WE’RE getting pretty good at this lockdown business. People get that we’ve got to protect our loved ones and the NHS, and there’s not much patience for anyone who thinks the rules shouldn’t apply to them.
We can’t stay in hibernation until then. Reports of domestic violence and abuse are already ticking upwards, mental health problems and loneliness are rising, and firms are starting to go bust. We won’t have protected our NHS if the economy is too damaged to pay for it once this is all over.
So we’ve got to find a way to live more normally, but safely, until the vaccine is ready. What will that look like?
It won’t be a complete end to the lockdown, that’s for sure. Anybody calling for an immediate exit is putting lives at risk.
It’s going to be a balancing act, making life a bit more normal without letting the virus flare up in a second wave once we’ve dealt with the first.
Some things won’t need to change. Lots of people have discovered it’s OK to work from home, for example, and no-one will shed a tear if they spend less time commuting.
But many firms, charities and public services want to reopen their doors, providing they can do it safely for their customers and staff.
If we’re all willing to wait outside supermarkets, and keep our distance once we’re through the doors, why can’t we do the same for garden centres too? Or clothes shops?
If we already wear protective gear to work in a factory, a kitchen or a warehouse, why not modify it to keep us virus-safe too? And if banks can change their office layouts to work safely, surely other organisations could do the same?
So we will need new ‘lockdown-lite’ rules, that tell us how to go back to work safely. Bosses will need to know how to respace workstations and to keep people separate in corridors and canteens. Estate agents will want to organise property viewings by video.
Removal firms will have to understand what protective gear their teams need, and so will plumbers doing house calls. And they will all want their staff to know they’re following the rules, so everybody stays safe.
Partly because we’re all in this together, and partly because if all their staff get sick they’ll have to shut down again anyway.
To begin with, there will still be lots of things which we can’t do, or have to do differently. There won’t be much international or business travel, for example, and we may need to test or quarantine foreign visitors before we let them in.
Public transport will have to be much more careful about crowded trains or buses. Big public gatherings, from religious services to music festivals, will still be difficult. And people living with vulnerable family members will still have to be extra-careful.
But, as the science and testing improves over the coming weeks and months, we should be able to relax the rules in small steps as more things become safe.
Once there are enough tests, football matches and concerts could restart if the players and crew are all clear, even if spectators still have to watch on screens.
And if contact-tracing phone apps can tell us we’ve met someone who was infectious, we will only need to quarantine people who’ve been exposed in an outbreak, rather than locking down the entire country all over again.
So we will need new rules, and we will need them soon. The lockdown has shown that, if we’ve got simple rules that keep us all safe, we’re pretty good at following them.
Tell us what we can or can’t do for the next stage of ‘lockdown-lite’, and we’ll get on with it.