The Lockdown, Week Three

lockdown 3

It was the first sunny day of the spring, and a Sunday, so people went to the park, in spite of the government guidance which insisted on only leaving the house for work, food, medicine or exercise, and the Health Secretary’s holy trinity of exercise: run, walk, cycle; but how do you exercise when you’re six years old, or exercise your six year old? People without access to private gardens were being told what to do by people who clearly did.

The police were mobilised to break up family groups enjoying the weather and move on elderly folk sat on park benches taking a rest during their constitutional. Local authorities closed some parks and a more widespread ban was called for. The media swung behind the strategy, labelling the public thoughtless, careless, selfish virus-spreaders, ignoring for the moment a government short of PPE, ventilators and tests, and an administration that had turned a blind eye to its inability to cope with a pandemic since Exercise Cygnus.

Cygnus had been a 2016 government run simulation of a ‘flu epidemic which identified considerable unpreparedness in the provision of ventilators and the ability to process the deceased, according to Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer at the time. The results were, predictably, buried.

Elsewhere, Matt Hancock told The Andrew Marr Show that now was not the time to be discussing nurses’ pay, and the total deaths approached five thousand.

The Lockdown, Week Two

lockdown 2

Week two of the lockdown brought no more certainty. It became clear that the rules of work had as much to do with protecting the economy as protecting the population. Businesses that involved face-to-face contact with the public, unless deemed essential, were closed, but if your job otherwise couldn’t be done from home, you still had to go to work, and building sites, call centres, warehouses all remained operational.

Chat show host, former radical and Liberal Democrat candidate, Maajid Nawaz, notorious for straw-manning callers that he disagreed with, broadcast, unchallenged, an economic expert who claimed that a six-point drop in GDP would kill more people than would be saved from the virus by closing their workplaces. Transport Minister, Grant Shapps echoed this sentiment in the Huffington Post. The tone was being set.

Elsewhere, trade union membership was rising. Construction workers, angered by the lack of social distancing on sites, the continued use of fingerprint scanners to clock in and out and the dangers of their journey to work on crammed underground trains, organised and started walking off sites. Blacklisted engineer Dave Smith was, as ever, on hand to offer sage advice and to amplify their campaigns with the hashtag #shutthesites.

The real scandal, though, was lack of testing for the virus unless, it appeared, you were rich or influential. Actor Idris Elba reported that he’d experienced no symptoms despite testing positive, while thousands of frontline NHS staff remained untested.

With the Prime Minister and Health Secretary both in isolation, Cabinet Office Minister and less accomplished liar, Michael Gove took centre stage at the daily government press conference. He told the nation that ten thousand tests had been conducted the previous day when the figure was less than eight thousand, and that the failure to conduct more tests was due to short stocks of the necessary reagents, a claim denied by the Chemical Industries Association. In the media, lack of lab time and lack of political will were also blamed. The doomed herd immunity strategy may not have been completely abandoned, as we learned that the Germans were conducting 70,000 tests per day.

And the morning news broadcasts told us that otherwise healthy 13-year old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab was now the youngest victim of the virus.

The Lockdown


The lockdown, when it came, was piecemeal at best. Schools and colleges, pubs, restaurants, gyms and theatres, basically anywhere where large groups of people could gather, were forced to close. Hairdressers, nail bars and retailers of non-essential goods, however, remained open.

We were all supposed to stay at home except key workers, but pretty soon we were all key workers, as people laid off by the pubs and clubs found jobs with supermarkets or as delivery drivers and retired nurses and firefighters returned to work. The schools, ostensibly shut, had to stay open for the children of key workers, making teachers key workers too. The long list of key worker occupations published by the government was, as ever, open to interpretation.

The transit system continued to run to ensure that this new key worker class could get to work. The reduced timetable meant that services were as packed as they were before the virus, and social distancing was impossible. It seemed that self-isolation was only an option for the privileged few.

Disgruntled gym members took to the countryside for their exercise, flooding car parks with people carriers and SUVs and the forests with fresh from the packet Berghaus and Karrimor. It wasn’t long before the great outdoors became a no-go area.

Musicians and poets, on the other hand, took to broadcasting live on the internet, the new format gaining immediate popularity, particularly with those in self-isolation.

Tim Martin and Richard Branson stayed capitalists true to form. The latter, who once successfully sued the NHS, demanded £7.5billion of government money to keep his planes in the air; the former denied science to insist that his pub chain, built on ruthless undercutting and zero-hours contracts, remain open for as long as parliament did.

Meanwhile, the government quietly dropped many of their capitalist principles, forced into a series of state interventions of which a socialist would be proud, including the promise to underwrite 80% of the wages of workers in businesses forced to close by the pandemic. The devil was in the detail, however, as this money was earmarked for employers to pay wages with and it was entirely within their gift to decide that redundancies were a better economic option, which several, including Picturehouse cinemas and Britannia Hotels, did.

Soon, everyone at least knew someone who had known someone who had died from the virus. The numbers of infected and dead rose exponentially as we waited patiently for the daily government press conference. As we waited patiently for news.