The pandemic isn’t over because you’re over it

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Recently, Boris Johnson announced a series of changes, commencing from 4th July, that will ease the UK out of lockdown. This includes the 2 metre social distancing restrictions being changed to a new “1 metre plus” distance, which means not only keeping a 1 metre distance, but taking precautions to reduce the risk of transmission. Equally, restaurants, pubs, holiday accommodation and hairdressers are among the businesses that are allowed to reopen, and two households of any size will be permitted to meet and stay overnight within this support bubble. Despite these changes giving people significantly more freedom, Business Secretary Alok Sharma caveated these new rules with the expectation that people will use common sense, and businesses must view it as their “legal duty” to keep their employees and service users safe. With the global pandemic far from over, it’s natural to expect people would want to be cautious when emerging into the outside world under these new rules.

However, living locally to the south coast, I have been sorely disappointed at the lack of common sense being demonstrated, most recently with the influx of half a million people to Bournemouth and Sandbanks Beach on the hottest day of the year. The beach was flooded with holiday goers who not only dismissed social distancing, but left disgusting quantities of litter. 50 tons of rubbish was collected, 558 parking enforcement fines were given, and additional police patrols were dispatched to protect rubbish crews who were being abused for clearing the bins. Images even made it onto the Australian news network – an embarrassing indictment of the UK’s handling of the pandemic. Most people would agree that as an isolated incident this is disgraceful behaviour, so considering the current context, the lack of consideration and compassion for others is staggering.

[blockquote author=”” ]Pent-up frustration has exploded out of proportion and the government’s weak pleas for common sense seem to be falling on deaf ears[/blockquote]

It’s not just southern beaches that are at increased risk of Covid-19 cases. Over 200 illegal campers have been found across the Lake District, and foreign holiday ticket sales have soared since companies have reopened. As lockdown has been in place for months, it’s understandable that people are frustrated at being isolated in the same place, but it appears to have caused a build up of desire for escapism. Now restrictions are beginning to ease, this pent-up frustration has exploded out of proportion and the government’s weak pleas for common sense seem to be falling on deaf ears.

The government’s slogan of ‘Stay Alert’ can definitely be seen as a subjective statement that has contributed to a lack of clarity. It appears to shift responsibility into our own hands, letting us decide what degree of ‘alert’ applies to us. Therefore, our focus on untangling the meaning behind this statement draws our attention away from the bigger picture in several senses. Firstly, focusing on our own actions makes us forget that they contribute to a bigger impact. A pair of holiday makers interviewed recently on Bournemouth beach expressed horror at the lack of social distancing being observed, yet they had travelled 2 hours from Hertfordshire to be there. Whilst the actions of a few individuals are unlikely to spread Covid–19, it is clear that people have lost sight of their actions contributing to the wider problem.

[blockquote author=”” ]The government is pushing people out into the world before they’re ready and subsequently encouraging irresponsible action[/blockquote]

Furthermore, the bigger picture can be lost when we’re desensitised from it through the rising death tolls. Months ago, the hundreds of people who sadly lost their lives were reported every day, whereas now these updates are often sporadic in their delivery, and fluctuate in numbers. Despite the death tolls being lower than previous months, we must remember that each number represents a unique individual who has died and any number of deaths is still too many. Whilst relaxing out of lockdown must happen eventually, I believe the lack of clear government guidelines and individual numbing to the pandemic means the new changes are incoming too soon.

Combined with the recent news that parents may face fines if they don’t send their children to school in September, it is clear the government is pushing people out into the world before they’re ready and subsequently encouraging irresponsible action; prioritising economic growth over public safety. Whilst the floods of tourists are proving immensely difficult to quench, if lockdown was lengthened for just a few more weeks, it would minimise people’s ability to justify their actions and would suitably reinforce the severity of Covid–19. For now, we must take it upon ourselves to exercise full cautious responsibility, educating ourselves about the virus’s impact and considering the impacts of our actions on local communities. With deaths surpassing 10 million worldwide, it should be clear as day that the pandemic is far from over, and we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility simply because we are over it.

Image: Number 10 via Flickr

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