What does the government’s new coronavirus slogan actually mean?

Written by Current Affairs, National, News, Science

Seven weeks into lockdown, just as the nation was acclimatising, Boris Johnson skyrocketed the turbulence among society and the media. The nation’s slogan evaporated, as Boris shoehorned a brand new one, almost acting like it had been there all along.

“Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” was introduced on Sunday the 10th May during Boris Johnson’s address to the nation, seemingly out of nowhere. Whilst Johnson delivered his speech with sincerity, many of us were left thinking – what does it actually mean? Does it mean anything… really? If we think back to the slogan that birthed lockdown – “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” – an extremely clear, definitive, unambiguous direction of how people should behave. Staying at home stops humans moving around and mixing the virus, so the benefits of taking this action are clear.  

The official government guidance is to stay at home if you can

“Stay alert…” is actually not describing anything specific at all. Yes, alert is a verb, it means to be aware of ones surroundings, but I beg the question, how is simply being aware of the problem going to stop the spread of coronavirus? The official government guidance is to stay at home if you can, but this message is not portrayed in the slightest by the new slogan. With total abandonment of the original slogan, are people going to forget about the essential aspect of lockdown which is to stay at home? The ambiguity of the government’s new message is causing mass confusion and could have extremely dangerous implications if people misinterpret their guidance. There is high potential for a second peak, and with lives at stake, there is no margin for error in communications between the government and society.

There is high potential for a second peak, and with lives at stake, there is no margin for error

As well as confusion, the slogan has caused frictions between the UK’s leaders. The First Ministers of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have all rejected the change, and are not adopting the new message. Nicola Sturgeon was one of the first people to dismiss the slogan, bluntly acknowledging that “mixed messages” could “squander progress”, and that “people will die unnecessarily”. Sir Keir Starmer also pointed out that Johnson’s message lacked clarity. The critical situation we are faced with means that we need clear political guidance, in order to prevent people dying, but this isn’t possible if even our leaders can’t agree.

With the time lag between implementing new strategy and observing the evidential results (trends in numbers of cases and deaths), it is difficult to say with any certainty what the effect of the government’s transition will be. One certain result is the increased discomforting turbulence in society and the media, which is the exact opposite of what we need right now.

Last modified: 24th May 2020

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