Boris Johnson is tough on crime. Except when coronavirus wants to mug Britain | Marina Hyde

The PM is back – but neither he nor his Good News Bears cabinet can explain why they just watched the virus head for us

Exciting news in Johnsonian linguistics this week, as the prime minister’s coronavirus response moves beyond his previous “send it packing” metaphor. Perhaps this is encouraging. I’m no expert in clinicalese, though judging by Johnson’s own repeated experience of being sent packing, this suggested that we are currently dropping bin bags of the coronavirus’s clothes from an upper-storey window. But also that it will have wangled its way back in by November, going “I’ve changed”. Mutated, whatever.

Johnson has now decided the virus is a “mugger”. On Monday, he explained that “this is the moment we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor”. Which is one way of drawing a veil over the fact he effectively took the mugger to the rugby at Twickenham on 7 March. People say the other parties are soft on crime, but at least they don’t throw 250,000-strong race meetings for it. At least they don’t watch it mug Italy and Spain then leave everyone’s valuables unattended while they bin off some Cobra meetings to finalise a divorce or keep the pubs open or do whatever the Johnson government preferred to do for those lost weeks as we watched the virus coming towards us via the seemingly uninstructive experiences of other countries.

For many people, the only tolerable debate is the lockdown debate – a situation which palpably suits the government

Related: UK coronavirus live: Scottish government advises people to cover faces in buses, trains and some shops

Continue reading…

John Naughton: Contact apps won’t end lockdown. But they might kill off democracy | John Naughton

A tech solution to the crisis of the type being pursed by the UK government will be both ineffective and a civil rights nightmare

Repeat after me: there is no magic bullet for getting us through this pandemic. And smartphone-based proximity-sensing is definitely not that bullet, though it might be useful if two conditions are met. One is that it’s perceived by citizens to be trustworthy and protects their privacy; the other is that it’s deployed in conjunction with a massive increase in state capacity for testing and treatment. Neither condition will be easy to satisfy.

There are clear indications that the UK government is now actively considering use of the technology as a way of easing the lockdown. If this signals an outbreak in Whitehall of tech “solutionism” – the belief that for every problem there is a technological answer – then we should be concerned. Tech solutions often do as much harm as good, for example, by increasing social exclusion, lacking accountability and failing to make real inroads into the problem they are supposedly addressing.

Related: France urges Apple and Google to ease privacy rules on contact tracing

Smartphone contact-tracing would mark a step-change in state surveillance capabilities

Continue reading…