LIKE many of us, I have been heeding the advice of the Government for the past two months to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives. But if the agenda really is to save lives, it’s time we started thinking about ending this lockdown, with no more dithering.
If we persist in keeping the pause button pressed on our society for months more, the dangerous consequences already starting to corrode our collective psyche and the nation’s physical health will be magnified to levels worse even than the coronavirus itself.
Take one example: Draconian social distancing measures led the Southern Health NHS Trust in late March to ban friends and families from all hospitals, including mental health units.
This means that for nearly two months, the most vulnerable in our society, those who need more than anything to rebuild connections with those dearest to them, have been denied a vital pillar in their right to recovery.
A second unintended consequence of the lockdown is that visits to hospital accident and emergency departments in England have fallen to their lowest level since records began.
It seems not yet to have occurred to Government officials that part of the year-on-year rise in community deaths might be down not to this deadly virus, but to a reluctance to seek medical help in times of crisis.
Perhaps this is what Boris Johnson meant when he hinted that the public had heeded the ‘stay at home’ advice too strongly. Moreover, physical health is taking hits across the medical spectrum, from delays in life-saving chemotherapy appointments to heightened uncertainty over maternity care.
We are now entering a haunting reality in which the cure is becoming even more dangerous than the disease. In the past three weeks alone, a record 500,000 have accessed online training that aims to prevent suicide, while evidence has been produced showing that the performance of poorer school pupils in England is falling significantly behind that of their wealthier peers.
Boris Johnson hopes the UK can return to ‘near normality’ by July. But two more months of this social stagnation may open irreparable wounds across the nation, leaving many of us wondering: Was it really worth it?