Diary of a Lockdown, day 114: is it safe to go out?

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I’m making face-masks out of old T-shirts. As the government has stopped dithering and made face-masks compulsory in shops as well as on public transport, we are going to need a supply. I don’t want to be adding to the plastic waste in the oceans, so I’m hoping my family can be persuaded to use washable re-usable ones. So far, they haven’t been too keen.

For the style-conscious teens, I might need to splash out on cooler designs; I fear my random bits of T-shirt material don’t pass the embarrassment test. It’s got to be something they want to wear – or they just won’t.

And now that lockdown has fizzled out, it’s become harder to get them to take precautions. Are they hand-washing as much as they did at the start? Are they really staying a metre or two apart when they meet friends? Almost certainly not when they are playing football or basketball.

Life outside the home is resuming, albeit in a new form.

I drove to north London to walk with a friend in Highgate Woods at the weekend. It was the first time I’ve crossed the river since early March and it felt like quite an adventure. The journey was long and slow; widened pavements to make space for more pedestrians mean narrower roads for those of us travelling inside a tonne of metal.

After four months of sticking mainly to SW2 and SW16, it was strangely exciting to pass by the capital’s landmarks again; I can report that the MI5 building is still there; as is Victoria station; Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch. In our lockdown lives, our physical worlds had shrunk. I was struck by how in life before lockdown, the ability to travel was something I took for granted. It’s one of the privileges of affluent 21st century life that we don’t notice until it’s gone.

While shops, pubs, swimming pools are all now opening, my yoga classes will stay closed. Instead I will be teaching classes online for the forseeable future. My little home studio, where I normally teach up nine people at a time, isn’t large enough to space people out. The loss of income from this – and retreats – is considerable. And it’s the same story for millions of other families. We know we are heading for a deep recession.

So the chancellor ‘Dishy Rishi’ Sunak, is keen to get us out spending. He has been filmed waiting tables in Wagamama and from August will be offering us half-priced meals at restaurants up and down the land.

In Streatham, I’ve been trying to give some custom to our local charity and gift shops, but it isn’t always easy to stay distanced in the smaller spaces inside these little, independent stores.

We have also booked a table at Bar 61 – our local restaurant-bar – for younger son’s forthcoming birthday. We’d be heartbroken to see Bar 61 go under, having had one of our first dates there more than 20 years ago – and celebrated many family occasions there since. We all want and need our local businesses to stay in business. But already, the live human experiment of easing lockdown is showing some worrying results. New Covid-19 infections are beginning to rise again.

According to the Covid Symptom Study, run by King’s College London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, some 25,356 people had symptomatic Covid-19 on 13th July, a figure that has been rising since 7th July. The R number, which needs to stay below 1 to indicate that the spread of the virus is reducing, is now 1.1 nationally and 1.3 here in London.

At the start of lockdown, there was a sense of community spirit; we were all battening down the hatches together to weather a storm. But now, four months in, we’re being allowed out again even though it’s still raining. It’s very unsettling.

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