Boris Johnson‘s guardian angel is evidently a happy-go-lucky character who doesn’t take the job of keeping a protective eye on the Prime Minister very seriously.
At the end of March he caught Covid-19, and might have died from it. Now he has managed to hobnob with an infected backbench Tory MP, and so has plunged himself into self-isolation for two weeks.
This has happened at the most delicate juncture in a tumultuous year. Before Mr Johnson’s period of self-isolation ends, the Government will have to decide whether to accept a compromise agreement with the European Union, or plump for the uncharted waters of No Deal.
Images released by Downing Street showed the Prime Minister chairing a meeting via Zoom from his office in No10
It will also have to work out whether to extend the lockdown, which is due to expire days after the PM emerges from purdah. Upon that decision will depend hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the wellbeing of an economy already teetering on the brink.
These are huge issues — to which you can add a spending review, due in late November, which will be the first opportunity for the Chancellor to show how he intends to guide us out of the mess we’re in, without breaking promises of ‘levelling up’ made to millions of voters.
Is it likely that, confined as he will be to No 10 and connecting with the outside world only by electronic means, the Prime Minister will be able to grapple with these imminent challenges as he — and more importantly, the country — would want? Of course not.
Some people can work successfully under house arrest. Novelists, certainly. Newspaper columnists, possibly. But not brain surgeons, car mechanics or trawler men. And certainly not prime ministers facing problems of almost unprecedented severity.
Doubly so when this particular Prime Minister has just sacked two of his most important advisers, Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, and No 10 has been thrown into a state of near chaos.
So the decision for Mr Johnson to self-isolate was momentous, and could have far-reaching consequences. It was also completely unnecessary, since he would have posed an infinitesimally small threat of passing Covid-19 to anyone he might have met over the next fortnight.
This is because he has had the disease, and is most unlikely to catch it again and pass it on. Among the many millions of people who have contracted Covid, there have been very few reported cases of re-infection.
Mr Johnson told Britons said he was ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ in a video posted to his Twitter page
Professor John Lee, a retired consultant pathologist, tells me: ‘Boris Johnson has had a nasty dose of coronavirus and has a negligible chance of catching it again because memory cells in our immune system exist specifically to stop that happening, and coronavirus is no different from other viruses in that respect.’
Dr Mike Yeadon, who has spent more than 30 years leading research into new medicines at some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, recently wrote in the Mail: ‘Of the 750 million people the World Health Organisation says have been infected by the virus to date, almost none have been re-infected.
‘There have been a handful of cases but they are anomalies, a tiny number among three quarters of a billion people.’
Recent research at Birmingham University shows that coronavirus induces strong and long-lasting cellular immunity after infection, suggesting that people are unlikely quickly to catch the disease again, and that vaccines should be effective.
According to the university’s Professor Paul Moss: ‘Our study is the first in the world to show that robust cellular immunity remains at six months after infection in individuals who experienced either mild/moderate or asymptomatic Covid-19.’
All pretty convincing. There is surely ammunition enough here for Mr Johnson to justify not hiding himself away during these critical weeks. He could have himself tested every day to provide extra assurance, if any were needed, that he is not infectious.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister held a 35-minute meeting with a group of MPs including Ashfield MP Lee Anderson who later tested positive for the virus
Ah, I hear some say, why should there be an exemption for those who reign over us when everyone is expected to knuckle down and abide by rules which may be ridiculous but are nonetheless the law?
It’s a perfectly fair question. My answer is the whole system of regulations should be overhauled, including the one that has snared Boris, so as to correspond to something approximating to common sense.
There’s no doubt that it’s daft to force someone returning from a country where the infection rate is much lower than in Britain to self-isolate for two weeks. Self-isolation, it should be noted, is far more stringent than lockdown. You can’t go out at all.
But just because there are anomalies and inconsistencies and unfairnesses in the regulations imposed on us, it doesn’t follow that the Prime Minister should be made to self-isolate when there is no need for him to do so. Not when the future of the country is at stake.
I don’t want Mr Johnson to live as normal a life as possible over the next few weeks as a sort of favour to him.
I want it because it is in the best interests of the United Kingdom for him to see and meet people so that he can play a proper part in crucial discussions that will shape our future.
Why can’t Boris see this? Why does he choose to post a short video on Twitter (in which, it should be said, he looked as though he had spent a night on the tiles) proclaiming his good sense in putting himself out of action for 14 days?
Why, one might also ask, does he insist for the umpteenth time on declaring that he is ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’ since such grim representatives of the canine breed, if they really exist, are likely to be overfed, sedentary and generally unwholesome?
I’m afraid it’s another example of his not providing leadership, and of not thinking through the full consequences of his decisions. If only he had someone grown up and balanced and dependable by his side!
Of course, I can see that he is understandably spooked by the appalling example of Dominic Cummings driving 260 miles from London to Durham during the first lockdown, and then undertaking a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle.
But Cummings on the way to Durham already had the virus, though he says he wasn’t certain, and during the jaunt to Barnard Castle he can’t have been sure he wasn’t still infectious.
Moreover, he was acting selfishly on his own behalf. If the Prime Minister were able to behave as normally as possible over the next fortnight, he would be following the country’s interests, not his own.
Should any of us be unfortunate enough to be involved in a car accident, we wouldn’t spurn the help of a passing doctor if he told us he had been in contact with someone infected with Covid, even though he himself couldn’t pass it on.
So why shouldn’t common sense prevail at a moment of national crisis, and Boris Johnson be encouraged to undertake his duties as usual so that we have the best possible chance of getting out of the hole we’re in?
It’s not just Boris’s guardian angel who has been acting imprudently. The irony is that although the Prime Minister doubtless thinks he is behaving in a responsible manner, he may be putting the country at greater risk.