Trying to unravel how all of this happened so quickly is perhaps the hardest part. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and if we knew what we now know back in January or February this year, things could have been very different for the United Kingdom.
January 31st. I remember the date very well as it was the day Britain was due to leave the EU. Or at least enter the ‘transition period’. Boris Johnson’s Conservative party had just won a thumping majority in the General Election the month before and may as well have been walking on water. As I refreshed the home page on BBC News to see what the update was on domestic affairs, a notification appeared at the bottom of my screen: “First case of Covid-19 detected in the UK”, or something along those lines. “Oh, how inconvenient, I’m sure they’ll get on top of it fairly quickly”, I told myself, before reading up on the Brexit shenanigans.
We’d heard about it on the News. The deadly virus in China that had been detected in other countries. But not many of us thought it would radically change our lives for months, or even years to come. After all, we’d lived through SARS, swine flu, and ebola. None of them brought the world to a standstill.
February was fairly normal. The amount of Covid-19 stories began to increase in the news, some students at my university started to wear face masks and there were stories emerging about a big rise in cases across the continent (Italy in particular), but we went about our daily lives: the good, the bad, the exciting and the mundane.
I took myself abroad in February to the canary islands for a week. 25 degrees of heat at that time of year is more than a treat if you are from somewhere as miserable as the UK in winter! A few days after returning to Birmingham, the news was engulfed with stories about a covid outbreak in a Tenerife hotel, that was within walking distance from where I was staying. “Shit!”, I thought to myself. But even then, I wasn’t phased. I sat up and took more attention, as it was close to home for the first time, but off out I went that night for drinks with my friends.
In the following week, some worrying news from Italy began to emerge. Covid had hit the region of Lombardy badly, and local lockdowns began to be imposed. Even then, I did not really think this would become as big as it did. I had a festival booked in Italy later that year funnily enough and the most I thought was probably “It may not go ahead”. If only I knew 90% of my plans for 2020 would not go ahead! Of course, Covid-19 was rapidly spreading across much of the world in January and February 2020, possibly even before. But because testing infrastructure was not yet in place in most countries, the reporting on the true amount of cases was wildly inaccurate. Still, I carried on as normal. I took myself to a rave at the end of February and got w*nkered. That was my last night out at a nightclub.
March was when it suddenly dawned on me, that this was serious. More and more people began wearing masks at the supermarkets, the Prime Minister began to hold daily news conferences. You have to realise, none of us had really experienced anything like this before. It was a unique experience. My University professors did not quite know how to react: “Nothing to worry about”, we were told. “The trip to Amsterdam next week will still be going ahead”, except it was swiftly cancelled soon after. So, me and my friends decided to take ourselves off to the Lake District instead.
March 16th, we departed Birmingham and life was relatively normal. Everywhere was still open, though supermarket shelves were void of essential items like toilet roll, due to panic buying. We stopped off at ASDA and stocked up on food, drinks and whatever else for the week. That week, the world went to shit, and guess what? It was one of the best of my life. As the apocalypse occurred, EastEnders stopped filming and football matches were cancelled, we were blissfully ignorant in the hot tub, sipping champagne with the smell of horse manure in the background. Lovely stuff. But deep down, we knew that when we returned home, life would be radically different.
As we left Cumbria, and arrived back in Birmingham on March 20th, the streets were almost empty. Boris Johnson announced the closure of the pubs that day and the following Monday, we were notified about the national lockdown.
I’ve hated the whole thing. I’ve had some good moments, don’t get me wrong, but 2020 looked set to be a great year. Instead of spending my 21st in New York as planned, I spent it at home, with much more subdued celebrations. My graduation was cancelled as were the summer holidays. Alas, it’s not been all bad. I graduated from university with a 2:1 and have gone on to study for a master’s degree and I have visited some amazing places in the UK, and will absolutely holiday more in this country, in future. I am also aware that some people have had it much worse than me. Some of my friends have had Covid and I lost two family members to it. The raving community in Birmingham also lost one of our most notable promoters and DJ’s, as he tragically took his life. Whilst I can not profess to know the reasons behind this, I would hazard a guess that the harshness of lockdowns and the impact they have had on nightlife, amongst other things have had an unprecedented effect on people’s mental health.
I would also be lying if I said I have followed the rules dogmatically. At first, I was very strict, but around the summer, I have taken more risks. I am sure some people will accuse me of being selfish and history may judge such actions harshly. But I am not the only one. We are human beings and are social creatures. It would be impossible to have followed such rules religiously for almost an entire year. They go against everything we know. So, I did eat out to help out. I have seen some friends. I haven’t locked myself in my room since March.
All the same, I realise the seriousness of Covid and have found myself in arguments with ludicrous conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers alike. It’s December 2020 as I write this and recently, I have been a bit more mindful of the rise in cases and the mutated strain that has caused a huge second wave. Christmas this year will be tough and January is looking bleak.
But there is hope. A vaccine has been approved and has already been administered to 500,000 people in the UK. Another vaccine is scheduled to be approved next week. Hopefully, by Easter enough vulnerable people will have been vaccinated to take the pressure off the NHS and we can start to return to a bit of normality. God knows, we need it.
I suppose if this year has taught me anything, it’s to not take things for granted.