The vaccine rollout trajectory has moved quite quickly from "jabs for all!" to "jabs or else" – a threat that has been looming over staff returning to workplaces, and has this week been extended to students, too. In case the last 16 months of disrupted education hadn't done enough to derail their prospects, Dominic Raab has decided to throw university goers' futures into flux too, saying that vaccine certificates may be necessary to attend lectures , or live in halls of residence. A decision about which will be made in September, he says, when tuition fees have been paid, lives uprooted and at last, incoming students had hoped, normality seemed on the horizon.
The Foreign Secretary's pronouncements are at best a ham-fisted attempt to raise vaccine uptake, which currently stands at 70 per cent among UK adults – a margin "we need to close," he urged this week. At worst, they are further evidence of dodgy Government comminations against the young that will set a dangerous precedent. In September, vaccine passports will be required to enter nightclubs – the two months from now until then apparently being of no consequence; once institutions like universities are given the green light to do the same, others will follow suit. If competitors are doing it, and it means lowering the risk of an outbreak (and potential lawsuits) on their hands, what businesses would say no?
There is a bitter irony in this current row being framed in an educational setting, when it is in fact teaching young people the worst possible lesson – that ultimatums are the only way to get things done. Instead of seeking to understand why young people might be hesitant (unbothered by the virus? Too lazy to complete the life admin? Suffering from a condition the rollout system is yet to understand, and therefore unable?), Raab's diktat shoves them firmly back into child-parent mode at the exact point they should be escaping it. The only difference is that this time, instead of confiscating their iPad when they don't do their elders' bidding, it is their studies being taken away. Mindboggling too is that in the very period we are "rebuilding" and "returning to normal", as the Government keeps insisting, a raft of ways to push things back further are coming thick and fast.
In the US, President Biden this week announced that a $100 stipend will be given to anyone who gets a jab ; vaccine take-up has fallen to just below 50 per cent, creating what he calls "the pandemic of the unvaccinated".
There, companies have joined in the deal-sweetening efforts, with the likes of Krispy Kreme, marijuana manufacturers and breweries throwing freebies at jab-havers; here, it's all stick, no carrot (let alone doughnut). "A little bit of coaxing and cajoling" is all it will take to up numbers of the fully inoculated, Raab apparently believes, in spite of a fair bit of evidence to the contrary.
A few months ago, I posited that given the virus poses little threat to younger generations, policy-makers would do better to ask not why they would turn down a vaccine, but rather why they wouldn't. An answer feels no closer now. Add to that research announced on Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – that twice-jabbed people with "breakthrough infections" of the Delta variant can spread the virus just as easily as those who haven't yet had any – and the reasons to go out of one's way to get it seem to diminish further still.
As with most proposed policies since last March, this seems to be yet another in a long line of "suggest extreme position, then backtrack/flip-flop/shove the decision-making onto companies (delete as appropriate, though often it's all three) depending on reaction until a solution is reached".
First with masks, then jobs, now universities, the Government is desperate to have things both ways; to ostensibly encourage reopening and personal decisions around risk, while urging companies to adopt measures to take them away. Meanwhile those businesses make up their own rules – usually differing from one another – making things muddier still.
This is bad enough for those who are older, with careers underway, but continuing to allow the young, who have been held back repeatedly and wrongly over the course of Covid, to suffer the same is just plain wrong. Threats are a bad enough way to get people in line – let alone when levelled at those we need to rebuild the post-pandemic landscape most of all.
One way to solve the office crisis
Returning to normality is also cause for mass headscratching at the BBC, where prospective employees now have a bonus round in interviews: roleplaying with a Covid-conscious "colleague" – an actor recruited specifically for the exercise – to see if they can coax them back to the office. The strategy has been taken up because so few are keen to return to New Broadcasting House, apparently, though assessing a would-be host or commissioner's ability to arm-twist office naysayers – above credentials for the job they're actually interviewing for – doesn't strike me as the wisest way to secure the Beeb's future. On the up side, at least the next series of W1A has its storyline in the bag.
Snooker or reality television? Let’s have both
Other must-watch TV is sure to come via next month's British Open Snooker Tournament, set to be a nail-biter. Nothing to do with what's happening on the beize, obviously, but the two players who have been married and divorced, are battling in court over child support payments – and will be facing one another across the green. Reanne Evans, 12-time women's snooker world champion, will go head to head against her ex Mark Allen; something he criticised when it was announced that she and the other top ranking female player would join the billing, because he was "not really sure what the two women are going to bring." Skill, fury, printouts of court documents, the prospect of snooker actually becoming interesting to the masses … honestly, the potential list is endless.
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