Sajid Javid’s booster jab speech was more Narnia tale, less rallying call to arms

Eufemia Didonato

“The pandemic is far from over,” said Sajid Javid, briefly un-glueing his eyes from his notes to fix the cameras with his trademark rabbit-in-headlight stare. “It remains a threat to our loved ones – and a threat to the progress we’ve made in getting our nation closer to normal life”.

The Health Secretary had turned up slightly late to his evening presser. And no wonder, for he faced an uneasy tightrope walk. His challenge was to settle on a halfway house – somewhere between exuding complacency, and meeting the demands of that vocal triumvirate of opposition MPs, NHS leaders and Twitter GPs. 

“Revert to Plan B!” they cried, ideally one involving only a few small tweaks to our daily routines, such as mask mandates, vaccine passports, stay-at-home orders, a liberal democracy relinquishing its basic freedoms to prop up an ailing health service each winter, you get the idea.

So Mr Javid was there to spur caution, and action too – specifically amongst those dallying oldies yet to take up their booster jabs. But not, perhaps, to go into full apocalypse mode, or not yet at least. His message therefore proved a jarring mixture of carrot and stick; half Blitz Spirit, half “Winter is Coming”. “We won’t be implementing our Plan B of contingency measures… at this point.”

Alongside thinly veiled warnings and dark mutterings of 100,000 Covid cases a day by winter, the Health Secretary attempted to rally the troops, hailing “new treatments for the immunocompromised” and “promising new developments around antivirals”.

Unconvincing attempt to woo public 

His attempts at stirring rhetoric were occasionally thwarted only by his wooden delivery – that of the reluctant student strong-armed into reading aloud in GCSE English class, mumbling his Polonius unconvincingly into his textbook. “We’ve got the jabs,” he muttered, fixing the camera in another glassy rabbit stare. “We just need the arms to put them in.” (By jingo!)

Prof Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, shared the government’s preference for mind-numbing three-part slogans. “Jab for Covid,” he rapped the lectern with his hand. “Jab for flu.” Tap. “Be cautious,” he finished, jabbing with both hands this time.

Dr Jenny Harries was manning the slide deck today, though these weren’t the doom-laden graphs of yore. The promise of “enjoying Christmas with our loved ones” was, however, dangled tantalisingly in front of the assembled viewers, like a dentist’s lollipop after a particularly uncomfortable tooth extraction.

“Little steps make a big difference” and give the “best possible chance in this race,” smiled the Health Secretary as he wrapped up, veering from iron fist to velvet glove once more. With his pointy elf ears and kindly expression, he resembled a ministerial Mr Tumnus. Like Narnia before Aslan’s return, he seemed to be saying, Britain needn’t be “always winter, but never Christmas”.

So get your jabs, folks, and cry freedom – until the next winter crisis, at least. 

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