It’s a stark reminder of the key role post offices and Royal Mail staff hold as we continue to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Every time I stand in the queue, I read this sign and consider how much life has changed this year. We now recognise the men and women who work behind the counter, sort out mail and deliver parcels, letters and cards to our door as key workers.
It’s disgusting that there have been so many unsavoury arguments about who qualifies for “key worker” status. Whilst the position of doctors, nurses and all NHS staff on the front line can’t be argued with, the standing of others has caused divisive, and ultimately futile, debate.
Whatever the status of the country and its leadership this December, we are still all in this together. As we face the bleakest Christmas since the dark days of the Second World War, we would do well to call a truce and recognise those who are literally putting their lives on the line.
The Government defines eight key worker groups; health and social care; education and childcare; utilities and communication, food and necessary goods; transport; key public services; public safety and national security; and national and local governments.
We should reflect today on the people battling behind the scenes to keep the lights on and our homes warm. We should think about the men and women who maintain Yorkshire Water, even in the bleakest weather in our most isolated areas.
And we should also consider the police officers, ambulance crews and firefighters for whom this Christmas will, fundamentally, be no different. They never have the luxury of two weeks’ paid leave or workplace shutdown. They’re dealing with crimes, emergencies, accidents and atrocities, working shifts and overtime year in, year out. It’s the same for farmers and agricultural workers.
I was surprised to find that, as a journalist, I come under the “communication” heading and could, technically, cite key worker status if I wished. As if I would. As if my cosy experience, long-time working from home, compares to that of many of my friends employed in care homes, hospitals and schools. They are all exhausted, their own physical and mental health compromised, regardless of coronavirus.
Unlike so many people, the pandemic has not impacted my working arrangements. And I have too much respect for those directly dealing with often desperate members of the public to give my status even a serious thought.
My friend for instance is a mental health advocate. It was her job, at the start of the pandemic, to identify and assist vulnerable people living alone in poverty and squalor. Back in April, she gave me an upsetting account of an elderly lady who had become too disorientated to look after herself; with no relatives to care for her, she had to be forcibly removed from her cottage and taken into a care home.
Then there was the elderly gentleman who passed away, an early victim of Covid-19. My friend’s team were faced with the heart-breaking decision to have his faithful dog, which the vet discovered was suffering from cancer, put to sleep.
My neighbours are weary vets, key workers too under the “health” heading. They have also been at the sharp end all year. Unbelievably, clients have been taking out their frustrations on the surgery staff, refusing to follow social distancing rules and abusing those at work behind the counter, one even spitting in a veterinary nurse’s face.
The lady who owns our local post office is also weary. It is always the hub of the community, but this year it’s become a lifeline for all the people who want to avoid crowds and stay local. Usually, even on Christmas Eve, I’m dashing down there with some kind of last-minute errand. This December, I resolved to send my cards and parcels in good time. If I’ve learned one thing in 2020, it’s how to plan ahead.
We have family in Kent and Surrey; their own postal service has been erratic for months now due to staff sickness and quarantine. Also, one family member has a compromised immune system through chemotherapy, so all mail has to be disinfected and kept in quarantine for 72 hours before opening.
What though of the postal workers who must deal with millions of such parcels, cards and letters? What about their own health and safety?
What too of the delivery drivers of essential supplies, such as food and petrol, who must travel up and down the country and across tiers because they have no choice? Their role is vital. Instead of complaining that your Christmas has been cancelled, why not raise a quiet toast to all our key workers instead?
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