This lockdown has seen the unmaking of youth which is being lost for good.
Here’s how it started for me.
Spending nine days in hospital I realised what it was like to lose touch with the outside world. As somebody who enjoyed a social university life and was constantly checking the news it was disorientating. The first thought on my mind as I entered A&E late one Tuesday afternoon was if I would be back in time for a drinking session. More than a week later, as I was discharged in the back of an ambulance and awoken from my morphine-induced slumber, there was a new thought on my mind: what has happened?
Within those nine days, the country had moved from being told to wash our hands, to being on the precipice of a national crisis. Suddenly, it had got serious. A few days later the pubs were closed, and then came Lockdown.
Again, unwanted and unwelcome, I lost touch with the outside world. Inside my hospital room was a huge window with views across the car park, and out onto the city landscape of Oxford. It served as daily motivation to get better. It represented all those things I desperately wanted to get back to. Friends, Family, University Life and yes, the Pub.
Now two months later, things feel strangely similar. Looking out from the window of my bedroom I long for missed family and friends. This time however, the feeling is different. I cannot see them, or the buildings that represent them. All I can see is a reflection of the realities of lockdown: isolation, desperation, and an enormous lack of hope. The life I could once see has now disappeared.
The rhythm of youth that so many adults look back on fondly has abruptly stopped for our generation. Relationships, friendships, the forming of new memories — lockdown has deprived us of them all.
At the centre of many of these memories is university. A place that is unique in its ability to unite the best education and social life, in an assorted mix of laughter, love, and conversation. The news that the government is looking at moving this experience online for next term, and by doing so robbing it of its best qualities, leaves me tearful.
In March lockdown was needed. Little was known about the coronavirus and even less about its spread in the UK. Two months later, whilst we may not know everything, some things are clear. The virus does discriminate. Out of the total number of UK deaths around 1 per cent have been aged under 45, and the number gets smaller when it comes to those aged between 18 and 24.
With the testing and contact tracking infrastructure expected to be ready by the end of the month, this should be used to get those least at risk back into the community. The priority should be workers and students. Restarting the lives of countless young people will have enormous economic and social benefits. Otherwise, the prospect of a lost summer and even worse, another term of university, will take this country into an unprecedented mental health crisis.
For a whole generation, relationships are ending, friendships are wilting. The fear of losing those years that are meant to be the best that life offers grows stronger each day. In my mind are the words of the World War One poet and soldier Francis Ledwidge, who wrote of his youth: ‘How will I be accounted for? It is too late now to retrieve A fallen dream’.
As war tore him from his youth, Ledwidge wrote of being ‘a name unmade’. At the moment the country faces a whole generation becoming lost in the impact of lockdown. Deprived of university, school leavers’ parties, and many other passages of life, we all risk becoming names ‘unmade’.