Coronavirus – shambles and gambles
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Our window cleaner, Mark, comes to the door. “How’s Steve?”,
my wife asks. Steve, who retired recently, was his partner. A Chelsea fan, so
as I’m a near lifelong supporter of Fulham, there was always a certain amount
of good-natured banter between us. “He’s fine”, says Mark, “Except he had his
travel all arranged for the year. He was going on a cruise, going to the
Canaries. All cancelled”.
I phone an old friend. We both feel the decision to slap a
blanket restriction on travel to Spain was ill-conceived. His elder son’s
theory is that after all the criticism of his early handling of the pandemic,
Boris just wants us to look stricter than the other Europeans. Maybe he can
also picture Nicola in the corner of his eye. Who knows?
“Do you have any indications of what might happen in
France?” he asks. He and his wife are planning to rent a place in the Loire
Valley in early September. They’ve both had fairly wretched years, health wise,
and could really do with the break. “I’ve already paid”, he tells me. “We’ll
probably go whatever happens.” It wouldn’t bother him if they had to self-isolate
on return and if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office invalidated his insurance,
well, because of pre-existing health conditions “they wanted so much money to
insure us I’m going to risk it and rely on EHIC (the European Health Insurance
Card).” He thinks a fair number of people will ignore restrictions. “They’ve
obeyed the rules, done everything they were asked to, but the one thing they
won’t put up with is mixed messages”.
He’s hit the nail on the head. First the Government imposes
a worldwide quarantine requirement that appears largely unnecessary. Next, for
reasons never adequately explained, it excludes Portugal from the list of
exemptions. Then the FCO announces a ban on all cruising. Do they mean to
include river cruises? What’s the difference between sailing up the Rhine on a
boat and watching one glide past from a hotel on the bank? And what business is
it of theirs if people cruise around Britain on ships departing from UK ports?
Ah no, they explain quickly. We meant just international, ocean going cruises.
Enter Grant Shapps’s Department for Transport. No, the FCO is wrong, cruises
from the UK through UK waters are included. You are forgiven if you feel
you need to read this paragraph again. Finally (or maybe not), on Sunday the
FCO excludes the Balearic and Canary Islands from its advice against all but
essential travel and the very next day it includes them. It all takes me back
to those Whitehall farces of my childhood – but at least those were a harmless
Mind you, at least one suggestion from the travel industry
side seems not to have been thought through. How about testing people on
arrival and only requiring them to self-isolate or be quarantined if they test
positive? Because, say the experts, you might not have it when you get here but
you might have it a couple of days later. “All right then, why not isolate them
for eight days, say, and test them again?” But if every country did that,
hardly anyone would holiday abroad, anywhere. Would you want to risk arriving
in Calais or Malaga, say, to be told that though you were asymptomatic, you had
the virus, and you had to spend your precious holiday time cooped up in a
hotel? Much better to do it at home.
What it all boils down to is how much risk you are prepared
to take to avoid draining all the fun from life’s bank account, which in my
case is already getting close to overdraft. I can’t even begin to give and
opinion on that. It’s for each individual to decide. All I can hope is that
after a life up ladders, Steve’s characteristic laugh is once again more
infectious on Mediterranean beaches than this damned Covid-19.
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