Covid-19

As 2020 began I noticed how things were falling over – Brexit would be at the end of January – but by Chinese New Year one could sense a different story as the first distant ripples of Covid-19 arrived. The pandemic gathered during the gales of February and stormed over the UK in March, and soon it became clear that Boris Johnson’s government – packed with ministers chosen for loyalty to Brexit rather than competence – had been as complacent with the nation’s health as the PM had been with his own. Yet even in such hands, would we have ever believed that the UK would suffer more C-19 deaths than any other European country and the most damage to its economy?

Disbelief

In mid-March the government delayed imposing lockdown, Johnson cheerily skipping emergency briefings and shaking hands around the country in a white coat or whatever other fancy dress suited his photo op. Yet already businesses and other public places were emptying, and central London was strangely quiet. I recall thinking that the woman’s visor, mask and gloves seemed such a ludicrous overreaction, and never imagined it would be 4 months before I would again venture into town.

Lockdown in Dulwich

In spring my neighbourhood is at its verdant best, “leafy Dulwich” indeed, and 2020’s weather was particularly fine. Fear of the virus mixed with mundane anxieties over toilet paper and flour and egg supplies, but people also found time to devote to learning to bake sourdough bread (I took up home brewing) and other symptoms of “middle class lockdown bingo” like getting new puppies. Every Thursday front doors opened to applaud and express gratitude to key workers and the NHS, and soon every street was decorated with discarded face masks and gloves.

The second wave

Summer was a brief respite when you could meet people again, even hug, and central London seemed almost normal once protests resumed, but as winter came Britain had developed its own more virulent “UK Variant” of the virus. Again the government resisted lockdown until too late, and one week Johnson joked about how we could enjoy a “Merry Little Christmas” and days later he was forced to put on his serious face and cancel everyone’s plans. Yet somehow, as deaths far exceeded the good outcome of 20,000, Britain seemed to be leading the world with its vaccination programme.

Spring 2021, the beginnings of hope

Getting my vaccination at the start of March, it was still another 4 weeks before lockdown restrictions were lifted and I felt ready to see if central London was still there. It hadn’t returned to nature, and I found one area where people were painting their own national memorial. Johnson visited it in the middle of the night.

Summer 2021, a nervous re-emergence of joy

My second vaccination was at lunchtime on May 17, coincidentally the day the government allowed pubs to reopen. While some people feel unwell afterwards, I felt like a pint and a pizza at the pub conveniently next door to the clinic (certainly not at the Wetherspoons shown here). In Dulwich, local residents developed a new habit, protesting at road closures implemented as temporary measures, while a chess festival in Trafalgar Square seemed another sign of returning normality.