'Plague Island' Cut Off, Christmas Cancelled
Christmas celebrations in London will be muted as emergency measures take effect - within Britain and more widely - to limit the spread of an 'out of control' COVID-19 mutation.
Just when it can't get any worse ... it gets a whole lot worse! The last few days in England have been truly dismal. Awful. Abysmal.
The virus is on the rampage again ... a new mutation is spreading ... the Lockdown in London is now so rigorous that newspaper headlines have been screaming: 'Christmas Cancelled!' ... up to fifty countries have banned flights from Britain ... and our old ally, France, abruptly shut down for 48 hours the crucial ferry link across the Channel taken by up to 10,000 huge freight trucks every day.
And that's before I've got to recounting that other crisis besetting this once mighty and now truly blighted nation, namely the Brexit countdown.
We really are now a puny offshore island, a speck on the map, a place with lots of heritage, slivers of culture, a few distinct commodities and next-to-no importance. We are cut off, marooned. From Imperial power to 'Plague Island' within a single lifespan.
The COVID mutation that has taken firm root in and around London seems to be no more lethal than the original, but it is significantly more infectious. So, many more people are contracting the virus, hospitals are coming under acute strain and there's likely to be a spike in deaths in a week or two. The health minister has admitted that the new COVID variant is 'out of control', adding the perhaps unnecessary caution: 'this is deadly serious'.
The government has responded by re-imposing what amounts to a Lockdown in the London area and tightening up the rules elsewhere. An intended five-day relaxation of restrictions for Christmas has been largely rolled back. There's a lot of talk about a still more intense national Lockdown within a week or two.
Although Boris Johnson's response to the variant was to try to stem its spread out of London to the rest of Britain, he was taken by surprise when scores of other nations, by exactly the same logic, sought to prevent the mutation transmitting beyond Britain's shores.
Almost every European Union member state - our immediate neighbours - banned travel from Britain. Delhi has stopped all flights between Britain and India until the end of the year and dozens of other countries have imposed similar restrictions.
These measures will at best delay the spread of the mutation but that may still be of huge benefit. Scientists believe the new variant will not be resistant to the COVID-19 vaccines already being developed and rolled-out.
The body blow for Britain was France's decision to impose a temporary ban on all freight traffic on the hugely busy ferry route from Dover to Calais, which accounts for up to a fifth of Britain's international trade. Thousands of trucks spent a couple of days stationary on motorways or parked up on disused airfields, amid a growing air of national crisis.
It's difficult to escape the impression that the French were saying to 'Brexit' Britain: sorry guys, you're on your own now!
And Brexit ... so, Britain left the European Union at the end of January, but nothing in practice changes until the end of a transition period ... in a little over a week from now. The purpose of that transition period was to allow time to negotiate en enduring trade deal between Britain and its former partners in the EU. But those desperately important trade talks are still limping on.
The key sticking point, it seems, is fish. For how long and on what basis will EU fishing vessels have access to what will become British coastal waters?
Britain is, of course, an island (see above) and you might imagine that commercial fishing in the surrounding seas is crucial to the economy. Actually, fishing employs just 12,000 people in Britain, so that's about the population of a large Indian village; it accounts for 0.1% of national wealth; we import more fish than we export.
Put another way, the Indian food industry in Britain is at least three times as big - in terms both of jobs and money generated - than the nation's fishing fleets. Yet there's a chance that a fuss about fish quotas will scupper a trade deal. And British firms still have no idea on what basis they will be trading with the European Union from 1st January.
So, you can see how bleak it all looks from a British perspective. We can at least take some slender solace that things can't get any worse. Can they?