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Lockdown – reflections at the end of week 14

Continuing briefly the numbers theme of last week, the number 30 has been significant this week. Temperatures of 30 degrees plus have produced crowded beaches and street parties and a first domestic league title in 30 years produced large celebratory gatherings in Liverpool. It is easy to be critical of those who have abandoned social distancing as participants in these events and of the government’s clear but relatively low key response to them. Increasing infection rates in a number of countries in Europe who have been ahead of the UK in releasing lockdown show that the virus has not gone away and that taking precautions against the spread of infection, including observing social distancing rules, remains important.

However, the week’s events show just how difficult the government’s task in this respect is, and the nature of its response perhaps shows a degree of understanding which has, at times during its handling of the Covid crisis, been less present than it has this week.

Whilst there have, of course, been exceptions, compliance amongst the UK’s population with the lockdown and all that it has brought has been both high and patient. Whilst the number of people who have died or suffered bereavement or severe health difficulties because of the virus is large, that number remains at a low percentage of the population as a whole. People have been asked, and continue to be asked, to make sacrifices, including dealing with the loss of income and jobs, to support a campaign against an enemy that cannot be seen, which they have not encountered personally and about which there remains much to learn. Whilst the easing of the lockdown has been accompanied by seemingly endless reports of the dangers that accompany it, those issuing the warnings have come across more and more as professional prophets of doom than voices which need to be listened to.

During the lockdown, high praise has been directed towards key workers, and rightly so. But we should not forget people outside those key worker categories who have performed significant roles during the lockdown. Businesses that have switched to working from home have had a tremendous response from people who have tangled with challenges raised by the juggling of work, childcare and space, as well as social isolation. People who have been asked to furlough have had to deal with a number of issues, including isolation from colleagues. Neighbours have responded strongly to the needs of elderly and vulnerable people in their communities. As businesses start to return to the workplace, many will be concerned about the risks inherent in spending more time outside the safety of home and in using public transport. Promotion and nurturing of wellbeing, including in relation to mental health, must be and remain a priority for employers and political leaders.

Whilst it would clearly have been better if this week’s major breaches of lockdown had not taken place, and we are likely to count the cost in infection rates and worse in the weeks to come, it can’t be surprising that 30 degrees and 30 years, combined with three months of lockdown, produced the results that they did. The government, I suspect with an eye to keeping public patience in the light of the need for ongoing observation of anti Covid measures, responded in a sympathetic tone. Let’s hope that after all the sacrifices made to date, and with many yet to be made as the economy struggles to escape Covid’s chains, that we respond to the carrot rather than the stick and we don’t have to find out the hard way.

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