One year on, we're still here. When I first wrote about the pandemic everything felt a little unreal. In fact, we were only a few days away from the first of what would become three hastily applied 'lockdowns'. Over the following months, optimism ebbed and flowed as we we were subject to fluctuating graphs and confused policies. But the unbelievably rapid development of effective vaccines was a growing cause for celebration. Now, we in the UK may only be a few months away from full vaccination. As it happens, many of my relatives and some of my friends have already had their first doses.
I can count myself among the lucky ones, in the sense that I haven't gotten ill. I suppose that either my cautiousness has paid off or—more likely—that I was one of the countless asymptomatic cases. I don't know and I probably never will, though antibody tests are now widely available I haven't felt the need to take one. That's not to say there weren't scares: days where I woke up with a slight headache, nights which felt just a little too warm, moments where I stuck my nose into a pot of freshly ground coffee—just to make sure.
Instead, I find myself afflicted by the side effects of isolation: boredom, loneliness, and insomnia. The latter has been the most affecting; boredom and loneliness can be broken, but tiredness is inescapable. My nights have been so disrupted by bizarre nightmares and incessant sirens that I can count the number of uninterrupted sleeps on one hand. This all came to a head late last year, and I ended up spending three days in bed, incapable of anything except deep, dreamless sleep. I keep reminding myself I am living through exceptional circumstances, but as the days grind on in dry sameness it is all too easy to forget that.
Beyond the home, the health crisis has increasingly been treated as one of public order. It's true that we haven't ended up facing the same heavy restrictions as in many other places—in France, every movement had to be justified, in Spain, people were simply limited to their own residences—but this overlooks how subtle the English approach is. Here, as according to the traditions of a country governed by unwritten laws and strict social conventions, we received advice, guidelines, and unevenly applied enforcement, with the result that each interprets their own actions as justified and admonishes everyone else for their 'unnecessary' walks and 'unnecessary' gatherings.
The cynic in me isn't surprised that this inhumane government and its pliant media have been quite content with ensuring that aid is 'just enough' or 'better than nothing'. We must remember that the refusal to increase sick pay, or to even implement a basic income, resulted in one of the world's highest death rates and worst economic disasters. This time last year I was marvelling at how rapidly people were adapting to the new circumstances. Now, I watch as all that we've experienced seems to be forgotten. The pandemic revealed so many existing crises, and so many possible solutions. And yet, will anyone learn? The smallness and meanness of the English imagination suggests otherwise.