Politicians know how pointless many Covid rules are. But they still expect the rest of us to follow them.
We know that so many of the Covid rituals are pointless. Has a single life been saved by the ubiquitous elbow bump? Does social distancing in the great outdoors really stave off infection? Is there any point to wearing a mask while walking around, only to take it off as soon as you sit down? And now, thanks to the pictures from the G7, we know that our leaders know these gestures are largely pointless, too. The contrast between the official, staged, ‘Covid-secure’ photos of the G7 leaders and the rest of the footage of them could not be more stark.
In one set of photos, we saw our presidents and prime ministers adhering strictly to social-distancing guidance, wearing masks and greeting each other with their elbows. Meanwhile, other footage showed them hugging, slapping each other’s backs and crowding together in large groups – Covid rules be damned.
Some have alleged that the leaders’ BBQ exceeded England’s legal limit on gatherings. The government insists that it stuck to the ‘rule of 30’ for outdoor events. But it is not the possible rule-breaking that should annoy us – it is the persistence of all the Covid theatre.
All of the G7 leaders will have been vaccinated. All have been getting tested for Covid every day. So why do they insist on going through the motions for the camera, only to jettison the rituals moments later? They could not have made it clearer that this is all for show.
Clearly, major diplomatic events like the G7 summit cannot properly function with social distancing or masking rules. Sometimes the informal get-togethers, the quiet chit-chats in between the official meetings, can be just as important for getting a diplomatic breakthrough as the official roundtables.
What the G7 leaders fail to recognise is that the same is true for the rest of society. Social life, business and creativity are all being sacrificed to Covid theatre, even as the threat from Covid recedes. It would be impossible to calculate the vast number of ideas, inventions and creative leaps that would have otherwise emerged in the past year or so were it not for bans on people mixing informally. Spontaneous interactions, chance encounters and rubbing up against each other are what drive society forward. But these kinds of interactions have been effectively banned for all but the most powerful people on Earth.
All of the G7 nations have instituted lockdowns and social-distancing rules of some form over the past 15 months. And in all of these countries, high-ranking politicians and public-health officials have been caught, in their private lives, breaking the very rules they devised for the public.
We are bound to see even more of this hypocrisy in future. Climate change will eventually overshadow Covid-19 as the threat that most concerns our elites. As with Covid, we can expect them to implement restrictions on travel and on economic activity in response. We are already treated, every year, to the spectacle of private jets and helicopters descending for gatherings like the World Economic Forum, so that the global elites can decide which of our freedoms should be sacrificed for the good of the planet. Many citizens are currently banned from the skies thanks to Covid restrictions. Perhaps we will be kept out by exorbitant carbon pricing in decades to come. But we know the rich and powerful will continue to travel as they please.
What made the G7 summit snaps all the more galling was that we all knew the prime minister was planning to announce another month of restrictions. Meanwhile, our leaders are only expected to tolerate these restrictions for the duration of a photo-op. It’s time they stopped patronising the public with these phoney Covid gestures, and let people get on with the business of living.