Luckily nobody in either my family or my partner’s family have had the virus, despite several people working in front line jobs such as Medicine, Nursing and Teaching. Also, my grandparents are both in their 80’s and we are very lucky that they have avoided the virus as well. My partner’s niece was also born during lockdown and at home and is doing well which has been a blessing during these times.
Having said all that, the lockdown has been quite a good experience for my partner and I overall: We have had more spare time, so have been able to go on daily walks/runs, have been able to eat healthier (again, by having more spare time) and also I have been able to read a lot more/watch Youtube videos about economics and politics (special mentions here to Yanis Varoufakis, George Monbiot, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Novara media!).
Both my partner and I have had a lot more time at home which has enabled this. In addition, we have both decided to become vegetarian during the lockdown due to concerns regarding animal welfare and climate change which has been highlighted to us for a long time and only now we have had the time to actually find the most appropriate information regarding this and to reflect on this. Parkrun has sadly been missed throughout the lockdown though.
As far as the future is concerned, I think it is very difficult to predict where things go from here. The political establishment needs to come up with a long-term plan to tackle: Debt, inequality and an unprecedented shrinking of the economy. I hope there is a paradigm shift from the last 50 years and a new investment-led democratic economy is installed. However, with the personnel at the top of global politics at the moment e.g. Trump, Johnson, Bolsanaro, etc. and significant democratic deficits at local and national levels, I fear that a return to austerity and short-term planning is more likely. I am worried that this could lead to the creation of political monsters such as those of the 1930’s but I hope people find a way to avoid this somehow.
On a more optimistic note, it’s been good to see more awareness and debate regarding the potential for Welsh independence and the possible benefits to society in Wales if this is done properly.
Here, I think one of the main Senedd parties should call for a Welsh referendum on independence in 2023 as part of their manifesto for next year’s Senedd elections. I think that would give the appropriate amount of time to plan and campaign for this.
I may have caught something nasty around January this year, in the form of a particularly vicious cough, which fortunately subsided after a couple of weeks. My Japanese-owned workplace policy at the time was that we must turn up unless actually dying, a stance which in hindsight seems questionably harsh. Then as the weeks went by, curiosity about China then Italy became our daily focus at work, as did watching a tracking map of the virus’ progress. It became apparent that we too in Wales would have to lock down.
We disinfected everywhere, removed the staff toilet doors to eliminate contact, and put the factory’s machinery into hibernation. Then came the furlough scheme, and enforced staying at home. This was a double edged sword for me: perfect opportunity to both relax and get stuck household jobs done, and equal opportunity to just fester in my own thoughts and loneliness.
Fast forward to early June, my mental health is suffering, I’ve put on weight, I’ve been laid off due to lack of factory throughput, and I now have to claim UC while I look for another job if I can find one, because rent and food aren’t free for most of us. I remain ever hopeful, just sick of being an economic pawn. I still have so many advantages to be grateful for, when I remember to count them though. I truly hope that out of the national economic wreckage, we’ll see a UBI in place of UC, we’ll have transcended racism, and we can enjoy the most participatory national and European democracy we can possibly dream of.
It’s been quite a few months.
First Brexit happened with very little enthusiasm. A couple of people clapped as the EU flag was lowered outside the senedd and there was a sparsely attended party of Brexit-loyalists.
Then Storm Dennis brought flooding to Pontypridd, causing major damage to community ventures Clwb-y-Bont and Pete’s shop as well as to many houses along the Taff and Rhondda rivers.
And then the Covid19 virus hit.
In the early days there were empty shelves in the shops where the pasta and toilet rolls were situated — something I have only seen in Cuba. Like that country there was also the appearance of resellers. A couple of men turned up in Pontrhydyfendigaid village shop wanting to buy three sacks of potatoes, which was the whole stock, in order to resell in Gloucester. Near Bala local youths became vigilantes, blocking a road to stop owners from reaching their second-homes. A woman who had broken her arm was told by her GP on no account should she go into Bronglais hospital. Instead she was given instructions on how to make her own splint. Someone I know had to travel all the way up to Bangor to drop off a key for a flat offered to a key worker. But since there was no hospitality available had to drive straight and could only take sandwiches and a flask as refreshments.
Early on I had a light cough and a tight chest but no temperature (probably mild hay fever), but because relatives from Italy had visited at the beginning of February my work sent me straight home. A few days later and everyone in my workplace was working from home. Luckily nobody was furloughed or made redundant. On the whole it has suited me. I’ve avoided the daily commute and am lucky to be able to exercise by taking walks in the countryside near by. When the weather is fine I can take the laptop out into the garden.
In my house, we have cut down shopping visits to once a fortnight (sometimes once a week) wearing gloves and home-made mask and trying to keep a two-metre distance from other shoppers some of whom just don’t get it. It also involves more sorting into separate bags at the till. One bag for things to be quarantined for three days, one for vegetables which might go off, one for fridge items to be quarantined, one for freezer stuff including several loaves of bread. Milk bottles we disinfect for a minute.
I have enlisted as a rainbow doorstep volunteer to help vulnerable families and set up a donation point to help stock up the local food bank. There is a single father with three children who has been made redundant and the universal credit hasn’t been sorted. To people like him it has been a godsend. I have also been organising live streams of jazz and acoustic items for the Clwb-y-bont lockdown sessions so we keep live music going.
The estate where I live has become a lot more sociable and friendly. There is a house near by who keep chickens, who have an honesty box for people to buy eggs. When the hens haven’t laid they put shop-bought ones instead. A book-swapping box has been set up.
On Sundays people have taken tables and chairs out onto the pavement to drink and take part in socially distanced quizzes. Sometimes also a keyboard has been taken out to play music. The same with the ‘clap for carers’ event where a cornet player has come out to play some tunes.
Children have been painting rocks, creating an alphabet zoo out of cardboard and placing fairy doors on some of the trees in the forest. Many windows have home made rainbows in the windows in support of the NHS.
Initially, people seem to have given Boris Johnson the benefit of the doubt. But the more you look at it the government’s record has been disastrous. He didn’t take the situation seriously enough and believed that the Brits wouldn’t take kindly to the government telling them to isolate. The result was that the UK has the second worst death rate as percentage of population in the world. If you look at the excess deaths the UK comes out as equally bad.
This despite Britain having a lot of advantages. As an island it was easier to close borders, it was less interconnected than countries like Belgium and had far more warning than countries like Italy and Spain. Factors in the UK like the nuclear-family structure and isolated living conditions would have hampered the spread of the virus. Ireland had its first cases at about the same time as the UK but has had half the death rate the UK has. So without doubt the UK has dealt with this issue really badly.
The UK government has also been abysmal in dealing with the devolved nations and the city mayors. Though health and education are both devolved issues, they weren’t even invited to the COBR meetings and the Welsh track and trace program was put back considerably after apparently being gazumped by the UK government with the Roche contract. Companies who made protective gear were told to prioritize Public Health England. Lack of communication of the UK government before announcing changes in policy and not contacting the devolved governments has been the norm.
I would go so far and say that historians of the future will look at the Covid period as the moment that Scottish and Welsh independence became inevitable. From a four nation approach in the early days the regulations and policies have diverged significantly. The pandemic has shown that you can’t really isolate things like health and education from other governmental responsibilities. For example the police come under the home office yet they ended up enforcing regulations made by the Senedd such as stopping holiday-makers and second home owners from coming into Wales. Again, the army found itself building the field hospitals such as Calon y Ddraig though not officially being part of devolved powers. The fact that people in Wales needed to follow Welsh regulations meant that people perhaps for the first time were listening to the First Minister’s announcements and in some cases actually knowing who he was. It is significant that Kier Starmer has used expressions such as “other countries like Wales” as if Westminster was the parliament solely for England.
The devolved governments have dealt with the pandemic reasonably well given the circumstances, having the lowest death rate of the UK. And the polls reflect this fact with both Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford having high personal ratings and even people in England saying that they had done things much better than the UK government.
It has also been significant that a policies like austerity have been thrown out of the window and ideas like Universal Basic Income and the New Deal policies have become mainstream. But on the downside politicians are already talking about bailing out the aviation industry and a return to normality, whereas it would be good to take the opportunity to insist on a green transition. Boris has just announced a major road-building programme which really isn’t what we should be concentrating on. If we don’t tackle climate change then the Covid crisis will be nothing to what we have to face in the future.