Covid-19 questions, free at last, Yugoslavia, the 28th Amendment? and more kindness

3 January 2021

A new year, which surely can’t be worse than 2020.  Can it?  Well, 2021 started with yet another U-turn but it will see Donald Trump’s departure and the worst of the Covid pandemic could be under control by 2022.

In an interview this morning, Boris Johnson (described recently by Frankie Boyle as “a sort of semi-sentient candyfloss”) admitted more restrictions might be necessary in the spring and said “I’m fully reconciled to that”, a revealing choice of words that implies he’s ready to accept tighter restrictions rather than admitting it’s his decision. 

Q:  Why didn’t they impose another long lockdown in November with no Christmas release? 

A:  Johnson’s ego.

As Bob Dylan once said, “How many deaths will it take till he knows / that too many people have died”.

But we’re finally free of the shackles of the EU, and we’re a sovereign nation once again.  Like – a random sample of other monarchies – Monaco, Tonga, the Netherlands and Spain (where the king has exiled himself and, in 2012, his grandson Froilán, then 13 years old, shot himself in the foot by – er – shooting himself in the foot).

Friday’s papers headlines showed the range of reactions over here with what I thought was the best one in the Independent:

“Off the hook – or cut adrift?”

I’m looking for one of those inflatable lifejackets with the little whistle that’s so invaluable when you’ve crashed in the mid-Channel.

In his new year address to the country, the prime minister made minimal reference to his Brexit triumph and majored on the amazing success he’d had with a coronavirus vaccine which was apparently done without any financial input or technical expertise from anybody whose roots don’t go directly back to William the Conker (when we were ruled by the French anyway). 

Across the Channel, reactions were more of regret than triumphalism, or even relief, though Germany is still shocked that Johnson’s internal market bill attempted to “violate an international treaty that [he’d] negotiated and signed barely eight months previously … That whole episode really damaged Britain’s credibility”.  

A lot of us Brits think that too, mein Freund.

In future history books, 2021 seems likely to be seen as the year the UK started to crumble.   As from last Friday, the borders of the Schengen zone, within which people and goods can move freely, and the EU are no longer the same because both Northern Ireland and Gibraltar will effectively remain within the Schengen zone but not the EU.

Scotland could vote for independence and rejoin the EU, Northern Ireland could also become an independent state, followed by Wales and Cornwall until, in due course, King Charles of Wessex could be burning cakes in Highgrove Palace.  Think Yugoslavia.

What we do know is that financial services face a lot of regulatory problems with the EU and there will be a barrage of new bureaucracy and paperwork, though nothing’s yet ready so nobody yet knows what they should have done yesterday.  Also, lorries will need a special permit to get into Kent (a ‘Kent access permit’, or ‘Kermit’ for short – Miss Piggy would be proud).

Johnson has actually admitted his deal “perhaps does not go as far as we would like” but didn’t mention his abject failure to support the fishing industry.  He originally demanded that EU boats’ fishing rights in UK waters must be reduced by 65% while the EU proposed 25%.  After years of hard bargaining, Johnson finally compromised with the EU’s 25%.  He should have got one of the Goan boys who sell shirts on beaches to have negotiated for him.

There are also worries about how the exchange of security information will continue, if at all, despite Theresa May’s assurance in 2018 that “Europe’s security is our security, and the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining it.”  But that was before Johnson sacrificed everything she’d stood up for.

Still, as Johnson pointed out, the UK is now “free to do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU” (I wondered if he meant to say “if possible” rather than “if necessary”) and we will of course be able to make new deals with individual European countries as well as with north America, the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific regions and Senegal.

The second Covid-19 ‘spike’ is continuing to grow, and that’s before the Christmas exchange of infections increases the numbers even more, when we may need to build another Nightingale hospital on the Manston airfield / lorry park / open-air urinal in Ramsgate (and issue all occupants with kermits).

However, it’s difficult for us normal people to judge the actual severity of the epidemic.  We’re given R numbers and told how many people have tested positive, been admitted to hospital and died but there’s so much we don’t know.  For example, how does the number of positive results relate to the number of tests done and the population in that area?  How many people have, knowingly or unknowingly, had it already?  How many tests are being done to judge the full impact of the virus so far by testing everybody to see how many people had it without knowing it? 

And, more practical for most of us, what’s its gestation period – how long is it between when you first become infectious to when you show symptoms that lead you to getting a test?  If you test positive, how long are you infectious for – for as long as the symptoms last, or do you stop being infectious while you’re still recovering?  If you’ve had it, does it protect against reinfection by the original virus or any of its mutations?  If so, how long does the immunity last?

We now have some vaccines whose testing and approval have been rushed through with limited testing on comparatively small samples so we don’t really know anything about them except that they seem to increase immunity in a majority of those given it, and experts still disagree about the timing of the booster shot.

As for the ever-changing tier system, why won’t somebody just admit they only exist because Johnson refuses to introduce another complete lockdown.  They haven’t thought the tier system through anyway.  It’s all very well saying people take their original tier with them but, if they go into a higher tier, shouldn’t they have to accept the restrictions of the higher tier forever?  I know someone from tier 3 who was allowed to visit family in tier 4 for Christmas;  surely, having been exposed to the risks of tier 4, they should act from that point on as if they were subject to tier 4 rules, even when they were back home in tier 3?

At the moment, nobody seems to know and those who capable of making the best guesses are medical experts with years of study and clinical experience, not self-important politicians with no relevant qualifications.

Meanwhile, Trump is now quite obviously off his rocker, signing death warrants and pardons but not the Covid-19 relief and spending bill which had bi-partisan approval.  He was also humiliated on Thursday when more than 100 Republicans helped the Democrats override his veto of a $74bn defence bill.  It’s going to be interesting to see, when he reverts to being a nobody, how many Trumpettes suddenly discover other loyalties.

Shouldn’t the new regime pass a new (28th) amendment to the Constitution to prevent any future Dead President Walking from signing executive orders or vetoing approved legislation or making any major decisions (such as presidential pardons) which haven’t also been approved by the incoming president?

This week’s kindness is that Paul Heaton of Beautiful South (formerly the Housemartins), who lives in a terraced house in Withington, Manchester, has admitted to secretly giving away large sums of money over many years.  He even offered to give his back catalogue to the Treasury, but former business secretary Greg Clark turned him down. He’s now trying to get his council tax increased. What a lovely man.

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