26 May. All of us are looking towards the future, seeking to understand how we can draw lessons from the crisis and build upon them.
This is my modest proposal.
From 2021 there shall be a legally-defined annual Lockdown Fortnight.
The Lockdown Fortnight will fall in the last week of June and the first week of July. During that period, with exceptions listed below, every household will be required to observe full lockdown.
The Lockdown Fortnight will have four functions:
- It will serve as a memorial for the tens of thousands who lost their lives in the 2020 UK pandemic, and for the health workers who risked their lives in supporting the afflicted. Clapping is not enough;
- It will serve as an annual reminder that we need to be prepared for the recurrence of a global pandemic. Countries, such as South Korea, that had an active memory of the SARS epidemic, were much better prepared for Covid19 than those without such a memory. During the lockdown the government will be required to make an annual statement of preparedness;
- It will create a pollution-free interval to remind us of what we have lost and have a right to regain;
- It will provide a planned break from the distractions of late modernity in order that individuals recollect themselves and the importance of their immediate social networks (and also do the necessary home repairs that otherwise are left undone across the year).
Because it will be planned and of a fixed duration, the disorder and stress of the current crisis can be largely avoided. Before the Lockdown Fortnight, supplies can be purchased, encounters with family and friends can take place, hairdressers can be visited. Any other practical difficulties can be borne for only fourteen days.
During Lockdown Fortnight, the only permitted movement will be such as can be conducted on foot, or on a bicycle (powered or otherwise). The only long-distance travel will be pilgrimages to the shrine of St Cummings the Martyr in Durham (and/or Barnard Castle).
The Lockdown Fortnight will be timed for the period of maximum daylight in Britain. It will incorporate the May Bank Holidays which will be moved forward for this purpose. The school summer half terms will be extended to two weeks and also be moved to this period.
The event is partly based on the Potters Fortnight, which was still functioning when I started work at Keele University. This was a relic of an industrial holiday, when the potbanks were shut for maintenance, and when, before the 1956 Clean Air Act, it was the only time when you could see across the city.
Exemptions to the Lockdown Fortnight will be:
- Health and related workers, though A and E business may again decline if the pubs are shut.
- Hospitality workers serving overseas visitors, who will be welcome to bring their currency to Britain and spend it at otherwise un-crowded hotels and bars (on production of a passport). This will represent a temporary but annual reminder of what we have lost with Brexit-inspired hostility to all foreigners. Britons travelling abroad will have to leave and return before and after the lockdown.
- Home-working will be permitted although no household will be allowed more than 10 hours video conferencing a week (5 work, 5 social). Wherever possible factories should arrange their annual maintenance for this period (see Potters Fortnight above).
- Sporting fixtures will be closed (the football season will be over), except Wimbledon on the grounds that it provides televised entertainment for those in lockdown.
The Lockdown Fortnight would be disruptive, but perhaps we have learnt this year that unbroken continuity of event and practice can oppose wisdom and self-knowledge. There may be a small net hit on the national GDP, but everything now is a balance between cost and benefit. See above for the gains.
The regulations will be rigorously policed by the Priti Patel Compassionate Enforcement Agency.