Saturday 3 July 2021

A New Normal

Increasingly, the narrative in the media and spoken from the mouths of political and business representatives is of, "Going back to normal". In the UK, the date has been set for this 'normality' as being July 19th. Negotiations with the virus appear to have failed or maybe never got going in the first place. 

Of course, who wouldn't want to be able to go out to the shops or a restaurant or event without having to prebook, take a mask or take a covid test? It is so tempting, that vision of 'normality', going back to life as it was in BC - Before Covid. 

But that normality was wrecking the planet. 

That normality created a society of haves and have nots

Wealthy and untroubled normality for one person was anxiety or hardship for another. 

Taking off the brakes off societal interactions may cause the thing that keeps virologists up at night - vaccine escape.

There have been many people filling up the pages of newspapers or platforming themselves on social media, gathering with other conspiracy theorists and pseudo-science advocates on marches, even some speaking in Parliament, who feel that the restrictions on our lives that were necessary to reduce the awful death rate from Covid-19 were unwarranted, even to the point of denying the virus itself and its effects. 

The TV presenter Andrew Marr recently suffered from Covid-19, catching it at the super-spreader event also known as the G7 Summit in Cornwall (although some dispute this) Whilst he didn't end up in hospital, he wasn't working for several days and felt pretty ill. There's many other accounts on social media of similarly double-vaccinated people catching Covid-19 and being ill at home. In schools, where children are not vaccinated, and indeed in university towns, the virus is widespread, mainly the Delta Variant originally discovered in India and here because of the lax border controls of the UK Government. The case rate is currently skyrocketing again. More cases means more illness, means more hospitalisation, means an increased chance of a mutation that will escape the vaccines and we'll all be back to square one.

Yes, the vaccines have reduced the effects in many people of Covid-19, keeping many out of hospital, no doubt saving many lives in the process. But they don't stop someone from catching the disease, they don't stop someone from passing it onto someone else that is maybe a person who hasn't yet been vaccinated fully, if at all, maybe someone that for health reasons cannot yet have the vaccine, for instance those who are immuno-compromised. 

Some say that because people aren't dying in the numbers they were at the height of the pandemic, that because hospital admissions aren't at the levels they were, that there's no need for any restrictions on our lives. They've forgotten one thing, one major issue, Long Covid. 

Long Covid is the term used to describe symptoms of Covid-19 lasting more than a few weeks or beyond the main symptoms of the virus. Some people can even suffer from Long Covid despite not having the original symptoms. This can encompass chronic fatigue, lung damage, persistant cough and breathlessness, digestive issues and 'brain fog' - concentration issues amongst other things. No one knows how long they can last, although for many people they do, thankfully, appear to lessen over time and there's been some reports of the vaccines giving an immune system boost which has helped people. But no-one yet knows whether these symptoms will disappear completely or whether there's permanent long term effects on health. 

Up to one in twenty people, including children, have or have had Long Covid. The estimate for April was 1.1 million people in the UK in that month with some kind of long term symptoms from Covid-19, with around 376000 at that time estimated to have had Long Covid symptoms for at least a year. The UK population is about 67 million people. That's a lot of people and a lot of demand on the health system and indeed on Government finances. Many people who were asympomatic with Covid-19 have experienced Long Covid issues. Many will also be those people who have had long term hospitalisation from Covid-19 and the damage wrought by the disease, including someone I know about (friend of a friend) who spent several months in hospital, some of which on a ventilator, and now can only function at home with oxygen supply on hand and has been back to hospital since. 

Sure, go back to your parties, go back to the pub, take your mask off and stop giving people space. Stop caring if you so wish. But there's consequences. Can you live with those? Can the State support millions of new long term incapacity benefit claimants? Can the economy support a possibly permanently reduced workforce? Can families manage their finances if the main breadwinner(s) are out of action for months, with the impact of potential poverty on children's life chances, already damaged by the disruption to education? 

Is 'normal' worth that cost to society and to people's lives? Yes, there are costs to society and livelihoods from the lockdown, and there are indeed balances to be struck between restrictions and the economy, but adopting a carefree attitude at a time when the virus is still spreading, particularly amongst unvaccinated people, is asking for trouble. 

Do we want to do 'normal'? Should we do 'normal'?

I would suggest that the present capitalist, consumer, always on, instant gratification and delivery society is not 'normal'. For most of the history of the human race, our comfy lifestyle hasn't been the norm. Even comparing more developed human civilisations, we are in an exceptional, unprecedented age, where our extraction of resources far exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet. In an age where we have the potential to end life as we know it on Earth.

'Normal' has meant overconsumption. Buying stuff we don't need. Cluttering the planet up with plastic. Decimating biodiversity. Polluting the atmosphere. Warming the planet to climate tipping points with the consequences increasingly on our TV screens. Normal means deaths and preventable disease from the pollution in our cities. Normal means over a million people accessing food banks here in the UK. Normal means a chronic shortage of affordable housing and rent-seeking landlords. Normal means the politics of hate and division. 

Why would anyone go back to that? 

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