The end is nigh. Or rather, the end is apparently nowhere in sight.
Last week, the hardcore Lockdown-Deniers began to deploy a new mantra. ‘Your regular reminder that there is no end to lockdowns,’ declaimed their High Priestess, the broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer. ‘There is no exit strategy, no plan to reopen schools & businesses, to return to our normal lives. There will always be another reason to remain in lockdown.’
For weeks, like-minded people had been arguing the threat of Covid had passed.
There would be no deadly second wave. The NHS was under no unique threat. Soaring infections were simply the result of false positives.
Mounting hospitalisations a product of people with broken legs and minor Covid symptoms being misclassified.
And then reality struck. More than a thousand dead a day. The reopening of the Nightingales. London buses converted into ambulances.
So the Deniers frantically sought to construct a new narrative.
Because of this modern miracle, we no longer need to sustain our Covid purgatory indefinitely. We have a clear and direct path to freedom
The Forever Lockdown. Boris and his Ministers intend to keep the nation under incarceration for ever. Through a bizarre combination of gross incompetence, stupefying credulity and totalitarian malfeasance – the Deniers are always vague about which of these fits best – we’ll all be locked in our homes till the end of our days.
To be fair, there was a time I would have entertained many of those fears myself. Until recently, I was a fully paid-up Lockdown Sceptic.
It was clear to me that perpetual lockdown was socially, economically and morally unsustainable.
I still believe that. But now we have the vaccine. And because of this modern miracle, we no longer need to sustain our Covid purgatory indefinitely. We have a clear and direct path to freedom.
The lie that the Government will always find another reason to extend lockdown would be vindictive at any time.
To peddle it at precisely the moment that Ministers are trying to secure the compliance that will buy precious weeks to inoculate the most vulnerable represents stupidity bordering on the criminal.
But there is not just something pernicious but also cruelly ironic about the claim Boris and his team have no strategy for ending lockdown.
Because it’s been deployed just when we have the first tentative signs that their strategy is actually starting to work.
There IS a plan, and it’s this. Lockdown. Protect NHS capacity. Reduce infection rates. Vaccinate. Then gradually unlock. And do it all in a way that ensures we never need to lockdown again.
The latest data is clear. The plan is starting to have the desired effect. The R rate is below 1 for the first time since December.
Infections and hospitalisations are plateauing. And most important of all, the Government is successfully hitting its target of vaccinating 350,000 people a day, or more than two million every week.
Ever since the pandemic began, Boris and his Ministers have been vilified. For locking down too hard, and for locking down too late. For testing too much, and not testing enough. For being too blasé and slapdash in the face of global crisis, and for overreacting and being excessively draconian in response to a phantom menace.
A number of those criticisms are valid. But if they are expected to absorb the brickbats, then they also deserve the appropriate plaudits. And the vaccine rollout is a staggering Government achievement.
The Lockdown-Deniers, and Boris’s other numerous critics, would like everyone to believe it happened by accident. That the Covid jabs went from the Petri dish to the bloodstream of five million Britons without any ministerial oversight. But in truth, there were at least three pivotal points where Government intervention speeded up vaccine delivery, and saved countless lives.
The first was back in May when Boris picked up the phone to Kate Bingham and asked her to take charge of the Vaccine Taskforce. ‘That was a key moment,’ a No 10 adviser tells me. ‘Kate grabbed hold of the entire process. It was a turning point. If it hadn’t been for her, we wouldn’t be where we are now.’
Bingham, a venture capitalist, was attacked over cronyism – she is the wife of Tory Minister Jesse Norman – and for her use of media consultants.
But by the time she stepped down in January, she was able to report the UK was in a position to exceed its vaccination targets.
The second was when Ministers took the decision to fast-track UK vaccine-licensing, and reject an offer to join the EU’s Covid vaccine scheme. At the time, Boris was condemned for petty Brexit posturing. But the decision was vindicated when Britain secured licensing of the Pfizer vaccine weeks before the rest of the EU. At which point, those who had spent the year furiously claiming every day of delay in the Covid fight represented a death sentence fell silent.
The third crucial moment was when Matt Hancock ensured supplies of the Oxford vaccine went into the arms of the nation’s pensioners by keeping it out of the clutches of Donald Trump.
‘Initially, Oxford were going to go into partnership with the US company Merck,’ a No 10 source explains. ‘But Matt wanted written assurances our supplies would be guaranteed. They offered a verbal commitment but wouldn’t put anything in writing. So he vetoed the deal, and Oxford signed up with AstraZeneca instead. He knew Trump was looking to hoover up as much of the vaccine as he could.’
Obviously there are many potential pitfalls ahead.
Ministers are increasingly anxious that those who are given the vaccine believe it makes them invincible, and begin to flout social distancing before it has had the chance to become effective, after two to three weeks.
They are also worried that improvements in treatment are actually increasing pressure on the beleaguered NHS, as more patients in the 60 to 70 age bracket survive the disease but have extended hospital stays.
But thanks to the vaccine miracle, Boris remains confident that when he delivers the order to unlock in a few months, he will be doing so for the last time.
But his critics simply refuse to acknowledge what an achievement vaccination against Covid is. Britain is again rallying to the cause.
In defiance of the anti-vaxxers, we top the international table of those willing and eager to get our jab.
There was something genuinely moving about the footage of people patiently waiting for the inoculation among the pillars of Salisbury Cathedral, as the organist serenaded them.
But the Deniers refuse to see any of this. They do not want to recognise how close we are to the end of our national nightmare. Or how the vaccine rollout takes its place in the pantheon of our great national moments.
It’s as if they were bearing witness to the first Spitfire making its majestic climb through the clouds, then began chuntering: ‘You watch, that will only make old Hitler angry.’
Yes, lockdown is wreaking an almost unbearable toll. Emotionally. Physically. Financially. But that doesn’t alter the fact that those who say it will be with us in perpetuity are lying. There is a strategy to reopen our schools and our business and return us to our normal lives. And it is going to work.
Ignore the Deniers. Lockdown will end. It will end soon. And it will end for good.