“Do you have any idea how much disruption they have caused?”
Jenny’s comment echoed the sentiments of our small group of volunteers at the Zoom meeting to discuss Christmas Day lunch, which we have been hosting for many years. Grudgingly, we had come to the conclusion that, under the current circumstances, we had no choice but to cancel (even before last weekend’s announcement), with the result that 60 lonely seniors, some in their 90s, and 40 Volunteers, alone, would be deprived of a holiday gift, which had always been important but this year carried unusual weight.
We had considered replacing food on the table with home delivery, but it became clear that a assembled team of volunteers could not run such an enterprise under Covid-enhanced regulations without substantial training and practice in the kitchen. The logistics involved in organizing this, along with transportation, service, cleaning, cleaning, plus the encyclopedia of “hygiene” standards, were beyond us. The best thing we could do on our own was gather volunteers with guests, deliver a bag of goodies, and chat at the front door, and even that carried risk.
So we consulted with other community agencies dealing with older and isolated people, and various alternatives were discussed. The best option was to hold an open afternoon on Christmas Day with tea and cakes in the community arts center, with volunteers picking up and returning guests, invited via databases and brochures.
On examination, it was clear that such personal engagement involved an administrative nightmare, obtaining their consent, pairing and then acquainting the delivery person with the recipient, explaining to the recipient what was being proposed, social distance, and conversation masks amidst the muffled talk. and the deaf charlatan. ineffective, while the risks involved in anything edible were insurmountable. On a legal note, drivers would likely need a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check, on their insurance and, who knows, a negative test within 48 hours. They would also need to be “qualified” to handle elderly and disabled people in and out of cars safely.
In the end, we’ve settled for encouraging families to cook an extra portion of Christmas dinner and deliver it, masked, visor, and socially estranged to a neighbor with minimal talk.
However, one thing was certain: the need was overwhelming. This Christmas, there will be a pandemic of loneliness: our regular guests, already battered by confinement, fear a day when their isolation will be more cruelly exposed. Food is the least of their worries: they need company. And we had “company”: there would be a plethora of volunteers this year equally desperate to make up for the absence of family by sharing with others and connecting with normality.
In every discussion, the same obstacles frustrated us and illustrated a disturbing and inconvenient truth: Our response to Covid has destroyed the basic social contract. Compliance has not only deprived us of our access to relatives, friends and company, but we have become mutual threats. We have contracted anthropophobia.
This microscopic parish dilemma provided a vivid and ominous illustration of the global situation. We feel compelled to cancel lunch on Christmas Day for the same reasons that have driven Political Covidiocia: fear. It seems that no one from Sage (the science and technology committee that advises ministers) factor in the damage to mental health caused by confinement until very recently. Social distancing was the creation of a clique of data-obsessed socially illiterate panjandrums, a product that stifles civic life across the board by clogging the social lungs. For a socially literate species, which owes its evolutionary success to its ability to collaborate, reconcile and cohabit, it would be difficult to find a more effective means of disrupting the system.
So the answer to Jenny’s question about whether scientists and politicians realize how much disruption they have caused is a resounding “no” for a simple reason. Sage deals with “data”, that is, knowledge, and that is not the same as understanding, which can only be obtained by being in real and not virtual contact with the material. And the crumbs are the priority material but nobody asked us how the dying felt about it. If you had asked Dottie, an 80 year old neighbor who will be joining me and my son on Christmas Day at Level 3, you would understand. For starters, she, like many of us, is a fierce advocate for putting young people at the head of the vaccine line, not us.
He was also telling them that we can survive without the turkey and pudding, but without the accompanying social connection we will wither and, yes, we will die.
• Stewart Dakers is an 82 year old community volunteer
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