We need to shift from a culture of me to we. Matt Chorley opines in the Red Box in the Times 19th March 2020.
Maggie was wrong. There is such a thing as society.. and it will be our local support groups that get us through this crisis. Lets show her ghost that she was wrong.. But makeshift mortuaries in London could be replicated across the country.
He tried asking nicely. Despite the crude caricature drawn by his opponents (and the gaffes which gave them the outline), Boris Johnson is a liberal at heart.
Repeatedly when pressed on why he has not adopted more draconian measures, he has insisted: “We are a mature, grown-up and liberal democracy.”
This is not, he doesn’t quite add, China, where the containment of the coronavirus has been achieved with extraordinary levels of authoritarian control.
And yet. This only works if people do as they are asked. There is growing concern at the top of government that too many are ignoring the advice to stay at home, stop socialising, avoid pubs, cafés and restaurants.
This is especially true in London, where the outbreak is thought to be a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country, and the close proximity of its nine million inhabitants means it is spreading fast: a third of all recorded cases have been in the capital.
A makeshift mortuary was constructed in the heart of London yesterday to boost the storage capacity for bodies of coronavirus victims.
Earlier this week Johnson pleaded: “It is important that Londoners now pay special attention to what we are saying about avoiding non-essential contact and to take particularly seriously the advice about working from home and avoiding confined spaces such as pubs and restaurants.”
As Sky News’ Beth Rigby told the PM at yesterday’s press conference, London isn’t listening.
So plans are being drawn up in Whitehall to put London in lockdown. It could see all shops closed, except for supermarkets and pharmacies.
Restrictions are coming into force, though. From today up to 40 London Underground stations that do not interchange with other lines will be closed until further notice. Services will be scaled back, the Waterloo and City line will close altogether.
The formation by the Ministry of Defence of a new “Covid support force” to assist public services across the UK has fuelled talk of the army being drafted in to help the police clear the streets. This is what is happening already in many other countries.
In Italy, as Tom Kington explains on the Red Box podcast this week, dogs are in high demand as exercising a pet is one of the few reasons to be out of the house. Exhausted hounds are being loaned for endless walking by those going stir-crazy indoors.
In France people now have to download and print off a form to go out. Charles Bremner describes how, in classic French style, the form is complicated and confusing. It is, as the French call it, “usine à gaz”, or gas factory, where the government comes up with something unnecessarily complicated.
Why does all this matter? Because every person who stays at home, who keeps their distance, is helping to save lives.
“The more closely, the more strictly, the more ruthlessly we can enforce,” Johnson said yesterday before adding a liberal caveat “upon ourselves, our families”, emphasising that this is a choice not an instruction. But he insisted that the more strongly we all follow the “advice we are getting about avoiding unnecessary gatherings, about staying at home when we have symptoms, then the better we will be able to protect the NHS, the fewer deaths we will have and the less suffering there will be in the UK population, and the faster we will get through this”.
With mass gatherings cancelled, public movement restricted, and now schools shutting from tomorrow, this is the message which will keep getting hammered home. That everyone must take responsibility and do the right thing.
Anyone not worried about the level of take-up should read the Mumsnet thread entitled: “Anyone else’s Parents swanning about as if they are immortal?”
This post about two parents in their seventies gives you the idea: “Just had a chat with my Mum, she then asked if I want anything from B&Q as they are popping in there tomorrow! This is after they went shopping to Sainsbury’s this morning and then said they are going again on Friday.”
James Johnson, the former Downing Street pollster, writes for Red Box today on some research for ITV’s Peston which highlights the scale of the challenge for the government nationwide.
Just 18 per cent say they are no longer meeting people outside of their immediate family. More than half (56 per cent) say they have no intention of doing this in future. Asked about limiting trips to the shops for essentials, again half are not planning to do this.
Across the board, men, and especially young men, are less likely to take all of the key actions: more hand washing (78 per cent of men, 89 per cent women); not shaking hands (56:62:); stopping using public transport (26:33); working from home (16:20).
According to Johnson, the wealthiest people are taking the least action: a quarter of people in the poorest households were already no longer meeting anyone outside their immediate families at the start of this week, compared with less than a fifth (16 per cent) of those in the richest households.
Too many people think that although the situation is bad, they personally will be OK. Only about a third of men and half of women are very concerned about the impact of the virus on their own health; but half of men and two thirds of women are concerned about the health of the country as a whole.
This is no time for “I’m alright Jack”. This is time for younger people, especially, to disprove the claim that Millennials and Gen Z-ers are too selfish and Insta-obsessed to think of society as a whole.
Of course it is upsetting not seeing friends, not celebrating, not partying, but it will be more upsetting when a close relative dies because you, or someone like you, couldn’t sacrifice a night out for the national effort.
The Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke in the House of Lords yesterday, calling for the huge financial commitments made by the government to be matched by a bold vision “that recovers ‘us’ and ‘we’ from the era of ‘I’ and ‘me’. In short, a vision to recreate the notion and reality of society”.
It is a bold ambition, but one upon which lives depend. The time for asking nicely might be over.