Time for a new ‘normal’
Chris Manktelow argues that COVID-19 is a mirror for our society.
When will the UK go back to ‘normal?’ That is the question many of us want the answer to. We want Boris Johnson and his government to wind the clock back to the day before the first case appeared in Wuhan. We want to go back to a life where we can go out for a coffee with a friend, work out in the gym and hug each other again. Normal sounds very attractive.
But what if ‘normal’ is part of the problem? According to data from the Office for National Statistics, the most economically deprived areas in England and Wales had mortality rates that were double those in the least deprived areas. 21% of COVID-19 deaths in the week ending on the 24th April were in care homes. Black men and women in the UK are 4.2 and 4.3 times as likely to die as white men and women. COVID-19 is not the great leveller. Instead, the statistics tell a story of a pandemic that kills people who are marginalised when life is normal.
Without asking these bigger, long-term questions, we will not learn from the tragedy that we are watching unfold
It is easy to explain away these statistics by finding a scapegoat, whether this happens to be the Chinese Communist Party, Boris Johnson or that mysterious group of scientific advisers, SAGE. But these simple stories do not deal with the aspects of 21st century society that made this pandemic possible: humanity’s relentless exploitation of wildlife, soaring levels of air-travel, the chronic under-funding of public health, economies that run on fragile ‘just-in-time’ supply chains, a culture that worships youth and marginalises the elderly, structural racism that impoverishes the health of ethnic minorities, and the devaluation of expertise. It is far easier to point the finger and blame than to accept that 21st century life created a world that was vulnerable to and unprepared for a global pandemic.
All this means that we need to start asking the government questions about the kind of society that we all want to live in. Yes, we still need to scrutinise the government’s failure to meet its testing targets and its plan to gradually release us from lockdown. But without asking these bigger, long-term questions, we will not learn from the tragedy that we are watching unfold on our newsfeeds and TV screens.
One day the pandemic will come to end. We will be able to hug our friends again, go out for coffee and work out in the gym. But let’s hope that as life returns to normal that we will choose to live in a country that is fairer, kinder and more resilient. And when the next new virus emerges humanity will be ready to fight it and win.