As government restrictions upon the movement of people starts slowly to come to an end, I wonder how we will all remember the COVID-19 pandemic in years to come.
Here in the UK last week, impromptu and self-distancing street parties sprang up to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Those parties were, unquestionably, a celebration to mark Victory in Europe and to honour those that gave their lives in the defence of freedom. But they were, I suspect, also about regaining some of our freedom; a freedom that has been taken from us — temporarily, at least — by an invisible killer.
Will there be a VC Day in the future to mark when scientists and medical professionals finally draw a line under the Coronavirus once and for all? It seems unlikely given that viruses have a nasty habit of mutating and bouncing back and more resistant to medicines that before. And besides, it only takes one fresh case to make its way into the country when the travel ban is lifted and we’re effectively back to square one.
Against that backdrop, I sincerely hope that we remember our heroes in a better, more fitting way than we honour the memories of those that gave their lives in the field of combat. Those that made the ultimate sacrifice to secure Victory in Europe are rightly remembered as heroes.
And yet, just a few generations on, many of those that followed in their footsteps to the armed forces recruitment offices return to Civvy Street with mental health issues, suicidal thoughts and the prospect of unemployment, homelessness and accusations of war crimes for their troubles.
We have spent the past eight weeks or more — rightly — lauding the contribution and sacrifice of ALL those that have remained in the path of the Coronavirus while the rest of us hunkered down safely at home: The nurses, doctors and emergency services; the shop workers that kept us fed; the delivery drivers that kept the supermarket shelves stocked; the demolition and construction workers that worked on to deliver new hospitals in record time; to finish vital roads and bridges; to keep the economy’s wheels turning.
When this is all over, how long — I wonder — till the first nurse is abused or attacked by a Saturday night drunk? How long until a shop worker is spat upon because that store has sold out of some scumbag’s cigarette brand of choice. How long until we all get back to griping about getting stuck behind a delivery lorry, even though we know it is carrying the very food that keeps us all alive. How long until we all get back to complaining about traffic delays caused by roadworks or about the noise from the local demolition site?
Of course, politicians are probably strategising now on how they might exploit the nation’s new-found-love for the National Health Service. Even those that have spent years trying to sell off the health service will now see the NHS as a vote winner; turning the selflessness of some of the nation’s hardest working people into a political football to be kicked about as they see fit.
But while the promise of a hefty pay-rise for front line health professionals would certainly tempt me to place an X in the appropriate box come polling day, we need to do more. Much more.
While politicians have basked in the media spotlight throughout the COVID-19 crisis; while they have twisted facts and spouted lies; and while they have wallowed in their own self-importance, the Coronavirus has lifted the veil. It has let the light in upon the true nature of this nation and many others besides.
It turns out that the weight of the nation is borne not by the public-school-educated, silver-spoon-sucking, self-aggrandising and self-entitled political “giants”. Rather, it is carried upon the shoulders of millions of normal, everyday working people; people for whom a 9 to 5 job is the very stuff of dreams; people that have never visited a country estate let alone owned one; people whose faces and work clothes come in a variety of colours but whose collars are universally blue.
We denigrate, disparage and demean those individuals at our peril. We take for granted their contribution to our eternal shame.