Pretty straightforward really. UK bet the farm on vaccines. EU didn’t. And the mish-mash of reactions sur le continong left everyone floundering. All part of the new normal. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it’s of a piece with laws now extended for another six months that say we can’t go abroad or kiss our grannies.
Probably won’t come to that, as no one can seriously dispute the success of the British inoculation programme. We can almost feel shackles loosening.
Will we need a certificate to buy a pint? When will we be able to jet to the sun? If so, where? And will Brussels hamper our jab supplies?
Shouty headlines, but ultimately just details. Next to two overarching and conflicting realities.
We almost certainly shall get back our basic freedoms in coming weeks and months.
But we’ll need to watch our backs, possibly for years to come. Thanks to the stark contrast between the picture at home, and abroad.
While major European countries are braced for another surge, the number of Covid patients in England’s hospitals is set to halve over the next fortnight, with deaths on course to fall to fewer than twenty a day.
That figure coincides with a major US trial that showed the AstraZeneca shot cuts to zero deaths and serious side effects in every age group.
The hint’s already been taken. More than four in five people unsure last December about inoculation had changed their minds by February.
This according to a study by Dr Parth Patel of University College London, who made no bones about what he made of it:
‘We were really sort of taken aback by the sort of the magnitude of the shift.’
Not that he was complaining, mind.
Trick is, to keep up the good work. And to keep at bay variants, from either side of the channel, that have a nasty knack of sneaking into circulation.
Which is why, come the autumn, the health service is planning booster jabs alongside flu vaccinations. Yet another dose of new normal.
Calls to mind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign song.
‘Happy days are here again, the skies above are clearer again. So let’s sing a song of cheer again, happy days are here again.’
Up to a point, Lord Copper? Having just passed the first lockdown’s first anniversary we might be wondering how bad it’s really been.
Research by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos Mori has come up with some surprising findings.
Seems one in five people see their lives as having actually improved since last March, leaving them more content.
While more than half say they will miss some aspects of the shutdown.
And, believe it or not, nearly a quarter believe their finances are in better shape than they would have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened.
There’s also a significant minority who say their mental and physical health took a turn for the better.
The picture’s not dissimilar in mainland Europe.
Meike Bartels, professor of genetics and wellbeing at the Free University of Amsterdam, draws her own conclusions from the figures she unearthed.
The pandemic may have simplified many ‘stressed, busy, complicated’ routines. And some adults realised ‘they didn’t live the life they liked’.
Given the widespread and hideous grief others have suffered, it’s no surprise that many of those with a smile on their face felt guilty about it.
But Cambridge Uni social science prof Brendan Burchell thought it worth finding out who they are, and what’s cheered them up.
Seems it’s about being let off doing things they found unfulfilling, repetitive and dull.
The anthropologist David Graeber’s even written a book on the subject, gracefully entitled ‘Bullshit Jobs’.
Clue’s in the name. He argued half of modern work is psychologically destructive because it does nothing beneficial for society.
Certainly, among the new optimists are many who’ve been seen to be doing their bit for everyone.
Farmers, for feeding the nation. Posties, for keeping us connected. Supermarket employees, now recognised as key workers. Likewise care home staff, and hospital porters.
Every little helps, as the saying goes.
And the elusive artist Banksy captured the thought with an image entitled ‘Game Changer’.
It depicts depicts a young boy playing with a superhero doll with a difference. A masked nurse wearing a cape.
Batman and Spiderman? They’re in the bin.
The picture’s just been sold at Christie’s for a record sixteen-point-eight million pounds, which will go to health organisations and charities.
The auctioneer’s spokeswoman Katharine Arnold said: ‘Banksy is an extraordinary artist .. a constant barometer of nationwide sentiment.’
But the pollsters’ findings won’t do much for the chancellor’s sense of wellbeing, as he tries to coax folk back to their offices.
Seems most of them have adjusted well to working from home. And decided egg cups are the way forward, while handbags are so last year.
Honestly. Pictures of picnics, stone cottages and daisy chains are scoring more highly on social media than Prada or Gucci.
And people are putting their money where their mouths are.
Twenty and thirty-somethings are heading for the countryside in droves. With a third of first-timers buying outside cities.
Keeping an eye perhaps on the wellbeing of the rail network and city centre eateries, the Treasury’s talking up the upsides of office working.
Face-to-face contact, team spirit, groupthink productivity enhancement, that kind of thing.
But the research results were clear-cut. A bare fourteen per cent of those asked wanted to go back to their offices full-time.
Governments can get away with telling people what to do during a public health emergency. In normal times it ain’t so easy.
Which suggests the new way may be a middle way.
Politicians in New Zealand and Japan are already considering a four-day working week.
Even the investment bank Goldman Sachs is telling its young analysts complaining about their ninety-five hour week to take Saturdays off.
You couldn’t make that bit up. Then again, we do live in strange times.
John Ratcliffe, America’s former Director of National Intelligence, says there are a lot more UFO’s kicking around than we realise.
‘When we talk about sightings, we are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots,’ he adds.
And they’re doing weird things Like breaking the sound barrier without sonic booms. Or zapping around in ways we couldn’t even dream of.
Former senator Harry Reid also reckons info released over the years by the Pentagon ‘only scratches the surface’ of what it knows.
So the Yanks are on the lookout. Last year alone they spotted getting on for seven thousand of the critters up there.
Let’s hope the alien spacecraft aren’t driven by scary orange monsters with mouths like dogs’ bottoms, and combover hairstyles …
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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