Overall, I think people have responded well – albeit with a rocky start. Too many were slow to understand what was happening and take appropriate steps to protect themselves. This was especially the case with the older generation. Those in their 60s and 70s seemed to be reluctant to stay in at first. They didn’t seem to appreciate the danger they were in.
Indeed, like many others, I am furious at the way that the government has handled the crisis.Quite apart from the shortages of key equipment and protective clothing, I am angry at the way the outbreak was handled from the very start. It is now clear that the government was pursuing a very different approach from most other countries.
Rather than go for isolation to halt the disease, it decided to go for a ‘slow burn’ approach that would allow people to become gradually infected. Eventually, or so the argument goes, enough people would have had it that the spread of the virus would be halted. This “herd immunity” would then protect the most vulnerable – or so the thinking went.
The problem was that this strategy was initiated without warning the most vulnerable. No attempt was made to alert the old or those with serious medical conditions. As the parent of a child on medicine that suppresses his immune system, I will personally never forgive this government for this utterly reckless and unethical behaviour.
But, in other ways, the results have been positive. After a few weeks of confusion and panic buying, things have settled down. Food deliveries are now working well. People are also getting used to home-schooling their children – although probably not particularly well!
People have also started to appreciate the amazing role that immigrants have played in this country. After almost four years when Brexit has made xenophobia socially acceptable for many, the sight of people from across Europe and the world working to keep our health service running and keep people fed has made many realise that this country is made better by those who come here to work and contribute.
Looking ahead, we don’t know how long we will be on lockdown, but already questions are being asked about life afterwards. There are so many interesting aspects to consider.
For instance, how it will change the nature of work. Having spent weeks working from home successfully, many are asking why they will need to return to the long commute into central London every day. Companies may also start to question why they need huge offices.Could this also start to see business move away from London altogether, and perhaps look to set up elsewhere? This would help to address some of the regional disparities that have caused so many problems in Britain and were a major reason for Brexit.
Indeed, many are now wondering whether, with the economy now in tatters, we should be pursuing Brexit at all. We may have left the EU, but the transition is still in place. Polls now show two thirds of people support extending this. Could this realisation – coupled with a new appreciation for those who have chosen to make Britain their home – be the start of rebuilding our ties to Europe? One can only hope.
James Ker-Lindsay is a visiting professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.