Covid-19 crisis: Have we reached what Winston Churchill would have called the 'end of the beginning'? – Christine Jardine

As other countries around the world begin to report no new cases of Covid-19 coronavirus, there is hope that the UK is starting to turn the corner, writes Christine Jardine MP.
Boris Johnson could have used a phrase from his hero Winston Churchill to describe the current stage of our fight against Covid-19 (Picture: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty Images)Boris Johnson could have used a phrase from his hero Winston Churchill to describe the current stage of our fight against Covid-19 (Picture: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson could have used a phrase from his hero Winston Churchill to describe the current stage of our fight against Covid-19 (Picture: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty Images)

There is a date this week that would always have been significant, but in the current circumstances takes on a whole extra layer of meaning.

In May 1945 a generation celebrated the end of a bloody conflict which had torn the continent apart with a cost in lives which is still difficult to comprehend.

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The relief they must have felt to have survived, mixed for so many with the overwhelming grief that their loved ones would not be amongst those coming home, is something that subsequent generations could only imagine.

And yet this May it’s possible that, perhaps for the first time, a generation will come to the 75th anniversary of that day with some understanding of what it might have meant.

That is not to suggest for a minute that the current national emergency approaches the same scale as the Second World War.

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I have not been lying awake at night, as my grandmother did, worrying about two sons in the armed forces and two young daughters still at school and suffering the deadly bombings which devastated so many of our cities.

What we may now have come to understand on some scale, however, is the separation, mounting death tolls, the personal grief and concern for those tackling a now viral enemy on the front line.

But there is one other thing that we share with that generation.


When the Prime Minister returned to the national stage this week and announced that he believes the Covid-19 crisis may have passed its peak, it was the first suggestion that the light may be appearing at the end of the tunnel.

Images of South Korea as it reported no new local cases, news footage of Spain beginning to lift lockdown and Italy re-opening for business all added to the nascent optimism.

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Of course, there must still be caution. We must be wary of a second wave.

But is it possible that now that spring is in full bloom we can start to look ahead?

We can make the most of that opportunity for renewal which we share with the post-war generation.

Out of that period of turmoil came the NHS, the welfare state as we know it now and economic growth.

We also have that chance to re-imagine and rebuild society for a new century.

With one priority which was not even on the radar in 1945 but now is our top target. Climate Change.

You don’t have to be an environmental specialist to have realised that the world’s carbon footprint will have been reduced dramatically over the past six weeks.

Regular readers will know that campaigning for cleaner air in Corstorphine has been a feature of my first three years as MP for Edinburgh West.

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My office is on St John’s Road, one of the most polluted stretches of highway in Scotland together with Queensferry Road further north but still within my seat.

The difference just now is palpable.

Living in Corstorphine, I have begun to walk our puppy along St John’s Road some days and the air quality is, I believe, considerably better.

And it’s not just here. There have been reports from all over the world of people who suffer from asthma finding their breathing much easier.

There have been an estimated 11,000 fewer deaths from pollution in the UK and across Europe than is normal for this time of year.

And there have been fewer preterm births.

Our wildlife and nature are also adapting with animals spotted in areas closer to towns and in new locations.

But perhaps the most astonishing thing is what appears to be happening with the ozone layer.

It is not a direct consequence, but the past two months has coincided with the closing of the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic.

Scientists say that although it is not related it does show what is possible. The ozone layer can be healed.

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Perhaps it is the years-old ban on CFCs, but it is recovering slowly.

As we begin to look increasingly towards moving out of lockdown, we have to hold on to what we gain from this as much as recognise what we have lost or needs repaired.

Many of us have changed aspects of our own lives, taken up a new hobby or returned to an old one.

I have rediscovered the joys of cooking, walking the dog or just strumming my guitar.

On the wider stage, we have a chance to balance the unexpected progress that lockdown has allowed us to make on pollution, with the need to get the economy moving again.

In Edinburgh, May is often a time when the city’s population begins to divide into those who relish the tourist influx with the Royal Highland Show and the Festivals, and those who dread them.

For many, they mean extra traffic, crowded streets, endless delays.

But for many more, they are their lifeblood.

Neither will happen this year.

The organisers of the Festival say they hope to have some visual presence and, if circumstances allow, some grassroots community events.

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Over seven decades we have seen the event develop and grow. Could that improvised development become a future feature?

We will not know for a while but it may be typical of the many things which will adapt in a way that we cannot anticipate.

We still have a long way to go before we can claim to have beaten Covid-19 and can start that renewal.

But I couldn’t help but wonder this week if, when the Prime Minister was addressing the latest developments on the fight against Covid-19, a phrase from his hero Churchill might be in his mind.

Perhaps we have reached the “end of the beginning”.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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