Omicron: A Christmas gift for Boris

Andrew Donaldson says the bug was a useful diversion for the UK's blundering and blustering PM


IT is the season for giving. And how Omicron has delivered, storming to the rescue like the proverbial cavalry into the maelstrom of blinding blunder surrounding Boris Johnson. The mutant virus has thrown the PM a diversionary lifeline: here, old cock, is another opportunity to roll out the trusted Churchill schtick: a chance to save Christmas and, of course, this being the Peppa Pig era of British politics, your own bacon and the world be damned.

Johnson, you may recall, had drawn on pinkish Peppa, a cartoon character resembling a hairdryer, in a shambles of a speech to the Confederation of British Industry last week. Had the delegates been to Peppa Pig World, he wondered? The PM had. And, indeed, this toddlers’ theme park was “very much my kind of place. It had very safe streets, discipline in schools, heavy emphasis on new mass-transit systems.” 

It was not the sort of thing that the captains of industry wanted to hear, mired as they were in the “capacity issues” that came with the recovery of the UK’s sovereignty. (There are, oddly, more euphemisms and terms for Brexit than the Inuit have for snow.) Little wonder that political commentators here have suggested that Johnson’s buffoonish “comic” style had at last run out of steam, that the joke just isn’t funny anymore. And all this before that furious diplomatic spat with the French over asylum seekers drowning in the Channel.

Thank heavens, then, for this bug that the South African scientists had identified. 

Best blustery boots on, and onward, chums, to act in a manner best described as ruthless, hard and fast, doing the right thing, making all the difficult decisions; meet the spiky little bugger head-on and do battle with it before it gains a foothold in the redoubt. 

And who could argue with that? I mean, apart from the southern African countries now suddenly isolated from the rest of the world? And how reassuring that, like falling dominoes, so many other developed countries had followed Britain’s lead in closing their borders to travellers from South Africa and her neighbours. 

World leaders! Again! Ruling the waves!

Cyril Ramaphosa is pretty steamed by all this. It doesn’t help that there is all this patronising praise for the transparency and speed with which South African scientists had acted in alerting the global community to Omicron’s presence. The selflessness! So unlike the Chinese, let’s say. Or those European countries who had detected the virus in samples before it was reported by the South Africans. Samples, mind you, taken from those who may not even have ever visited southern Africa.

Rwanda, Mauritius, Seychelles and Egypt have meanwhile joined those countries who have imposed restrictions, and Squirrel is justifiably dismayed. Speaking to reporters ahead of a trip to Ghana and Senegal, among other countries, for trade talks and what-what, the president said, “I am concerned out of due respect to them, I mean they have their own reasons, but we would like to have a discussion with them. We would prefer that they do not react like our former colonisers who are very quick to close Africa down. Because I think that it’s most unfortunate that they too have joined in this. We hold the view that it’s unscientific, and we would have liked them to be a lot more scientific so that we are able to find solutions and answers.”

Well, to be fair, the answers will come. Little is known of Omicron, but that will soon change. Initial observations suggest the symptoms are mild, but the plague spotters here are keeping very close tabs on hospital admissions in Gauteng. Any rise in bed occupations justifies the hardline, knee-jerk response. This, mind you, at a time when there are about 40 000 new infections daily in the UK. And, of course, Omicron is already here — and may have been so for at least a month. 

At the time of writing, there are 22 confirmed cases in England and Scotland. This will change. Numbers will rise dramatically.

Travel restrictions and other lockdown measures may give the impression that leaders like Johnson and others are firmly in charge of the situation, and are managing the crisis. But, really, a global vaccine programme rollout is by far the best way to effectively combat the pandemic. 

In this regard, and from one Johnson to a couple of others, it is perhaps good news that South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare has announced a deal that would allow it to bottle and market the Johnson & Johnson vaccine across Africa under the brand name Aspenovax.

Aspen, according to the New York Times, would then have the right to determine to whom the vaccine will be sold, in what quantities and at what price. The agreement stops short of allowing Aspen the right to produce the drug itself, but Johnson & Johnson will direct other facilities to manufacture vaccine ingredients which would then be sent to Aspen to be blended into vaccine doses.

The control over vaccine intellectual property rights has been a contentious issue. Aspen has been bottling Johnson & Johnson vaccines for some time now. Earlier this year, for example, it controversially shipped millions of doses bottled at its Eastern Cape plant to Europe and other parts of the world at a time when many African countries were struggling to obtain supplies to vaccinate their own citizens. Hopefully, the new deal could avert such glaring cases of vaccine apartheid.

It’s no consolation, I know, but international travel will resume. Perhaps when British tourists return to South Africa, they could be charged double or triple the usual rates at hard-hit hotels, game lodges and restaurants. Some sort of Covid recovery tax.

The writ stuff ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

I imagine they’re very busy at the moment, but I’ve kindly emailed Sekunjalo Investment Holdings my contact details here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”). According to reports in the Independent newspapers, a significant matter is shortly to appear before the courts. The company is on the threshold of taking legal action against various media houses, their journalists, several academics and media commentators, as well as “specific individuals who have made it their mission to disparage and undermine the reputation and value of Sekunjalo and its related entities”.

The company added, “This follows years of relentless attacks directed at denigrating and tarnishing the name of Executive Chairman of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings and Independent Media, and by association, the reputation of the various companies in which Dr Iqbal Survé, his family, and his business holdings, have invested.

“These attacks have been public, voracious, and targeted. There is a very clear agenda here and that is to destroy anything and everything that Dr Survé has a personal interest in. As to why that might be, is open to speculation.”

Well, fair enough. But here’s the thing: imagine not being sued by the late Nelson Mandela’s former personal physician and all your colleagues left, right and centre have been served with writs and summonses by Survé. What then? 

The utter shame and sense of worthlessness. How could one show one’s face at the next fashionable dinner party? I don’t think I would ever be able to live it down if I wasn’t hauled before the beak and there asked to explain some of my ad hominem attacks on the world’s greatest media magnate. 

“And what exactly did you infer, Mr Donaldson, when you suggested that my client has child-bearing hips?”

Indeed. As Sekunjalo put it, “Consequently, with mounting indisputable evidence, action will now be taken against those parties that have lied, deliberately misrepresented the Group’s position and in many instances, have actively conspired to destabilise its businesses. ‘We will have our say and day in court,’ concluded Dr Survé.”

And we hope to see you there. Sincerely. 

Fishwives needed

Nadine Dorries, the British culture secretary, is a Scouser whose council estate childhood experiences have informed her dreary novels of sexual and domestic abuse. She brings a forthright bolshiness to traditionally reserved Tory ranks. But, despite her politics — a bit to the right of Genghis Khan — her confrontational style has earned the grudging respect of the UK commentariat. When, in 2013, a journalist questioned the extraordinarily high salary her daughter received as her constituency office manager, Dorries tweeted: “Be seen within a mile of my daughters and I will nail your balls to the floor... using your own front teeth. Do you get that?” 

Her colleagues have also borne the brunt of her unparliamentary manner. She famously labelled former PM David Cameron and former chanceller George Osborne as “two arrogant posh boys”. When a fellow Tory backbencher suggested there weren’t many MPs from the working classes because they didn’t know how to write letters, she wrote him one which read, in full: “Dear Mr [Jacob] Rees-Mogg, you are a fuckwit. Yours sincerely, Nadine Dorries.”

They do like that sort of brass here. Which is perhaps why Dorries, unsurprisingly, is leading a campaign against hate speech. Asked whether her own behaviour fell into the category of abuse in terms of proposed online safety legislation, she told a parliamentary committee: “I’m not going to answer any of these questions, I find them quite personal…” 

Many of our own female politicians may wish to take up the Dorries approach. Perhaps it is the sexism and misogyny in traditional African culture, but so many leaders, like the ruling party’s acting secretary-general Jessie Duarte and ANC Women’s League shrinking violet Bathabile Dlamini are such shy, retiring types, hardly the go-getters likely to inspire schoolgirls to consider a career in public service.

Tourism minister and “struggle princess” Lindiwe Sisulu is of particular concern. She was on the TV here on Sunday, railing away at “you people” for the travel ban. Perhaps, though, if she was more piss and vinegar and less hair product, the BBC’s mild-mannered Andrew Marr would personally have removed South Africa from the red list. I mean, Marr has testicles; why didn’t she give them a good chewing? A lost opportunity, I’m afraid. 

Meanwhile, at the front

Eyebrows raised, I gather, at the SA Human Rights Commission when it was revealed that former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her generals had deployed themselves at the five-star Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks to oversee military operations during the riots in KwaZulu-Natal in July. 

But where else could the minister have bunkered down? Like many SANDF members, she would have found the army’s armoured personnel carriers an uncomfortably tight squeeze. The hotel, I’m told, has excellent facilities. Its function rooms are large and airy, there is room enough for all manner of comfortable furniture, and the serving staff are super friendly and unusually attentive, unlike the sullen brutes loitering in the officers’ mess. Little wonder, then, that the Zuma uprising was put down so efficiently and the perpetrators swiftly brought to book.