How did we get from the start of 2020, when Boris Johnson was shouting about a newly found wave of optimism, to today, when Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, claims that we “might be able to hug our family by Christmas”? This is a tale of masks, herds, eyesight tests and pints of beer.
Born in Italy, raised in London, settled in Manchester. I graduated in International Relations and Arabic but I am now a developer. Not sure about what I am doing but there will always be a book in my bag and a passport in my hand.
When Covid-19 was starting to spread in Italy around the end of February, my mum came to visit me in London. As soon as my work learnt that I met someone from Italy -oh my God-, they asked me to work from home for the following two weeks. My first day of working from home was March 1st and I have gladly been a remote worker since then. Whilst the situation in Europe worsened dramatically and countries like Italy went into full lockdown and ordered that masks were used, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson held briefs chatting about herd immunity, how this would soon be developed even if we were to expect numerous human losses. I turned the TV off in despair, wishing to be in Italy rather than in a country which clearly does not understand how to draw the line between incompetency and ridiculousness.
As my back and wrist pains increased, the death count across Europe and the world followed suit, too. To make matters even worse, there was still no actual full lockdown in England, no guidance regarding masks, and surely the coveted herd immunity was not even remotely achieved. However, the Government advised we stay at home and only leave the house for essential trips to the shop or the pharmacy. I guess that not all of us are made equal, but if you are a white British male, unelected politician, and senior advisor to Boris Johnson, you are somehow above the law. Especially if your name is Dominic Cummings. This questionable individual played a pivotal part during the Brexit referendum in 2016 and is now the silent brain of the Prime Minister. Defiant of any Government guideline that he supported, he drove 260 miles to his parents’ home in Durham while the country was in an effective lockdown. He addressed the nation during a special conference saying that he did not regret his actions, and that he thought he was justified. Johnson did not comment on his words, but if you have time you should watch Brexit: The Uncivil War and you can draw your own conclusions.
If the excuse given by Cummings was very hard to believe – he claimed that he jumped behind the wheel on that notorious Monday to test his eyesight which had been allegedly impaired by Covid-19- , the excuse that Johnson gave to justify his utterly atrocious mismanagement of a pandemic was nothing short of cliché: it’s the economy, stupid. Despite his useless efforts to slowly open the economy back up (had it even been shut, though?) by allowing pubs and shops to get back up and running, the economy worsened and worsened, just as the number of cases and deaths increased, without mentioning the scandals happened within care homes. Essentially, you could get wasted in a bar, but you could not hug your nan, simply because she does not have a card machine on her lovely dark oak coffee table. You could meet up with your relatives in a shop but not in each other’s homes. To add to the confusion, hairdressers could open but beauty salons could not, you could work out outside with a PT, but indoor gyms were a no-go.
Nevertheless, welcome to the first recession in 11 years!
Despite the gradual decrease in new cases, there are not many people out and about in city centres. London in July was a ghost town: barely any tourists, massive sale on the high street, closed or empty hotels and a weird silence pervading big roads and small alleys. Clearly the Government is not happy with the current trend in action: remote work means no people eating out or spending money outside of their households. In August, Johnson started to feebly encourage the population to get back into the offices wherever possible, and advertisements on the Tube now try to remind workers about how they really miss office life, with the odd laugh with a colleague and the free heating in winter. The reality is very different. Rent prices are slowly lowering, people seem to have embraced a happier work-life balance virtually nobody seems to be wanting to rush back into offices, and definitely no one in their right mind misses commuting at extortionate prices and on unreliable public transport.
Winter is coming, however. And with it, a second wave is also expected to creep back up very soon. Whoever can work from home is likely to be fine when all is said and done, indeed the real issue lies with the few categories who cannot do so. The Government’s furlough scheme is due to end very soon, and it is likely that many layoffs are coming, too. Unfortunately for Johnson, it seems like the world’s view on work and free time is changing swiftly, especially thanks to the lockdown experiment, which saw productivity remain stable if not increase whilst workers have been working out of their cosy bedrooms. Why should a company pay top dollar for an office space in the city centre when all of their employees can easily work from home, or can rotate on a weekly basis, with this making a smaller place much more convenient and affordable? Do we really need so many in-person meetings? Will we all get back and wrist pain eventually? But more importantly, what if Dominic Cummings was not really ‘testing his eyesight’ but he was just craving a pint in a locked down pub?