Who would have thought a trip to the supermarket could be potentially life threatening? What was once as easy as 123 is now an expedition. Queuing to enter the stores wearing gloves and a mask and avoiding other shoppers at all costs would have been unthinkable just a month ago.
We are living in unprecedented times. The new reality of the Coronavirus has completely changed our habits. In my day job as a teacher, managing the learning of 250 students online, although daunting at first, has become an exciting challenge, aided by some amazing technology. I think the experience will make me a better teacher when schools eventually return to their physical buildings. I certainly won’t be doing the same things as I used to.
As every day passes and the death toll increases, even though we all feel frightened and nervous, I am amazed by how resilient and how upbeat people are managing to be. On my daily exercise outing I am met with smiles, waves and friendly greetings. The huge response from our community with offers of help for the vulnerable has been overwhelming. Hopefully this positivity will continue long after the pandemic has passed.
Here are 5 things that I hope will come out of the Coronavirus pandemic.
1 A reduction in our carbon footprint
You may have seen images of the dramatic cuts to pollution levels as contemporary economic activity has been massively disrupted and unnecessary travel has come to a halt. We all recognise that we cannot sustain this disruption indefinitely, but nor should we assume that must simply go back to the previous model. We now know that a lot of our assumptions about how we work were wrong. Many of us have found that we can (often to our surprise) work from home, although I understand that some cannot. Our planet is the main beneficiary from this pandemic and a pause in our carbon emissions is a huge positive in our challenge to address the climate change emergency. We cannot afford to go back to the pre-Coronavirus era.
2 A community revival
We have been told that the digital age killed traditional communities but we can see that nothing could be less true. The pandemic has proved that community spirit is still alive and kicking. As councillors, we have been overwhelmed by the number of people willing to volunteer. We are also amazed at the support that local businesses have shown the community and their capacity to find new ways to operate in these difficult times. Technology certainly has its place too and people are finding new ways of reaching out to friends and family via platforms such as likes of Whatsapp, Skype and Zoom. The creation of local Corona support WhatsApp groups upon which many are now dependent has been fantastic as well. As we get to know our neighbours better, I hope we will continue to keep an eye out for each other.
3 The transformation of our towns
On my daily exercise rounds, Tunbridge Wells town centre has resembled a ghost town. One of my abiding memories of this period will be the sight of people strolling down the middle of Camden road with no cars in sight. Have you noticed how much more pleasant it is to go out for a stroll or a bike ride with less traffic around? One upside for Tunbridge Wells is that we are all breathing cleaner air thanks to the lock down. Once we come out of this the Coronavirus must give us the impetus for councils, such as Tunbridge Wells, to put people and not cars at the heart of our town. Indeed, we LibDems will continue to champion this greener agenda.
4 Healthier lifestyles for all
The obesity time bomb has been overshadowed by other issues. Recently, I have seen many people jogging, walking and cycling locally and really appreciating getting out of the house for a short while. People are finding ways to keep fit via the internet too and many of our brilliant local fitness instructors are running classes on line and doing their bit to keep us happy and healthy. I am as guilty as anyone for not taking time out of my busy schedule to look after myself properly in the hope that the calories I burn knocking on doors is doing the job, however recently I have rekindled my love of cycling. The Coronavirus lock down may just kick start a health revolution!
5 Long term sustainable funding for the NHS and Social Care
Finally, we also need to have a grown up conversation about the long term funding of our NHS. it is unacceptable that doctors and nurses are dying due to a lack of personal protective equipment. It is too easy to simply applaud the NHS staff on Thursdays at 8pm and then go back to allowing our health service to lurch from funding crisis to funding crisis. The Liberal Democrats want to introduce a dedicated health and care tax for long term sustainable funding which will also help us cope with the challenges of an ageing population.The current Conservative government’s plans for social care barely cover the country’s needs for one year, let alone the rest of this five-year parliament. We certainly need more cross-party discussion on this issue.
When we emerge from this crisis, the world will have changed. We will be presented with the huge challenge of rebuilding our economy and society. Yes, this is another burden, but it is also an exciting opportunity. We will have a lot of work to do whatever we decide. Rest assured that the Lib Dems will push for a radical and transformative agenda!