The announcement of the ‘Rule of Six’ policy last month was met with much furore – in the south of England. Those of us in the north will have thought: lucky old them. To have a dinner for six is a liberty that has been denied to us for months now. We had a meal booked with friends in April which had to be rearranged for August because of the lockdown. The rearranged meal had to be cancelled in the end because it was for six of us: we could not (and still cannot) meet anyone from different houses. I wonder how well this is appreciated in the south.
I live outside Oldham where we been subject to the strict lockdown measures since 30 July. Since then, amongst other restrictions, we have not been able to enter anyone's house or garden (anywhere in the country, not just in the area). Further, we cannot meet anyone else outside our house for a meal or a drink. Just imagine living like that for months with still no end date in sight.
Many of us living in Oldham feel that a door was shut and the key thrown away at the end of July. We have been living in a black hole for over two months. And the result? Infections are continuing to rise and at a much higher rate than at the time of the July lockdown. It is undeniable that the infection rate in Oldham was, and still is, high. At the last count, it stood at 182 per 100,000 population – about three times the average rate in England. But what do the high case numbers mean? Some 271 people have died of Covid-19 here since the start of the pandemic. But only ten people have died since the end of July and in the last three weeks of September there were no new coronavirus deaths in hospital registered in Oldham.
When the whole of the UK was in lockdown, it was easier to cope because everyone was doing their bit. But now, it’s as if we’ve been singled out for a failing experiment. No friends or neighbours popping in, no meals arranged with friends, no family gatherings, no pub quizzes. These are just simple, social events which make life worth living. Boris says ‘there is hope’ and ‘there is a way ahead’. Not in Oldham there isn't.
These sacrifices would be easier to bear if they had any effect on the spread of the virus but the infection rate in Oldham has continued to soar. So what evidence do we have that local lockdowns work? How has anyone benefited from our imprisonment? The last thing I want to do is ‘level down’ and have the south locked down too. There is no evidence that a lockdown works in the north – so why penalise the south?
The local lockdown was meant to be reviewed weekly. Oldham council’s website gives no information about this supposed weekly review – we can only assume that lockdown is the new norm and will continue to the end of the year. And well beyond. There is no end in sight. We are repeatedly told that the government is ‘following the science.’ But it is starting to seem like they’re making new decisions just to justify their previous decisions. There are other valid scientific approaches to lockdown, ones that don’t involve incarcerating millions of us in our homes. It’s about time the government found another way.