Left to ministers, the UK’s mpox response would have been a disaster. Thanks to queer campaigners, it wasn’t
So, how was that done then?
Harun had been infected with mpox – formerly known as monkeypox. There have been more than 3,500 confirmed cases in the UK since last spring, but here’s a crucial detail: it was overwhelmingly men who have sex with men who were affected. An emerging infectious disease, affecting a historically marginalised community, in a Covid-weary media environment – the response to mpox could have been a disaster. Thanks to the government, it very nearly was. But mpox was contained in the UK because of the work of queer campaigners determined not to let a public health crisis or moral panic erupt.
Early on, even discussing the fact of who was most affected by mpox was controversial. Social media abounded with furious claims that it was homophobic to state the truth: and indeed it was reasonable to ask how a virus could possibly know and target the sexual orientation of its host. It cannot, of course: mpox is hard to transmit and tends to do so through the protracted physical contact involved during sex.
Well, no, not really. There were an awful lot of us who insisted that reducing the amount of shagging around would reduce the spread of monkeypox. As it happens we were right too. Quite why this is being talked up as a brave and stunning response by men who have sex with men is unknown. Well, outside an Owen Jones column it’s unknown.