It is only relatively recently that I have started to take an interest in politics and world events, about five or six years ago when I was approaching my 18th birthday and would have the ability to vote. As elections and the odd global tension came and went, I honestly thought it would never get as big or generation defining as Brexit. Something my children and grand-children would read about in their history textbooks and ask me about, and I’d say it was a time where everyone had an opinion and it was all the news would talk about for years. However, the current situation with the coronavirus outbreak will be something that will certainly be etched into all our minds forever, and right now, just over a month into total lockdown, I wonder how long it will take for the world to find normality.
I am a trainee accountant and was born and grew up in the south of Lincolnshire which, even now, at the time of writing, is a comparatively unaffected area of the country. There are people here that are sick, and I suspect that number will get worse before it gets better, but when compared to places like London, I feel grateful that I have not been exposed to the terrifying scenes we see on the television. It was nearer the start of the year, late January or early February perhaps, when I first took notice of the coronavirus headlines on the news. It was odd because I thought it was just a story that I had not kept up with from the start, so generally just dismissed these headlines as nonimportant. Just a trivial event that would not be worth my time reading in to. Eventually it became unavoidable; I started to pay much more attention when people in Italy during the skiing season started to take ill, when the odd case started to appear in more and more countries. I was actually working on an audit of a school that had students on a ski trip very close to the affected areas of Italy, and they had to isolate upon their early return. This was an overreaction, I thought, but probably better to be safe.
That was in mid-February. It only took a couple of weeks before the virus had affected a handful of people in the UK, and the news started to get a lot more serious. I had gone from dismissing the headlines to obsessing over them. I bookmarked a website that detailed the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths in every country and found myself checking it daily. I’m not entirely sure why, because at this point I still very much believed that the virus would be contained and become somewhat forgettable in history. For several days, the UK’s cases had seemingly stalled on 13, and this just reinforced the belief that nothing would come of it. It had missed us, I thought.
The next week I was studying at college for upcoming exams with the confirmed cases quickly reached their hundreds and continuing to grow exponentially. People now were dying at a rate quick enough for individual stories to not be reported on the news, although the daily toll was still in single figures or perhaps tens of people, at this stage. Our tutor had to cut our class short on the final day to have a meeting with regards to the virus, detailing exactly what the plan will be should physical classes no longer be possible. It was starting to feel quite surreal, but I still probably thought that life would generally carry on as normal. It ultimately felt almost impossible in the modern world for everything to be halted by such a thing. Even with Italy, a country with a not-too-dissimilar culture to the UK, now in lockdown, the feeling remained farfetched.
Domestic cases climbed into the thousands within just a few days. I had not yet returned to the office after my tuition days, but rumours were starting to circulate that we would be given the order to collect our things and work from home with very short notice. Sure enough, this was exactly the case. With not being in the office, I had about an hour to collect my belongings if I didn’t want to return the next day. The surreal feeling was overwhelming, it felt like we were in a sci-fi film. I’m not sure whether the situation was ‘exciting’ as such. People were getting seriously sick with very frightening symptoms, and I have always respected that. But seeing how much things had changed in what was literally only a matter of days was just extraordinary, and it was always curious to see what was going to happen next. It was clear more measures were going to be needed, but who knew what this would entail. We had Italy to learn from, but we had not been affected nearly as badly, so would we need to be as harsh?
I had a few days of working from home and made sure to watch all the government’s daily updates. The situation was obviously getting worse and the calls for action to be taken were constant and ubiquitous. Coronavirus was the only topic of news, social media, and conversation. Inescapable. On the evening of 23rd of March, myself and my family sat to watch Johnson’s address to the nation. It was on later than the usual daily updates, but despite this I thought it would be just the same. The PM and a couple of MPs or leading advisors would say their piece, and then answer questions. The pre-recorded video of Johnson, on his own, announcing a strict, police enforced total lockdown was, to me personally, a surprise. It was frightening to watch and just didn’t at all seem real. The sternness of Johnson’s speech had imbedded the gravity of the situation.
Those 4 or 5 minutes of absolute silence, save the television, came from pure shock and an unknown of what to do next. There was an unlimited amount of questions that there were no answers to. The word ‘unprecedented’ was used and heard countless times over the coming days, but there was no better word to sum up the situation. There was no older generation to turn to, and, in a lot of ways, no history books to refer to. Our technology is superior to any other time in our existence and our economy looks unrecognisable to what it did in 1918 during the most recent pandemic, but now the whole country has come to a standstill because of this virus, and no one knows how to react. There is a strong underlying sense of anxiety in everything. Again, it felt impossible.
The following days brought more shock and surprise when the government announced they would pay 80% of one’s wages if their employer had to consider redundancies because of the lockdown. To have a conservative government effectively resort to what can only be described as socialism was entirely unexpected. Unprecedented. Interest rates had also hit an all-time low, being just 0.1%, which started to really imbed into my mind how much trouble the economy was in. This was only the first few days of lockdown, something which inevitably will have to last for weeks, or even months. If large companies in every business sector were struggling, or collapsing, at this early stage, how will most cope over the coming months? Even after the lockdown is lifted, people will surely be cautious, if not scarred by the fear the coronavirus has caused.
Any feeling of curiosity over what might happen next was rapidly being replaced by trepidation. The mindset that this reality must be nightmare and cannot still be happening. All sports had been cancelled, meeting friends and family is effectively illegal, my exams, and therefore career, had been postponed indefinitely. Not a single area of my, or anybody’s, life was unaffected; it had all been turned upside down. The most bizarre part about it though was that it was all happened in approximately two weeks. From ‘something to probably keep an eye on’, to ‘this is how we will have to live for the foreseeable future’ in a fortnight.
At the time of writing, things have become much more routine and the seemingly endless surreal feeling has worn in now. People’s main concern, understandably, is trying to establish when things will go back to normal. Personally, I fail to see how this can ever be established without the risk of a second wave of sickness and deaths. My curiosity currently lies in thinking what the country, and the world, will look like in a year or two. There are still many questions. There is a small fear that we may still have not overcome the virus by then and are still frantically searching for a cure or vaccine. Another concern comes from my understanding of history being that the aftermath can be as important has the event, and I believe this must be the case with the coronavirus pandemic. The global economy looks to be critically damaged and, in my prediction, there will be a considerable amount of time before people break from their social distancing habits. Moreover, it feels like there is a lot of tension brewing between countries, namely the USA, and China. It is impossible to know if this is irrational, as it might amount to nothing, but with the surprises that people have seen as of late, it is hard to not feel even the smallest anxiety.