Coronavirus: Huge decisions for PM to tackle

By Chris Mason
Political correspondent, BBC News

  • Published
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a daily press conference at 10 Downing Street on March 20, 2020 in London, England. During the press conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told pubs, cafes, bars, restaurants and gyms to close, whilst Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the government will pay up to 80% of the wages of those unable to work due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisisImage source, Getty Images

How do you think the government is handling the Coronavirus crisis?

Your view might depend on where in the UK you are reading this.

It might depend on your own circumstances.

Your family, your health, your age, your faith, your job.

Each one of us is wrestling with a very personal set of dilemmas around risk and responsibilities.

The risk to our health and others, the risk to our livelihoods.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Londoners got fresh air this weekend in Battersea Park, but the number of cases of coronavirus continues to grow

The responsibilities to our families, our employees, our community.

Lay people - ie most of us - are attempting to interpret fairly generic symptoms, particularly in children.

We might be fretting about the wellbeing of (otherwise well) children caught in quarantine because others are unwell.

What about the trade off between our domestic responsibilities and those we might have as key workers to wider society?

And then, enter next, the government - like any other organisation, a collection of fallible individuals - caught up in this like the rest of us, but making decisions of a magnitude they have never made before and probably never imagined ever having to make.

A rapidly changing global situation collides with huge trade offs between giant concepts - such as liberty and safety.

A prime minister, famed for his phraseology and his capacity to communicate, faces thundering criticism in The Times.

"The prime minister who dreamt of being Churchill may find himself cast as Neville Chamberlain," The Times said in a wounding swipe; Boris Johnson is, it claims, "hesitant and behind the curve".

And yet at least one poll suggested broad support for the government's approach.

Then there's the alien concept, let alone the barely heard phrase, a matter of weeks ago, of social distancing.

Again, advice we are left to wrestle with: the pub and the leisure centre are shut. But do get fresh air, the medics suggested.

Cue a weekend of spots famed for their fresh air proving rather popular.

Perhaps some wantonly ignoring advice. Perhaps others acting in good faith personally, but discovering others have independently chosen to do exactly the same thing, collectively defeating the object.

There must be a louder, more comprehensive public education campaign, some demand.

The government counters it is the biggest ever in peacetime.

Behavioural science is being deployed - attempts to predict how society will react.

But attempting to predict how we will collectively respond to something entirely unprecedented in the lifetimes of any of us.

This is, bluntly, a grave, three dimensional, rapidly changing situation, where none of us from the prime minister down can be certain what the outcome will be; medically, psychologically, sociologically on any of us; all of us.

And here's the central truth.

None of us are observers.

We are all participants.