HELLO and welcome to Step on a Rake, the game show where clever people do dumb things. Previous winners of the show have included Catherine “Second Home” Calderwood, Scotland’s former chief medical officer, and Robert Jenrick, England’s well-travelled Communities Minister.

This week’s contestant is a young fella by the name of Neil Ferguson. Neil is a professor of mathematical biology (audience: “Ooooooh…”) who works at Imperial College in London. Better known as “Professor Lockdown”, he is one of the reasons you have not been able to hug your grandchildren for the past seven weeks (audience: “Boooooh …).

Now, now. Do not rush to judgment. Let us look at what he has done. Told governments that without a strict lockdown hundreds of thousands of lives would be lost? Yes. During said lockdown had not one but two assignations with his lover who lived across town, thus breaking the same rules that he had been promoting? Yes. Did so knowing that he had had the virus and had self-isolated for “almost” two weeks? Yes. I think we have a clear winner here. Go on Neil, step on that rake!

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One of many new words the crisis has given us is the term “covidiot”, used to shame people who are behaving in selfish, ignorant or arrogant ways and breaking the rules. It is usually applied to crowds of faceless “little people”, when in truth some of the biggest covidiots of all are known to us and occupy positions of power and influence.

Take the Prime Minister. Papers from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) released this week show the Government was warned about the risk of shaking hands on March 3. The same day, Boris Johnson boasted of doing so with hospital patients, some of whom he thought had the virus. He went on to shake hands at a rugby match, then at a service in Westminster Abbey. Mr Johnson, as we know, went on to contract the virus and become very poorly indeed. People cannot help becoming ill. One thinks, in particular, about those who day after day are exposed to the virus often without proper protection. But for a PM to openly defy advice, and brag about doing so, was idiotic.

The crisis reached a grisly milestone on Tuesday when it was confirmed that the UK had the highest reported death toll in Europe, worse than any other country in the world bar America. Not that such comparisons are encouraged. A new feature of the daily Downing Street briefings, and ministerial interviews, is the bit where we are told that comparing death tolls at this stage is unwise and unhelpful. Mr Johnson trotted out the same line yesterday when he made his long-awaited debut against Keir Starmer at PMQs.

The “no comparisons” argument goes like this. Different countries count deaths differently and, while the next bit is largely unspoken, some of them cannot be relied on to tell the truth. Only after the crisis has passed, and after much data mining, can we say with any certainty how well, or otherwise, countries have performed. In the meantime, critics should put a sock in it and stop being wise after the event. Everyone is doing their best. Unprecedented times. Bad for morale, and so on.

What nonsense. The idea that conclusions cannot be drawn at this point is ridiculous. More covidiocy. The process is already happening. On The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, was asked if fewer people would have died had there been more testing earlier on. “Yes,” he said. “If we had had 100,000 test-capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively, I’m sure many things could be different.” Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, told MPs this week: “In the early phases, if we had managed to ramp testing capacity quicker, it would have been beneficial.”

READ MORE: Johnson gives signal on lockdown lifting

All over the country people are making their own minds up. They know the UK was too slow on testing; too slow on lockdown; not fast enough in tackling the crisis engulfing care homes; and fell down on the job when it came to stockpiling the right protective equipment. Meanwhile, visitors from stricken countries poured in, untested.

If the evidence points to such conclusions, why not admit the mistakes and learn from them? It would go against every fibre of governments to do so, but just as they are quick to claim credit for what has gone right, so they should acknowledge where things went wrong. Only in that way can the public be sure governments are learning from mistakes.

With the lifting of the lockdown approaching this matters more than ever. We are being told that nothing is certain. Scientific advice will be followed. Right decisions at the right time. Slow, steady and safe. You’ve heard the record before.

How can we be sure this will be the case? The pressure to lift the lockdown, there from the start, is building. Though Scotland’s First Minister continues to caution against any move being made soon, there has been a noticeable change of tone at UK Government level.

The big push is on. Ministers who previously wanted to throw a supportive arm around anxious workers with furlough schemes are now fretting over the cost. There is a drip feed of stories in the media about what life after lockdown will look like.

After being terrified into staying at home we are being asked to believe that it will soon be safe to go back out there. The Prime Minister cannot wait to get going, despite his talk of caution. In the Commons yesterday he had to admit that he planned to unveil his plans to the public on Sunday via a televised address, rather than bringing them to the Commons first, because some changes could happen on Monday.

Confidence or arrogance? Once again, the public is being asked to trust, without hesitation, the experts and the governments they advise. Two groups we now know contain people who do not follow their own guidance, and who, in the main, will not acknowledge they did anything wrong. Now that really is taking us for covidiots.

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