Covid Life survey can help us find out how public is faring under lockdown – Professor David Porteous

A survey seeking to capture the nation’s mood during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak can help us plan for a brighter future, writes Professor David Porteous

Community spirit: firefighters in Falkirk clap for NHS workers, carers and other essential workers (Picture: Michael Gillen)
Community spirit: firefighters in Falkirk clap for NHS workers, carers and other essential workers (Picture: Michael Gillen)

Under ‘lockdown’, I am one of the lucky ones. I am writing this from the Edinburgh flat I share with my wife, working from a sun-lit spare bedroom, which I have all to myself. I am online and fully connected. I have a secure job now and in the future. I work in health research, but not on the frontline.

Covid-19 has changed everything. It is affecting every one of us, but not equally, and that’s why a survey has been launched to gauge Covid-19’s impact on our everyday lives. Included in this snapshot of the country’s general mood will be questions about the psychological, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

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The CovidLife survey will not only seek to understand how lives have been affected, but could also inform future Government responses to the virus. Make no mistake, any input based on the current state of the nation is badly needed.

How outrageous for anyone in public office to suggest that it is a “leveller” or that the “fighters” will survive. How indefensible to suggest that PPE is a “precious” commodity, not to be wasted, when it is the most basic requirement of every frontline worker, the very least we can do for our most precious citizens.

What possible reason was there, other than Brexit pig-headedness, not to take up the repeated offer from the EU to share in their PPE provisioning bid? “I am sorry you feel that way” is worse than saying, “I simply don’t care.”

We deserve a bit more honesty from No 10. We are not perfect in Scotland, but, with very few exceptions, the contrast between the daily briefings by the First Minster and those from the stand-ins for the PM are glaring.

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So how is the UK doing? The clear and simple answer is not as well as we should. But why? Covid-19 arrived in the UK on the back of 10 years of austerity, which all but crippled our social welfare sector and pushed the NHS to the limits of capacity.

Add to that the near total distraction of three unremitting years of Brexit and a moribund opposition. Then we had a pre-Xmas distraction of a landside general election led by a PM with low attention span. All in all, a recipe for disaster.

Now, a hapless Cabinet brainwashed by Brexiteers who had “had enough of experts” desperately cling to being “led by the scientific advice”.

UK slow to respond, unlike Singapore

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The new survey I’m working on is open to any UK residents over 18. We’re aiming for 100,000 participants and have just passed the 10,000 mark of surveys completed – and we’d love to recruit more. It’s vital that people’s voices are heard.

Cabinet ministers turn up to briefings and display their limitations daily. We need and deserve a lot more humility from No 10. But as fair questions are being asked of No 10, don’t you already have a strong sense who the scapegoats will be post-Covid?

We were slow out of the blocks to screen (no temperature checks at Heathrow for anyone arriving or returning from China or neighbouring countries). We still don’t have a comprehensive screening strategy in place (it is being ramped up, but the strategy is weak) and no contact tracing to speak of.

We didn’t take up offers of advice from Singapore, where lessons learnt from Sars ensured rapid implementation of contingency measures that have kept deaths to just 12 in total as of 23 April. Theirs is a dense population of 5.6 million, equal to inner London or the whole of Scotland.

As soon as word of Covid-19 came out of Wuhan, they rolled out testing, contact tracing, universal public health measures, and a financial compensation plan all backed up by ready-built ICU provision.

What about our economy? Has anyone dared to ask how the ‘savings’ made under austerity compare to the direct cost of fast-tracking the NHS back to a ‘fit-for-purpose’ pandemic status?

Terrifying uncertainty

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I can understand the sense of urgency about getting the economy going again, but as the First Minister has yet again warned, it is the health crisis that we need to sort first. Relax ‘lockdown’ too early and we risk a second wave of infection that could be worse.

Neither this Government, nor the next will recover our mounting debt burden, unless of course, there is a radical change across the whole of society, from ‘needy and greedy’ to ‘greener and kinder’.

Our hearts go out to every family who has lost someone to Covid-19, but the health effects under ‘lockdown’ are much wider and will continue long after the pandemic is in check.

With hardly any forewarning, Covid-19 has turned our lifestyle and living conditions upside down – our social lives disrupted, our children’s schooling interrupted – no end-of-year exams or certain futures for them, and for many, there is a terrifying uncertainty over future jobs and financial security.

Unsurprisingly, stress levels are through the roof and our physical and mental well-being under threat.

So the CovidLife survey will help us to find out just how we are all feeling and coping. We are inviting volunteers from across the country and from all walks of life to tell us about their life under ‘lockdown’.

It is not all doom and gloom. Under Covid-19, we have seen an upsurge of individual levels of kindness, of community and of resilience.

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If we plan now, a better future for everyone is possible.

You can join thousands of other Scots who are taking the CovidLife survey here: www.covidlifesurvey.co.uk

David Porteous is a geneticist and an emeritus professor at Edinburgh University

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