ARE we on the cards for another restricted, socially isolated and slightly locked down Christmas?

People might be vaguely worried after Boris Johnson’s cryptic remarks this week about a Covid wave of infection heading across Europe towards Britain. Is that wave really about to break on British shores? Should we expect interruption to our oft-delayed family get-togethers this festive season? Or is that collective shiver down the spine all Boris Johnson really wanted to achieve – a brazen use of Covid as a smokescreen for a government in near total meltdown on almost every front?

On the one hand, there’s no doubt the situation across Europe has changed. According to the World Health Organisation, there’s been a seven per cent rise in new coronavirus cases across Europe compared with the previous week – the only region in the world where cases are increasing. Among the worst affected countries are Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, where cases have jumped by 50 per cent.

Violent anti-lockdown demonstrations in normally law-abiding, rational countries like the Netherlands and Austria are also absolutely real, as vaccine compulsion becomes a new rallying point for civil liberties campaigners and the far right. Germany’s federal government and leaders of its 16 states will meet this week to discuss tightening measures, though parties negotiating the new government say they won’t renew the pandemic state of emergency that’s due to expire midweek. The storms clouds do indeed seem to be gathering.

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But does that mean they will visit Britain next? And if this country is heading back into restriction – albeit probably not full lockdown with complex, costly furlough schemes – can we trust that Boris Johnson will actually ‘follow the science’ this time around?

In a word – no. And that's the worst possible reflection on the current state of affairs in Britain.

Voters probably assume the Prime Minister is simply using the vague threat of a fourth Covid wave to create a smokescreen powerful enough to obscure his own faltering grip on power.

But is that assumption safe?

Might there actually be a new Covid threat lurking on the horizon, something that demands a step change in behaviour as Boris has vaguely suggested – even though he’s downplayed every other Covid threat so far? Has he learnt from past mistakes? Is he aware of scientific evidence we haven’t seen? Might he be worth listening to this time? After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The terrible irony is that if he is onto something, no-one is listening. Tory voters (we're told) have completely priced in Johnson's tendency to lie, evade, exaggerate and dissemble as he deems necessary – all the better to ‘win the game’. Meanwhile, his hawkish, libertarian Health Minister Sajid Javid insists there will be no new lockdown and no closed borders, cancelled flights or lists of ‘red countries.’ He argues Britain is already familiar with Europe's latest problem – the Delta variant – since we kept our borders open for too long last time around (thanks Boris).

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So, if ministers are talking down the need for urgent action, and Boris has a history of cavalier disregard for all measures of infection control, then why should anyone think there’s trouble ahead just because he sees “the storm clouds gathering over parts of the European continent”?

And when he adds; “I’ve got to be absolutely frank with people, we’ve been here before, and we remember what happens when a wave starts rolling in” - what does that actually mean?

As usual, Boris is more determined to maintain the Churchillian overtones in his marine metaphor than make himself crystal clear. Perhaps this is scaremongering to boost the uptake of jabs, jags and boosters – the mainstay of the British Government’s Covid strategy – and encourage greater attention to new social norms of care and caution. But given the Prime Minister’s reckless mask-free appearances at COP26 and in hospitals lately that does seem unlikely.

So even if he is right and a dangerous fourth wave of Covid infection is heading our way, will anyone actually respond?

The terrible truth is that the electorate now has a Pavlovian response to proclamations by Boris Johnson. The PM’s behaviour post Brexit and in Number Ten – with lies at the despatch box and 43 policy U-turns – has conditioned us to associate his warnings of imminent doom with his probable concealment of a Boris-created crisis elsewhere.

Ask yourself. When those “storm clouds gathering” remarks were made last week, what thoughts immediately surfaced?

Was that warning a distraction from last week’s MPs’ second jobs scandal … or the imminent care homes crisis … or the imminent Northern Ireland protocol failure?

Indeed, was Lord Frost’s truculent approach to Brussels deliberately calculated to vilify the EU, and thus distract from the squillions being lost every month through Boris Johnson’s Brexit?

And let’s not forget the renewed migrant crisis. Yesterday (Sunday) Priti Patel announced a new plan to “turn back boats” crossing the Channel. Humanitarian concern for migrants at sea in choppy wintry weather is unlikely to have been her motivation.

So, was there a real heightening of the problem (after all a record 1,185 people did arrive in the UK last Thursday), a cynical response to a poll showing 77% of Tory voters think the UK Government is too soft on asylum seekers, or just another cynical smokescreen to conceal the next looming crisis?

Now, I’ll grant you, it’s probably wise to question the timing of dramatic announcements made by any government. But to get to a stage where a lurid chain of suspicion hangs over pandemic policy – an area from which you’d imagine all jiggery-pokery was absent – that’s an extraordinary breakdown of trust.

So, roll on Nicola. For most Scots the “storm clouds won’t be rolling in” until and unless a responsible adult confirms that fact. And like her or loathe her politically, the public in Scotland (and many across Britain) trust the Scottish First Minister to give us the facts straight and not manipulate Covid for shabby political purposes.

In short, the trust gap between the two governments that emerged during lockdown, shows no sign of narrowing.

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