Written by Mike Downham, 6th April 2022, with many thanks to the people who fed back to me about the original version of this piece, which has become a collective contribution to discussions about the pandemic.
1 in 11 people in Scotland are estimated to have Covid currently and over the last week 200 have died. 1.5 million people across the UK are now living with Long Covid.
It would be easy at this point for those of us who have been fighting for low incidence of the virus – having fairly exactly foreseen the current catastrophe if spread wasn’t controlled – to become despondent and cynical. But campaigners learn along the road the immeasurable value of fighting together, whether or not they achieve their stated aims. Over time they become more confident, more politically aware, and more empowered, with a heightened sense of solidarity with their fellow fighters and an increased sense of personal well-being. These gains, through working together, have perhaps never had more potential for positive impact than at this crisis-riven point in history, when so many things continue to go wrong for individuals, families, communities, and groups of workers. The best thing about the Glasgow COP was the solidarity and infectious enthusiasm of striking rail, hospitality and bin workers, of the Indian farmers, and of indigenous groups. Indigenous groups in particular have a deep sense of history which on the one hand helps them to accept hard times and on the other gives them a sense of when to act.
In a war that started two years and four months ago the virus has so far won every single battle – the battle against death, the battle against Long Covid, the battle against unfairness, the battle against poverty, the battle against mental suffering, and the battle for the survival of our public services.
And now what can feel like the last battle – the battle to carry on fighting – is in danger of being lost. We are exhausted. We’ve had enough. We just want to get on with our own lives, whatever the risks. Resignation is what the UK Government clearly wanted from the start, and it’s steadily become apparent that it’s what the Scottish Government wants too, for all its rhetoric suggesting otherwise. The reality underlying the rhetoric is that the best thing for business – and what’s best for business is best for staying in power – is for governments to intervene as little as they can get away with, whether in relation to climate, or biodiversity, or cost of living, or a pandemic. It helps to have a war to distract people from their inactivity at home – the war in Ukraine particularly timely for the UK governments, just when they had decided to risk scaling down all Covid protections against the spread of the virus, and proclaim a New Normal – an expression coined by a Canadian at the end of the first World War, a war which from his point of view had been won. The war against Covid has been lost, and ‘peace’ won’t be in sight until we reduce virus spread.
This then is the time to act. Regardless of government policies there are many things we can do together to keep each other safer and happier. We can meet as much as possible outside. Every community should have, or work towards having, a sheltered outside space – a haven for people to gather in. When we have to go inside, whether for work, school, college or to meet, we can wear high quality masks, be conscious of the need for ventilation and air filtration, and make sure rooms aren’t too crowded. We need to be clear that respiratory viruses spread not only through droplets at close range, but also through aerosols which gather in enclosed spaces – homes, workplaces, classrooms, shops, pubs, restaurants, cars, buses, trains. And we can increase our understanding of when virus infections are most infectious, so that we know more exactly when we should stay off work, not go to that party, and when we shouldn’t send a child back to school, nursery or the child-minder – though that’s a huge issue for many families who can’t afford not to go to work, or have too much on their daily plates to care full time for their children – an issue which could be addressed at a community level.
All this applies not just to Covid, but to all respiratory virus infections. They aren’t ‘just colds’. All of them are a danger to people at high clinical risk, and all are seriously disruptive for everyone. Soon anyway, as testing facilities get phased out, we won’t know which virus we’re infected with.
Collectively, keeping each other safe gives us the power to prevent the virus from winning. It’s the decisive battle in the war against Covid.