© MATT DUNHAM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
I used to really like Van-Tam’s homespun analogies but now I find them disingenuous and borderline unforgivable.
Our vaccine programme is world-beating and Covid-19 cases are plummeting, so why does the Deputy Chief Medical Officer keep sparking fear?

Another week, another Covid variant on the loose. Watch out! I refer, of course, to the deeply worrying Whitehall variant.

The Whitehall variant is rapidly transmitted by scientific advisers whenever there is encouraging news. The better the news, the more aggressive the variant.

The Whitehall strain of Covid-19 is highly contagious and is easily caught by politicians in the same room as members of Sage. Symptoms include a flustered, shifty appearance and an ability to speak only in what grammarians call the "Type 2 conditional". For example: "This new variant may be more resistant to vaccines." Or: "This new variant could be more lethal."

Invariably, after 10 days or so, those speculative statements are proven to be groundless. Turns out our two terrific vaccines can cope just fine. But, by then, it's too late. The Whitehall variant has caused a fresh outbreak of fear in the population just as they were starting to glimpse the end of lockdown.

The Whitehall variant is not to be confused with the Brazilian variant, which is believed to be carried by a man of exotic appearance wearing a white suit and a Panama hat, in South Gloucestershire or possibly the Dunfermline area. (He didn't fill in his Covid questionnaire.) A useful way to tell the difference is the man from Del Monte, he say yes. The man from Whitehall, he say no.

Alas, I reckon Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has a bad case of the Whitehall variant. As the Covid figures get better, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer pops up to tell us sternly that we must not relax.

"It's a bit like being 3-0 up in a game and thinking 'We can't possibly lose'," Van-Tam said. "But how many times have you seen the other side take it 4-3?"

Not many, Professor. Generally, if your side has got a lead like the UK has, thanks to its world-beating vaccination programme, it tends to win.

I used to really like Van-Tam's homespun analogies. Increasingly, I find them disingenuous and borderline unforgivable. He has access to the same NHS England data I do. So he knows that the rate of decline of Covid patients in hospital is quite extraordinary. He knows that the occupancy has been falling metronomically by 20 per cent every week for the last five weeks.

He will also know that, on Sunday, the UK passed a major milestone: hospitals went below the 10,000 Covid occupancy mark. That means only 10 per cent of all hospital beds in England are occupied by Covid. You read it here first. Please remember that perfectly manageable percentage the next time the TV news broadcasts one of its horrifying, hospital doom-porn reports.

Is the Government really going to maintain almost full lockdown until April 12, denying a fatally wounded hospitality sector the resurrection of Easter, if we are down to deaths in double digits and hospitals are practically clear of Covid? Which they will be if current trends continue.

I do hope that the Prime Minister meant it when he said his roadmap would be guided "by data, not dates". Because the data in several parts of the country, including mine, shows that we are "suppressed". That means the number of positive tests is so small that results are withheld lest the tiny number of people with the virus are publicly shamed.

Well, that's the official reason. Isn't it more likely that they don't want us to know because we'd only start demanding to be in Tier 2, Tier 1 or even - God forbid - back to normal?

On Wednesday afternoon, Rishi Sunak will level with the British people about the economic devastation which confronts us. The best way to get the economy going is to lift the restrictions as soon as possible. As the Chancellor wisely said: "Our lives can no longer be put on hold, we must learn to live without fear."

Britain needs to ditch its "obsession" with new coronavirus variants because vaccines should be able to stop them, according to Professor Andrew Pollard, the leader of Oxford's vaccine trials.

So no more variants conveniently being discovered to scare us. As Professor Van-Tam might put it: back of the net!