By Francesca O’Mahony
There is something unsettlingly apocalyptic about gathering around a laptop at 5pm every day to watch the Prime Minister address the nation. What becomes more unsettling is watching this Prime Minister squirm in front of journalists, unable to answer the most basic questions regarding public health and security. I can safely say that nothing inspires less confidence in me than the underqualified, overprivileged incompetence that is Boris Johnson in the face of an exponentially worsening global pandemic.
Johnson is walking blindly. On Thursday, he assured the country that action more forceful than the polite suggestion to avoid social gatherings was unnecessary. Yet just twenty-four hours later, he announced the forced closure of pubs, restaurants, gyms and theatres. He claimed on Friday that the government could not be accused of underestimating this crisis, when only forty-eight hours before, he had urged the public not to be concerned. He is swinging like a pendulum and we are forced to follow in his wake; a leader without a plan on a road that seems to have no end.
Every day, these press conferences assert that the public are not to worry, that this is all under control. But what we need right now is worry. Worry that will turn to fear, and fear that will turn to action. Fear that will force people to stay inside, that will make people realise the gravity of what is happening and give the United Kingdom a chance of reducing the impact of this disease. This is an emergency and it is time that our government starts seeing it that way. “Keep Calm and Carry On” does not apply here, and Johnson cannot continue to pretend otherwise because things are about to get a whole lot worse. Italy is drowning and we are watching them, oblivious that we are teetering on the edge of the same cliff that they fell from just weeks ago.
This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty and the public is looking for a leader, not a Tory figurehead whose favourite talent is plucking long words from his Eton-Oxford thesaurus to throw at a problem, rather than outlining simple instructions for public safety. Boris Johnson has long been a caricature of his own ineptness, but this petulant child act of refusing to follow the necessary precautions that other countries are putting in place, is going to have consequences that none of us are exempt from.
The way that we are going, the tides will not be turning on this pandemic anytime soon. What will turn, I hope, is how people see Boris Johnson and his government. This isn’t Brexit. Johnson cannot retreat to his comfort zone, spewing empty promises and false figures in the face of a public crisis. It seems like any day now, “Let’s Get Coronavirus Done” will be plastered on the side of every bus; Johnson’s genius propaganda at work once again.
Last night, most public establishments closed indefinitely. But is that enough to flatten the curve of infection? Is that enough to save the NHS before it starts to crumble under the strain of Covid-19? Johnson has finally made a decision that may give the UK a chance at reducing the disaster of this outbreak, but only in the next few weeks will it become apparent whether any sense of urgency has reached the British public. The unbothered, not-to-worry brashness with which Johnson spoke to the nation yesterday, does not fill me with optimism.