An update on life under the Covid-19 lockdown conditions

Posted March 27, 2020 in covid19, Diary  |  No Comments so far

It’s nearly two weeks since I posted “Asda on the Edge of the Apocalypse“, in which I described a visit to Asda. I held back from describing the atmosphere of that weekend as “weird”, because…

…while this weekend might seem like a weird phase today, it might not seem weird at all by next weekend… Next weekend might present us with a new understanding of what counts as “weird”.

Well, it’s hardly an understatement to say that it’s got weirder since then. During that weekend – the weekend of 14th-15th March – almost everything was happening. My son’s parkour and swimming classes were running. People weren’t queuing outside supermarkets.

Yes, Apple had only just closed its stores outside of mainland China, so when in Westfield we saw a line of staff outside the Apple store; presumably to inform customers about the closure, though if I saw them now I’d think they were there to fend off looters. And yes, the supermarkets had sold out of toilet roll and painkillers, and Superdrug was limiting the amount of painkillers a single customer could buy. That was enough to make me toy with the idea of using the word “weird” to describe what was going on that weekend.

But writing today, nearly two weeks on, I can say that it really wasn’t weird. If you drew a line with what I’ll call a “normal state of life” at one end and the way things are now, at the weekend of 28th-29th March, at the other end, that day when Apple stores had shut wouldn’t be halfway along it. It would be far closer to the “normal state of life” end.

Here’s a subjective account of what happened between when we went to Asda and now. I’ve written this just from memory rather than using Google.

Monday 17th March

By this time the UK government denied “herd immunity” was its strategy. This might have been the time that Boris Johnson started giving direct daily updates – up until then ministers had been communicating policy through anonymous briefings to favoured journalists. I was working from home by this point but schools were still open.

Wednesday 18th March

Rumours were flying around that school closures were imminent. Some kids were being kept home due to their families self-isolating, but, more materially, some teachers had started to self-isolate too, so schools were increasingly concerned about their staffing levels. At this point the government was saying you and your household should self-isolate if you had any symptoms. It was unrealistic to think you could get tested so you had to assume you were infected and self-isolate for 14 days.

Towards the end of the day it came out that the schools would indeed close from Friday.

Thursday 19th March

This was a day where, for me personally, it started to really feel like a crisis. The previous evening, journalists were being told that London was close to being put under lockdown, possibly cut off from the rest of the country, to slow down the spread of the virus. I went out for a run early that morning and took this picture.


















It was a pretty bleak scene. Cold, damp and grey, with this notion of imminent isolation hanging over the city. I felt perturbed by it but didn’t disapprove. I felt like severe measures were needed. This was also the first day I started to notice strangers observing social distancing – runners moving out into the road to remain distant from each other, that sort of thing. But when I went for this particular run the streets were a lot busier than I thought they’d be.

Later that day the government denied quite strongly that there plans to seal off London, so who knows where all this had been coming from the night before.

Friday 20th March

The last day of school. Boris Johnson appeared on TV that evening and said al pubs and restaurants had to close. Also, Rishi Sunak announced the government scheme to cover 80% of employee’s salaries for at least three months, in the hope of warding off a tsunami of redundancies. It was a major intervention although it had no provisions for freelancers. I started to feel at this point that the government was recognising and responding to the severity of what was going on.

Saturday 21st – Sunday 22nd March

After Friday’s announcement and the indefinite closure of school, I woke up on the Saturday feeling like this was really the first day of a new phase of our lives. It wasn’t easy. I was still in a cycle of looking at the news and social media almost all the time and having a rolling anxiety attack, which would sometimes intensify or subside but never ended. It even felt like it was happening while I was asleep – I’d wake up feeling burnt out, then would immediately reach for my phone to top up on the stress.

Monday 23rd March

There were lots of reports of people over the weekend failing to observe social distancing guidelines, so that evening Boris Johnson announced that the rules were hardening as a result. More businesses were to shut, the police would enforce rules about congregating with other people, you weren’t to visit anyone, only a certain amount of outdoor trips allowed per day and for only certain reasons.

I watched his announcement live and, yes, it was fair to describe that experience as “weird”. It was a combination words I would never have expected to hear coming out of the mouth of the prime minister. Yet even though the measures being introduced were quite strict, it was pretty much a description of how I’d been living for around two weeks, so it didn’t signal any major changes for our family.

Also, this was the first day of home-schooling while trying to work from home. That’s a subject for another post…

Tuesday 24th – Friday 27th March

We’ve started to get some indication of the economic scale of what’s happening. Look at this chart of US unemployment claims that came out on Thursday. The vertical line to the right is not the y-axis. Is this the economic equivalent of the Chicxulub impact event?











In this period I’ve been outside for two early-morning runs (not on the same day of course!) and to collect some fruit and vegetables from a scheme we’ve been signed up to for a few years. I think that’s it? Unless you also count when I stepped out of the front door to join in our street’s applause for the NHS.

When have gone out there is very much an air of emergency, crisis, drama, whatever you want to call it. But that atmosphere isn’t one of screaming, shouting and urgency: instead, it’s the quietness, the stillness, that feels dramatic. It’s the edginess of people who work in shops, doing what they can to protect themselves with plastic gloves or t-shirts pulled up to cover their mouths. There is hardly anyone you see out and about who seems to be acting normal, who you would expect to be confused if you asked them about the pandemic. Back on that weekend of the 15th-16th March, when nearly everything was still happening, it definitely seemed like a lot of people were still oblivious. They aren’t any more.

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