Even still, a Yorkshire woman born and bred, I started shopping in a mask and back before I knew otherwise, gloves. It was the only place my husband and I visited during lockdown, twice a month, just a five-minute walk from our house.
It seemed clear that supermarkets – with their high foot traffic and turnover, sudden gridlocks, and the persistent necessity of touch – were not a safe place to be. Yet our self-appointed PPE saw us on the receiving end of ample stares, tuts of disdain, and verbal mocking.
This waned only slightly as summer arrived, even as real-life horror stories of isolation, suffocation, and untimely deaths rose and rose again. Every visit to the shop I watched something that made me reel in horror; a child licking the handle of his mother’s supermarket trolley in the queue while she took photos. A man at the check-out, chewing remnants of his fingernails as he polished off a packet of crisps. Large families walking five abreast down the aisles, and others picking up unpackaged fruit and vegetables and tossing them back again.
When mandatory mask use in shops was finally introduced, I breathed a huge sigh of relief (from behind my mask, of course). It wasn’t a cure-all move, and I was shocked that the government wasn’t going to provide them for free for those who couldn’t afford the extra cost.
In the three weeks that followed the ruling, only one shop in my area sold masks – the pharmacy, at five for £10. It was a prohibitive expense for many. But as they became more widely available, and cheaper, I welcomed a definitive rule that would go at least some way to protecting the people of my city.
Floundering politicians and vague instructions have left so many confused and distrustful; a dangerous combination. It’s on the government’s handling of the crisis where I place the blame. Reticence to follow hygiene guidelines has by no means been a Leeds or Yorkshire-only issue either. But these are the only area I have experience of. And as such, I’m not surprised that yesterday, a local lockdown was introduced.
Over summer, as the first lockdown eased and I ventured out into other areas of a city I adore, varying levels of resistance persisted. It’s something we’ve seen across the UK. I walked in and back out of a high-end coffee chain because all three staff members were wearing their masks around their chins. I visited a school in which a teacher had to chase down a teenager who refused to answer when she asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask. His impatient reply eventually came: “I’m not spreading corona everywhere.”
Perhaps worst of all was watching a young couple, the woman heavily pregnant and expensively dressed, drifting around a sofa shop sipping artisan, takeaway coffee, neither wearing masks. Perhaps they both had medical reasons, but the nature of their activity didn’t suggest so.
Then there’s been the reports in the local news. In May, 200 people destroyed a protected nature reserve with a late-night party. It became a rebellious, irresponsible trend that reared its head in varying forms throughout the summer, happening again at one park in July, and at another in August. Some 300 people attended the latter. The organiser has since said he expected around 500 had police not arrived. At the same park, in the same month, anti-lockdown activists who believe the virus to be a hoax met. “Many of us here today would rather die than live in your new word,” an unnamed speaker told the crowd that gathered.
In a city of nearly 475,000, the ravers and intentional rule breakers make up tiny, perhaps insignificant, numbers under other circumstances. They do not represent my brilliant, vibrant city. But no one can call the 2,625 deaths from Covid-19 across Yorkshire insignificant.
I despair at the thought of a local lockdown, and what it will do to people already struggling financially, mentally, physically, or otherwise. My husband and I, who have both already lost jobs, will be cut off from our families, who live in other towns and cities.
We worry for our friends and neighbours who may now lose their income to potential closures and bans. I cannot understand the logic of allowing 100 people to congregate in restaurants and bars, but not seven people in their own homes and gardens. Who can? But once again, under all of that fear and cynicism, I breathe the same sigh of relief as last time. If a local lockdown will save lives, I have to believe it’s worth it.