Be prepared. Be very prepared.

As we enter the final straight of the lockdown 500 and a shimmering finish line appears in the distance, could it be time to consider what we have learned from the pandemic? Yes, that oil spill left by the Indian car on its penultimate lap must still be safely navigated before the race is run and champagne can be sprayed over a group of more than six spectators. But the end is tantalisingly close.

Plus which the blame game here in the UK is already well underway, so now seems as good a time as any to learn something / anything from the past year. And if lockdown is indeed extended as feared then these lessons may help the authorities get us out of lockdown four sooner. Which would be nice.

Lesson 1: We understand the world a little better, even if we continue to treat it badly.

Given that experts were so ‘last year’ until, er, last year, it’s nice to see real experts — epidemiologists, virologists, professors of public health — in the public eye once again.

Thanks to them, we now know that zoonotic transfer is not the logistical challenge of flying male pandas around the world in the hope that they will have little pandas and help replenish zoo coffers. Most understand that it’s the means by which pathogens naturally move between species. What isn’t natural about this, of course, is the way the process has been hastened by human exploitation of the planet's resources.

Fortifying themselves with powders and potions made from parts of rare animals may soothe fragile eggshell egos and help men believe they still have what it takes in the trouser department. But by facilitating the trade in pangolin scale powder they also screwed around with nature and, far from making the earth move, their blink-and-its-over bedroom antics brought the planet to a standstill.

Lesson 2: This is the self-preservation society.

It seems the recent unpleasantness has merely been a run-through for armageddon, and the four horsemen have long since been stood down. But when the end days arrive for real, be in no doubt that some git will be trying to turn a few quid out of it by WhatsApping an MP he once welcomed to his pub and offering 20,000 facemasks his brother in law’s mate Barry made in a railway arch from paper towel harvested from the gents of every Wetherspoon’s across Kent.

I hesitate to call these people spivs because there is a world of difference between the offers of hastily procured, sub-standard PPE and blitz contraband like fags, silk stockings and chocolate offered from the multi-pocketed lining of a pinstriped suit jacket. The latter are luxury items made scarce by war and provided by opportunists. PPE such as facemasks, gloves and gowns are essential items for the efficient running of an underfunded healthcare system in an advanced economy, and should never be a black market commodity. Five-year-olds would surely understand that it would be wise to have a few spare bits of PPE at the back of the country’s store cupboards YOU KNOW, JUST IN CASE.

Indeed, a lack of PPE was predicted by the government’s own Cygnus exercise back in 2016, which also foresaw inadequate numbers of ventilators as a result of a virus arriving in the UK from Asia. This last detail is particularly rich and speaks to some serious outside-the-box thinking at the time.

Yet despite this, fore-warned is for-gotten, it seems.

Lesson 3: Learn from history

The main lesson is one for our leaders, a shamelessly flag-obsessed bunch who insist we learn from history, rather than “rewriting” it by removing the statues of slavers from our streets, for example.

In this spirit, then, the government’s promise of a full inquiry into how Covid-19 was handled should be welcomed. Of course, this review will take years and will either come to no obvious conclusion or criticise the actions of those who will have long since left government. Perhaps we could cut to the chase and draw one particularly useful lesson without a multi-million-pound public enquiry.

It’s a lesson drawn from the favourite two words of a now-controversial public figure whose statue was targeted for removal last year. This alone should have merited the government’s attention, of course.

“Be prepared!” Baden Powell famously demanded of his scouts. Commemorated in bronze on the seafront in Poole, his statue was saved from the council’s woke forklift trucks by red-faced guardians. One brandished a sign that read “British history matters.’

In this case, it’s a sentiment we can all agree with. If only our government had learned from history and heeded Baden Powell’s words. The country might have been better prepared for the pandemic as a result.



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James Tate

James Tate


A pick and mix of words; now online, better packaged and more expensive, like everything post-COVID. The sour cherries are best. The opinions are my own.