Today marks the three-month anniversary of ‘Freedom Day’ – July 19th – the day when UK coronavirus restrictions were finally lifted. Three months on, does life after lockdown feel significantly different or more normal than it did before?
Back to normal?
In many respects, the answer is yes.
Mask-wearing in indoor spaces is no longer mandatory. While it’s still surprisingly common in some areas, in others has been all but abandoned. Seeing fellow customers maskless no longer evokes any real feelings of anger or discomfort any more.
Many of our normal activities have resumed too. The kids’ sports are all up and running, despite regular notifications of positive tests. Schools have managed through Covid outbreaks without having to send entire year groups home. (Although this is more due to a relaxation of the rules than through any mitigating actions.) We weren’t able to travel to France for our planned holiday, but we did at least manage ten days touring the north of England.
What else? Mid-July felt a little too soon for us to return to the cinema, although Isaac has been a couple of times since and we’re hoping to go as a family in a couple of weeks. Restaurants are back on the menu. Trips to Alton Towers, Thorpe Park (both twice) and Blackpool Pleasure Beach formed the backbone of our summer. I took Toby to Wembley to watch a football game. We hosted my parents at ours for the first time in 18 months. Curry nights with the lads. I even attended an in-person conference.
As the weeks have passed, our attitude to risk has gradually softened and our comfort zone has continued to expand. Life was starting to finally feel normal again.
Confidence is a funny thing. It has been gradually returning to most of us, albeit at vastly different rates with different people. Many of us have been easing our way back into normal life. Some have hurled themselves headlong at it, as if the last 18 months had never happened. Others – easily forgotten – who remain vulnerable and shielding have felt left behind and stuck.
But has there really been that much to be truly confident about? Case numbers, infection rates and hospitalisations remain very much at the top end among advanced nations. We have become normalised into accepting 100 or so Covid-related deaths and 40,000 new cases every day. We accept what we are told about the NHS being safeguarded, whereas the reality is somewhat different.
And that’s before the variety of other damaging factors to which Brexit has contributed. I won’t even begin to start listing those here. The cracks are starting to show, and the excuses starting to wear thin.
Nothing to see here?
Let’s take the case of the PCR test processing services provided by Immensa Health in Wolverhampton. This is a company which was only incorporated in May 2020 which processes, among others, tests administered at the government-run Newbury Showground testing site. In recent weeks, it has been a hot topic locally the suspicious number of people who registered positive lateral flow tests, only to (falsely) return a negative PCR result. The net result is that an outbreak of Covid which has hit local schools particularly hard was allowed to continue spreading further through the community.
The official government line is that this technical error has had no impact on case numbers. As someone who has observed the spread of Covid locally over the past month or so and can identify several individuals who experienced the positive LFT/negative PCR combination who have been in close contact with our kids recently, it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.
Particularly now that four of the five members of our household have Covid ourselves.
No impact on cases? I call shenanigans.
And now it has been revealed that the lab has never been properly accredited. This is more than a simple technical failure. It is a fundamental lack of basic governance, for which the blame should start and end with the government.
Not so normal after all
It has now been nearly a week since we contracted Covid. (Only Toby has managed to remain resistant.) Thankfully none of us have exhibited particularly bad symptoms. I’ve been the worst affected. I’m sleeping 16-18 hours a day and have a heavy cold and a headache, but that’s pretty much it. Being double-jabbed has saved me from worse symptoms, and as someone with underlying health conditions and whose second jab was five months ago, it’s not surprising that I’ve been the worst affected. It could be so much worse, that’s for sure.
But the events of the last week or so have underlined how fragile our new normal is. We had tickets for a gig in Southampton tonight, which we’ve had to offload at a significant loss. And we were meant to be going on our traditional half-term getaway to Butlin’s this weekend, which we’ve now postponed to next year. Individually, these are not major things. But when you’ve been building back slowly towards normality, these are harsh reminders that we are still a long way from pre-pandemic life.
‘Normal’ doesn’t involve seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, only for it to be moved another mile further down the track. Yes, we have come a long way in the past three months. But we still have a lot further to go than many people – not least those in charge of running the county – would care to admit.
We’re not back to normal yet, and there’s sadly every danger things may get worse before they get better. The truth is Freedom Day was never really much more than a catchy slogan that has singularly failed to deliver. Sigh.