Zero Covid?

Call an emergency COBRA meeting!

Andy Lambeth

2021-07-08 10 min read

Something had happened that no-one could ever have predicted. Covid-19 had disappeared completely from the UK. Viruses are notoriously unpredictable and Covid in particular had been full of surprises but this latest twist in the tale had baffled everyone, not least of all the UK’s top scientists. The country had gone from over 24,000 cases a day to zero in the space of a week. The Prime Minister was naturally overjoyed but at the same time cautious of provoking too much excitement amongst an elated public. The Cabinet Secretary, the most senior civil servant, advised the Prime Minister to call a COBRA meeting to discuss the possible implications of this very welcome but quite startling development.

        Something didn’t seem quite right though, as the Prime Minister walked into the briefing room. He expected all his colleagues to be smiling and cheering but instead they all had grim expressions on their faces. His heart suddenly sank. So eager was he to discover the reason for this surprisingly sombre mood that he did not bother with the usual formalities to commence the meeting.

        “You’re not going to tell me they’ve found some more cases somewhere, are you?” The Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Secretary, anxiously.

        “I only wish that were true,” said the Cabinet Secretary.

         “Why on earth would you want that?” asked the Prime Minister, quite perplexed.

        “Well erm...” The Cabinet Secretary cleared his throat. “Zero Covid is something the Civil Service was not really expecting and we have not made any emergency plans for such an eventuality.”

        “Emergency plans?” enquired the Prime Minister, in disbelief. “Covid was the emergency! The emergency has disappeared, for heaven’s sake!”

        The Cabinet Secretary elucidated:

        “For quite some time now we have been dealing with a national crisis, which we were told was going to be with us for years. We cannot simply stop dealing with it just because it isn’t there anymore. You see the Civil Service is like a huge ship with a tiny rudder. Once it has taken a certain course it becomes very difficult to turn the ship around. Covid is what we do now. It’s how we operate. Easing restrictions is one thing but coming out of the Covid crisis completely is fraught with difficulties. It makes coming out of the EU look like a walk in the park.”

        “I’ve never heard such nonsense,” said the Prime Minister. “How can you deal with an emergency that isn’t there?”

        “Oh, you’d be surprised, Prime Minister. The Civil Service has had years of practice with that sort of thing.”

        “It’s absurd!” the Prime Minister exclaimed. “Why on earth can we not just go back to normal again if there is no threat anymore?”

        “Our economy, our politics and our way of life is based on a united effort to beat Covid,” said the Cabinet Secretary. “If we actually achieve that aim then the whole fabric that ties our society together disintegrates. Without Covid we’re in a very precarious position.”

        “I cannot believe what I am hearing,” said the Prime Minister, turning to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. “So what are your thoughts on this, Chancellor?”

        “Well you know how I feel about lockdown, Prime Minister”, said the Chancellor. “I would love to end all restrictions and commit to never shutting the country down again, but having spoken to my Permanent Secretary this morning I realise it is not that simple. Just ending the crisis suddenly would be disastrous. We’ve put everything into it and the economy is now dependent upon it. Our traditional industries have all declined but we have had major new growth in the Covid sector. As you know the pharmaceutical industry is currently thriving. Their profits are reliant on vaccination take up which in turn is reliant on people’s fear of the virus. If we take that fear away then shares will start to plummet. The same is true of the test and trace industry. It’s going to be very difficult to convince everyone to get tested for something that doesn’t exist. And how do we persuade them to download all the latest Covid apps? Then of course we have Covid advertising, Covid insurance and the vast array of Covid safety products including hand sanitiser, antiviral cleaning products, Perspex screens, disposable facemasks, washable facemasks, layered facemasks, filtered facemasks, fashion facemasks…”

        “All right, all right, I get the picture,” said the Prime Minister. “But surely we cannot give our wholehearted support to businesses selling products that are unnecessary to tackle a problem that doesn’t exist. Besides which, we’re throwing billions of pounds of public money into these projects. The Government cannot justify propping up industries that have failed due to their own lack of foresight... unless it’s the banking industry of course. But in any case that was the Labour Government.”

        “To be fair we supported them at the time, Prime Minister. Besides which, it would be terribly irresponsible of us to destabilise these new developing industries. Inevitably there would be thousands of job losses and a stock market crash, just at the time we are trying to Build Back Better. Ending Covid now would be a complete and utter disaster, Prime Minister.”

        “What poppycock! We’ve been trying to beat this thing for what seems like an eternity and now we’ve beaten it you’re telling me we cannot live without it.”

        The Prime Minister turned to the Health Secretary feeling hopeful that the news would be better appreciated. 

        “Health Secretary, surely it must be wonderful news for you?”

         “Well yes, it is wonderful news Prime Minister but...”

        “Oh don’t tell me,” interrupted the Prime Minister, “Your Permanent Secretary finds it all a bit inconvenient?”

        “Well yes, you could put it like that, Prime Minister. Things have never run so smoothly since the NHS stopped virtually all non-emergency treatment, face to face consultations and cancer screening. Staff members have been able to spend more time on vitally important tasks that are often neglected, such as risk assessments, improvement plans, budgeting plans, equality impact assessments and unconscious bias training. Standards of hygiene are excellent and hospital running costs have come right down. Over 95% of hospitals being inspected are currently being rated as either good or outstanding. This is totally unprecedented and as a consequence of this staff morale is higher than it has ever been before.”

        “Well that’s all very fine and dandy but what about hospital waiting lists? Hospitals may be getting glowing reports but they don’t seem to be seeing very many patients at the moment,” the Prime Minister responded incredulously.

        “Yes, the waiting lists are getting rather long but the public seem to be okay with that. Opinion polls suggest that service user satisfaction is at an all time high. Patients who are having life saving treatment delayed are generally being quite understanding about the situation and very few of them are making complaints. Public support surged during the Clap For Carers campaign and the accompanying TikTok dance videos that medical staff did were hugely popular. There are plans afoot to launch similar campaigns to combat any possible dissatisfaction over long waiting lists. Covid has been an invaluable asset to us in garnering such tremendous support from the public.”

        “So if waiting lists continue to grow you’re going to get everyone to start clapping again?”

        The Prime Minister was battle weary. This was not how he had expected the meeting to unfold. His colleagues’ position on the matter seemed so warped that he was beginning to question his own sanity. He tried to stay calm and continue the meeting in a professional manner, despite his throbbing head and the nervous twitch that had started in his right eye. He turned to the Home Secretary.

        “And your thoughts please Home Secretary? I’m sure the police will be eager to return to their normal duties without having to worry about Covid.”

        “Well if you’d asked me last week, Prime Minister, then I would have agreed with you but...”

        “Let me guess – you’ve been talking to your Permanent Secretary about it,” interrupted the Prime Minister.

        “Yes, that’s correct Prime Minister. He informs me that the Police seem to be adapting to their new role as bio-security guards and the public are much more sympathetic towards them than they were at the start of the pandemic. Initially they got some bad press for a few inconsistencies and heavy handed responses...”

        “Yes, arresting pensioners for sitting on park benches didn’t go down too well, did it?” the Prime Minister interjected.

        “Well there were a few anecdotal stories of over-zealous police officers but community relations are much better now. Covid restrictions have become a very useful part of the policing toolkit and officers have found the fight against Covid very empowering and rewarding. Lockdowns and curfews reduce crime rates enormously but the Police are not advocating anything like that on a permanent basis. However, it would be reassuring to know that we could implement certain emergency measures from the Coronavirus Act as and when we need to. Doing away with Covid completely would be a rash move and it would make things very difficult for the police.”

        There were a few moments silence while the Prime Minister tried to collect his thoughts. The country had actually achieved what everyone hoped for but dare not dream of: Zero Covid. Yet now we had got rid of this terrible disease all his colleagues seemed to want it back. The Prime Minister struggled to maintain his equilibrium as conflicting thoughts rushed through his head. Had everyone in the room gone mad or was it him? Could this refusal to let go of Covid merely be put down to the stifling bureaucracy of the Civil Service or was there some deeper malice behind it? Was it paranoid of him to ask such questions? Was he becoming a conspiracy theorist? He pulled himself together.

        “Okay, so it seems we cannot live without Covid anymore,” said the Prime Minister to the Cabinet Secretary, feeling rather depleted. “Is there an answer? Do you have a plan?”

        “Well possibly Prime Minister. You see the whole question of whether Covid still exists or not revolves around how we define a Covid case and the criteria for testing. Currently WHO protocols state that PCR testing should only run at a maximum of 40 cycles of amplification. However, there is a caveat to all WHO protocols which allows for some flexibility in the case of a national emergency. The disappearance of Covid would most definitely qualify as a national emergency for all the reasons colleagues have just stated. Therefore we would be at liberty to increase PCR cycles to around 60 or 65 and that way we would be certain to find enough cases.”

        “Isn’t that rather dishonest? Surely we cannot just pretend people are ill with Covid when they’re not.”

        “Oh no Prime Minister, please do not put words into my mouth. We would not dream of pretending people are ill with Covid when they are not. Our colleagues at Public Health England have excellent ethical standards and we would never encourage them to do anything remotely dishonest or misleading. We do not need to pretend people are ill. We just need to find cases. In fact it’s more or less what we’ve been doing for the last year. We just need to adjust the parameters slightly.”

        “But surely there would be no correlation between cases and hospitalisations if we did that. We were finding it hard enough as it was to make that link.”

        “That shouldn’t be too much of a problem. There will be enough people already in hospital who test positive. On paper it will all look fine. We’ll just put out a D-notice to stop the MSM reporting on what patients are actually being admitted for. There may be a few rogue reporters who suggest that no-one is being admitted to hospital for Covid anymore but these kinds of subversive viewpoints are easily discredited. It’s really not that much different to what we’ve been doing anyway. The only difference is that no-one will be getting sick with Covid, which in my opinion is a very positive thing and something that we should all be tremendously proud of.”

       The Prime Minister felt like crying. It was all so bonkers that he could now not see it any other way...It had to be a conspiracy. But who was pulling the strings? Who had infiltrated the Civil Service and his parliamentary colleagues? This was his last chance to man up and make a stand against this tyranny. He had allowed himself to be pushed around for too long. He was in charge after all wasn’t he? A line had been crossed and it was time for him to assert himself. It was time for the Prime Minister to grow a pair. He rose to his feet.

        “I’m sorry but this is complete madness. However you try to dress it up we would be lying to the public. We would be telling them that Covid is still a threat when in actual fact it had disappeared altogether. I cannot permit this. At the next press conference I am going to level with the people of this country and tell them that Covid has gone and that’s that!” The Prime Minister slumped back down in his chair, emotionally drained and trembling with anger.

        “I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” said the Cabinet Secretary.

        “And why not?” asked the Prime Minister.

        “Because I’m in charge now.”

        The Cabinet Secretary let out a hideous laugh as he undid his collar and tie to reveal the edge of a latex mask which he began to peel off his head. Was this really happening or was the Prime Minister having a nervous breakdown? He wondered if he was hallucinating as he gazed at the chilling spectacle before him. Who could the evil genius behind the mask possibly be? Was it Bill Gates or Klaus Schwab? Time seemed to slow down as the deranged imposter’s face gradually became unmasked and hundreds of thoughts started to race through the Prime Minister’s confused and petrified mind. This vile monster’s chin was now clearly visible. The skin looked old and lizard like. Could it be Tony Blair? No, he could see his hair now and it seemed to be a strange mix of dyed red with blonde highlights. Was he the Joker from Batman? The mask was being stretched like a rubber band under tension and then suddenly it pinged off, revealing the power crazed lunatic who was about to topple the elected leader of this once free democracy.

        “God help us!” exclaimed the Prime Minister. “It’s Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers!”


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