Everything to do with this virus is now false news. All the statistics are meaningless: we have no reliable means of calculating the spread and depth of the disease, either from country to country or even within a single country.
Pompous dumbos, a vibrant and important tranche of our respective commentariats, insist we must pay no heed to anything but the ‘science’. But nobody knows what the science is. The epidemiologists disagree among themselves.
Other branches of the medical profession (those whose interest is in, say, malaria, or cancer), as well as statisticians, are astonished by what they see as an overreaction to an illness which really isn’t quite punching its weight in the Grim Reaper stakes.
COVID-19 itself has become infected with politics: the right, in general, thinks it’s just a bad case of the sniffles, killing the occasional octogenarian grandpa, and laments the damage being done to the economy and the sudden, overweening embrace of the state and the restrictions on our lives. The liberal- left millennialist, insatiably hungry for annihilation, thinks we are all goners and that we deserve it and that the governments don’t care.
On the fringes, meanwhile, COVID-19 is working its neurological magic. Corona Derangement Syndrome. The Chinese did it deliberately; they cooked up the virus in their wicked bio-war labs. Mossad is involved. So is the 5G roll-out and the Bilderberg Group, alien lizard-creatures and everyone who wants a socialistic one-world government. My own mother-in-law adheres to that final conspiracy theory — hardly surprising, I suppose, as she believes that Angela Merkel was created by Soviet scientists using the deep-frozen semen of Adolf Hitler.
There is lunacy afoot everywhere you look. People who never went to East Germany tell you that the lockdown is just like East Germany. It isn’t really, is it? You’ve just been asked, nicely, to sit at home watching Netflix for a while. I can think of worse impingements, such as being shot or sent to the salt mines.
The Juche Idea Study Group, a convocation of imbeciles who revere North Korea, are jubilant that the illness is ‘entirely absent’ from their favorite country. We were right all along, they say. When British Conservative politicians, such as our Prime Minister, are stricken with the virus, social media is awash with lefties screaming, ‘I hope he dies in pain.’ Everywhere, a madness reigns, like that which gripped the residents of Herculaneum and Pompeii as Vesuvius rumbled into action all those years ago, and people started sacrificing goats to Vulcan and going doolally. An impotent flailing against an invisible enemy. And every little gobbet of false news — everything is false news, remember — immediately cherry-picked and then co-opted into one’s political armory. TOLD YOU, didn’t I!
You can’t get flour. I mean plain or self-rising flour, not the kind you use to make proper bread, although that is in short supply, too. There was a run on the stuff — as if, hearing that the Four Horsemen were rapidly approaching, the entire population of the UK suddenly decided that it was time to practice for the next series of The Great British Baking Show, a mind-numbingly dull but extremely popular program in which grinning idiots are enjoined to bake cakes. Other stuff in short supply includes tinned tomatoes, pasta, acetaminophen and baked beans.
Oh, and of course toilet paper. For a while you couldn’t get the stuff for love or money, the consequence of a bizarre stockpiling fixation which is believed to have had its genesis in an internet meme from Australia in which a bunch of women were seen fighting over multipacks, suggesting that there might be a shortage. And so people started lining up at eight o’clock in the morning at their local supermarket and hoovered up every roll of toilet paper on the shelves — thus leading to a real shortage.
I hope these stockpiling monkeys are comforted by the notion that when Death in his long black cloak comes knocking at their front doors, they will accompany Him to eternity with a butthole which is both pristine and scented slightly with aloe vera. Meanwhile, we are told to limit our shopping trips and to go out only when we need essential items — which for me means cigarettes and gin.
I line up outside my local store — we’re not allowed inside any more — with my limited shopping list, standing the requisite six feet from the person in front. If the line is very long, I just cough a bit — and that clears the car park in 10 seconds flat.
I’m delighted to say that in a recent survey my hometown of Middlesbrough in Yorkshire — think Allentown, Pennsylvania, if it were transported somehow to one of the less affluent quadrants of West Virginia — is the worst in the country for people not obeying the lockdown rules.
Nobody up there gives a shit. This is a consequence both of the town’s usual disregard for rules of any kind and a suspicion, perhaps misplaced, that the virus only afflicts rich Londoners who have just been skiing in northern Italy and that it wouldn’t dare make an appearance in somewhere so stoic and blue collar.
A short while ago, on a Thursday evening, we were encouraged to spend a couple of minutes clapping for National Health Service employees. Now we have to do this every week, a development which would have made George Orwell very proud. There was a suggestion, online, that people who failed to clap, or clapped only very briefly, should be reported to the police for a hate crime. It has got to the point where I can’t be entirely sure if this was a joke or not.
Both sides of the political divide are insistent that when this is all over, a different world will emerge. For the left that means a world in which more money is spent on social services and health and we collaborate more closely with foreign governments. For the right it means a renewed respect for the nation-state and strong borders. I sit in my garden, reveling in its absence of ambient traffic noise and the lack of planes overhead, and suspect that by the time spring has shaded imperceptibly into autumn, nothing will have changed at all.
This article is in The Spectator’s May 2020 US edition.