There follows the text of an article by Joseph C. Sternberg which appeared in the the Wall Street newspaper yesterday on why Boris is dragging its feet on reopening Britain despite the success of our vaccine rollout. We think it’s so good that we reproduce it in full.
The UK has delivered at least one dose of the Covid vaccine to more than 47% of its total population. This means that well over half of all adults and the vast majority of the most vulnerable older people have received a sufficient level of inoculation to dramatically reduce serious illness, death and possibly transmission during the several months it takes. will be needed to administer the second doses. Hospitalization and death rates are dropping day by day.
So why the hell is Boris Johnson slowing the country’s exit from lockdown?
The exit plan from the current third lockdown began on March 8, when schools reopened, and will not be completed until the end of June. Sorry, do this “until the end of June as soon as possibleAdding Mr. Johnson’s three favorite words. Non-essential businesses, beer gardens and gyms won’t reopen until next week, restaurants won’t reopen until May, and no one can say when the draconian restrictions on international travel will be relaxed.
Precisely because medical news in Britain is so cheerful, his struggles to escape lockdown serve as an uplifting tale for everyone. The task, it seems, is no longer to suppress the virus or measure hospital demand or save lives or anything related to health. The task is to manage the dangerous interactions between a fearful political class and a disproportionate medical class.
This is the vice in which Britain now finds itself. As fearful politicians, few are more fearful than Mr Johnson. Yes, it’s Mr Johnson. Americans who remember his filibuster spirit around Brexit might be surprised how much his encounter with Covid – as a political leader and as a patient this time last year – changed him.
It’s best to leave the personal angle to the readers’ own assumptions, but the political transformation is easy enough to understand. Mr Johnson was elected in December 2019 with a huge mandate to bring Brexit to fruition, and for nothing else. The pandemic shows daily how much a coalition of libertarian, Christian Democrat and working class conservatives risks fracturing whenever something other than Brexit is on the table. For now, civilian libertarians are the dissenters, but easing the lockdown will only raise new political questions that other elements of his party may rebel on.
Mr Johnson has found that the only thing that can keep these cats in a loosely collected state is success. Well yes. In politics, nothing succeeds like success. But adopting this as a government strategy leaves little room for occasional escapes along the way.
Before the vaccination program succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, Mr Johnson’s government was under near-lethal threat from its failure to contain the winter wave of the pandemic with more aggressive lockdowns to autumn. Mr Johnson cannot afford to be bold in reopening for fear that an unforeseen mistake, or an unpredictable spike in infections, or some other catastrophe will lead to political action; collapse of some sort.
Which brings us to the other jawbone of vice: an outsized public health class.
The things these medical experts are saying are getting wackier by the day. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, for example, is now warning that even with widespread vaccination, the UK may have to prepare for future lockdowns. Imperial College modelers predict that – again, even with widespread vaccination – Britain could see a third wave of the virus lead to as many hospitalizations and deaths as the rest of Europe is currently experiencing.
Leaving aside scientific questions about it, such statements represent a bold tendency by public health professionals to adopt maximalist goals regarding the virus, and then impose politically impossible conditions – namely, deny the public their very freedom. after administering the vaccinations that were supposed to unlock the economy. A braver politician would dismiss these people. Alas, this is not what the UK has.
Britain, in some ways, is particularly ill-suited to come out of its lockdown. Before the pandemic, a viable opposition party was missing, as Mr Johnson decimated his Labor opponents in a recent election. Unlike federal states such as the United States or Germany, Britain lacks many competing power centers to experiment with local reopening; those he has, in Scotland and Wales, tend to be bossy. British culture is imbued with a greater dose of security than it is generally liked to admit.
Yet similarities to the predicament of the UK’s lockdown appear everywhere – in Joe Biden’s deference to discredited public health authorities, in Angela Merkel’s chronic securityism in Germany, in Emmanuel Macron’s desperate attempt. to maintain an electoral coalition untied solely by its own past political success. The point is, the next steps outside of lockdown will require defeating not the virus, but the many and varied neuroses of the political class.
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