So here we are at last: a full year since we first entered lockdown. Aside from a couple of months of near-normality over the summer, this has been a year of change, restrictions, fear and sometimes anger unlike any other in my lifetime. 126,000 people in the UK have died as a result of Covid-19. And there is still little prospect of an end to the pandemic, at least not in the foreseeable future.
Some things are slowly returning to normal. The kids are all back in school, for now. The mass vaccination programme means public confidence is slowly returning – although it’s hard to imagine life feeling anything remotely like normal for a long time yet. In the same way that no one could have predicted 12 months ago how the last year would pan out, it’s hard to look forward to the next 12 months with any certainty.
Friday 12th March
Week one of the return to school is complete. (Although in Isaac’s case he was only actually back for two days.)
While it hasn’t been a total panacea for the kids’ sense of ennui and general spikiness, they are definitely happier to be back and able to socialise with their classmates. And it’s funny how quickly Heather and I have become accustomed to the house being quiet once again.
Now let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that this lasts. I’m not sure anyone is emotionally prepared for kids to be sent home again because of a fresh Covid outbreak. But it will happen to someone at some point, just as surely as a game of Russian roulette will eventually result in a live bullet being fired.
Saturday 13th March
Today is exactly one year since my last day in our office in Bracknell. One year since the last time I had to commute to work. My car has covered barely 1,000 miles since then – I used to do more than that every month.
Today was also the day I received my first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine. I have to say I was impressed by the organisation at Newbury racecourse. Well signposted, an army of smiling volunteers on hand to direct and help people out (despite the biting wind) and a steady procession of people passing efficiently through the 15 vaccination stations available. It was barely ten minutes from me joining the queue to sign in to receiving the jab.
So within two weeks I should have partial protection, and in less than 12 I should receive the second jab which completes my vaccination. I know quite a few people who have had (perfectly normal) reactions to the jab in the first 24 hours after receiving it, but so far I haven’t noticed anything. Splendid.
Monday 15th March
The front page headline of today’s Daily Express proclaims ‘British spirit beating Covid’.
I found this a little odd, because I thought it was a combination of vaccines and lockdown measures that were turning the tide. (Yes, I know they’re quoting Boris Johnson slightly out of context here. But the jingoistic subtext behind the headline is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.)
And people wonder why other nations roll their eyes at our unwritten – or, in this case, very much written – assumption that merely being British confers some kind of physical and moral superiority.
Saturday 20th March
Today is the vernal equinox – the tipping point beyond which daylight hours are longer than night. I can’t help but wonder if we’ve reached a less positive tipping point in the pandemic.
There’s growing evidence that the return of schools is – not wholly unexpectedly – causing infection rates to rise again in some parts of the UK. And the data from across Europe suggests that many countries are seeing an uptick in numbers.
It’s been all too easy for the past couple of weeks to be swept along on a wave of government-fuelled positivity. But this optimism is now looking increasingly premature, bordering on complacent.
It’s not the biggest thing on our priority list, but we have a holiday in France booked for late August (deferred from last summer), that I use of a bellwether of my long-term expectations. Over the past few weeks, I’ve mentally upgraded the probability of us being able to go on this holiday to around 60%. As of today, I’m back down at 20%-25%. I’m concerned that we’re reopening the economy too soon. I’m worried that people have had enough of lockdown and are being lulled into a false sense of security by the vaccination programme. And I fear that our summer may not turn out to be the restriction-free paradise we have been sold.
Of course, a lot can change over the next five months. But, to paraphrase what they say in ads for financial investments, things might go down as well as up.
Sunday 21st March
I hate to be a party pooper, but there’s lots of propaganda flying around this weekend celebrating statistics such as half of UK adults being vaccinated. While this is fantastic progress that should be celebrated, it is also dangerously misleading.
Yes, we’re now at the point where around 50% of adults (or 42% of the total population) have received their first dose of one of the available vaccines. But what’s equally true is that only 3% of the total population has been fully vaccinated, which paints a somewhat different picture.
We are making great strides, absolutely. But we are being deliberately led to believe that we are virtually out of the woods, when in reality we remain surrounded by dense forest. Have we learned nothing from this past year?
Tuesday 23rd March
This past week or so has been all about the anniversaries but today marks one year since the announcement of the UK entering national lockdown. At the time, I don’t think many of us thought it would last more than a handful of weeks. Certainly, if you’d told me that a year later we’d still be in lockdown, I’d have laughed at you. Or cried. Possibly both.
Sometimes it feels like it’s only been a couple of months; at other times, it’s seemed like a lifetime.
I don’t know about you, but those early weeks of lockdown are a hazy blur now. 27.1 million people tuning in to watch Boris Johnson’s announcement. People queuing outside supermarkets to find empty shelves with no toilet rolls or dry pasta and hardly any fresh veg. Home-schooling. The introduction of ‘furlough’ and ‘social distancing’ into the common lexicon. Only being allowed out of the house once a day. Walking down the middle of eerily silent roads with zero traffic. Crossing the road to avoid people. (I still do this, even now.) Wearing a mask. Discovering Zoom, Houseparty and virtual pub quizzes. The launch of Disney+.
We had a Skype call with my parents this evening. Our weekly chats follow a familiar pattern these days.
“Done anything much this week?”
“Not really, no. You?”
That’s not to say we’re doing nothing. But we’re certainly doing very little that’s new or different. We’ve settled into our protective cocoon of self-isolation and family routine. One day we will be able to emerge, blinking, like hibernating animals tentatively emerging into the spring sunshine. I imagine it will all be rather unsettling. And I suspect that ‘normal’ will feel anything but normal for several months after. Maybe only then will we truly realise how traumatic the last year has been for everyone, and the depth of the scars it will leave behind.
What a year it’s been. What will the next 12 months will bring? I wonder.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries