Lockdown has been extended to mid February. The suspicion is that it will run to Easter. By then will all either be mad, knackered or dead. The toll is not impossible. We shall go on. But it is becoming bone-deep.
NHS staff have been at this for nearly a year. Taking risks by going into work. Running over time on shifts. Coping with an unknown disease. Seeing patients die.
There is only so much the body can take. We are asking people on low pay to perform again and again. They are not trick ponies. Clapping and calling them saints becomes patronising after a while.
Political thinking must adapt to this reality. We are beyond the point of vague promises about a better world to come. This is not a shallow crisis that permits a bit of meaningless virtue signalling.
This is a genuine, era defining disaster. It demands a serious response for the long term.
NHS staff need more that an extra £500 pressed into their palm and told to go off and enjoy themselves. They are not children at the fairground. Instead, a fundamental rethink is needed on how we support health workers.
Pension levels are treated as precious by politicians because pensioners vote and we are all, rightly, inclined to protect our elders. We should afford that respect to health workers. Their pay should rise and be fixed to rates of inflation, costs of living and an annual uplift.
Not only would this correct the injustice of paying our ‘frontline’ a pittance, but would have significant effects on low income families and women in the workplace, as many NHS workers are drawn from these ranks.
Then we must ask what we can do for our children. They have had by far the worst of lockdown. If you are elderly, you know isolation already. That life has horrible surprises. Experience makes it a lot easier to knuckle down and endure.
For the under-20s, it is a brand new hardship.
We set our young on a path of education. Like a game show, it has stages and rewards. It matters because it’s what all kids do. It matters because all parents see it through.
Growing up is about passing. Pass first as a normal person – bluff your credentials to not be picked on.
Then pass a series of exams – your career depends on it.
For the young of today, how much harder this has become.
School, the measure of growing up, is cancelled, or it isn’t.
If you are seven, 11 or senior, school defines your existence. It is closed, maybe.
The precious exams are casually dispensed with or not. Our politicians can’t decide.
Home schooling means doing a few tests on the screen. No contact with the teacher. Not even a Zoom call.
These are not catastrophic circumstances. This young generation will survive. But we have made their world meaningless by cancelling school, exams and college. The things adults said mattered suddenly didn’t.
This coming generation already face futures with uncertain employment, unaffordable housing and decaying welfare. Now they question the competence of government and the importance of education attendance.
Not a short-term crisis but a generationally defining one. We have abandoned the young to their screens and insecurities. Something great will be needed to give them hope.
The virus had laid bare the injustices of the world. In developed societies death has feasted on the poor, the obese and the weak. The very people already demoted by capitalism and prejudice are the ones most vulnerable to this disease. Just as they are more likely to get cancer, die young and suffer debilitating conditions before anyone had heard of Covid-19.
We cannot beat the virus and allow this inequality to continue.
Nor does it seem morally sustainable to let the world know that rich countries get the drugs first, while the poor can wait before they reward multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies.
All these injustices have been highlighted by the vaccine. It went to the old before the young. It didn’t prioritise those vulnerable by poverty, it wasn’t shared equally around the world. NHS staff got it, but without them nobody else could. Ludicrously, John Swinney said Scotland could only recover from coronavirus if it were independent. When the bulbs go in his house he presumably thinks only independence will fix the light. This one-dimensional thinking is over.
Brexit, Biden, Starmer and Johnson don’t have the answer either. The business of how we rebuild has only been hinted at so far. It is time we got down to details. We need our Beveridge Report, our moment of non-partisan, serious thinking, which speaks honestly of the problem and courageously of what we can do.
This is not the end. It will never end. Once corona is gone, there is still the far deadlier cancer to beat. Once the world recovers, there is still the far greater threat of climate change.
This is the time to see that all has changed. This is the time to act as if our lives depended on it, because they do.