Government’s mixed messages creating a fog of confusion around the pandemic – Simon Carter

Here’s a question for you - how much would YOU like Boris Johnson’s job? Ok, it pays almost £160,000 but with it comes the responsibility of leading the UK through its greatest health crisis for generations. Prime ministers can rarely please everyone at the best of times, so attempting to govern during a pandemic is, as he has all too clearly demonstrated, nigh on an impossible task.
A packed beach at Bournemouth last Friday, but nobody is allowed to socially distance at a non-league football match at the moment. Pic: Getty Images)A packed beach at Bournemouth last Friday, but nobody is allowed to socially distance at a non-league football match at the moment. Pic: Getty Images)
A packed beach at Bournemouth last Friday, but nobody is allowed to socially distance at a non-league football match at the moment. Pic: Getty Images)

But having said that, his leadership during the last five months has been incredibly poor. He is ultimately responsible for the messages that come out, not just from his own mouth but those of his ministers, and sadly those messages have been so mixed no wonder vast swathes of the population are confused. There appears little joined up thinking with regards to how our elected government are tackling the pandemic.

Here’s one example; a small one, but still significant in the overall scheme of things. This coming Tuesday two local non-league clubs - Baffins Milton Rovers and Fleetlands - meet in a pre-season football friendly. It’s at Fleetlands’ ground, on the outskirts of Gosport, and spectators are welcome providing, of course, they social distance. That shouldn’t be a problem, it’s not as if either club boast thousands of supporters.

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But get this - if the same two teams played at Baffins’ ground on the Eastern Road in Portsmouth, it would have to be behind closed doors due to FA guidelines. That’s because Baffins play at step 6 of the non-league pyramid, and Fleetlands are step 7. Don’t spend time looking for much logic, you won’t find it.

For the last four weekends, a News photographer has visited local cricket matches taking pictures for this paper. Spectators have been allowed at those games. On Saturday just gone, AFC Portchester hosted Paulsgrove in a football friendly. No photographers were allowed, as the home club are a step 6 club. Had that game been played two miles away at Paulsgrove, anyone could attend.

Also on Saturday just gone, Moneyfields Reserves hosted Portchester Rovers in a football friendly. Had spectators been allowed, no more than 50 would probably have turned up - less people than I saw at a Portsmouth cricket match a fortnight ago. But because Moneyfields’ main club are at step 4, it had to be behind closed doors. Again, no logic.

Until last Friday morning, weddings with up to 30 guests were allowed from August 1. But because of a rising infection rate, Johnson immediately performed his latest U-turn. With less than 24 hours notice, how many weddings were affected in this way? Yet the UK had virtually a fortnight to prepare to wear face nappies in all shops - why couldn’t that have been an instant decision?

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It does seem like the government have been making it up as they go along. I’m presuming they haven’t, but it’s the perception that is damaging. That and the Dominic Cummings saga, which has no doubt led to a lot of people doing what they jolly well please - just like Cummings did.

Also last Friday, the government pulled the plug on spectators attending a series of sporting events 24 hours later. These included a county cricket game at The Oval ground in London, a stadium that holds over 20,000 but was admitting just 2,500 on the first two days of a Surrey v Warwickshire game.

The spectators attending that match would have socially distanced a lot more than people in a pub, or Bournemouth beach, or Canoe Lake. County cricket members aren’t usually the rowdiest group who would be likely to ignore government guidelines, the total opposite in fact.

In the last few weeks I’ve been in a supermarket, other shops and sat on beaches at Southsea and Hayling. I’ve also watched two grassroots cricket matches in Portsmouth. The best examples of social distancing were at the cricket, but guess what? Yep, they’re the ones that can’t take place any longer while people can pack into a pub. No wonder people are frustrated and confused.

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Now apparently pubs might have to shut again in order to allow schools to reopen. Was that ever mentioned when pubs reopened a month ago? This week the government are actively trying to get the public out of their homes and into restaurants via their 50 per cent off food offer. Fair enough - I’ll take advantage of it, for sure - but are they really going to punish pubs while hoping restaurants will be fairly full at the same time? Once more, it’s the lack of clear policies that only cause confusion.

How long is the public going to be confused?