In justifying the move to a new national lockdown, the leaders of the UK briefly enjoyed the political fortune of a headline-grabbing finding: a new strain of Covid-19, possibly more virulent than the old.
This strain, despite the paucity of scientific data, has been described as "up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the old variant," and it is this figure which has gripped the media and policymakers. The tendency towards catastrophism is palpable.
Yet this new strain, VUI-202012/01, quickly transcended its role within national politics as the justification for introducing Tier 4 lockdowns. The fear of a new, super-transmissible mutant strain has spread to other nations, who are similarly eager to display the sort of knee-jerk reactionary interventions being generously described as "decisive leadership." Over 30 countries have banned entry by UK citizens over fears of the new strain, with chaotic scenes at Dover exacerbating already tetchy Brexit negotiations.