Keeping the enemy off balance is a basic principle of the art of war. Ask Sun Tzu.
So, given that the UK government’s approach to advising the public on the virus has been consistently confusing, illogical, disproportionate and contradictory for months now, who does that make the enemy?
It’s us of course.
Whatever Johnson, Hancock and the rest said, their actions make it look as though they actually wanted SARS-CoV-2 to do as much damage as possible to the country.
- By exporting NHS patients into care homes just as hospitals were starting to take in COVID-19 cases, they helped unleash the virus on precisely the demographic most at risk from it.
- Insofar as test and trace is a viable tactic in today’s hyper-mobile societies, the government comprehensively fumbled it.
- Thousands of air passengers were allowed to fly into the country and disperse unchecked around the UK every day during lockdown.
Those are just three examples. No opportunity was missed to give SARS-CoV-2 an even break while saying things that magnified the scale of the threat from it.
Art of war backwards
That’s the very opposite of the Art of War doctrine, which is to disadvantage the enemy at every turn while trying to convince them their strength is inferior to yours.
Coronavirus is a dangerous virus (and so is flu, which kills getting on for 20,000 people in the UK each year). But kills almost exclusively the very old who are already, objectively, dying.
By midsummer the pandemic had run thoroughly through that cohort. So thoroughly that overall mortality in the UK dropped below average because thousands of deaths had been brought forward by a few weeks. Moreover, the NHS showed itself to be manifestly capable of coping with the highest demand phase of the outbreak, even with thousands of staff sent home to isolate.
This virus is not a vicious, indiscriminate killer. Healthy adults of working age are at very little risk if they catch it. Children are at no risk at all.
Yet the government, enthusiastically aided and abetted by the print and broadcast news media, keeps ramping up fear and confusion among the public.
By mid-July, the pandemic was effectively over in the UK bar occasional local spikes. But by that time, the official “second wave” propaganda was already in full swing. Or rather “fears of a second wave” since even the garbled nonsense that constitutes official statistics can’t manufacture evidence of an actual second wave.
Still, it’s a moot point now. The media have already moved on to the third wave, uncritically reporting anyone with a sufficiently scary prediction to peddle.
Balance of power
The sanest conclusion about the UK government’s treatment of coronavirus is that it saw it from the outset not as a crisis but an opportunity.
This isn’t a war on the virus, it is a war on longstanding checks and balances on Number 10, under the cover of ‘controlling the pandemic”.
We mere voters have to pick our way through ‘mask-not-mask’, ‘travel-don’t-travel’, ‘meet-don’t-meet’ and a thousand-and-one other permutations on behavioural psychology. Meanwhile, Johnson and his inner circle are weakening parliamentary oversight, politicising the civil service and rearranging Britain (especially England) as a fiefdom for themselves and their party’s corporate/billionaire backers.