Back in February, the Chinese state appeared to be in trouble. A terrifying virus had infected thousands of people and the country’s social media exploded in anger against the authorities faster than Chinese censors could scrub away the critical comments. Like governments elsewhere, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) turned to the emergency analogy of choice, the second world war. Channelling Mao Zedong’s guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in the 1930s, state media declared that China was fighting a ‘people’s war’ against the virus.
China is now suffering only mild symptoms from the global pandemic. It is Europe that is stuck with the dreaded long Covid. The Chinese economy has rebounded and its exports are going through the roof, as it sells medical equipment to a world devastated by the pandemic it covered up. The virus originated in Wuhan, yet China has avoided much of the pain, despite how slow Beijing was to admit to the initial outbreak. But eurozone economies were a tenth smaller this spring than at the start of the year.
Even now, months after the event, Labour MPs have not forgiven Kemi Badenoch for saying that Britain is one of the best countries in the world in which to be black. It was during the Black Lives Matter protests and many politicians — including Sir Keir Starmer — were ‘taking the knee’ to show fealty to its cause. Badenoch took a different view, seeing within all this a pernicious ideology that portrays blackness as victimhood and whiteness as oppression.
The NHS Test, Trace and Isolate programme — which was meant to be one of our main weapons in the fight against a second Covid-19 peak — has not had a good few weeks. First, when schools went back last month, an inevitable rush for tests was not met with sufficient supply. It then emerged that 16,000 people who had tested positive had failed to be transferred to the tracing system. Not a great start.
Then, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), for long an advocate, quietly disowned the programme, saying it is having marginal impact.
The next time you settle down in the evening to enjoy the latest work by your favourite historian, treasure it, because it may be their last for a while. This is for the simple reason that historians are effectively being denied access to one of the most essential tools of their trade — the National Archives.
For many, this non-ministerial government department may just be an ugly slab of 1970s concrete that sits on the Thames in Kew, but it is actually nothing less than the nation’s memory — for it is here that millions of documents produced by the British state during the past thousand years are held.
When we were hit by Britain’s biggest crisis since the war, some people behaved like heroes, laying their lives down to fight coronavirus. Others made their excuses, put their feet up and had a good long six-month snooze.
My favourite Covid excuse came from Eurostar, which declared in August that, ‘As a result of coronavirus, we are only able to offer wifi in our Standard Premier and Business Premier carriages’. Wireless broadband was duly disabled in its standard-class coaches — until, besieged by complaints, the company conducted a full reverse--ferret operation and turned the wifi back on.
Late one evening in Yangon in Myanmar a few years ago, I noticed a grey Morris Minor van patrolling the streets. It had an old-fashioned double--ended trumpet loudspeaker on its roof blaring out an amplified voice. ‘What’s it saying?’ I asked my guide. ‘It tells the people “It’s late! Stop drinking and go to bed! You have a busy day tomorrow!”’
That’s the spirit. We should get some of that in London. ‘Stop eating! Get on your bike! Pedal faster!’ Why has Covid brought out a rash of virtuous bullying? I have lost count of the number of times that Radio 4 has asserted that this plague needs to create a better, more caring, more aware, lovelier human race.
Churchill was the first British prime minister to appoint a scientific adviser, as early as the 1940s. He had regular meetings with scientists such as Bernard Lovell, the father of radioastronomy, and loved talking with them. He promoted, with public funds research, telescopes and the laboratories where some of the most significant developments of the postwar period first came to light, from molecular genetics to crystallography using X-rays.
Thanks to a combination of night-time curfews, social-distancing rules, pubs closing, restaurants failing, the ‘rule of six’ and compulsory mask-wearing, that basic and necessary human need for people to meet for a drink has never been so difficult. Now, with the government’s new three-tier Covid strategy in place, anyone at any moment could find their local pub shut, their parties cancelled, and all forms of indoor mixing prohibited.