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20th March 2021

Annie Dabb: Whitty Repartee

Annie Dabb questions what exactly an Oxford education has done for Chris Whitty and makes some suggestions for the government’s Coronavirus measures
Annie Dabb: Whitty Repartee
Chris Whitty. Picture: Gresham College @ Flickr

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has avowed that ‘revising the plan to ease England’s lockdown would risk fresh covid surge’. 

I mean, come on. 

You’ll often find me banging on about how I’m wasting 27 grand on my English Literature degree, but it really does seem like Oxford University ripped this man off.

Surely any idiot can look at the situation in the UK and realise that easing the lockdown isn’t going to reduce Covid cases by any stretch of the imagination. 

In true stereotypically British fashion, I, much like the rest of the country now that the sun is deigning to grace us with its presence, am desperate to get out to a beer garden with my mates.

Although to be honest, I think I’m more excited about the prospect of sitting in the university library for hours on end without a mask on, and the consequent end to ‘mascne’ (facemask acne) causing me to exist in a vicious cycle of simultaneously mask-induced dependency and insecurity. 

That being said, do I think it’s a good idea to ease lockdown quickly? Absolutely not. However, I am very aware that summer is coming and that people are desperate to socialise and enjoy the hot weather. Especially judging by the behaviour of hordes of sun seeking Brits flocking to Britain’s beaches last summer, or even two weeks ago.

A desperation only exacerbated by the wearying atrocity of the government’s handling of the whole coronavirus situation. Which, quite frankly, has been an episode of history I imagine even Laura Kuenssberg would struggle to dismiss as ‘scuffles’.

Truthfully, being just as sick of all of this as everyone else, I almost don’t blame the inevitability of people doing what they want anyway. A global contagion does seem like a marginally extreme risk just for a tan but hey, the world is on fire anyway.

Furthermore, I’m thinking about all of the businesses which (of those that are left) will invariably be forced to close unless they reopen. It seems we’re presented with a choice of economic or health service collapse. In a damningly capitalist society in which the NHS is treated like a charity, who’s to say which outcome is worse? 

In the same article, Whitty warns against the risk of a more serious third wave of Covid infections. On the one hand, I’m also inclined to employ the good ol’ ‘well hey, three times the charm’ phrase. It seems to work well for the Holy Trinity at least, religion having existed effortlessly for centuries with absolutely no issues or conflicts whatsoever

On the other hand, I feel like it’s vital to reiterate at this point that I am perhaps the furthest thing from a medical professional one can imagine. With that in mind, whilst the ‘rule of three’ is an excellent literary device, I do have to remind myself frequently that real life isn’t actually a novel, poem or piece of satire. Although I do find this mind-set to be an excellent coping mechanism for dire circumstances if anyone happens to be looking for one. 

Whitty also expressed his concern that exiting lockdown faster, when fewer people are vaccinated, would send more people into hospital and lead to more deaths. This would probably produce the same results as when John Green’s eponymous character in ‘Looking for Alaska’ suggests that the best way to escape this “labyrinth of suffering” is “hard and fast”. Spoiler alert: it’s not a happy ending. 

Maybe the government could take some pointers from literature. I’m the first to rinse myself and other English students about the employability statistics for our degree programme. However, one need only look at Shelley’s poems about the French Revolution to see that literature throughout history is often depressingly telling of the current situation. More importantly, it often can – and should – be read as a warning. So by all means, to quote Shelley, ‘rise like lions after slumber’, but if people could confine their ‘unvanquishable number’ at least to groups of 6, we might have more chance of getting out of this pandemic of suffering. 

Furthermore, we’re all living in a country run by someone with a degree in Classics. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to Bojo to draw on his expensive education to make intelligent decisions. Not that there would be any reference whatsoever to apocalyptic-esque circumstances in the classics. Homer, penny for your thoughts? 

In a direct quote from Whitty, he expressed that “It is really important that we do not give any impression that what we are expecting is this just goes away and there are no further deaths… That is not realistic and I think to pretend that to the British public would be completely wrong”.

It is quotes like this which make me question why it is people like Johnson rather than Whitty who have the most say in how the country is run. I think I’d feel much more confident at least in the morality of his judgments, rather than those passed by an Oxford graduate who coasted by on the back of his daddy’s name and money. 

Experts in the modelling subgroup of Sage calculate that even under the most optimistic scenario, at least 30,000 more Covid deaths could occur in the UK. That’s not many more lives than there are students at Oxford University. Maybe if we compare the amount of people being wiped out by Covid by the number of potential Boris Johnsons there are in the world, the prime minister will actually listen to the medical professionals and scientists this time. 

When questioned by MPs, Whitty made clear that “What we don’t want to do is to accelerate into trouble and then have to reverse straight back out again, open things up and immediately close them down”. And I completely agree. That does seem like a terrible idea and definitely not something the UK government would ever allow to happen. The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme was a great money saver though, wasn’t it?  

One thing’s for sure, I don’t see Bojo advocating a similar sort of hospitality promoting scheme any time soon. Many people blamed the influx in restaurant-goers because of it as a large contributor to the UK’s second wave of coronavirus. Although let me tell you, whilst we may be skint, it wasn’t just students I saw enjoying a half price meal out, thank you very much. 

So to conclude, maybe everyone should just hold tight, imagine the world like a rollercoaster (a corona-coaster, if you will) and make sure our hands and feet (and all other physical parts of ourselves) are safely inside the compartment that is our household, before we can have the ride of our lives.

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