Do we really want lockdown to end?

22 February 2021

5:00 PM

22 February 2021

5:00 PM

Despite it being highly unfashionable to change your opinion, my lockdown stance has shown agility. For most of last year I was a ‘lockdown sceptic’. Not quite retweeting Piers Corbyn’s views on 5G, but equally not thrilled about spending every morning doing star jumps with Joe Wicks. I suspected lockdowns may ruin our children’s future forever, but was keen to not to be called a granny murderer.

However, there was something about the words ‘deadly new strain’ which had an effect on me. Say what you want about epidemiologists, they know how to scare people. So I settled into being what I’d call a Covid ‘Centrist Dad’. Lockdown wise, I was the Lib Dems – constantly changing my mind, unsure of my own position, and losing the respect of people who used to love me.

But, now we’re vaccinating like there’s no tomorrow, the lack of urgency to unlock is testing my patience. As we wait for an update from the PM, it’s patently obvious we’ve settled into this lockdown as a way of life rather than a temporary measure. At least Tom Hanks tried to leave his Castaway island. Even if we haven’t yet reached the ‘talking to a football’ stage, we’re fairly non plussed about heading in that direction. Who knows where Hanks would be now if he had Netflix.

As we get cosy at home, the debates around mental health, the economy and the impact on children have become muted. It’s understandable that these topics were tempered by the aggressive second wave, but they should still be questions we ask ourselves every day. Although the one way to guarantee your mental health deteriorates is to spend any time whatsoever thinking about the economy.

Even my son has stopped asking when soft play areas will re-open (although maybe deep down he always knew they were a bacterial abomination. The UK equivalent of wet markets). And everyone everywhere has given up on the idea of the office. I fear that one day a ‘water cooler’ moment will refer to someone from Gen Z clapping eyes on one in a museum.

The changing rhetoric around the vaccine has alarmed me. At first the consensus was that once we got jabs into the arms of the frail over 80s then the rest of us could get back to planning mini-breaks. But, like our capacity to accommodate risk, the Overton window of frailty has also moved. It became the over 70s, then the over 50s. Maybe we’ll only fully unlock once we’ve vaccinated anyone with back pain or a mortgage. Which to be fair, does rule out most people under 50.

This inertia is due to standard mission creep but also political expedience. Both parties realise that 50 per cent of the country is very pro lockdown. The government doesn’t want a repeat of December’s festive fiasco when it promised over and over again to ring fence Christmas, then a few days before took Rudolf out the back of Downing Street and killed him with a shovel.

The sentiment ‘these measures don’t go far enough’ seems to be the only response to any new restriction. If you announce people shouldn’t go to work, they want to be locked in their houses. If you announce house arrest they wonder why we haven’t been chained to a radiator and waterboarded through double face-masks.

The government, whose polling has only just begun to recover after PPE, Barnard Castle and any public sighting of Gavin Williamson, is aware that if you throw red meat to the risk averse it can prop up your numbers (so long as the red meat is cooked to the middle and fully Covid compliant). It’s not under any direct political pressure to get a move on. The government has moved the goalposts because we’ve let it.

Downing Street has had another big ally in its reluctant trudge towards returning our civil liberties: it’s been cold. Our motivation to day-dream about pub gardens has been partially beaten out of us by the fact that if we went there the frost-bite would get us before Covid did. Imprisoned by the temperature as much as lockdown, pacified by midweek takeaways, we’ve all allowed a temporary status quo to grow roots. However, the public mood can change like the weather and with the weather.

So beware the balmy ides of mid March. If it hits 15 degrees and people feel that confusing sensation of sun on forearm, the public desire for freedom may change quickly. The same people who demanded massive fines for zoom calls without face-masks may soon be calling for the head of any minister who gets in the way of them planning that first optimistic barbecue.

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