CROYDON COMMENTARY: On the anniversary of the start of Britain’s first national lockdown, PETER UNDERWOOD says we should take some time to think about how to make things better
Today, March 23, is the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK.
The Marie Curie charity has called for a National Day of Reflection to “reflect on our collective loss, support those who’ve been bereaved, and hope for a brighter future”.
This time last year I was sat on my sofa wrapped in my duvet with a persistent cough, a tight chest and having lost all sense of taste and smell. This was long before any testing regime had been put in place, but my symptoms at the time and the longer-term effects make me fairly sure I was one of the early cases of coronavirus.
While I felt really bad for a week or so, and I’m possibly still suffering from damage to my lungs, I was one of the lucky ones. So far, almost 130,000 people have died from this virus in this country, including nearly a thousand people here in Croydon.
It is sometimes difficult to comprehend those numbers, but having spent time talking with people who have lost family members and close friends, I know that each of those deaths is tragedy. A life cut short and a group of loved ones around them feeling that deep loss. So my first thoughts and sympathies at this time are with all of those people who have lost someone.
While it is understandable that there has been a focus on the number of people who have died, it should not be forgotten that millions of people have caught the virus and hundreds of thousands have suffered really badly and continue to do so.
While my post-virus symptoms were at times uncomfortable and debilitating, I know of people who have faced much worse. Their health has been affected, or their life has been changed forever. And so today my thoughts are also with those still suffering the after-effects of coronavirus, and I wish them all the best in their recovery.
One of the good things to come out of the past year has been the positive community response, disproving yet again the lie that “there is no such thing as society”. The way that people came forward and set up groups to make sure their neighbours got food, supplies, prescriptions, and even just providing someone to talk to, was amazing to see. I hope this spirit of togetherness is not lost in coming months and years and we remember those who need help in our communities and in turn those who helped us.
As well as the volunteers, we should also not forget those who had to carry on working through this crisis.
We rightly hear much praise for the heroes of our NHS but we should not forget the teachers, the postal workers, those working in public transport and council services and everyone else who has kept our vital public services running.
We should also remember those people who kept our supermarkets running, the plumbers and builders who dealt with our emergencies and all of those other people didn’t have the choice of working from home and who kept the country going. Too many of these workers are among the lowest paid. In future I hope their service is rewarded not just in terms of gratitude and respect, but also in terms of paying them a respectable living wage.
As we reach this anniversary, the NHS is doing a wonderful job of delivering the vaccines. While we are not yet safe to loosen all restrictions there does appear to be a clear path ahead and we are looking towards a brighter future.
In moving to this future we must not forget the mistakes of the past.
There needs to be a full independent inquiry into the decisions and actions of the government. This is needed to expose the truth, to hold people to account for their mistakes and possible crimes and, most importantly, to learn the lessons so that we are far better placed to deal with similar situations in future.
While that is true of the government, we also want to look at the lessons we have learned in other areas of our lives.
We have learned that flexible home working is possible for many of us and the benefits it brings. Many of us have discovered our fantastic local green spaces and appreciate the time we can spend in nature. We know how much we have missed meeting each other socially and so, once they are able to re-open, we need to support our local pubs, cafés, theatres and restaurants who have really struggled to survive the lockdown. In so many other small ways we have relearned the value of living every day, not just existing on a treadmill of work and paying bills.
As restrictions ease we don’t want to go “back to normal”. For most people, the old normal was fairly awful. This is a chance to build something better – in the way we organise our work life, our society, and how we live our lives. We rarely get a chance to make real changes in the way we live our lives, so we shouldn’t let this chance slipaway from us.
So in line with the aims of the Marie Curie charity, I hope you take some time today to reflect on the last year.
Take time to remember those we’ve lost.
Take time to think about how we can help those who need our support.
And take time to think about how we can make life better in future and how we will make it happen.
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How lucky we are that millions of people who caught the virus survived. Think about that too.