The last two weeks before Christmas have been pretty eventful. The country was partitioned by a rapid confinement of London and the South East, followed by various travel bans and the temporary closure of the British/French border. All of these measures would have been unthinkable not too long ago, even after all the preparations for Brexit the sudden closure of the border was never more than an outside possibility.
This was coming off a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in November, the culmination of nervous puttering between different levels of restrictions. The government has been deferring, delaying, and balancing measures to keep deaths down to an ‘acceptable level’, all without any serious committment to a zero-covid strategy.
The contradictions in the government approach were most obvious in its stubborn insistence that schools should stay open. I know a school which was almost unable to function due to the number of teachers exposed to the virus and forced to self-isolate. In the last weeks of term, staff from the Department for Education turned up to make sure the school remained open, threatening fines against parents who decided to keep their children at home.
Through this we see how important schools are in providing childcare. Why was the government so resistant to sending children home? Because you have to put children somewhere during the day if you want parents to go to work. As we see now, if there really was an emergency, they’d keep schools open for the children of essential workers only, and without hesitation advise everyone else to remain indoors.
Now the emergency is back again, just as bad as it was in April. It’s a terrible situation, although I find it all psychologically a lot easier to deal with than the long months of uneasy ‘semi-lockdown’ conditions. It also feels like a crisis whose time has come, not because it was in any way inevitable, nothing more than the grim result of a failed policy. It’s painful to watch other countries who dealt with all this so much better, for whom the pandemic is now resigned to the past.
At the same time the slow wearing-down of the economy is starting to show. The Co-op Bank closed its branch in Oxford, the Post Office in Jericho shut down. I accompanied a friend who was trying to buy a webcam in in the city centre, and we spent ages searching before realising that all the computer shops in town had quietly disappeared.
I walked in the Malvern hills with family. It was gusty, and the low rays of the wintery sun cast cold shadows across the troughs and valleys.
And I saw a seasonal robin!
In the evening we played a new board game, Ride the Rails.
After poring over the game manual everyone was concerned it would be super complicated, but we quickly got the hang of it. Peter likes that it has no dice, it’s all strategy with no ‘cheating’ element of chance.
Finally, I’ve been slowly reading through Perry Anderson’s latest essay, which picks apart the EU institutions from a critical perspective.