Day 19 of lockdown, and some Britons have identified a greater enemy than even the Wuhan wet market’s snack counter, home to the most maligned bat since Val Kilmer. That deadly foe is the 5G rollout, linked by some conspiracists to the coronavirus. Attempts to defeat it have so far seen at least 20 5G towers set fire to around the country, hampering emergency communication and the channels used by critical workers responding to the current crisis. Great job, guys! It’s the equivalent of destroying air-raid sirens during the blitz because you heard they turn you Nazi.
This wildly mushrooming conspiracy seems driven in part by anti-vaxxers, who’ve apparently tired of endangering lives one way and need a new thrill, a bit like when the Zodiac killer switched from firearms to knives. But only in part – it also takes in far-right YouTube wingnuts, galaxy-brained celebrities, InfoWars, David Icke, Russia Today… the full catastrophe, basically.
We all have newfound respect for supermarkets, though, not simply because visiting one is now the going-out equivalent of hitting a nightclub. I truly salute the staff for adapting to the exhausting demands of our new reality, as well as relaxing their rules on letting in single men. Plus it’s a novelty to meet a breed of doorman who isn’t going to end up in a news report concluding with the words “the trial continues”. That said, we must as always make a distinction between the supermarket workers and the supermarket bosses. Tesco took £585m bailout tax relief, and promptly paid £635m dividends to its biggest investors, some of which are the richest institutions on Earth.
In other business news, despite more than 300,000 inquiries, just 2,500 government-backed loans have been granted . You might have been surprised to learn the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was surprised to learn banks weren’t lending, despite the fact he’d told them to. Alas, the thing about the banks is that you can’t bank on them. The Conservative party’s relationship with the banks is basically Dot Cotton’s relationship with her son, Nick. Maybe he’s changed this time, you know?
Labour news continues to have all the reach of a secret diary. Newly elected leader Keir Starmer has brought back Ed Miliband, the man famously identified as a chaos harbinger by David Cameron. Which has turned out to be rather like being identified as slightly creepy by Jimmy Savile.
But for better or worse, Miliband’s highest-profile outings in recent years have been as pixels in the notorious Cameron tweet. In the madly accelerated times in which we live, Ed already seems like a relic from a different geological age. If only there was some sort of Rosetta-type stone that might be discovered to help us decipher the ancient times from whence he hails.
At least celebrities are leading the lives of anonymity they have always claimed to crave, a piece of wish fulfilment that has forced them to emerge only hourly to invade their own privacy with Instagram videos of them failing winsomely at basic household tasks. If you’ve caught any of these, you’ll be enjoying what amounts to an emergent “I can’t believe I’m cleaning!” genre, though will likely side with the washing machine in any content labelled #mywashingmachinehatesme.
The question on much of the media’s lips this week has been: how long will the lockdown last? You wonder what’s behind the government’s refusal to give a straight answer along the lines of “many weeks more”. An aversion to spoilers? Maybe it welcomes the distraction. On Thursday, Dominic Raab intoned that this crisis had “made us think long and hard about who the key workers are in our lives”. Not that hard, as it turned out. Also on Thursday, the government sneaked out its points-based immigration planning, which ranks many of the same “essential workers” somewhere between convicted foreign sex killers and people who tick yes to the visa inquiry “Have you ever been involved in preparing an act of terrorism?”. Or to put it the way the official Home Office guidance prefers: “There will not be an immigration route specifically for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route.” Forgive me if even mentioning the people getting us through it constitutes some kind of crisis faux pas. For some, ignoring the realities low-paid nurses or delivery workers face is key to the spirit of national togetherness.
One of the unwritten conventions of British public life is that no matter how ill-advised or ill-prepared any military action we’ve committed to is, once it starts, you get behind the troops. The government keeps telling us this current crisis is a war, so in the spirit of speaking their preferred language, I guess the troops are us. Not them: they’re the generals. So let me be clear that I’m very much getting behind us, and thank us for our service.
But when we’re seeing 1,000 casualties a day - just as we did in Italy while our generals were still deciding not to act – and grave problems with testing, and NHS staff are crying out daily for the right kit, it’s certainly worth considering whether the troops were led into an ambush. The people dying right now are likely to have caught the disease in the middle of last month (between 11 and 21 March), when the government’s advisers reportedly surmised the British people would never accept a lockdown. It’s – how to put this blandly enough not to offend the free-speech snowflakes out there? – OK to wonder if we might have expected better.
Instead, though, there’s a sort of meth-assisted Boys’ Own quality to some of the more obsessive lines of inquiry. This week, there was some focus on whether Dominic Raab had written the so-called “letters of last resort”, replacing the versions of them Boris Johnson wrote when he took office, which contain instructions for who takes military charge in the event of the nuclear obliteration of the government. It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? A thousand people are dying every day and some members of the lobby would very much like to know if Mr Raab has written to a submarine captain.
Then again, given the seismic collapse in ad revenues, it looks like all of us journalists are going to need to retrain into different careers after this, so it’s probably good to showcase alternative skill sets. On this evidence, a few would make excellent submarine crew, because they seem pretty relaxed about waiting to find out what the fuck happened until six months after the event.
Maybe at some subconscious level, people thought this level of fatality was something that just couldn’t happen in the UK, like winning the Eurovision song contest or becoming a police state. It’s funny how quickly you go from the old certainties to mildly watching Thursday’s clip of the Northants police chief threatening to get his officers to search the contents of people’s shopping baskets for items he deems non-essential. What can you say? In the spirit of national togetherness, my main takeout from this is that we should really commit to a Eurovision entry next year.
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist