“The majority of players are scared”….so the Manchester City striker, Sergio Aguero, is quoted as saying on Argentinian TV at the prospect of returning to football too soon. He and many others. An Ipsos Mori poll is getting a lot of coverage today; more than 60% of us would be uncomfortable about going out to bars and restaurants or using public transport if/when the lockdown is relaxed; more than 40% would still be reluctant to go shopping or to send their children to school….and more than 30% would be worried about going to work or meeting friends.
Of course, come the time, we will all have to weigh up the risks that apply to particular circumstances, and for those of us shielding or self-isolating it becomes harder still. By the time we are able to even dip our toes into what’s becoming known as the ‘new normal’, several months will have gone by. During those months we will not have gone into our workplaces, we will not have meaningfully socialised (beyond a computer screen), we will not have gone shopping, we will not have used public transport. I can’t for the life of me remember what was going through my mind the last time I was on the 94 bus – the one I frequently use between the West End and my home – but I already have a pretty good idea how I’ll feel the next time I use it.
The more time we spend not doing something, the more daunting it becomes the next time we’re confronted by it. I’m a terrible swimmer, nervous in water, extremely nervous in deep water, and someone who – when on holiday – will reluctantly get into the pool before splashing my way from one end to the other….as long as the pool is a) short and b) shallow). It wasn’t always that way. I’m not saying I was ever very good at it, but I can remember teenage moments of rare bravery when I tried backstroke or risked a dive from a kneeling position, and survived to tell the tale. The thought of trying either of those now sends the proverbial shiver down the spine.
So perhaps what we’re looking at here is less a fear of the unknown but more a fear of what we thought we knew, but are now less sure about. What’s going to happen the next time I venture onto that 94 bus, how will my first visit to the pub pan out when it’s considered safe for me to go, what will walking into the BBC feel like as I revise my view of lifts, staircases, shared kitchen areas, and plenty more besides? I don’t envy the people whose job it is to convey clear messages to the public, because the ones who have apparently done so well with ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ might have to come up with something that sounds almost contradictory to that in the months to come. And by the way I’m not blind to the claims that the media is partly to blame for the levels of fear and anxiety that we are currently experiencing.
David Spiegelhalter, professor of statistics at the University of Cambridge, who studies our attitudes to risk, was on Radio 4 this morning, and he came out with an interesting phrase on the subject of fear. Referring to the wider population and not – I should stress – to those deemed especially at risk during the coronavirus pandemic he said this: “it’s a rough rule of thumb….if you get the virus, your chance of dying is roughly the same as you would have had this year anyway”. In other words, he said, many people are over-anxious. But if among those ‘many people’ is one of the best footballers in the world, it’s hard to see minds being changed in a hurry.