*** Shortly before publishing, the news has been announced that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now self-isolating for 10 days after having breakfast with MP Lee Anderson, who has since tested positive for Covid-19. Pictures have emerged from the showing both men who live with their respective partners meeting in an indoor setting, without face masks and less than two metres apart, contravening current English lockdown laws.
Contrarily to the above, my mother is screened regularly as part of her work. Her employers are currently clear of coronavirus and to date, she has not been contacted and ordered to self-isolate, even in spite of an increase in local cases. ***
Contains some strong language.
We sat a little over a metre apart, both of us knew we shouldn’t be here. There was a sense of unease, a sense of wariness, both of us half expected the police to knock on the door at any moment. It was agonising to see my mother so afraid, even when I was just as afraid myself.
I didn’t know that my Mum could move, and yet as she rolled herself around the door and into my flat, I was quietly impressed. She tucked herself in with barely a foot between the door and the wall and then quietly pushed the door closed. As our eyes met, she smiled at me. There was the mutual sigh, the mutual tearing of eyes, and then we hugged. All of that tension that I was vaguely aware of mounted from inside of me and pooled in tears against her shoulder. Fuck the law, fuck social distancing, we both knew that without the hug, one of us would have ended up doing something stupid – Even more stupid than breaking the law.
Mum and I are close, and even if we’ve had some issues over the years with her, me and autism, we’ve put that behind us now. She no longer sees me as her weird, socially awkward daughter. No, I’m the creative one, the crazy one, the stubborn one, the one who can cook and the one who can sometimes come up with all sorts of solutions to life’s problems. In recent years, my mother has begun to see me in a whole new light, and our relationship certainly shows for it.
Slowly but surely, the stress dissipated. Even with Mum sat only a few feet away from me, the dystopia seemed real. Never in my life did I imagine it would be criminal to hug my own Mum inside my own home. Last year I lost my beloved Dad to cancer, now it’s illegal to hug my own Mum. What kind of messed up world is this?
Mum hasn’t been inside my home since February, and she hasn’t seen the improvements that I’ve made to it. As she joined me in the kitchen, she praised the artificial ivy that I’d trailed over a wire storage unit to soften it and the hooks that I installed under the counter so that I could hang up my pots and pans.
“You’ve got a real knack for these things!” she mused, I smiled. Oh yes, it was good to be back.
In the UK, it is sort of legal and not for a person to be in your home at the moment. The coronavirus laws state that if a person lives with other adults, then they can only socialise with a person from another multiple-adult household outdoors, in a public space and two metres apart. If they live alone or with children under the age 0f 18, then it’s perfectly okay for them to form a ‘support bubble’ with a family, with absolutely no social distancing at all. For a lot of people, these laws make very little sense given that secondary schools have been linked to a large uptick in coronavirus cases. Not long ago, I watched Loose Women‘s Ruth Langsford ask how she can be in a store with several other strangers but not in her own home with a guest. For me personally, I could have a visit from a married electrical engineer under the terms of my tenancy, but I could not, legally, entertain my own mother, just because she lives with two other adults. Where is the logic in that?
Even despite the absurdity of this law, Mum and I sat down for a cup of tea and a catch-up. We’d relaxed somewhat, but we both knew the law and we both knew what we were expected to do. Okay, so legally Mum shouldn’t be here, but aside from our brief hug, we were also both careful to maintain some social distancing, a mutually conscious, unspoken decision. Just in case.
Mum and I have both been pandemic workers now and in a sense, there is a mutual understanding of the stresses and hardships that go with. We both understand the importance of handwashing and we laugh about doing the “washbasin jive”. Of course, the number of deaths from the 2009-2010 swine flu outbreak pales up to Covid-19, even if, in 1918, the swine flu figures were much higher. That was the risk, that was what we were aware of and that, sadly, was also what we were preparing for. The models predicted 7.5 million deaths worldwide and 65,000 in the UK alone. Fortunately, the end figures were much, much lower, even if none of us knew that would happen at the time. Still, as with all medical personnel and key workers, pandemics carry a high emotional toll and as a former pandemic worker supporting a current pandemic key worker, that was something that I was very aware of. There was a time for being her daughter, right now, she also needed me to be her friend.
But, as we talked, Mum revealed a lot of astonishing things:
A lot of people are breaking the lockdown law – I want to be clear here, Mum and I didn’t plan on breaking the law. We agreed that we would try and hold out for the duration of lockdown but we both also knew that we were psychologically fatigued and as such, with winter depression on top of us, we agreed that if either of us were feeling like harming ourselves then we wouldn’t hesitate to break the rules. That was fine, except my Mum told me that both of her neighbours had had visitors, and most often, they were in their twos or threes. People are fed up and tired of so many constantly changing restrictions on their lives. Not everybody has attended lockdown parties and raves and now there is a sense among those who followed the rules that they are being unfairly punished. People have seen the ravers slapped with punitive fines instead of facing prison or house arrest and they have seen university party attendees fined when they feel they should have been removed from the university halls. People no longer care about other people who seemingly don’t care about them. Instead, they are willing to go on seeing their nearest and dearest and protecting themselves so that they can go on protecting their families. People don’t need to be told how to build ‘social bubbles’. For most reasonable families, they will naturally create their own.
The Dominic Cummings saga – People remember, people remember who he is and what he did, and they refuse to be told what to do anymore. Dominic Cummings kept his job and resigned on Friday. If Dominic Cummings could break the rules without consequence, they argue, why should normal people pay the fines?
We aren’t “in this together” anymore – After the Dominic Cummings saga, the UK’s first lockdown began to unravel. Since then, more and more people have decided to ignore the rules. The knock-on effect of that is, as one person sees another not caring, so the next stops caring, and the next, and so on. At the start of this pandemic, neighbourhoods and communities came together. Now, it’s each man for himself.
People know where the infections are, and they’re angry – I mentioned earlier that secondary schools are home to some of the biggest rise in cases, and that is true. Yet, while people are being told that they must continue to work and send their kids to school but not have a social life of their own, people are fed up. This goes beyond “lockdown fatigue”, this is about logic. People must send their children to some of the most infectious places and attend workplaces, where infections have also been high. All the while, they’re being told that they aren’t allowed to sit in pubs or in their homes with their extended family or friends, even with masks and social distancing. What gives?
Social distancing is less where infections are more – My mother has been past a few schools on her way to and from work, and she tells me that outside schools, social distancing doesn’t exist. Students huddle together in groups of 25+, they pass around phones, fidget spinners and various other gizmos and unfortunately with that, also the coronavirus. They hold hands, tussle and give one another piggybacks around the perimeter of the playground with no regard for distancing at all. At about 14 years of age, kids cannot be told what to do. Even unintentionally, students will naturally converge in popular spots. More hand washing works and face masks in the classroom may work, but outside in the playground, social distancing is a thing of the past. Fortunately, children are least likely to experience a serious reaction to this virus.
Supermarkets aren’t following the rules anymore, either – My mother planned a trip to food retail giant ASDA and invited my brother to tag along, but then remembered the rules that have been put into effect to limit the number of people in stores at any one time. At present, families and couples are supposed to designate only one shopper and retailers are only supposed to be selling “essential” items. Imagine my mother’s surprise then when, upon getting to ASDA, she found the store teeming with families and couples and business was operating almost as normal.
Some people are breaking the law to protect law enforcement – We’re all focusing our efforts on protecting the elderly and not overwhelming our hospitals, but nobody is talking about the police, the brave men and women who are being tasked with enforcing more than six months of ever-changing rules. The youths and rebels don’t care about the police who are tasked with breaking up these raves and, by the seems of it, neither does the government. Is it illegal to have visitors? In lockdown, yes, but these people argue that if people attend raves, they will inevitably come to police attention. If people are feeling suicidal because of loneliness, they will require police attention, too. In either circumstance, it’s a no-win situation for our officers who are already overstretched. In order to look after themselves, protect the NHS and not to be a burden to the police, more and more normally law-abiding people are ignoring the rules and continuing to socialise inside their homes with their closest people, albeit in very, very small numbers.
Not all funeral directors are seeing a high demand – A close contact of my Mum’s, quite strangely, is a local funeral director. Nervous for the answer, my mother asked how many deaths her friend had to deal with locally because of this pandemic. The answer? Just one. Be aware of coronavirus, but try not to be afraid. Most cases won’t wind up being a fatality.
Social distancing is often cruel and confusing to the people we are trying to protect – I’m quite an empathic person, but having cared for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia, nothing tears me up more than hearing about these people being put through experiences they don’t understand. As we talked, my Mum recalled a resident who had been forced to watch out of a window for half an hour as her loved one pressed photos to the glass for her to see. In her workplace, visits are timed and only go on for thirty minutes, after which, the residents are whisked away and their loved ones are sent home. For our key workers, they are facing the huge emotional toll of seeing those they care for break down and sob as people move in and take them away for seemingly no reason at all. For these people, visits with no social distancing and increased testing or simply no visits at all would be easier for everyone involved.
As a carer for my own grandmother for eight years, I can recall well the way in which you sometimes have to simplify even basic questions or instructions. Make no mistake, I’ve done some fundraisers with my mother and met some of the residents that she cares for. One of the most charming men I met could talk for hours and hours about his time in the RAF, but didn’t have the foggiest idea what a cup of tea was. If everyday interactions are so hard for these people, how can we expect them to understand instructions that aren’t normal, even for us?
Some elderly people even want Covid-19 – It sounds horrendous, doesn’t it? Why on earth would anyone want to experience such a traumatic, frightening death? And yet, working where my mother does, she sometimes hears these things from the residents. Some of the people that my mother cares for have no quality of life at all. They are bed-ridden, tube fed and struggle to engage beyond blinks and basic vocalisations. It breaks my heart to hear that some of these wonderful residents regard Covid-19 as a welcome relief and I am an advocate of assisted death for this very reason. On Wednesday, my mother told me about the resident she’d seen distraught after an abruptly ended visit, and the resident who told her that bathroom trips are her favourite time of the day now because that is the most time that anyone spends with her in current times. Sometimes, keeping the elderly alive is just as, if not even crueller than the alternative. Earlier this year, UK health secretary Matt Hancock delivered a poignant message to the nation’s younger people when he told us “don’t kill your gran”. Is it really more humane to inflict isolation and more suffering on people who are already on end-of-life care, anyway?
Testing is producing a phenomenal amount of plastic waste – There is the swab, the part you have to snap off, the plastic test tube, the bag that the kit goes into, the postal bag.. all this, per person, per time! I understand that this is a global pandemic and we want to bring it under control, but at a time when so many people concern themselves over single-use plastic, these tests do produce an extortionate amount of it and, as my mother pointed out, the snapped off portion was exactly the right length to endanger wildlife if discarded improperly. Whilst fighting this pandemic and worrying about its economical effects, we cannot lose sight of the environmental waste that it produces.
The fear of the police is probably now worse than the fear of the virus itself – After a quick cup of tea, there was a knock on the door. Panicked, my mother slammed her cup down and hid in the kitchen. It wasn’t the police, it was only a long-overdue parcel yet still, my mother would never have reacted like that under any other circumstance. A lot of people know the virus won’t be fatal for them and yet we are no longer making rational, conscious choices to protect our families, for those liberties have already been taken from us. Instead, we are making choices based on what seems legal and what we see others do and we now have a fear of the police where there would normally be none. Going forward, my greatest concern is the psychological impact that this pandemic could have on our mental health. The police have been weaponized and turned against those whom they enrolled to serve to protect. If normal people live in fear of the police right now, how will we have trust in them to protect us later on?
We have been through this before – I often repeat myself, but I feel like it is important to establish the fact that I come from a place of knowledge and experience, I am not simply another tin hat conspiracy theorist. In 2009-2010, I was an administrative assistant for the NHS and I do remember what those times were like, even for those of us who weren’t strictly on the front line. They were scary, uncertain, and sometimes incredibly overwhelming, but here’s the thing: There were no restrictions on our civil liberties. Nothing, ahem, apart from closing down the schools and colleges, promoting ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ on almost any wall space that we could find, advice for businesses and those most at risk of the virus, and the culling thousands of pigs. Every day, since the first lockdown, I have kept my eye on the global mortality rate ( deaths divided by confirmed cases) of Covid-19, and it currently sits at 0.024% and decreasing every day. At the end of the last swine flu outbreak, the mortality rate was 0.037%. Are we really sowing mass distrust and snitching behaviours for this? Live in fear if you want to, but I won’t be. Of course I worry about our NHS, but I can do a lot for them by looking after myself, not attending huge parties and not getting drunk or taking illegal drugs. After losing my grandfather and father to the disease, cancer is far more of a bother to me than Covid-19. It’s a tragedy for the 1.3 million who have lost their lives and the families affected by the disease, but I’m afraid those growing voices are right and I do stand with them. We can’t be running and hiding from something that has a 2.4% (and declining) chance of killing most of us, all while ignoring something that has killed more than five times as many people this year alone, and will repeat that same process unimpeded, year after year. “Long covid” is also real, yes, but so are the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Refusing to live in fear doesn’t mean a blatant disregard for others. I can still hug my family, wear a mask and go shopping like a normal civilian if that’s what I have to do. Let me make my own decisions on information and advice, not rules.
Even if we are breaking the law, we’re still standing for our country – At 11 am on Wednesday, my mother and I stood apart in my lounge and observed our two-minute silence. It was an odd feeling, but I was strongly aware of the sense of pride that I felt in my chest. A former Girl Guide, I can remember that same pride from being one of four girls who turned up to carry the flag at the local Remembrance Parade. It was an arduous task for someone with a physical impairment, but these soldiers gave their lives for our liberties and we would do well to remember them. So it turns out, not everyone who breaks the laws is a Natch-swigging hoodlum.
Shortly after my mother’s departure, I picked up my phone and read a report of another 70-strong lockdown rave. I’d just broken the law, yes, but really, where was the bigger risk? Somewhat amused, I dropped Mum a message on Facebook messenger.
I get the feeling that these raves wouldn’t happen nearly so often if people could just have some form of social contact outside of their immediate families, I noted.
I agree, she replied.
My mother and I know that we broke the laws, and in a way, we are both simultaneously sorry and not sorry that we did. We’re sorry, because we know that these laws are here to protect us and other people, yet at the same time, we’re not sorry because while it put us at risk of coronavirus, it also made steps towards curing the other pandemic. We’re not planning to socialise again now until the end of lockdown when, hopefully, we can be legally reunited with our families once more.