“When this is all over,” says everyone, including me, we will all do this, that and the other. Street parties and group hugs. “When this is all over.” Let’s be honest, there are thousands, probably millions, who are doing this already. There were VE day celebrations up and down the land, most of which, I would wager, were nothing more than an excuse for a good piss up. Raise a glass of generic lager to those heroic veterans who fought to make our country a place where we would allow those very veterans to die from COVID-19, alone, in care homes. Lest we forget. Yet we forgot.
The reason we keep saying “When this is all over”, it’s because we desperately want it to be over. We want to believe that in future things will go back to being how they used to be. Of course we do. It’s human nature. We have our dreams, don’t we, that we’ll be out on the sunlit streets, eating burgers and hot dogs, listening to loud party music like we could do just a few short months ago. And we all know that our hopes are just dreams that might never come true.
I know I’ve written this before but it bears repeating. What will there be to celebrate “when this is all over”? The death of 40,000 people (some estimates suggest the true number is way north of that), all before their time? The unspoken reality of an economy which is already going into a deep recession, with thousands of bankrupt companies, millions of lost jobs never to return? The education of thousands of young people in tatters, particularly among poorer people? We can do lots of things “when this is all over” but you won’t see me celebrating. Too many lives have been ended or ruined (or both) to see me uncorking the Champagne.
If there anything positive is to come out of the pandemic, it could be that we reevaluate what society means to us. For too long, as we have found to our cost, care workers have been undervalued and underpaid. We have written off millions of people because they only carry out “unskilled work”. Now we realise that much so called unskilled work was anything but unskilled. The people who really matter are those who provide services which we didn’t previously value.
Going back to ‘business as usual’ will not be an option. The gross inequalities that the virus has revealed must at last be addressed. The rich and the illiberal elite cannot be allowed to wield enormous power while the rest of us go to hell. Fairness will come at a cost but we cannot allow our country to continue to be divided by class, by wealth and by privilege. Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings have illustrated and shown up the continuing class system by pretending they were somehow fighting against the establishment. Now, people can see clearly that Johnson and Cummings are the establishment. They’ve been fooling us, they’ve been lying to us.
In any event, this crisis has a long way to run. We still have an infection rate higher than when Johnson introduced his half-arsed lockdown and we have an economy going into meltdown. We still have no vaccine, we might never find one. It could be that having had COVID-19 that we will not be immune to catching it again. We don’t even have any kind of effective treatment. The street parties and group hugs will have to wait. Perhaps, forever?