It seems like an age since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When things first began to take a turn for the worse on a global scale back in March 2020, there was an overwhelming feeling that, despite the anxiety and misery that the pandemic would surely bring, we would approach it with a sense of togetherness. For the first time in a very long time, something was occurring that affected every single person on the planet – whoever you were, wherever you lived, however old you were and however rich or poor, COVID-19 would take a toll on your life in some way.
Such thoughts were even echoed by Madonna at the time. Speaking to fans from a milk bath sprinkled with rose petals in a bizarre Instagram video soundtracked by twinkly piano music, she called Coronavirus ‘the great equalizer’ – presumably because a pandemic is easier to deal with in a mansion the size of a small town.
“What’s terrible about it is that it’s made us all equal in many ways,” she said, “And what’s wonderful about it is that it’s made us all equal in many ways.”
Unfortunately, that never quite turned out to be the case. As Madonna delivered bathtub sermons and Gal Gadot gathered her famous friends for a lockdown cover of Imagine (which was arguably tone-deaf in more ways than one), we weren’t equal. It was every man for themselves.
Confusion over whether or not general stores and supermarkets would be forced to close sparked a frenzy of bulk-buying the bare essentials, whilst society’s most opinionated took to posting impassioned rants on how government lockdowns were yet another sign of ‘The Man’ trying to control the public and conspiracy theorists swore that the whole thing was made-up and that it was just the flu, as if those who had died from it were just being melodramatic. Was it left-wing to care about Coronavirus? Was it right-wing to oppose government restrictions? Was this a political argument at all? The streets were empty and yet the internet was a warzone.
At the time, it was fairly easy to miss this side of the discourse. Early quarantine brought with it home concerts, weekly outbreaks of applause to the world’s doctors, nurses and grocery store staff, heartwarming photographs of grandparents being introduced to their family’s newest addition through closed windows. There was a warmer, more positive side to the internet that drowned out some of the anger – then weeks turned into months and the ugly side of the argument began to poke through.
With each new government restriction introduced in countries across the world, there was growing anger from all sides. Some Australians felt that Scott Morrison’s hard and fast ‘New cases, new lockdown’ approach was wildly unreasonable given the rarity of COVID-19 in the country, whilst many in the United Kingdom wished that prime minister Boris Johnson had decided on similar measures, criticising the government’s encouragement of citizens returning to relative normality over the summer with the re-opening of pubs and restaurants and the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ (yes, we’re all thinking the same thing) scheme, later blamed for cases soaring in the Autumn. In the United States, Donald Trump’s repeated calls not to panic about the seriousness of the virus – which has ultimately claimed the lives of over 600,000 Americans under his ‘leadership’ – sparked outrage from many and praise from others. The ‘great equalizer’ appeared to be doing nothing but dividing people.
Nowhere was this more present than it was on social media. It seemed that users on the site were steadfast in their impatience for those with differing views, weaponizing everything from statistics, to opinion to personal experience. If you posted about the need to wear a mask, you were ‘afraid’ and were told that you should stay at home and let everyone else get on with their lives, whilst those who bemoaned lockdown measures were deemed selfish and stupid.
As we passed the first anniversary of the date that the pandemic began, simmering anger reached boiling point. Across the world, there have been protests in many forms, as well as constant and heated debate. Whatever side of the internet you find yourself on and whatever site it may be, you’d be hard-pressed to scroll through social media for more than a few minutes without stumbling across two users hurling abuse at each other over their different opinions to do with COVID-19.
This was at its most apparent this week amongst those in the United Kingdom, as prime minister Boris Johnson made the controversial decision to lift all remaining lockdown restrictions, including mandatory social distancing, mask wearing and closures of nightclubs across the country – despite cases being at their highest since January.
As revellers queued up to be allowed into clubs and spoke of their joy at returning to normality, there was no peace across social media. Those heading out for the evening were deemed ‘pathetic’ and ‘stupid’, whilst nightclub owners opening at midnight on July 19th to maximse their returns were told that they were complicit in the rise in cases.
The next day, it was the turn of the other side of the argument, who criticised and mocked those posting of their decision to continue wearing masks and avoiding nightclubs. There was scarcely a citizen erring on the side of caution who wasn’t told to ‘let people have their fun’, despite the fact that COVID-19 is at one of its most prevalent points across the United Kingdom.
So, who’s in the right? Put simply, nobody.
Those looking to move with the lifted restrictions and return to pre-pandemic life are doing as they please – and as they are now legally allowed to do. Meanwhile, those who would rather act cautiously (and, when it comes down to the statistics, sensibly) and continue wearing masks are welcome to do so, too – everyone has the right to protect their health in whichever way they please. So, why is everybody still arguing amongst themselves? Why is the anger seemingly directed exclusively at citizens themselves instead of the man who has control of the UK’s Coronavirus response?
The facts are these: COVID-19 will never go away. Vaccinations have vastly decreased the number of hospitalisations from the disease. However, cases will rise and, with them, so will fatalities. Masks, social distancing and restrictions quell the spread of the virus, nightclubs at full capacity accelerate it – however, business owners in the UK have lost billions over the last year and must be allowed to operate.
Legally, there is no right or wrong. There are personal choices to be made and there are facts there to inform them. The anger of those in the UK should not be directed at others but at those in charge of the government response.
Those who have maligned lockdown since March 2020 speak passionately about a return to normality, many going as far as saying that seeing others in masks actively irritates them. Why? Masks have been commonplace in countries across the world since long before the pandemic and will likely be a staple in UK pockets for months to come, allowing those who are suffering with anxiety as restrictions lift to feel safe in public and to do their bit to protect their families. The pandemic is still very much ‘a thing’.
Meanwhile, what good will it do for those opposing the lifting of restrictions to comment insultingly on photographs of those taking their opportunity to return to normality, celebrating with parties and visits to nightclubs? Are they being as selfish or as stupid as many claim, or are they simply making their own decisions, in line with current advice and legalities?
‘Normality’ is a word that appears to have lost all meaning, or at least a word that has been retrospectively given a meaning that it didn’t previously hold. Things will never be the same following the COVID-19 pandemic, but then why would they? The most normality we could hope to return to is one in which not everyone is assigned an adjective such as ‘stupid’, ‘selfish’, ‘scared’ or (an apparent favourite of anti-lockdown campaigners) ‘snowflake’ based on the ways that they choose to safeguard their health.
It’s time to stop putting the blame on each other, where it is misplaced and does no good. Life will always move forward – we must allow everyone to deal with it in whichever way they please.
READ MORE: In Pictures: London’s Nightclubs Return