We are living through times that no current generation has known. I hope that we won’t know its like again, and I hope future generations won’t either. We are all being affected by what’s going on now – some, of course, more than others.
As a result of strict social-distancing measures, it is hoped that we will hit the peak of the epidemic within the next two weeks, though this is not certain. The consequences, however, of this horrible disease will likely continue for many months afterwards – affecting the NHS, our society, and our economy.
We are overwhelmed with statistics at the moment; numbers and curves on graphs. But we must not forget that all these numbers represent individuals. They are friends and family. Work colleagues and neighbours – a tragedy, tearing through our community.
And there are, of course, social and economic consequences of the lockdown. Many people are worried about their jobs, and many businesses about the future. We have not been able to see friends and family – which is especially hard during such difficult times.
All these issues weigh on the mind of those making decisions – and it is not a matter of economy vs health. Worrying about people being infected does not mean having no regard for livelihoods, and worrying about the economy does not mean having no regard for lives. The decisions being made are never binary, but they are always difficult.
There has been excellent work from our community and third sector working with the local authorities to ensure those who need emergency support – those who can’t get out for shopping or to pick up essential medicines – can get the help they need by calling 0800 783 1966 or emailing COVID19support@cumbria.gov.uk
What we can be sure of, however, is the magnificent bravery of the NHS and social care staff who have risen to the challenge quite brilliantly. Their dedication and hard work have allowed Carlisle and the rest of the country to be better placed to deal with the crisis than might otherwise have been the case. However, things are still going to get more difficult before they get better.
It’s also important to recognise the many others who, in a different way, have made a significant contribution. The food producers (of which there are so many here in Carlisle), the lorry drivers, delivery men and woman, and of course all the people who work in our supermarkets and food shops. There are also others such as the postal service, our local authorities, the Army, and other emergency staff who have all helped ensure that some of the basics in our lives continue with little interruption. There are many more keeping our infrastructures intact, our power on, and doing thousands of necessary jobs that we all rely on and, perhaps, don’t ordinarily acknowledge day to day. It is important we recognise their contribution and give our thanks.
The front line, however, remains our hospitals. And it is to protect them as much as possible that we are being urged to stay at home, to remain within our household groups, and to frequently wash our hands.
Our Police have been given powers to enforce this guidance – but like all good policing and good citizenship, for this to work requires state discretion as well personal responsibility.
There is a tendency to focus on where people aren’t following the rules or doing their part – but the truth is that the vast majority, in Carlisle and in the UK, have been making sure that they limit the spread of this disease as much as they can. Even more than that we have seen voluntarism from individuals on an unprecedented scale, and schemes here in Cumbria have shown that people are willing to help strangers in difficult times. Businesses have, for the most part, adapted and stepped up to help employees and customers – and our public sector has been working hard to support those who need it. I have personally seen more cycling, walking, and time with family amongst people in their free time.
This crisis will end, and I would like to think that maybe we will become more considerate, value what is important in life, have more time for each other, and be nicer to one another. These are the small blessings in difficult times.