That was us. Just a few short weeks ago. A past where we could go to work, drive our cars, hug our families, fly to another country, have meetings, go to the shops, eat or drink at cafés, bars, pubs and restaurants, stay in hotels, go off for a weekend jaunt. My goodness, we did indeed do things differently there, didn’t we?
And how quickly we seem to have adapted to this new radically limited lifestyle. The majority of us are socially distancing, living in glorious or ghastly isolation, learning how to use Zoom, running businesses, home-schooling, making time to have a ‘drink’ with friends on FaceTime or Skype, chatting to children and grandchildren on screen. We have been extraordinarily compliant considering that we had only a short time to prepare for such a lifestyle, especially as this lockdown threatens not only our health but our emotional and financial wellbeing too.
But we need a plan now. A step-by-step suggestion of how we can get out of this situation. We can surely accept that this process will be under continuous review and that changes and reversals may need to be made. But for the sake of people’s wellbeing we do need to have a vision of the future that is not the world in standstill.
We are threatened with financial ruin as a country, as businesses, families and as individuals. This pandemic could lead to unemployment on a scale we have never seen before, and potentially to famine for many. In creating a plan, I personally would like to know that those advising the government are emotionally intelligent, rounded people. I worry that the decision-makers appear to be mainly male and predominantly from the public sector, civil servants and academics. Whilst none of those things, in themselves, signify that they are not rounded or emotionally intelligent, they do appear to be theorists and thinkers and I hope that there are those close to the Cabinet who are also capable of tapping into the emotional experiences and social needs of our population.
There is already ‘collateral damage’. Those who are awaiting cancer treatment or surgery that has had to be postponed; those in the middle of IVF who can no longer proceed despite the fact that the biology of a woman’s body will not standstill in the way that life has; couples and families separated by being unable to fly to see one another; families unable to be together for births or deaths; marriages postponed; domestic violence on the increase, amongst many other consequences. We can’t let this happen for too long, can we. It is cruel and inhumane.
I would like to know that there are more people with skin in the game who are influencing decisions. That is major business leaders, self-employed individuals, small business owners, shopkeepers, front-line doctors and nurses, farmers, teachers, carers, mothers, grandparents, teenagers, and more. Those who have experience of running organisations through economic challenges. Those who are currently having to tackle first-hand the very real financial, emotional and practical consequences of this pandemic.
And so to the future, for that is another country too, and we shall need to do things differently when we get there. To make good decisions about how we shape and achieve the best future outcomes for the UK and globally, we need diversity of thought, experience and approach. Big picture thinkers as well as those well versed in detail and facts. Those who understand the loss, grief, anxiety and isolation that people are feeling.
We shall surely need to accept that there will be a risk to certain people as we ease the lockdown. Those who have specific risk factors can maintain whatever isolation they choose but if we have, indeed, passed the peak and the NHS has coped, then can we not be allowed to get back to some kind of normal life? Most particularly, businesses, and other enterprises and organisations, now need to start working again as otherwise the consequence to the economy will lead to far worse suffering and death, not only in the UK but worldwide. If there is to be a second wave, then this will occur at whatever time we lift the lockdown, won’t it?
But we live in an era of ‘safetyism’, where risk is also another country. In the last decade, the prospect of anyone getting ill, injured, or dying has become almost unacceptable. Tolerance of mistakes or accidents has lessened and often become a matter of litigation. Children are not allowed to play with conkers, nor go out to play without supervision on the assumption that it is a more dangerous world, despite the fact that statistically apparently it is not. Adults are limited by endless health and safety regulations. But risk is a natural part of life. I think previous generations understood this better than we do.
Should it be mandatory for the over 70s to stay at home? I certainly hope not. One lively friend in her 80s questioned recently whether she and her husband would ever be allowed to join the human race again before they die. A brutal thought. There are also younger people with more risk factors than some of the older generation, but we can hardly lock them up in the way it is suggested that we oldies might be incarcerated! I believe we are happy to comply with reasonable limitation but the prospect of staying home for months on end while a vaccine is found, is unacceptable.
Are we not now going to have to muscle ourselves up to live with the prospect of Coronavirus being a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, as we do flu, pneumonia or cancer? As long as the NHS is capable of offering support, is it not going to be far worse for everyone in every way if we insist on a continuation of this lockdown? It is a horrible situation for any Prime Minister to face. Perhaps we have to give the Government permission to take such risks?
And as for this potential future, I hope we shall value key workers of all kinds more emphatically. I hope we shall continue the kindness and sense of community that we have seen within families and neighbourhoods. I hope doctors and nurses will be better equipped and also better supported emotionally to deal with the cases they face every day. I hope Public Health England will review their procurement and administrative procedures. The UK has a great history of enterprise so I hope that this period of downtime will release some creative and innovative thinking in entrepreneurs, those in health, sustainability, and in those in the arts. Our theatres, music and dramatic arts are some of the best in the world. I trust these will return to feed our spirits soon. I hope there shall be an unleashing of creativity and positive energy as we are released from lockdown. We shall certainly all need to work extremely hard to recover what has been lost.
But please, please may we soon know the steps by which we can access this future, whatever its shape. We need a plan…
[quote from L P Hartley The Go-Between]