Living through a pandemic in Britain has largely felt like being halfway through a cheap, formulaic horror movie. The main characters have just survived something terrifying, the villains are seemingly gone, and it is quiet again – or is it? We know that disaster will strike again but when? And what form will it take?
Instead of creaking floorboards and the laughter of an invisible child, we have briefings from anonymous sources to national newspapers. Are you an adult living alone? Did you barely survive the first lockdown? Are you relieved that you are now allowed a support bubble, and can socialise with another household? Be afraid. Be very afraid.
More seriously – the government introduced the scheme in the summer when it became clear that forcing millions of people into complete isolation was inhumane, but it now seems they are having second thoughts – or are they?
On Sunday, the Daily Mirror reported that Health Secretary Matt Hancock was not ruling out ending support bubbles if cases kept rising. On Monday, No10 sources claimed that it would not be the case, and finally Matt Hancock confirmed support bubbles would stay, even in the event of a tougher lockdown. But who can we trust?
The government must become better at communicating with the public.
As an adult living alone, Hancock’s assurances are not enough. Support bubbles should never have been on the table.
I cannot begin to explain how tough I found the first lockdown; I went for days on end without talking to anyone, and frequently burst out crying for no reason at all. It is possible to be simultaneously immensely worried about the ever-rising cases and overwhelmed hospitals, while not wanting single dwellers to be unfairly punished.
If the government really wants to stop transmission, it could make sure that all but the most essential businesses stay shut, or make everyone work from home. Anecdotally, I could tell you of several acquaintances who aren’t key workers but are made to go into the office. If you want to see for yourself, I would recommend walking to your nearest estate agents, and I can nearly guarantee you will find it full.
As unions have been desperately pointing out for months, not a single employer has been prosecuted for keeping employees in unsafe workplaces. Countless vulnerable people are still being made to go to work, at a great risk for their health, and they are largely being ignored.
If more must be done, then single adults shouldn’t become the scapegoat, merely because reversing the support bubble policy would be both easy and cheap. The days are short, the weather bleak, and our lives have been miserable for nearly a year; our mental health cannot be destroyed just so the Treasury doesn’t have to open its coffers again.
The government must also become better at communicating with the public. It may well be that this latest round of semi-announcement followed by a quasi-briefing was only a mishap, and not something that was seriously being considered.
It wouldn’t be surprising; from the way certain ministers have dismissed people going for a walk and a coffee with a friend, it does certainly seem that they do not understand the importance of social contact.
Perhaps it is because they are all married and with children; if you have people sharing a home with you, it probably sounds fanciful to want to see someone in a park on a Sunday afternoon.
Sadly, for a lot of us, it is now the only way we can talk to another human being face-to-face, which can be the one thing pulling our mental health back from the brink. As Boris Johnson is fond of telling us in his televised briefings, these are tough times for all of us, and the smallest thing can make the biggest difference.
To those on Whitehall, these two days of confusion probably felt like a storm in a teacup; to many like me, they were a nightmare. We do not deserve this endless, anxious rollercoaster; heaven knows we have enough on our plates as it is.
Marie Le Conte is a freelance journalist