Britain is not alone in this, but the coronavirus appears to be spreading again: France already reported 10,000 new cases, the United States will shortly hit a death toll of 200,000. To put it in perspective, 200,000 deaths is nearly 4 times the American military casualties from the Vietnam War.
We will soon be in the holiday season: a lot of plans will have to change. Christmas parties are out. Going to the theatre for the annual ritual of a pantomime is out: no children’s parties, no paper plates smothered in ice cream and cake, no gatherings to meet Santa. Rather, granny and grandpa will exchange Christmas greetings with their descendants via virtual means or through a shut window, the expressions of love and holiday cheer muffled by the glass.
How did it come to this? Perhaps it’s because of our haste to re-open: we so desperately wanted to be liberated from the confines of lockdown that any crack in the wall was burst open by our collective desire for liberty. Perhaps the summer sun convinced us to be carefree. Hindsight is 20/20, but our ability to see what went wrong in this instance is less so: there are likely a combination of things, our behaviours, governments’ providing confusing guidance, populist politicians not wanting to do anything other than engage in happy talk even though the evidence should have told them to do otherwise.
There are steps that we can take as individuals to try and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus: perhaps we should act as if we are in full lockdown already, to the extent possible. That means not leaving home, that means continuing to wash one’s hands and wear a mask, and to keep up the discipline of social distancing. Also: getting the flu vaccine is important. Those with pre-existing conditions are the most vulnerable, and a one-two punch of flu and the coronavirus may prove fatal to some.
As the nights draw in, it’s clear that the economy is taking to its sick bed as well. The furlough scheme in the United Kingdom will end in October: unemployment is already taking a turn for the worse. The Chancellor has promised targeted help, but how much support will be offered and for how long is unclear. The withdrawal of support in the American economy is causing hardship: poverty is on the rise as are evictions. How will people sustain themselves and their families? Governments seem to be flailing for answers.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be drawn from this period: as atomised individuals, we have been particularly vulnerable. Since the 1980’s, the predominant word has been “me”: I do what’s good for me. It’s all about me. These phrases have ricocheted around the popular consciousness and been responsible for everything from conspicuous consumption to voting for Donald Trump. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently urged a reporter to get out of this mindset, and to think about the “we”.
If our focus changes from “me” to “we” then there may be more resilience and wisdom. If there is a focus on the “we”, then our policies will be targeted to overall good: re-opening the economy may be great for the FTSE 500, but for the elderly trapped in care homes, not so much. It would be wonderful to go out to dinner or attend a show, but if the focus is on ensuring the coronavirus doesn’t spread, then these activities are less alluring. We are going to need this mindset not just to get through the coronavirus, but to contend with other crises, such as climate change. Already the effects on places like Australia and California have become clear: wildfires burn out of control. If the focus is “we”, then there is a necessity to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and change lifestyles to protect the environment which is a shared good.
For the moment, however, as the nights begin earlier and earlier, and the necessities of second lockdown begin to bite, perhaps we can use the time of dark and quiet to think, reflect, and prepare. If so, then maybe the pandemic will have had some small good attached to it.