When Boris Johnson was ludicrously channelling Franklin Roosevelt in his mostly-imaginary new New Deal waffle the other week, he for some reason left out FDR’s biggest catchphrase:
“…the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”Roosevelt first inaugural speech, 1933.
Johnson has nothing to offer BUT fear.
We’re now going to have to wear a mask to buy a potato, even though daily UK Covid-19 deaths are virtually in single figures and hospitals are allegedly registering repeat tests of existing cases as ‘new’ in order to keep the number of daily positive tests up.
The authorities’ copy-typists in the media are out in force today; pages laden with photos of masked people and unquestioning reports about second wave predictions and the so-called threat from so-called “superspreaders”.
If Johnson’s government and the media aren’t actually trying to instil “unreasoning, unjustified terror” in the public (spoiler alert, that’s exactly what they are doing) they’re doing an ace job of succeeding at it.
Though why we should give any credence to the second wave fear porn at this stage is beyond me. At the height of the pandemic, staff in parts of the NHS were left twiddling their thumbs according to one doctor because non-COVID patients were turned away and resources diverted to deal with a first wave that was deliberately exported to care homes anyway.
Johnson, his master and the cabinet crew have pretty much done everything backwards. They based policy on the work of a known statistical charlatan, Ferguson. Then they infused the virus from hospitals into the one segment of the population most likely to die from it, the already-ill over-80s in care homes.
Now that the virus has evidently done its worst, they’ve decided to enforce the wearing of emblems of fear just as it looked as though we were returning to normal.
Despite what our beloved leader wants us to believe, universal mask wearing in a pandemic is more symbolic than practical.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported in May that:
“We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.”
Masking won’t make a meaningful difference to transmission when, on average, you’d have to get up close and personal with around 2,200 people every day in England to have an even chance of being exposed to the virus between getting up and going to bed1.
By stepping up the symbolism of fear and separation at this late stage in the proceedings, the government seems intent on making sure its war on liberties won’t be over by Christmas.
That interpretation also fits what we know about Dominic Cummings’ juvenile belief that “move fast and break things” is an appropriate strategy for running a country rather than just a tricksy meme designed to sell business books.
I nearly wrote “running a major economy” there. Except, the way we’re headed, the UK may no longer be a major economy by Christmas. More like a nation of redundant transport and retail workers trying to save enough dole money to buy a mask so they can go out to buy a potato.
And after Christmas comes No Deal Brexit.
But will our preposterous would-be FDR still be in charge when we get there?
1 ONS estimate of 25,000 infected people in England divided into England population of 55 million = one in 2,240.