Covid restrictions: free to be fearful

| Adam Nieścioruk/Unsplash

COVID-19. The issue which has dominated our lives for the last 2-3 years has been somewhat eclipsed in the last month by the overbearing spectre of war.

We seem to be seeing some kind of biblical debut of decimation, moving from Pestilence into War, and with the conflict’s jeopardization of almost a third of global wheat exports, Famine and the inevitable Death can only be a few furlongs behind.

But we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves. Are we really waving goodbye to one coronavirus, while another accepts our wave as a welcome?

The situation:

Recent news seems to suggest so, as at the beginning of last month, Royal Cornwall Hospital was forced to close its wards due to COVID. For a long time, Cornwall was one of the safest places to be in the country, but according to ITV, we were reporting 5,000 new cases each week, more than double what they were at the start of the year.

The month’s end saw a particularly shocking turn of events, as the prime minister removed all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England, however, only four days later, the Queen herself was announced to have contracted the virus, having to cancel a number of events for her health. With the lead up to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June, the country is once again in a state of a great uncertainty.

Compared to what we were seeing at the start of last year, the situation we are in now seems a different world, with coronavirus death numbers plummeting at the beginning of the year. With the success of the vaccination program, the familiar symptoms will thankfully not really affect the majority of people, and while current vaccination is not ideal for Omicron (which itself is a mild variant), it has prevented serious illness from other variants such as Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. Although the situation seems good, there have been more than just rumours of the BA. 2 variant, for which our current protection wanes quickly. The government is responding to this fear by pushing an anticipatory spring booster jab for the nation’s most vulnerable.

Perhaps the government’s bold new step forward is a step into thin air, as their move is ungrounded

Whether it’s complacence, or a newfound confidence, vaccine willingness was on the decline at the start of January, but in mid-February there was a slight uptick in the amount of people who would “definitely get” a vaccine if one was made available to them that week. All of this said, it is inevitable that once people have tasted the freedom of their past, they will be hesitant to relinquish it.

The opinions of the people:

During our research for this article, we collected a number of statements from the student body on campus, and those in the region about how they felt regarding the lifting of restrictions.

One of the students we asked on campus stated “It is difficult to know how cautious to now be. It’s become a matter of personal choice, so I think it’ll be interesting to see how the student community reacts” predicting that “we’ll noticeably see a decline in mask wearing”.

Based on personal experience this has certainly been the case. There has been a significant decline in the amount of people we’ve seen wearing masks on campus. This might perhaps be explained by a reversal of the herd mentality we saw with mask uptake at the middle of the pandemic. More often than not, defeated maskers are walking into the unmasked crowds and taking theirs off, seeing little point in fighting a losing battle.

Interviewing in Falmouth high-street, we asked a local gentleman what he made of the covid restrictions being lifted at this point. He gave us an alternative, stating, “While it is important to remain safe with the virus still going about, what it was doing to the economy was becoming severe. Imagine that on top of today’s petrol prices!”. The economic argument is one that has pervaded the discourse since the beginning of the pandemic. It is usually met with criticism about valuing the economy over human life, and caring more about money in exchange for the death of another human.

This argument is a somewhat true yet romanticised charge, as there is truth in the gentleman’s concerns for everyday people. We need to dispel the perspective that the economic argument is only wielded by inhumane fat cats concerned for their annual revenue, when the economic whiplash is an inescapable truth that will affect everyone’s lives, and can lead to the same sombre conclusions. The medical endangerment is easy to see as an immediate threat, but the economic collapse is a more encompassing and insidious killer.

Further afield, we managed to speak to a student currently studying in Plymouth, who had harsh criticism for how things had been handled. He states, “The government’s move to lift restrictions was rash and did not follow expert advice that advised a paced lifting of restrictions”, and that this would result in further spikes of cases in the future. Taking a more cynical approach, he questioned whether the general public would recognise these future spikes to the degree they have been forced to care about them recently. Given greater immunity, and a likely decline in vaccine willingness, perhaps the government’s bold new step forward is a step into thin air, as their move is ungrounded.

Without getting lost in the swathe of opinions, for the sake of others, we must consider the justified anxiety of individuals at what is a very uncertain time. As our first interviewee states, “Like the screen at the entrance to the library says ‘some of us may still feel nervous’, and I think this will continue to be the case despite the government’s wishes for COVID to fade into the background and become something we live with”. While some might argue we shouldn’t let others’ fear dictate our lives, that fear isn’t going to go away if we simply ignore those people’s concerns.

Closing thoughts:

The situation is changing rapidly, and while opinion is relatively unanimous in remaining tentative about the lifting of these restrictions, there is a suspicion that things could have been done better, on both the government’s and the people’s part.

Necessarily, we move on with our lives, and as we embrace this new global adversity, we should not forget what we have been through, so that we can recognise—should it come again—whether the writing is on the wall.

This article is in our Opinions section. As such the views within are those of the contributor and do not represent an editorial stance.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Falmouth University, the University of Exeter or Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union.