Guernsey Press

Lockdown 2.0 – where do we go from here?

The response to Covid has dominated our policy making and that policy making has been dominated by few voices, says Nick Mann, who says it is time to consider the wider implications of what we are doing

Last updated

THE immediate physical health dangers of Covid-19 are well understood.

There has been a focus on it almost to the exclusion of anything else; it has dominated our policy making and that policy making has been dominated by few voices.

That was understandable in the early days of the pandemic. Now, nearly a year on, it is time to consider the wider implications of what we are doing: the psychological effects, the economic ones, the restrictions on travel, what is happening to education, and the storing up of longer-term health and lifestyle problems among them.

We often talk about the economy in terms of headline figures, too easily forgeting those personal hardships in the hundreds of job losses in the first and second lockdown that have disproportionately affected women, the young and low paid.

We touch on the rise in domestic violence, but struggle to combat it even though we knew that it happened the first time around.

Education is being delivered in a way that will end up creating a growing divide between the public and private sector, and also between the rich and the poor, but the tendency is to talk up what is being done rather than acknowledge what isn’t and discuss how that can be addressed.

We are storing up health and lifestyle problems as diagnosis is delayed and people are driven to being more sedentary.

It is all about balancing risks, but thanks to the success of the vaccination programme and lockdown measures the scales are tipping – and how we react needs to tip with them.

If not, our short, sharp second lockdown will drag on even when we have – as we do thanks to the successes of Public Health – a handle on those few cases that bubble up and increasingly widespread protection from serious illness and death.

If people feel like they are experiencing the pains of imprisonment, it is because they are.

A recent study has compared the psychological impact of lockdown on the general population in the UK and California with the mental experience of first-time prisoners in medium security prisons.

It found that people in lockdown reported feeling more hopeless than prisoners.

Academics conducted their prison comparison study because, they argued, the experience of enforced confinement of the population has led some to liken lockdown to imprisonment.

It could be argued that this feeling is heightened for us as an island population, trapped in Fortress Guernsey with the drawbridge strongly bolted up.

It revealed that people in lockdown take part in less varied daily activities than first-time prisoners, who on top of work and exercise studied and attended self-help programmes.

And people in lockdown felt more hopeless relative to before lockdown compared with first-time prisoners before they went to prison.

Feelings of hopelessness can lead to horrendous consequences through suicide.

Lockdown removes freedoms and restricts movement, it stops contact with family and friends, prevents access to shops and other services and for some brings with it a threat to their safety.

It was a necessarily extreme health policy for an extreme situation, but there are extreme knock-on effects.

Now Guernsey is moving through its second lockdown, which is cause for optimism. It is also the platform for opening the debate on what should come next, including with our borders.

The travel industry was right to call for a roadmap – the reluctance here to commit to one stands in stark contrast with others and betrays a fear of what happens if circumstances change.

But the public is now used to change as long as there is a sound explanation for it.

It is time to openly review the responses we have made to the pandemic so we can celebrate where we got it right and be honest enough to acknowledge where we got it wrong and, crucially, identify areas where we need to turn attention to lessen the longer-term consequences.

That goes beyond financial support packages for businesses.

There has been a reluctance to review because of the immediacy of the situation, but that risks repeating mistakes or, indeed, not making the most of successes.