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Last week, a colleague told me a story that got right to the core of my feelings about so-called ‘freedom day’. It was the beginning of lockdown when a message from a neighbour in her road’s newly minted WhatsApp group lit up her phone. It read: “We should have a street party when all of this is over!” and she felt a smile spread across her face.
“It reminded me of my grandma’s stories about VE Day in 1945 – everyone coming together to celebrate the end of a truly devastating period,” she said. “As someone who loves a party, I’ve found real psychological sustenance over the past 16 months in imagining how I’d finally wave goodbye to the pandemic. I even bought a top in December to wear to my first ‘post-pandemic house party’ – needless to say, it is still hanging unworn in my wardrobe.”
Since March 2020, we have lived under varying degrees of fear and restriction, but one thing has helped us navigate these difficult times, shining like a light at the end of the tunnel: the end. In deepest lockdown, ‘When this is all over’ became a popular refrain and memes about Hot Vax Summer and the new Roaring 20s abounded. But now we’re here, with almost all restrictions lifted, there’s a strong feeling of anticlimax. Very few of us seem to feel like dancing in the streets.
A big part of this is undoubtedly down to the fact we haven’t reached the neat conclusion to the pandemic we’d all hoped for. Freedom feels like the wrong word when what we’re ‘celebrating’ is an unlocking with many, many caveats. Shortly after announcing the easing of laws that have bound us for so many months, the government urged us not to return to ‘normal life’ unless we want to risk restrictions being reimposed. Mask-wearing is no longer a legal obligation but still ‘expected and recommended’ in crowded places, although London Mayor Sadiq Khan was quick to assert that face coverings would remain mandatory on all Transport For London services regardless. The UK is presently recording more than 40,000 new cases of Covid-19 a day. The Test And Trace system will continue, meaning you could be yanked back into self-isolation at any moment. Travel abroad is still heavily restricted, and the government says the overall ‘need for caution and restraint is more important than ever’, meaning the ‘rules’ are now down to the individual, leaving the door wide open to conflict and confusion whenever we mix with other people, be it friends, family or members of the public. Essentially, if we mess this up and cases surge it’s our fault, which feels unfair.
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