This got real

Throughout the day news reports were showing pictures of crowded beaches over the weekend, gatherings in town centres, and other social meetings. The government’s guidelines were being ignored by a large section of society.

In the afternoon TV stations started promoting a broadcast by prime minister Boris Johnson which would be on TV at 8.30pm. Until now his daily press conference had been shown around 5pm on the news channels, but this was going out in prime time and across all the main channels.

“Stay at home. The only you’re allowed out of your home is….” was Johnson’s message. We were now starting to understand what lockdown meant. We’re not allowed out of our homes unless one of these four conditions apply:

  1. Shopping for food/medical necessities – but get it delivered if you can
  2. Once a day for exercise – on your own or with members of your own household
  3. Medical need or providing care
  4. Travelling to or from work (if you can’t work from home)

If you are caught out of your home for any other reason the police can issue on the spot fines. The first will be £30, but if you continue they can escalate upto £1,000. New laws are to be rushed through parliament this week to confirm the right for police to issue these new fines. The laws will be reviewed every three months until they’re no longer needed.

This was a direct response to those people who didn’t follow the advice. While other countries had been quick to ban citizens from leaving their home, our government wanted to offer the opportunity for everybody to act responsibly without having to enforce it. They treated us like adults, yet some of us just couldn’t be trusted. Indeed, some even posted online that they will keep doing whatever they want, until they are banned from doing it; and that advice and guidance didn’t have to be followed.

I’ve thought it for some time, but these last few days have really confirmed my feeling that we’re now living in a society that says, “fuck you, I’ll look after myself”. That’s not all of society of course, but there’s enough people to make it noticable.

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Lockdown

A couple of days ago the government asked people to observe ‘social distancing’, another term that just a week ago wasn’t part of our everyday parlance. Now it’s a phrase that everybody knows, but some either don’t understand it, or blatantly ignore it.

The rule is, we shouldn’t go within two meters of other people outside of our own household. If you can work from home, you should. If you can avoid going to the shop, you should, you shouldn’t go out socially, indeed pubs, restaurants, ice rinks, bingo halls, cinemas and theatres have all been closed. Today is Mother’s Day and we’ve all been told not to visit our mothers, it’s just too risky.

Even though the prime minister has been forcing this message daily, lots aren’t getting it. The popular seaside areas which are normally very quiet in March have been packed this weekend, there are huge queues at supermarkets where people are panic buying food. There are no toilet rolls on the shelves, even though 95% of UK stock is produced in the UK and there are warehouses full of the stuff, they just can’t get them to the shops fast enough to keep supplies on the shelves. There is no pasta in the country. People are stockpiling the dried staple which will keep in their cupboards and no go off in a few days. There are shortages of all sorts of food.

I took a walk to Iceland, a frozen food supermarket this afternoon. There have been large queues outside supermarkets in the mornings, to the point that they are now only allowing elderly or vulnerable people in the high risk groups, and NHS staff, in to shop for the first two hours of opening. I chose to visit just after 12pm, when the nation will be eating their lunch, probably with their mothers having ignored the PM’s appeal.

There were only a couple of customers in the shop when I got there, so no need to queue. I worked my way around the isles making sure I didn’t cross paths with anybody else, keeping to the two-meter rule. The freezers were almost empty. I managed to pick up some frozen chicken breasts – it’s impossible to get fresh ones at the moment, and there was just one pack left in the freezer – but there was plenty of fresh food available such as fruit, ham, yoghurts, margarine and bread. The milk shelves were empty, but that’s not unusual for a Sunday afternoon.

When I got home I emptied my freezer and made a list of the contents. It could be some time before I can replenish them, but we’ve got a lot more in that I knew, it’s just massively disorganised so I couldn’t see or find a lot of it.

The government are starting to put out visuals to get the message across. They key message being, “Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives”.

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Unprecedented times

I woke up this morning and looked out of the window to see a brilliant sunrise coming up over the houses at the far end of the farm which backs onto our back garden. I went out into the garden with my work laptop to grab a picture of my new home office desk. There have to be some advantages to being stuck at home, right?

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You’d think so, but when the girls came around, only Chloe went outside to see it. The other two just looked through the window and refused to venture in to the back garden!

As the news about the countrywide school closures sank in, Hannah became upset again at the prospect of not seeing her friends, while Amelia was bothered about one friend in particular who was quite vulnerable; she wanted to be there to support her friend.

I picked up a few things from the garden centre and set about spending the morning tidying up the rockery area, which for the last 10 years has refused to allow anything but weeds to grow. I laid a plastic weed-prevention sheet, covered it in bark and laid some heavy stones on top to keep it in place when the wind picks up. I found a couple of garden ornaments to decorate it too, including a little dog with a solar powered lamp which is now home to a strawberry plant, hopefully to deliver some juicy fruit later in the summer.

I also planted potatoes in two buckets so we’ll have some fresh homegrown vegetables to eat later in the year. It’s my first attempt at growing my own food. I’m really pleased with the results and it compliments the picnic table to give somewhere nice to sit out in the sun.

We spent the evening watching the news, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is becoming a regular feature alongside the government’s chief medial officer and chief scientist. While China seems to be over the worst of the virus, the situation in Italy is looking far worse. The whole country has been locked down with people banned from leaving their homes without good reason.

Spain are also in lockdown, a phrase which just a week ago was only used by schools and businesses in emergency planning meetings in case of terrorist attacks. France, Germany and other countries across Europe are putting similar measures in place.

In the US, president Donald Trump insists on calling Coronavirus the “China virus” and the “invisible enemy” and preaching about how well he is handling it, and eradicating it. He’s put plans in place to spend billions of dollars on the response, particularly on testing anybody who wants a test, but more than anything it looked like a huge commercial marketing campaign for some of the companies he admires – he had the CEOs of some of America’s top companies at a press conference with him, some such as Walmart offering their car parks as mobile testing stations. He also announced he’d be buying as much oil as the country could stockpile, the price has crashed over the last couple of weeks and he wants to store it to sell on for profit when the price goes back up. Trump also announced a new healthcare phoneline – much like the NHS 111 service that has been live in the UK for many years – and a website where people can check their symptoms with a quick questionnaire to see if they need testing. It’s being developed by “1,700 engineers at Google” according to Trump. I could knock up what he’s describing in half an hour.

I really don’t understand how or why some people in the UK are criticising our government’s response to the virus. It’s an unprecedented event, there is no playbook, no rules. The government are following scientific advice, doing what they think is right for the country. They’ve put massive financial measures in place to protect companies from going bust and jobs from being lost. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, promised that he’d do whatever it takes to see the country through this crisis. Yes, by now it really is a crisis and it’s ramping up every day.

The plan is to stem the flow of the virus. The fewer people that catch it now, the better the NHS will be able to cope. That won’t reduce the number of people catching it, but it’ll spread it out over a longer period, to make sure there’s enough beds, ventilators and staff available to treat those in need. We have 5,000 ventilators in the UK, the government has offered to buy as many as can be manufactured, with no upper limit. They’ve challenged engineering companies to switch their main business and help to make new ventilators. I feel so much happier about being British given our government’s response compared to that of the US.