June 24. Hibernation. Tuesday’s public announcements, reinforced in my case by a personal letter from the NHS, have merely highlighted the collapse of trust in governing bodies in the UK.
According to Boris Johnson, the era of hibernation is over in England. Pubs and hairdressers will open, the two-metre rule is halved. The ‘shielded’ will be allowed to visit family from July 6, and permitted to roam freely from the beginning of August.
In better times, a public statement by the Prime Minister in Parliament, reinforced by a press conference attended by both the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer, plus an official three-page letter, should be enough. Who am I, a toiling historian, entirely innocent of a medical education, to dispute these authoritative statements?
But before I will move an inch from my current uneventful but secure lockdown I will consult every newspaper I can find, sundry blogs to which I subscribe, my neighbours, my friends (particularly two who actually are scientists), my younger brother who is playing a major regional role co-ordinating trace and test regimes and sits on the board of two hospital trusts, my grown-up children (especially), my lawyer, my astrologer, anyone who might be able to triangulate the official message. Then I will discuss the matter with my similarly sceptical wife, and between the two of us I expect we will decide to change nothing in our daily ritual until the consequence of the relaxation becomes evident in the infection rates (see Add Mss below).
This is tiring. A healthy democracy requires a questioning electorate, but only so far. If we are to get on with the business of our lives, we have to invest confidence in those to whom we delegate fundamental decision-making powers. The education we have received since the beginning of the year tells us that the administrative competence of ministers appointed not for their abilities but for their position on Brexit is low, that the government machine which should support them is not firing on all cylinders (no controlling ‘deep state’ here, anymore than there is in the USA), that the Prime Minister is careless of detail and the truth, and that the scientists and medical specialists argue with each other, including about the current topic of the safe rate to relax restrictions.
And if we are to get on with the business of our lives, we have to walk down a street or enter a public building without viewing every stranger as a potential threat to our health and wellbeing. Amongst the many inherent contradictions in the new policy is allowing alcohol to be consumed in a ‘mitigated’ form. Someone somewhere has forgotten that the point of drinking is that is a means of throwing off the mitigations of the daily round. It promotes personal interaction, reduces inhibitions, and in extreme, but far from uncommon, cases leads to profoundly anti-social behaviour (there is a reason why the business of Accident and Emergency Departments has sharply declined in the pandemic lockdown).
In the end the calculation of risk will be largely personal. In two months we expect the arrival of a new grand-daughter a hundred-and-fifty miles away in London. It is likely to be that event, not further iterations of official advice and guidance, that will cause us to emerge from the burrow in which we have been sleeping.
Add Mss 3. June 10 Staying Alive: “When the final calculations are made, it is likely that those dying alone because they are alone will be far exceeded by those dying in company because they are in company.” In Australia a lifting of the lockdown has been suspended in large parts of Melbourne because of a resurgence of infections blamed on family gatherings and birthday parties.