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Shebeens and house parties: Why has following COVID guidelines become so difficult?

by Louise Slyth
25th Jan 2021

Joshua Coleman on Unsplash

Despite the record-high numbers we've hit over the last few weeks, it seems as though we've regressed when it comes to following COVID guidelines. Louise Slyth investigates why.

We are all so very very tired of Covid 19. A year ago, it was barely on our radar, and now we are into our third lockdown, wondering when, if ever, we will get back to our “old normal”. R numbers, social distancing, masks – if you weren’t living it, you wouldn’t believe it. In fact, if you were shown today’s news a year ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a horror movie.

In a few short weeks, we went from having the lowest infection rate in Europe, to the worst in the world. How we got here is the topic of much discussion. But playing the blame game is pointless, it’s what we do next that’s vital.

This is the epic health battle of our time, and yet we are already battle-weary. Lockdown 1.0 held a little bit of novelty, for lockdown 2.0 we were nobly staying home to “save Christmas”. This one just feels bleak. The difference with this new phase is that the threat is ever-present.

Until we have vaccines for all, we have very few weapons at our disposal, other than to try to stay ahead of it. Those weapons are not just masks, handwashing and staying at home.

We also must deploy compassion and sacrifice.

Back in December, we were released back out into the world with the guidance that we should be judicious with our choices and social contacts. On the back of our second lockdown, and approaching Christmas, we all just wanted a bit of normality. Now I fear we are paying the ultimate price for that short period of freedom.

In the last week, I have heard two separate stories about individuals who had close contact with multiple people whilst waiting for a Covid test result. This kind of behaviour, with all we now know, is incomprehensible and morally reprehensible.

Ultimately it comes down to this – are you prepared to be inconvenienced to possibly save the life of a stranger? It seems many people aren’t even thinking about it in these terms.

Not all heroes wear capes, but all heroes do wear masks. Yes, they are annoying, hot, uncomfortable and make it hard to be understood. They also save lives. As someone with vulnerable family members, I am incensed when I see someone in a shop wearing their mask under their nose, or worse yet, on their chin.

I know that most people are following the rules. I also know that there are some people who want to blame the government, or the new strain, or frankly anyone else if it allows them to do what they want. Sadly, I’m still hearing stories of people having house parties and secret shebeens, and I still see people wearing masks incorrectly. Even in lockdown 3.0, I’ve noticed on my walks that people aren’t giving each other the same amount of space as they used to.

Now is the time to invoke some personal responsibility. Now is the time to be cautious. Now is the time to stay home, give each other space and follow the guidelines.

In World War I, 3,000 people died in the last hour before the armistice.

I can’t help but think history is in some way repeating itself. Such pointless waste of lives that could have been avoided. More than 100 years on, we must surely be wiser and more compassionate. We can’t let weariness trick us into letting our guard down. Vaccines may be rolling out, but it could be many months before we all see the benefits.

Few of us have lived through a war, but this is our battle. Words like duty, sacrifice and courage have no real meaning for us – they have been abstract until now. Yet the actions we all take now will echo through the years to come. Did we do all we could? Our story will become our history.

Back in August last year, I suggested that “surviving Covid is not an individual pursuit but a collective endeavour”.

We need to re-align with that thinking. We have all made unpalatable and sometimes terrible sacrifices to protect each other. We need to keep our courage and stamina undimmed to ensure those sacrifices were not in vain.

Collectively we will get through this. Humankind has faced such terrors before and prevailed. This too, as they say, shall pass. When it does, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I did all I could. #Stayathome.