Life After Lockdown?

It seems for better or worse, out of wisdom or foolishness, based on scientific evidence or financial desperation- lockdown is coming to an end. The spectre of a “second wave” was initially something to avoid at all costs, but is now seen as an inevitability. My personal view (and it’s my blog, so why the dickens not?) is that the ‘novelty’ of the pandemic for many has worn off, and the sheer inconvenience of lockdown has becoming more boring than exciting. Across from my house, the basketball court has been hosting full-contact matches between 10-15 people for the past 2 weeks and during a recent masked-up trip to the shops, groups of friends were taking up aisles to chat (but don’t worry, the pubs are opening up in 5 days…).

Although more anecdotal than empirical (more blag, than blog?), I can’t be the only one who realises when we make these decisions, we are saying that returning to normal quickly justifies the extra few thousands of vulnerable people who will lose their lives. The pursuit of haircuts or Primark bargains outweighed the boring chore of social distancing and protection. This may very well be an inevitable sacrifice, we can’t stay lockdowned forever after all, the UK would go bust before too long. However, it does strike me as odd that no-one comes out and just says it. But then again, perhaps that would be a bad quote for a re-election campaign? Better to “stay alert” and “follow scientific guidance” (although let’s put a pin in this one if the advice happens to sounds a trifle too cautious or expensive).

For junior researchers, like myself, perhaps I’m clinging tightly onto lockdown because of the starkness of my immediate future. The majority of British Universities have been working on shoestring budgets for as long as I’ve been associated with them. During my six years in research, I have worked voluntarily for one year, and earned £13k p/a for four. My funding has expired three times, I have taken out one bank loan, and funded two international conference travel costs myself. I want to INSIST that this is not me playing the world’s smallest violin or making myself out as a martyr. All my fellow early career researchers have been forced to make similar sacrifices to pursue a cause they feel passionate about. But let me point out, this was BEFORE Covid. I’ve heard estimates of a £100m shortfall having to now be patched, with Brexit removing a large source of our income. Our future is bleak. Many will lose their jobs. These funding gaps will not be filled for all. Bank loans will become compulsory for some. We will lose a lot of individuals who could have stood to make a real difference.

For my part in this, I will say, my department, mentors and clinical colleagues in NHS have been more supportive than I could have imagined. They have been amazing. So, in the meantime, we will continue to knock on every door to try to continue our work in pain research and trying to improve the lives of chronic pain sufferers. We will pester and irritate the every-longing bejeesus out of the budget setters and powers that be to not let it collapse, and aim for a life after lockdown with some real positives. I’m aware in my line of work, my fingers live permanently in a crossed position, but I may staple them just to be on the safe side.

But for now, to anyone that reads, please say safe, please wear a mask, please think of the workers in the NHS cleaning up our lapses in judgement and please continue to be kind to each other. After all, that last one could stand to be one real benefit from this whole Covid mess.

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