I’ve been more relaxed about lockdown two than I was about lockdown one. So far. I don’t think being relaxed has led to undue complacency – in fact I’m pretty sure it hasn’t – but that feeling of entering the unknown that came with the events of mid/late March was never going to be replicated. And nor should it be. This time we know more, can make better-informed judgements about our own personal circumstances, and can act accordingly.
This afternoon I received the letter I was half-expecting from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It’s signed by the respective secretaries of state; Robert Jenrick signs his name in full, Matt Hancock writes, simply, ‘Matt’. Make of that what you will. It’s a letter that appears to have been sent to everyone who was advised to shield during the first lockdown, and it offers ‘important advice for you about new guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people’. And it’s pretty comprehensive. A two-page letter is accompanied by four pages of advice under a variety of useful headings, and it’s hard to think of anything that they’ve left out. But why, if it’s important advice, is the letter dated November 4th yet it doesn’t arrive until November 12th?
Ah, you’ll say, but there’s been plenty of coverage of the advice on air, online, and in newspapers. True, without doubt, and it would be pretty ridiculous for someone in my profession to claim that, somehow, this advice has passed me by. But when there was a keenness, as there was ten days ago, to spread the message that there would be no return to shielding, there should surely have been some urgency in letting people know what that would actually mean in practice?
And I’ve one specific quibble. The Prime Minister said at his Saturday press conference – the one where we were kept waiting a while – that “we are asking those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to minimise their contact with others and not to go to work if they are able to work from home”. Fine. I read that as ‘if you can’t work from home, then you can go to work as long as you are careful, take every precaution possible, and are operating in a workplace which is Covid-secure’. But today’s letter states “if you cannot work from home, then you should not attend work for this period of restrictions”. A difference. Not a huge difference, of course, but enough to have me (and, I suspect, others) wondering if the goalposts have moved a little.
Now none of this is easy, and I go back to my first point about individual responsibility. I know better now than I did in March what I think is safe and what I think is risky. That’s because I’ve read up on things, asked questions of trusted medics, and come to various conclusions. Most of us, when confronted with the shielding advice, did the same. The government can only ever guide and advise…and to be fair, that’s all it’s doing here. But it would be nice if there was consistency, and helpful too if the person charged with sending out these letters could run to the postbox a little more quickly.