The Virus as War
It is VE Day 2020. The date of the May Bank Holiday has been moved to Friday 8th May so that the nation can celebrate. No doubt the Government’s original intention was to link this victory in the nation’s psyche with what has now been dubbed “Brexit” as a patriotic celebration of our departure from the European Union, with thousands of street parties and Union Jacks galore and Boris as our Churchill. The Covid-19 coronavirus lock down since 23rd May, the horrific death toll and consequent social distancing have put paid to that; the celebrations are more subdued and, for some, very sombre. Many do not view this day as a cause for celebration, but one of remembrance, not only for those who suffered the atrocities of war and for those who did not return, but in the light of the thousands who are dying from the virus. The outbreak of the virus has drawn people closer together socially on virtual platforms; we are contacting our friends and family more frequently to compensate for not being able to see them in person. People are sharing clips of the RAF fly by and of their bunting and baking to celebrate the day, some have even arranged a street party with households separated by the required 2 metres. However, the national celebration overall is more low key than it would have been pre virus.
The over 70s were put into “self isolation” a week before Lock Down began. Many of the elderly and others harked back to the War and invoked the “old Blitz spirit” – we would get through this the way we got through the war; the Prime Minister was compared to Churchill, his hero; we were fighting a war against this virus and we would win. Bizarre shortages of toilet roll, pasta and tinned tomatoes (as hoarders prepared for the lock down) and, later, of flour and yeast (as people, confined to their homes, took to home baking) were likened to war ration experiences. The analogy continued with our NHS lauded as heroes and the soldiers on the frontline; like soldiers in war many of them were short of vital equipment and too many sacrificed their own lives.
The Prime Minister caught the virus and spent 5 days on oxygen in Intensive Care* so the virus was indiscriminate and we were all in this together. The war narrative was good for morale, most people only had to contend with queues at supermarkets and confinement with families or alone at home. Many devoured news reports and horrific footage of the suffering caused by the virus. Others avoided the news and binged on Netflix. A huge financial package was put together to stave off mass unemployment as businesses were forced to close and to ensure non-essential workers stayed at home.
A virus is not a war enemy and the war narrative encouraged by the Government began to lose its way. The vast majority, in fear of the virus or with a sense of responsibility to NHS staff and to elderly and vulnerable members of society, followed the guidelines. However, as the inertia forced upon millions by the Lock Down, took hold, a few were led to push the boundaries and have balcony parties, or even outdoor raves, some neighbours to meet in gardens and Derby police to crack down on people innocently driving to woods to walk their dogs, in accordance with the guidelines. Police were inundated by reports of neighbours who were breaking the guidelines, leading some to compare them to Nazi informers. Politicians were found to have visited their second homes and stepped down or brazened it out. As statistics showed the casualties of this war were key workers in low paid jobs, health and social care staff with ineffective PPE, many disproportionately from BAME backgrounds, as it became clear that many operations and treatments for cancer and other issues had been cancelled to increase capacity for coronavirus patients in hospital, so it transpired that we were not all in this together. When care home deaths were included, the highest number of deaths in one day was reported as exceeding the worst day of the Blitz. It was observed by many that the generation of veterans we had been celebrating earlier in May were being abandoned to die in care homes where the virus was out of control. As slides started to indicate that the UK death rate was the worst in Europe at the Government daily briefings, the slides disappeared. They no longer supported the narrative of victory.
We are not on a war footing, the Government refused to call a state of emergency and was slow to react, the Prime Minister missed 5 Cobra meetings in the run up to Lock Down, went on holiday and on paternity leave. The Government’s propaganda war is losing credibility as they are shown to misrepresent the truth over their strategy in care homes, over testing capacity (only meeting their self – imposed and arbitrary target by counting tests posted out, not carried out), over being guided by the science but not actually publishing it, so that they can hide behind and blame the scientists for political decisions, by using meaningless mantra as a replacement for adult communication, claiming that “ We are guided by the science” ; “We did the right thing at the right time” ; and, to cap it all, after the most disastrous communication by the Prime Minister on 10th May, abandoning “Stay at home” and replacing it with “Stay Alert” which was not only confusing but dangerous, leading to crowding on public transport the next day, and to the PM following up with “We trust in good British common sense” – in other words, if it goes wrong and we have a second spike, it will be the public’s fault and begging the question: why do we need laws and Health and Safety regulations if we can just trust common sense? No Government could get every step right in such unprecedented times.The Government should take responsibility and admit to shortcomings so that they can learn from them rather than trying to cover them up.
*After ignoring his own and scientific experts’ social distancing advice and continuing to shake hands with coronavirus patients, displaying a singular lack of common sense.