After lockdown

When the coronavirus started rearing its ugly, warty head, we as a family decided it would be a good idea to go into lockdown long before the government had advised on this. We have good reason to: my son had a kidney transplant in 2006 and is therefore classified as very high risk. Furthermore, I’ve been on the immunosuppressant methotrexate for the past 12 years for rheumatoid arthritis.

As luck would have it, my arthritis has been giving me very little trouble for quite some years so I weighed up the pros and cons and decided that, on balance, I would rather have a fully-functioning immune system should I contract this particularly nasty virus, and risk a certain amount of pain. At the time of writing, some 6 weeks have passed since I last took methotrexate and in that time I have suffered some mild pain in my hands on something like three of those days.

In the intervening period, we have been pretty close to tragedy. A good friend and her husband both contracted the disease and whereas she seems to have had relatively light symptoms, her husband died a few days ago. He was in his 50s, had never smoked, didn’t drink and had no previously identified problems that indicated a heightened risk. Such tragedies concentrate the mind rather.

My son received his government-inspired letter telling him he is at high risk and that he shouldn’t leave the house for 12 weeks. It was a week or two later that I received mine, but I contacted the rheumatology department at Southend Hospital and discussed my case with a medical specialist there and their assessment was that because I’m on only the one immunosuppressant, I’m not at particularly high risk, and since I haven’t been taking my tablets anyway, I’m still not at high risk.

We have been taking steps to try to ensure that the virus doesn’t enter the house, or, if it does, we kill it as soon as possible by washing our shopping with a detergent solution. No-one has visited us for well over a month. Since 13th March I have been doing my best to avoid shops. I have completely avoided the supermarket, which I identify as being one of the most likely places to pick up an infection. We have had friends and family going into shops for us, and we are very grateful to them, we’ve had a supermarket delivery, and I have managed a click and collect for Monday. We have also discovered a superb greengrocer in the form of Kirby & Lewis. This firm is normally a wholesale greengrocer, supplying schools and restaurants, but of course they are now selling direct to the public. We have had one large delivery from them, and today I visited and one of their staff put a big box of fruit and veg into my car for me. I had ordered by email and have set up a direct payment from my bank account to theirs. This is a convenient and pretty much risk-free way of buying provisions.

We are now looking towards the future and what happens when lockdown ends. The virus won’t magically disappear and vulnerable people will continue to die. The point of lockdown is to try to avoid overwhelming our hospitals and it looks very much, due to very irresponsible advice from Boris Johnson and other ministers in the early days, that it has been a complete failure as this country is heading towards the highest number of deaths in the whole of Europe, and in a year’s time probably only the USA and Brazil will be ahead of us. It’s no coincidence, of course, that these three countries are saddled with the most callous, uncaring leaders that any of them has had in more than 100 years. My son won’t suddenly lose his high-risk status and the more I’ve read about the nature of the victims of this virus, it seems that ICUs are predominantly occupied by overweight blokes over 60, which describes me to a T. Women seem, generally speaking, to be less badly affected. I’ve also seen some suggestions from China that people with blood group O seem to be less at risk than others. I’m A rhesus positive. Getting this disease, then, seems to be a very bad idea, even when the ICUs are not overwhelmed, medical professionals have enough PPE to protect themselves to an acceptable level and the disease is no longer occupying the front pages.

All of this means, of course, that we will still have to take measures to protect ourselves. I can’t see supermarkets, who are, after all, profit-driven, maintaining their social distancing policies that they have introduced in the past month or so, any longer than they have to. That could mean that after the restrictions are lifted, going shopping could be even more risky than it is at the moment. I’ll continue to scour the supermarkets’ websites looking for delivery slots.

What about socialising? We are still going to have to keep ourselves to ourselves, with all the implications that that entails. My wife likes to go out and socialise with her craft groups. We have good friends who fairly regularly visit us, and we visit them. We have other family members to visit – brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren. Will we be able to hug people again without risk? At this stage, no-one has any idea whether catching this horrible disease will provide any long-term immunity. Will there be a vaccine? Will it mutate into something else? And of course, if it does mutate, the original strain will still be doing the rounds, creating mayhem and randomly picking off victims. Shops, pubs and restaurants are all likely to be sources of infection, so you simply cannot get away from the fact that since the transfer of this virus from wild animals to humans, normal socialising will become a game of Russian roulette for vulnerable people. And as has been starkly demonstrated by the case of our friend’s husband, not everyone who is vulnerable can be identified in advance.

We are going to have to get used to a “new normal” – one in which contracting a potentially deadly disease is a very real risk. In that sense, this actually removes some of the cocooning to which late 20th and early 21st century Europeans have become accustomed. That is a most uncomfortable thought. Hopefully as the next few months unfold we will be in a better position to judge.