I cannot help thinking that the “second wave” of this virus is a bit like the Victorian legend of “Spring Heeled Jack”: a useful fiction intended to keep the children quiet. In both cases there are sightings which do not, by themselves, add up to any existential certainty. Jack has, of course, inherited this policing role from the dreaded “R” number, which even the most thick-headed members of the commentariat are beginning to suss is of no use when infection rates are low.
So, the PM has pivoted. With its now-familiar casual dishonesty the Government is alerting us to “spikes” in “cases” in some parts of the country. As with most deception, the deceit resides in the language. There are no spikes in cases, there are increases in positive tests (entirely consistent with increases in test activity – and in fact explained by them). A case is not the same as a positive test unless you think it is of no significance whether someone has symptoms or not.
There is a qualitative and very consequential difference between testing positive for this virus and being a “case” of it. This is a distinction the Johnson-Whitty-Hancock axis of perpetual control seems to have decided to collapse. From the start of this crisis the government hid behind very second-rate scientists to project an interpretation of correct response which was purely numbers-based. Mathematics is the Queen of the Sciences: it does not follow that important qualitative distinctions are never invisible to Her.
Instead of informing us of epidemiological risk, the PM decided in March to deprive us of the right to assess our lives for ourselves. This amounted to more than a confiscation of our civil liberties. It was also an assault upon our personal systems of value. Some of us do not believe that death is the worst thing that can happen to us. Some of us do not believe that illness is to be avoided at all cost. Some of us prefer to live our lives within a framework of belief in the transcendent. Johnson’s interventions in March were a form of secular aggression against that preference.
And this has been the problem. I do not want my PM to be religious. But I want a Conservative PM to at the least have a religious sensibility. I want those who presume to govern me to have humility. I want them to know that however powerful they seem to be in the moment that history is laughing at them from the perspective of the longer term. I would prefer them to understand that you do not defeat a virus by looking into a TV camera and announcing that we all must stay at home.
This Government has no such sensibility and its response to Covid-19 has amounted to little more than a numbers game. And because they have promoted quantification over value they are in a fix. There are real considerations of value which by their nature escape the variables of the grubby calculus of mortality which dominated the narrative in March.
There is no possibility, logically, of a second national lockdown because if one is imposed there will be no “nation” left to emerge from it. The bonds that tie a nation together are difficult to understand and therefore easy to accidentally destroy.
The public has been infantilised to the extent that it has become normal to see parents put masks on their children. A very logical consequence of the assumption that a Government has the right to make it difficult for us to smile at each other in public places.
This is last chance stuff. The spiritual crisis is that pronounced.
The proper attitude to the possibility of a “second wave” is one of acceptance – a primary Christian sensibility which all conservatives should be happy to cultivate.
I would imagine – hope – that every parent who told their child the tale of Spring Heeled Jack knew deep down that the inculcation of fear is very dubious, morally. I am not sure this dysfunctional, patrician and unconservative Government has that level of compassion. Or understanding. Or even that it cares very much.