Local parent, researcher and writer, Maddie Wallace, continues her daily diary describing the experience first, of self-isolating, and now of being in lockdown with her children in Southsea. We’re at Day 57, and after taking a day off from writing Maddie returns to share her thoughts on VE Day.
Apologies for the lack of isolation diary yesterday. I had a particularly bad day.
I couldn’t work out why so many people aren’t taking this virus seriously. I mean, I know what’s contributing to this worrying laissez faire attitude; we’re not exactly getting clear messages from those in charge.
So, let’s just ignore them a minute and consider that over forty thousand people have (officially) died, that we have the second highest death rate in the world, and why that might not be an appropriate time to throw a street party to commemorate the end of war and the birth of a united Europe.
The message is that we’re all in this together, but we’re not. People in lower income brackets are disproportionately more likely to die. People in the BAME community are disproportionately more likely to die. Celebrating the end of war in Europe seventy five years ago while the world is in the middle of the worst pandemic for a century isn’t appropriate. It’s a slap in the face to everyone who’s lost beloved family members. It’s irrelevant whether those partying were social distancing. Throwing a party at a time like this is the equivalent of gate crashing the funeral of someone you don’t know to do a conga just because it isn’t illegal.
Being allowed to do something doesn’t mean you should.
Which brings us back to the government, whose message to the public this week has the clarity of stagnant pond water. The Presidential address on Sunday evening merely added more algae to the already fetid pool of bullshit surrounding the UK’s response to this virus from the start.
I’m in the second year of a PhD researching disinformation and misinformation. I’ve done a fair amount of research on propaganda and how those in power distort the truth to further their own agendas. I’ve studied the blog of Johnson’s advisor, Dominic Cummings, and I know what he has in mind for this country. As a post-graduate student, I have access to scientific reports on the university database.
Believe me when I tell you it was very clear at the end of January what was coming. The science from Wuhan was made freely available – you don’t even need an Ebsco log in anymore – and researchers around the world began collaborating and sharing data in an unprecedented way.
Our government carried on as normal, with Brexit being their main concern. They didn’t stock up on PPE, prepare hospitals and care homes for what was to come, alert the public to the impending crisis or reflect for even a minute that their herd immunity approach would cost unnecessary lives.
The bank holiday was changed to a Friday this year to allow for street parties to mark VE Day. That was already a massive slap in the face to those who fought and died in the war, because the very people dismantling Churchill’s dream of a united Europe after the war are the ones who encouraged us to mark the occasion.
But the release of information last week that suggested lockdown would be eased was tacit encouragement to carry on with street parties, keep the myth of the British spirit alive and relax after seven very difficult weeks stuck in our houses.
We’re stuck in our houses because that’s the only protection we have until a vaccine is developed, trialled, produced and distributed. This isn’t a virus which only kills the elderly. While El Presidente Johnson announced the phased return of some school years, reports coming out of New York are showing a spate of Covid related Kawasaki Disease symptoms in the very age group being sent back to school first.
Which happens to be A’s year group; reception.
Worrying about this, on top of trying to keep my family safe amidst a general slackening of safety behaviours by large swathes of the public, put me on the floor for the entire day. I woke up knowing it would be a tough day and Monday didn’t disappoint.
S and Z had returned from ten days at their dad’s the night before. I’ve been letting them maintain the normal contact arrangements because I believed I had all the information to make an informed choice about their safety – and mine and A’s – which was that their dad was furloughed, so the risk was low.
However, that wasn’t the correct information as he’s still going out to work every day. The feeling of not being able to make informed decisions about the risk to my family is one that weighed heavily all day. Along with my eighty two year old mother ignoring her children’s entreaties to not to go to bloody work, people having street parties, and those shrugging off the guidelines completely, it begs the question of why some people just aren’t taking this seriously at all.
My lovely editor, Sarah Cheverton, hit the nail on the head when I told her I wouldn’t be sending her a column because when I tried to write it all I could manage was swearing. It’s normal to feel anxious with what is going on right now. Those who don’t feel anxious and are ignoring the severity of this virus are either in denial or are not equipped with the facts about this pandemic, possibly because that information hasn’t been correctly transmitted to them, or because they’re not capable of understanding it.
And that’s why the UK’s response has been a shit show. Believe me when I tell you that the daily briefing is an exercise in propaganda by numbers. The message is deliberately unclear because that means you, the great British public, need to make your own choices. If you make them well and stay safe, congratulations. If you don’t and you die, they can shrug and say you should have stayed home.
They wanted the street parties to go ahead. That was clear in the unofficial briefing of the newspapers that lockdown rules would be relaxed. Never mind the dismay of healthcare workers being clapped on Thursday night by the same people having parties on Friday. In a couple weeks, when the deaths start rising again, government ministers can point to everyone out celebrating last Friday and say ‘well we did tell them to stay home so, you know, not our fault’. The very people who ripped down Churchill’s dream of a united Europe used the occasion of VE Day to subtly shift the onus away from themselves and onto the public.
A won’t be going back to school yet. I have no faith that the government are prioritising her safety over the one thing they do care about: the economy. She’ll stay home with me a bit longer, wandering about in her pants singing Puff the Magic Dragon, because her life is more important than money.
This isn’t just about the current government either. They’re merely a symptom of an underlying poison deep within our democratic system. The virus has shone a spotlight on the disease right at the heart of western capitalist political systems: money matters more than people in a male-driven market economy. New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Taiwan, Denmark, Norway and Germany have demonstrated what happens when governments tell the truth and put people and lives ahead of economies.
All the precious lives lost so far, the families mourning, the NHS staff and care workers who died because they didn’t have PPE, those who couldn’t attend funerals and say their goodbyes – they all deserve better than this. They deserve better than people partying because it’s been a bit tough being stuck indoors for seven weeks.
It’s OK to feel anxious about this disease. It is as bad as the science says. And you’re not in the clear just because you have no pre-existing health condition. Learning to sit with that might save your life; Union Jack bunting and barbecues won’t.
Maddie is sharing her lockdown experiences every day on S&C – you can find each day’s diary and all of Maddie’s previous articles for S&C here.
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