The writing has been on the wall for weeks, so Judy and I have been gently preparing for what we saw as inevitable: movement restictions. We’ve been washing our hands in the prescribed manner for weeks too.
We had already bought a few masks, vinyl gloves, hand sanitizer and some anti-bacterial surface wipes. When we went shopping we added an item or two (like tinned soup) and put some milk in the freezer. We bought extra lens covers for our in-ear thermometer. We did not bulk buy anything, including toilet paper!
Then the restrictions, albeit changing daily, began. The government has been at pains to entreat rather than tell, so many have taken matters into their own hands – hence unimaginable scenes of rampant panic buying leading to empty shelves and physical conflict in stores. People (especially, it seems the under 40s) have been ignoring the ‘advice’ to socially distance, and behaving about fresh air and fun as if it were a supermarket commodity: getting some while stocks last. This has forced us into more restriction, suspicion and, frankly, a fearful state of mind.
Although both over 70, and in my case with an underlying medical condition, we decided from the outset to adopt a moderate approach to self isolation. We are both well (in Covid-19 terms), able to exercise and walk to the shops. The latter is a risk, and actually of dubious benefit since they are empty of even basic goods, because the aisles and checkouts bring us into close physical contact with others for as long as we are there.
We are lucky. We have a car so we can drive somewhere to get a change of scenery, and even find somewhere isolated to walk safely. There are not that many residents out of season, The seasonal influx of holidaymakers and second home owners looks likely to reduce or stop, although there is a risk that things might get apocalyptically ugly in urban areas. Then ‘evacuees’ might start looking for gardens and land on which to pitch a tent. We can get fresh air in our tiny garden, and the larger communal garden if we need to quarantine more rigorously, perhaps with a rota between our neighbours.
We live on our own in a cul-de-sac with 6 other houses. There are 14, maximum, residents but the majority are in ‘at risk’ groups by virtue of age or other reasons. Our two storey 3 bedroom house is in a small seaside town. It has a bathroom and a small cloakroom/toilet so that, if necessary, we could socially distance or isolate from each other and we largely use the toilet facilities exclusively anyway. We have already reduced physical contact between ourselves and, as it happens, we already slept in separate beds/rooms because of a sleep disorder. Therefore our home is a place where we have control, and can control the cleanliness: it is our ‘place of safety’. We allow no visitors inside, and anyone who calls must ring the bell and stand back from the door. We wash before we leave the house, and carry hand sanitizer, gloves and masks in case of unplanned contact. We step aside or cross the road if we meet someone, which is good for them too. We wash immediately on our return to the house, and at times through the day, in the prescribed manner. In this way we feel we can remain safe at home but, in addition to normal household cleaning, every day we clean down regularly touched surfaces, including doorknobs and handles, light switches, computers and phones, the TV remote, and specific items of furniture. We have made a 5% solution of bleach, which we use to disinfect surfaces to eke out the ‘wipes’. We have even bought 2 small pedal bins, to be lined with tie-off bags, specifically to dispose of used tissues etc. as “clinical waste” if we fall ill and have to isolate from each other within the house. I think, at least I hope, we are as ready as we can be.
So, the remaing main challenges are four-fold.
First, how do we safely replenish our supplies while we are social distancing? Online shopping with the biggest supermarkets is, for the time being, impossible: there are not enough delivery slots. A week ago we did a stock take of our cupboards. This was to be our ‘template’ for orders to Tesco/Sainsbury, but was a good ‘tool’ to establish our normal shopping list. Apart from discovering, with some embarrassment, how much we already had, it meant we could plan ahead for restocking and, crucially, reduce to an absolute minimum the time we would spend in the shop doing it. For many the discipline of shopping to a pre-planned shopping list, and weekly menu, has been an essential part of living on a budget. However, as pensioners with a secure income, we have tended to use a shopping list as a ‘guide’, modified by opportunity or impulse buys. That has to stop. As children affected by, indirectly or otherwise, the privations of WW2 we know about rationing, and saving leftovers. In the past we have been slack in preparing (and eating!) oversized amounts, as I call it “cooking for the unexpected guest”. That has to stop too, but in fact already had because just before the Covid-19 we joined Weightwatchers! We both have regular medication and the GP practice is considering issuing prescriptions for larger amounts, so that we don’t have to go to the pharmacy (which is in Tesco) more than absolutely necessary.
Secondly, how do we stem the rising tide of anxiety and fear? We have limited contol over events that affect us, so we’ll try to only ‘worry’ about those that we can. We’ve found the tsunami of informaton, and disinformation, coming from the internet, the TV and radio very unsettling and, truthfully, have found ourselves being sucked into adding to it. That has to stop. I am going to try to stop sharing my opinions and commenting on events unless asked. We have decided to limit our exposure by only watching TV news once a day, and not looking at news outlets on-line. I am not going to watch films, dramas or read books that are about ‘disaster’ and apocalypse – which unfortunately happens to be a favourite genre for me: I’m a ‘futurist’ by nature. We are not going to look at, or contribute to, social media about Covid-19 except to keep contact with our families and friends. We are taking the opportunity to do things we have been putting off, for example throwing stuff out that we’ve been keeping because it will come in handy one day. We are going through boxes of old photographs (remember those?), clearing bookshelves of books we won’t ever read, culling wardobe of clothes we won’t ever wear again (but pretend we will). Normally this would result in multiple trips to the charity shops, but they are closed now.
We are keeping more regular ‘virtual’ contact with family, and contacting more distant friends who we’ve meant to call but somehow never get round to it.
Thirdly, and this flows a bit from ‘tidying’ up, we’ve begun to contemplate what will happen if we succumb to Covid-19. This disease can come on, and progress, very rapidly; how do we prevent leaving each other, or our children, an administrative “nightmare” to sort out? We need to “get our ducks in a row”. We’ve revisited our Wills and Powers of Attorney, and contacted our Executors (who happen to be our children). We are going to make lists of important documents such as insurance policies, pensions, loans, mortgage, bank accounts, rolling subscriptions and contracts. I am Literary Executor of my late father’s estate, and I’m making arrangements to pass that role on. Our personal files will be identified, and those held on computers saved to other media where possible or deleted. Passwords for online accounts will be printed and securely stored.
Fourthly, but almost most important, how do we look after ourselves and each other? Whether we survive or not, it is possible that we will lose others that matter to us. We may have to deal with grief as well as everything else, so we must love, support, value and care for each other, every day. We will try to stay, and encourage each other to stay, cheerful, positive, and physically fit. We will try to eat well and take exercise. We will try to stay emotionally and mentally fit. Try to laugh every day. We will probably watch Hey Duggee.
Finally, if you are lucky enough to be able to go out for exercise, please remember your fellow men and women. Greet them, even from 2 metres, give them a friendly wave or ‘hi’: social distancing doesn’t mean we have to be anti-social. We need each other to express our humanity and solidarity, we are all in it together, and we’re all a bit afraid.
It seems to me that the organs of government are hamstrung in their ability to respond to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. We, in a social democracy, based on ‘free market’ capitalism, are incapable of thinking like leaders and citizens of a directed economy. Unlike China, where Covid-19 began, we are used to doing whatever we want (or at least believing that) and being persuaded to act differently. China, on the other hand, has a highly organised state apparatus, and largely compliant population used to doing what it is told for the common good. As a consequence, at time of writing, the outbreak in China seems under control, with numbers of new cases plateauing or reducing, whereas elsewhere the numbers are going the other way – rapidly.
Our leaders, on the other hand, are used to having to persuade us to act selflessly, for the common good. As part of this process they feel they need to drip-feed us information, to give us time to come to join a consensus, to prepare. I contend that in the face of a rapidly developing pandemic this is inadequate, in fact doomed to fail. Our population, as demonstrated by waves of selfish panic buying in shops, is still in the mindset of protecting its way of life rather than protecting its life. With a situation where, for many, we are literally facing an existential threat, we need the government to adopt a war-time approach to directing the economy, in short to take control: to stop advising, and start telling, us what to do.
We also need our government to harness the talents of ‘blue sky’ thinkers, from outside the establishment, to refresh and support its ossified advising and planning. Unfortunately people with ideas are excluded from doing this by not already being ‘on the radar’. In this regard, it would be possible to open a “what if” web-based portal to government so that people can offer suggestions. There would, intially at least, be a deluge of ideas but eventually this would tail off. Meantime there may very well be good ideas for government to take forward.