 deaths this week. It feels like a government preparing for the inevitable inquest and for the difficult questions to come. The subtlety here is that the government are not openly blaming the public by reminding us of the things we see in the recent advert. Rather insidiously, they are instead nudging us towards blaming each other whilst we are distracted, overwhelmed and trying to make sense of it all.
~ L&A 25.1.21 ~