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Boris Johnson’s Covid roadmap must not repeat the prime minister’s past mistakes

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It is a sign of our times that the only live theatre currently available is that staged by politicians. Boris Johnson will tomorrow unveil his “roadmap” for easing out of coronavirus restrictions, a moment that is being fanfared as a big, dramatic event. The journey planner will be shown to the cabinet on Monday morning and then presented to the Commons before a prime ministerial news conference in the evening.

I can’t tell you exactly what will be in the document, because it is still being wrangled over within government as I write. At this juncture of the crisis, as at every similar one, cabinet ministers are making last-minute special pleas to have the plan amended to advance one client group or another up the list of priority areas for coming out of restrictions. My conversations suggest that the plan is likely to be heavily hedged and highly tentative. The title “roadmap” will invest it with more solidity than it will truly possess. Anyone yearning to know when precisely they will be permitted to go to the pub, visit the cinema or holiday abroad will be disappointed.

Let us hope so, anyway. It will be time to be alarmed if the prime minister breezily flourishes a roadmap that is dangerously confident about when all of the lockdown will be lifted. He has taken that hairy highway before by racing to ease restrictions only to put the country in a ditch of surging infections, intense pressure on the health service, escalating fatality rates and increased damage to the economy. The nadir was in early January when schools were reopened, only for ministers to be impelled to tell them to shut again on the very same day.

The successful start to the vaccination programme is encouraging expectations that some kind of end to the crisis is at last in prospect. That is a boost to national morale. It is also a political fillip, deserved or not, for the prime minister. At the same time, it presents a challenge in managing both public opinion and his own party. He needs to keep the hopes aroused by the vaccination programme contained within the boundaries of prudence. It also presents those trying to advise the prime minister with a challenge of their own. That is how to stop him surrendering to the anti-lockdown libertarians on the Tory benches and succumbing to his own innate yearning to proclaim the crisis over by promising........

© The Guardian

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