March 2020 will always be remembered as the month when life as we knew it in the UK changed. We had it all and we never even realised, you know when people say ‘enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things’, well it turns out they were right! The freedom to hug your extended family, go to the gym, turn up at a friend’s house, go out for dinner, not have to queue at the supermarket. I could go on but you get the idea.

How it all started…

On the 31st December 2019 the World Health Organisations China office heard the first reports of a previously-unknown virus behind a number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in Eastern China with a population of over 11 million. Before this year most people had never heard of Wuhan but now nobody will forget the name of the place where the outbreak originated. Fast forward a few months and the unknown virus was given the name Covid-19 (or Coronavirus) and was classified as a truly global pandemic. It had traveled to nearly every country in the world and life in the UK was unrecognisable.

Coming closer to home…

What started as something happening in an unknown place far away, then quickly traveled closer to home with Italy and Spain being very badly affected. On the 28th of February 2020 the first person to contract the virus inside the UK (having not traveled abroad) was identified. At this point in time people weren’t really concerned, it felt like something that was happening in a parallel universe. That weekend I traveled to Budapest for a city break, the plane was packed full and life was good, somehow we didn’t think it would happen here/to us. On the 1st of March cases had been identified throughout the UK (in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales). Two weeks later (14th March) we went out with friends for dinner, we joked about how we should make the most of it as this may be the last time we could go out for a while, but it still seemed inconceivable that this would actually be the case. We laughed and drank champagne. In the early days people’s responses varied, some said ‘what was all the fuss about, it was just like having the flu’, while others understood the gravity of the situation.

Image Credit: Charlie Mackesy
Lockdown…

From here on it things spiralled: on Monday the 16th of March the Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised people to avoid non-essential travel, work from home wherever possible and to avoid pubs and cafes. A few days later on 20th of March 2020 Schools in the UK were closed and our son’s last day in primary school was unexpectedly here, with talk that they might not reopen the schools until the new school year. Pubs, restaurants and cafes were told to close. On Monday the 23rd of March at 8.30pm we listened to the PM detail the most draconian restrictions on individual liberty the UK had ever seen. It was all happening so fast, everything was referred to as ‘unprecedented’ the only word that could be used to accurately explain the situation we all faced.

The message was clear…

Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives.

You could only leave home to exercise once a day, travel to and from work when absolutely necessary and only go shopping for essential items. You had to stand two metres apart from people you didn’t live with and weren’t to gather in public in groups bigger than two (social distancing). By this stage the supermarkets were struggling to keep the shelves full as panic buying saw items such as toilet roll, hand sanitizer, pasta and paracetamol very hard to come by. Supermarkets introduced times for vulnerable people and NHS workers to shop and very quickly you had to queue to enter to ensure there weren’t too many people in close proximity breaching the 2 meter rule. Online shopping slots were hard to find or not available as they were only being offered to the most vulnerable. If you could get out to the shops you were encouraged to do so.

Image Credit: Charlie Mackesy
The new rules…

People with the main symptoms – a fever or dry cough – were required to stay at home for seven days while households in which at least one person was displaying symptoms should quarantine themselves for 14 days. People older than 70, or those with underlying health conditions identified as most vulnerable to Covid-19 were to stay at home for 12 weeks. Everything being put in place was so that too many people didn’t contract the virus at the same time, overwhelming the NHS and rendering them unable to cope. People seemed to understand why these measures were necessary but it was still hard to be told not to visit your parent(s), who might live alone, for such a long period. It takes a toll on peoples mental health, some days were better than others. My dad is 77 and lives alone, we couldn’t visit or help with shopping for him. Video calls became a lifeline for people to keep in touch.

Image Credit: Charlie Mackesy
Adjusting and juggling…

The first week on ‘lock-down’ was tough, parents were trying to work full-time from home, home-school their kids and just generally keeping their heads above water while adapting to these new circumstances. The prospect that this would last for a number of months was too much to process and people told each other to focus on ‘one day at a time’. On the 26th of March at 8pm people stood outside their houses and clapped for our NHS who alongside shop workers and delivery drivers were putting themselves at risk to save the nation and provide vital services. Every day the death toll was announced and every day it was a higher number than the day before. Italy and Spain reported 500-900 deaths per day and people wondered if the UK was headed in the same direction. People were sad and confused and generally finding it a bit hard adjusting to this new normal. On the 1st of April 2020 there would be no April Fool’s jokes, as no made up pranks could match the unbelievable horrors going on in the real world. On this day the UK reported 563 deaths due to Covid-19. On the 5th of April the death rate was 708.

Image Credit: Charlie Mackesy
Fast forward to now. So many unknowns…

People have no idea what is ahead. How long will the UK be under these lock-down conditions? What will life be like after Covid-19? When will a vaccine be available? People are worried about losing their jobs as companies struggle to stay afloat. How will the economy recover? Historian Lord Peter Hennessy has predicted that, in future, post-war Britain will be discussed as “BC and AC – before corona and after corona”.

People think about the holidays they have planned for 2020 and wonder if any of them can still go ahead. The uncertainty of the situation making it very hard to plan and still have some things to look forward to. Obviously holidays are not important compared to lives being lost to this disease, but it is still very disappointing and unsettling. I cancelled 2 trips in March, one to Italy in May and the second to Spain in June, and don’t know whether my trips later in the year will be possible.

Will this be the end of globalisation? Currently we are free to roam anywhere in the world (obviously with visa restrictions in place) but will this still be the case in the future? So many countries have closed their borders during the pandemic, and in the UK we are advised not to travel anywhere for an initial 30 day period (which is likely to be extended). How will the travel industry recover? There are so many questions. The reality is, nobody has the answers.

Hope…

There are the people who feel this has happened as the earth needs time to heal, and amid the lock-down we see images of swans gliding through the now-clear canals of Venice and blue skies over China where the air is usually choked with smog.

The more upbeat among us try to see the positives, when else will we have the chance to spend this amount of ‘down-time’ with family? People have started to adjust to the slower pace of life, instead of rushing around ferrying kids from one activity to another, evenings and weekends are spent together just hanging out, watching movies, playing games and eating meals together as a family. People talk about the sense of community (which in the past has been somewhat lacking), which is now showing up all over the place. People are going out of their way to help each other.

When we in the UK are just starting with our fight against Covid-19, China is coming out the other end, with very few cases remaining. During the recovery China have banned virtually all foreigners from entering the country and require all returning Chinese are to be quarantined for 2 weeks.

We long for the better days that we hope are ahead, when we can again do the amazing things we took for granted.

One thing is for sure .. this too shall pass.

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