UK Public Health Notice March 2020: Coronavirus: stay home, protect the NHS, save lives

As I keep telling my kids, I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.

I am struggling to comprehend the enormity of the global nature of Covid-19 impact, combined with the effects our everyday life, the way it touches my own family, and how it shapes my work priorities. I swing between intellectualising it and a more visceral emotional response.

I have family who work in NHS hospitals. I have family who have been stranded in isolation on the Zaandam cruise ship and are currently being repatriated. I know people who have likely had Covid-19, or who’s families have. Like many of us, I’ve thought back on periods of illness in the last few months, could that have been a mild case? I spent a week or so with an impaired sense of smell. But it feels ridiculous to even ponder that when there are much more serious situations going on.

I am rendered mute by the disconnect between global serious life-threatening situations and the trivial impact on my little life. And yet that’s what this is: a pandemic that reaches right into our personal everyday lives, even when the illness doesn’t manifest itself in our homes.

I have a fairly big house with a garden, a view of a big open space, a husband and two boys. We get on pretty well despite the confinement. We have jobs, can afford to eat, we feel part of a community and we are well. We are the lucky ones. And yet on Thursday I hit a wall: my coping mechanisms were overloaded with challenges at work, anxiety about my loved ones and the general pressure of circumstances.

So I’ve decided today I would try to write a reflective blog post and see where it leads me. This post marks this point in time and I may change my perspective completely and read this blogpost back as privileged and niaive. I’ll have to forgive myself if that happens, I’m sure my embarrassment about a blogpost would be the least of my worries.

So: reflections …

Over the past few years there have been several topics I have found myself drawn to. Many are strangely relevant to this crisis. I am not superstitious so I attribute this to a cognitive bias toward thinking I have any kind of agency or capacity to deal with it. But for what it’s worth, these are things I have been concerned with:

  • collectivism and individualism, Brexit and the lurch to popularists like Johnson and Trump.
  • the climate crisis, how to address the paralysis on action (my own failure to act strongly).
  • the economy, work and jobs, the impact of automation and universal basic income.
  • how and why to use technology in teaching and how digital empowers better ways of working (these topics are my professional responsibility).
  • the broad impact of digital technology on our lives, on our concepts of connectedness, privacy, presence and time.
  • a fascination with science fiction about people that are confined to spaceships and planet settlements without access to earth’s fresh air: what does it do to a culture to be confined, and how that changes how we see Earth.

Books will be written about how Covid-19 changes the world. The world needs to change so perhaps some good could come of this. Emergency socialism. Reduction of non essential travel. Reappraising the value of low paid work.

It doesn’t feel ok to say that though. How can we pontificate on silver linings, because so many will die in the transition to “afterwards”. Not just vulnerable people who we love, but people who were otherwise healthy, and also the people who care for them. Many of us will lose people we love. That’s hard to acknowledge.

So it helps to read pieces that stitch together the global and the personal and try to make sense of these strange times. Here are some articles about the social and psychological impacts that have resonated with me:

I’d welcome recommendations for other pieces that help make sense of the emerging impact of this crisis. Please comment below.

I have more to say about the importance of social media and video conferencing. In my leadership role at a large UK university I have spent the last month developing contingency arrangements for supporting academic continuity through digital approaches. I will reflect on that separately, but my professional challenges are certainly part of the story of the “online learning pivot”.

As many have commented, it turns out the most important jobs to protecting our health are those deemed low skilled, and those that are low paid, in public sectors that are underfunded and private sectors with precarious contracts. Health workers, doctors and nurses. Bin men, lorry drivers, supermarket workers.

Reappraising how we value and reward work is long overdue. Clapping for the NHS is definitely not enough: we need sustainable investment that protects our key workers and public health.

I think that’s as much as I can say today. And so I will take a deep breath and carry on with another day under lockdown. Take care.