As we watch the world grinding to a halt in the midst of a global pandemic, I’ve started this series exploring the ways in which the COVID-19 coronavirus is changing our lives – possibly forever.
These are strange and frightening times. Two-weeks ago, most of us were operating ‘business as usual’, with only a cursory glance towards the diminishing toilet roll levels in our local Tesco Express providing anything resembling a warning sign. As Italy, Spain and France commenced total lockdown of bars, restaurants and borders, the UK sat idly by, sticking two fingers up to what we now know as a significant existential threat to normal life. I’m no epidemiologist, but the floundering governmental response to the initial outbreak seems likely to lead to a significant loss of life; a very high price to pay for maintaining the status quo.
Boris Johnson boasting about shaking hands with coronavirus patients. You could not make it up. Britain is about to learn the hard way this is not the man to lead us in a crisis.pic.twitter.com/mgg8TL8zKh
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) March 3, 2020
Many of us – the lucky ones – have now been forced to work from home. As someone who lives with a vulnerable person – my Mum, who has Parkinson’s disease – I, along with many others, will likely be stuck in the confines of my own home for the foreseeable future. Watching the flagrant disregard to other people’s well-being shown by a considerable proportion of the British population is incensing, but wholly unsurprising. If the last few years are anything to go by, the British seem to have a new-found distaste for anyone claiming to know better than them; especially doctors demanding they avoid the pub for a couple of months. Even after pubs, restaurants and schools were officially closed, people in Brighton flocked to the beach last weekend, and Victoria Park in Hackney was full of shoppers for the Sunday market. Perhaps this is whats happens when you spend years turning the general public against experts?
Excuse me @hackneycouncil why have you allowed the Victoria Park market to go ahead? It’s full of healthy spreaders who don’t want their lives inconvenienced. As a doctor working for the NHS I’m outraged. @BorisJohnson this is why you have to enforce lock down. pic.twitter.com/fIsVZJWph3
— francesca turner (@chescakturner) March 22, 2020
For those of us self-isolating, after the first few maddening days things quickly slip into a familiar routine of eating-toast-in-pyjamas and Netlifx-whilst-drinking-wine. But even after only the first week, one starts to wonder the tole this might end up having on long-term mental health. Social distancing – the practice of reducing contact with other people to an absolute minimum – will have a severe impact on those with pre-existing mental health conditions & those already socially isolated, and will no doubt instigate a sharp rise in mental health issues throughout the populace. With sweeping governmental powers being introduced for up to 2-years, ostensibly to aid in response times for health services, it looks likely that the most vulnerable in our society will continue to be disproportionately affected.
There are signs of hope beginning to emerge through the noise however. The Brighton COVID-19 Mutual Aid group on Facebook has amassed over 15,000 members, with similar groups being created up and down the country. I have personally received support, kindness and goodwill from both old friends and strangers, showing the true power a community has to help each other when we rally together. In London, hotel rooms have been offered out to the homeless in a trial that is likely to be expanded over the coming weeks. Millions of people all over the UK are turning to kindness during these unprecedented times, something that has been lacking over the past few Brexit-mired years.
It is hope that will sustain us in the coming weeks. Turning our gaze towards Italy and Spain for a view of the future, it’s likely that we will see a dizzying number of fatalities. I can only hope that this offers us an opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate on a massive scale. Our chronic under-funding and rampant privatisation of the public health sector has left the NHS woefully underprepared to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude. Over 500,000 people will be finding out – many for the first time – the true degradation experienced in applying for Universal Credit. We are all coming to the realisation that it is not the CEOs and Hedge Fund managers who sustain us during times of crisis, but those people ensuring we are fed, and those people who care for us when we are sick. Maybe it is time we paid them their dues?
For some excellent, practical advice on maintaining and supporting your mental health during social distancing read this advice from the mental health charity Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=info&utm_content=coronavirus%20staying%20home%20tips