It’s not the day
for a new dawn,
says Roger Ratcliffe

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Apparently we are all coming out of hibernation this weekend like hedgehogs or dormice that snored right through their springtime alarm clock.

When a politician sugar-coats an announcement by making us sound like we are characters from a children’s book having a jolly good stretch after a lovely sleep-in, I smell a rat. Not the cuddly water vole confusingly named Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows but the actual sewer-loving, vicious-teethed, grey-brown rodent. And when it’s our prime minister who so casually makes light of something that is deadly serious I just know he’s deploying the same rat-like cunning that took us out of the EU and won him an election. Think £350 million and 40 new hospitals.

Reducing the worst health and financial crisis the country has faced for at least a century to a mere national slumber is a warning that we can only ever expect a distorted, rose-tinted picture of the Covid-19 tragedy from the government. It didn’t want to take the hard decisions in early March that we now know would have saved many thousands of lives, because it feared the financial costs, and it is now trying to coax us back to normal life despite scientists calling for a more cautious approach.

I agree with the Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham when he accuses the government of reopening pubs, bars and restaurants on the basis of economic rather than health evidence. It’s particularly concerning, he adds, that everything is set to reopen on a Saturday, rather than a staggered approach being adopted that would allow police and councils to ensure adequate precautions are in place.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the government that Saturday is the nation’s big night out. After more than three months of “hibernation”, hospitality businesses will be confronted by thirsty, hungry hordes. They will be impossible to control if those scenes at parks and beaches following the last lockdown relaxation are any guide.

We all want to pick up the threads of our pre-23 March lives again, but the long game for all of us is surviving a pernicious health emergency. Putting ourselves at risk on the jovial say-so of probably the most deceitful prime minister in history would be crazy.

There’s talk of people still being advised to cover their faces in pubs and restaurants but, seriously, will anyone do that? Is it even possible to eat or drink with a mask over your mouth? Is this the normal life we all crave?

I can’t help thinking that the government’s advice is driven by lobbying from big chains, often owned by hedge funds and private equity firms, as in the case of Prezzo and the Admiral Taverns pub group. They have the clout – and probably not a few Tories as investors – to drive the political agenda.

Many small and privately owned bars and restaurants will survive because they have worked hard to satisfy the needs of their customer base with takeaways. I get delicious home-made pies from a gastro pub in Bradford, wonderful freshly roasted coffee from a café in north Leeds. As far as I’m concerned they have created a new sense of what is normal life. One day I may be persuaded that my old lifestyle is possible, but not yet.

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