Army veteran Steve Jones reports from the hidden frontline in Stoke on the battle against the COVID-19 outbreak, now raging in shops, homes and hospitals.
We have passed the edge of uncertainty and we, all of us, are careering towards the unknown.
“Herd immunity”, “social distancing”, “self-isolation” is what we have heard from the Government, but what does it actually mean?
My community has a great number of elderly people, all living in fear. My wife runs the local shop and has seen elderly people in tears because they cannot get any toilet roll. Stock is rolling into the shop every day, there is no problem with supply – but it is the demand it cannot keep up with. My wife is now holding all toilet paper back. She has worked in the shop for several years and knows which of her customers are vulnerable.
A local pub and restaurant, usually busy every night, is taking a huge hit. Takings are down and you can feel the frustration and the fear of the unknown behind the laughs of the barmaid. The Prime Minister has advised people to stay away from pubs. Stopping short of ordering them to shut, they cannot claim on their insurance. Ultimately, the landlady of my local will have to let staff go – well-paid, hard-working staff.
My wife has taken a leading role in the community – not a role she asked for, but a role she doesn’t think twice about doing. In her shop, colleagues are dropping like flies and it is not uncommon now for my wife to do back-to-back shifts – opening at 6am and closing at 11pm. She had to send a colleague home from work. When she asked why she had come in, “I cannot afford not to” was the reply.
We have been told that over-70s, pregnant women and those with high risk conditions should self-isolate for 12 weeks. My son has Crohn’s disease and being on immune suppressors he falls into the high-risk category. Not having been at his company long enough to claim sick pay, he will have to claim statutory sick pay, but it is simply not enough. He has bills to pay – car finance, mobile phone, rent. Where does he go to get help?
A pregnant girl working for my wife was in tears last night. Having signed for the keys to a house her and her boyfriend are renting, she cannot afford to have 12 weeks off. What will happen to my maternity pay? My wife is desperately trying to find the answers for her, but there are no answers. Her mum is an acute caregiver at the local hospital who is working flat out. “What days off?” she smiles. Everyday she walks into work and leaves her personal anxiety at the door – in a war zone there is no time for emotion, in a war zone you do and think afterwards.
I was messaged a photograph of an acute caregiver after a 12-hour shift. Her face looked bruised and battered and I could see dried-up tears of stress on her face. Theirs not to make reply / Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die comes to mind from Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade. A poem of a famous military blunder, it fits perfectly with the war the NHS staff are fighting, with very little protection. It’s reminiscent of the 2003 Iraq blunder, where we sent ill-equipped troops to fight an unknown war with no plan.
I hear politicians talk about our current situation as being like the struggles of World War Two. They have not got a clue about war, so how can they make the comparison? The director general of the World Health Organisation has sounded the alarm: “test, test, test”. In a war, you hunt down the enemy and then face it head on. With COVID-19 this has to begin with testing, but it is not being prioritised in the UK. Evidence from South Korea indicates that the more testing that is done, the better the chances are of fighting the Coronavirus. Find it, fight it.
I look to those who should be providing leadership, but they are cowering behind science. Anxiety is consuming our minds.
If we look to our leaders, we get darkness. We need to look at the community leaders, our doctors and nurses – fighting the battle every hour of every day, not stood in front of a television camera spreading fear.