Politics

Jonathan Van-Tam is stepping down - so here are his best Covid analogies

Each one more gloriously convoluted than the last.

Jonathan Van-Tam

Van-Tam's colourful analogies made him one of the pandemic's best communicators. Image: Downing Street

Jonathan Van-Tam has announced he is leaving his role as England’s deputy chief medical officer.

Although the news came on the back of an embarrassing 24 hours for the government, Van-Tam’s departure is reportedly nothing to do with politics.

True to form, he explained the news to colleagues by saying his “loan was ending” and he will be returning to his parent club, the University of Nottingham.

Van-Tam’s love for such analogies made him one of the pandemic’s breakout stars. Amusing they may have been, but they also helped the public understand – often in football terms – what was happening during an uncertain time.

Here are his greatest hits.

‘We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National’

Sporting analogies are Van-Tam’s bread and butter – or half-time orange, if you will. In January 2021 he compared the country’s lockdown prospects to the final stages of the Grand National.

“We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National. We just have a couple more fences, we have just got to stick with it,” he told The Sun.

‘It’s gone to penalties’

Perhaps not the most useful analogy to use when trying to convince the English that everything will be okay – but JVT made it work.

In November 2020, Van-Tam turned to football to describe how the Pfizer vaccine would fight against the virus.

“It’s like getting to the end of the play-off final,” he said. “It’s gone to penalties, the first player goes up and scores a goal.

“You haven’t won the cup yet, but what it does is, it tells you that the goalkeeper can be beaten.”

‘Omicron is like picking up a couple of yellow cards’

This one may have been a bit tortured, but again JVT made it work. In November 2021, he used football’s system of yellow and red cards to outline the risk Omicron posed.

After the full-strength football team (vaccines) required substitutes to stay on track after injuries (the Alpha and Delta variants), Omicron posed an extra challenge.

“Omicron is like now picking up a couple of yellow cards to key players on top,” he said, outlining the risk that the team might get a player sent off.

“We may be okay but we’re starting to feel at risk that we might go down to 10 players, and if that happens – or it’s a risk that’s going to happen – then we need everyone on the pitch to up their game in the meantime.”

This was where the public came into play – by booking booster jabs. Following the analogy, this was to make sure there were enough players to win the match.

“We’re not going to wait for the red card to happen. We are going to act decisively now and we’re asking everyone to up their game. We’re asking everyone to play their part in the urgency now of the booster programme, coming forward the moment you are called by the NHS,” he said.

‘We are now on the glide path to landing this plane’

Switching to aviation for this one, Jonathan Van-Tam told a November 2020 press briefing: “Do I believe we are now on the glidepath to landing this plane? Yes I do.

“Do I accept that sometimes on the glidepath you can have a sidewind and the landing is not totally straightforward, totally textbook? Yes I do.”

‘This to me is like a train journey, it’s wet, it’s windy, it’s horrible’

Another transport hit from Jonathan Van-Tam, who in December 2020 described the vaccine’s journey as a train ride.

“This to me is like a train journey, it’s wet, it’s windy, it’s horrible. Two miles down the tracks, two lights appear and it’s the train and it’s a long way off and we’re at that point at the moment,” he said, drawing a comparison between the lights and the efficacy results from vaccines.

The safety data was the train slowing down safely to get into the station. The MHRA regulator was the guard making sure if was safe to open the doors.

And finishing the tale with a plea for those who needed the vaccine the most to get jabbed first, he said: “And when the doors open, I hope there’s not an unholy scramble for the seats.”

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‘See if we can hold on for a draw’

Describing the start of the pandemic, Van-Tam said “it’s clear the away team gave us an absolute battering” – but that we had equalised in the 70th minute.

“We’ve got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it,” he said.

“But the key thing is not to lose it, not to throw it away at this point because we’ve got a point on the board, and we’ve got the draw.”

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