Illustration by Hannah Robinson
I never thought this was going to be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation. Not in my age group anyway. I’ve had multiple phone calls with friends where we’ve confirmed the importance of social distancing while Coronavirus continues to spread. The fact we were on the phone or on Facetime being the operative. But I’ve heard, and seen, stories of friends going to the pub or out to restaurants like Instagram videos of friends raising a toast to the premature end of our university experience. If the news hasn’t reached you yet, Coronavirus is here and our actions – good or bad – will make the difference.
But let’s look at a couple of reasons people are still justifying continuing to socialise. The hospitality industry is having to deal with the double blow of government advice to the population to social-distance. Pubs, restaurants and cafés have spoken out in distress saying that if they were mandated to close down then they could claim on insurance. At the moment, it’s a moral Catch 22 for the people in the hospitality industry who must either choose to voluntarily close and potentially have to let go of staff or remain open and become a potential virus exchange zone. Wanting to support these businesses is admirable, but there are other ways to do it than physically pitching up. Cash flows have suddenly disappeared for lots of pubs, restaurants and cafés so buying restaurant vouchers for posterity and/ or ordering takeaways is a good way to keep these places going. But mass gatherings – anywhere – are off the cards.
I’ve heard the phrase ‘overreacting’ quite a bit – particularly from people in low risk categories. But let me be absolutely clear, social distancing is important precisely because we are not yet at crisis point. If everyone followed the government advice to stay at home, with the same, small group of people unless you have a really important reason not to, then it will always feel like an over-reaction for all the right reasons. We could avoid the rampant surge of cases in China and Italy if we allow this illness to spread slowly, rather than overwhelming the NHS. The death toll at the time of writing has just reached 10,000. Unlike China and Italy, while the UK is still in the ‘rising tide’ stage of our epidemic we have a small window of opportunity to prepare. As Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said this week the number of deaths which will result from Coronavirus also include those who could become collateral damage. For example, heart-attack sufferers may find there are no critical care beds available in Coronavirus-overwhelmed hospitals. This is just as scary. Many are calling for the government to introduce stricter measures, with a particular focus on locking down London at the moment. And rightly so. But while Boris Johnson strives to keep these measures voluntary we must each play our part. The short-term inconvenience of staying indoors is nothing compared to the catastrophe that awaits if we don’t act now. Some people still think this has very little to do with them. It does. That much will become very apparent in the coming weeks and months.