‘Lockdown sceptic’ may prove to be a helpful ally for Boris - GulfToday

‘Lockdown sceptic’ may prove to be a helpful ally for Boris

Sean O'Grady

@_SeanOGrady

Associate Editor of the Independent.

Associate Editor of the Independent.

UK_Sajid-Javid-750

Sajid Javid

Yes, Matt Hancock has left a shameful legacy and he had to go. But although he was reckless in his private life, he was cautious about public policy.

Of course he was a silly, massive hypocrite who put the public support for the struggle against COVID at risk for lust; yet when he’d finished his smooching and let Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance back in the room, he was commendably open-minded to the data and the science. I do worry now about the “lockdown sceptic” they’ve drafted in to replace him.

A “safe pair of hands”? Quite the opposite. You might wonder, for example, if they sounded Jeremy Hunt out; or otherwise guessed that he was just too nervous about relaxing the current restrictions, just as Hancock was. In any case, No 10 was aware of Sajid Javid’s instincts, and this was confirmed in his first remarks in the job: he wants to end the lockdown as soon as possible – not as safely as possible.

It is the emphasis and language that is so telling. He’s not going to cry freedom and left rip. However, we know where he is coming from, and we ought to fear where he is going to take us. The pandemic is still an emergency, and on a global scale; the Delta variant may be edging ahead in the race with the vaccines, and abolishing the remaining guidelines on 19 July in some sort of celebratory bonfire of controls is as politically attractive as it is dangerous to public health.

COVID is still spreading, cases are rising, quite rapidly, and there are still deaths. This is partly down to the new variant, but also because we have been more free and easy in the past few weeks of relaxing restrictions – there is a lag between changes in rules and an increase in circulation of the virus, so it takes some weeks for the most deadly effects to come through.

The low death rate at the moment will rise in the coming weeks, though not by as much as in the past peaks. Thanks to the public’s caution (masks, hygiene and distancing), the vaccination programme, more testing and new treatments, the link with hospitalisation and mortality has been weakened – but not ended.

We have to think hard about what might happen if a variant emerges that is a greater threat to children, and how we prevent schools from becoming hubs for transmission – with better filtering and ventilation, testing and asking and encouraging parents to consider vaccination – provided it is determined to be safe when set against the known risks to health of COVID. Education and the mental health of children will also be badly affected by frequent lockdowns as a result of COVID outbreaks.

These are things Hancock seemed more sensitive to than Javid now appears to be. Javid does seem to think that the economy should trump public health in the false choice so often presented to us – in many cases, both the economy and public health will suffer.

You get the impression that Johnson wants to take another gamble, and in “the Saj” he has found a useful ally in place of the reluctant Hancock.

For what it’s worth, it looks as though he may have actually wanted to quit, if only in preference to being fired in a few weeks, never to rebuild his political career. In quitting, he can lay claim – if spuriously – to having acted with some honour and dignity. It puts him in a better position to make his comeback one day, as tends to happen after a suitable period of penance on the backbenches.

Boris Johnson tried to keep him in place for his own convenience and not to let Labour get a scalp in a by-election week, putting his own position first, even ahead of the fight against COVID.

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