Perhaps symbolically, on Friday the 13th of March I started self-isolating with my sister as we both had symptoms of COVID 19. It was a full 10 days before the UK went into lockdown and whilst we were stuck inside, the world I knew was being ground to a historic halt. Being detached from everyone, even my family, was surreal. The 14 day period we spent in quarantine was exhausting.
At the start we didn’t know much, information on the situation was being drip fed via newspaper articles and columns. The guidance was geared towards older people and I was constantly left with more questions than answers. What I did know was that we had to isolate for 7 days as we had a fever and also a cough, and call 111 if we could not manage our symptoms at home. At the time, testing was not available to the general public at all so we didn’t know if we had it or if we would ever know.
We listened to reports of the Italian lockdown. Whilst a lockdown here was unpalatable, it was easier for us in quarantine to comprehend a lockdown being called. However, whilst we were considering that possibility, in the UK a total of 250,000 people met at the Races.
My grasp on time relied on the now infamous daily press conferences which started on my fourth day in isolation, by then my high temperature and chills had subsided. On our 7th day we listened as the pubs and restaurants were told to close. Guidance at the time emphasised a 7 day isolation, but our symptoms persisted and on day 8 my cough was at its worst. I remember lying in bed watching as Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, unveiled unprecedented economic interventions, pre-empting the full lockdown which started on our day 10.
We spent most of our days even finding leisurely activities tiring and struggling with a multitude of symptoms, random muscle pains being the most unusual. After a fortnight quarantined within 2 rooms, the world I emerged to was very different. Plans that I had looked forward to - family birthdays, travelling and visiting friends at university- came and went, as physically socialising was no longer possible or allowed.
Despite this, the quietness and emptiness of the streets brought me a sense of calm. The feeling that prevailed was one of being suspended in time. I started seeing this as a period of sacrifice, a sure way to protect more lives and the NHS. Along with most people, the foreseeable future was practically wiped clear of events and new beginnings as we had known them. For me, starting university after a gap year is no longer certain and if I do, the nature of life there is unclear.
For others this might mean no exams, SATS or a proper end to either primary school, secondary school, or even university, no marriages recorded and no baptisms for babies still being born. We are missing out on new experiences and getting closure on old chapters as we had expected. So many of these examples affect young people. I felt helpless, with little representation in the media during this crisis or a voice in the decisions affecting me. It was hard to accept that this was happening having gone into isolation without even a day’s notice and then emerging into a country in lockdown.
I have come to realise that it is a privilege to be able to sufficiently practice social distancing, let alone to have the space to exercise at home and have access to sufficient food and the internet. I have been particularly lucky to use some of this free time to continue advocacy with UNICEF UK’s Youth Advisory Board, especially as the aftermath of this virus could prove most difficult for young people, compared to other age groups. For many a ‘normal’ childhood is now out of reach.
The longer that a lockdown continues in any guise, we will see the worsening of inequalities in children’s physical and mental health, educational attainment and living conditions. For those young people, entering the job market the headlines are referring to it as the ‘most difficult time in living memory’ and predicting that this period of downturn could last for up to five years. Young people are more than twice as likely as other age groups to work in a sector that has now been shut down as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.
Despite all this terrible news, we have unity in this crisis. As a generation we are resilient and I think we will emerge from this pandemic with passion and conviction. None of us would have wished for a global pandemic but hopefully we can use this terrible time to learn meaningful lessons.
We are connected more than we previously admitted and this crisis has highlighted this. When we heard of the first reported COVID19 case I didn’t know that soon I would see a news presenter hold back tears after reading the total lives lost or that everyone would know what ‘8pm on Thursday’ meant. This is when we applaud the key workers risking their lives for the people of this country and for the NHS.
Along with the clapping, drumming of pots and pans and even fireworks in my area, some have sung ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. This pandemic has taken a lot from so many people but it has also allowed space for people like Captain Tom to remind us that no matter what age, young or old, you can make a difference. However, we should be clear, praising key workers should be part of a sustained commitment to valuing these people who are keeping us going, despite often being some of the lowest paid.
I can hope that when we do emerge, society will change for the better and empower young people to share their vision for their future and press for change. It has made an indelible mark on our consciousness and our views on what is important. I think I speak for most people when I say we do not want to return to how things were before but with a renewed love for our environment and communities.