The Wokingham Paper

TONY JOHNSON: Lockdown easing proves nothing like the tabloid descriptions suggested

Samsung smartphone
Picture: Pexels from Pixabay

his was the week that saw the last of the “Stay Home – Save Lives” briefings and the first of the “Stay Alert – Save Lives” ones.

It was a week in which a comparison of backlogged ONS figures indicated that the Covid-19 death toll in eight weeks had exceeded that of the Blitz in eight months.

It was a week in which tabloids put as much effort on May 7th’s front pages into publicising a woman’s slimming success as they did into describing how the UK would lift the lockdown after 30,000+ had died.

And it was a pivotal week in politics which saw the slide deck replacing the command deck.

Following the Science

On Sunday morning one of the country’s top statisticians, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, was interviewed on TV.

Apparently government ministers had been mis-quoting his article in the Guardian, but when the misuse extended to PM’s question time, he asked in a “polite request to the PM and others: please stop using my Guardian article to claim we cannot make any international comparisons”. 

He went to say that he should have worded the article much more clearly; that while it was a fatuous exercise to use the statistics as a league table, there was a significant difference between high fatality countries like the UK, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and countries like Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway with low fatality rates. 

He emphasised that the significant difference between the fatality rates is worth investigating.

Asked about the quality of the statistics in the daily briefings he closed by sayingI watched yesterday’s and frankly I found it completely embarrassing”  before comparing them to “number theatre” which “seems to be being scripted by a Number 10 communications team”, instead of the audience being treated with some respect.

Boris baffles brains

Sunday evening’s address to the nation should have marked the point at which a bright eyed and bushy tailed (ok – bushy haired then) Prime Minister talked with confidence about the plan to turn things around and begin the process of releasing the nation from lockdown.

As the speech rambled on with conditional statement after conditional statement, the fists on the desk getting tighter and tighter, it became harder and harder to understand what the plan actually was. 

That the leaders of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland assemblies then declared for the old policy to continue, shows just how divided the nation’s politics are.

In giving an update to Parliament on the Covid-19 strategy on Monday – not normally a day for questioning the PM – the Speaker allowed the PM some extra time for his high speed description of the plan. Judging from the fusillade of difficult questions that followed it remained “sorry Boris, no cigar”.

Only on the third attempt – at a daily briefing delayed to 7pm did matters become clearer as it emerged that “Stay Alert” was made up of six separate things, that there’s five Covid Alert Levels and as one of the four slides showed, lifting the lockdown had three steps.

Nothing like the tabloid descriptions from May 7th.

Arise Sir Keir

If the government making a complete bog of lifting the lockdown wasn’t surprising enough, the fact that this week a Labour leader made the front page of the Daily Telegraph (aka the Daily Torygraph) without being vilified came as a total shock to some – and over their breakfasts too.

In his letter to the paper, he said that “we owe it to [the] VE Day generation to protect them from coronavirus in care homes” and while the front page was accompanied by a stirring photo of WWII veteran Doug Farrington (aged 94) saluting from his front room window in Oldham, the content of Sir Keir’s letter made a number of telling points.

“we must make sure our vision for the future matches the ambitions of the post-war generation. After coronavirus, we cannot return to business as usual or continue as though nothing has changed”

“The crisis in our care homes has gone on for too long and we must do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable”

“It means having the courage to tackle the injustices that have existed in our society for too long”

He appears to have put into practice what he’s talked of in public, namely supporting the government during a difficult time, but holding that government to account as any loyal opposition should.

In living memory he’s one of a very few opposition leaders who’ve talked quietly and reasonably about doing this, then getting on with it.

Covid Debates Locally

Two local discussions on politics were brought to my attention this week – both in the “We Are Wokingham” social media group – which with ~15,000 members is the second largest in the Borough.

One started early in the morning and covered the subject of the rate of deaths per Million people, comparing the UK with other countries in and around Europe.

Among the topics the discussion covered: the use and ab-use of statistics, people’s understanding and grasp of the numbers; a challenge as to who should pose the questions to ministers at daily briefings, whether better by journalists or by members of the public; the difficult question as to how each death was (or wasn’t) related to Covid-19; and the self-control as well as the public control exercised in people being admitted into to hospital.

The other started in the evening of the same day and covered the way in which our Government (and others) have handled and responded to the pandemic.

Among the topics the discussion covered: the lockdown and whether it should be maintained; the number of deaths and the possible causes; the advice as well as the use of gloves and masks; the huge shift in public sentiment since February, along with the wisdom that comes with hindsight; concerns that when furloughs end, so will the jobs; individual behaviour – both before and after lockdown – not just governmental behaviour; and the sensitive topic of dying of / from Covid-19, dying with Covid-19 or dying collaterally because of Covid-19;

The two discussions had many things in common – both were long, running over several days, informed as well as informing, and pretty much non-partisan and not overheated.

Borough ‘In Briefs’

Wokingham Borough Council’s social media channel has continued to publish information and guides on giving and receiving help during the pandemic. Here’s a quick look at what they said last week.

May 4thVirtual cuppa for carersMore than £30M passed on to support businesses

Thank you to our waste teamsHealth visitors are here to help
May 5thReduce your waste during lockdownWant a job which can make a difference ?

Business grants update
May 6thFacebook live Q&AWhat would you like to hear from us?

Thank you to … Rachel Dawes, Lisa Shackleford, Saima Aziz, Dianne Smith
May 7thThank you key workersBe Understanding

Pharmacies open this Bank Holiday
May 8thStaff support COVID-19 response – Kelly WithersHealth Visiting Service
May 9thWokingham Borough Community ResponseDonation drop off points
May 10thWhy not join the library online ?Hiring now !

With a sum total of 383 Likes, Comments and Sharings, Thank you to our waste teams edged out Be Understanding (359). The next posting Reduce your waste during lockdown (43) was followed by Wokingham Borough Community Response (42).

It was very clear from the comments that residents are very pleased that waste collections have continued throughout the pandemic, but there’s significant dissatisfaction that the waste tips haven’t been open.

“Be Understanding” was a simple two word message, appreciated as much for the fabulous photo of a rainbow at one of Dinton Pastures’ lakes.

In Memoriam

American poet Michael McClure died this week and it was Janis Joplin who sang his poem to fame, prefacing her recording with  “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import … it goes like this”.

So to all those still using the 20th century’s most popular handset (it was the Nokia 3210 in 1999 that doesn’t have the technology to run the NHS’s test, track & trace App that’s undergoing beta testing on the Isle of Wight) here’s a tribute with slightly less import …

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a new mobile phone?
My friends all have Apples, I’m all on my own
Tell me who’s got Covid, I need to be shown
So Lord, won’t you buy me a new mobile phone?

Oh Lord, can’t you find me a new place to work?
From furlough to firing, it’s drove me berserk
Worked hard all my lifetime on low pay, no shirk
So Lord, can’t you find me a new place to work?

Oh Lord can’t you send me the full PPE
Face mask that filters to FFP3
I can’t go out working, unless you agree
Dear Lord can’t you send me some full PPE


Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a new mobile phone?
My friends changed to Samsungs, I’m all on my own
I want some more livin’, before I’m laid prone
So Lord, won’t you buy me a new mobile phone?

Michael McClure, Oct 20th, 1932 – May 4th, 2020 What the Neighbours said

Although they weren’t quite sure about them, my neighbours kindly emailed this understanding of the six rules in licking the loftdown:

  • Those who want to work can do so at home, except if you live in another country.
  • All schools must stay shut except the ones that are open, unless they’ve got PPE in which case the nit lady will call in to wash their hair.
  • Anyone who’s had Covid-19 must wear a face mask if it keeps the I-rate down.
  • If you can’t come into the UK by air, then you must use public transport.
  • Everyone going to the park will be quarantined for 14 days, unless Wales and Scotland go to the border crossings for tests.
  • When the bells toll, everyone can go to the pub, but unless you drive you’ll be arrested.

Excepting ‘wat de buren zeiden’, that was week eight of the lockdown – that was.

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