We want hope, optimism and faith in our country – not press negativity

Yesterday I swapped my usual seafront walk for a hike in the countryside with Francesca

Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 37 (Thursday, April 23 2020)

YESTERDAY we were told that social distancing is likely to continue until such time as a vaccine is availability – and that’s not likely to happen before the end of the year.

This warning, delivered by Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, underlines the fact that we are a long way off beating the coronavirus  pandemic.

It will have come as a total shock to the hospitality industry which was expecting their lockdown restrictions to be lifted by the end of July at the latest.

But how can you operate social distancing as we know it – keeping at least two metres between people – when running a pub, restaurant or café?

It seems to work in a supermarket or shop, the formation of orderly queues outside the premises, observing the two metre-rule, and then letting in one shopper at a time.

At Boots in Lyme, as an extreme example, you have to wait outside until a shop assistant comes to the door and then  locks the door behind them as they go back inside to collect prescriptions.

But how could this possibly work if you are running a pub, restaurant or café, other than for the collection of takeaways, and no one is going to make a living doing that? I just can’t see how it would work and it could mean that these establishments, so important to Lyme’s economic survival, would not survive.

We already know that two excellent restaurants are unlikely to re-open when this is all over.

Can you imagine a summer season with no cafés serving coffees and cream teas, no pubs to pop into for a pint and a snack, no places to enjoy a delicious meal out? It could cripple the town if Lyme’s burgeoning hospitality industry have to keep the shutters up until the end of the year.

Professor Whitty told the Downing Street press conference yesterday afternoon that it was “wholly unrealistic” to expect lockdown measures to be lifted soon. He said that restrictions could not be completely lifted until either a vaccine for COVID-19, or highly effective drugs to treat the virus, become available.

It is thought that some of the strictest measures, such as school closures, could be eased over the next few weeks so long as there is not a spike in coronavirus  cases – but that does not include hospitality outlets. They, and the large sporting events and concerts, will be the last to be unlocked.

With 75 per cent of LymeOnline’s advertising revenue coming from the hospitality industry, this is somewhat worrying for us as well.

At that same conference, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said to be itching to get back to work after recovering from the virus, reiterated that the measures have to stay in place.

He said: “The greatest risk for us now, if we eased up on our social distancing rules, is that we would risk a second spike in the virus with all the threats to life that would bring and then the risk of a second lockdown.”

Time for a respectful era of politics

Raab clashed with new Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer across the dispatch box  when Parliament returned yesterday allowing MPs who didn’t fancy risking a seat in the chamber to operate virtually.

It took place in a very subdued atmosphere, in stark contrast to the disgraceful behaviour of MPs during the Brexit debacle.

And it threw up the unusual sight of the opposition actually holding the government to account after the baron Corbyn years, which lost the Labour Party so much credibility. Corbyn sat at the very back of the back benches where he clearly belongs.

Stressing that Labour would provide constructive opposition, Starmer put in an impressive performance, challenging the government’s performance on lockdown, testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) and their tardiness in taking up offers from British firms to make and supply PPE. Questions that they have not really answered at the daily press briefings.

Raab, of course, rejected his claims but it was clear that Starmer will be no pushover at Prime Minister’s Questions, and that is a good thing.

It was ironic it’s taken such a serious crisis to see our parliamentarians acting like human beings rather than the rabble that has emerged in recent years. It’s a fact, however, that searching questions relayed via a video link are never going to have the same resonance as a passionate delivering in the House.

Is it too much to hope that the unfolding crisis of the last few months will result in a far more respectful era of politics after the deep wounds resulting from the appalling behaviour witnessed by all parties in parliament in recent times?

Apart from the obvious pressures on the Conservative government, one factor that Boris Johnson will have to address when he returns to work is to avoid infighting among his Tory colleagues, what has become to be known as “blue on blue” disputes.

Europe has divided the Conservatives for 30 years and more and resulted in bringing down Theresa May. With rumours of a definite divide emerging among the Tories over coronavirus issues, Johnson has to forge a government that speaks with one voice throughout this crisis or the same fait could come his way.

A hike to the countryside

Yesterday was the first day of my isolation that I did not take my permitted exercise along Lyme’s seafront – except Sundays. I have written in past diary entries that walking onto the seafront early in the morning has always lifted my spirits and made me think how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful area.

But on Tuesday morning that elation turned to sorrow in a way, as it struck me that the desertion of one of the most glorious walking out vistas in the country was likely to be maintain for many weeks to come. There was almost a spooky atmosphere.

So yesterday I decided to walk in-land rather than towards the sea and joined my daughter Francesca on one of her daily hikes into the countryside. We walked out through the fields at Middle Mill to Uplyme, then up Gore Lane to Ware Cross, down Ware Lane to the cliffs and then the steep decline to the Cobb.

It was a walk I had not done for years and had quite forgotten how difficult the steps down from the cliff top were to negotiate. But I managed it without drama and we walked home via the seafront which was busier than I expected.

In all we had walked 12,000 steps (7.3 kilometers). When I got home my right knee was twice the size of the other one and I couldn’t feel my feet. But it was worth it and I hope to do it again occasionally when my delight in the Marine Parade wobbles.

As promised, here’s my six positives about being in lockdown:

  1. Our youngest daughter Francesca, who edits LymeOnline, is back living with us temporally because we are working from home; boring for her but great for my wife and I because she brings a great sense of fun to our house – and helps with the cooking!
  2. I’ve started to take a great interest in all the birds that have nested in and around our gardens. I’m now recognising their species and learning to identifying their bird songs.
  3. As a voracious reader I’m catching up on all the books I intended to read but never got around to. I rarely, if ever, read a novel but have a big collection of sporting and political biographies.
  4. I’ve recommenced my daily walking routine having had to abandon them due to a few health issues, and I’m feeling much fitter.
  5. I appreciate much more how lucky we are to live in the South West region where the virus is less virulent than in other areas of the country, and especially being able to work and live in such a lovely town as Lyme. I was born in Lyme but never fully appreciated its beauty until I went to live in London in the 1990s. And I am determined to be less critical and annoyed by those who go on Facebook criticising the town and the way it’s run so much.
  6. I’m making much time to talk to lifelong friends, people like Stuart Broom, who lived ten doors away from us when we were kids, and those with whom I played sport, people like Richard Austin and John Stamp, recalling many happy days we spent playing football and cricket. Not many days go by without speaking to them and others. I’ve come to appreciate the only important thing in life is family and friends and I’m determined to spend more time with them when this is all over.

I have been taking some stick from some of my former journalistic colleagues about not giving the press more credit for holding the government to account over the manner in which they are handling this crisis.

It has put me in somewhat of a dilemma,  especially as I have always believed in all politicians being held to account, especially where lives are concerned, but I think we may have overstepped the mark. And there’s a strong swell of non-media people who subscribe to this view.

“With parliament not sitting, who else would do this?” they wail. Well, parliament is back (of sorts) but I have no expectation that the national press will ease up on their morale-sapping interrogations.

On this matter, I read an interesting article, titled “Journalism is missing the mood of the country” by a much-respected blogger on politics, which I thought might make a thought-provoking end to this diary entry. Here it is:

“Journalism is missing the mood of the country. We don’t want blame, we don’t want argument as if this were a General Election, we want a contribution to the national effort to get us out of this crisis. We want hope, optimism and faith in our country. We need less negativity.”

Could not have put it any better myself.

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