The feeling in England must be not unlike the feeling in the United States. Things are slowly returning to life. Traffic is moving again, people are returning to work. The golf course near my house, where I occasionally jog the perimeter trail, is repopulated with golfers.
The former, longstanding official British slogan to “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” has been superseded by Boris Johnson’s new proclamation to “stay alert, control the virus, save lives.” The former was clear and simple, but people are confused about the latter. What exactly does “stay alert” mean? How exactly does one “control the virus” by staying alert, and how will staying alert save lives? And what about protecting the NHS (National Health Service)? What has become of that?
Despite the numerous caveats and cautions enunciated by Boris Johnson, his latest proclamation will be tragically misunderstood by the average British citizen. Like their American cousins, many Britons have no time and no patience for subtleties. Sounding a cautious relaxation in a government program intended to get everyone back in school and back at work will prove to be the same as sounding, in the minds of many, the All Clear. Indeed, an anecdotal survey of my own neighborhood bears this out. On a recent visit to my local market, a small shop densely populated by twenty people, I was the only one wearing a mask.
That the effort here is somewhat more well-organized than the effort in America is more the result of population and political structure than a measurably more astute government. The logistical exigencies of control are simply easier in a small, monolithic constituency than they are in a large one, broken up into fifty disparate dominions.
But, no matter, the result will be exactly the same. We are in for a second, far larger, far more devastating wave of death and disease. It will come exactly as it did in 1918 when the so-called Spanish Flu mutated and killed people in devastating numbers in the autumn of 1918. While COVID-19 has yet to mutate as far as we know, it will be assisted this time by the foolish and headlong incaution of the British and American governments.
As usual it will be the poor, the powerless, the voiceless who will suffer the greatest devastation. Their tragedy will be little regarded and barely heard. The inexorable march of “progress” will trample them with the same insouciance that it always does. But, as in Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” the virus will also make sick and kill the high and the mighty. It will take a little longer, but it’s coming for them too.
This will come in the form of an overwhelmed population. America and Britain are not prepared with sufficient PPEs and ventilators, and when the number of sick inevitably exceeds our ability to accommodate them, many who should not have died will die. The arithmetic is so simple a child could understand it: anyone can drink a hundred gallons of water if they have three months to do it. But no one can drink a hundred gallons of water in a single day.
If there can be said to be a silver lining in all this, it is that the virus will be at its most destructive and deadly by November. More people than ever will understand that Donald Trump and the Republican Party is the Red Death, and that they are to blame for the unnecessary tragedy their greed will cause. It is then we must be rid of them. And we will. I only wish so many didn’t have to die to see it happen. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.