SARAH VINE: This crisis is about people, not numbers

SARAH VINE: Why can’t they see this crisis is about people, not numbers?

Unlike many of the epidemiologists and statisticians the pandemic has forced into our lives, I make no claim to being a scientist.

I don’t for one second pretend to know anything about the virus, and I can’t decipher a graph to save my life.

One thing I am, however, is a keen observer of human behaviour. And while I don’t feel qualified to question the scientific basis for the Government’s latest strategy in relation to curbing the spread of Covid-19, on a purely non-scientific level I am not entirely convinced these measures are the right way forward.

Not because they necessarily won’t work. But the problem, if Messrs Whitty and Vallance will forgive me, is that, almost a year in, Covid is no longer just about the science, or indeed the virus itself. It’s about something much more fundamental and infinitely more complex: human experience.

It’s about once-great institutions such as Rolls-Royce and British Airways, now on the verge of collapse (file image of a British Airways flight on May 4)

It’s about loneliness and isolation, hopelessness and worry. It’s about families torn apart, grandparents separated from grandchildren, birthday parties cancelled. It’s about the bereaved who never got to say goodbye and the lovers who were unable to tie the knot.

It’s about the empty cafes, the lost jobs, the closed restaurants, the growing forest of ‘for rent’ signs on our high streets.

It’s about once-great institutions such as Rolls-Royce and British Airways, now on the verge of collapse. It’s about cancelled hip operations, thousands of undiagnosed cancers, missed hospital appointments. It’s about not being able to see a dentist or a doctor, about children whose education has been derailed, graduates who face a future without employment.

In short, it’s about people, not numbers — and this, I fear, is where the Government is struggling. Because the role of politicians in all this is not just to find a way of keeping the virus at bay; it’s about how you do so in a way that also allows us to continue to function as individuals and families — and the country to function as a whole.

It’s about the empty cafes, the lost jobs, the closed restaurants, the growing forest of ‘for rent’ signs on our high streets

There is no question that the numbers, as presented to us, are stark — though there is a row going on over what are facts and what are predictions.

But it is the job of leaders not simply to be swayed by the maths, but by other, equally important, factors. In any war it is not only about the sheer number of weapons and manpower. It is also about strategy, wit and inventiveness.

Crucially, and perhaps just as importantly, it is about morale. And that, I worry, is where we are failing.

Everyone I speak to, everyone who emails me or writes, is at their wits’ end. And this matters because in situations of national crisis, you need to win over hearts and minds, to carry people with you in your mission impossible.

But that is not where we are. People look around and see the social and economic impact of lockdown, they see months of misery and uncertainty and no end in sight — and they begin to question whether the game is really worth the candle.

But the problem, if Messrs Whitty and Vallance (pictured) will forgive me, is that, almost a year in, Covid is no longer just about the science, or indeed the virus itself

They see ministers berating them and encouraging neighbours to snoop on each other and police to crack down — and they think to themselves: all this for something that kills far fewer people than cancer or stroke or diabetes, all this for a disease that, for the vast majority, is no more lethal than seasonal flu.

It seems to me we are moving from a situation where the country is broadly compliant with efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 to one where the measures are increasingly being viewed as draconian and also — in the wider context of the economy — not entirely explicable.

People are struggling to understand why this disease, which is undoubtedly terrible, is any worse than all the other blights we must learn to live with, and which in some cases — poverty, mental illness, crime — this one is contributing to.

These are, of course, highly emotive questions. None of which the current guidance seems to address. Scientific intelligence is vital; but you also need to deploy a degree of emotional intelligence. And that, to my mind, is what’s lacking. I hate to sound like a… well, a woman. But the current approach is just so awfully left-brained.

In short, it’s about people, not numbers — and this, I fear, is where the Government is struggling. Pictured: Chris Whitty at the Covid briefing on September 21

If we are to stand any kind of chance of getting through this intact, it’s going to require a paradigm shift from viewing the virus as an invading army that must be defeated at all costs, to one where we accept there is a price to be paid for keeping the home fires burning but that, ultimately, is better than reducing all to rubble.

The strongest argument against moving from a whole population approach to one that focuses on protecting the vulnerable has always been that it is too authoritarian. But how could asking the vulnerable to shield — and providing them with the financial and practical wherewithal to do so — possibly be more authoritarian than enlisting the help of the Army?

I say all this with a heavy heart, because I know — perhaps more than most — how hard the Government has been working, and I know how much it and its advisers have agonised over the current measures.

But there is only one way to defeat this thing and remain standing, and that is to be David to the virus’s Goliath — and remember that it is not always brute force that wins the day.

Sasha Swire, whose Diary Of An MP’s Wife has dominated headlines, complains in an interview that critics are failing to grasp ‘the integrity of the diary as a whole’. Hmm. I’m not sure ‘integrity’ is a word to which blabbermouth Lady Swire can lay a great deal of claim any more.

From songbird to Big Bird

Never mind all the controversy about the gorgeous Alesha Dixon’s choice of neck jewellery on Saturday night’s edition of Britain’s Got Talent; what I want to know is why she chose to turn up dressed as Big Bird from Sesame Street. I know she made her name as a songbird, but isn’t this look just a little bit, er, cheep? 

Never mind all the controversy about the gorgeous Alesha Dixon’s choice of neck jewellery on Saturday night’s edition of Britain’s Got Talent; what I want to know is why she chose to turn up dressed as Big Bird from Sesame Street

I know she made her name as a songbird, but isn’t this look just a little bit, er, cheep?

Reports suggest that Boris Johnson is ‘worried about money’ and struggling to get by on his prime ministerial salary of £150,000 a year.

Who knows?

But when you compare his remuneration with that of, say, a university vice chancellor (nearly half of whom earn more than £300,000 a year), or the country’s top Whitehall mandarins (1,560 of them on £100,000-plus), it does seem on the meagre side.

When you realise that the man responsible for the welfare of this country during the biggest crisis we have faced in peacetime is paid almost ten times less than someone whose job is to play records for a few hours a day — Radio 2 DJ Zoe Ball (annual BBC salary: £1,364,999) — it does make you wonder whether we have got our priorities quite right.

Covid has placed many restrictions on our civil liberties, but Hammersmith and Fulham council in West London is now instructing workers that ‘any part of a private dwelling used solely for work purposes will be required to be smoke-free’. As one councillor emailed me, ‘it almost makes me want to take up smoking a pipe’. 

President Trump threatens a clampdown on TikTok in America. Given the amount of furious rows in our house over that dreaded app, maybe his Nobel Peace Prize nomination is not so far off the mark after all… 

President Trump threatens a clampdown on TikTok in America

Yet another American academic has resigned after being caught out for faking their race.

Following the revelation a few weeks ago that Jessica Krug, a ‘black’ activist and professor of African Studies at George Washington University is, in fact, a white Jewish woman from Kansas City, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has now also resigned from her teaching job for passing herself off as black or Latino.

So much for white privilege.

Just call me Karen 

Forget dressing up as a zombie or a vampire this Halloween: the ghoul of choice for 2020 is the ‘Karen’.

A Karen, in case you don’t know, is a term of insult for a middle-aged woman who dares express a point of view.

Masks depicting angry hags frothing at the mouth are selling like hot cakes, along with the accompanying asymmetric blonde wigs, which are apparently the Karen trademark.

In the olden days, of course, we were just known as witches, which I suppose means we should be grateful that we’re not being burned at the stake. Still, every cloud has a silver lining: at least I won’t have to bother making a costume.

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