I wake up feeling a bit nervous today. And tired. I’m slightly nervous because it’s ‘freedom day’, the day decreed by the prime minister to be the official end of Covid-19. Take off your masks and enjoy a ‘steamy clinch’ with someone other than your partner, just like Matt Hancock did. I shall resist the steamy clinch because I am tired after a fitful night’s sleep, if you can call what I endured last night as sleep. Anyway, what will it feel like to resume normal life? I drive to Sainsbury’s to find out.
It’s a quiet morning and I park as far away from the entrance as possible. This is not because I am avoiding Covid: it means I have to walk a bit further, which is part of my get-a-bit-healthier routine. I park up and the first thing I do is put my mask on. Boris Johnson has told us we don’t need to bother with masks anymore but – and I know this will look like the very worst virtue signalling – in situations like this, I am going to wear one solely to protect others, in case I have some Covid kicking around my system. As I walk into the store, the vast majority of people are wearing masks, too. This pleases me no end. But then I reach the vegetable aisle and there are people who have chosen not to bother with masks. First, a young couple with an infant child, then dotted throughout the store there are a few more unmasked folk.
I find myself getting a little angry with them. “Don’t you care about other people?” I imagine myself saying to them. “The virus hasn’t gone away.” But I don’t. Instead I head off to the bakery aisle.
Not all the staff are wearing masks, either. I’m guessing they don’t have to now. I know from recent experience how awful it is to wear them for hours on end. I have asthma and occasional hay fever so mask-wearing is a breathless inconvenience, but a bearable one.
I go to the self-service tills and find to my great surprise that the plastic barriers between each one have all been removed. I wasn’t expecting this and suddenly I am standing within maybe two feet of a young couple, breathing their air, with no possibility of social distancing. Maybe this was why I was nervous.
I need petrol too so I drive to the petrol station which has six or seven pumps without petrol, so everyone is queueing. I fill up and go into the shop and pay and I notice straight away that none of the customers are wearing masks except me. Some are younger men, but most, the vast majority, are old men, clasping their copies of the Daily Express and the like as they pay in cash for their fuel. Here I definitely feel uncomfortable. I am wearing my mask for them, they are not wearing theirs for me. But again, how can I blame them? Johnson has told everyone to return to normality because it’s freedom day. We are now all free to catch and spread the virus, we are free to fall ill, go to hospital and, if we are really unlucky, die. Dying from Covid is not in my immediate plans. I can’t get out quick enough.
For all that, I see the scenes at nightclubs from the early morning, notably Lakota where my son played a stunning DJ set in the early hours, and I feel so pleased for young people who can live their lives again. I am not in a rush to visit anywhere busier than a quiet boozer or anywhere else that means I will be in breathing distance of others.
I’m glad I’m home now. I am in favour of the country unlocking cautiously and carefully, which this isn’t. A lot of people are going to die as a result of Johnson’s decision to open up with one Big Bang. I don’t aim to be one of them and I will do my best to make sure you aren’t easier.