BlogOfTheMoon

Thursday, 18 March 2021

A year of living in a Covid world

I last wrote about the Covid-19 pandemic a couple of months into it. It’s now been exactly a year since I last worked a full day in my office, so it seems like a good time to revisit the topic and reflect on the last year.

March 2020 was a strange time. I’d been on strike on and off for several weeks beforehand, and hadn’t been in the office much anyway. There was some low-level worry about this new disease, but it didn’t really seem like much until the very last day of the strike, when the picket was called off, and it suddenly started to feel very real. I came back to work after the strike ended, to find the office already half empty. I didn’t really like the idea of working from home full time, and had intended to try to go into work a few times a week, but just a handful of days later, the full lockdown started. I never expected at that point to a) still be working from home a year later and b) how much I’d come to enjoy it! Although I don’t have to commute any more (which is just so freeing), I still get up at the same time as before but instead use the commute time to go for a walk and listen to podcasts before starting the working day, which I enjoy quite a lot (especially when the weather’s nice). I also go for a long walk after work – my pedometer tells me I’ve been getting ten thousand steps more consistently this last year than ever before – and almost never work after hours any more. Unlike many, I think my work/life balance has been improved since working from home!

I do, of course, realise that I’m very lucky. I live alone and have no dependants, so don’t have to worry about home-schooling or getting under someone else’s feet when trying to work. I’ve got a decent space for working and I’m both well-paid and my job was easy to move to remote working, so I’m still working, much I was before. None of these things are universally true, and I’m very grateful for the advantages I’ve had.

I’ve mostly coped okay with not seeing people in person over the last year. During the period when things opened up in the summer (too much, as we discovered afterwards) I took advantage of it to meet a handful of people, over lunch or in the garden. There are short periods when I miss people intensely, but the drip feed of personal contact, combined with online socialising keeps me sane. While we’ve been back in a full lockdown since January, the online socialising has been fine, although I am looking forward to arranging some outdoor visiting as soon as the weather is clement enough to do so.

What brought the pandemic properly home was when my friend Olaf died of Covid-related causes. I hadn’t seen much of him for a while before that, and I regret that now. But there was always supposed to be time ahead of us. He was just my age. Later in 2020 my great uncle also contracted Covid-19 and died of it – although I didn’t really know him. I wonder just how many families have been touched by this – whether it’s someone who died of or became seriously ill with Covid this past year, or know someone who has.

During the summer, I thought we had the thing licked, with case numbers in Scotland down to almost zero. Obviously we know how that ended up. But with the authorities, in the UK and Scotland, insisting that a Christmas loosening of the rules was going to happen, I made arrangements to go back to NI and see my parents, for the first time in a year, only for the last-minute panic and stay-at-home order. At least I’m luckier than many, since my sister and her family live nearby, so I was able to set up an extended household with them and have both Diwali and Christmas with them. But they’re not exactly within walking distance, and although they’ve been kind enough to chauffeur me to and from theirs when we’ve met up (to avoid me having to brave public transport, even when that was allowed), it means that it’s not exactly something I can do on a whim.

Over the course of the year, we can see just how badly the UK fared in terms of cases and deaths compared to comparable countries. We didn’t lock down quickly enough and then we opened too quickly and too hard. We maybe did a bit better in Scotland, but I think we followed England too closely. Our peak of cases and deaths was well below that of England (per million), but still much higher in the first wave than, say, Germany (although their second wave seems to track ours more closely). this is a consequence of far too many politicians baying for the end of restrictions as soon as the graph starts to dip, and a compliant media who amplify those voices at the expense of reason. By the way, there’s great data visualisation on lots of data related to Covid-19 developed by Travelling Tabby, which is a great way to view what can be some quite complex data (although why it takes a student-run travel blog to do this, rather than official sources, I’m not entirely sure).

There’s been worry in the UK that some people have ignored requests to self-isolate if they’ve been in contact with someone who might have the virus. And although it’s not something I can condone, I can understand it. The UK has an insanely low level of statutory sickness benefit (this report shows the UK had the 2nd lowest level of sickness benefit in the EU in 2016), and because of that, there are many people who just can’t afford to not work. This would have been the perfect time to do a large-scale pilot of a universal basic income, or even to raise sickness benefit to a sensible level, but, well, that’s expecting the Tory government to see beyond their own nose.

The most exciting development of the Covid year was probably the speed at which multiple vaccines were developed for it, some using an exciting new technology (mRNA). I’m so excited both by the development and prospect of getting my own jag (although I fully expect that to be some months away yet). That very speed has caused some consternation amongst people worried about just how fast these vaccines were developed (although I think of it the other way around – why are most vaccines so slow to develop?). But everything I’ve read suggests that safety hasn’t been stinted upon, just the long gaps between stages while the developers desperately try to scrounge up some more funding to continue development. If nothing else, lack of money hasn’t been a factor in the development of these vaccines.

The rollout of the vaccine(s) in the UK has been a surprising (to me) success, although I’m not the first to point out that this was the bit they left to the NHS, without outsourcing it to private consultants and/or mates of the governing party. I’ve been watching the number of vaccines given on the Travelling Tabby page and it’s so good to see that number going up and and up. My parents and most of my extended elder family have already had their first dose and I can’t wait to level up my immune system.

After a year of being at home I’m almost dreading returning to the office, and not just because we’re going to be kicked out of our small offices in the beautiful Gilbert Scott Building to open plan working in the awful Tay House. The idea of sitting in an airless meeting room with too many people makes my skin crawl, and much as I’m looking forward to going back to the theatre, I don’t know how well I’ll cope in such a crowd. I already look at films and TV shows from the Before Time and shout at the telly that everyone’s standing too close together and not wearing masks. I imagine we’ll adapt fairly quickly, but the transition will be weird.

So, it’s been a hell of a year. I might have been mostly fine, but an awful lot of people haven’t. Whether it’s through being afraid to leave your home for fear of the disease, losing your job, being furloughed, being a key worker and having to be out in public, having to home-school children, or any combination of those and more, this past year has been difficult. I hope that this shared experience will make us kinder and more compassionate towards each other. I can’t wait to get out and hug my friends and family again, when it’s safe.

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