Life under lockdown (again): Back to square one

In March last year, the UK entered a strict national lockdown as we battled the first wave of coronavirus. We’re starting 2021 with a new lockdown in an attempt to get the second wave under control.

We’re simultaneously back where we started, while being in a far worse position (in numbers terms) than we were ten months ago. We reported double-digit Covid-related deaths for the first time on 14th March. 9th January was the fourth consecutive day with over one thousand fatalities.

Hello, square one. Haven’t we met before?

Wednesday 30th December

If I was a cynical person – and I am – I would say that the announcement of the UK’s approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was carefully timed to deflect from both rising coronavirus numbers, the threat of new variants and the end of the Brexit transition period tomorrow night.

Nevertheless, it’s good news worth celebrating. It’s easier to handle and transport than the Pfizer equivalent. This will make the mass vaccination programme easier to ramp up.

Even so, it will still be many months before everyone in the UK has the opportunity to receive the vaccine. I fear this message remains poorly understood by large proportions of the public. Now is a time for hope, but not complacency.

Friday 1st January

Hello 2021! Fingers crossed this will be a better year than 2020. While I fully expect things to get better this year, I think it will be at least two to three months before we can start to say that we have turned the corner.

New Year’s Eve arrived with low expectations. Usually we would be spending the evening with friends and neighbours, with cocktails and champagne flowing plentifully. This year we managed drinks outside across the divide with our next-door neighbours – it was absolutely freezing – and (socially distanced) fireworks and a champagne toast out front at midnight. It was still a good evening, albeit a low-key one. But there was no getting away from the fact that it wasn’t ‘normal’.

Anyhow, onwards we go.

Sunday 3rd January

We already knew that secondary schools’ return would be delayed. Isaac will resume on Tuesday in remote learning mode until the 18th – at least. My guess is he won’t be back until after half-term, and not much better than 50:50 that he’ll be back at all before Easter.

Primary schools, however, are due back over the next two days. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on TV this morning insisting that children must attend tomorrow and that schools are safe.

What utter garbage. I wonder if even he believes it?

I’ve seen the data and heard the arguments. We know that a lot of people mixed over Christmas, despite the (late) tightening of restrictions. We also know that, like many other places around the country, there has been a significant spike in cases around here recently.

How can it possibly be safe to send primary schoolchildren back? The numbers and the trend are stark. I know that the government is desperate to keep schools open. In fact, I agree that we should do everything reasonably possible to maintain continuity of education. But why allow children to mix and risk cross-infection for what will be, at most, a few days at a time when we are hurtling towards full-blown crisis like a runaway train? It makes no sense.

Either way, we’ve already decided that we won’t send Toby and Kara back to school on Tuesday for at least the first two weeks of term. We don’t think the benefit of doing so outweighs the risk. And I know we’re not alone.

We can see the writing on the wall. Lockdown looks inevitable. I give it two days before the u-turn.

Monday 4th January

I was wrong. In the end, it was barely one day. A handful of hours after primary schools reopened at the government’s insistence came the lockdown announcement.

Was anyone even surprised by this? I doubt it. Our primary school had already made a pre-emptive announcement this morning.

So what should we make of the Prime Minister’s false assurances yesterday? Even as he was declaring that schools were safe, lockdown planning between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must already have been well under way. So either he’s woefully incompetent. Or he lied.

Or, quite possibly, both.

Tuesday 5th January

As we all returned to work or ‘school’ today, it was like March all over again. Back to square one.

I walked down to school this morning to pick up homework packs for Toby and Kara. And at 9-ish we all settled down in various rooms around the house in front of computers and tablets to start our day’s work.

It was … okay. We’re fortunate enough that we have enough space and devices to work without tripping over each other constantly. Although our wi-fi connection did almost grind to a halt a few times during the day. Still, very much first world problems in the greater scheme of things. We learned to manage like this for three months during the first lockdown. We’ll do so again – hopefully for not quite as long this time, but who knows?

Wednesday 6th January

Today was the first proper day of lockdown. The restrictions are closer to the original lockdown last spring: most shops closed, kids home-schooling and a general stay-at-home order except for shopping, exercise or other essential travel.

So it should feel similar to last March. And yet it doesn’t at all.

I went out for my usual morning walk before work and was surprised to see traffic on the roads at pretty much normal levels. There were lots of people out on foot too, although I did notice that more people are now wearing masks even outdoors. I’ve been reading reports today that primary schools have much higher numbers of pupils attending than was the case in Lockdown 1. (Apparently this is because the eligibility criteria for sending children into school is broader this time around.)

It’s hard to know what to make of all of this. In the first lockdown, it felt like the vast majority of people were all pulling in the same direction. But now it feels more polarised. Some people appear to be acting as if nothing has changed, while others are being more careful. It’s a breeding ground for growing resentment and blame if – make that when – we don’t see an immediate improvement in the daily case and death numbers.

Friday 8th January

On the one hand, the Moderna vaccine was approved for UK use today – another significant milestone. On the other, today’s daily death count was 1,325 – the highest single-day total, including at the height of the first wave.

This was the third day in a row the death toll has been in four figures. And yet it barely causes a ripple now. We have become so desensitised to the numbers that they barely register in people’s minds any more. But, with every passing day, more medical staff and teachers are struck down by the virus. Hospitals move one step closer to being overwhelmed. Tomorrow, we will pass 80,000 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic started. We’re on course to exceed 100,000 before the end of the month.

And to think that just a few weeks ago when the news about the vaccines started to circulate, some people genuinely believed we would all be back to normal by the end of January.

It occurred to me earlier in the week that I wouldn’t bet on either the Olympics or football’s Euros taking place as (re)scheduled this summer. Decisions on both will need to be made within the next couple of months. Right now, I’m not optimistic.

Sunday 10th January

The UK has defined nine groups of people who are prioritised to receive a vaccine. I am in group six as someone identified with a high-risk underlying medical condition, so I should receive my shots earlier than most.

I checked the online vaccine queue calculator this evening. Based on some fairly broad assumptions, it estimates I should receive my first dose some time between mid-April and early June, with the second up to 12 weeks later. That means I may not be fully vaccinated until late August. In terms of where I sit in the queue, I’m somewhere between 14 and 21 million out of a total UK population of 67 million. There are a lot of people ahead of me – healthcare workers, the elderly and so on.

I’m not complaining. It is what it is. But it makes you realise how gargantuan a task vaccinating an entire country is. Heather and the kids might not even receive their vaccines this year. I wonder how many people realise quite how long the timeline might be for them?

And that’s assuming the current vaccines remain effective against new and future variants of the virus, of course. The prospect of the virus mutating beyond the efficacy of the vaccines and returning us to square one is too frightening to even consider, particularly given that most of us still haven’t moved off square one at all. But there’s no point worrying about what bad things might happen in the future when we as individuals have little control over them. All we can do for now is think positive and keep inching forward one small step at a time. Fingers crossed.

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

In the balance: November 2nd-15th

Not too early: November 16th-29th

Preparing for a not-normal Christmas: November 30th-December 13th

A different Christmas: December 14th-27th


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