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My Coronavirus Diary


Jane Kelly has been keeping an occasional coronavirus diary which we will be bringing to you at regular intervals.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020 

‘STAY at home and save lives,’ said Boris Johnson last night, issuing a 329-page document, almost a page for each of the recent dead, with 87 clauses, ordering us all to stay at home.  

The police, public health officials and immigration officers have been ordered to detain anyone who might be infected, and who may be fined up to £1,000 if they refuse to be tested or quarantined. All gatherings of more than two people, ‘combinations’ as they were once called, are banned. Family groups may go out together but single people have to walk alone. 

This is the story which will be used to bore our grandchildren, but there is a slight touch of Westminster fantasy in it. The Police Federation immediately pointed out that nothing is on the statute books so none of it can yet be enforced, and they already have ‘high levels of sickness’, particularly in London, before the virus even gets to them. 

Photos online show people still packed into the London tube, nose to nose. 

Morrisons is putting up Perspex screens to protect its staff from the rabble we all know are out there. Security is to be enhanced everywhere. Sports Direct, like the Japanese government, has been forced into submission. BBC Woman’s Hour is in a bate, worrying about women trapped at home with evil men, and many people interviewed seem upset at spending time with their children. 

Plague caused havoc with people’s lives, and for the first time since 1679 we can find out just what that was like. Defoe made a list of new jobs and people losing work in all parishes. He noted: ‘That there be special care to appoint Women-Searchers in every Parish’ to find people infected with the disease, looking out for ‘botch, Purple or swelling’, and report them to the board of examiners responsible for shutting up people in their houses, and to the watchmen appointed to stop people escaping from those houses. 

Restrictions in 1666 instructed: ‘That care be taken of Hackney-Coachmen, that they may not after carrying infected persons to the Pest-House be admitted to common use till their coaches have been well aired.’ Streets had to be swept. ‘Rakers’ who carried away the ‘Filth of the Houses’ had to blow a horn to show they were coming. Pestilence was an end to ‘All plays, Bear-Baitings, Games, Singing of ballads, Assemblies of People, Publick Feasting, Dinners at Taverns, Alehouses and places of common entertainment’. And ‘That disorderly Tipling in Taverns, Ale-houses, coffee houses and Cellars be severely looked into’.

In an ancient slant on food-banks, money saved was to be given to the poor. 

Like Defoe, our own lives are now dominated by a foreign disease transferred from an animal. I woke up at 3am and coughed twice. Got up and walked about a bit until I was certain I hadn’t got ‘it’ and everything was ok. As David Davis and Daniel Defoe noted, a national infection can play tricks with your mind, and for some reason people are going to be certified insane more easily during the ‘visitation’.

8am: Like many women I write lists of tasks and everything on mine for today is now in doubt: bank, Tesco, see X, M&S for D, walk to station. 

I was going into town to meet a man for a local befriending charity. He’s very bright, had a breakdown at Oxford University, and is now pumped full of drugs. His only life apart from seeing his father and me is going to the library to look at a closed Facebook site which he won’t discuss.   

I used to find talking to him extremely difficult. I’d come away feeling tearful and wrecked, but after more than a year I’ve got used to him. We like each other, but now everything is cancelled including the library. He has no internet at home. I suggested sitting in Bonn Square today, two metres apart, a lawful group of two, but he cancelled. 

I was then going to go to M&S to look for some ready meals for D then go down the hill, a lovely walk past Oxford Castle, to the station to return some tickets for a drawing course in April, now cancelled. 

Not sure I can do any of that. I am slightly glad to have an excuse not to go to M&S to source meals for D as I’m beginning to feel riled about it. She has quite a few relatives locally who seem to do nothing for her. 

8.30am: Take D her washing back. A carer is in, wearing a mask, the first time I’ve seen one on a health worker. D says she had to tell the girl, who speaks no English, to put it on. 

I wonder if it’s ok to go out and paint in the meadow? No idea. Shall I stay or shall I go? At the moment life is ‘all about making the right judgement’, says a voice on BBC Radio 4. The wrong one could kill you or someone else. 

This first appeared in the Salisbury Review 

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Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly was a journalist with the Daily Mail for fifteen years. She now writes for the Spectator and the Salisbury Review.

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