We’ve been going at this for weeks now. The lockdown rules, here in the UK are easing, though there are as many voices wanting more freedom as there are wishing we were still fully locked down. First June saw some schools restart – not that they all shut anyway – and the steps were tentative. There’s an upcoming quarantine on all visitors to the UK – 14 days – which has led to dire warnings that it will mean the end of our airline industry and tourism too.
The tension that is now at the heart of each step, each new rule or guideline is between the assessment of the health risks versus the assessments of the economic risks.
And trying to balance the two leads me to some very uncomfortable thoughts. I’d love to say ‘conclusions’ but I can’t and therein lies the rotten centre of these debates.
In the last few days I’ve ventured into a cafe to buy a takeaway coffee and queued for a supermarket – my children have been doing our shopping, bless them. But even as I’ve marvelled at the continued patience of Londoners to queue in ways unheard of 12 weeks ago – though of course there are always those who talk about the British obsession with queuing which at least around here ended with pound notes and stay press trousers – I wonder…
Will we break these new habits? If we queue two metres apart still, if we give such wide berths to other walkers, so much so that no longer are drain covers and potholes the main bane of cyclists but now it’s dancing pedestrians, appropriating the gutter as the new pavement; if we pull up our scarfs on entering shops and buses… when will we feel confident enough to stop, to form a throng, to ease forward to try and get onto the bus before the woman with the buggy – maybe that’s just me?
What, in short will it take for our national confidence in the world we once knew to return?
Is it antibody tests showing we’ve achieved a herd immunity? Unlikely because even though the early signs are a lot more people have had the virus than previously thought. And anyway how long does immunity last?
Is it track and trace, or however it is now branded, the silver bullet? Unlikely because that works for those with symptoms and the more evidence of asymptotic ‘silent’ carriers the greater the belief that track and trace is more sticking and plaster.
Is it a vaccine? Will there be one? I’ve heard that if they do find a workable vaccine it would a first for a coronavirus. And anyway, if one is found it is still likely to be a way off.
What seems obvious to me is that none of the above are likely to emerge either at all or in anything like a short – aka reasonable – period, with sufficient coverage to give us a sense that this is ‘over’. ‘Over’ is a long way off.
So if I go back to schools, what happens in September? Surely we cannot still have a patchy limited return? Surely most schools can’t suddenly cut class sizes – they’ve been trying to bring them down ever since I was aware of what a school was. Will parents be prepared to go back to the old normal, without one of the above giving them real confidence, and allow their children to return? What of understandably nervous teachers? If not then, when? Will home schooling take off and if so what happens to the work the home schooling parent was doing, what about the drop in income?
Or shops? How long will we queue as we do now? How long is it sustainable to see the pavements snaking with those queues? When all the shops reopen on the 15th, the pavements will look like some sort of retail Pokemon Go game as shoppers weave in and out of others while trying to keep whatever the recommended distance is. There’s talk of reducing it to one metre but even so, even if that happens, that’s rationing on a more generous scale but it’s still rationing. And it inevitably has an impact.
And that’s before we consider the visitor quarantine and the pubs and clubs and bars and restaurants. They’re not slated to open until July or beyond and then it’ll be only those that can keep people apart. The cosy crowded pub is, if not a thing of the past, then at least at risk of being rendered obsolete through perceived health necessity.
And as for crowded sports fixtures and rock concerts – those sweaty heaving masses so beloved of people with strong backs and sharp elbows… when will that be allowed again?
And even if… no, let’s be optimistic, when those situations are allowed to return, will we, the Great British public, renowned (at least amongst ourselves) for our fortitude and resilience, be prepared to join in? How ingrained have these social distancing habits become? Will we – let’s call it as it is – have the steel balls (or ovaries, depending on your gonads) to go back into crowds and breath in another’s cough or sneeze? Because that’s what it will take.
If we don’t, and if we don’t get used to that idea again, by the end of this year at the latest, I would predict the economic consequences will indeed by dire. Whether we like the way our society is structured economically or not, it’s the only working model we have and it needs to be fully functioning if we are to generate the sort of national income we will need to pay off our new debts. If it isn’t then the job losses will be more severe than they are currently looking likely to be and the health and social consequences will be more dire than even this pandemic has caused to date.
I’m not happy about getting on a bus, even with the new compulsory mask-wearing rules, going into a crowded shop, seeing my dentist or, goodness, and I never thought I would say this, going to see a cricket or rugby international. And for this summer at least, that’s how it will stay. But I know inside my more rational self, I will have to bite those bullets, come September, or sooner than will be comfortable. I’m fortunate to be pretty fit with no known underlying health issues and I fully appreciate that for others not like me they will need more time. But for their sakes and this country generally, I have to be focused on coming out of my own lockdown and the sooner the better, frankly.
After all we went into lockdown to ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed and whatever we might think of our government’s overall response to this crisis – which falls somewhere between shabby and shambolic, that was achieved. Now, it’s time to accept that I must move on. Yes, that involves risk but I cannot hide behind waiting until it is safe, if by that I mean risk free. I will never be risk free. I need to apply a common sense to getting back to where I was and that means I need to be brave.
What about you? How do you see your own personal lockdown ending? Do you? Do you think you’re new normal means there are aspects of your life, BC, that will never return or are so far beyond comprehension that they are as good as gone?
And when – logic tells it’s not an if – the next pandemic hits, we need to be better prepared, of course – we couldn’t have been worse prepared as is now becoming apparent – but equally we cannot afford to pull a set of national duvet days as we have with this lockdown. We need to allow more common sense and less parenting-by-government.
And because this is unusually gloomy for me, here’s a picture or two of Dog. He remains sunny side up…