year on from the first lockdown, and the old firm make another not-quite-celebratory appearance at a Downing Street Covid-19 press briefing. The prime minister, with his principal lieutenants, the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, aka the two gentlemen of corona, reprised their triple act, for the benefit of a nation roughly where it started, in lockdown. They are older, wiser and and no doubt chastened by the ordeals of the past 12 months (during which Boris Johnson and Whitty caught Covid). Another year over, and what have the press conferences done?
In the earliest days of the pandemic they played a vital role in public education and accountability, as the officials and the prime minister were subjected to daily questioning about this mysterious and terrifying new virus. The cast list gradually developed, with other clinicians and showings and alternative ministers leading proceedings, but up until June they were held every day. After that the frequency was gradually wound down as the first lockdown was relaxed, adding perhaps to a false sense of security during the summer of 2020. In due course, through the tier system and then the second full lockdown the frequency has picked up, though weekend sessions (as with the announcement of lockdown number 2) are rare and they are kept to a half an hour, compared with an hour plus in the early days.
The first press conference was in fact held on 16 March last year, by Johnson, Whitty and Vallance. Johnson asked for voluntary self-isolation, and a few days later expressed the hope that the coronavirus tide would be turned in 12 weeks. Those were the days. Mostly they have been informative rather than sensational, and the advisers have mostly refrained from taking the opportunity to publicly chastise ministers.