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Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Having gone through 4 stages of coping with covid-19: first disbelief, then humour, then creative ways to deal with isolation, and finally the tragic realisation that lives are being lost and our world will never be the same again.

Having gone through 4 stages of coping with covid-19: first disbelief, then humour, then creative ways to deal with isolation, and finally the tragic realisation that lives are being lost and our world will never be the same again.

Britons aren’t good at tragedy, that’s why our operas are so bad. We’re better at stoical acceptance, politely suppressed rage, and quiet despair. We muddle through, keep calm and carry on, convincing ourselves that adversity brings out the best in us. And the British are uniquely well qualified for self-isolation: most of us regard social distancing as basic good manners, we are fiercely protective of our personal space, and our proximity sensors can only be disabled by large volumes of alcohol.

For some, isolation is an opportunity to do all those household jobs they’ve been putting off. A time to catch up on some classic movies and ‘improving’ literature. Recommended reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a story about how love can survive a lifetime of separation, including a cholera epidemic. Not so strongly recommended: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by the same author.

In addition to the trauma of illness and bereavement, many people are finding it hugely stressful to be under virtual house arrest, communicating only sporadically with other humans through collective acts like applauding NHS workers and putting rainbows in the window. But once we are through the storm, and we’ve counted the human and economic cost of covid-19, will there be anything positive at the end of the rainbow?

History shows that epidemics are often followed by social upheavals, and good things sometimes come out of tragedy. The decimation of the population after the Black Death led to the Peasant’s Revolt, and ultimately to a reduction in inequality. The cholera epidemic of 1854 led the physician John Snow to conclude that the infection was caused by germs, and that drove the building of the London sewerage system and major improvements in public health. The United Nations and the World Health Organisation emerged out of global conflict. The NHS and the welfare state also rose from the ashes of World War 2.

Life has certainly changed under lockdown, but will we see any long-term benefits? Here is our top ten wish-list of changes that we would like to become permanent.

1. First and foremost, lasting gratitude to the healthcare and social care workers who put themselves at risk to help others. This should translate into a commitment to a properly, publicly funded NHS (with minimal political interference), together with investment in preventive strategies.

2. Following from this, an acceptance that a person’s worth is not proportional to their wealth - that the people who contribute most to society often take least from it. This means valuing and rewarding not just health service staff but home carers, supermarket employees, farm workers, delivery drivers, charity workers, and other key occupations.

3. Appreciation of the benefits of working from home. Online collaborative platforms mean that WFH can be as productive and efficient as going to the office, and the dress code is a lot less strict. To work well it depends on trust, but our employees have repaid this in full – even those who have to juggle childcare as well - and we are determined not to let down the clients who have put their trust in us.

4. Grasping the creative potential of isolation. Brainstorming and co-creation meetings have their place, but the best ideas come from individuals working alone – and then sharing their ideas for their esteemed colleagues to build on, or shoot down as politely as possible.

5. Recognising the importance of time, not as a currency to be saved and spent, but a resource to be nurtured and cherished. We spend lots of time complaining about how little time we have, so let’s remember how to manage it better.

6. Respect for science and expertise as the basis for decision making, and a counterbalance to fact-free beliefs (like the 5G conspiracy theorists who burn down mobile phone masts, and whose ancestors probably burned witches). This must be tempered by the knowledge that scientific opinion is multi-stranded and requires debate and consensus.

7. Reconnecting with nature, which has reclaimed a lot of the habitats that humans have abandoned during the outbreak. Being confined to barracks apart from once-daily exercise reminds us that walking in green spaces can boost our wellbeing, and birdsong sounds better than traffic noise.

8. Rediscovering the power of cooperation, and the knowledge that we are not just solitary individuals competing with each other, but cells inhabiting the same body. We are a fragile species, but we are also social animals, and our collective welfare depends on working together.

9. Understanding that social media can be a force for good when used to connect people positively instead of attacking them or spreading false information. Social media channels have provided a lifeline for divided families and an opportunity to reconnect with absent friends and lost acquaintances.

10. Finally, an appreciation of what really matters in life. Friendship, family and neighbours. Conversation, kindness and compassion. The companionship of sharing a pint or a cup of coffee and a natter. Simple acts of generosity from, and to, strangers. In a time of enforced separation we have come to understand the unifying power of – to use the collective term - love.

We’ll see you on the other side. In the meantime, stay safe.

22nd October 2020

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Life Healthcare Communications

+44 (0)1344 899050

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