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Are we getting too close, too soon?

The easing of lockdown measures should not lead to a sense of complacency

Mark Moran
08 July 2020
Pandemic artwork in Glasgow by Rebel Bear photographed by Crawford Jolly (Unsplash)
Pandemic artwork in Glasgow by Rebel Bear photographed by Crawford Jolly (Unsplash)

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live, work, shop and, now, play. For months the nationwide lockdown meant people got used to spending most of their time at home. Social activities, work meetings, schooling, shopping and much entertainment became an online experience thanks to a host of video streaming services.

When people did leave their homes it was for a daily bout of exercise – walking, running or (new for many) cycling – in local parks, or queuing in a socially distanced manner at food shops and supermarkets.

A physically distanced world is one in which social isolation is an inevitability, so it is little wonder that many people are embracing the gradual easing of restrictions.

Easing is pleasing... to some
Over recent weeks the UK government has relaxed restrictions on how far people can travel in England, enabling day trips to beauty spots and the coast. ‘Non-essential’ retail and leisure venues have reopened, initially outdoor markets and car showrooms, then high street stores and shopping centres.

To assist pubs, restaurants and a wider range of shops to open, the UK government announced that the 2-metre distancing rule can become ‘1-metre-plus’ in certain contexts, with the ‘plus’ being mitigating measures such as use of plastic screens and facemasks.

This easing means that people can spend a day shopping, get a hair cut, go to the movies, dine out and buy a pint down the local. And, in England at least, it is possible to start planning holidays abroad as the 14-day quarantine measure is being revised.

Feeling tense about relaxations
So everything’s good? Well, maybe not. There are many people who worry that, in a bid to get the economy moving, things are moving too fast. Those who worry that greater social interaction could spark a second spike will not have had their concerns allayed by images from England of busy beaches over the Whitsun weekend, streets packed with drinkers on 4 July, dubbed by some as being ‘Independence Day’.

What certainly cannot be ignored is that coronavirus has not gone away and will not be going away, as the imposition of a local lockdown in Leicester underlines. COVID-19 remains highly infectious and is deadly. As of 5 July, some 44,236 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK. Soberingly, official government figures do not include all deaths involving COVID-19, which are thought to have passed 55,000 in the UK and will continue to rise.

A disunited kingdom
When it comes to easing lockdown, Great Britain has, arguably, become a more disunited kingdom. Devolution means that, on a wide range of issues, the Westminster government has no direct say on what happens in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The devolved administrations have, by and large, been more cautious than the London-based government when relaxing lockdown restrictions. For example, each administration has set out different rules for wearing face masks, how far people can travel and when shops and pubs reopen.

And, when it comes to how, where and when people can meet friends and family members, the one thing that the various national guidelines about ‘bubbles’ and the like is that they all seem quite complicated.

Risk and reward
The gradual easing of lockdown restrictions is thus both welcome and challenging. Rather than simply discouraging or avoiding contact, governments, local authorities, businesses and their expert advisers now have to balance risks, deciding how far social interaction should be allowed in the home, workplace and public space.

What is important is that the risks surrounding COVID-19 are communicated to the public with clarity and honesty. And, as citizens, we all need to proceed with caution and behave with courtesy to one another.

Mark Moran is editor of Parking Review and writes for TransportXtra

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