What a year 2020 has been, from officially leaving the EU on January 31st, to the beginning of the first COVID 19 lockdown on the 23rd March. In a very strange twist of history, also on the 31st January 2020, on the very day the UK left the EU, the first two cases of COVID 19 were reported in Great Britain. I myself became very unwell with what I thought was a severe cold or flu around that time. I now know it was in fact COVID 19. For anybody who is sceptical of the severity of this virus, I can tell you from personal experience that it is very debilitating. This awful virus was already circulating in the UK well before Christmas 2019, incubating and spreading, but was going unrecognised as such.
French scientists have since established that COVID 19 was already in France by October 2019. They rechecked older data and samples and discovered that many deaths which had been recorded as pneumonia and other lung diseases, were in fact COVID 19. It seems that Chinese tourists had been bringing the virus with them to Europe, where it rapidly gained a foothold. The Truth of that can be seen in the dreadful outbreak of COVID 19 in the north of Italy, which is home to the largest ethnic Chinese population in Europe. A fact I only discovered due to news reports of the pandemic in the region.
As the full extent of the problem in China was gradually revealed, and northern Italy became a red zone for the virus, the UK government remained seemingly, and unforgivably, inactive and complacent. Flights were coming into the UK from heavily infected areas, including northern Italy, and no checks on passengers were taking place. The British people were asking why the airports were not closed? Why were flights still coming into the country from infected areas? Ordinary people knew the dangers well enough, yet still the government remained oblivious to the danger, as the virus was being constantly imported into the country and spread.
It was not until the 23rd of March 2020 that the government finally took decisive action, and a national lockdown was finally enacted. It was too little and far too late. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced people should stay at home during a televised address to the nation. People were told to work from home wherever possible, and that they should only leave their homes for essential purposes. People could leave their houses to shop for food and medicine, for one form of exercise per day, to care for a vulnerable person or for medical purposes.
It seemed to be a desperate and panicked reaction to the massively growing infection rates, and it was enacted far too late. What caused the government to delay for so long? Many have suggested it was a conflict between wealth and health, and wealth was winning until the body count began to rise rather alarmingly.
On March 27th, both the Prime Minister and Health Secretary Matt Hancock tested positive for COVID-19, a possible sign they were not taking the virus seriously enough. On April 6th, the PM was taken into intensive care at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. He was in a very bad way health wise, and there were genuine concerns that he might not pull through. To the relief of the country, and with the amazing care he received from over-stretched NHS staff, he began to recover.
On April 3rd, the first NHS Nightingale hospital, constructed by the British Army in double quick time, was opened at London Dockland’s ExCel centre, to help with the increasing number of UK coronavirus cases. More opened around the country over the next few weeks. They were put in place to meet any extra demand from the COVID 19 pandemic. Fortunately, they were not necessary, but they were a very sensible precaution. Although under great duress and stress, the NHS coped with the virus, but it was a close run thing.
On April 5th, the Queen televised a special message to uplift the nation as it dealt with COVID-19. The Queen said, “we will meet again”, echoing the lyrics of Vera Lynn’s war song ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The British people knew they would be in for many months of unprecedented inactivity and concern as the economy shut down. At that point in time, a possible vaccine seemed to be a long way off.
One of the most astounding and frankly degenerate events to occur as the lockdown happened, was the ugly phenomena of selfish panic buying. Supermarkets, many said in a greed driven drive for profits, allowed people to strip shelves bare of essentials. Toilet paper, pasta, rice, baby wipes, kitchen roll, canned foods were all being bulk bought by despicable, greedy people.
This panic buying was not an orderly process, it brought out the very worst aspects of human nature. Old and disabled people were pushed aside, as those far more able grabbed everything for themselves. It took public outrage to finally shame the supermarkets into limiting purchases to specified amounts of product. I even recall my local corner shop keeping a supply of toilet rolls in stock for regular customers. They were served to you ‘under the counter’, as though it were some kind of illegal contraband, rather than simple bog roll. Strange times indeed and almost beyond comprehension.
Of course, all the schools and universities were closed too, and children had to make do with lessons via computers, if they received any education at all. My own two primary school aged children kept up to speed via the Internet. Children are very adaptable, and we developed a routine that seemed to work well as the months rolled past. I had the bulk of the childcare, as my wife is a key worker, and I was at home, unable to work during the lockdown. For a lot of children though, many living in difficult domestic circumstances, the lockdown was not a positive experience in any way. Only time will tell the real social damage that has been done this year, and not just to children.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, introduced a Furlough scheme for working people, a scheme that did not affect me personally. This allowed companies that were forced to close for the duration of the lockdown, to retain workers on 80% of their wages, all paid for by central government. At the time of writing, 6th November 2020, the scheme continues, and is expected to do so until the end of March 2021. Hopefully by that time, the country will be back on a more even keel. Despite the many other mistakes made by the Johnson government in respect to COVID 19, this scheme was bold and proactive, and will hopefully ensure we do not see the spectre of mass unemployment arise from the wreckage of the virus. The economy will recover, it will bounce back and grow, but it has taken a substantial hit. Nothing like this has happened to the UK economy since the dark days of World War Two.
The Johnson government has made some dreadful errors. Its glacial slowness to recognise the dangers posed to the nation by COVID 19, saw a decimation of the elderly in care homes. The death toll amongst the old was truly horrifying. Many blame government incompetence for the situation, and it is difficult to disagree in many respects.
The government could have done so much more to slow the spread of the virus, not the least of which would have been the early shutdown of airports and the travel industry, as they did in New Zealand. Once the crisis is finally over, probably sometime in 2021, there will be many questions for politicians to answer. It would also seem certain that Boris Johnson will be selected by the Tory Party to be the sacrificial lamb, onto which all blame the debacle will be heaped. In return for going quietly, he will doubtless be given a peerage and elevated to the House of Lords.
During the summer of 2020, Rishi Sunak also wheeled out the ‘eat out to help out scheme’. This was introduced as restrictions were gradually lifted, and pubs and restaurants were once again allowed to open in a ‘COVID safe’ way, with social distancing in place. The scheme was a great success, but it had a dark flip side.
In October rates of infection began to rise once again, and it seemed the second wave of the virus was coming. The ‘eat out to help out’ scheme was said to have contributed to the growing level of COVID 19 infections. As of course did the various mass protests by such radical groups as BLM that had occurred over the summer, which allowed the virus to incubate in the young, ready for a winter reprise.
The second wave is now here, and yet again the government have been late in taking measure to head the virus off. Infection rates and deaths have risen so fast, that a new national lockdown was announced and once again pubs, clubs, restaurants and gyms are closed, but this new lockdown is not as severe as the one announced back in March. In truth it is more of a faux lockdown. The schools are open, as are the colleges and universities that are riddled with COVID 19 infections. Most people are going to work as usual, unless of course they happen to work in the hospitality industry. The levels of traffic on the roads do not appear to have diminished, so it is quite obvious we are not experiencing a genuine lockdown.
This new faux lockdown began on the 5th November 2020. It is estimated to last until the 3rd December, but we shall see. Already the anti-lockdown activists are calling for it to be lifted, as dissenting voices are claiming the infection peak for the second wave of the virus has already passed. The jury is of course, still out on that. I will write again during March 2021 on this subject, when the extended furlough scheme is scheduled to end, and see where we find ourselves at that point in time.
©Copyright - James of Glencarr