Why common sense alone won’t defeat pandemic – Jayne Dowle

HERE we go again. The Prime Minister would like us to use our ‘common sense’ as deaths from Covid-19 plummet and social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Will the reopening of the hospitality sector lead to an increase in Covid infections?

Haven’t we been down this precarious path before, in June and October last year? He told us to use our common sense then and look where it got us; the ever-tightening tier system followed by that ill-fated Christmas break, followed by months of lockdown from January onwards.

I don’t know about you, but Mr Johnson’s faith in us is hardly filling me with confidence. I accept things are different now. Millions of people have been vaccinated, with a significant proportion – almost 18m – receiving both doses.

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Still, I have my reservations. As I said back in June, this pushing of ‘common sense’ is either a sign of the Government’s touching trust in the public to do the right thing, or the ultimate absolution of responsibility.

Boris Johnson has appealed to the public to show common sense over the lifting of the lockdown.

We understand how this particular psychological experiment works now. If we don’t keep our side of the bargain, we only have ourselves to blame should Covid cases start to skyrocket and restrictions again imposed from above.

The problem is that common sense is not a measurable quality. It is entirely down to the individual to interpret what it means.

For instance, you might decide to venture to a local beauty spot this weekend, and sit quietly with a friend by the side of your car, with a flask of coffee you made at home.

Others, meanwhile, may decide to congregate en masse for a picnic or barbecue, unvaccinated under-40s, teengers and children mixing freely with each other. If the R rate suddenly starts to climb again, whose fault will that be? Not yours, certainly, but because the common-sense spectrum is so broad, we’re all held accountable.

Should shoppers still be expected to conform to social distancing?

Collective responsibility, in other words. And this is extremely difficult to measure and police in a country known for its fierce individualism. If we had a written constitution, our Second Amendment would be the right to do as we please.

I’ll give you another example. I’ve been the first to challenge some of the more questionable elements of social restrictions, in particular the number of people able to meet safely outdoors.

However, other situations are obviously risky. Apart from a brief interlude last summer, my 15-year-old daughter has neither held nor attended a sleepover at a friend’s house.

This mainstay of teenage weekend life has been off-limits because the rules on household mixing have added up. Lizzie’s age group is still not remotely vaccinated and there are a number of new Covid cases in her school every week.

I was shocked then when I took a socially-distanced visit to a family member on the other side of town recently – we sat in the garden – and fell into conversation with her neighbour, a mother in her forties. Not a young, daft lass, but a grown-up professional woman.

She was happily organising a sleepover for four or five 13-year-olds at her house that evening. I was aghast. What kind of interpretation of common sense would this be?

If there was an outbreak of a sickness bug in a neighbourhood, no sane parent would encourage a gang of kids to get together in their home for the night.

So why ignore what should be a gut instinct about the spread of any virus? Would this be your interpretation of ‘using common sense’? It certainly isn’t mine.

Personal interpretation is crucial, and no more so here in Barnsley, where the infection rate is still one of the highest in England.

However Boris Johnson says that we shouldn’t “suddenly throw caution to the wind” while saying, in the next sentence, that we must also take tentative steps towards normal life.

What then, of all those people who will find it impossible to shake off the shackles coronavirus has put us under?

When I’m out walking my dog, people still jump off the pavement and cross the road as we approach – and that’s not because the dog has taken on a more menacing demeanour since March last year.

I understand the fear of airborne virus transmission, but I do try and square this with the fact that every single one of those swerving individuals has been older than me, so therefore at least as vaccinated.

Why do they still feel the need to duck and dive when another human being approaches? How will the Government address their fears and offer reassurance? It’s fair to say that the scales of common sense are going to need a great deal of calibration this summer.

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