Salvador Dalí said: “What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.” He would have been impressed with the mixed messages on Covid-19 across the UK. Confusion has spread faster than the virus as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland slam home separate strategies for controlling the pandemic. Even the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have introduced their own coronavirus lockdown plans.
In Scotland, you can travel as far as you like to see family, but no further than five miles for exercise or to a beauty spot. Does that mean you can drive one hundred miles to meet your family at a beauty spot? You can meet up to eight people from one other household outdoors or in someone’s garden and you can go through their house without touching anything to get to the garden, but you can’t use their loo. So, you shouldn’t travel further than your bladder can stand! You must remain two-metres apart at all times. You can have a BBQ or picnic, but you cannot share plates or cutlery. When Scotland’s favourite parks, beaches and beauty spots were crammed with crowds during the heatwave, Nicola Sturgeon threatened to introduce tough new laws to force unruly Scots to toe the line. Schools in Scotland won’t reopen until 11th August, but the tourism industry will be allowed to reopen in a limited way from 15th July.
In England, the parks, beaches and beauty spots have been overwhelmed for weeks as the majority happily ignore the government’s advice. You can travel as far as you like, so long as you can return home that same night. From today (Saturday 13th July) Boris Johnson has said that single people who live alone can link up with another household to form a “support bubble”. This will enable widowed or divorced grandparents to hug and play with their grandchildren for the first time in three months. It will mean lovers can meet and stay overnight without observing social distancing rules!
The rest of England must restrict their summer fun to meeting six people from six different households outside, for garden parties, while maintaining the two-metre rule. You can, however, nip into their house for a pee. Plans to reopen primary schools have been put back to September and pubs, cinemas and hairdressers look likely to reopen on 4th July. Workers have been encouraged to return to their jobs wherever possible. England’s slogan for dealing with the virus was changed in May from ‘Stay at home, control the virus, save lives’ to ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.’ But this was rejected by Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster - the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - who all insisted on sticking to the original catchphrase telling people to stay home, which few are doing. Scotland has also changed England’s ‘Test, Trace, Isolate’ message to simply ‘Test and Protect.’
In Wales, the ‘staying local’ message means that people should stay within five miles of their home, when exercising or visiting beauty spots. Up to six people from two different households can meet outside observing social distancing. All schools in Wales will reopen at the end of June, but only one-third of pupils will attend at a time. To be different, Wales has rejected England’s ‘Test, Trace, Isolate’ slogan and opted for ‘Test, Trace and Protect’. The Welsh have warned people in England not to travel to Wales for exercise, saying those who cross the border could face hefty police fines.
Northern Ireland will follow the Welsh example, adopting the ‘Test, Trace and Protect’ slogan, together with a catchy logo “We all must do it to get through it.” The legacy of W.B Yeats has clearly left its mark! Groups of up to six people from different households can meet outside. Those unable to work from home have been allowed to return to their jobs on a phased basis. Stormont has announced that hotels will reopen on 20th July.
With such a plethora of confusing rules and regulations, many people will be relieved that at least the two-metre social distancing strategy appears to have been adopted across the whole of the UK. This, however, may prove to have been a serious mistake, which will cause great economic hardship. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a maximum social distancing of one-metre. That has now been adopted by most countries. Professor Robert Dingwall of the Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) says: “Imagine holding a two-metre long rod to your chest and turning around full-circle to represent a ‘sterile safety zone’ of 12.5 square metres. But if the science says a safe distance is one-metre, the safety zone is only 3.1 square metres.” The difference could spell economic life or death for cafes, pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and retail businesses when they are finally allowed to reopen.
After three months of lockdown and the glut of muddled slogans, catchphrases, rules and regulations that have beset the UK, it is surely time to take a long, hard look at what we have really achieved. Firstly, we must ask who has tragically died because of the virus and the answer is clear. Sadly, it has been the old and sick. The average age of those dying is over 80. 95% of those dying from Covid-19 had serious pre-existing conditions, especially dementia and diabetes, but also hypertension and serious lung, heart and kidney disease. Secondly, we need to look at who has survived and we find that they are almost always healthy people under the age of 60; in other words, children and the vast majority of the working population. Indeed, by comparison, the coronavirus has taken around 2/3rds of the lives that are lost on British roads every year, although we haven’t considered outlawing driving.
So, we need to put things in perspective. Yes, the disease has caused more than 40,000 deaths and every single one has been a tragedy. But in any given year that figure would count as a bad, but by no means remarkable, death toll from flu. Now we have to rebuild a shattered economy and the lockdown fallout of countless bankrupt businesses, lost jobs and soaring debt. Was the price too high? Salvador Dalí said: “Have no fear of perfection – you will never achieve it.” Westminster and the devolved UK governments should have learnt that lesson.