By John Cartin
The government’s new public awareness campaign on coronavirus restrictions is certainly striking, particularly because of the aggressive tone of the adverts. By encouraging us to justify ourselves, it presupposes we’re in the wrong, perhaps representative of fears that the public is growing lax in their attitude towards restrictions. And there certainly are people in the wrong, who maybe should’ve thought twice or tried to justify themselves in the eyes of those represented in these adverts.
There’s compelling evidence to support the aggressive tone. Take the videos on police social media of parties breaching restrictions blatantly, with the attendants throwing accusations at the police, as if they’re the ones in the wrong. Watching them sometimes makes me feel repressed anger, thinking about how they can possibly dare to act the way they are (and making myself feel better in the process).
Equally, however, you’d struggle to find a person who’s acted perfectly in line with the law or university guidelines. The first night I spent at Josephine Butler (which, I should stress, has been otherwise excellent at being in line with university restrictions and has done amazingly as a college to support their student community throughout) was punctuated by throngs of people on and about the mound, having to be split up and sent back to their blocks.
TikToks have gone viral of Durham University students touring the streets and acting generally like university students do – but not how you’d expect in a global pandemic that’s taken approximately 121,000 deaths at time of writing.
A YouGov poll on January 20th found that while 69% of surveyed Britons said they were taking the restrictions as seriously as the first lockdown, even more at 76% thought that others were not.
With such a staggering statistic alongside personal experience, you might be tempted to say the government is entirely justified in running with an aggressive message. But we can also flip the mirror and ask the government if they can justify their actions to the NHS workers and patients featured, as well as to the public.
Dominic Cummings’ visit to Barnard Castle undermined public confidence that the rules on lockdown were universal (garden conference handwringing after the fact did very little to restore public trust but provided a great source for mockery). It’s now nearly a year since the Prime Minister admitted to shaking the hands of everyone during a Covid-19 ward visit.
The current scandal is the fact that government procurement of urgent supplies such as personal protective equipment has favoured close contacts, relatives and friends of those organising the procurement. Almost more shocking is how little those implicated seem to care.
Matt Hancock defended his actions on failing to disclose the details of signed contracts within the 30 day period required, saying that he believed focusing all efforts on procurement was more important – which then begs the question of why nurses and care staff had to wear makeshift protective gear for so long. Similarly, the government is quick to praise the economic impact of ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ but silent on the impact on cases.
Where does this leave us? As with previous pandemics, secondary spikes are larger than the first, bringing us past grim milestones that might have been avoided. It is true that with more stringent restrictions and better actions by the public in these last few months, we might have avoided hitting some of those markers; but it’s also undoubtedly true that many people can’t deal with further restrictions, whether for mental health reasons or the need to provide for their family while putting themselves at risk. The government has extended the universal credit £20 uplift for another six months, but for many this will feel too little.
Thankfully, there is now light at the end of the tunnel: the government should and has been credited for the success in the vaccine rollout. It’s now possible to imagine a day where there is no one in the wards, struggling for breath, with whom we must lock eyes with and confront with our actions. It can’t come soon enough.
Image: Keir Gravil via Flickr.