The New York Times refuses to let go of masks, in any sense, and won’t forgive Conservative United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson for reopening public life this summer after highly restrictive Covid lockdowns. Now the paper is using the still-unproven menace of the new Omicron variant to shame him into locking down just like other European countries are doing (never mind countries like Germany were handling the virus so much worse than the U.K.).
Tuesday’s online story by Mark Landler and Megan Specia was introduced as a lecture: “Amid Variant Fears, U.K. Discovers Limits to Its Virus Strategy -- Britain’s approach to coronavirus-related restrictions has been looser than other European countries, but the Omicron variant has spurred swift action on mitigation measures.”
The reporters seem pleased the U.K. has (perhaps overreacting) closed its borders to Africa, which frankly doesn’t sound very liberal, as well as again requiring masks. And there was no mention that Wales and Northern Ireland, which have had mask mandates throughout, have a higher case count than England:
At almost every step of the pandemic, Britain has been a coronavirus renegade. It locked down later than its European neighbors in March 2020, rolled out vaccines faster than almost any major country earlier this year, and threw off virtually all restrictions last summer in an audacious bid to return life to normal.
But with worries about a new variant, Omicron, flaring across the world, Britain has edged back in line with its neighbors in rushing to protect itself….
Britain’s approach is still significantly looser than countries like Austria, which are back in national lockdowns. People can gather in pubs without masks, for example, and officials keep promising weary Britons a normal Christmas….
Before anyone has actual evidence how Omicron works in the real world, the Times is letting the lockdown brigade do a smug round of “I told you so”:
Public-health experts welcomed the moves as a recognition that there are limits to Britain’s distinctive strategy, which combines a robust vaccination program with an almost total lack of restrictions since July. It showed, they said, that going it alone does not make sense with a fast-moving variant.
The reporters nudged the United Kingdom to embrace more restrictions:
The government has stopped short of ordering people to work from home or mandated vaccine passports or masks in restaurants in England. France requires vaccine passports for restaurants. Spain and Italy mandate the wearing of masks in schools. In England, the Department of Education only advised students 12 and older to wear masks in communal areas, beginning Monday.
And they sound disappointed the UK won’t be canceling Christmas. "Mr. Johnson declined to advise people to cancel Christmas festivals, Nativity plays, or other social gatherings -- parting company with one of his top health advisers, Jenny Harries, who said earlier that people should consider cutting back on socializing during the holiday season to curb potential transmission," they wrote.
Again with the masks!
On London’s busy streets, already twinkling with Christmas lights, some said the new rules seemed to be making a difference, after months in which mask-wearing habits had become rather desultory.
A November 25 story, “A Claim of Herd Immunity Reignites Debate Over U.K. Covid Policy,” by Stephen Castle and Mark Landler had the same underlying theme: Johnson overreached by returning to normality so soon:
Behind the debate over herd immunity lies a more basic question about whether the government was right to throw open England’s economy and society last summer, even when the virus was still circulating widely in the population.
Johnson has been a long-time Times target regarding Covid. In late October the Times blamed “Freedom Day” for a Covid surge – just as cases began to fall again.