How many are dead? A sea of people covers Wandsworth Common on a sun-drenched July afternoon. The local pub, the Althorp, is open. So are cafes Flotsam and Jetsam, Bonsai and Prestige. This is a scene no doubt being replicated in parks around the UK. People, in their small groups, soaking up the Vitamin D that comes in greater waves with each passing year. There is joy in the air, but the question remains:
How many are dead?
The woman with the young puppy taking its first tentative steps into the community, the lads coming out of the pub with pints astride their bicycles, the grandparents spending time with their children and grandchildren on a park bench. Who amongst them will make it? We know that Covid-19 does not discriminate, that young people are not entirely bulletproof from its affects.
It feels a little like being a dying patient. Prognosis: Terminal. But having one last good patch before the final decline. As a nation, we have done too little too late to stop the pandemic from ravaging our communities. The next wave looks set to add up to another 120,000 casualties to the 45,500+ so far. I could go into the government’s failings once again, but you have James O’Brien, Twitter and numerous great journalists as sources for a list that just gets longer.
We look now to the future. And in this future is predicted a winter that will devastate us. Not only will we have the resurgent pressure of Covid-19, but the NHS will be faced with its annual flu crisis. This will put immense strain on a system that needs significant bolstering if it is to be saved from being overwhelmed.
But, I hear some hark — those who are reading anyway. ‘Why so glum? Why so pessimistic? What about the vaccine? Report on that’. The job of the writer is not to write with rose-tinted spectacles, the job of the writer is to describe, to observe, to think and sometimes to feel the mood. This is the mood of the moment, this is what it feels like to live in the UK in 2020; a nation ruled by men who don’t quite have the genitalia to admit they’ve failed 45,500+ people and will fail more by the time this is over.
It feels surreal to be living through this time. To be living through something that will be of historical note to future historians. In decades to come we will be obliged to recount those left alive who were on the frontline of Covid-19. It’s why we ask: how many are dead?
I imagine Eric Idle astride a cross preparing to burble out, ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, and from that perspective it would be easy for the mind to shut out all the heartache that is to come in favour of the joy that we can find today, in the present moment. But tomorrow, and the days after that will arrive, and we must be fortified for what is yet to come.
The NHS must receive more investment. More masks and PPE should be made available for those on and off the frontline, so that when we once again ask; ‘How many are dead?’, we can mitigate how high up we have to count.