Normal people

I dreamed that as I wandered by the way
Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring

It may not be what we recognise as normal, but it’s definitely an improvement of sorts. Slowly but surely, things are changing.

It was only in November that the first case of coronavirus was found in China – or at least, that’s the first we heard about it. I know January always seems to last longer than any other month, but Christmas seems like another lifetime ago.

So, let’s have a little re-cap.

We had the virus hitting in Wuhan in November, then spreading but it wasn’t until mid-January that we really started to take notice of it over here. We had the people locked in their cabins on cruise ships and in hotels. A friend tells me that being stuck in a hotel in the Canaries isn’t nearly as much fun as you’d imagine.

We had more and more people coming back from their global travels, probably bringing the virus with them but because we didn’t really understand it (still don’t) it continued to spread here. On February 8th, there was only the 5th person in the UK diagnosed with the virus. That’s only just over three months ago. By the time we’d got to the first week in March, there were over 200 confirmed cases and two deaths. Oh and fights were breaking out in supermarkets because people were stockpiling loo roll, pasta and flour, while hand sanitiser was selling for more per 100ml than vintage Tattinger.

After that, it all went a bit crap. Schools were shut with three days’ notice, throwing thousands of parents into a home-schooling scenario they were totally unprepared and unqualified for. Even those parents who are teachers have found it hard going.  The hospitality industry may never full recover and it was assumed that there would be no building work and no need for builders and plumbers merchants. So many of you shut your doors, until the Government worked out that fixing the nation’s plumbing is pretty essential, especially with everyone at home, spending all their time indoors.

We saw the Prime Minister end up in intensive care and the youngest Chancellor for decades have to step up to the mark and throw billions at employers to try and stave off mass redundancies.  We also saw the awful consequences of the long-term privatisation of social care for the elderly and the lack of joined-up thinking between different parts of the NHS and social services.

Now here we are in the middle of May, in what should be peak housing transaction, shopping-for-summer-clothes, doing-up-the-garden and getting-the-builders-in time.  Instead, we are queuing – one family/one person – outside ASDA, keeping 2m apart from each other, and following one-way systems through the aisles, invariably having to start all over again when you realise you’ve missed something.

Things are starting to open up again though, slowly but surely. My daughter can now go running with a friend, which saves me trying to kill myself to keep up with her (spoiler alert: I can’t), my son can play tennis with his friend once again. Estate agents can start to offer viewings again to serious buyers and builders are working again. Those merchants who closed or who greatly reduced their operations are starting to open up again to pre-booked deliveries and collections.

We are likely to have to stay with this state of things for some time, and should we get further infection spikes, we may end up back on lockdown for a while. The sort of mass gatherings that this industry does so well are also, sadly, not on the agenda anytime soon. For now though, the sun is shining, the builder has started work on the house down the road and I spotted the merchant lorries out for delivery in my government-sanctioned exercise this morning. Hurrah.

But I still can’t go to the pub.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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