Haven’t we been here before? With the UK becoming increasingly accustomed to the loosening of coronavirus restrictions and looking forward to their lifting altogether, we now face the prospect of pressing pause – or, worse still, rewind – as Covid case numbers start to climb once again.
The government faces another difficult choice. Take decisive action to reset the timetable, do nothing and hope for the best, or seek an in-between solution to enable a near-normal summer while trying to keep the lid on a third wave of infections.
In the inimitable words of Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Tuesday 18th May
We had other people inside our house today. How odd that felt!
Kara had a couple of friends over after school for a loosely birthday-related play-date. It’s the first time we’ve had another child inside our house since … I’m not sure when, exactly, before the first lockdown, I suppose, so at least 14 months. And then we invited other parents in too. Yep, that felt really weird.
It’s another milestone on that long road back to normality. I suppose we’ll have to keep the house a bit tidier now that we can’t hide behind Covid as an excuse for keeping other people firmly on the outside.
We’re even starting to make plans to actually have my parents over to ours again. They haven’t come to us since January of last year and, other than a couple of short visits last summer, we’ve stayed out in their garden on our recent trips to see them. But now we can start thinking in terms of eating indoors, and playing mah jong, and even overnight stays once again. It’s seemed like so long since we last did that; pre-Covid we used to do it every three or four weeks. We won’t take that for granted ever again.
Sunday 23rd May
We spent today at Chessington World of Adventures. Busy, but still operating some way below 100% capacity. Indoor attractions still closed. Temporary screens up to head height to minimise risks in the queue lines. Masks required on rides, with most people happily complying without needing to be reminded. Crowded but with the majority still doing their best to observe social distancing guidelines, with many wearing masks even when wandering around the park, despite this not being a requirement.
Did all of this feel a bit weird? A little. But no one really bats an eyelid seeing lots of people around them wearing masks any more. Or for queues to be more spaced out as visitors try to maintain some semblance of social distancing. This is all part of the new normal for us. So, yes, of course we noticed it on some level. But it didn’t stop us enjoying a good day out. In the greater scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay to keep venues open.
Wednesday 26th May
I received my second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine this afternoon, just under 11 weeks after my first. That means that in two weeks’ time I’ll have the maximum protection possible from Covid.
Although the reality is that we will probably be looking at annual vaccine updates for the foreseeable future, as is the case with flu jabs. That’s okay. Ultimately Covid – like its older cousin – will continue to mutate into new strains and yearly jabs for vulnerable groups will become just another part of our pre-winter routine.
Thankfully I’ve been one of those people who have had negligible reaction to receiving the vaccine. A touch of soreness around the injection site and I needed a quick nap on the sofa before dinner, but that was it. Fingers crossed, that should be it.
Today we’ve also had Dominic Cummings, formerly the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser, answering questions in front of a Select Committee. In his seven-hour testimony, he offered several insights into the chaos inside Number Ten. He alleged that the Prime Minister was willing to knowingly let people die to protect the economy, that he didn’t take the threat of the pandemic seriously enough, and that he and his senior team simply had no plan for anything. Much of this has been evident to any halfway attentive observer, but it was still shocking to hear it said out loud by one of the architects of the government’s strategy. Equally, much of it was self-serving and it’s questionable how many of the more startling revelations are actually true. Will it make much of a difference to how the government behaves or impact their decision-making processes? Call me cynical, but somehow I doubt it. Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish-and-chip wrapping, as the saying goes.
Sunday 30th May
We’ve just spent two lovely days at Alton Towers, where the thrills of The Smiler, Wicker Man and Oblivion were thankfully scarier than the lack of observation of social distancing by some visitors.
Everything is still a trade-off, but it’s one that I’m becoming more comfortable with over time. This time a year ago, setting foot inside a supermarket again felt like a big move, fraught with peril. We still understood so little about the transmissibility of the virus and the level of threat it posed. Now, though, we have more data, high rates of vaccination and more of a sense of perspective. So while I do still find the occasional person’s refusal to wear a mask in indoor spaces annoying, having someone stand too close to me in an outdoors queue when they’re not directly facing me is something I have learned to be more relaxed about.
Is there still a certain level of risk? Yes, of course. But both my parents and I have now had two jabs, Heather has had one, and both of us continue to take sensible precautions and aren’t exactly spending every night down the pub with different groups of friends. Life has restarted tentatively and will go on, albeit with greater caution and less spontaneity than before.
Monday 31st May
There are growing warnings from the scientific community that the UK may be experiencing the beginning of a third wave of infections. With the full easing of restrictions planned for three weeks today, it casts doubt over the wisdom of fully resuming activity on 21st June.
It’s a difficult decision. On the one hand businesses are desperate to finally return to normal with the busy summer season imminent. There will be considerable pressure on the government to stick to its original schedule, with all statements about 21st June being the earliest possible date for the lifting of restrictions long forgotten. On the other hand, any remaining pretence about still following the science and focussing on data rather than dates would demand a note of caution.
I’m as keen as anyone to put this last 15 months behind us. The prospect of a ‘normal’ summer is enticing. But there have been too many occasions when we have taken a cavalier or dithering approach (or both) to stepping up restrictions. At the outset of the pandemic last February/March. In September/October with a tiered approach that was neither soon enough nor strict enough. Holding open the public-pleasing policy of Christmas bubbles for too long. Insisting that the return to school was totally safe and then announcing a new national lockdown one day later.
We stand at a pivotal moment once again. The scientists’ warnings mixed with the after-shocks of Saturday’s anti-lockdown demonstrations clearly indicate that both action and inaction will be unpopular with large swathes of the population. So what’s it to be: stick or twist? Over to you, Prime Minister. We simply cannot afford to get this wrong … again.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries