The subject of the current BBC three-part series, The Salisbury Poisonings, was always going to unsettle an audience. Against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, its effect is even more frightening.
The drama reconstructs the events in 2018 after a Russian double agent for MI6, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok at his house in Salisbury.
It’s remarkable that this series was largely made before the Covid pandemic erupted. For the parallels are astonishing. It focuses on Wiltshire’s director of public health, Tracy Daszkiewicz, an ordinary woman who is suddenly thrust into a nightmare.
Even before she knows exactly what has occurred, Tracy grasps the most important point. In other words, her immediate and resolute response is to trace every individual who may have come into contact with this undetectable substance, even though it seems like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Public Health England has difficult questions to answer. Tracy Daszkiewicz, however, was a public health professional who saved the people of Salisbury from dozens or possibly hundreds of deaths. She did so by focusing on the simple but iron logic of how infection is transmitted, regardless of inconvenience, public fury or the opposition of Whitehall, with its deadly detachment from reality.
Most hauntingly, the people of Salisbury ask her in one episode: “Is it safe to live our lives?” Exactly the same question is being asked today, but we’re still waiting for an answer.
To read my whole Times column (£), please click here.