Spinning doctors

Lord Salisbury comes to mind:

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.

The partial opening-up this morning is celebrated in all quarters, except by a handful of high-up doctors and of non-teaching teachers. There are voices still piping up, demanding a halt to the liberating progress to end the lockdown. The practical end of the epidemic is a tribute to the medical profession, but it also means an end to their unaccustomed power.

Never before have doctors been able to command instant attention, and never before have a well-placed set of medics been able to control every movement, our rising up, our going forth and our laying us down again, of the whole population. Now ‘doctor’s orders’ sounds sinister. Telling an individual to have more sleep, take more exercise and avoid chocolate is about the best a doctor can hope for in normal days, and then with little hope of his obedience. Now though in the right place a word from a doctor may command a whole nation, and command policemen to seize those who do not obey doctor’s orders. It must be glorious.

Also, in a publicity hungry culture, doctors alone have to be silent about their good work (unless one can convince a local newspaper that he is worthy to be a pillar of society and a column in the Gazette). Now, a single doctor with a scientific version of ‘The End of the World is Nigh’ can command a rapt audience.

It is just a handful. Most doctors have been working silently, making the nation better, which is what they do well (if their receptionist lets anyone in to be cured), receiving the due thanks of those they heal. It is the handful though who make the noise and steer the ship of state off course.

All that is coming to an end. We will be well again, and doctors must subside to the normal, hidden layer (where most have resided diligently throughout). They must also go back to work. Their Cerberus-like receptionists too will have to buckle down and let patients through the door at last. They will hate it.

We can be cynical about the hold-out doctors, still saying it is unsafe, hazardous, murderous to return to normal. Lord Salisbury had their measure. They are to be ignored.

That perhaps our greatest of Conservative Prime Ministers has an appropriate quote tells us that things have not changed, deep down, from his day. I may have to theme more posts on his aphorisms.

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Half a cheer for vaccine passports

I could write to curse the idea as discriminatory and a shackle of servitude; or I could praise vaccine passports as a route to freedom. I could instead say both, but do not let the government machine anywhere near them. There is a better way.

It has been said by many commentators that a vaccine passport scheme would be divisive and discriminatory. It would indeed treat people who have not had the jab differently from those who have, but that is not much of an objection: if it liberates millions, let them be liberated. Some people have eyesight too bad to let them drive, but we do not ban cars for everyone in the name of equality. If a scheme reopens businesses on the brink of bankruptcy, let us do everything to let them reopen.

Those who are immune are at no risk and are no danger to anyone. At the beginning of this epidemic, I pleaded for those who had been through the disease to be given their freedom back – and not just for themselves but to let the economy come back on line. Those ‘immunity passports’ were discussed but it came to naught. Now the epidemic is practically over in the United Kingdom, because of the immunisation programme, and new infections from Europe and America will hit that wall of herd immunity. We should be fully opening soon.

Even so, the fear is still there, of crowded venues, hot with breath in our faces, the few yet diseased spreading to those still vulnerable, who cannot escape. The trains into London are still emptied by fear and no one will sit next to anyone else – they stand, in half-empty carriages. What will they be like in pubs and cinemas?

If customers are to have confidence to return and spend money in pubs, clubs and theatres, they want assurance. These are the vaccine passports.

The pubs and venues are the ones who need a scheme to keep their customers safe; not the government. Nothing the government does depends on it. However in this emergency the government has taken control of every aspect of life, and death. They feel responsible and the legion of advisers (if they were more honest) enjoy the power. The politicians, bureaucrats and newly empowered doctors now need to step back. It is not their fight. The government’s job in this is to take their hands off and open us up as fast as possible. If they demand that pubs be closed to those still at risk, let the pubs determine the question. They will do it better.

If the Civil Service get hold of a vaccine passport system, they will mire it in bureaucracy, and give a lucrative monopoly to a company with the slickest PR department. That company then has a financial interest in making it as complicated and expensive as possible and of staving off the end of lockdown, without actually achieving the objective. The lockdown has been manna from heaven for leech companies. The American government, remember, spent an eye-watering $1 billion on a probe, and it got to Mars; the British government spent eleven times the amount on Track and Trace and it didn’t get off the ground.

The pubs however know what they need to get customers through the door. It does not need a nationwide, intrusive database, it does not need to follow you round the country and it does not need a heavy, laminated and bound document set to last years: the longest it would ever be needed is a couple of months until the last of the lockdown is sloughed off. It just needs a simple card with a bar code or QR code for the user’s name and likeness and confirmation that they have had the jab, certified by the existing database. A single, spotty geek fresh out of an IT course could programme that, and for barely more than the cost of a pint. Breweries and theatres and airlines could do their own or join together for one they can all accept. All there is to say to Matt Hancock is ‘get away and stay away’.

Some dangers with vaccination passports have been well rehearsed. For me, the worst are twofold. The first is that the government will take ownership of the scheme and effectively persecute those who (for whatever reason) will not have the vaccination. The second is more sinister: that if the scheme is successful, allowing the vaccinated to crowd into sports grounds, pubs and theatres, that may be an excuse to prolong the lockdown for the rest. Indeed if a really expensive, bureaucratic scheme were adopted, the lockdown would have to be extended just to justify the expense and effort.

Overall – no – Matt Hancock’s Department must not even contemplate a vaccine passport scheme. However if the venues want one, as well they might, they will do it far better than a bureaucracy ever could.

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Propitiating the divine NHS

A long shop window in the high street of a prosperous town; more than just a hairdresser but a ‘salon’ with shelves shining with new unguents for the discerning lady; and all closed and dark. The window shows across its whole width a rainbow and a line of praise to the NHS as to a divinity.

The rent must still be paid, and the rates, but there is no income from which to pay them as the salon is closed in the name of health, which brooks no logic, no moderation, and demands that Hygieia receive unquestioning devotion. Though driven to possible bankruptcy by this cult, the desperate shop-owner expends lavishly on a huge plastic banner proclaiming her own devotion.

It is reminiscent of finding a ruined Roman house with a clay tablet cast in a final precatio, an address in devotional, loving terms to the gods the householder believed were destroying him.

Someone is making a fortune with these slick, professional banners. (Good luck to them – at least someone is still making money.)

Nigel Lawson wisely observed that the NHS is ‘the closest thing the English people have to a religion’, and the truth of that has been amply demonstrated over this long epidemic. In past years the NHS had been seen to replace the church (an unreformed church desperately needing a Cranmer). The messages of the rainbows suggests it has gone further, in an apotheosis by which the National Health Service has been deified, such that to it are addressed the praises and supplications of its supplicants.

The NHS and all its works are now praised even more for their miraculous achievement of the vaccines; but these were not developed by the NHS – the NHS would be incapable of doing such a thing, but will passively accrue the credit for this feat.

As the lockdown is lifted, some shops will stagger to their feet. Others will simply shut and walk away, leaving a hole in the high street and employees at the dole office (being paid from your pocket and mine). In the wreckage there may be some sensible shaking down of opinions, but that is unlikely. If the failures of this last year are examined by cool heads, any attempt at a Reformation will be met by the fury of the devotees of the deified NHS.

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Leaving Verbier

Climb every mountain – the lovely scene at the end of The Sound of Music where the family hike over the Alps in the sunshine to Switzerland to evade the Nazis – it’s much less romantic to do it in a Volvo at midnight. Alas, these things are forced on one.

With the old home hearths barred to us by Nicola, one has to spend Christmas away in a salle à manger in a resort in Valais. I told the family it would be just like Aviemore but with reliable snow, and a few more zeroes added to every price. Also Verbier has that one thing which I consider essential for a skiing holiday: a hospital at the bottom of the slopes.

However it was to come to an end: we were not exactly invaded by Nazis, but health officials do their best to imitate the attitude, and all in the resort were told we were in quarantine. Forced to stay closeted in a luxury apartment overlooking breathtaking, glistening mountains, surviving on scraps from the restaurants and wine cellars: this was too much to bear. We are after all Britons, whatever Nicola might say, and an escape committee swiftly convened in the bar, and swung into action as night fell. As the local saying has it; “Chacun pour lui-même“.

It is all nonsense: I am not infected. If I did not get the disease at the coronavirus party we held in the spring, I am not going to get it now, am I?

The idea seized me of taking to skis, a high lang-lauf up the mountain and over into French Savoy, but it just would not do with the luggage. It might have worked for the von Trapp family, but they only had to walk for a few minutes before the credits rolled. (Although that does make me suspicious; I am familiar with the Salzburg region and it is about two hundred miles from the Swiss border; if they had actually crossed the mountain above their villa they would not have ended up in the cantons, but would find themselves having tea with Adolf in Berchtesgaden. It is almost as if Rodgers and Hammerstein had not studied a map beforehand.)

The hotel manager was terribly shocked to receive our call from Vallorcine in the morning, mainly because we asked for a refund. He had tipped us all off, so what did he expect? I gather that he knew nothing until his concièrges found all the rooms empty in the morning.

We never did get our money back – terms and conditions and criminal conduct and all that – most upsetting. His establishment is not getting any more custom from us, not until next year at any rate.

I fail to see what the Swiss authorities are complaining about: they didn’t want British people wandering about in their country spreading our ambitious new strain of “the disease”, and now we are not in their country at all. Oftentimes bureaucrats fail to realise they have won, just because the wrong box has been ticked.

Now our only problem is getting out of France, and I do not care to travel as most do, hanging onto a leaking rubber dinghy or clinging to the bottom of a Eurostar.

Deeper into communal panic

It’s beginning to look, er, not like Christmas. The apparent overwhelming support for Tier 4 restrictions is not shared by shopkeepers, pub landlords, cinema and theatre managers, or any businesses dependent on them: all those struggling to pay the rent and rates and staff wages and national insurance with no income. Now it has got worse.

The worldwide perspective is hard to grasp. There must be a worldwide view, and we do hear stories of mismanagement and government cruelty from Victoria, American states and from foreign lands too, but this plague has driven us inward, out of the wider world, out of society, to see only that which at our own front door. There is a global perspective, but now I just want to know if I can take a Christmas cake to my mother. It is hard even to consider the grim actions of the Welsh devolved government, because it is just over the horizon and fewer of the family are caught in it.

The nation sighed and accepted the first COVID-19 lockdown when we saw bodies piled up in the hospitals of Italy, and Professor Fergusson declared that it would scythe down a quarter of a million, and on the assurance that it would last just until the spring warmed up. It was nonsense; all nonsense. The disease is cruel to some, deadly to some, unnoticed in most. Its cruellest aspect is the relentless logic of the lockdown. It drives public policy to its own reductio ad absurdum.

A lockdown seems to slow the spread, but not to eliminate it. Now the virus has adapted by natural selection to spread more effectively, adapting itself to the lockdown. All the while the statisticians keep their eyes on the R-number, the reinfection rate, forgetting what it means in practice, which is that the epidemic continues, and will continue, which will justify (in their eyes) keeping in place the restrictions on freedom which are making it continue.

Now we have new restrictions, in the main commercial regions of Britain, and in Wales, based on blind statistics, and thus the epidemic continues.

If the lockdown slows it, that just means that the epidemic continues for longer: if it had ripped through the population it might be over by now. Even in the Middle Ages, in days when communication was at walking pace, the first Black Death epidemic was over and done in two years: we have managed to extend the COVID-19 epidemic so it could rival it in length.

We must still eat, and must still work to create value, which is the essence of man in active society. Faced with unworkable rules, the only thing to do is not just to find the limits of the new rules but to scrape them, to tread along the edge. We must ignore the restrictions as far as possible: it is your social, patriotic duty.

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