365 Days On

Recently NPR did a series spotlighting #TheMoment people realized that life as they knew it was being fundamentally altered by Covid-19. 

I guess for me, there hasn’t been one specific moment, but rather a collection of moments. Each of them a reminder of what was and creating uncertainty about what will be. 

It has been nearly a year since the UK entered its first national lockdown. My first moment – March 11th. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but that day has stuck in my mind for many reasons. I will not soon forget the uneasy feeling of riding a completely packed tube home from work, practically mouth to mouth with complete strangers while, mostly unbeknownst to most, an incredibly dangerous, contagious and deadly virus was quickly spreading across London and the world. 

Side note – we began to be seriously concerned about this virus weeks before many of our peers. While we didn’t stock up on a year’s supply of toilet paper, we bought an appropriate amount of pantry staples, masks, medicine, sanitizer and cleaning supplies that spared us the mad rush many experienced in mid March. Upon reflection: trust your own gut and survival instincts above all else. Like when they said masks didn’t protect us and not to buy them, but then 12 months later told us to wear two of them….

Fast forward 365 days and I have difficulties reconciling all the progress that has been made in this pandemic – the vaccine, the many lessons learned, the increased knowledge about the virus, our improved adaptation to a ‘new normal’ – with the sameness of our situation. We’re now in our 3rd national lockdown, which will make March 11 2021 feel eerily like March 11 2020. 

It has been interesting living through this historic global event in a country not our own – not least because it forced us to play a game of constant comparison. There have been many similarities in how the pandemic has played out in the US and the UK, but there have also been many differences. As I look back over the last 12 months, I have reflected back on three areas where I have personally seen the biggest difference between US and UK:

Restrictions on our daily life. 

The words lockdown and quarantine have been completely overused over the last year – and in many cases misused. A simple Google search will prove that there have been far more and far longer restrictions on life in the UK than there have been in the US. 

Most US states took a laissez faire and personal responsibility approach to restricting life. The true lockdowns – prohibiting movement, prohibiting household co-mingling, completely shutting down shops and restaurants – lasted FAR shorter in the US than they did in the UK or were simply less severe. 

Now this isn’t a competition between who had it tougher, but the reality is that we have had to cope with more severe and longer lasting restrictions on our daily life than our American friends and family. While patience is running out, it’s remarkable to see how compliant the British people have been. 

As always, we are the extremely lucky ones – do I want to be in my house 23 hours a day and not able to go anywhere or see anyone other than Jason? No! But am I shielded from the virus because I have the luxury of being at home 23 hours a day, and can I order delivery and shop online to my heart’s content and order myself luxurious treats like Afternoon Tea for delivery. Yes! 

We now have a timeline for coming out of this lockdown – albeit VERY slowly – and if all goes according to plan by June 2021 we should see most restrictions lifted. While that’s about 15 months from that fateful March 11 2020, I think that’s nothing short of a miracle considering the circumstances. Thank the universe for 21st century science and technology!!! I have no doubt that one day we’ll look back at this and think of it as a blip in time. One that no doubt changed life as we know it, but nonetheless a moment in time. 

The role of Government and Government Support 

By about April 2020 the proverbial shit started to hit the fan when it comes to how businesses and entire industries (see: travel & tourism) were being impacted. Enter the necessary evil – mass redundancies, or layoffs. 

But not before a very robust furlough scheme was introduced by the UK Government. I will preface the next bits by saying that the UK Government, like many other Governments around the world, made a mountain of mistakes throughout this pandemic and it is not without blame for at least some of the deaths and devastation that the UK has experienced. BUT, committing to pay salaried employees 80% of their salary (up to about 2K GBP a month) – among other measures – to support those who were being placed on furlough was not only the right thing to do – it was the necessary thing to do. 

Meanwhile, many peers and friends of friends in the US went on furlough or were laid off immediately without furlough, attempting to collect meager unemployment checks from completely overwhelmed state systems. 

I’m certain many would have liked to see the UK Government step up with even more support, but there is no question that the UK Government’s support for its people was in many ways swifter, more reliable and more consistent than US Govt. support. 

Not to mention the MVP – the National Healthcare System (NHS), which has allowed every person sick with Covid-19 in the UK to not have to pay a single dime for their healthcare – no matter how serious their needs were. No headlines about patients getting million hospital dollar bills in the mail for Covid-19 treatments.  Still think public healthcare systems are bad? Think again. 

I will not get into the political minutiae, but when something of this magnitude happens, I can’t help but wonder…what is the role of Government in a moment like this? And what happens when you are unable to ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ and out of this kinda mess on your own? 

The vaccine 

The UK was the first country in the world to approve and begin rolling out a vaccine. Again, the UK government has made many many mistakes throughout this pandmeic, but the way they’ve rolled out this vaccine may be their saving grace. There is a deep appreciation for the fact that the vaccine is our lifeline – the way back to hugs and the life we once knew. Especially after the hit from a more contagious variant that led us to this 3rd national lockdown. 

First off, yet another simple Google search will prove that according to polls more British people are very likely to take the vaccine vs. Americans. There is simply less hesitancy, less anti-vax sentiment and less conspiracy. The UK is not devoid of these problems, but overall they fare much better. Guess most, including me, would jab nearly anything into our arm for a pint at the pub with our friends! 

I cannot truly pinpoint why, but anecdotally the feeling is that we will be called up when it is our turn to receive the vaccine. It’s been clearly communicated what groups are getting the vaccine when – done by age and vulnerability mostly – and thus we’re waiting for a call from the NHS and our Doctor to let us know that it is now our turn. 

Anecdotally, the experience in the US has felt much different. Probably because it isn’t a centrally coordinated effort across the entire country – not in the same way as in the UK at least. Probably mostly to do with the fact that there is no equivalent to the NHS in the US, making a truly central/Federal coordinated rollout difficult if not completely impossible. The result has been a ‘I must go out and figure out a way to get the vaccine for me and mine.’ Sometimes, this has sadly led some people, friends and strangers alike, to check that one box or say that one thing to get themselves a shot as quickly as possible. These aren’t violations of the rules per se, they are grey areas that people have exploited to get themselves the vaccine, whether ethically right or wrong. Jason describes this in the following way:

The difference between Brits and Americans, is that they both believe they should queue/get in line for things, but a lot of Americans believe they should always be at the front of the line.

His opinion of course, but I don’t disagree with this, though it may be an oversimplification of circumstances. 

Regardless of the differences, the world is in this boat together. It feels a bit like the Titanic though – some are definitely 1st class passengers while others are the band playing while the ship is sinking and others yet are drowning, but the hope is that the cumulative global efforts will plug the whole and prevent the ship from sinking completely. Sadly, more lives will be impacted and lost before then, but even slow or imperfect progress is nonetheless progress.  

So 365 days on from the start of this whole thing, I continue to be immensely grateful for our privileged positions and for everything this experience has taught me – about myself and my values – and the personal growth I have found through it. 

What are your reflections on the last year and what you’ve experienced? 

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