Johnson’s flag-waving optimism is harming Britain – and helping Covid | Rachel Shabi


The prime minister’s boosterism, rooted in Brexit, is the last thing the country needs

Just ahead of the first national lockdown in March last year, Boris Johnson said Britain could “send coronavirus packing” within 12 weeks. The claim seemed irresponsibly out of step with the scientific consensus even then, but it was only the start of a torrent of doggedly optimistic pandemic messages.

Last July, the prime minister told us that it might be almost over by Christmas. Before that there was the promise of a “world-beating” test and trace system. Then there was Operation Moonshot, which would deliver “literally millions” of rapid Covid-19 tests “on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved”. The announcement of a vaccine breakthrough late last year prompted him to hint at the possibility of normality being restored by Easter. And just days before Britain’s death toll from Covid-19 passed 100,000, his party was boasting on social media about the UK being number one in Europe and third in the world for administered vaccine doses – vaccines that, at one point, No 10 wanted emblazoned with the union flag. As though this were a competition between nations and not a collective global effort.

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