There’s a clever moment in the genius final episode of ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ when you allow yourself to imagine there’s going to be a happy ending. The characters facing certain death as they prepare to go over the top are briefly under the impression that the Germans have surrendered. Wild celebrations last but a few seconds only for the reality of it being a false alarm to kick in. You know the rest. The series was set in 1917, after all.
This came to mind when I was watching Dame Joan Bakewell on Channel Four news last evening. In a conversation about the new coronavirus guidance for Christmas that we’re all digesting, she urged caution. “We don’t want to be shot in the trenches just as the armistice is arriving”, she said. In other words we’re so close now to a vaccination programme that – no – won’t solve everything, but will surely steer us towards better times in 2021, that it would be foolish to take too many risks now….especially those of us who’ve been following advice to shield or self-isolate since March and again during the current lockdown in England.
My understanding of the advice for the most vulnerable over Christmas is that it will be tier-based, and the details of it won’t be known until later this week. The Prime Minister said as much on Monday: “families will need to make a careful judgement about the risk of visiting elderly relatives. Families will also need to keep in mind the risks of visiting relatives who are vulnerable to the virus, such as those on the clinically extremely vulnerable list who had previously been asked to shield”. Careful judgement. I pause. Careful judgement.
I was never much of a risk-taker before coronavirus came along, and maybe the experience of the last nine months has drained any remaining courage from my being, but you only have to look at the contrast between the rules for December 23-27 and the rules for the rest of the time to see why careful judgement is a must. ‘Three households will be allowed to form a temporary “Christmas bubble”. They can mix indoors and stay overnight.” It is unimaginable that such guidance would emerge in any other circumstances than because the time of year demands it. And this is not a criticism of government at all – I don’t do that in this blog anyway – because here’s a classic case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, said on the radio this morning that it was preferable to lay out a set of guidelines that were achievable and which covered all four nations of the UK than it was to be too strict, too piecemeal, and unintentionally encourage people to break the rules more comprehensively as a result. I suspect he’s right.
One final broadcasting moment from the last few days. On ‘The World at One’ on Radio 4 on Monday Professor Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, who cheered us all earlier this month with a prediction that things would return to normal by Spring, was asked “what about those who can’t, for health reasons, or who won’t take the vaccine?”. He gave a very considered response to the first part of the question, saying he was worried about that issue and hoped that a better way could be found to manage people for whom the vaccine simply isn’t an option….at least not yet. He offered hope via what he called “these long acting anti-bodies that last for six months because they act essentially like a vaccine and as a result you could cover those people off with a therapy like that”.
On the second part of Sarah Montague’s question, he was much more succinct: “for those who won’t…well…erm…good luck to them”.