Boris Johnson addressed the nation this evening to update the public on his government’s coronavirus strategy. After announcing the broad details of the new measures at the despatch box this lunchtime, tonight’s statement was focussed on justifying the new restrictions. The Prime Minister said that while there were no easy choices ahead, he was confident the country would succeed as they had done so in March — insisting the government had followed the scientific advice to the letter and as a result protected the NHS and saved thousands of lives.
As for why there are now issues, rather than mention difficulties on testing, he suggested that the ‘freedom loving’ nature of Britons had meant that not everyone had followed the guidelines. Johnson said that unless people changed their behaviour more people will lose loved ones before their time. Justifying the new package, he argued that the new restrictions — which include a curfew on pub opening hours and a change in working from home guidance — were necessary as alternative strategies being advocated do not stand up to scrutiny.
In what appeared to be a rebuke of figures in his own party calling for personal responsibility, Johnson said that individual actions would inevitably have an impact on the wider population. He argued that suggestions the vulnerable could simply shield were misguided as it was likely the virus would still reach these groups. Johnson singled out the minority breaking the rules, stating that they would face the consequences — he also re-iterated that the army could be called in to help in this aim. The PM also warned that disobedience would lead to tougher restrictions.
Johnson did attempt to hint at sunlit uplands. He said that hope could come in the spring when either a vaccine or mass testing may have arrived. However, tonight’s address will have done little to assure many of Johnson’s internal critics. ManyConservative MPs worry that the government is placing too much hope on a vaccine or the so-called ‘moonshot’ mass testing plans when they are far from guaranteed.
Johnson’s address was a clear indicator he sees no other realistic route out of the current situation. There are also some in the party who want the Prime Minister to show some contrition. After amassing one of the highest death tolls in Europe, they believe an admission of previous problems and the difficulties ahead is the best option. Neither group got their wish tonight.
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