It’s been interesting, over the last few months, observing the changing tides of public opinion on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic. In March we saw the first deaths from the virus, triggering widespread public anxiety and even, in the case of toilet paper, panic. Shops closed, supermarkets were more or less plundered, and every visitor to one’s house looked like an angel of death. We washed our hands to a degree commensurate with an OCD diagnosis. And you could not buy antiseptic hand gels for love nor money.
As March slipped into April, the number of daily new cases peaked at 5500 with just under a fifth of those dying. Things looked bleak and, if not bad enough already, we were subjected to daily briefings from one or other cabinet lackey, sometimes legitimised by the simultaneous presence of a scientist. When the daily news was particularly desperate, Bojo wheeled out Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance to add a measure of gravitas to his own bumbling reassurances.
Either way, it amounted to the same thing. We were confined to our homes and told to travel only when absolutely necessary. Of course not everybody’s interpretation of the words “absolutely necessary” was the same. While some balked at walking 50 yards to the corner shop for bread, others found 700 mile round trips to visit their dentist “absolutely necessary”. Clearly lockdown was easier for some than others.
As spring slipped into summer, warm weather made a mockery of social distancing. Meanwhile he government vacillated over the use of masks, eventually deciding (on a coin toss as far as I can see) in favour of facewear. Pubs were reopened, as long as they socially distanced. Of course that was never going to fly. Since when have drunks kept their distance?
Meanwhile silently, like a nuclear submarine, the virus continued spreading. The daily cabinet briefings became less frequent. Coronavirus ceased to be the first news item, replaced by the vicissitudes of the Brexit negotiations (but that’s another day, another rant). Whether deliberately downplayed or not, the dangers of the second wave became apparent to anyone who cared to notice. By the third week in September, the second wave of infection has exceeded the first. By the third week in October, the number of daily cases hit 19,722. That’s nearly four times the maximum values in the first wave which, in case you need reminding, cost more than 40,000 lives. And it’s rising even faster. By the middle of next week we will be over 30,000 cases daily.
We could have done something. We could have held back on opening up businesses and hospitality. Instead, the government opted for the populist solution. We all knew that this would mean an increase in reported cases. It’s not rocket science. Did the public react responsibly and intelligently? Let me help you – the answer to both questions is no. The country’s collective response to the lifting of restrictions was, in essence, a month-long lager frenzy.
All over the country people used (and still use) the word pandemic in the past tense, ignoring the gigantic elephant virus in the room. And we know enough from the shape of the first phase, Pandemic 1 if you will, that Pandemic 2 is going to be worse. By the end of the year we will look back fondly on Pandemic 1 with its little hand washing rituals and all those funny masks. Compared with what is coming, Pandemic 1 is a walk in the woods.
Who do I blame? Well quite a few. I blame the politicians for failing to protect their people. I blame the scientists for failing to ensure that their advice was followed. But above all I blame the young (late teens, early 20s). You could have done something. You could have shown the kind of leadership sadly absent in our elected representatives. But no, you didn’t. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but the fact is that, in large part, it’s your fault.
[This is where I put in my usual disclaimer. No it’s not every single person in their 20s who is responsible. It’s just a stereotype to help make a point. Don’t take it personally – unless you should].
And why should it be so? Because your generation is the most impatient. Your generation is the most numerous. Your generation is the least vulnerable. And in the final analysis, when we tot up the casualties, we will realise the saddest truth – that your generation ultimately didn’t care enough about the other generations. That’s why the second wave will be worse than the first. Well, not for you. You don’t have to worry. Let others do that.
Live and let die.