Pulling Together

Frustrations of a cancelled Summer

I took the bike out for a little spin today; not far, just 25 miles, but probably further than I've been able to go this year.

I like to do some serious exercise when I use the bike. I normally take a few days off every month and ride as far as I can go and then back, taking an afternoon and often most of the night over it. In the Summer I can get down to the South Coast and that’s very satisfying, as it really is the limit and the joy of seeing the blue sea appear through the hills ahead and stopping to watch it in the evening sun is one of the pleasures which makes the Summer and makes the year worthwhile. Having endured the Winter cold and bleak dark, being able to get out into the light and air and travel so far by muscle power alone lifts the spirits and enables me to forget the bleakness of the rest of life.

As we know, this year is going to be different. There will be no Summer Holidays because long-distance travel is banned. Although cycling is an approved exercise and many have taken it up, no one is recommended to go further away from home than they are willing to walk back should the bike develop a fault which cannot be repaired at the roadside. I can walk up to ten miles if really needed, but I cannot walk fifty, so I can’t safely travel the 60 or 70 miles to the coast, especially as trains are few and far between and not recommended and hotels are all still shut. In theory I could head for the nearest town and wait for the cycle shop to open, but many of those are not opening or online only, and my emergency mobile is not a smartphone, so away from home I have no Internet access. It looks as if I shall not enjoy the highlight of my Summer this year. The weather has been beautiful so far, and we’re not allowed to enjoy it. By the time the lockdown ends it will be Winter again.

That is, unless someone develops either a vaccine or an effective treatment for Covid-19 which enables the lockdown to end because the disease is no longer a serious threat to life. Alternatively, if it turns out that the virus does not return as expected as restrictions are eased, maybe they could be eased further, but that seems a forlorn hope unless a lot more people have had it than expected or conditions now do not favour its spread.

There does seem to have been some Mission Creep in government policy, though. When the lockdown was imposed, the stated intention was not to prevent people catching the virus, but to delay the peak from March to May and flatten it so the Health service would be better able to manage the burden outside the Winter illness season. Now, the plan seems to be to keep the restrictions as long as necessary to prevent any peak occurring, but retaining the threat of the latent virus almost indefinitely unless a vaccine can be produced.

The problem is, the virus will not go away: it still lurks in an unidentified animal reservoir somewhere in China, at least, and possibly elsewhere, and will be ready to come back even if all human cases cease for a while. All other epidemics have run their course and run out of victims when too many people have already had it and insufficient new victims can be found to keep the infamous ‘R’ above one. The restrictions which artificially keep ‘R’ down also prevent that happening. This epidemic is not being permitted to run its course. Only history will tell us whether that was the right strategy.

In the meantime, many of us have lost the simple pleasures which make life bearable. We cannot go far, we cannot meet friends, we cannot woo a beloved, we cannot move into a new house, we cannot comfort the lonely or needy because we cannot touch those who do not live with us. We cannot even have out hair cut. Many are missing out on life-changing but not life-saving surgery. Others are avoiding seeking help they should have because they fear medical facilities at present. Even I have been advised to put off blood tests to monitor two chronic conditions which could be life-threatening if they went out of control. Excess deaths are currently much higher than can be attributed to the virus, so it is clear people are dying from other causes at a higher rate than normal. It is likely the lockdown is the root cause of at least some of these.

Yet no one can yet say the lockdown is the wrong policy, for we cannot know until we have analysed the statistics, which will probably keep many a research student busy with MAs and PhDs for years to come. In the meantime, we sit at home and watch the opportunities of Glorious Summer pass us by while the calendar ticks on and the days shorten and the temperature starts to drop and those bleak days return without the respite for which we all long.

It seems Summer is cancelled this year.

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