WELL now it’s official – it’s panic stations.

Sunday night Prime Ministerial broadcasts are usually reserved for wartime – illegal invasions, skirmishes in the Falklands or whipping up yet another bout of Russia-phobia.

However, when Boris Johnson shambled onto the screen, sandwiched between the respective climaxes of Strictly and I’m a Celeb, it was not to declare war but to confirm that he has made a total Horlicks of the peace.

A new Covid variant was not, to deploy a Rumsfeld phrase, an unknown unknown but a known unknown. It was widely predicted by the scientific community as a virtual certainty, if the virus was allowed to run rampant across the globe. It is not the first variant and will certainly not be the last. This is entirely the result of the Western world’s abysmal failure to introduce anything resembling a global vaccination strategy to meet a global challenge.

And what did the Billy Bunter of Downing Street have to stammer apart from “I’m s-sincerely sorry”. The Japanese went to war with the cry “Tora Tora Tora”. Kamikaze Johnson sued for peace on the slogan “booster booster booster”.

The National:

The tens of thousands of people who have been gallantly and unavailingly attempting to secure their booster injections over the last few weeks are likely to be less than impressed. The hard truth is that the Ministerial foot has been well off the pedal of the vaccination program since September, in both England and Scotland. As a result the mad dash to inject millions before the Bells is likely to be fraught with difficulties, despite the heroic efforts of NHS staff.

Both governments are greatly to blame for this crisis situation. In Scotland nothing better symbolises this failure than Glasgow’s Hydro, once a mighty vaccination centre and now a super-spreader venue for the Omicron Variant. In England things have been even worse with people anxious to be vaccinated turned away from drop-in centres with a flea in their ear instead of a jab in their arm.

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According to the opinion polls, both governments get high approval ratings for the vaccination program. God knows why. After a flying start, where it was the first thing about the pandemic which was handled competently, it drifted through the autumn from frantically sublime to leisurely chaos. After sprinting to more than half a million jags a day in the summer, daily vaccinations slowed to a trot of 100,000 in the autumn before picking up last month. This was due in large part to the entirely made-up “six-month rule” which seemingly had no scientific base whatsoever but left younger age groups desperately scrambling to book an appointment.

In September, the UK Government cancelled the Valneva contract in Livingston and with it the availability of a traditional “whole virus” jag with the real prospect of acting more effectively against variants, not to mention the vital addition of another state of the art vaccine production facility. It was an act of irresponsibility born out of complacency.

However, the worst decision of all was to leave schools unvaccinated and unprotected until after the new term was well underway. Not only has this served as a key vector for continuing infections throughout the autumn, it now leaves children once again in the most perilous situation of all. Consider the position of my own 12-year-old. With only one jag she has little or no defence against Omicron.

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When the dithering academic dunderheids in the JCVI finally decide (as they certainly shall) to recommend the second vaccine for teenagers it will be a further three months before children of my daughter’s age can then be properly boosted against the new dominant strain of Covid. To permit this appalling situation to develop is as devastating a Ministerial dereliction of duty to our children as allowing the care homes to become the tragic front line of the first phase of the pandemic.

When on Monday, the Educational Institute for Scotland made the entirely reasonable suggestion of ending the school term early, they were rejected out of hand. In a rational world the only activity in our schools next week would not be to pull crackers and make Christmas cards but to get as many jags into as many youngsters’ arms as possible. But of course that will not happen. It would admit the extent of failure and lack of political resolve and courage.

Now that so much ground has been lost it will be difficult to recover. The terrible English tabloids have rallied to summon forth their phantom vaccination armies, but the authentic voices this week have been the understandable complaints of frightened people who have been offered January booster appointments (if any date at all) or those who have found that the lateral flow kits have all disappeared.

This chaos will continue and is the inevitable product of the months of inglorious vaccine inactivity – the days where attention was focussed on COP26 and when 30,000 infections a day and hundreds of deaths every week were deemed somehow acceptable. These were the days when the locusts ate.

As a “wartime leader” Johnson is as much use as Oliver Hardy playing Churchill. Nicola Sturgeon explains things so much better but the underlying policy is broadly the same. It is Johnson’s policy delivered with a face mask on. That is the grim reality of the “four nations approach” - jointly and severally liable for this disaster.

Back in the dark days of war-time Britain it was said that “careless talk cost lives”. So do feckless politicians.