Life under lockdown (again): In the balance

We’re back into lockdown, and is it too melodramatic to say that Christmas hangs in the balance? Maybe, but as autumn progresses and winter draws closer, it’s hard to tell whether our metaphorical glass is half-full or half-empty.

Everything is a series of difficult trade-offs now. Locking down too hard will cause unnecessary economic damage. Not locking down hard enough risks overrunning the NHS. Either way, there is no best solution – or even a truly good one. There’s merely a choice between one flawed approach and another, in which it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time.

Thursday 5th November

And so we’re officially back into lockdown.

It’s scheduled to end on Wednesday 2nd December, nearly four weeks away. I think it would take either a brave man or a catastrophic failure for it to be extended beyond that date and risk further impinging on Christmas. And if we know one thing about our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, it’s that he’s not a man for making brave, unpopular decisions.

In truth, very little about today felt different. Thankfully, there hasn’t been the same mad stockpiling that was a key feature of the March lockdown. The kids are still going to school. We’re still working from home. The only obvious change is the cancellation of football and other activities reverting back to Zoom. But at least this time everyone is able to snap back into that routine easily. It’s not the same scramble to come up with new ways of doing things that it was first time around.

The weekend will undoubtedly feel more different. But, despite all the unrest among large sections of the population, it’s nowhere near that same leap into the unknown that March was. We’ll cope.

Saturday 7th November

We set off a few fireworks in our street last night and took advantage of our missing fence panel in the back garden once again. An appropriately socially distanced chat with our neighbours either side of the fire pit was just what the doctor ordered.

This evening we resurrected our Saturday DIY Zoom quiz with our old university friends. This had become a firm part of our weekly routine for nearly three months during the first lockdown. I know it seems so last April now, but devising quiz rounds every week provided a constructive non-work focal point throughout spring and early summer. It was good to get the gang back together again. That should help smooth the passage of the next three or four weekends.

Sunday 8th November

I had a couple of hours to kill in Reading while Toby was sitting his grammar school entrance exams this morning. While a fair number of shops remain open, a significant number are nonetheless shut under the lockdown regulations. The town centre itself was eerily quiet, even at 11am.

While I still believe a short lockdown is the right thing to do, I can also see why the government has been reluctant to further slow down an economy which is still on its knees after the first lockdown. Normally at this time of year, shoppers are just starting to wind up for Christmas. Not in 2020.

We already do most of our present buying online. That will be even more the case this year and I doubt we’ll be alone in that regard. I’m already starting to think how I can minimise the amount of last-minute shopping I do for Christmas. Normally I’d avoid the worst of the crowds and the overflowing car parks by wandering into town with a backpack a couple of times in the final few days. This year, I’m going to try to cut even that down to a bare minimum.

Tuesday 10th November

There has been a lot of excitement over the last day or so after Pfizer announced trial results that suggest they now have a vaccine which is 90% effective against Covid-19. Enough excitement that the Prime Minister had to call a news conference to remind people that this doesn’t mean we can all start celebrating just yet.

It’s promising news, for sure. But the trial hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet. We don’t know about any detrimental long-term side-effects. And then there’s the small matter of scaling up manufacturing to produce, distribute and administer hundreds of millions of doses, with the initial focus being on the elderly and vulnerable rather than the general population at large. Anyone who thinks that everything will be hunky-dory again by New Year needs to have their head examined. We’ve taken a significant step forward this week, but we’re still a long way from our destination and there are many potential setbacks that could yet derail us.

Thursday 12th November

The UK reported economic growth of 15.5% for the third quarter of 2020 this morning. Which sounds mighty impressive until you remember that the economy contracted by a record-breaking 24.7% in Q2.

The growth was welcome – but wholly expected. We spent almost the whole of the second quarter in full lockdown, so of course the economy was always going to bounce back following this. Nonetheless, the UK economy is still 7.4% smaller than it was in the first quarter of 2020. That’s still a huge gap, and it’s not one that won’t be closed easily while the ongoing Covid situation remains this precarious.

This is normally the point where I would point out that the last thing the UK needs in its current vulnerable position is to face the Brexit-related disruption that will hit us in January. But what’s the point? Everyone knows what’s coming and is either already braced for impact or in complete denial of it. We’re like a boxer that has already been knocked down three times but thinks he’s fine to carry on.

Friday 13th November

It’s the second Friday 13th of 2020.

The first one was in March. It was also the last day I worked in the office. Eight months have passed since that day, and it’s looking increasingly likely I will make it to a full year.

It’s also my dad’s birthday today, which we weren’t able to celebrate together with him.

We’ve been quite lucky so far. We had to mark Kara’s birthday in May over Skype. But we did manage to get together in early September, which covered Heather, my brother, my mum and me, as only 15 days covers the four of us.

This felt like a big miss, though. My dad is 81 and of an age now where every birthday counts. Sending his present directly via Amazon and not cutting a cake together left a big hole. And this is just the first of several key dates over the next couple of months. Isaac’s birthday is in just over three weeks’ time. Then we have Christmas, New Year and Toby’s birthday in mid-January, followed by Chinese New Year in February.

We may well see lockdown restrictions lifted in December, but I’ll be amazed if we make it through January and February without some measures being reintroduced. My guess is we’ll be on/off throughout winter, walking a precarious tightrope between public health and the economy. But we shall see. There’s cause for cautious optimism – but not confidence, yet.

Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries

Our ‘new normal’: March 15th-19th

And so it begins: March 20th-23rd

The shapeless monotony: March 24th-26th

A different life: March 27th-29th

Hanging in there: March 30th-April 5th

A marathon, not a sprint: April 6th-13th

So it begins again: April 14th-19th

Not what I expected: April 20th-26th

A never-ending hiatus?: April 27th-May 3rd

Months, not weeks: May 4th-10th

The long road back to ‘normal’ May 11th-17th

The end of the beginning: May 18th-24th

Time to take back control: May 25th-31st

Edging back to normal: June 1st-7th

Preparing for ‘the blip’: June 8th-14th

The middle of nowhere: June 15th-21st

The road back to normality: June 22nd-28th

Releasing the pause button: June 29th-July 12th

Ticking the boxes: July 13th-26th

Normal, and yet not normal: July 27th-August 9th

An uncertain future: August 10th-21st

Here we go again: September 22nd

The Covid Hokey Cokey: September 23rd-October 4th

200 days later: October 5th-18th

Déjà vu: October 19th-November 1st


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