I’m very fortunate. I have a house with a garden. During the current lockdown I can escape my four walls, weather permitting, and sit in the garden. I’m doubly fortunate in that I have very little work to do and such as there is can be done using a laptop. For me, the lockdown makes very little difference. My friends are largely international, at the end of a messenger or Skype video call. I see them as much today as I did before lockdown. And since my car crash in October, I no longer drive. My friends, the local ones, help out with groceries and so on. Nothing has changed. And of course there is always Amazon if my penchant for retail therapy periodically gets the better of me.
I feel sorry for office workers, compelled to work from home and deprived of the water cooler conversations and office gossip. “You’ll never guess who she’s going out with now – yes, Brian from accounts. That’s right. Gold digger!” Or those compelled to work from home at high power jobs whilst attempting to keep young Freddie or Florence entertained or educated. Who can forget that wonderful video clip last year of the South Korean correspondent attempting to conduct a Skype call with his children invading the room. A brief but wonderful moment where the reality of family life imposed itself upon the illusion of business as usual.
But I feel especially sorry, really I do, for those in flats and bedsitters, unable to leave their cells during the recent sunshine. I feel sorry for those confined against their will with abusive partners, the home a weapon of oppression not sanctuary. Or those Eleanor Rigbys, deprived of what little social contact they have, sinking deeper into that mire of loneliness and depression. For them, lockdown is no mild inconvenience. It amounts to a severance of their lifelines. We should not underestimate how narrow is the mental health precipice along which many are walking. Everyone is facing tribulations of some sort, tests and trials of their resilience and fortitude.
Comparisons are drawn between the deprivations our parents and grandparents had to endure during the Second World War and those that we face in this conflict, fundamentally the Third World War. We may be fighting germs rather than Germans but it amounts to the same thing. And in some ways it has drawn out the same Dunkirk spirit if you will. The same determination to resist. Comparisons have even been made, somewhat laughably, between Boris Johnson’s press briefings and Winston Churchill’s speeches. Hard to believe that there are people out there who cannot distinguish between a blonde buffoon’s stuttering utterings and the timeless oratory of this country’s greatest war leader. But there you have it.
Even at this stage, after less than four weeks of lockdown, some are beginning to ask when this curfew will be ended. As though it was imminent. Maybe that’s how people continue to endure the hardships, by believing in the unbelievable. So let’s be clear on this. Until we have clear evidence that the rate of infection dropping dramatically, there will be no lifting of the curfew. There cannot be. If you believe it will be lifted in the next couple of weeks, you are deluding yourself. We are looking at the beginning of June as a earliest possible date. And in my view, it will be later than that. As far as normal living goes, you can write this year off already. And all of that assumes that we comply with the curfew as it stands, that we stay home, don’t socialise and only leave when permitted. If we fail to do so, the death toll will be even more astronomical.
We are fundamentally mortgaging the entire social structure of the country, indeed the world, in order to beat this virus. And there will come a point when we ask ourselves whether the price is right. There will come a point when we weigh the perhaps irreversible collapse of society against the desire for individual survival. We will have to balance a risky social structure against a future lived virtually as cave dwellers.
How will it end? Will it end? The truth is we don’t have an answer to this. We have done the only thing that we could do to stem the tide of this virus. Isolation. Our only card. And even then, we probably played the card too late. But we don’t know how to end it, how to emerge from our caves blinking in the sunlight at the end of this. Because we neither know what the end is nor how we would recognise it. We can only buy time in the hope that an ending, an ending that will suit us as humanity, can be conceived and implemented. And it’s important that we do. Because, if not, nature is ready with her ending.