Like most people, I can hardly believe it has been a year since Britain locked down on March 23 2020. The first cases of Covid were detected in Edinburgh in mid-March and I was very far from home. I can remember feeling a million miles away and anxious about my family and friends at home. The journey back to Scotland was scary and I will never forget seeing other passengers in hazmat suits at the airport. Staff from duty-free shops were crying in the toilets after being told they were all losing their jobs. I constantly washed my hands and cleaned surfaces until we got home and we landed on March 23rd to news of a national lockdown.
I know I am a fortunate person living in a beautiful city, I have a secure home and family and friends are close at hand. However, I felt scared and isolated from my normal freedoms. I also felt angry when I saw people breaking the rules, angry because I wanted the nightmare to end. My grandson was only 4 months old at this point in time and it really broke my heart to only see him through the glass window. Not being able to hug my family was painful and made me more anxious and depressed. So, I threw myself into work, trying to share some understanding about what successful counties were doing well to manage the pandemic, although many commentators have pointed out past performances do not guarantee future success. I also found myself like many people becoming an expert in epidemiology and as I am a biochemist I found solace in reading immunological details about T cells, feeling that knowledge was helping me to cope.
My reflections on the past twelve months are that professionally I have never seen anything like this before and I never wish to live through another year like the one we have just had. However, the human sprit and the care that individuals and communities have shown has been life-affirming. From medical professionals and social workers to care assistants and sanitation workers, key workers have been at the epicenter of this crisis, risking their health to deliver vital services to our communities. The unsung heroes for me have been the workers in supermarkets, bus drivers, delivery drivers who have kept us all going throughout this year, and dealt with a sometimes aggressive and uncooperative general public. Hats off!
In public policy terms, I am interested in sustainable development and inequality. It really is extraordinary that the pandemic has shown us so clearly how unequal a society we really are. Everyone is aware health outcomes are socially patterned and the impacts of the pandemic are no exception. Better off families can bake, home school and work from home relatively easily with reliable Wi-Fi, money to heat the house and put food on the table. For families who are not so lucky it must be insufferable to be cold, hungry and not to have the infrastructure or connectivity to help your children. If we as a society are to recover in a fair and just way we must tackle poverty and inequality in a consistent, systematic and comprehensive manner. Tackling the inequalities of income, life circumstances and health should be a top priority for recovery. Who knows what the next year will bring as predicting the future is always difficult, what we can predict are more surprises.
At a personal level, the pandemic has made me reflect on my life. I do feel robbed of a year, a year when as a mature person I thought I had to freedom to do what I want when I want to do it. Humans are such social creatures on my daily walks I have witnessed folk finding any wee corner to sit and speak to friends when they can. I support family and friends and that responsibility has kept me sane, I don’t know if I can keep going this way, but we have no choice. I do worry about the future of businesses in Edinburgh and Scotland. The Princes Street that shut down is not the one that will reopen later this year as a number of shops, cafes and restaurants close down for good. I know I am not alone in wondering what the future holds in employment prospects for younger people. I was so happy when I got the vaccination but I do feel guilty about the many different and lasting impacts this crisis has had so far and hope that the younger generation gets the support and care they need as we plot a route to recovery. If there is a vaccine passport will younger people hate the older people who jet off on holiday whilst they remain at home with money worries?
In closing, my grandson is now 16 months old and I am doing increased childcare duty whilst his parents work. With schools and nurseries shut for weeks I see grandparents all over the city stepping in to help and keep the workers at work. Isn’t it fascinating that the machinery of state closes us down, removes our freedoms, but resiliently we work together and somehow carry on?