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Tom Kennedy's latest column for the Journal

 

Over the weekend I was unfortunately informed that I am a ‘close contact’ of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and will need to self-isolate for two weeks. For 14 days then, I will be unable to leave home, with ‘yard time’ (star jumps in our yard) being the only form of exercise allowed.

Over the weekend I was unfortunately informed that I am a ‘close contact’ of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and will need to self-isolate for two weeks. For 14 days then, I will be unable to leave home, with ‘yard time’ (star jumps in our yard) being the only form of exercise allowed.

While I am well aware of the long-standing problems with the current testing and Track & Trace systems, my own short experience was good. I was messaged within a day of my ‘close contact’ testing positive, what I needed to do was clearly explained and sources of help were made clear to me if I needed them. The suggestion that I could ‘socially distance at home’ was not entirely useful unless my partner and I cordon off the East and West wings of our Tyneside flat.

Compare and contrast then to the Government’s latest attempts to inform the public about the upcoming second national lockdown. The news that Lockdown 2 was on its way was first leaked to a select few media outlets on Friday evening. When would the lockdown come into force? It didn’t say. How strict would the measures be? It didn’t say. What income support would there be for workers and businesses? You guessed it, it didn’t say.

10 Downing St has since said that this was not an organised press briefing and was instead a leak from someone within Government, but the impact was essentially the same. People knowing that something is coming but not exactly what, leaving them worried and powerless to prepare.

The Prime Minister’s Saturday evening press conference was then delayed by a mere two and a half hours, just in case we hadn’t been waiting enough already, and some details were finally provided.

In the political satire ‘The Thick of It’, spin doctor Malcolm Tucker explains that the culture of political leaks is vital in the running of government and in ensuring that political parties can blow off steam. That may be fine when we are dealing with the internal workings of a political party, or when a minister has been found behaving badly, but this is a once in a lifetime event with the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people at risk.

Businesses and the public at large have perhaps never needed swift action and clear, precise communication more, and this weekend government failed to provide it.