Richard North, 20/03/2020  

In what has been described as a somewhat rambling performance yesterday, Johnson has excelled even himself in contradicting his own message to the plebs at large.

This was in his daily press conference where he opened the proceedings by declaring that everything was in hand with the Covid-19 epidemic, despite it having so far delivered 3,269 confirmed cases in the UK, up 603 from the day previously, with the body count now at 144.

"We can turn the tide in the next 12 weeks", he announced to his audience of journalists, "and I'm absolutely confident that we can send the coronavirus packing in this country".

This was the Johnson his fanboys know and love, the man who will cut through the doom and gloom, the man who in the best tradition of the Beano will grab this virus by the short and curlies and send it packing. Oh to be in England now that Johnson's here.

There was, of course, one minor snag. This was only going to happen if "we take the steps, we all take the steps that we have outlined and behind them when what we are asking everyone to do is so crucial for saving literally thousands of lives by defeating this virus".

I suppose he knew what he meant to say, but one can understand why his performance was described as "rambling". But that did not stop one of the journos present noting that the Dennis the Menace of politics was suggesting to the public that, if they follow the rules, he the great Johnson could "turn the tide on this disease".

"Are you telling people", the hack continued, seeking confirmation of this startling claim, that by the summer they might, they just might be able to go back to normal life, that they might even "be able to go on their summer holidays?"

At this stage, the prime minister was still in his can-do mode, borrowing from his Brexit rhetoric. "I'm very confident we'll get this thing done", he said, and without even having to promise to die in a ditch. There were plenty of other people about to do that for him now that, after his wasted weeks, patients were being turned away from a London hospital, following in the wake of Italy.

"I'm very confident that we'll beat coronavirus", Johnson repeated, heedless of the growing crisis. "I think we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks", he said. But, he was quick to remind us, "it depends on collective, resolute action".

There was no stopping this wave of optimism. The great man was encouraged to find that "the more disciplined" we could be in doing that, "the greater the chances that the scientific community will be able soon to come up with the fantastic results on testing, to say nothing of the other medical treatments".

This is from a man who can't even discipline his own hair, but at least he was able to tell the hackery that "testing" was "crucial to our success in defeating this virus". Now he tells us.

But it took a hack from his own fanboy gazette to tease any more out of him, and even under this gentle probing, his coherence fell apart. "What I want to do is to get on top of it", he roundly declared, notwithstanding his earlier determination that so many should die in order to achieve the nirvana of "herd immunity".

The only trouble is, he mused, "at the moment the disease is proceeding in a way that does not seem yet to be responding to our interventions". No shit Sherlock, one might have said, although no-one in the room articulated this out loud.

Nevertheless, this virus was going to be sent packing … wasn't it? Johnson certainly believed, or so he said, that "a combination of the measures that we're asking the public to take and better testing, scientific progress, will enable us to get on top of it within the next 12 weeks and turn the tide".

But then it all crumbled away to dust. "Now, I cannot stand here and tell you we will have by the end of June, er that we will be on the downward slope", he added, "It's possible", he tentatively advanced, "but I simply can't say that that's for certain. Of course, not".

And then came the admission: "We don't know where we are and we don't know how long this thing will go on for". But never fear. What the prime minister could say was that the epidemic was "going to be finite". As to turning the tide, well that's what tides do, so it was going to turn. Yet, all he could really offer was the promise that he could "see how to do it within the next 12 weeks".

So there we all are, saved at last. Weeks into the Covid-19 epidemic, Johnson has climbed up the learning curve and has now mastered the black art of sending this virus packing – as long as we all do what we're asked.

Across the Channel, though, there was another Great Leader – who was a tad less bombastic, none other than French president Emmanuel Macron. Visiting the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where researchers came up with a test for coronavirus and are working to develop treatments and a vaccine, he sombrely declared that no one knows how long the coronavirus crisis will last.

Also warning that defeating the virus "would likely require an overhaul of how Western economies function", he declared that no one was able to say "how long we'll have to keep this reduction of social contacts", or do we know "how many waves we're going to have and how the virus is going to behave and how we will absorb it".

But we didn't have to go across the Channel to find someone so downbeat. Earlier in the day, the two stooges – Whitty and Vallance - had given their own press conference, marked by the CMO admitting that a coronavirus "exit strategy"' might rely on a vaccine becoming available.

Whitty, however, stuck to his original script, confirming that his short-term aim was to delay and reduce the peak of the epidemic, then planning to reduce the "overshoot". This amounts to attempting to reduce the number of people who catch the illness.

For the long-term, a vaccine was "one way out of this", but a vaccine would not happen very quickly. Largely, he was still trying to finesse the case rate "to the point where we minimise the probability that at any point the whole system is overwhelmed by this". Then, globally, science would come to the rescue, helping us over time "to get to an optimal position".

Not one mention of 12 weeks was made, with Whitty conceding that it was "improbable" to think a vaccine would be available within six months, and nor was it realistic to expect to be able to get rid of the virus completely – so much for "sending it packing".

Thus did he say: "It is our judgement, and it is my judgement certainly, if you look around the world, the idea that we are going to put this virus back to going away completely, whilst not theoretically impossible, seems so improbable that basing scientific evidence on the theory that that is something we are trying to do seems to be a mistake". It is good to know, therefore, that Johnson's ambition is "not theoretically impossible", which is all this charlatan needs for an opening.

In the meantime, his diligent civil servants have been toiling away to produce a 329-page Coronavirus Bill which gives the government far more power than the Civil Contingencies Act, for longer, without the parliamentary scrutiny – for what that's worth.

In the name of sending this virus "packing", parliament is ceding power to the executive which far transcends anything to which Brussels could ever aspire. Johnson might not be getting coronavirus "done", but he's certainly dispensing with even the pretence of democracy for a while.

This is perhaps just as well for, while the government has nearly half of Britons supporting its policy, Johnson has effectively given himself 12 weeks to deliver a miracle. If he fails, his default end-of-the-pier-show act could turn into the end-of-Boris act. And that would come not a moment too soon.

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