COVID’s insidious toll on society

On 31st July, I posted a piece reflecting on the toxic narrative of blame seeping through British political narrative. It is picked up and rolled out to frame discussions on how we should tackle COVID-19 and more importantly, who we should blame as it goes wrong. Now, some 6 weeks later, more and more places are entering some form of local lockdown. Bizarrely, while I am still unable to meet friends and family in my back garden yet able to socialise in an outdoor public space (no more than 6 of course), elsewhere across the North West, places with lower local infections rates have even more stringent measures imposed. 

But despite my disgust at the way in which politicians are deliberately seeking to frame events, even I am falling foul to scowling at social media posts of acquaintances and beyond quite blatantly flouting the guidance and laws I know they should be following. I simultaneously read in amazement the vitriolic comments characterising those lambasting these flouters, or the outrage from others demanding to know why they shouldn’t be allowed to meet family and friends however they please. 

It is hard not to feel anger, however you position yourself. The pain, suffering and mental anguish gripping society as we battle with rage against rule-breakers and rule-makers is growing. As a society, we are pulling further and further apart. Even the chaos of Brexit is proving less divisive than the shambles and violence of COVID. Just look at the blatant racism both in responses to a recent Daily Mail tweet over No 10 conjecture as to a Christmas reprieve of lockdown, and the possibility of that reprieve in the first place. 

And what are we doing to stop this? Either the public disintegration of societal goodwill, or the ramping up of a second wave to COVID? 

Not enough. 

We’re tiptoeing around the knife edge of economic disaster, a surge of COVID deaths, and the entrenchment of social, economic and health inequalities that is going to ruin the life chances of generations. 

Our children need to be in school. Our local businesses need to be supported. Our communities need to be united

Ineffective, conflicting and confused messages as to local lockdowns are not enough. When it’s needed, impose it. And do it decisively – how can something be so critical yet we can wait for days for it to come into force? 

But more importantly, do morethan create a set of policies that readily slide responsibility awayfrom those who have the power to do more. Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public  Health at the University of Edinburgh, is quite clear as to the importance of a functioning test-and-trace system as the only viable alternative to more restrictions and attempts to modify mass public behaviours. We should be demanding this. 

With each failure to fix our allegedly ‘world beating’ system, public trust in Government policy and ability erodes further, whether consciously or unconsciously. With each incorrectly reported statistic as to daily tests, with each inability to secure a test when needed, the despair and anger plaguing us all means we again, turn on each other, we blame those few flouters, and we roll over. 

Inequality has long been present in our society. COVID is making it worse. But it’s doing something more insidious too. We are polarising more than ever before in our thoughts and our behaviours. It is a case of ‘us’ – i.e. that small group of people that creates your social and daily lives – and ‘them’, the rest of the population. It is a suspicious, wary, concerned society. It is not one that can readily withstand and recover from the ravages of a pandemic. 

We have to stop blaming and hating each other. We have to ask more of those we put in power to lead us. We have to ask more of ourselves.