It’s okay to be upset about lockdown being extended, which is set to be announced today. There, I said it. It’s a dichotomy, you see; a point of view that gets you skewered on social media and accused of being “selfish” (though let’s face it, those who like to troll the comments section will say that anyway, simply to be unkind).
Still, I’m standing up for everyone who feels low about the possibility of restrictions continuing for another four weeks when Boris Johnson announces his formal decision today. Thanks to the surge in infections of the Delta variant of Covid-19, the mooted “Freedom Day” of 21 June – the earliest point at which the PM had promised we might see an “irreversible” lifting of all restrictions, including an end to official limits on social gatherings, sports fixtures and the return of high-risk venues such as nightclubs – is in jeopardy, and I am sad.
We all have personal perspectives, hopes and dreams connected to Freedom Day, and here’s mine: I’ve got a big birthday coming up just days after 21 June – and was planning to throw a party (because after the past year, we all deserve one). My friends have been through a lot, I’ve been through a lot, as a nation we’ve collectively been through a lot. I wanted to treat the people I love to a night “off” from the worry and anxiety of the past 15 months; a night to forget what we’ve been through. A night – quite simply – to dance and drink and laugh and remember who we used to be before the pandemic. Now that small joy looks like it’s going to have to wait.
There’s so much to miss about the “old” world, and – for me – much of that is to do with physical proximity to other people: hugging with abandon, chatting to people at bars and in queues for the toilets, cramming into venues such as the Southbank Centre to see a play, joining the throng of bodies bobbing like bottles on the way out, the ear-splitting joy of children’s birthday parties, pouring onto pavements after a night at a busy pub, kissing. One of my best friends in the world is pregnant, and I can’t give her a hug; though she gives the best hugs.
I miss rifling through bookshops without having to queue because only three are allowed in at a time, and I miss smiling at strangers. These days, I find myself exaggeratedly grinning – though nobody can see my mouth behind my mask – just so it reaches my eyes, just so people know I’m being friendly. I don’t know how else to show the world I’m feeling happy; that I’m approachable, that yes – I’d love to have a conversation. So much is left unsaid.
Before lockdown, I went to a few live poetry gigs at venues in London. One was held in a crumbling old theatre, with a basement. When the show finished, we all piled down the stairs and it turned into a nightclub – there was even a light-up dancefloor, and it was brilliant. I want that back.
Summer only makes it worse: I find myself itching to go out; to return to normal, to date, to drink with my colleagues after work without needing multiple separate tables. I wanted to go to my friend’s wedding, planned for two weeks after 21 June. If the restrictions are extended, the PM is said to be considering pressing ahead with lifting the cap on attendance from 30 to 100 for outdoor celebrations – but that won’t help if the weather is bad, or if the indoor venue is already booked. There are also fears that raising the numbers could lead to weddings becoming so-called “superspreader events” – none of us want that.
And that’s the thing, you see: you can mourn the things we’re not able to do because of the continued presence of coronavirus – whilst also knowing that continuing to lock ourselves down is the right thing to do. The two feelings can, and do, coexist. We all agree on what is most important: the continued protection of those who are clinically vulnerable; to try to keep the death count at zero and the rate of hospitalisations down; to reduce the risk of long Covid; to keep safe those who have been shielding; to roll out the national vaccination programme as fast as possible.
But at the same time, it’s okay to not be okay. To be frustrated and sad and upset that our plans keep on being cancelled, that our lives – for the moment – are still on hold, that our freedoms are still restricted.
Let’s stop the infighting and agree on this one incontrovertible truth: it’s been a horrible 15 months. We want people to be safe, and for lockdown to end. If one begets the other, then we’ll do it. We can do it – we’ve proved that we can. But we don’t have to pretend to be happy about it.