HENRY DEEDES: Boris Johnson’s difficult coronavirus briefing

Whenever Boris Johnson has sticky news to deliver, he has what card sharps call a ‘tell’. 

I’ve come to know it as his imaginary pen rummage routine. It begins with a dramatic double pat to the chest. 

A quizzical look then creeps across his face, as though to say: ‘Where is the blighter, what have I done with it?’

Boris made no bones. It was also ‘perfectly obvious’ the global economy would suffer massive blow. The situation was going to be a challenges for ‘businesses big and small.’ Entrepreneurs watching at home may not have found these words altogether encouraging

Boris made no bones. It was also ‘perfectly obvious’ the global economy would suffer massive blow. The situation was going to be a challenges for ‘businesses big and small.’ Entrepreneurs watching at home may not have found these words altogether encouraging

Boris made no bones. It was also ‘perfectly obvious’ the global economy would suffer massive blow. The situation was going to be a challenges for ‘businesses big and small.’ Entrepreneurs watching at home may not have found these words altogether encouraging 

The hunt then moves to the inside coat pockets. He reaches once, twice, three times. Without fail, the elusive writing instrument never materialises.

So when the Prime Minister embarked on this peculiar fidget as he reached the Downing Street podium to update us on the ‘national fightback’ on the coronavirus late yesterday afternoon, he did not immediately inspire confidence.

He announced that we were now entering the ‘fast growth part of the upward curve’ in the number of cases reported. Without ‘drastic action’ cases could double every five to six days.

The PM’s prognosis was: no pubs, no clubs, and no more trips to the theatre. In fact, no heading outdoors unless extremely necessary. He used phrases such as ‘non-essential contact’ and ‘unnecessary travel’.

In layman’s terms, we are now entering the eye of the hurricane. Life, as we know it, is about to get very different.

As he spoke, Boris inhaled dramatically though his nose as though it were a thought hardly worth contemplating. Not a good look in front of the cameras

As he spoke, Boris inhaled dramatically though his nose as though it were a thought hardly worth contemplating. Not a good look in front of the cameras

 As he spoke, Boris inhaled dramatically though his nose as though it were a thought hardly worth contemplating. Not a good look in front of the cameras

The Prime Minister’s voice was strained. There was a concern in his delivery. His eyes were even droopier than last week and his face bore a resigned expression, as though bowing to the inevitable. Often his mouth stretched into a grimace. Deprived of his trump card, humour, he was struggling.

He was bookended again by his two trusty science boffins, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, both cool and calm as ever.

And Boris once again attached himself to them, like a toddler clings to its blanky. (I’m dreading turning up for a briefing to find one of those podiums either side of him is empty as the virus claims another victim. 

Then the country really will begin to panic.) Vallance, with his American button-down collar, was suave and urbane. No jazzy graphs with him this time. Whitty even tried to inject a bit of optimism into proceedings. 

Deprived of his trump card, humour, he was struggling. He was bookended again by his two trusty science boffins, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, both cool and calm as ever

Deprived of his trump card, humour, he was struggling. He was bookended again by his two trusty science boffins, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, both cool and calm as ever

Deprived of his trump card, humour, he was struggling. He was bookended again by his two trusty science boffins, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, both cool and calm as ever

The chances of dying were still ‘very low.’ Worryingly as he said, this a moist, pickled egg-like sheen spread across his forehead.

He also warned the country needed to prepare for the long haul. ‘People should be thinking of a minimum of weeks to months and, depending how it goes, it may be longer,’ he remarked starkly.

Someone brought up a story from earlier in the day which claimed a Japanese man had caught the virus for a second time. Whitty seemed to suggest if that were the case, the chances of a vaccine being developed might be less likely.

As he spoke, Boris inhaled dramatically though his nose as though it were a thought hardly worth contemplating. Not a good look in front of the cameras.

ITV’s Robert Peston asked what criminal sanctions might be used to stop the virus’s spread. The PM’s face flickered with irritation. Clearly the last thing he wants is to declare martial law.

He said slightly facetiously there were arcane laws from 1984 which gave the Home Secretary powers to stop people shaking hands but who wants that? The UK, he said, was a ‘mature grown-up society.’

What of the economy? Boris made no bones. It was also ‘perfectly obvious’ the global economy would suffer massive blow.

The situation was going to be a challenges for ‘businesses big and small.’ Entrepreneurs watching at home may not have found these words altogether encouraging.

Outside, Westminster was already to starting to feel like a ghost town. Tumbleweed city. As the spring sunshine pinged off the statues around Parliament Square, double-decker buses vroomed up Whitehall practically empty. Barely a Nikon-toting tourist in sight.

Prepare for change, the PM warned as he wrapped things up. No government, he reminded us, had ever announced changes like this in his lifetime.

The thought seemed to discombobulate him, as though it had been percolating in his head all weekend. He then made one more grab for that non-existent pen before shuffling awkwardly back to his bunker.

The Prime Minister’s voice was strained. There was a concern in his delivery. His eyes were even droopier than last week and his face bore a resigned expression, as though bowing to the inevitable

The Prime Minister’s voice was strained. There was a concern in his delivery. His eyes were even droopier than last week and his face bore a resigned expression, as though bowing to the inevitable

The Prime Minister’s voice was strained. There was a concern in his delivery. His eyes were even droopier than last week and his face bore a resigned expression, as though bowing to the inevitable

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