Five weeks in, under the cosh since 23 March, and the major change is in the weather.
For all that time it has been warm and sunny, the sunniest April on record in the UK. A single overnight shower two weeks ago softened the soil, compacted by an unusually wet February then baked hard by the sun, enough to be able to complete the digging and plant and sow vegetables in the garden. Visits to the supermarket reduced to once a week because of the queuing, I have climbed the ridge behind the house every day, always in shorts and sandals.
Yesterday, Tuesday 28 April, it turned cold and wet. The high pressure has moved away and we are back to prevailing westerlies, changeable cyclonic weather blown in from the Atlantic. So daily exercise now in boots and wet gear. You could watch the weeds grow in the garden if you wanted to sit out in the rain.
I must admit to getting hacked off with the wildly varying and divergent news and views coming from scientist and politicians. Wear face-masks/don’t wear face masks. End of lockdown will begin in the middle of May/Lockdown will have to continue for months. A vaccine will be available next year/an effective vaccine is unlikely to be developed. At least we aren’t presented with the American System – panic buying of firearms and injecting bleach.
One view, expressed by senior politicians, which does little to cheer me up is that restrictions will continue to apply to the over-70s for much longer because we are more ‘vulnerable’. That’s both discriminatory and a generalisation. There is evidence that the virus disproportionately affects ethnic minorities. Would anyone dare suggest that restrictions should be applied longer to ethnic groups? There is also evidence that males are disproportionately affected both in terms of numbers and severity of cases. Will all males likewise be targeted?
Like many others of my age I’m pretty fit and have a healthy diet. I’m not averse to taking my chances. I am social-distancing/self-isolating not because of concerns that I might contract the disease but because if we all keep ourselves out of harm’s way it places less of a burden on the health service during the peak infection rate.
And what about the doom and gloom talk of ‘the new normal’ after the pandemic, where we all keep a 2-metre radius around us and wear face-masks?
I found History a boring subject in school and university but since then I have come to realise that it was an invaluable part of education. There is a series on BBC Radio called ‘The Long View’ which looks at contemporary issues in terms of similar events in the past. Very instructive.
I don’t pretend to the expert opinion brought to bear on various issues in that series but I can’t help but look back at so-called Spanish Flu. Dubbed ‘Spanish’ because it began during the First World War and censorship meant it was only reported in neutral-Spain. With an estimated 500 million infected worldwide, it killed at least 17 million people but estimates put the true death toll at closer to 100 million, far more than the total of military and civilian casualties in the Great War. It began in January 1918 and continued in waves until December 1920. In the UK it killed 228,000, dwarfing the forecast total expected from Covid-19.
This brief synopsis isn’t to make the point that the Covid-19 pandemic looks to be having a lesser effect than Spanish Flu, acknowledged as the worst pandemic in history. Rather it makes me wonder about how it changed the way society lived. What was the ‘new normal’ it brought about. While doubtless it was catastrophic for those directly affected, life, society soon reverted to what it had been. There may have been subtle changes but no keeping a minimum distance apart. No wearing of protective gear. People shook hands as a matter of courtesy, gave each other a hug as a sign of friendship and affection. Life carried on much as before. Within a relatively few years the new normal was much like the old normal even after such a catastrophic death toll.
My point is that the ‘new normal’ After Covid is also likely to revert to the ‘old normal’ BC in many ways within a relatively short time. We can’t live in vestigial lockdown for ever. The major effects are likely to be from the economic rather than the health or societal impacts of the virus and those are also likely to recover over time.
I’m a bit Darwinian about this. The 1918 H1N1 virus affected a lot of people, proving fatal for anything up to 20%. It is reasonable to assume that those who survived had some level of immunity either from natural antibodies or vaccination. Mutations of the flu have been a problem since but not on the same scale. It is also reasonable to suppose that those who survived the Bubonic Plague of the 14th century which devastated Europe, were those who had a level of natural immunity. Certainly, they didn’t have vaccines and medical care.
It will become clear that when we emerge from the pandemic, those who lived through it will have a degree of immunity to Covid-19 and other forms of the virus into which it will continue to mutate. There is likely to be a second wave of infection as those who have been self-isolating/social distancing, like me will be exposed to infection. It’s what scientists and insensitive politicians refer to as ‘herd-immunity’, which is when so many people in a community become immune to an infectious disease that it stops the disease from spreading.
I repeat that I’m staying out of harm’s way not to protect myself but to protect the health service. I don’t want to live the rest of my life on my own, not seeing family and friends, keeping 2 metres away from everyone else. I’m keeping fit by climbing the same mountain every day so I will be ready for a return to the Greek Islands, focusing on the future. I’m sure I’m not alone in those sentiments.
We are not likely to be out from under the Covid cosh for a while yet. But people are already showing the inbuilt urge to return to what was normal BC. That is clear from the ‘Covidiots’ who are ignoring the lockdown rules. In years ahead, when the pandemic is receding in the memory, we will all gradually regain confidence. Eventually even the rabbits will come out of their burrows.
I refuse to focus simply on ‘not dying’. I want to get back to enjoying living.
I quote the final paragraph of last chapter of my latest book ‘A small life in twenty memories’, written well before all this talk of the ‘new normal’:
“I know that at some point like everyone else I’m going to pop my clogs, shuffle off this mortal coil, whatever cliché you want to use. The only thing which causes me any concern is that I don’t want it to be as a result of making a stupid mistake. It would be good if it were to happen doing something heroic, though that is very unlikely. The probability is that, like most people, it will be unremarkable, inconsequential. A small end to a small life. But what a lot of memories in the meantime.”