Tuesday, May 12

Cars crash, smokers cough.

Some relaxation of restrictions here in England this week. It appears that I should be able to drive somewhere for exercise and to be able to visit someone outside, one at a time, and still maintaining a good distance between us all. I can also do this several times so I could meet one person in one place and then another in the same place afterwards or go somewhere else and neither distance nor time appear to be an issue.

I am not rushing to do so, though, as anyone who really wants to see or talk to me can do so by phone or video and there really are not many people I'm missing if the truth be told. I had very, very few visitors before all this started so I am hardly likely to see much difference. It does mean that I could go to Sussex to collect an old bicycle that someone is building for me but I can't go with my daughter so I'd have to borrow her car with the bike rack on the roof or, maybe, fit the device to my car. I probably won't though. It might be cheaper to have it posted to me. I could also go to the airport but Ukraine and Malta are still not permitting international flights so I'm still stuck in Britain for some time.

I have noticed something about the behaviour of many people during this crisis and the new  proposals have only served to emphasise this. It seems that many individuals have lost the ability to assess a situation and make decisions. Mr Tellme-Whattodo understood the Stay At Home message and pretty much did so. He and his wife dutifully stood in the queue at the supermarket and tut-tutted when anyone seems to be closer than 2 metres. They had studied what 2 metres was and, although they may also have been the same family that piled up their shopping trolley with loo rolls and pasta in March, they are now dutifully buying just the three packs of mince and casting a scrutinising eye over other folk's trolleys as they pass. Mrs Maskface wears a mask everywhere she goes and bustles quickly out of the way whenever she sees someone heading towards her. She looks pretty grim as if she has either had the virus or expects to be getting it any time soon although the flimsy bit of material will not protect her at all as she brushes her ungloved hand across her face after opening the shop door which a hundred other ungloved fingers had touched during the last few hours.

Now, though, there is much moaning and complaint. They don't understand the new message, they say. Those who had been waiting for a chance to criticise the government, mostly because it was Conservative and they'd voted Liberal or Labour or SNP or Plaid Cymru, now, at last had a chance to do so. Staying At Home had been crystal clear.  Quite easy to understand and fairly easy to obey. They also reckoned there would be a good chance of catching the virus and dying if they didn't. So that's a good incentive to do so. Now these people have a problem. They're being told to Stay Alert. Allowing for the fact that some particularly thick people needed to look up alert in a dictionary but didn't possess any books so had to ask a neighbour, many still had a problem with this. It meant that they needed to look out for danger, to think before doing this or that as they were now able to step outside and go places, perhaps go to work and shortly see some of their children off to school.

It seems that many people are totally unprepared for this kind of mental exercise. A classic remark from Mrs Tellme was that she wouldn't go to work until she had a guarantee that she would be safe. Union officials, of course, loved this too and suddenly a whole new career path opened for thousands of jobsworths who could spend days and months holding employers to account for not including X or Y in their risk assessments. How on Earth, I ask, can anyone on this planet ever have a guarantee that they will be safe doing anything?!

This period of intense protection that had been provided by the Government appears to have had the effect of neutralising people's brain cells in terms of their ability to think for themselves. They want The Government to tell them exactly what to do, not open a door and allow them to think for themselves whether to go out, whether to turn left or right or go straight ahead. They liked the Nanny State. They were the voters that Jeremy Corbyn knew were out there but failed to reach. I thought there might only have been a small proportion of the nation that would really have welcomed a socialist state in Britain but I may have been quite wrong. I am now seeing many, many people in interviews and even in discussion of the street, who are simply waiting to be told what to do next, who expect this guarantee of safety from a school, employer or whoever.

A good friend of mine wrote a message shortly after Boris Johnson's TV announcement to say that was confusing and how 'people' had no idea what to do. I immediately responded to say that it seemed very clear to me. If people felt that it was safe to go back to work then they would be encouraged to do so. They needed to be alert, careful when encountering others. If they could keep at a distance and follow the usual instructions of maintaining clean hands, not touching their faces then for the vast majority that would be sufficient to enable them to steer clear of infection. They would only get it from touching a contaminated surface or breathing in contaminated air. There would always be some risk but for all but a few of us that risk would be of similar order to the risks that we had lived with, probably unknowingly admittedly, all our lives so far. Cars crash, trees fall down, people fight, gas explodes, smokers cough. We walk through a valley of potential death every day and, for the most part, instinctively take precautions to minimise the number of events that could lead to us dying.

So the idea that we should Stay Alert seems pretty much common sense and totally comprehensible. If we don't have to go anywhere then no-one is saying we should go out for the sake of it but if we want to we can. No-one is forcing us back to work but if the employer makes changes that enable them to comply with various regulations for our safety then we can go. If we can't then the state will continue to pay our wages for a while longer. No-one is forcing children to go to school but if the school feels that it has complied with the regulations to keep children safe then they can go. Parents will not be fined for keeping their child away. It is all our choice in most cases still. But so many people are apparently anaesthetised by the Nanny State injection of Stay At Home that they are simply lost and cannot take responsibility for their future decisions.

It will be someone else's fault if they get ill. It will be someone else's fault if their employer goes bust because workers don't return to help rebuild the economy. It will be someone else's fault whatever 'it' is. They have this ridiculous desire for a guarantee, for certainty. They cannot ever have it.

This question of risk is an important one to consider further. There have been almost zero instances of  very young children being badly affected by the virus. In fact, amongst the under 50s the numbers of people who have been badly affected and who have not had any other health problems are still very small. It has been the old folk who have suffered or those may well have suffered anyway from something else but the virus got to them first. So for a huge swathe of our population it may well be the case that they could get the virus and either not know it or recover quickly from its effects and get on with life again. The problem is that they might pass it to the old or infirm and that's why we have had the 'lockdown' - to protect not so much the NHS but old folk. It has also had the benefit of keeping safe those few young people who would have been badly affected by it for reasons no-one is quite sure.

So children returning to school is very, very unlikely to result in their getting ill. It will be pretty much as safe as it ever was for them. The problem will be that they are great spreaders. They'll pick up the virus and give it to teachers and bring it home. That is pretty much unavoidable while the virus is around and it is isn't going anywhere soon. So young parents and teachers should be fine and will not die as a result of children going back to school but there needs to be care in managing encounters with old folk. Older people need to be alert - if they feel vulnerable and don't want to take the risk then they shouldn't teach or interact with the children. If they are the parents then, OK, don't send the children back yet. If they are the teachers, don't go back to work yet.

If we don't start taking risks now and entering environments where there might be virus around then we will have to wait until it is cleared or a vaccine is available. Are we seriously going to avoid work, keep children away from school, continue with our present strange insular lifestyles, waiting for Them to tell Us what to do for what could be another six months? We simply cannot ever have that guarantee that we won't get ill or die. We can get a large degree of certainty if we can be innoculated against this strain of virus but that seems not to be likely until 2021. The incidence of infection on surfaces or in the air should become minimal before that and statistics from tests will indicate the nation's progress in wiping it out as fewer and fewer people show a positive response in tests and, of course, the number of people dying from the virus becomes close to zero over a sustained period. We are already well down on earlier numbers and once the deaths fall to below 100 each day I, for one, will begin to feel much more confident that I will not be one of the future numbers on our TV screens or in the headlines. I may still get the virus but I feel much less likely to die and that, to be brutally honest, is the important thing for me. I want to stay alive.

So I shall be alert. I will look around at who is a potential threat to my survival and steer pretty much clear of them. I will not touch my face unless I can be sure my hands are clean. I will live my life with those that I know and love around from time to time but at a safe distance no doubt for some months yet. I will make one exception for my girlfriend as and when I am able to meet her again unless, of course, she is coughing spluttering and complaining of a lack of sense of smell or taste!

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