One year ago today, Liam and I were on our way to Heathrow Airport to board a flight to Nepal to start what would become a nine month period of travel. The game we were obsessed with at the time was called ‘Plague’; a game on our phones where you try to kill everyone on the planet through creating an infectious disease, spreading it and breaking down society. I can barely believe the situation one year later. I am living a reality where the aim is to do exactly the opposite.
Two months ago I thought Coronavirus was a problem far away . My awareness started with my Dad, who warned me back in late January that I might want to think about purchasing insurance for my wedding in May. I laughed at him (not just because our wedding is currently seriously low cost), and quietly questioned his logic. I should have listened, as he is a GP with incredible foresight into public health, among other matters. As he boarded his plane to Switzerland, trying to avoid people with coughs and sneezes and having purchased a mask, much of the rest of the world sat in blissful ignorance.
One week ago, I was sat in a meeting presenting the results from a project in Leeds that has sought to reduce isolation and loneliness among the over 50s. The project had been a success. The success of the project was the primary focus, but coronavirus discussions also took place. Will it affect the projects? Are you worried? Do you think it will hit us? By now, I had already accepted our daily life would change very soon. I felt like I was slightly further along than many in the room in the journey towards acceptance. I had already prepared a bag with a couple of weeks food in case I had to self-isolate. I had already considered cancelling my wedding. But, even I was not prepared for the speed in which life has changed beyond recognition.
The announcement that Covid-19 had become a global pandemic had come the next day, on Wednesday. Earlier that day, I had tried to be clever and purchased travel insurance to protect our honeymoon cottage deposit. However, I had not been clever enough. When I double checked following the announcement of the pandemic, I had not bought the right insurance and it did not cover pandemics. Now, no travel insurance company would be able to insure me. I cursed myself, but knew that it was the least of my worries.
By Friday, the situation became rapidly apparent. Life as we know it, is over. Isolation for anyone over 70 or with an underlying health condition. Working from home. Social distancing. Policies of increasing escalation to be announced in rapid succession. Suddenly, I was faced with a scary reality. The wedding being cancelled, least of our worries. We are more upset about whether we can still move to Sheffield or not. Bigger still, are concerns about job security, paying bills, and the availability of food and goods long term. Will society get through this? Will our savings be worth anything at the end of it all? Within two months, I have moved from a position of excitement and feeling secure in my place in the world, to feeling like I am sitting on a great big question mark.
Of course, the most important thing in all of this is people. I heard on the radio the other day, a presenter mocking someone for being upset about worrying about Premiership Football, when people are losing their lives. I do not care about Premiership Football, but we have to allow people to be upset about what they are upset about. Feelings matter. Of course, that individual is ALSO upset about people, but please let people be upset about what they are upset about.
I am upset about the world, wedding, honeymoon, not being able to buy what I want from the shop. But of course. I am most upset about people. I sit here knowing I won’t see my step-dad or sister for at least three months because they have underlying health conditions. I won’t see my mum because she is isolating with my step-dad. I won’t see my Dad, or other sister, because they work on the front line NHS and will be drafted in and reducing contact. I won’t see my friends. I won’t see Liam’s Nana or Uncle Ray as they are over 70.
I feel for my family members, friends and former colleagues who work in the health services. Their lives are about to change more than we can imagine. On the front line working long shifts, not seeing their families, managing resources shortages, not having masks for their faces, having to make horrendous decisions about who to help, witnessing so much suffering and trauma. Let us please think about them and do everything we can to help our NHS.
I have a lot of other feelings, concerns and worries but I will keep them to myself.
Speaking to an Italian friend Roberto earlier, he sent me an audio clip of some birds singing in the Italian mountains that I love so much. It made me feel calm. The water in Venice is running clear with fish. Humanity might be suffering, but nature is benefiting. The air is less polluted, industries are slowing. Air travel has ceased. We are being forced into a period of quiet reflection, brutally severed from activities we have all felt so entitled to for so long; travel, socialising, spending money, driving cars around. We really feel, at a time like this, that the only thing that matters is each other. Nature is winning at the moment. I really hope that we can learn from this situation and move forward into a better world with changed priorities.
One thing I have been reflecting on most is that we in Western Europe and other economically developed peace time countries have been born into utter privilege. Privilege that we did not fully appreciate. More than any other time in the history of mankind, we have been free of suffering, starvation, sickness, death from war and tragedy. I have read a lot of history books in my life and often contemplated the suffering of generations past. I have considered the hardships that they have faced. What does it feel like to not be able to feed yourself? What does it feel like to lose everything? Being faced with this pandemic is making me feel more human than ever, more vulnerable than ever.
In this state of mind, I read about the Government saying it will save the airlines. 7.5billion on Airlines. Wait. Aren’t they part of the problem? I hope we direct our resources instead into paying money to people who have no jobs, or who don’t get sick pay. I hope we save pubs, small local businesses, local construction, domestic industry, food, and not airlines. If we get through this crisis, have we learnt that AIRLINES are the most important thing? Or have we learnt that they are polluting and disease spreading and we should be limiting them. 7.5billion on Airlines. The priority should be PEOPLE. The priority should be creating a sustainable domestic economy and shifting our focus onto the things that really matter.
I am reflecting on this piece of writing and hoping the whole thing goes away and blows over, and life will return to normal in a few months. However, I fear the opposite. I just hope we learn from this, and move forward together in a positive and sustainable way as a species. I thought Brexit would cause disaster, I thought bush fires, flooding and climate change would. I didn’t think a Virus would. But now it is here. And all we can do is wait.