I went to give blood for the first time in a while last week. It wasn't much different from pre-COVID times, other than we were all wearing masks and had to confirm that we had been well for the previous 28 days. It's actually quite relaxing and the nurses who look after you really do put you at ease. Having a hypodermic needle in your arm for twenty minutes and watching half a litre of your own blood drain out into a bag beside you is quite mesmerising ... and there is always the free cup of tea and bag of crisps afterwards, although now we all have to sit socially distanced at examination tables desks that are 2 metres apart rather than chatting around one big table.
But the worst bit happens long after I've left the Methodist Hall and treated myself to a pastry at Greggs (giving blood burns up almost 700 calories). I have to get the plaster off. Now, I am quite a hairy man and I kick myself every time I give blood for not having shaved a little square into the crease of my elbow because it REALLY HURTS! But that is achieved by teasing each hair away from the sticking plaster, one by one is a whole lot more pain. It would be preferable to take a deep breath and rip it off all in one go.
It seems to be that we've got the same attitude to this virus. It's great that there is a vaccine on the way - although my place in the queue means I won't be protected until almost this time next year - but nobody seems to want to grab the thing between their thumb and forefinger and just tear the damned thing off! We've been teasing the edges of the plaster for months, picking each hair off in its turn with our largely ineffective tier system and a track and trace system that doesn't find anyone. We've wandered around the shops, pigged out on the cheap in pubs and restaurants and dragged the pandemic out for almost a year. Surely that's enough!
In countries where the fight against COVID has been more successful, lockdowns have been real, not 'mockdowns' as our restrictions have come to be known. Yes, I don't doubt it was painful; the French had to produce documentary evidence for their reason for being outside their home, nobody in Spain could be more than 500 metres from their own front door and children were not allowed outside at all. It seems that the more permissive the society, the more frightened the government was to restrict peoples' movements and the more likely people were to stick two fingers up at the restrictions anyway.
We need a short, sharp shock now to stop the current wave in its tracks before it is too late. It's already been proven that the new variant of the virus is considerably more contagious than the 'original' variety. Todays 50,000+ cases will translate into several thousand hospital admissions and several hundred deaths, and the impact of the Christmas period with its legal and illegal gatherings is still ahead of us.
As far as schools go, let's resolve to assess students' progress in a way that doesn't involve exams. Let's equip those who are able to learn remotely to do so and support those who can't to come into much more sparsely populated schools. Despite what some people think, teachers aren't allergic to hard work, but they do deserve to work in safe places and, if classes can be taught remotely, why bring them together to infect one another and drag the chaos out for even longer?
And, as for paying for it all, it occurred to me that 1p per person per death might be a starting point - with relief for those on low incomes in the same way they get Council Tax credit. There are currently 30.3 million taxpayers in the UK and deaths will probably top 100,000 before we get back to anything like normal, so that's £1,000 from each of 30 million people before the end of 2022, putting £30bn back in the coffers. That would cover about half of it, I think.