It is with some sense of relief that this month is the first that I have been able to move more freely for some time, having been required to shield myself since mid-March. So I have been busy planning my diary to resume visits to South Shropshire’s towns and villages, to meet constituents and businesses and discuss local issues.
Clearly, this newfound freedom still requires suitable social distancing to mitigate continuing transmission risk of the virus – a new normal for all of us, which will be with us until we find a vaccine. Getting out of my home and off the farm has given me cause to look back over how life has developed with the impact of COVID19 this year.
There have, perversely, been some positives in the midst of multiple anxieties. Many of us have had the opportunity to reflect on what is important to us during such a difficult time.
I have been so impressed by how people have stepped up to help others in need, through volunteering and community help. Lots of people will have got to grips with their own personal ‘to do’ list, sorting things around the house or if lucky enough to have one, putting the garden into better shape while the weather was so fine. Many people who would ordinarily be going out to work have been able to spend more time at home with their children.
But there have of course been terrible impacts due to this virus, not least the loss of life, which has been significant, despite the brilliant efforts of the NHS and key workers across the country. For those unable to see family and friends, there has been worry about keeping safe and well – particularly for the most vulnerable. Those with caring responsibilities have faced serious difficulties due to restrictions in movement, and changes to support available.
Trying to keep on top of daily activities we take for granted in normal times have caused anxiety, like buying basic products, like food or loo paper. Our ability to socialise has been curtailed, unable to see friends, whether in each other’s homes, in church, at the pub or cafe, or for young people at school and college. The huge contraction to our economy has brought with it real concern about livelihoods, especially for those who have fallen through the cracks of the unprecedented government support schemes.
I have received a huge volume of correspondence during COVID19, far outstripping the daily influx I receive during General Elections or even the Brexit referendum. So I am aware of how deeply this pandemic has affected people in South Shropshire, in very different ways. None of us have escaped its impact.
There will be many lessons to be learned, not least that zoonotic diseases (leaping from animals to humans) are on the rise and the world needs to prepare better to prevent and manage them. While there will no doubt be effects to ensure the UK is better able to respond quickly to pandemics in future, it will take international cooperation to develop effective warning and response mechanisms for such viruses in future.
This disease has disproportionately affected older, more vulnerable, and more obese people. But it has been young people who have paid a steep price through lack of education, jobs and opportunities while measures to curtail the virus have been in place. So it is right the government looks to support younger people through this trying time.
This challenge is far from over, and as a nation, a county, a town, a parish, a community or a family, we need to adapt to build on our strong British values of endurance, entrepreneurship and innovation, to work together as good neighbours to help us all cope as we live with this virus in our midst, until a vaccine is available to allow us to defeat it.