We are not nearly out of the woods yet
Last month’s announcement to the British public by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, detailing a roadmap to steer us out of lockdown, has instilled a sense of hope. With over 22 million people in the UK now having had their first vaccination since the end of December 2020 and 1.2 million already having received their second jab, there is a feeling that we might actually escape this ongoing ordeal.
What does a roadmap out of lockdown mean? It means that the government has devised a plan for the gradual easing of restrictions in five-week phases. That is if everything proceeds as follows, ie, the vaccination program continues to go according to plan, evidence shows vaccines are reducing number of deaths and hospitalizations, that infection rates do not surge in hospital admissions, and new variants do not change the risk of lifting restrictions.
Given the numerous blunders by the government in dealing with the pandemic over the past year, taking things in a slow and systematic manner is definitely an improvement. Evaluating the situation at each phase and then proceeding based on data should result in informed decision-making. Or at least, that’s what we hope. What we do not need is lifting the lockdown too early and then having to backtrack.
As matters stand, schools have already reopened. From April 12, the hospitality industry will reopen with people being able to meet as long as the establishment can accommodate them in an outdoor seating area. Hairdressers and beauty salons already appear to be booked up in anticipation of the event with gyms gearing up to open their doors as well.
The roadmap has stated that, “not earlier than” May 17, all shops, restaurants, pubs, cinemas, libraries, and hotels will reopen and with the prospect of international travel resuming thereafter. It appears that holiday-makers are taking a leap of faith and already booking flights and trips abroad. The biggest holiday company in the UK, Tui, said that it had seen a 500% increase in bookings for foreign trips, especially to Greece, Spain, and Turkey, from July onwards (June 21 is the earliest date when the government may lift lockdown completely).
According to EasyJet, their flight bookings from the UK went up by 337% and package holiday bookings surged by 630% in a week. More cautious Brits have stayed nearer to home and opted for staycations within the UK.
The pandemic has and will have long-term repercussions on both the economy and the emotional and mental health of people, not just in the UK, but worldwide. What has become apparent in the past year is that companies have continued to run without the physical presence of their workers, which in turn may change office practices post-pandemic with more people being able to work remotely.
The end of the lockdown begs the questions whether people will resume the socializing behaviour of pre-Covid days, whether they will feel comfortable being part of large gatherings or events, whether they will change their views on international travel or whether it will be a question of pressing the reset button and going back to old habits and set patterns. I am not talking about Covid-deniers but the public in general.
We can only speculate whether the enforced decrease in environmental damage from the reduction in economic activity will translate into any longer term changes in consumer behaviour. Will people fly less, recycle more, spend less on disposable luxuries or care more about their surroundings and community?
In my own case, I wonder how ready I am to venture out into a crowded restaurant, a department store, or an enclosed public place given that I have spent the past year mostly within the confines of my home. Not by choice but by necessity. Underlying health issues have meant limited contact with those other than family members living with me. I am at the point where I am simultaneously craving social interaction but also wary of the consequences.
Has the last year made me overly cautious? Possibly. But there are many others like me who have health issues or live with vulnerable people and cannot afford to take risks. If you play Russian roulette too often at some point you end up with the bullet in the chamber. Up until the rolling out of the vaccination program I felt that the odds were not stacked in my favour.
That is not to say I am not looking forward to being reunited with extended family members and friends as well as actually being able to hug them. Who knew physical contact with others would in itself become a luxury. And yes, I most certainly want to see them in the flesh and not on videocalls where half the time is spent telling people to put themselves on mute or get themselves off mute.
I admit that the thought of going to the cinema, sitting in the darkened auditorium fighting over a box of popcorn with my husband and engaging in escapism of the mindless sort is beginning to rate very highly on my list of things to do after lockdown (and second vaccination).
We have just entered the first phase of the journey to ending lockdown. All we can do is wait and see. We are not nearly out of the woods yet.
Nadia Kabir Barb is a writer, journalist, and author of the short story collection Truth or Dare.