SARAH VINE: We have to find the courage to get on with our lives…

SARAH VINE: However scared or nervous we may be, we have to find the courage to get on with our lives

September is my favourite time of year: I love the back-to-school feel of it. And after a long summer of lockdown, more than ever it feels good to get back into a routine.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve relished the 7am starts I used to dread, the raking of recalcitrant teenagers out of bed, the shouts of ‘Where’s my bus pass, Mum?’ and ‘I can’t find any clean socks’.

Standing in the kitchen in my dressing gown, staring up at my now 6ft 2in, 15-year-old as I knot his tie for him, or yelling at my daughter to ‘pull that bloody skirt down’ feels just so fantastically, brilliantly normal.

Even that moment when they’ve gone, leaving a messy trail of soggy cornflakes, feels somehow special. Who knew something so mundane could feel so magical?

Right from the start of the pandemic, it has been this erosion of the everyday that I’ve found so hard to come to terms with.

The vice-like grip of the virus on our freedoms, the way it has made us feel guilty for craving the most basic human interactions: a glass of wine with a friend, a trip to the shops — once normal pastimes, now viewed with the same horror as a Cardinal stumbling across a pagan orgy in full flow.

September is my favourite time of year: I love the back-to-school feel of it. And after a long summer of lockdown, more than ever it feels good to get back into a routine (Pictured: A teacher leads a maths class for Year Four children in their classroom at Greenacres Primary Academy in Oldham, northern England on September 01, 2020)

There is more than a whiff of religious zealotry in the way some seem to have revelled in the more draconian aspects of lockdown.

In some cases, it borders on the cultish. They pursue obeisance to the virus at the expense of all else: our children’s education, the economy, jobs, treatment of other illnesses. And anyone who dares question their logic is quickly shut down, accused of being a heartless granny killer.

Indeed, anyone who challenges the wisdom of lockdown risks being branded a virus-denier, in much the same way as anyone questioning the actions of Extinction Rebellion is labelled a climate-change denier — even though both stances, in most cases, simply represent a more moderate point of view.

The vast majority of people are aware of the dangers this illness presents to the elderly and those with underlying conditions; but they also understand that the repercussions of lockdown — as we are already beginning to see — will be devastating.

It is this impossible dilemma the Government faces. You can’t slow the speed of the virus and thus control hospitalisations without shutting down the country; and if you shut down the country, you can’t save jobs, preserve the economy and generally stop us all from sliding into hopeless penury.

In order to preserve life we have to kill the country; but if we kill the country we’ll have no life. It is, quite simply, Catch-22. 

That is why the messaging is so confusing and why people are so confused: it is an inherently unsolvable situation. And it’s also why certain sections of the public have, not to put too fine a point on it, slightly given up trying.

Right from the start of the pandemic, it has been this erosion of the everyday that I’ve found so hard to come to terms with (Pictured: Passengers wait to board a westbound Jubilee train from Canning Town, East London)

In particular, young people: the 18-30s, for whom a bout of Covid is likely to be no more troublesome than a bad hangover (of which there must have been quite a few recently, given the spate of house parties and raves in the past few weeks), have all but ditched social distancing, with the result that infection numbers are starting to creep up again. 

Figures for Sunday showed there had been 2,988 new infections in the UK in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily rate since May 22. On Monday, numbers were at a similar level: 2,948 positive cases.

Objectively, the infection rate is still very low — roughly 22 cases per 100,000 in the week to September 7; but, in the previous week, it was only 13.9 per 100,000, so that represents quite a jump.

Inevitably, that increase will translate into hospitalisations, as we have seen in Spain, where admissions have increased 15-fold since the middle of July, and France, where they have trebled in the past month.

In other words, we are seeing the unavoidable effects of the reopening of shops and businesses, and the gradual return to work and school. It was always going to happen, but knowledge is one thing, cold, hard reality quite another. No wonder the Government is feeling slightly jittery, and that the mood music emanating from No.10 is somewhat ominous.

Indeed, such is the concern that, from Monday, the rules are to be tightened in England so that groups of just six people are allowed to gather indoors or out.

Just when the wondrous normality of life seems to be returning; when some theatres and cinemas have reopened and live sporting fixtures have welcomed fans; when the streets are again full of the chatter of children instead of silent and empty, Covid yanks our chain and reminds us who’s boss.

Already, only days into the new term, a number of schools have sent scores of pupils and staff home to self-isolate for two weeks, in several cases on the strength of a single positive test.

But the truth is, the tables are beginning to turn. At the start of the pandemic, when we knew so little about this silent killer, we had hardly any choice but to dance to its tune.

It had us running from pillar to post, working by trial and error almost (I remember my husband scrambling to buy ventilators for the NHS, when, it turns out, ventilators can do more harm than good in a lot of cases), desperately trying to stem the tide of deaths.

But now, six months in, we are starting to get the measure of it.

Not only is testing becoming more reliable and more viable (something that undoubtedly is contributing to the rise in infection numbers), the protocol for dealing with the disease in vulnerable patients is much more streamlined and more effective.

We also understand more about how it works, and who is most vulnerable, so measures can be taken to protect both those at high risk and, by extension, the NHS.

None of this means the danger has passed. But there can be no such thing as a ‘zero Covid risk’, just as there is sadly no such thing as a zero cancer risk, or a zero risk of dying in a car accident. All we can do is mitigate.

Every death from coronavirus is a personal tragedy — but so is any death, whether it be from old age, disease, accident or, for that matter, any of the 25,000 cancers that Cancer Research UK estimates will have gone undiagnosed because of lockdown.

Just when the wondrous normality of life seems to be returning; when some theatres and cinemas have reopened and live sporting fixtures have welcomed fans; when the streets are again full of the chatter of children instead of silent and empty, Covid yanks our chain and reminds us who’s boss (Pictured: Pedestrians walk along the busy shopping area of Oxford Street in London, Britain yesterday)

And the fact is that the number of deaths is now vanishingly small. At the beginning of this week, there were just 756 patients in hospital with Covid: on Monday, there were three deaths — out of a population of tens of millions.

Yet for most of yesterday we heard warning after warning from scientists and ministers that there could be a second spike on the way, that we have all relaxed too much (as if!), and that further lockdowns may be necessary. So what are we to think?

The challenge for politicians and for the country as a whole is to accept that Covid is just another risk that cannot be wholly eliminated — and learn to live with it in the safest way possible within the parameters of ordinary life.

To do otherwise would spell social and economic disaster for millions in the short to medium term — and undermine our vital services for years to come.

It’s at times like these, when those in power face impossible decisions, that we see the true responsibilities that lie behind all that privilege.

Put simply, there are no good choices here, only less bad ones. Whatever you think about the Government’s handling of the pandemic, that’s a hard cross to bear.

With the exception of a few zealots, this is something most people understand. The onus is on us to act responsibly to ensure the Government does not feel forced into imposing a second lockdown.

Those who are vulnerable — the very old, the obese and those who have other comorbidities — must shield and be shielded.

As for the rest of us, however scared or nervous we may be, we have to find the courage to get back out there and get on with it.

We need to accept that — as generations before us have done in so many wars and natural disasters — there is no such thing as a completely risk-free existence.

That painful, personal sacrifice is the price we pay for living in a free and prosperous society. And that sometimes, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, stuff just happens.

I’ll leave you with this thought, lifted from Jonathan Mayo’s account of the Blitz (extracted this week in the Daily Mail), 80 years ago.

The death toll was devastating: more than 43,000 civilians were killed, 150,000 injured, in the course of just a few months. And yet at the height of the attacks, the capital’s pubs were full: ‘Jokes were made to relieve the tension, beer mugs were put down more noisily to shut out other sounds.

The Blitz spirit is evoked all too often these days, often through rose-tinted spectacles nostalgic for a mythical past that probably never quite existed. But sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of what we have faced. And of what, as a nation, we are capable of when we all pull together.

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