The long Easter weekend is upon us and during the last few days much time and energy has been expended by the media on the subject of lockdown, now into its fourth week – its viability during warm weather, different views as to its implementation, its possible extension and its gradual reduction as COVID19 cases and deaths decline. What’s missing is any reflection on the psychological factors underpinning lockdown flouting. Police and politicians seem to think flouters are not hearing the message or not understanding it. While this is in the mix, I think it’s important to understand that no amount of news coverage, notices in parks or tv adverts will cut any ice with some, who actually enjoy breaking rules and see it as a kind of ego-driven achievement. This behaviour can stem from longstanding patterns of challenging authority so the perpetrators are unlikely to respond to hearing the same thing over and over. Another aspect is the perceived inconsistency in lockdown policy: we are under unprecedented pressure to stay at home apart from four exceptions, keep two metres apart, to not congregate in groups and to not visit friends and family, yet flights are still regularly coming into the UK from Corona hotspots like New York and differences between police forces are resulting in scarce police presence in some areas and over-zealous exercising of power in others. It will be interesting to watch news coverage later to see how closely the guidance is being observed, when temperatures are set to rise to 25C in some parts of the UK and when certain public figures have already been caught flouting the very rules they are trying to enforce.
Another disconnect for many is the contrast between the mantra of social distancing, when this is clearly not being observed in the aisles of most supermarkets and on shared pavements and paths. It could be argued that it’s not much use making people stand at distance in a queue, but then allow a free-for-all in the aisles. If you politely ask someone to stand further back, this can often produce an angry response, likely to be a displacement of deeper anxiety. This morning a neighbour had a customer shout and wave his stick aggressively at her for making such a request. Despite some encouraging examples of etiquette being observed, it’s still common for people to pass by too closely in the street or while jogging/cycling, seemingly oblivious of others they are forcing to step back or jump into the nearest ditch. A sign has appeared on some well-known running routes around here: a jogger is pictured swerving to avoid an elderly woman with a stick and carrying shopping, the text reading ‘The grass won’t hurt you’. The million dollar question has to be: why aren’t some seeing and observing this or why don’t think they think it applies to them?
Meanwhile, the judgementalism manifested before the ‘rules’ or ‘instructions’ (not law!) were tightened up still persists in some quarters, for example people being frowned on (often by non-exercisers) for going out for their run or walk. It was interesting to learn that the ‘no sunbathing’ and ‘no travel to exercise’ rules do not apply to psychiatric patients, who use these activities as a way of managing their condition.
Today many have been incensed by the astonishing suggestion that NHS staff could be using PPE irresponsibly, when the concept of ‘overusing’ it is clearly nonsense: as clinicians have clarified, it’s crucial for them to change their masks and gowns for every patient they attend to. This is a politician’s attempt to divert attention from manifest incompetence by trying to apportion blame elsewhere. This evening further opprobrium has greeted the long absent Home Secretary’s ‘apology’ at the press briefing for people ‘feeling’ that there’s a shortage of PPE when there manifestly is a shortage. Such tactics will convince few except a few diehard Conservative supporters, but the next morning, the fake apology was used again by Alok Sharma on the Marr programme, suggesting to some that this is the latest Cummings mantra.
This evening we hear that nearly 10,000 altogether have died in hospital so far, but this excludes those dying in the community. Clinicians are lamenting the continuing shortage of PPE, with 55% saying they feel pressured to work in this unprotected environment. ‘We don’t deserve this’, said one. Writer Matt Haig captured the zeitgeist by tweeting ‘Just washed the shopping. After going for a run in the garden. 2020 is an odd one’. And we learn that the Queen will address the nation tomorrow, the second time in a week, on the subject of hope, ‘light overcoming darkness’. After all this it will be a relief to escape into ITV’s Belgravia tomorrow night!