Michael Gove’s permission to take an hour’s walk each day led to the following of particular routes in the city that would take the full sixty minutes to complete. It has meant developing a nodding acquaintance with a man who sits on a bench in a tree-lined length of the high street. Living alone, he comes down and sits in the same spot each evening. Sometimes there is someone talking to him, sometimes I stop for a few words. He points out the shops that have closed and the ones he believes will never open again.
This evening, sitting opposite him, there was a black-haired woman with a shopping trolley. They were unhappy with the state of affairs.
“I am supposed to get support,” he said, “I never get any.”
“I am supposed to have a social worker,” the woman said, “but I never see her. She says she is working full time, and I’m sure she is getting full pay, but I never see her.”
Commentators on mental health suggest that such stories could be found in any town or city in the country. The neglect of mental illness is added to the undiagnosed cancers, the untreated heart disease, and the numerous other conditions not receiving attention during the current preoccupation with SARS-Cov-2.
Along with the hundreds of thousands of people caught in the clinical backlog, there are now millions of ordinary people who will have to face the economic consequences of the huge expenditures incurred through the lockdown. The budget deficit in percentage terms is greater than that of 1945-46, when the country was facing altogether greater problems. Noises are being made about tax increases or spending cuts, or both.
At the outset, in one of the Downing Street briefings, the deputy chief medical officer asserted that the government would do precisely the right thing at precisely the right time. It has done precisely the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time. It moved from mitigation to suppression too late to prevent the virus becoming established and causing Britain to have the worst death toll in Europe. (The Financial Times, using official figures from the Office of National Statistics, suggests that the current number of deaths is in excess of 60,000, not 32,000 as the government claim). Now, as the Germans, who did do the right thing at the right time, are opening up, and even having football matches this weekend, Britain remains locked down for weeks more.
Isn’t it time that the focus shifted to doing more to protect the most vulnerable, particularly those in nursing care, and restarting the economy and society, to address the clinical, social and economic needs of those who are paying the price of the wrong decisions?