As the government begins to ease lockdown restrictions in England, I thought now would be a good time to write a few words on how things have changed over the last few months, from a personal and work perspective.
Wash your hands for twenty seconds, or for the length of two full versions of Happy Birthday, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
It’s weird to think that, six months ago when we began walking into 2020, we never would have imagined this hidden virus would come and change the world and how we interact with each other. Sure, we saw it on the news, but it was in another country and like it or not, we all probably assumed it would never come here, we would simply look on at how everyone else would cope, whilst we carry on our daily lives.
How wrong we were eh? The virus crept ever closer, continued to move towards us with pace, affecting thousands upon thousands of people before it finally reached our shores. By this point, we were expecting it, we were expecting changes to happen, but no one could have foreseen how those changes would have affected us.
You can no longer go out to meet friends. You must stay in your homes and only go to your place of work if you can’t work from home. Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. That was the Governments slogan. The plan, to ensure the NHS had enough capacity to meet a potential increase in demand.
Almost in an instant, everything became eerie. Public transport came to a halt or ran to an incredibly reduced frequency. Non-essential shops, shopping centres and services closed. Bars, pubs, restaurants, takeaways, closed. The only shops that remained open were supermarkets.
Hospitals changed almost overnight. Many wards changed in preparation to support COVID patients, staff redeployed to cover these wards. We actively triaged our outpatient clinics and pushed patients back if safe to do so, only seeing patients we needed to see with. sense of urgency. Face-to-face team meetings, replaced with meetings on Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Communications from the Trust increased substantially with daily updates. Corridors eerie, you could often be the only one walking down the busiest corridor at what would usually be the busiest time of day.
Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.
We’d hear this like clockwork on a daily basis. Weekdays at 5pm and Weekends at 4pm, the Government, along with the UK’s top scientific advisors, would approach one of three podiums in Parliament. First, in front of a mass of journalists and reporters, but as lockdown restrictions came in, they soon found a large screen TV, with reporters and journalists joining in and holding the Government to account via video conferencing.
We were told we could only go out once a day, for exercise, on our own. If we had to go to work, we must avoid public transport. If we are to go shopping for essentials, we must observe the 2 meter social distancing rule. Masks are optional.
I’ll never forget going to one of the essential shopping hours for NHS staff the supermarkets ran. It was Sunday and I got to the store at 09:00. The store opened at 09:30 and I walked into a rapturous around of applause from staff. It was as if I’d won a TV gameshow like Supermarket Sweep, but it wasn’t that at all. The applause was to thank us for the work we were doing in the NHS. I applauded back, because as much as we’re working hard in the NHS, our supermarket workers have been working hard to ensure we’ve got food kept on the table.
Weeks went by, I’ve never used FaceTime so much in my life. My niece was born a smidge before COVID took hold in the UK, the first time I saw her (other than in photos) was through a FaceTime call with my brother. We still can’t meet friends or hug family members. We can do virtual high fives and play games on HouseParty.
Sorry, you had a faulty test.
My partner called me up at work mid-morning one Thursday, upset. “You need to leave work, I’ve been told to leave with suspected Coronavirus” she told me down the phone. Luckily, at the time, we worked at the same place, so I go and meet her outside. She’s been told by the Ward Manager what she needs to do and I go back to get advice from colleagues on what to do next.
I arrive home by lunchtime, my partner in the bedroom with what we’re told are the typical symptoms of COVID. Shortness of breath, aches and pains, continuous cough and a temperature. I settle down in the living room – I didn’t see her and this is how we lived for the next few days. She called NHS 111 to ask where the nearest testing centre was, but the call handler was so concerned over her shortness of breath, they sent out an ambulance.
That was a tense moment. We’ve seen on the news many people in hospital on ventilators. I felt helpless. The paramedic came into the living room and gave me his decision. “We’re not going to admit her, but I think it’s COVID”. That was that. I showed no symptoms, I felt absolutely fine. A friend had dropped off the laptop we use for remote working at work and on Friday, I was one of the many millions of people working from home.
The evenings felt long. It was unreal. Whilst we could have probably shared the same bed and seen each other, we both felt it best to keep apart and socially distance in the flat. Community testers came and swabbed her on the Saturday and after another anxious wait, her results came back on the Sunday and she was negative. Policy at the time dictated I could go back to work on Monday, which I did.
Almost a week later, we hear on the news that thousands of COVID-19 tests are faulty. Unfortunately, my partner got the call to say hers was and they offered her another test. By this point, she was feeling fine and a test would have been pointless.
Stay Alert. Control The Virus. Save Lives
In May, the slogan changed. We were no longer being told to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. Instead, we must stay alert, control the virus and save lives. I’m not entirely sure how we can stay alert to a virus no one knows anything about and it’s this kind of messaging that is confusing.
Because whilst lockdown is easing and we are being told to stay alert, the Government often tell us to stay at home and to continue to work from home if we can. To me, it feels like the left foot doesn’t know what the right foot is doing. I’m wholeheartedly in agreement that we need the economy to get going again and we need to get back to some normality, but perhaps we could do that with a better slogan and some clear direction from our politicians?
Work is exceptionally busy. Truth be told, it has been busy throughout COVID, I work in the NHS, I wasn’t redeployed, but the service I help manage has increased exceptionally over the last few months and continues to do so, as we try and limit the number of patients we need to see physically face-to-face in hospital, but that is the joy of Remote Monitoring.
I’ve had the swab test and antibody test to see if I had COVID at the time of the test, or have had it in the past. To my surprise, my antibody test came back negative. As did the test to see if I had it at the time of the swab test, but that didn’t surprise me, as I didn’t have symptoms.
Where next? What next?
Everything still feels strange, this isn’t going to go away anytime soon and whilst we may be able to go to non-essential shops from Monday 15th June, it’s far from normal. Because on the same date, it’s a requirement to wear a face mask or covering on public transport.
Schools are opening up slowly, though most pupils won’t go back until September. Restaurants and pubs are still shut, though many takeaways and cafes have opened, but for eating out only. In some cities, we’re being asked to observe one-way directions in main streets and we still can’t meet family or friends indoors, we can’t hug, we can’t handshake, we can’t do much.
I’m thankful I’ve got a job which gives me routine and gets me out the flat and I’m thankful my partner has recovered from COVID and appreciate that many people are still going through tough times, whether through bereavement, being furloughed or being alone.
But what I do know is, Coronavirus is here for the long haul and things continue to remain uncertain. Who knows. No, really, honestly, who knows what’s next?
Only time will tell.