The first lockdown over the summer was almost like an adventure. Certainly wasn’t a whole lot of fun but it did seem to instil a kind of Dunkirk spirit, that famous self-celebration of adversity that we Brits seem to revel in. We stood outside our houses on Thursdays clapping for the NHS workers facing this viral challenge on our behalf. We read about the virus in our newspapers and saw ambulances queueing outside hospitals. We did not quite take in all those refrigerated lorries at the rear entrances of the hospital. On the whole it was a phoney war. Other people were doing the dying for us. We might lose the occasional grandad but, for the most part it wasn’t us.
Besides, it was summer and it’s impossible to believe in death in summer. Summer is all about new lives – nesting birds, new shoots on trees, flowers opening. The time to get out into the garden for those of us that had one. It was a season of pruning, trimming, propagating, repotting and feeding. This was not a season of death.
As time wore on we became blasé, callous even, irritated that our basic civil liberties were being eroded in order to try and prevent a viral avalanche. Bit by bit we ignored, relaxed or just flouted the rules. The government, unable to stem such disobedience, simply rescinded the restrictions one by one, in a vain attempt to persuade us that such relaxations were at their behest not ours. They mirrored public action with governmental decision. A laughable illusion and one which fooled nobody. Knee-jerk government. Vacillation portrayed as vindication.
And as the number of new cases fell, the brakes were released still further. The people wanted holidays, flights to exotic destinations (well, as exotic as EasyJet and Ryanair can manage). Football resumed, to the relief of the government, albeit without anybody able to watch it. Surely as ridiculous a conceit as any over the last several months.
As the summer passed, with a handful of football games and some tokenistic cricket, nobody noticed the coronavirus still lurking in the shadows. Like grandmother’s footsteps, the virus gradually pressed forward until, with us barely taking any notice at all, suddenly the second wave was upon us. And this is no viral after-shock, palely imitating the first onslaught. This is far worse. This is The Big One.
In the summer, the rate of infection maxed out at 5600 new cases per day. In this second wave, we reached that figure by 25 September. And what did the government do? That’s right, nothing. They hedged their bets with tentative half-hearted measures in the provinces but failed to grasp the nettle for another month. Unbelievable really that they should have prevaricated for so long. In that intervening month of inaction, the daily rollcall of new cases rose to 23,000, four times as high as the first wave and we haven’t even reached the peak yet*.
Even those aware of the rising number of cases point to the much reduced mortality this time. Perhaps the virus has mutated to a less venomous form? Perhaps we’re getting better at treating it? This is delusional thinking. Already the death rate is rising. Make no mistake, once the hospital ICUs
are saturated the mortality will catch up dramatically**.
I have been saying all along, from the very first cases in early March, through the peak in May and the subsequent fall, that we have not seen the worst of this. I have maintained consistently, and will do so again, that we will lose some 150,000 people in the UK by the end of this year if we do not take decisive and effective action. Far from being a curtain call for the first phase, this is the real thing. The first phase was merely the hors d’oeuvre. This is the main course. Throw in a few weeks of rain and a side order of influenza and we will not be standing, after dark, in the streets in our raincoats, clapping our chapped hands for the health service.
Of course people tire of such apocalyptic predictions. To some extent I wonder why I even bother to write on the subject. I know full well that the number of people who read my blogs about coronavirus is far fewer than when I write of other matters. Some will read, fewer will act.
But if you read this far, at least do me a favour. Go and wash your hands. It just might be the most important thing you ever do.
*As of Friday 13th November, daily new cases exceed 33,000.
**The daily death tally now exceeds 500.