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Speed Read – (not the) end of the pandemic?

Most weeks, The Friday Speed Read is your news-bellwether – a term that in a surprising etymological quirk originates in sheep farming – i.e. the male sheep that wears the bell and thus leads the flock. We are your male sheep. And you’re welcome. 

So, it’s all over then? It’s now been more than two years since the first case of Covid-19 arrived in the UK; pretty soon it will be the second anniversary of the first UK lockdown; twenty-four months since I had a conversation with a very good friend / colleague that ran something along these lines:

JG          They’re saying that offices might close for two months. Two months. Imagine that.

JFC        I reckon it’ll be June at the earliest.

JG          June. Sheesh. Well, I hope you’re wrong.

JFC        So do I. Although I don’t think I am.

Well, she was wrong (a very rare occurrence it must be said) and well, you know what happened next. There’s going to be a twenty-five-part Netflix documentary commissioned at some point that tells the “real story of the Covid-19 pandemic”. And I won’t watch it.

Anyway, if you were expecting some sort of national event to mark the official end of the pandemic –  something in slow motion, scored by a Hip Hop remix of Elgar, in which people rush out into the streets or down flights of tear-stained concrete steps to underground nightclubs to kiss strangers with the abandon of the elated survivor; a bit like that photo from Times Square in 1945 in which a sailor is snogging a nurse but this time with amateur haircuts and ill-fitting clothes bought online – then you’re going to be disappointed.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister announced that the end of all legal Covid restrictions, including obligatory isolation, would likely arrive a month earlier than planned on the 24th of February. Thirteen days from now if you’re reading this thirteen days before this date. His tone was that of the victor. Yes, we will have to “live with the virus” but hey, why worry about that when we are citizens of the “freest country in Europe”?

What does science have to say about the announcement? Well, there’s a panoply of nuanced, informed and impeccably judged opinions with subtle differences in many areas but if you were asking for an easy-to-digest Friday soundbite it would be: “WHAT THE ACTUAL FLIP ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU TOTALLY INSANE?”

So yes, it’s fair to say that not everyone agrees that the government’s plan is entirely sensible.

That said, I’d be a cad and a bounder if I pretended that this new, post-but-not-really-post Covid era isn’t rather wonderful (actually, in many ways it’s not that wonderful but we’ll come on to that). Being back in the office is excellent. The thrill of walking to a colleague’s desk and asking them a question is a real one; no more emails, no more Teams. A hybrid working policy is sensible, progressive and is going to improve our quality of life (other opinions are, as ever, available). I went to an actual theatre last night and sat alongside actual people and watched some actual actors on an actual stage perform an actual play. I’ve not done that since pre-you-know-what and it was emotional and it was brilliant. The restaurants and pubs nearby were teeming, thronging, thrumming with life and laughter and it felt like the world was righting itself, that something recognisable had been returned to us, something profound and important and necessary, like the feeling when you wake up after a few days of being ill and you’re made dizzy by the sheer joy of feeling well again. Or cheese.

This is the life. And it’s intoxicating and addictive and everyone wants to believe it’s back for good. We pray that it might be. We’ve had patience . . . . (other random Take That references are available).

Finally on this subject, for now at least, it must be acknowledged that there are those that think all of this “end of Covid in the UK” stuff is just a giant distraction. The oft-quoted dead-cat strategy to make us forget that the current holder of the office of Prime Minister has an approval rating of “22%”. To put that in context, athlete’s foot has an approval rating of 24% and those lumpy floaters that you find in milk that’s ‘on the turn’ have an approval rating of 26%. Don’t ask me why; I’m just reporting the facts. He’s also being investigated by the police for all of those parties and well, we do still have the highest death rate from Covid in Europe. Draw your own conclusions. You already have.

As I look out of my window to see a blue sky yawning into life over the red-tiled roofs of my neighbours; as the arms of the weekend begin to beckon us all towards its plump and welcoming bosom, I am loathe to depress us all with the prospect of another damn war. I’ll be honest, I tried for a while to dismiss all the talk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine as just a lot of the usual hot air. Putin maybe a dictator (not his word) but he’s a canny one and we’ve seen enough of this kind of post-Cold-War, ex-superpower willy-waving before to perhaps dismiss it as posturing. But this time, chillingly, it feels different. Listen, I’m 900 words in and I want to talk about the Winter Olympics but I think being worried is an appropriate response.

And let’s not get started on soaring bills. Gas, electricity, food, petrol .  . . .. we’ll all be poorer before the year is out. And just as I was about to make a flippant joke about the soaring cost of Marmite I’ve managed to stop myself. Millions of people are going to be in serious financial trouble in the coming months; the line between getting-by and not is painfully, cruelly thin for so many and it’s upsetting to think that that line will be crossed in households all over the 5th richest country in the world.

Thank goodness for the Winter Olympics. And yes, we do have to set aside China’s human rights record, the environmental impact of all that fake snow, terrible food and, now, the failed drugs tests. BUT, seeing someone thunder down a mountain on a pair of skies in a figure-hugging one-piece at 120 km/h is a lot of fun. Plus, if all the cool kids from your school, the ones that did all the snogging and thought Nirvana’s best album was Bleach got together and invented a sport, this sport would be snowboarding. You wouldn’t be allowed to join In so you’d just stand back and watch in awe as these beautiful young things danced their airborne tricks; looped and twisted before perfectly returning to earth, then stole your girlfriend and got a kick-ass job at an ethical start-up. You’d hate them. While also loving them with every fibre of your baggy body.

Well done Adele for all the BRITS and everything. But here’s Wolf Alice – best group indeed.

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