On Saturday, England’s Health Secretary announced he had been diagnosed with Covid-19.
The irony that Sajid Javid had fallen victim to the pandemic 48 hours before Freedom Day was not lost on the many people who took to social media to bemoan the fact the Government was pressing ahead with widespread relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.
But there was also more than a little consternation after Mr Javid said his positive result had come by way of a lateral flow test and he was awaiting the results of a PCR test. At the same time, he said he was suffering with “very mild” symptoms.
Some 18 months into the pandemic and it is fair to say that the messaging around testing still is not widely known. But surely the Health Secretary of all people should be on message?
According to the NHS website, lateral flow tests should only be used by people when they are asymptomatic. It is little wonder, therefore, that a succession of medics took to social media raising concerns about the potential confusion created by Mr Javid.
Chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, Dr Alan Stout, posted: “I’m confused too. Was he symptomatic as he should then have had a PCR test? Seems like strange public messaging.”
The matter degenerated further when the public was told the Prime Minister and Chancellor had been identified as close contacts of Mr Javid but wouldn’t have to self-isolate as they were taking part in a pilot scheme that involves daily testing instead.
This at a time when industry leaders warn the economy is being driven to the brink of a ‘pingdemic’. It didn’t take long before the cries of ‘one rule for them, another for everyone else’ began and accusations of VIP testing were thrown around. It was subsequently announced that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak would self-isolate after all.
It is the latest embarrassing example of a Government that appears to lurch from one crisis to another.
This is a crucial phase in the pandemic – everyone is fed up, adherence to restrictions is lax at best, yet the vaccination programme is far from complete.
Getting the response wrong at this stage could prove hugely damaging for the health service, as well as a large proportion of the public – making the right decisions and ensuring the correct public health messages are conveyed will be key to saving lives.
Cast your mind back to the start of the pandemic when Mr Johnson proudly proclaimed that he had shaken the hands of coronavirus patients on the same day his officials were urging a greetings ban.
Let’s also not forget that England also once held the unenviable position of having the highest Covid-19 death rate in the world.
It’s easy to feel a pang of jealousy as nightclubs in England throw open their doors and face coverings become recommended instead of mandatory but, given Mr Johnson’s performance to date, Northern Ireland would do well to forge its own path out of the pandemic.