Black bin bags at the door of Santander Bank had been attacked by the gulls. The closure of the cafes and takeaways has deprived the scavenging birds of one of their usual sources of food, there are no scraps to be had. The tearing open of the bags must have occurred almost as soon as the bank had closed; the street was strewn with sandwich wrappers, microwave food containers and dozens of pale blue paper serviettes.
The landscape of litter captured the moribund mood of the city centre. Flags marking the Six Nations rugby championship hang limply outside of pubs that may never reopen. In shop windows, there are Mothering Sunday cards and gifts that will never be sold. Prior to the lockdown, there were already streets where most of the premises were closed, the past two months will administer the coup de grace to those that remain.
Passing windows unwashed since March, words from the 1970s surfaced in the memory, “you would wonder sometimes who won the war.”
It was a time when traditional British industry was in rapid decline, when the country’s manufacturing base was disappearing. While Germany went from strength to strength, a comparison of the Volkswagen Golf with the Austin Allegro being sufficient to settle any argument, Britain lacked the capacity to rebuild, re-equip and re-skill.
Four decades later, Germany is led by a premier with a doctorate in chemistry. The German capacity for scientific thought and efficient organisation has meant their death rate from SAR-CoV-2 is less than a fifth of that in Britain, it has meant that they are now taking steps to re-open their economy.
In Britain, the prime minister, who has a second class degree in classics, announced that people should return to work today, only for his deputy to announce that Monday meant Wednesday. The government is bungling and incompetent to the point that even the police federation, not a body given to political comment, complained that officers were being left in an impossible position by the government’s lack of clarity.
Wisdom after the event is always easy, but a short, sharp lockdown with systematic testing, the German model, has been a far more effective response than the misjudgement that suggested Britain should follow the path of mitigation and then only attempt suppression when the virus had become widespread.
The one certainty about the future is that the economy and communities, along with tens of thousands of people with non Covid-19 illnesses, are slowly dying whilst the government still refuses to take conscious decisions. If the government waits until the last cases disappear, there will be nothing left to reopen.