Jonathan Sumption

Social distancing destroys our lives as social beings

(Getty Images)

A lockdown diary is an oddly negative thing. At the dinner parties that we aren’t going to, we aren’t discussing all the interesting things that we aren’t doing. This week, I am not heading for the Austrian Alps to walk in some of the finest mountain scenery in Europe and enjoy a week of Schubert, as I like to do in June. The Austrian government has pioneered the technique of allowing facilities to reopen but only on terms that keep them closed. The beautiful concert hall at Schwarzenberg can open, but only with social distancing which reduces its capacity by 75 per cent and makes any performance financially unviable. In England the government plans to reopen pubs on terms that keep them half-empty and unprofitable. Theatres and sports grounds may be allowed to open but only on a basis which destroys the experience for the audience and the solvency of the venue. It is a reminder of the degree to which our social and cultural life and our parliamentary processes, in fact our whole model of work and play, depend on physical proximity to other humans. It is an integral feature of most activities in which we engage and the buildings in which they happen. There is talk of social distancing being required for a long time. Let us be realistic about what this means. Social distancing means the destruction of our life as social beings. For centuries, humans have put up with worse epidemic diseases than this and conserved the things which make humanity wonderful. Will we be the first generation who can’t face it?

Which brings me to the subject of sex. A tabloid headline on the day the new lockdown rules came into force provokes thought: ‘Sex with a person from another household illegal from today.’

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