When I sat and watched Prime Minister Johnson’s address to the nation on 10th May, it was with a mix of horror and confusion. With daily new cases of COVID-19 remaining stubbornly in the several thousand and daily reported deaths still topping 500 more often than not, the Prime Minister spoke about the country being “past the peak” and possibility of easing what has passed for a lockdown in the UK.
Now, let’s be clear, the UK hasn’t ever really been in “lockdown”, not in the same manner as countries like Italy, Spain or France. In the first two, people were genuinely not allowed to leave their houses. In France, you had to print a permission slip from the Government website stating where you were going and for what purpose to be presented to the police at one of the many road-blocks—with only a very small number of reasons for leaving home allowed.
Whereas here, we’ve been allowed out “once a day” for exercise—although how that was ever going to be enforced with police numbers slashed over the last ten years was anyone’s guess. And you were supposed to work from home if you were able but go to work if you couldn’t work from home.
So, really, it wasn’t much of a lockdown at all. I know people who’ve been going into the office every day since March 23rd when the lockdown was announced, and I’ve been going to the office myself two mornings a week as well to do “work that couldn’t be done from home”—in my case that’s dealing with the post that’s come in, paying in cheques and producing cheques.
So, no, the UK was never really in “lockdown”—more “semi-lockdown” if anything.
Johnson’s address came three days after the nation celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day in a supposedly ‘Socially distanced’ manner—although you wouldn’t have thought that was the case walking around the housing estate close to where I live in Northampton or watching the television pictures of people in one street doing the conga.
I think it was fair to say that by that first week in May, a lot of people in Britain had decided for themselves that they’d had enough of being locked down. As I said, I’d already been going into the office twice a week and I’d started to notice an increase in traffic on the commute by early May compared to most of April.
And in the weeks since 11th May, it has become clear to anyone paying attention that the Government’s lockdown easing road map is more about the health of the economy than the health of the people.
Despite claims that it would only happen if the virus was under control and the “R” number had come down enough, Primary schools still opened their doors to some pupils on June 1st despite daily deaths still being in three figures (where they are in double or single digits in most other European countries) and in a week’s time, all ‘non-essential’ shops will re-open despite the “R” number being in the 0.7-0.9 range in most part of the country and even at 1.01 in one region.
That said, it’s important to note that the reported deaths over the past couple of days has been relatively low, as I noted in this tweet.
I understand all this to some extent. I really do. I understand the need to ‘re-open’ the economy, but it can’t come at the expense of risking a second wave of this deadly virus spreading and taking more lives.
Because unless we are all careful, that is what will happen. And I don’t believe we will all be careful enough to prevent a second wave.
You can see this in the pictures from various beaches a couple of weeks ago, most notably at Durdle Door in Dorset, where not only was the beach packed full of people, but those people were then forced into a small area of the beach to allow not one, but two air ambulance helicopters to land after some fools hurt themselves jumping into the sea from the cliffs.
And you see it in the pictures of the Black Lives Matter protests, where some of the protesters are getting far closer together than 2m.
And I see it whenever I take the dog for a walk in the park, with groups of people huddled together dotted around the park. I see it whenever I go to the supermarket where it proves almost impossible to keep you from other shoppers no matter how hard you try because most of them don’t seem to give a fig about keeping their distance from you if you’re in the way of that packet of biscuits they want and aren’t willing to wait for you to move before they get it.
I do worry that this time next month we will be looking at new cases rising again and COVID-19 deaths pushing back up to mid-three-digits rather than in the low teens.
I hope, I’m wrong. I really do. I hope that come July we can breathe a sigh of relief and be thankful that we got through it.
I hope I’m wrong.