Why breaking Covid lockdown rules is like ‘boiling the frog’ – Karyn McCluskey

Don’t contribute to the erosion of the lockdown by gradually starting to bend the rules, writes Karyn McCluskey.

Edinburgh's Royal Mile is deserted as people abide by the lockdown's restrictions (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

I have written how the current crisis has brought out the humanity in many of us; from individuals, to companies and governments. But crisis brings out a whole range of responses, not all – or even many – positive. With lockdown extended for another three weeks, our frustrations lengthen, our tolerances shorten and our tempers fray.

You’ll have seen this demonstrated across your social media feeds. Complaints and finger-pointing about lockdown rule-breaking abound; neighbours having parties, sunbathing in parks, multiple trips out for unessential reasons. And on the other side, there are posts about overzealous policing; shopping bags being checked, people ordered to stay out of their own gardens; extensive questioning on the who, what, why and where of daily exercise trips. There is plenty of division as well as connection happening and for the most part, it comes from the same place – fear.

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Policing a public health issue was always going to be a challenge. Normal activities, that we take for granted, are suddenly limited or banned altogether. We can’t visit our family, go to the pub, hang out in public spaces – we can’t even pop to the shops when the fancy takes us and when we do, it is a drastically altered experience.

Get in, get what you need, get out and go home. There can’t be many of us who have experienced this kind of curtailment of personal freedom. And understanding why doesn’t change how difficult it is and the increasing stress it places upon us, particularly if the very home you are confined to is not a safe place to be.

Likewise, in a time when we are all (mostly) doing our very best to stay indoors, what looks like heavy-handed or unfair policing is going to rile. Instinctually we understand that the restrictions are so extreme that any overreaching by authority figures feels especially wrong and unjust.

Most of us will have had very little, if any, experience of the wrong side of the law and it’s uncomfortable that we could have for doing something that just weeks ago was a normal mundane activity.

I wonder if we would respond differently if we were asked to socially distance by people wearing a different uniform? A healthcare professional or someone wearing a red cross at least. Would it alter how we reacted to them – would it alter how they interacted with us?

I don’t know the answer to that but I do think we need a bit more compassion and common sense. We, citizens and professionals alike, need to take a step back and find a shared perspective – really, we are all in the public health business now. Life has changed in many ways but some things remain and we would do well to remember that. We are still more than our job or our actions; we are all human and we are all afraid. That goes for the panic-buyer, the rule-breaker and the police officer, as well as the doctor, nurse, cleaner, delivery driver. That doesn’t excuse defying lockdown measures and it doesn’t excuse misuse of powers but perhaps it helps us to understand a little, how mistakes and bad choices can be made.

The task of maintaining the lockdown will only get more difficult, as will the role of police. Bending or ignoring the rules is a little like boiling the frog; we erode the lockdown in degrees, reducing its effectiveness.

In the next few months we will all know someone who has died or been seriously ill with Covid-19, or had a longed-for operation cancelled because the NHS is occupied with the outbreak. I hope that knowledge isn’t tinged with regret in relation to social distancing, knowing what we personally did contributed to the outcome of another. Regret is a mighty weight. I know so many people who have regretted their actions, and it never leaves them. Stay safe all.

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