When a friend asked me to write a piece about Covid-19, I was reluctant. Apart from a short poem I’d written very early on in the pandemic, I found it difficult to pen additional thoughts in prose, for how could I add to what had already been said? But all of us have a Covid-19 story and perhaps it’s edifying to take time to look back and appraise our experiences thus far. So here is part of my story – a journey that began on Friday 13th of March when I flew from Muscat to Dublin, with a connecting flight in Dubai en route.
During the days and weeks prior to leaving Oman I had been very mindful of a virus originating in China. Perhaps it helped that my television viewing revolved around international news channels and WHO briefings – the warnings were being flagged up from as early as January. It was therefore no great surprise that my passage through two international airports in March involved the unnerving sight of vacant shops in Duty Free, all ground staff masked and gloved, and the eerie reality of almost-empty terminal buildings. Yet, it was reassuring to find that the threat of the virus was at least being taken seriously.
Physical distancing is virtually impossible on a plane, so even at that time most of the passengers wore masks. Nothing seemed untoward during the second flight, until after landing the pilot asked all passengers to remain seated while a sick passenger on board was taken off the aircraft first. A medical crew duly boarded to assist a gentleman (sitting two rows ahead of me), off the plane. Healthy, he definitely was not. Infectious with something – who knew? At the very least I thought the airline would caution us as to any ongoing precautions that might be needed on our onward journeys, but within minutes we were given the go-ahead to disembark. All I received by way of information was a generic leaflet about Coronavirus as I left the terminal building to go and catch the coach up north. On arriving home, I quarantined myself, just in case.
In terms of awareness of Covid-19, I was starting to register the disconnection between where I’d come from and where I’d arrived at and, to tell you the truth, it was more than a little disconcerting. Had I been duped into thinking that the virus was more deadly than it actually was? Where was the real urgency from government television briefings in getting the Covid-19 message across? Why was there such a laissez-faire attitude from those we rely upon to tell us the truth? Eventually, I surmised that the answer was one of two: either we, as human beings, are convinced that until bad things arrive with us, they will always happen to somebody else, or else our government was too arrogant to believe that they ever would. Sadly, as time passed and the pandemic chewed its way into all our lives, I believe it was the latter.
My intention is not to write this piece in the guise of some political commentator, for I have no agenda in that respect. But it’s frustrating that ordinary people like me are so often treated as though they have little grasp of the fundamentals, which is completely disrespectful. For this reason, I am adding my voice to the mix. When the political leader of our country refuses to answer straightforward (i.e. awkward) questions and then declares with a flourish of armography, ‘Look, this is what the British people want!’ I want to scream, ‘No, Mr Johnson, you are wrong about that and if you want to know what this citizen wants, then I offer you my list:
I want you and your colleagues to put your hands up when you are found to be telling obvious lies.
I want you to say that little innocuous word, ‘Sorry’, even if it nearly chokes you to do it – it is one of the most powerful words in the dictionary.
I want you to stop putting politics before people although I know you will never admit to that in a month of Sundays.
I want you to recognise that the majority of people in the UK actually did their damnedest to stick to the rules until Dominic Cummings went and blew that out of the water.
I want you and your colleagues to show more humility (and actually mean it).
In short, I want you to be a lot more like the decent, ordinary people you claim to represent and who have suffered so terribly.
As I write this, the number of human beings who have died in the UK from Covid-19 is forty-six thousand seven hundred and six. Forty-six thousand seven hundred and six people who no longer live and breathe and share this world with the rest of us. Forty-six thousand seven hundred and six people who also had a Covid-19 story to tell until their own narrative came to an untimely and abrupt end. Think about that.
My Covid-19 story continues like everyone else’s, with much uncertainty. We are marred by this virus in different ways and to various extents, and it seems that this pandemic has a long way to go yet. Globally and Internationally it may be difficult for the ordinary man and woman in the street to influence the pattern of events but on an individual level we can all play our part, adhering to the advice that, for most of us, is surely easy enough to comply with. ‘No one is safe until we’re all safe’, the quote that has stayed with me since I first heard Dr Maria Van Kerkhove say it during a WHO briefing. It’s a mantra I try to remind myself of when I get hot under the collar about having to wear a mask indoors or being unable to hug the people I care about. The most powerful weapon we have in battling Covid-19 is our combined resolve. Let’s not waste it.