• Charlie McVeigh

We Must Resist the Rule of Six

At least now the logic is becoming clear.

In mid-July, after an enlightened period of lock-down-loosening, messaging and policy began to darken again. Like an Old Testament prophet I have been rolling my eyes and demanding that my wife, friends – or anyone else who would listen – explain the reasoning behind the government’s covid-19 strategy. With the launch of the “rule of six” this week and the erratic decision-making behind quarantine, I believe we can now see into the dark heart of this cowardly, venal administration.

My logic is pretty simple. Back in March, Boris Johnson was confronted with an awful choice – kill the vulnerable or destroy the economy. Unfortunately, he did both and the UK ended up with one of the world’s highest death rates per capita and one of the steepest economic declines.

Now he is faced with another choice. Fess up and admit that his handling of the crisis has killed thousands and deprived many more of vital treatment for cancer and other much more serious diseases. Admit that our version of lock-down has widened social and economic inequality, cost millions of jobs and left a generation of young people without education.

Or, as is clearly the decision made – double down. Double down on the fear. Double down on the removal of our fundamental human rights. And double down on the destruction of the economy and potentially large swathes of our sector.

Oh, and let’s throw in a healthy dose of xenophobia by adding other countries with exponentially better performances at dealing with the virus to our quarantine list so that the already cowed UK populace will be persuaded that they have fared worse than us.

Consider Croatia, which has been on the quarantine list since 20 August. At the time of writing, Croatia has suffered 208 deaths, equivalent to 51 per million of population. The UK has reported 41,608 deaths or 615 per million. More than ten times as many.

All of this is against the backdrop of a virus that – in macro terms – is showing every sign of having run its course. In August, data shows that five times as many people died of flu as died of covid-19. While deaths from covid-19 are so low as to be statistically irrelevant, cancer rates and deaths are soaring.

Yes, a vastly increased testing regime is finding more cases. But these are not resulting in more hospitalisations or deaths. The UK’s top medical statistician, Carl Heneghan, has explained repeatedly and with growing frustration that the infection rate is falling in real terms and is certainly a small fraction of the real rate in March/April. So-called local lock-downs – the one in the north west suspended the fundamental rights of 4.5m people – are triggered by increases in infection rates, which are well inside the statistical margin for error.

So it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Boris Johnson is ratcheting up the fear and repression this autumn, in the hope a vaccine will become widely available by the end of the year and he can then declare victory over the disease and – amid the ruins of the economy and our children’s futures – secure his place as one of our great leaders and be re-elected by an even greater majority next time.

What does all of this mean for hospitality? Clearly, we are at the sharp end. While I am the first to admit that Mr Sunak has been extremely generous to food-led businesses (wet-led have been left on the naughty step) there is still plenty of opportunity to destroy the sector with the clunking strategy detailed above. I don’t need to repeat the threats of further local (and even national) lock-downs, curfews, and the closure of pubs and restaurants “to protect schools”. We are told that the new rule of six will be with us until Christmas – so there goes half of many companies’ profits right there.

Where is the protest against this dangerous idiocy? In my bubble, sector leaders and friends are universally enraged at the latest tightening of policy. Yet when asked to jump, the general answer is, can you be specific as to how high? More of us need to speak out and reframe the debate. And the press should be forcing the government to justify these self-serving policies that blithely remove hard-won freedoms. Instead, with thankfully a growing number of exceptions, the challenge is that the government is not going far enough.

Surely the time has come for a well-known personage to take the government on, Gina Miller-style. Step up Simon Dolan, the sceptical businessman, who is launching a legal challenge against the rule of six. He has already exceeded his £250,000 initial crowd-funding target on but I say that bunging in a surplus £50 can’t do any harm and might make some of us feel better. Let’s vocally support him and bring this madness to an end.

This column first appeared in Propel Premium


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