The Other Pandemic We Currently Face

“When exactly do we consider the wider psychological pandemic of lives lost to mental ill health, loneliness, isolation and suicide?”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 28/09/2020 – Article Unavailable Online

In this column four weeks ago, I asked if Dundee was on course for another lockdown but restrictions introduced this week apply to whole country. As I watched the UK Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister deliver their national address one after the other last week, I had mixed views. On one hand, in a context of rising infections, I agree we must safeguard those with serious health conditions as well as our senior citizens but, on the other, should we place restrictions on an entire population?

The new measures reignite the debate on lives-versus-livelihoods. Last week, I spoke to a number of Dundee taxi drivers who said 10pm curfews will significantly reduce their earnings, most notably at weekends. One driver told me: “September is one of the most important months for us because it is when the students come back for Fresher’s Week.” Another said his earnings are down 60% per month since February and admitted he submitted an application for, and is now receiving, Universal Credit.

One city centre restaurateur last week stated that the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme had increased footfall but feared new measures would drive down custom all over again rendering the intent “worthless”. A publican, who only took on a new lease weeks before lockdown, said business had been slow since reopening and said the curfew would result in cutting hours from staff already residing on a restricted income and may involve releasing at least one staff member, or potentially more.

In his national address last week, the UK Prime Minister blamed the public for the re-emergence of coronavirus saying there had been “too many breaches, too many opportunities for our invisible enemy to slip through undetected.” It could not, of course, have had anything to do with his own attempts to encourage commuting employees back to their offices by using public transport nor the provision of an eat out scheme intended to stimulate the economy only to shut it all back down again.

However, I suspect the biggest myth of all is the forlorn hope that by installing a set of new measures, we are in fact preserving some precious way of life we will soon recover. By contrast, we are actually taking a hatchet to our already ailing economy, tying a noose around the neck of our national health service and social security system and handing a stick of fiscal dynamite, in the form of a growing national debt, to our children that even my eight-year-old son will not see paid off in his lifetime.

Beyond the travesty of lost livelihoods that will be more fully laid bare in the next month when furlough ends, at what point do we consider the wider psychological pandemic of lives lost to mental ill health, loneliness, isolation and suicide or even the terminally ill friend I spoke to last week whose cancer appointment was postponed? Are these lives any less valuable?