Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 18 (Friday, April 3 2020)
MY jaw dropped when Health Secretary Matt Hancock, returning to the No 10 lectern for yesterday’s coronavirus press briefing, took the heat out of the shambolic testing debacle by announcing he had set a new target – 100,000 tests every day by the end of April.
That’s a helluva way to go from the current level of 8,000-10,000 a day. And it didn’t take long for Her Majesty’s Press’ naysayers to cast doubt on this astounding prediction.
I thought Laura Kuenssberg went a whiter shade of pale as she was first on, as usual, to question the Minister, and Robert Peston stumbled through his daily two minutes in the spotlight with more than the usual numbers of “ums” and “ahs”.
Was he still suffering the ignominy earlier in the day of being publicly humbled by a professor for giving out false information about the testing?
Hancock was back on the front line after seven days in self-isolation, which must have been purgatory for him whilst the brouhaha was building over the lack of testing, despite the Prime Minister’s early predictions and intentions to “ramp it up”.
The Minister for Health is certainly emerging as the star of this particular show. Despite being out of the picture for the past week, he gave another assured performance at the lectern yesterday.
He looks like such an ordinary type of bloke that you tend to believe what he says and I hope for the sake of his career (a future leader candidate surely?) his 100,000 a day estimate will not come back to harm him where it hurts most.
An MP for since 2010, he’s actually a very experienced government minister, having held a number of portfolios under Theresa May and David Cameron, although not any of the Great Offices of State. Yet.
In yesterday’s column I wrote about how I thought the government should appoint a senior official to take full responsibility for the testing programme, a course of action followed by Churchill when special attention was needed on failing initiatives during the Second World War. So I was pleased to see that Hancock, on his first day back in harness, did just that with the appointment of John Newton, director of health for Public Health England.
I also voiced my long-held dislike for senior bankers and I am delighted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishu Sunak, another star of this fight against such a deadly enemy, is today going to ban banks from imposing expensive loans on firms that are battling to survive the COVID-19 crisis. Bankers – you’re in this with the rest of us!
He is taking this action after lenders were reported to be exploiting businesses by turning down applications for the government’s cash support scheme.
Should footballers cut their wages to help?
Having spent a number of years in spots publishing in London and around the world, I have pretty well met all my sporting heroes. With a few notable, exceptions. I wasn’t overly impressed with any of them but was fortunate to become close a close acquaintance of a few extraordinary people.
One of them was certainly not ‘Match of The Day’ presenter Gary Lineker, who played for Tottenham Hotspur when I was a vice-president at the North London club. On the few occasions he got the man-of-the-match award in the sponsors’ lounges, he would rarely stay more than a few minutes and was not partial to signing any autographs, even for the kids.
But hats off to him for making a £160,000 personal donation to the British Red Cross who are in the front line helping to quell this virus. Mind you, he can well afford it as he’s paid a staggering £1.75 million to present MOTD and the 160 grand represents just two months of his salary.
Matt Hancock has appealed to professional footballers, some of who earn hundreds of thousands of pounds every week, to follow Lineker’s generosity. A number of top clubs and some of the biggest stars in the game are doing all sorts of wonderful things to help and support their adoring fans.
But shame on Gordon Taylor, the hugely overpaid chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, who somehow has managed to cling on to his job, and who is urging his members, some of the highest paid individuals in sport, not to accept a wage cut or deferral. It’s a battle he can’t win.
They should follow the example of Lionel Messi, of Barcelona, arguably the best player in the world, who has agreed to cut his £700,000 a week salary by two thirds. How the hell he’s going to live on just £200,000 a week, I just don’t know!
Boris still in isolation
So what about poor old Boris, still holed up in his No 10 isolation cell because he is still suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. He looked pretty awful in the video-cast telling the nation the only way to get on top of this virus is to test more people (yes, yes – so get on with it!).
He did pop out of the door of No 10 last evening to clap the NHS front line staff and all the pubic sector workers keeping this country going.
And so did the people of Lyme as well, I am pleased to say, in more numbers I think than last week. At least that was the case in Anning Road and, I am reliably informed in other parts of the town and Uplyme.
Let’s keep doing it. I wasn’t around in the last war but there’s certainly a Dunkirk-like spirit about all this which tugs on the heartstrings.
I was up bright an early this morning for my walk, before “sparrow fart” as John Broderick (remember him?) used to say, to catch what turned out to be another beautiful sunrise.
Saturday tomorrow – oh good, football and a trip into the countryside. If only.
Stay safe and positive. You now it makes sense.