As the entire mainland UK is placed into Tiers 3 and 4, the question is whether this nuanced approach is the best way to tackle Covid-19. This essay explores my thoughts on what the country should do.
I find myself surprisingly torn about the whole country being moved into tier 3 or tier 4. On the one hand, I don't think it's gone far enough. With these vaccines now available - the Oxford one, which can be stored and transported in fridges, was approved this morning - locking the whole country down for two months and going on a mass vaccine drive could save so many lives, get this pandemic dealt with far quicker than we imagined a few months ago, and get the country opened up again sooner. It seems, by far, the most sensible option.
On the other hand, domestic violence, mental illnesses, suicides and eating disorders have gone through the roof this year. Businesses are closing, some never to re-open. Communities are being destroyed, elderly people are dying alone without being able to see their families, people are being placed into financial peril and, for some, their lives will be completely destroyed. We can't have a conversation about lockdown without acknowledging all of that. Yes, the scientists say the safest thing with regards Covid-19 is to lock down, but the overall picture is far more complex than how to deal with one illness. For many, many people, the support is not there to prevent their lives degenerating into destruction; by locking down, we would be saying their problems and their weaknesses, their stresses, illnesses, traumas and their needs are deemed unimportant compared to this virus. And maybe, in the bigger picture of how the global population survives this pandemic with as few fatalities as possible, that is true. But the families of those who have taken their lives, unable to cope, matter just as much as those lost to this illness, and I really don't feel like that is being acknowledged enough by people.
It's easy to sit here on a mobile phone and share endless memes and half-arsed opinions based on our own circumstances. It's not lost on me that the most vocal of people demanding everyone be confined to their houses for months on my various social media accounts are those who already live a lifestyle like that, for whatever reason. It's also not lost on me that those with the most to lose - the business owners, the older people who face dying alone, living out their final months banned from their families, the severely mentally ill mandated to be alone with their own thoughts - are the ones most against lockdown. These are perfectly normal reactions; people are scared, people are indignant, people are condescending, people are pissed off. How else do you expect people to be? These are unprecedented times, and trying to balance the range of risks and meet millions of people's needs is damn near impossible. Everyone thinks their opinion, what they would do, is the absolute right and only way, and there is no nuance in the national conversation at all.
Here's a question nobody is asking: What if this virus never goes away? What if it keeps mutating and evolving, and every time we get a grip on it, a new strain comes out, or a variation, or a different virus altogether? What if we were told the only way to eradicate these viruses was to spend all our time in our houses for the next 20 years, the next 30 years, the next 50 years? At what point does it become acceptable to say, "There's more to life than this?" If you were told your choice was to stay locked up for fifty years or take your chances with a virus, at some point - whether you believe it or not - you would think, "Sod this, I only have one life, and I'm not going to live in fear." For some people, two months can seem as long as fifty years. For a person in crisis, five minutes can be too much to bear. If you think you could spend fifty years locked in a house, you're either a liar or you're severely underestimating how much damage it would cause you. There's a reason criminals are locked up, and it's because it's a severe punishment, a deterrent. It's meant to be so scary that people refrain from crime forever and, if they do end up there, they never want to go back. If you can understand why somebody would be scared of prison, then surely you can understand why somebody would be terrified of lockdown?
What is the best approach? What should we do? Honestly, I don't know. Lockdown or no lockdown, the choice is, essentially, which group of lives are we more prepared to risk. It's like war, when you have to sacrifice a thousand lives to save ten thousand. I couldn't make them choices, and they are far, far simpler than whether to imprison the whole country for a supposed greater good, and for how long. Follow the science, say some people, even though the scientist's job is to assess the risk of one particular facet of this equation, not to consider the social or economic factors nor the cost in mental health. People should be free to live their lives, it's all overplayed and it should be our choice, say some other people, who aren't considering the impact the virus is having on people, families and emergency services. So no, beyond replacing furlough with Universal Basic Income - something I'd be advocating for anyway, irrespective of this pandemic, but the need of which has become so, so apparent this year - I don't know what to do. Quite frankly, anyone who says they know what to do isn't really worth listening to. Nobody knows what to do, people are just trying their best. Yes, even that shambles of a government who I despise so much, they are trying their best to manage an impossible situation that nobody alive has any experience in handling.
If it was as obvious as the armchair analysts make it seem, everyone would be doing it. If it was as simple as Barstool Barry makes it sound, governments all over the world would be united in their approach, and nobody would have any complaints. But it isn't. This is a situation nobody alive can really fathom, never mind solve. Which brings me to the point of this rant.
Stop blaming each other. Stop attacking each other. Stop criticising people for struggling with it. Stop pretending you have all the answers. Stop being snarky to people, stop patronising people, stop being awful and start fucking supporting each other. Nobody gives a shit if you think you're right or wrong. If people are venting, it's because they are stuck in a horrible situation they have no control at all over. Here's the secret: Let them rant, let them rave, then, when they're finished, just say, "It's really hard, isn't it. Hopefully it will be over soon, but we'll get through it as best we can together. If there's anything I can do to help, I'll try." Listen, empathise, be patient and be nice - that's all you need to do. This is, really, the secret to most areas of life, but especially a frightening global pandemic where everyone is shit-scared of what could happen.
At the end of the day, each other is all we have. Flawed, weak, scared, imperfect human beings trying to navigate a situation none of us ever truly believed would happen in our lifetime, with no guidelines, little history to draw from and no idea at all of when it might end. Whether you think lockdown is right or wrong, whether people are idiots or intelligent and even whether you think it's a scam or not, understand that we all are just trying our absolute best to get through a situation that is far, far more complex than whether we test positive or negative. People are trying their best, and Mr. Kremer said that's all anyone can do.
Look after each other. This is so tough, and we're all we've got.
* * * UPDATE * * *
My friend Grim Garry has torn shreds off me for asking a question in the title then not answering beyond, "I don't know," in the essay. The point I was trying to make was that we need to treat each other better and get each other through, whatever happens with regards being locked down or not, but, for his benefit, I will give a definitive opinion.
If you made me choose, if I was the one who absolutely had to make the final decision, then I'd lockdown for two months and roll out a mass vaccination programme. I'd get volunteers trained up on how to give injections, I'd have people going door to door to get it sorted while the highest priority people had the doctors and nurses treating them. I'd increase funding and support for the tens of thousands of people who will be severely harmed by a lockdown, I'd close the schools, I'd introduce Universal Basic Income, I'd increase upper rates of taxation, there's all sorts of things I would do. But I don't know if that's the answer. I don't know if it would work, if it would be feasible or if it would even be possible.
My main issue, and the reason I wrote this essay, is too many people are all, "THIS IS WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING AND YOU'RE A DICKHEAD FOR THINKING DIFFERENTLY," and it's completely doing my head in. I just want people to stop being so rude and mean to each other when everyone is doing their best in an impossible situation. Grim Garry thinks the battle is lost, that it's too late to take preventative measures, partly because of the government's dithering but also because, "people are showing themselves to be fucking dumb and refuse to think of others over themselves."
I don't think the battle is lost, I think the government have made a lot of mistakes, and I hope that anyone who reads this essay that so far hasn't considered the needs of others - and even those that have - can finish it and think of how they can be less snarky and more supportive of others. It will not only help the other person, but it will help them, too.
I didn't give a definitive answer in the main essay because there are plenty of blowhards telling people what they think the answers are. My aim was to show the conflict that I imagine the vast majority of people are feeling, because there's not enough nuance in public discourse nowadays, and I don't feel that is being represented enough. I know this edit/update now adds me to the list of online blowhards, but I hope, even in giving an opinion on what should be done, that the ambivalence that colours every thought I have on this subject is clear.
"One of the most insightful works I've read on mental health problems in men ... very well-written and a real page-turner. I would recommend it to anyone.
Dancing With Disorder
"It communicates a deep understanding of troubled individuals who suffer from the challenges of mental disorders ... Courageous, wise, humorous and thought-provoking ... an easy-to-read, surprising and subtly moving chronicle.
Follow Andrew Lawes on Social Media