Freedom Day: A Retrospective

So, the Omicron variant is here and the government are in full-on ‘headless chicken’ mode: there was a hurried escalation to ‘Plan B’, Johnson gave a pre-recorded televised address to the nation last night urging people to get their booster shots. It was pre-recorded, you understand, so he didn’t have to face awkward press questions about the illegal parties held at No.10 last year. The message felt less like an urgent appeal for action and more like a party political broadcast, or a Johnson broadcast, to tell us all, ‘Look how hard I’m working for you plebs! Give me back my vaccine bounce in the polls!’ There are fears of hospitals being overwhelmed even if Omicron is a mild variant, and now Johnson has said he won’t rule out further restrictions following the news of the death of at least one Omicron patient today.

The drive to booster vaccinate all over-18’s has been labelled a ‘new national mission’, in true jingoistic, Johnson style, a ‘Booster Blitz’, if you will. It has that real Blitz feel to it that Johnson embraces; he can do that Churchillian pose he loves so much.

Johnson in full Churchill mode

However, something just isn’t adding up. Whilst we don’t know for sure yet how deadly Omicron is, early data suggests that it is probably more virulent but less deadly than older mutations of the virus. Dr. Angelique Coatzee, the head of the South African Medical Association has told the UK, ‘There’s no reason you can’t trust us when we say this to you.’ (Metro)

You will remember that England went fully without mitigations to prevent the spread of Covid on Freedom Day, 19thJuly 2021: ‘Covid Was Done! Boring! Next!‘ seemed to be the message from Johnson and his mob. This action was not supported by 1,200 scientists and doctors. Indeed, the Freedom Day decision was regarded as a threat to the world by creating the ideal conditions for a vaccine-resistant Covid strain. Now, of course, Omicron evolved in southern Africa but the point is that Johnson and his crew took a dangerous gamble with public health here, making us susceptible to not only viruses coming into the country, but also creating new, dangerous variants within the country. 

We have been hovering at around 30,000-40,000 infections per day for a good while thanks to Delta, averaging between 100-200 deaths per day for months. This is why it seems so peculiar for the government to be concerned about transmissibility, when they have appeared comfortable for months with the high infection rates here. 

NEWSFLASH: The virus never went away on Plague Island.

All the new variant might do is to make what is a bad situation, worse, and we can’t help feeling a nagging sensation that this new variant is being used to cover the tracks of the government’s dreadful mishandling of the Delta variant, and all the winter consequences of the ill-advised Freedom Day, of which they were forewarned. 

There are other tracks that the fear and panic due to Omicron help to cover: the chronic underfunding and inevitable shortages of equipment and staff in the NHS caused by 11 years of Tory austerity – blame the pandemic instead. Blame it also for the reason why you won’t be seen by an NHS consultant for that health condition you have, or why you’ll be waiting until you’re dead for the operation you need. 

Johnson surely must be hoping the focus will swing away from the illegal parties held at No.10 last Christmas; the corruption and crony capitalism, too. His plan is most likely to hide away with the excuse of being with Carrie and their newborn daughter, and then make an in-person return in January once us plebs are so panicked by disease, that we’ve forgotten, or are not as concerned about those illegal ‘gatherings’, etc. Johnson wants the message in the new year year to be, ‘OMG, we’ve all pulled together and got this done! How did Boris do it? It’s a Christmas miracle!’ Johnson can then, once again, give us another Freedom Day, tell us yet again that ‘Covid Is Done’ and get on with ‘Brexit 2 … Sealing Our Borders’. A nice little nationalistic endeavour, the kind of which he always pulls out when the going gets tough for him (it also nicely combats the possible resurgence of another nasty virus of ours: Nigel Farage).

The truth is that as long as we have a government like this, who react late and often half-arsed e.g. you have to wear a mask in a shop, but you can be unmasked in a pub, restaurant or gym, we are doomed to remain in this Plague Island death spiral. So many people have a distinct lack of trust in this government, and for very good reasons. We have had both our vaccines and our boosters, but we can see with all of the mixed-messages and things not really making any sense, why people become anti-vaxxers; why people approach every decision made by this government with suspicion. Let’s face it, decisions this government take often have self-serving reasons behind them (i.e to distract people from what’s really going on/to line their friend’s pockets with public money, etc). 

However, the real-world outcomes for such mistrust lead us down dark roads, because these are the precise times when we need a government who we can trust and who have our best interests at heart. Let it be known that whilst we are suspicious, we know that we do indeed need specific mitigations in place – it’s just that we feel those mitigations should have never been removed in the first place. It’s left us exposed. 

This government continue to harness and feast upon the mistrust that they created by encouraging people to direct their anger and frustration at each-other, and not towards the government who created the toxic environment: ‘Be angry at those who don’t have the vaccine, not at the government who created the mistrust for the vaccine’. If we were being really cynical, this whole episode feels more and more about hiding the disaster of Freedom Day and giving Johnson a much-needed popularity booster shot: a government that wants to be seen to be doing something, rather than doing anything really meaningful. Yet again. This seems to be more bout PR than public health.

~ L&A 13.12.21 ~

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