The NHS has never been more clearly our heartland than today.
As the death toll rises and the economy falters, our present is increasingly compared to times of war. Yet as hospitals struggle to cope with the rising cases of COVID-19, does manic stockpiling and a disregard for lockdown limits reveal a society corrupted by consumerism?
For every positive post that appears on my newsfeed, two more seem to spring up, exposing incidents of selfishness amidst the chaos. Whilst previous moments of national crisis saw civilians trying to carry on as usual, with COVID-19 that is exactly what we don’t need. I wonder if it is not only in the continuation of routine that normality is sought, but whether the self-absorption this reveals, is the new normal.
‘Social distancing measures are for everyone, including children. We should all be trying to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Social distancing measures should be used when people are living in their own homes, with or without additional support from friends, family and carers’.
— NHS guidelines.
I crave the freedom to leave the house as much as the next person, but my desire to socialise is outweighed by the guilt I would feel in potentially putting others (and myself), at risk. Appropriately responding to the coronavirus requires both the recognition of our relative global insignificance, as well as the appreciation that our typically mundane actions gain significance in the context of a pandemic.
Look down any high street, and the dividing response to COVID-19 is obvious. Whilst some walk closely in groups, others step back as they come along — keen to uphold social distancing measures. I’m unsure whether it is because of, or despite, government action that some individuals continue to so blatantly disregard health warnings. Either way, such selfishness is breathtaking. In spite of this, I continue to believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity, and am determined not to let the stupidity of the few, muddy my image of the majority.
With the news that in one day over 400,000 people had volunteered to help the NHS, the power of altruism shone through. In volunteering to help people we may never meet or know, the people of Britain revealed a commitment to community-spiritedness, and to kindness. Again, in nationwide applause for the NHS we declared our thanks to the institution working to save lives, in increasingly toxic circumstances. As of March 28th, the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK has risen to over 1,000, and a series of temporary hospitals are currently being constructed in response to the virus. In the capital, London’s ExCeL centre site will have around 4000-5000 beds, and is to be opened next week. Temporary hospitals are also set to be built in Birmingham and Manchester.
‘I am shaking hands. I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were coronavirus patients and I was shaking hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands’.
— Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
As the daughter of someone who works for the NHS, I was moved by such gratitude, but a more complex emotion developed alongside my thanks. The NHS is at breaking point, and many parts of it are already broken. Applauding from our homes is powerful, but what our health service needs is funding, something lost in the 10 years of Tory rule. Next time we have an election, perhaps we may recall our applause at the ballot box, and realise the need for higher taxes and public funding to rescue our state health service.
Under austerity and beyond, the Conservative Party have made the already difficult work of our NHS workers, almost impossible. Citizens volunteering to help the NHS is one thing, but companies having to donate basic PPE is another. Of course, these are not normal times, and the scale of the resources needed to deal with COVID-19 is unprecedented. I just hope the government have not provided too little, too late.