Surviving Covid has to be done together

As cases of Covid rise, the Northern Ireland Executive meets today, reportedly to consider a circuit breaker to reduce community transmission, as concerns continue to be raised about the effect of lockdowns and shielding on mental health and jobs.

We know that mental health is seriously affected by lockdown, businesses with fewer customers are likely to fail or at least require redundancies to survive, and the prioritisation of Covid has had a serious effect on elective Health Service treatments.  Yet, if steps are not taken to reduce the rate of transmission of Covid, we risk the acute treatment side of the Health Service collapsing under the burden of Covid cases requiring hospital treatment, and the likelihood of losing our friends and family to Covid is higher.

So how to handle that, as people protest about their lack of liberty and peddle conspiracy theories long disproven, blaming the mainstream media?

Perhaps this statement is a place to start.

Liberty that denies freedom to others is no liberty at all

What are we being asked to do?  To keep 2m apart where possible, and to wear a face covering in shops, banks, public offices and other places where social distancing is either difficult or impossible to catch our coughs and sneezes.  To not have parties in our houses.

But what about student culture?  Why should my family not be able to gather in a socially distanced way because of idiots?

The answer is simple.  The law has to be black and white – the impact on me visiting my parents and grandma is because the idiots can weasel out of a vaguer restriction.  Culture doesn’t override responsibilities to others.  The Twelfth was cancelled because the Orange Order recognised this responsibility.

The slogan earlier in lockdown was “We all must do it to get through it.”  It was true, although the grammar pedant in me thinks it should have been “We must all do it to get through it” which in any case scans better.

But is it enough to just socially distance and wear your mask when asked, because keeping the rules is the thing most likely to keep day to day life as normal as possible and preserve jobs?

Mental health says no, it isn’t enough.

Mental health says we can only get through if we are looking out for each other.

The challenge is to be intentional.  To remember each other.  To deliberately keep in touch with those we can’t see face to face, so they know they are remembered and are still part of our lives.  To be there, even if you can’t give someone a hug.

And that’s not enough.  There are our neighbours as well as our friends and relatives.  Jo and I self-isolated in March for two weeks because I had a cough and headache, and our neighbours couldn’t have done more for us.

It’s not easy.  I could do better, I’ve got friends I need to spend more time on the phone with because I haven’t been able to see them for a long time.

But the alternative is far worse.  A Health Service so overwhelmed by Covid that it cannot help us with anything much else we need in the way we have come to expect.  Repeated circuit breakers seriously damaging businesses and jobs.  Continued forced separation to prevent us passing the virus onto vulnerable friends and relatives.

But only if we look outwards to serve others can we get through this.  Only when we put others first, when we put their freedoms on an equal footing with ours, only when we take the necessary steps to prevent us passing on Covid if we catch it, will we have liberty.