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How Many Deaths Is Boris Johnson Keen To Tolerate To Hold His July 19 Promise?

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It’s been barely three weeks since Dominic Cummings gave his testimony to MPs, but it feels like a long time. Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser may have electrified Westminster, but he just shrugged the public in contempt and left little trace.

However, Cummings’ real influence may have been the prime minister’s need to be extra careful about Covid, heeding the warning signs when case numbers rise, and forcing him to really listen to his medical and scientific advisers.

We also owe it to Cummings’ testimony that he put Johnson’s frustration on record last fall that he no longer behaved like “the Mayor of Jaws.” And today Labor pounced on that phrase to ram home one of its biggest mistakes in the pandemic: not closing the borders with India.

In perhaps his best speech since taking office as Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds said the 14-day delay in putting India on the “red list” was a “two-day failure” that of Johnson’s desire for one The photo op was driven with Narendra Modi. It was neither the India variant nor the Delta variant, but “the Johnson variant”.

In addition, Thomas-Symonds said Johnson’s Jaws Mayor Tribute Bill had tragic consequences as “British people were attacked by the thousands” by the Covid shark. He even conjured up the image of Keir Starmer as Police Chief Martin Brody from the same film: “Eyes on the shark, do whatever it takes to keep people safe”.

Some in Labor have been pushing hard for months to contain this line of attack on the need for tighter boundaries. It turns Johnson’s Brexit mantra “take back control” into a judo throw designed to throw him off balance. Coupled with more government-funded support for the aviation and travel industries, this is at least a coherent strategy that anticipated imports like the Delta variant.

Although it avoids the “hindsight” indictment, there are pitfalls. One risk is that in the coming weeks Labor appears to be building on the virus to overtake vaccines in hopes of proving correct with Johnson’s marginal failure. Without careful handling, it could look even worse than an opposition banking on rising unemployment to come to power.

On the other hand, as I mentioned last night, there is a real risk in the Prime Minister claiming that July 19th is a “deadline”. Michael Gove highlighted the implicit logic of this approach this morning when he refused to deny that hundreds of deaths would now be tolerated once the final unlock occurs.

“Hundreds” are, of course, much less than the “thousands” (or “tens of thousands” the Prime Minister mentioned at one point yesterday) who would have died if the unlock had taken place on June 21st. But the Sage Papers published on Monday evening made for a gloomy read. Even with a five-week delay, one model estimates between 31,200 and 62,900 additional deaths by December 31.

These death tolls are much, much higher than the worst winter flu outbreaks, though ministers are increasingly comparing this. On ConHome’s Moggcast, Jacob Rees-Mogg said, “You can’t run society just to keep hospitals from being full,” but he also said deaths are the key metric – and in that regard, the Indian variant still might have devastating effects.

Rees-Mogg has proven that he has more life than Gavin Williamson in his current post, and that may be in part because he reflects the skeptical views of some backbenchers. Even the Prime Minister is more like Mayor Vaughn than Chief Brody. He is clearly prepared for more deaths, the question remains how many he will tolerate and whether he will tell us the number.

But how many additional deaths will the public tolerate? The sentence you will hear in the coming weeks is that we must all “learn to live” with Covid. To the families of those who fall victim to this horrific virus, it may sound like learning to die with Covid. And even Boris Johnson’s famous political prowess could have problems with this soundbite.

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