Today marks a year and a day since the United Kingdom imposed a lockdown due to the spread of Covid-19, a virus that was seen to be causing devastating numbers of deaths and hospitalisations across the world, in Europe and was taking effect in the UK.
After 3 national lockdowns and 3 vaccinations* we are currently ‘living with Covid’. Below is the situation to date from https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/. It’s worth noting that although there are no restrictions in place, the virus has not gone away. A new variant Omicron BA.2 is circulating and is more transmissible that previous versions. What has changed is that a significant number of people have been vaccinated against the virus, and we are focusing more on protecting the vulnerable.
It’s been a surreal ride. Below I’ll summarise my personal timeline of the pandemic thus far, and then possibly break out into specific topics. There’s so much do discuss, and I might expand on some areas as they come to me.
On the 23rd of March the government declared a national lockdown. Essentially stop doing going to work (unless you are a keyworker), stay home and stay safe. Businesses to close. It was my wife’s birthday, so we cancelled weekend plans except to drive to a nearby woods for a walk with the kids.
The spring and summer of 2020 gave us incredible warm and pleasant weather, so despite the strange new reality of having to work and stay at home we as a family could at least spend time in the garden. In the background people were panic buying toilet paper and pasta, it was hard to receive food deliveries and we were queing up for the supermarkets wearing masks. It was very frightening, because the public had no recent model for what was happening.
We also had to homeschool the children. We made a plan for the week and got on with it. I was really impressed with how quickly the schools responded by putting lessons online with Google Classroom (and video calls later). But in the long run, keeping our children locked up and isolated at home has caused serious psychological damage, and affected their normal development and schooling.
Thankfully by June schools re-opened, and at the end of July we managed to fly to Finland for our summer holiday, where the situation was very different. Suddenly we didn’t have to wear masks, we could eat in restaurants, we could go shopping. Initially we were careful about meeting up, but gradually we forgot a little bit about the past few months. We were very lucky. We even went for a mini holiday to Broadstairs at the end of August.
Then in September 2020 a new school year started, and I found myself thinking “is this over?”.
Inevitably by the end of the year we were back in lockdown, and Christmas was effectively shut down.
January 2021 proved to be a real gut punch. We had feared that restrictions had come in too late, and this proved to be the case. Hospitalisations and infection rates were going through the roof. Schools were shut down again, and we were back to homeschooling. All of this with January and February weather and darkness.
I personally didn’t take it very well. The combination of home schooling, pressures at work and the usual effects from lack of daylight took sit’s toll, and I had to take some time out. The only flipside was that it allowed me to think about what I could control about tough situations, and how to stop ruminating too much. I think at this stage a lot of the conversation was also moving onto the balance between health risks versus mental health risks.
Thankfully by Spring things started opening up again. We had decided to have some holidays, but in the UK. We went to Norfolk in April, and in May we discovered how wonderful a city Bristol is particularly if the weather is warm.
Crucially, thanks to the miracle of modern science and a highly effective vaccine development effort, we were all offered a first and second vaccination against Covid-19. This was incredible, and would prove to be a game-changer for rich western countries. This would have the effect of allowing vaccinated people to travel more freely, and (vulnerable) people to feel more confident about resuming more of their previous life activities.
We went to Finland for the summer, and Margate before Schools started again. Again, a wonderful summer.
Autumn felt similar to the previous year, with cases rising thanks to new variant strains of Covid-19 emerging. It was the age of Omicron. Before this we had no evidence that anyone in our family had caught Covid-19. But in November my son caught Covid-19, as did many of his class. In December my wife and daughter tested positive, closely followed by myself. I had taken the booster vaccination but it was too late.
The kids got off lightly, but I felt quite ill for a week with a VERY sore throat. My wife and I felt very tired for a few weeks after the more intense symptoms, so I had to give up running and exercising.
We cautiously entered the New Year, having had a quiet Christmas break with Covid. Covid-19 cases were rising, but thankfully fatalities were not rising as they did last year (as you would expect with significant numbers of vaccinated people). Schools are open, businesses are open, society has opened (although I am still working from home).
Again I have to ask: is this it?
Key themes of the pandemic
I wanted to finish by pulling out what the key themes were for me for the past two years.
We have lessons and parallels from the past that can and could have taught us how to deal with the pandemic. Spanish Flu of 1918, the Honk Kong Flu 1968, Black Death…we’ve been warned about these for many years but we were unprepared. Hopefully in the future we can act decisively and protect our societies.
Working from home
It will be fascinaing to see what the future of work looks like. Working from home was strange at first for many, but what was once normal for a minority of remote workers (particularly in tech) became normal for many more people. Of course, your experience depended on your circumstances, but for me it highlighted how absurd it was to HAVE to travel for several hours each week into the office. A large part of my interactions were already remote and through the internet. The flexibility, free hours gained, and spending more time with family has been fantastic.
Less traffic, less crowds
Levels are now back to pre-pandemic, but for awhile the lack of traffic on the roads and in the skies was eerily magnificent. You could hear the birds singing, you were unlikely to get run over by maniacs on the streets of Bromley, going places when you could was far more relaxing because the numbers of people were so low. I will forever treasure my trips into central London when the city was still mostly in lockdown.
Everyone has their share of problems at one time or another, but I think the pandemic will have brought them to the fore. I have now reflected on my tendency to ruminate and overthink, kept up meditation every week to stay calm and I read Stoic wisdom. I’m also more aware when I react strongly to something, and am getting better at taking a step back to think about the situation more clearly. It’s a work in progress, but perhaps I’m glad that I’m dealing with my inner world now instead of when it’s too late.
Nothing stays the same forever. Everything can change in a heartbeat. Appreciate today, appreciate your friends and family because you don’t know what is round the corner. Take care of yourself too, and remember that the only thing you ultimately control is your response to events.
In rememberance of all those that perished during this pandemic
*if you agreed to have the first and second doses of vaccines, including a third booster shot. I had all 3 in 2021.