How alert are you?

Just before VE day on Friday tabloid headlines screamed the end of lockdown or at least a significant relaxation of it. So feeling justified by the impending end or relaxation, up went the bunting, out went the tables and people congregated to eat, congo and sing Vera Lynn songs in a day of togetherness and nostalgia which took no ccount of the ongoing dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic. Boris Johnson let it be known that he would be speaking to the nation on Sunday evening, giving the impression this was to announce, if not exactly the end of lockdown, then certainly a significant loosening if it – something many in his party have been angling for as the lockdown is harming their businesses and business interests.

On late Saturday evening, briefed by Number 10, the Sunday Telegraph announced the new slogan and graphic – Stay alert, Control the virus, Save lives. So Stay at home and Save the NHS had both been dropped from the message. This caused enormous anger, accusations of unclear wording from numerous politicians, scientists, healthcare professionals and members of the public, and prompted numerous questions about the meaning of Stay alert. Number 10 has been forced to issue a lengthy statement on the meaning of the phrase with regard to the fight against the virus. Apparently we can all help control it if we stay alert. More material for cartoonists! How good is a slogan if it needs to be explained?

As well as ridiculing the wording, a few picked up on the change in colours. Faisal Islam, economics editor of BBC News, tweeted: “From Red to Green…. The yellow and red was very specifically chosen to connote warning, hazard, emergency around the “stay home” message… Red & Green have v different meaning in safety regs… In UK law* Red has a “meaning or purpose” of “prohibition”, “danger alarm”.. and instructs on “dangerous behaviour.. stop.. shutdown”. Yellow is a warning. Green is used to connote information about escapes but not danger… *Health and Safety Regs 1996.”

This was emphasised by Molly’s Mum who tweeted: “It’s mind games – you don’t need to know hazard regulations to understand Red means danger & Green means safe. It’s semantics, signifiers, non-verbal communication – it’s deliberate. Deliberately making you feel it’s safe to relax the lockdown without them actually saying so.” Very Tory!

In no time after the new graphic appeared numerous alternatives popped up. This is probably one of the best.

Concerned by the colour change, Emma Harper, SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, commented: “Looks like the UK Gov is giving a Green Light to folk to leave home, no longer protect the NHS, & ‘Take Back Control’ – very irresponsible and dangerous messaging.”

But the situation became worse when Harry Cole, Deputy Political Editor for the Mail On Sunday, let it be known that: “Cabinet are RAGING. On paper they’re meant to meet later to discuss 50 page doc and virus fight. But PM has already recorded his message, sent doc to the printers and seemingly made all the decisions with the so called quad… what’s the point of even dialling in, some asking.”

Journalist Kirsty Strickland said: “We’ve had a week of confusion and contradictions in the run up to the PM’s statement tonight. A pre-record with no opportunity for journalists to ask questions might be typical Johnson, but it’s also totally unacceptable.”

Given Boris Johnson’s antipathy towards our First Minister and the disparaging way he has treated her, her government and Scottish people, it hardly seemed surprising for the FM to tweet: “The Sunday papers is the first I’ve seen of the PM’s new slogan. It is of course for him to decide what’s most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling the virus, #StayHomeSaveLives remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage.” The FM’s further tweet with the simple message, in caps to emphasise it: “STAY HOME. PROTECT THE NHS. SAVE LIVES” was, last time I saw it on Sunday afternoon, retweeted 31,000 times and Liked by almost 128,000 people, still rising by leaps and bounds. Some endorsement!

So at a time when the UK government was further muddying the waters, and the UK Prime Minister, having consulted with no-one but his inner circle, recorded his message (part on Thursday, and part today, once he had seen tabloid reaction to his new slogan) to the nation and hightailed it to Chequers where he was out of the firing range of journalists and politicians of his own and other parties, the Sunday Times was reporting the real rate of new Covid-19 infections was an appalling 18,000 a day, with the potential for deaths to rise to 100,000 if the situation was not handled properly. His government’s “freedom Monday” briefing to the Tory press and his desire, which he later seems to have tempered (we’ll know whether he has this evening), to significantly relax the lockdown are not the actions of an administration intent on protecting the health of its citizens. Rather, people on social media believe they are the actions of a government intent on protecting the economy and big business at the expense of its citizens.

In her daily briefing, the First Minister commented:

“We should not be reading about each others plans for the first time in newspapers, and they should not be presented as UK-wide… I have asked the UK Government not to deploy their ‘Stay Alert’ message in Scotland…it is ‘Stay At Home’. Full Stop!”

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