Some members of Unicorn reflect on being in the North of England and extra Covid restrictions.
A perspective from the North East
This feels different from last time. In the first lockdown there was some relief in the fact that everyone was doing the same thing, there was more clarity in the extremes of it. The situation itself, the disease, was more unknown so felt more acutely disturbing. Maybe this time I am experiencing uncertainty fatigue. I have been watching the cases go up over the weeks and thinking "here we go again". I have been trying to predict local measures and as soon as they announced it was a possibility, I just wanted them to get on with it! I have only been able to think about it in terms of the personal impact over the next couple of weeks; will I be able to travel to do something I had planned?
In the face of so much uncertainty, I have narrowed the focus of what I now think about and plan. At the start of this I thought about the bigger uncertainties such as the economy and my long-term future. Now, in the face of so much instability I tend to only think about what is coming in the next few days and weeks. Earlier on I had more energy (anxiety?) to consider all of the different possibilities (how long will it last? will it go away? will I get it?). The uncertainty now feels more chronic rather than acute, and I feel resigned to not being able to plan or predict as much.
Previously, I looked to the ‘rules’ for guidance on very specific situations, but I depend on them less now. I still follow them but feel less wedded to the detail. Perhaps this is underengagement, but this time I feel more able to interpret these in novel situations in a way that seems safe, perhaps because I have more information having lived through this already. The first-time round, the ‘rules’ were the only information I had to navigate the world, now I also have experience.
As a result of our experience so far, I feel like I have a more realistic grasp of exactly what is in my control (and therefore worth worrying about) and what is not. I feel weirdly a bit more connected to other humans through history who have lived through struggles, having been thrown unceremoniously from what has been largely a very safe and predictable world for me so far. I find it oddly reassuring. I also see more predictable patterns in the people around me. For example others becoming anxious or angry that people have not "done what they were told" or conversely becoming disengaged/ bemused/ frustrated at the imposition of the restrictions. Finally I think I am less bothered because I had not yet returned to "normal" (dancing/ socialising in a relaxed way/ travelling/ not thinking about covid all the time) so this time it I have not lost as many activities of value.
Professor Mark Freeston in the North East
The last few days, even weeks, have been about when (rather than if) we would be moving into a local lockdown given other parts of the country further south and west, and north and west have done so. So, we have arrived here now. There is less fear. We are extremely unlikely to run out of toilet paper, hand gel, face masks, or coffee and marmite. The health system may struggle and the stresses, strains and impacts on those who work in it may be horrendous. There will be impacts on people needing help with other health conditions; but it is unlikely that the NHS will collapse. There are fewer “unknown unknowns” and more “partial knowns” compared to March through to May.
However, the new lockdown will differentially impact on social/family life rather than economic/educational life – probably fair enough. However, the former is being traded off for the latter. The social/family carrot, we are told, is to “save Christmas”, or the stick to “prevent Christmas being cancelled”.
We now know what lockdown is (and although many can probably cope, others will not), but this time the uncertainty is in the detail. What is a household? What is a bubble? What is the frontier between social and business? What about Church? How long will it last this time? And will it be the same for everyone? Why are people in one locality with rates of 25 infections per 100,000 being treated the same as localities with rates of 100+? What about people who lie about whether they are one household or two in the restaurant? What about ten people in a local pub or club, all there as several households and all sitting on separate tables and observing rules and socially distancing, but actually present as a group or even community?
Most people will just get on with it, but this does not mean they will not experience distress. Worry about the broader and longer term effects will understandably remain. Even though fear and acute anxiety may not be as prevalent, other emotions may become more prevalent: frustration, anger, betrayal, and develop into people feeling resigned, disaffected, and cynical. Fear may bring people together against a common threat; worries may be shared. But these other understandable and potentially divisive emotional responses to the multiple and perhaps more subtle uncertainties are perhaps more damaging, both in implementing the necessary short and medium term measures, but also in the longer term.
A perspective from the North West (at time of writing not under extra measures).
I woke to the news yesterday that the North East, across to Northumberland would be placed under restrictions and today to the news that the majority of Lancashire would also be placed under restrictions. My first reaction was one of mild gut churning butterflies, and the associated thoughts of 'We are hemmed in, surely the restrictions will hit us soon too'.
I found myself seeking out information from the internet about local rates of Covid-19, wanting to know how close we were to facing restrictions ourselves. Thankfully our rates of infection declined in the last fortnight. Despite gaining this information, I could not help but notice, that this led to more questions...what if people are not getting tested? what if we are just lagging behind the rest of the country with our older population? I also noticed myself pondering whether we had enough tea-bags in to face another lockdown (subscription to a monthly delivery of toilet roll reduces uncertainty over whether we have enough of that in the house!) and what extra food we might want to have in the house so my children can eat. Having recognised I was overengaging and seeking reassurance because of the uncertainty, I started to reflect on the actual restrictions put in place and realised that for myself and my immediate family, the restrictions would not necessarily be too overbearing. I am not someone who has nights out anymore (thank you middle age and children) or who has family locally so some of the new restrictions would not necessarily affect me, however, for other cohorts of people, I imagine there might be more perceived and actual threat, and uncertainty about what the potential restrictions could mean. For example, if you work in the industries that will be affected, if you rely on people locally for childcare or support. I guess for us in Cumbria, it is a case of time will tell, but our rates of infection are very low at present. Although the rumours of a national lockdown in October suggest we will be heading for more restrictions at some point. We know it is coming, we just don't know when.
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