In the ninth month of March, the vaccines arrived, but of course could not be broadly and evenly distributed, just as testing was not broadly and evenly distributed before.
This week, new cases in the UK rose from 40,000 a day to 50,000 a day, between Monday and Tuesday, the biggest one-day jump so far. Hospitals are maxed out.
Nobody had a happy Christmas, because either they were missing the people they would normally see, or they were guiltily breaking what they knew was best practice (if not the actual government restrictions) to be with them. Or they were on duty coping with the flood of sick and dying. Not to mention processing the turnabouts in government messaging and continuing inadequate support for those who have lost their livelihoods.
One in 1000 Americans has died of Covid. Slightly more than one in 1000 Britons has died of Covid. The virus has now claimed someone I knew personally, one of the wonderful Bedford Free Public Library librarians from my childhood. (Are there two sweeter words in the language than free and public, especially together?) Dorothy Carter Ahearn was 102, which meant she survived the 1918 pandemic. But not this one.
Still downtowns are full of unmasked people, and still some people feel free to travel for fun, as if all these limits and cautions were meant for someone else. Most conspicuously, hundreds of British ski tourists went to Verbier, and then fled in the dark of night as quarantine regulations came down. Classy.
The most salient memorial currently is the ordinary-person obituaries in the Guardian (Lost to the Virus). Every one of these people sounds great and so do their families.
In the last month since the November lockdown lifted, I completed the term’s teaching, returned to Friday breakfast radio (distanced, gloved, wetwiped), did a little more shopping than in November, posted some Christmas cards, and met one person for the monthly Bookcrossing meeting.
I also did a special Christmas brunch radio show with the same friend I met for Bookcrossing, about traditions we were missing (she too is a migrant). It was only partially transmitted owing to a technical error, but the playlist, as always, is here. For once, I was not responsible for the drinking song. My co-host is now down with a cold and I might be too (not for the first time this year). Serves us right.
But guilt over optional exposure can always be reduced by comparison with someone who’s “worse”: the same week we met for Bookcrossing, the Ipswich Town team went out and played football (for an audience of 2000 season ticket-holders chosen by lottery; the ground seats 30,000). At least 11 players and staff have now tested positive.
Meanwhile, Finland apparently got serious around the third week in November, as that is when the wonderful Arkadia Bookshop Instagram feed started to show nearly all patrons masked.
As of tomorrow night, all of the UK is in “Tier 4” (no “nonessential” shops open, no pubs except takeaway, no staying overnight, no travel other than in the following 17 routine daily cases) – with the exception of small areas it doesn’t really makes sense to exclude. Look at Rutland in the middle of in a sea of crimson. And Liverpool, with its metropolis-to-metropolis transport lines.
Schools have been included in lockdown for the first time since spring, with return to classrooms pushed back to January 18. Universities too. (Later extended to January 25.) I was happy to see some new faces, or more accurately, parts of faces last term, but the numbers above have me questioning the wisdom of having any in-person instruction even though my campus was able to limit cases to a few hundred over the three months. My commute and everyone else’s are in Tier 4, and either Tier 4 is a state of emergency or it is not.
These second and third lockdowns are bleaker than the first. The desk is too familiar. (Perhaps it’s time to rearrange the furniture again.) The novelty is gone. The free video treats from the National Theatre, dance classes and book conferences have dried up. The regular social Zooms are still good but there is a feeling we have all been left behind in the group house on the fourth day of the three-day weekend. We still aren’t sure of anything about the virus, since it seems able to hide in the asymptomatic, mutate and come back stronger. We’re not even counting on the vaccine, though it’s exactly what we’d counted on at the beginning. No way out. Only the doomscrolling remains.