The novel coronavirus has for the time being altered the day to day lives of almost everyone.
From what appeared a few weeks ago to be a distant problem suffered by China(the seat of the infection) and neighbouring countries has not only rapidly appeared on our shores but is now patrolling our neighbourhoods and knocking on every door. A lack of identifiable features in the otherwise fit and healthy and attendant invisibility has only served to ramp up paranoia and frankly sickening behaviour by the selfish ‘me, me, me’ generation who admittedly have previous form, but not on the scale seen in many of the UK’s supermarkets and convenience stores.
Government policy has this week understandably confused many. Whilst discouraging citizens from gathering in pubs, cafes, and bars and other environments where the close proximity to others is a given, Boris Johnson’s administration stopped short of either banning individuals from visiting businesses in the hospitality industry or demanding compulsory closure. This resulted in even the Prime Minister’s maverick father, Stanley, insisting that he would go to a pub if ‘he needed to’. Such an act of oratorical defiance suggested that Johnson senior isn’t the type to voluntarily curtail his elbow-bending or that his ‘need’ stemmed from a wider problem with the grape and grain.
By definition the Conservatives are the party of personal responsibility, with a particular penchant for shrinking the state and keeping out of the lives of those who should, in their eyes, have the ability to help themselves. Initially loathed to shut the cafes and public houses relied upon by so many for company and discourse it soon became evident that establishments would in the main not call last orders for an indeterminate length of time, nor would all drinkers and diners give up their main or only worldly pleasure. In effect bowing to criticism that a lack of an authoritarian approach is only helping the virus gain a foothold in society, the Tories’ anathematic volte-face to bring down the shutters on food and drink establishments other than takeaways became as inevitable as it is necessary.
As a nation we are not very good at being told what to do, especially if it doesn’t suit a preferred lifestyle in this ‘do what I like, let it all hang out’ secular age. In a society that will pick and choose laws that tally with individual preference and sharply declining standards, the collective shock of being confined to barracks has not, yet, been severely railed against. It is though true that martial law has not been imposed, nor have the restrictions to mobility and personal freedom seen in Italy, Spain, and China been introduced. Such measures though may yet be necessary as nobody, not even the scientific community and their modelled projected outcomes, can accurately foretell what the coronavirus, and its extent has in store for the UK.
Comparing statistics of how the pandemic has manifested itself in other nations is as futile as it is unhelpful. In keeping with its authoritarian control on its citizens’ lives China expeditiously cracked down on personal and collective freedoms and has by all accounts got the virus on the run. By though being the seat of the outbreak China had perhaps initially misled the wider world of the coronavirus’ seriousness. Accustomed to Beijing’s totalitarian attitude to governance the global community would be forgiven for not taking the coronavirus seriously during its nascent stages, instead viewing China’s actions as its default approach to anything vaguely negative and critical occurring within its borders.
Collective self-preservation has kicked in across the UK, with normally bustling thoroughfares becoming ghost town-like. Although most non-essential commercial premises are closed to the public supermarkets and pharmacies remain busy and fertile ground for the transmission of the virus. And yet, many visits to the likes of Asda, Tesco, and Morrison’s are unnecessary ones that have seen panic buying and stockpiling as never before. Whilst the war years brought in rationing of many staple items the world has not witnessed scenes such as these, simply because in times of conflict there was never a level of such abundance and variety of lines as seen in today’s commercial outlets. Behavioural standards were also far higher, at least until the 60’s, when a more liberal attitude to just about everything held sway and threatened the fabric of society and many of its traditional institutions.
Nowadays there is too much of the wrong kind of food in too many shops, resulting in the driving down of quality and an absence of a middle ground of produce. Cheap and nasty or premium priced are often the choices for shoppers, a microcosm of a society simultaneously becoming spiritually, financially, and morally poorer and materially richer but more ignorant and selfish. Never more so has this view of British society been reinforced by the self-absorbed and regardless behaviour of those denying the weaker, more vulnerable members of society items such as pasta, toilet rolls, tea bags, and liquid soap.
Supermarkets should though shoulder some of the blame. When it became evident very early in the health crisis that customers cannot be trusted to behave with restraint and consider others it was then that the shops should have imposed numerical limits per individual on certain items, even if that meant selling hygiene products, bread, etc from behind a counter as is the practice for retailing cigarettes and perfume/after shave. Too intent to give people the benefit of the doubt to use their responsibility with freedom and freedom responsibly, a society thousands of years into its development – I will not though use the word evolution – has proved to be incapable of behaving rationally, and sensibly. Perhaps China has realised that only strong authority from the outset is appropriate for the human race, which at heart should crave boundaries and structure but nowadays adhere to rules that are individual and self-authored, and not those squarely laid out for society as a whole.
Sequestering one’s self is never an easy process; the initial attractiveness of hunkering down behind closed doors from which the world is kept at bay can soon engender panic and a pressure cooker-like atmosphere, especially should your self-isolation involve the close proximity of family members who one wouldn’t otherwise choose to spend every waking minute with.
What then can those ‘self-isolating’ do to while away the hours, days, and perhaps even months of uncertainty that currently stretch before us? Speaking from an individual perspective and someone who prizes my own company over that with others, little has ostensibly changed. Accustomed to spending long periods with just me, myself, and I has its plus points but also draw backs, in particular the denudation of social skills and the tolerance of others. Time alone can though help focus thoughts and filter out the increasing amount of superficiality and vacuity that is as much the diet of choice for individuals as it is the backbone of much of Social Media.
If you are self-isolating it is not unrealistic to suggest that you already have the coronavirus of are showing its symptoms, which admittedly overlap with many aspects of the common cold and seasonal influenza. This scenario leaves little other than bed rest and devouring Netflix box sets – other on demand streaming services are available – available to the patient but should your recovery be some way down the line, or your social detachment be motivated by avoiding family and friends with the virus, there are many things that can be done, and achieved, from the comfort of one’s home that will see time well spent, and not wasted:
DO learn a new language or go back to one where your proficient has become rusty. Babbel and Duolingo are good places to start. Alternatively, have you ever wanted to learn to Code, become an Excel expert or an exponent of Agile methodology?
DON’T record and view television repeats of repeats of repeats. As funny as they are isn’t it time to move on from watching Del Boy Trotter and Hyacinth Bucket(Bouquet)?
DO write down in a journal or among the blogosphere experiences, feelings, hopes, and fears related to how your life has been affected by the coronavirus. This will prove to be a useful record to look back on from what is an equally unsettling and unprecedented time in human existence.
DON’T mindlessly play online games, begin or increase the use of internet gambling, binge eat or become more closely acquainted with alcohol. The end of the world isn’t nigh; once the dust has settled and Covid-19 is relatively a thing of the past a legacy of obesity, increased alcohol dependency and a dulled mind will be difficult mistresses to overcome.
DO read. Whether it is a balanced account of the pandemic from a trusted and verifiable online news source such as the BBC, or books bought but that have only gathered dust rather than well-thumbed pages, use this unique opportunity to challenge your mind, reacquaint with a favourite author or be introduced to a new wordsmith. The imminent closure of public libraries needn’t prevent the sourcing of literature online, both purchased and in downloadable form.
DON’T obsess about the coronavirus and its coverage in the news. Instead of becoming fixated with rolling news and the latest death toll try keeping up to date at certain times of the day, for instance 9 am and the daily 5 pm briefing from the government. Switch your phone off at night; get the sleep needed to stay well or get well, and aim to concentrate on personal development, the learning of a new skill, gardening, and personal fitness between viewing the latest developments.
DO keep in touch with others. Perhaps you can happily go days without any form of personal interaction; this isn’t a bad thing per se but is unsustainable in the long term and can affect career prospects and social skills. Whilst looking after one’s own health is very important the wellbeing of friends and family should not be disregarded. Is there a family member alone who would benefit from a call, video chat, or an email? Have you lost touch with a friend who is perhaps concerned for your welfare because of the incommunicado?
These are undoubtedly worrying, unprecedented times without parallels and few, if any places from which to find comfort and hope. Following advice that goes against the grain is something that our generation, and the one before, is hardwired to question and resist but our very health, and existence, are individually and collectively at stake. Time away from the mainstream and our everyday lives shouldn’t be wasted but used productively and responsibly. Taking a protracted length of time out to re-evaluate our place in the world is rarely otherwise possible; if anything good can emerge from a worldwide pandemic let us focus on improving skills and communication, while steering our minds away from the dross of modern life towards the pursuit of knowledge, decency, and selflessness.
There will not be a time like this again. Look at who you are and seek lasting improvement and discernment.