Sunday, May 31, 2020

UK risks a second wave as its lockdown breaks down

Eleven weeks since Britain entered into lockdown the UK government has further relaxed the rules. People may now gather in groups of up to six. Shops and markets may open as long as social distancing is implemented. And sport is now back on the agenda, albeit behind closed doors.

However, many scientists believe it is still far too early to lift restrictions with some fearing a second wave of the virus emerging [BBC].

But despite the warnings, the messages from government, the mixed messages emanating from a blatant disregard of the rules by Boris Johnson's advisor Dominic Cummings during the early days of the lockdown, and a general frustration being experienced by a significant percentage of the population wanting things to get 'back to normal', has meant the lockdown has all but fallen apart.

Even before official announcements large numbers of people have filled beaches and parks and overwhelmed beauty spots.

Masks are far less evident than they were only a few short weeks ago and social distancing is being ignored by many people.

Perhaps the first signs of a fraying of the edges of the lockdown was the VE Day commemorations. All across Britain people came together to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. Most people were well intentioned as they practiced social distancing; placing tables and chairs on their own driveways and talking to neighbours at a distance. However as dusk drew in, and as people consumed more and more alcohol, the concept of social distancing evaporated as people's inhibitions dissolved.

Only days later, as the warm May sunshine continued, people began to venture out filling parks or descending on the coast. While most stayed off the beaches, promenades were crowded with people dying to get away from lockdown.

As week 8 of the lockdown began some businesses began to open up. McDonald's started a delivery only service at some 15 of its restaurants across southern England. Only cooler temperatures kept the coasts clear at the weekend even though some businesses such as snack bars and ice cream vendors had begun to open.

The lockdown disintegrated further into week 9 as a hot Wednesday saw thousands descending on beaches whilst others excitedly queued to pick up a McDonald's after the fast food outlet opened many of its restaurants for Drive-Thru.

By the beginning of week 10 and social distancing was almost non existent as beaches across Britain became thronged with sunseekers on Bank Holiday Monday.

There were no masks, beaches were packed, and whilst beach patrols attempted to enforce social distancing, policing such large numbers was virtually impossible. This was a recipe for disaster in the making.

Such scenes came on the back of revelations that Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules in the early stages of the UK lockdown, giving some commentators to suggest that his actions only emboldened many members of the public to stretch any remaining lockdown restrictions [Guardian].

As the week came to an end so too did the weekly Clap for the NHS event. The event was called time by the woman who began the tradition, suggesting it had become politicized.

It had also become an event which was rather awkward to reconcile given the backdrop of widespread flouting of lockdown rules and advice concerning social distancing.

Indeed, some NHS staff and carers publicly criticised those that had filled the beaches earlier in the week suggesting that they not come out and clap for the NHS, labelling such actions hypocritical [Twitter].

While on the face of it the curve of deaths and infections is reducing, there is a strong belief amongst scientists that a second wave is not far off.

It may well be argued that balancing getting the economy back on track is important, the government is not focused on the most important elements of Britain's economy.

Sport, restaurants and shops might bring an all important psychological boost to a nation's well being after weeks in lockdown, but there are arguably more important and less risky sectors that can be restarted.

It is of course difficult for any government or decision maker to say that one business is less important over another, but unfortunately barbers, restaurants and the like are probably not as important, economically speaking, than the financial sector and manufacturing.

Mixed messages over masks, which has been shown to dramatically slow the spread of the virus in other countries, has left only very concerned groups wearing them in Britain. Of course there were initially supply issues and a worry that public use might deplete and take away much needed stocks from health workers. But even homemade masks, scarves and bandannas have been shown to prevent the spread.

Unless mandated, even TfL's request that masks be worn on London Transport's networks likely to be ignored by most people [Standard]. And of course it does not help when leaders, be it UK politicians, special advisors or US presidents fail to lead by example.

tvnewswatch, London, UK