By Daniel Gaffney
The government’s new slogan for England, telling the public to ‘stay alert, control the virus, save lives’, has been met with mass bemusement.
The change of wording has lead to confusion because the previous ‘stay at home’ advice remains the same for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Tonight, in an address to the nation, the PM unveiled a conditional plan, driven by ‘science, data and public health’, to ‘reopen society’. Lockdown restrictions will remain for at least the next three weeks, and Boris Johnson also unveiled a new alert system for England. The PM also said that people who could not work from home should return to work – but avoid public transport – and people are now allowed to sit in public parks as long as they observe social distancing rules.
The prime minister had shared the new government slogan on Twitter earlier today, detailing some of the guidance issued to the public. While a No 10 spokesman added: “Everyone has a role to play in keeping the rate of infection (R) down by staying alert and following the rules.”
At the time of writing, the infection rate sat at 0.9 and a further 269 people had died died in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus, taking the total number of deaths recorded to 31,855. For yet another day, the UK continues to battle with Italy for the highest death toll in Europe.
Until now, Westminster and the devolved governments have essentially been singing from the same hymsheet. Although the leader of the Scottish Government, Nicola Sturgeon, has been praised for being clearer and more assertive than the cabinet members that have given coronavirus briefings in recent weeks, the First Minister has really just benefitted from making press announcements a few hours before the government. Scotland’s lockdown has been identical to that of the rest of the UK. Until now.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would continue to use the “stay at home” message in Scotland, and later said she had asked the UK government “not to deploy” the new slogan there.
Leaders of the devolved nations – which have the power to set their own lockdown regulations – said they had not been consulted over the “stay alert” message.
Ms Sturgeon said the first she heard of the updated guidance was in newspaper reports.
Giving Scotland’s daily coronavirus briefing, she said that, other than allowing people to leave home for exercise more than once a day, the rules there had not changed. “We remain in lockdown for now and my ask of you is to remain at home”, she said.
In recent weeks, it has been revealed that the PM missed at least five emergency Cobra meetings regarding the coronavirus outbreak, before it had reached UK shores, even after multiple studies had been released regarding the dangers that Covid-19 posed to public health and the economy. While on multiple occasions, Johnson’s government has refused to cooperate with their European counterparts to produce and share PPE and ventilators. Instead, reports have emerged from within the NHS of staff having to re-use masks and other protective equipment.
Criminally, Johnson also gambled with public health by postponing lockdown in favour of a ‘heard immunity’ strategy, essentially sacrificing half a million people. New Zealand and South Korea among many other nations refused to even consider herd immunity as a viable strategy. The two aforementioned countries instead implemented lockdown restrictions and introduced coronavirus testing and tracing before the pandemic became a threat, and have now ‘beaten’ the virus. Pacific nations including Australia and New Zealand are now in the process of creating their own ‘travel bubble’ and reopening their economies.
Back in the West, Germany now faces a second lockdown after their infection rate dramatically increased because restrictions were lifted too early. The real danger for the UK is that the government risks causing a second wave through miscommunication, as ‘stay alert’ will likely be misinterpreted by some people as a green light to go out and socialise.
The change in wording represents an effort to convince the public that progress is being made, but the move from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’ is unnecessarily risky.
On a positive note, Boris hasn’t encouraged the general public to consume bleach yet, but we cannot ignore how much the government has dropped the ball time and time again in handling the pandemic.
See our full UK coronavirus timeline below.
UK Coronavirus Timeline
December 31st China alerts WHO to new virus.
January 23rd Study reveals a third of China’s patients require intensive care.
January 24th Boris Johnson misses first Cobra meeting.
January 29th Boris Johnson misses second Cobra meeting.
January 31st The NHS declares first ever ‘Level 4 critical incident’ Meanwhile, the government declines to join European scheme to source PPE.
February 5th Boris Johnson misses third Cobra meeting.
February 12th Boris Johnson misses fourth Cobra meeting. Exeter University published study warning Coronavirus could infect 45 million people in the UK if left unchallenged.
February 13th Boris Johnson misses conference call with European leaders.
February 14th Boris Johnson goes away on holiday. Aides are told keeps Johnson’s briefing notes short or he will not read them.
February 18th Johnson misses fifth cobra meeting.
February 26th Boris Johnson announces ‘Herd Immunity’ strategy, announcing some people will lose loved ones. Government document is leaked, predicting half a million Brits could die in ‘worse case scenario’
February 29th Boris Johnson retreats to his country manor. NHS warns of ‘PPE shortage nightmare’ Stockpiles have dwindled or expired after years of austerity cuts.
March 2nd Boris Johnson attends his first Cobra meeting, declining another opportunity to join European PPE scheme. Government’s own scientists say over half a million Brit’s could die if virus left unrestrained. Johnson tells country “We are very, very well prepared.”
March 3rd Scientists urge Government to advise public not to shake hands. Boris Johnson brags about shaking hands of Coronavirus patients.
March 4th Government stops providing daily updates on virus following a 70% spike in UK cases. They will later U-turn on this amid accusations they are withholding vital information.
March 5th Boris Johnson tells public to ‘wash their hands and business as usual’
March 7th Boris Johnson joins 82,000 people at Six Nations match.
March 9th After Ireland cancels St Patrick’s day parades, the government says there’s “No Rationale” for cancelling sporting events.
March 10th – 13th Cheltenham takes place, more than a quarter of a million people attend.
March 11th 3,000 Atletico Madrid fans fly to Liverpool.
March 12th Boris Johnson states banning events such as Cheltenham will have little effect. The Imperial College study finds the government’s plan is projected to kill half a million people.
March 13th The FA suspends the Premier League, citing an absence of Government guidance. Britain is invited to join European scheme for joint purchase of ventilators, and refuses. Boris Johnson lifts restrictions of those arriving from Coronavirus hot spots.
March 14th Government is still allowing mass gatherings, as Stereophonics play to 5,000 people in Cardiff.
March 16th Boris Johnson asks Britons not to go to pubs, but allows them to stay open. During a conference call, Johnson jokes that push to build new ventilators should be called ‘Operation Last Gasp’
March 19th Hospital patients with Coronavirus are returned to care homes in a bid to free up hospital space. What follows is a boom of virus cases in care homes.
March 20th The Government states that PPE shortage crisis is “Completely resolved” Less than two weeks later, the British Medical Association reports an acute shortage in PPE.
March 23rd UK goes into lockdown.
March 26th Boris Johnson is accused of putting ‘Brexit over Breathing’ by not joining EU ventilator scheme. The government then state they had not joined the scheme because they had ‘missed the email’
April 1st The Evening Standard publishes that just 0.17% of NHS staff have been tested for the virus.
April 3rd The UK death toll overtakes China.
April 5th 17.5 million Antibody tests, ordered by the government and described by Boris Johnson as a ‘game changer’ are found to be a failure.
April 7th Boris Johnson is moved to intensive care with Coronavirus.
April 16th Flights bring 15,000 people a day into the UK – without virus testing.
April 17th Health Secretary Matt Hancock says “I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and have PPE fall from the sky.” The UK has now missed four opportunities to join the EU’s PPE scheme.
April 21st The Government fails to reach its target of face masks for the NHS, as it is revealed manufactures offers of help were met with silence. Instead millions of pieces of PPE are being shipped from the UK to Europe.
April 23rd – 24th Government announces testing kits for 10 million key workers. Orders run out within minutes as only 5,000 are made available.
April 25th UK death toll from Coronavirus overtakes that of The Blitz.
April 30th Boris Johnson announces the UK has succeeded in avoiding a tragedy that had engulfed other parts of the world – At this point, The UK has the 3rd highest death toll in the world.
May 1st The Government announces it has reached its target of 100,000 tests – They haven’t conducted the tests, but posted the testing kits.
May 4th The number of NHS staff that have died from Coronavirus overtakes the number of British Military personnel that died during the Iraq War.
May 5th The UK death toll becomes the highest in Europe.
May 6th Boris Johnson announces the UK could start to lift lockdown restrictions by next week.