These times are dangerous but we have to start coming out of the lockdown
I am a naturally cautious person – and right now I am very concerned about what the subtle changes to lockdown introduced by the government this week will do to the country and to our ability to fight coronavirus, writes Paul Geater.
Over the last few weeks the news has been very grim. The UK has the second-highest death toll in the world according to official figures (although the actual numbers in this country and in many other parts of the world are subject to furious debate) but the NHS has not been completely overwhelmed and it is clear the number of cases is on a slow downward trend.
But on the other hand the current state of the economy cannot be maintained indefinitely and neither can the lockdown – that is unsustainable economically and health-wise.
So, despite many concerns, I have come to the conclusion that some changes were necessary – and desirable – and despite serious misgivings about some details I think the changes were more or less sensible.
As I’ve said before, I cannot see why people should not drive a reasonable distance to take exercise in countryside – if you go in your own car it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep social distancing rules in Rendlesham Forest or on Dingle Marshes!
And I see no reason why my friend who goes for regular walks on Rushmere Heath shouldn’t be able to take his golf clubs with him (he is a member) and knock a few balls into the holes there.
I’m also going to start driving a bit further to supermarkets for the weekly shop to give the car a bit of a run – and it looks as if I will be able to get some bedding plants for the garden.
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Where the government has made a massive foul-up is by failing to control its spin-doctors so the messages that are being relayed to the country by news organisations are all over the place.
A few days before Mr Johnson’s statement on Sunday, newspapers were talking about “Magic Monday” and the “End of Lockdown” which officials and ministers were very keen to deny. I have no doubt that many of those national papers were using the speech to further their own agendas on this – but I am equally sure they would not have done this without a nod and a wink from their “sources” inside Whitehall.
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News organisations often try to spin the news themselves – but they won’t do that at the expense of ending up looking very silly if they get something totally wrong. Someone near the very top was feeding them these lines.
The danger we now have is while ministers and scientific experts are emphasising that we are taking “baby steps” and we have to tread with extreme caution, a small – but potentially dangerous – minority of the population thinks “Whoopee, lockdown has ended. Let’s get out the barbie and invite the lads around!”
What has surprised me, too, is the shock that some people have expressed about Matt Hancock’s comments this week that we shouldn’t expect to go on a foreign holiday this year.
Hasn’t that been blatantly obvious for weeks? What planet are people living on if they thought flying off to Ibiza or Tuscany for a fortnight was a remote possibility this year?
I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect to be able to holiday in this country either this year – although I do still hope to be able to get away for a week in Yorkshire at the end of September.
What irritated me was that when this was being discussed at the weekend on television, the editor of The Spectator very snidely dismissed UK holidays as “camping and Enid Blyton.” Clearly he doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of one of the most important industries in this part of the world!
The other area that is a concern with the changes introduced this week is, of course, encouraging more people to go to work. I’m lucky. I can work at home and I’m now used to it – but most workers can’t.
I’m sure most employers will be doing their best to make premises as safe as possible for those who have to go in to work. But there is also the concern about travel.
In this part of the world the vast majority of people already drive or walk to work – but for those who do have to take public transport (and there’s no alternative for many) the prospect of returning to work will be very worrying.
You’ll have to queue – keeping your distance from others – and then face the prospect of being confined in an air-conditioned tube with strangers who may (or may not) be two metres away from you twice a day. Not a comforting prospect!