Today, newspapers publish editorials that try to link Good Friday, the day on which Christians believe Christ died, and Easter Sunday, the day on which they believe he rose, to contemporary events. We join them. And there is only one subject in town.
Some are still unwilling to have it so, claiming that the Coronavirus is overblown and the lockdown unnecessary. They point out that some 28,000 people died of flu in 2013/14 – more than three times the number that have so far died of the virus. And that the total number of deaths will end up lower too.
This site has been campaigning for the Government to get a move on with drawing up its plans to end the shutdown. It also believes that there is nothing to stop Dominic Raab leading them, driving them forward and giving them strategic shape.
But those who argue that the Coronavirus isn’t a serious problem and that the lockdown was completely unnecessary have more brains than sense. To do so is to misremember recent history – and show emotional illiteracy into the bargain.
First, history. The virus was reported on our newslinks for the first time on February 24, and had already been well-covered elsewhere by general news-orientated outlets. By February 28, China’s economy was in shutdown. When it sneezes, the rest of the world’s economy catches a cold, or rather the virus. So it was to prove in this case.
February 29 saw news of stock markets plunging. The Financial Times reported the worst week for U.S stocks since the crash. Markets often go up very soon after having gone down, but investors and businesses correctly read the general direction: downwards.
These markets are above all a signalling service – a kind of daily doctor’s report, if you like, about the conditions and prospects of economies worldwide. And though the doctor may get it wrong, he is still the doctor: in this case, there are no alternatives.
Major market sell-offs are followed by a kind of reverse multiplier. Businesses stop investing, make savings, lay off staff. The sacked workers stop spending. Which in turn means fewer sales. That means lower profits and more dismissals elsewhere. This is what happened here and elsewhere. The world economy seized up.
Which is why such well-known socialists as John Redwood, Ryan Bourne of this parish, Allister Heath and this site argued that Britain was undergoing a heart attack. The circumstances were unlike anything in our experience – even wartime. The economy needed emergency surgery.
The Budget followed on March 11. March 17 saw Rishi Sunak’s second economic package. And March 20 his third. These all took place before Boris Johnson’s famous broadcast announcing the lockdown on March 23. The first two happened before cafes, pubs and restaurants were told to shut.
It can be maintained that the lockdown was the greater of two evils. But it can’t seriously be claimed that the economic plunge didn’t happen anyway; that the Chancellor’s big announcements came before the shutdown, not after, and that the choice was never, ever between lockdown and carrying on as usual.
In reality, it was between the formal lockdown we’ve had and the informal one we would have had – with workers social distancing and self-isolating anyway. Yes, fewer would have done so. Which would have had the effect of prolonging and intensifying the surge of people seeking help at hospitals.
Which takes us from history to politics. In a purely rational world, it could well be that the lesser of two evils would indeed be to let “people [die] in their beds alone at home, some of dehydration and starvation alongside their pneumonia, with no palliative care of any kind”, as Sam Bowman has put it.
But such a world does not exist, thank goodness. And public opinion would not have tolerated such scenes – accompanied by harrowing footage, avidly recorded by the traditional media and amplified on social media, of people being turned away from A & E departments and choking to death in hospital car parks.
Boris Johnson would have returned from St Thomas’ to find himself out on his ear sooner rather than later. Instead, there are grounds for hope this morning. And his continuing journey out of intensive care, God willing, can become a metaphor for the country’s own revival.
Easter is about resurrection, not recovery. Christians believe that no man other than Jesus of Nazareth has risen from the dead. Even Lazarus, whose sensational story is told in John’s gospel, was resuscitated – not resurrected. Johnson, thank goodness, is alive and reviving. But the biblical cry may still be appropriate: “Boris, come forth!”
We want the Prime Minister back in the saddle, and yearn for his return to action. Nonetheless, a wait is in our interest as well as his: he needs to rest, and getting back to full strength will take weeks rather than days. Until then, Raab is in charge – and should drive forward the end of lockdown preparations.
A Johnson cameo outside Downing Street when he returns from hospital seems to us to be in order. Ken Clarke once said that “any enemy of John Major’s is an enemy of mine”. The Prime Minister might find a less blunt way of saying the same of Raab – and emphasise that the First Secretary of State is acting with his full authority.
In the meantime, we wait for Good Friday to yield to Easter Sunday. It may be comforting to know that at least those who died of the virus in hospital are not doing so, we hope and trust, in pain. And it’s worth remembering that of course most of those who get it won’t die, or even have to make the journey to A & E.
None the less, there it is terrible to think of some of the victims of the virus dying in a hospital ward without their family or friends to comfort them. Even Jesus of Nazareth, the man that the Church holds was God himself, wasn’t alone at the last. His disciples had run away, but his mother and a thief stood by him.