Two years ago, on the 26 March, 2020, Britain was plunged into lockdown. Schools shut, businesses ceased trading, and millions of people were urged to stay home. Two years later and the government’s “Living with Covid” plan has been rolled out meaning the end of restrictions in the United Kingdom. Given the changes occurring these past years, we’d like to take a look back and answer two questions: what changes took place in the United Kingdom in the past two years and what does the end of the pandemic mean for the future?
The early days of the pandemic were marked by confusion, panic, and shock. Supermarket shelves were emptied and pictures showing overrun hospital wards and strained A&E units covered the TV screens. Lockdown measures were announced on the 23rd of March and non-essential business was halted. Delays over lockdown were criticised during the first stages of the pandemic as hospitals became overwhelmed and PPE shortages became the norm. Hospitals struggled to cope as measures were introduced to slow the spread.
As the pandemic progressed in its first wave, it became clear things were getting better. Cases began to drop and hospitalisations decreased. Children returned to school and adults to work. Progress seemed to point in the right direction and the first doses were given on the 8th of December. Shortly after this, England descended into another lockdown, causing Christmas plans to be cancelled as the Delta variant took hold. Similar criticisms of delays over the lockdown followed as the government scrambled to convince the public the measures were worth it. Public support in the measures was still largely popular as it was deemed necessary to sacrifice social events to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
Economically, the majority of households ended up poorer and less secure in their finances. The furlough scheme helped to stem large scale unemployment from wreaking havoc on the economy. However, many were still left worse off as hours were cut in response to reduced demand in some sectors. Many people across Britain had dealt with the pandemic working from home from cramped flats and house shares only to come out of lockdown in less secure employment and lower incomes. The impact of coronavirus exacerbated cracks in Britain’s welfare system leaving those most vulnerable even further at risk as the pandemic contributed to rising prices.
Many people deemed these sacrifices necessary for the human lives saved and justifiable anger followed suit as it was revealed many set the rules and decided not to follow them. Numerous reports of government ministers and advisers breaching lockdown regulations flooded the news. Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was caught embracing one of his aides in an illicit affair after encouraging the public to not engage in casual sex to curb the pandemic. In 10 Downing Street, reports emerged of parties held over the Christmas period and beyond, complete with suitcases full of alcohol and party games.
The past two years were incredibly tough for the general population, and the sense of anger directed at the government has been palpable. Many people stuck to the rules and avoided human contact for the majority of the pandemic following the advice given to them, whilst those who made the rules flouted them. The sense of injustice many feel toward the metropolitan elite, who seemed disconnected from the rest of the country, and dictated what rules must be followed whilst breaking them themselves is understandable. The recurring motif of the last two years has been one of hypocrisy. Scientific policy needs public trust to work and without it, future pandemics could be much much worse. There are lessons to be learnt for the future and it’s up to those in charge to lead by example.