The Government bet the house on lockdown and must continue to persuade us it was a good idea. At every turn they inflate figures, take the pessimistic view and scald us for our non-compliance, argues Richard Harper

We're going down to Cornwall, isn't everyone? Whether they want us to or not. I think they'd rather we just sent a cheque. A commitment to a belief in 'the lethality of the virus' is required by all would be hotel guests. I am committed, dear lord I am committed, to the lethality of the virus. But must I believe it kills all school teachers who so much as whiff it's deadly spikes, or is it sufficient to believe it kills about the same number of people as flu in a bad year? The hotel does not elaborate further. But really, if you run a hotel and feel that sauntering down a corridor beflipflopped and yet unmasked is sufficient to send the other inmates to an early grave wouldn't it just be better not to open at all?

But they do open and they open because, deep down, they don't believe in any of it at all. Professor Ferguson, one of the screenwriters of this tragi-comedy, didn't believe it when he invited his Staatz girl over. Dominic Cummings has given a fairly unpersuasive account of how firmly he felt his own regulations should apply.

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There are plenty of people whom this suits: the furloughed, the Workers From Home, the preternaturally judgmental. The masked warrior who can wear their virtue on their faces in several shades of child labour. The people who don't want to do their jobs. The media. But no one really thinks any of this absurd charade is saving any lives. They're happy to swap their commutes for their liberties. They're complicit in the deceit, but they still want to go on holiday. If there was a real pandemic going on people would not want to go on holiday. They would not be queuing at the Louvre. They would have friends who have died. The Government wouldn't be trying to frighten you, they'd be trying not to.

It is clear the Government is trying to frighten us. They bet the house on lockdown and must continue to persuade us it was a good idea. At every turn they inflate figures, take the pessimistic view, scald us for our delinquency. Cases are summoned up from an asymptomatic population; swab enough people you can find some viral RNA, dead or alive makes no difference to Chief Whitty. Create a hotspot, intensify the testing and you can get even more. Prove the sensitivity of your surveillance, the decisiveness of your actions. We could be chasing influenza across the same summer months if we so chose. Deaths are harder to come by and have been stubbornly low for a long time, but they'll return in the winter and we can renew our pursuit of the questing COVID beast afresh.

In the meantime we all get to play dress up, put masks on our toddlers and pretend we're in an episode of Casualty. Our jobs and lives are so ethereal the virus feels like it's something real and important, and we can all be a part of it! The fantasist in chief is our Secretary of State for Health, the Sacred Protector of the COVID flame. Like many a new doctor he assumes the diagnosis is the most obscure, the treatment the most complex. He revels in his power to intervene. But where was the wise consultant advising caution, that common things are common, that usually the best thing to do is as little as possible.

This British passion for amateur dramatics was indulged by Dishy Rishi's national mortgage holiday. But when the country gets back to work interest will be owed on payments deferred. The hard smack of reality will wake us from our fever dream. These hard smacks are coming now. An unprecedented fall in GDP, hundreds of thousands of unemployed. The qualifications our young people worked so hard for turned into farce. The cancers growing unchecked in our throats, our wombs, our bowels. The people who will never shake another's hand again. The realisation that all this pain and suffering coming down the track was for nothing. That the pain and suffering is real and that the virus was never quite.

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