We’re a shell shocked nation in need of cautious optimism – Alastair Stewart

The constant barrage of negative Covid stories will have an effect, writes Alastair Stewart

This tribute to the NHS at Waverley Station is another visibile reminder of the impact of the virus (Picture:: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
This tribute to the NHS at Waverley Station is another visibile reminder of the impact of the virus (Picture:: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

I’m confident when stories are written about these times ‘Covid’ will be an umbrella term. We can’t yet appreciate how much of background the crisis will become to music, art, television and cinema. Think of every war story, every moment of social unrest, every achievement – and every disaster – serving as the setting for a myriad of stories.

Like many of you, I’ve almost run out of adjectives to describe the present situation. From lockdowns to riots to culture wars, we’re slap bang in the middle of a storm.

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It’s false hope to say things can return to how they used to be. Everyone has the same twinge of excitement when a speech is made announcing some easing of restrictions. And yet, if all the rules disappeared tomorrow, I’m not sure it’s possible to undo the months of conditioning the country has been through.

Alastair Stewart is a public affairs consultant with Orbit Communications

Walking along a busy street is now stressful. It’s annoying when people don’t consider social distancing or if you see someone without a mask in a corner shop – and that’s before we get back into packed cafes, restaurants or even cinemas.

Rampant short-termism has been the only way to adjust to the shock to the system. We take it day by day. But it seems the bigger picture begs the question – how will the Scottish and UK governments ever comfortably remove the ‘risk’ factor from something as benign as having a pint?

For months there has been no escape from the ceaseless information about the dangers of Covid-19. On your phone or your tablet or social media, it makes no difference – there it is, another disaster, another development, another death due to Covid-19. You don’t just forget about that as we proceed through the de-escalation of lockdown. As a nation, the constant barrage of negative Covid stories might not erode our resolve, but it will undoubtedly ingrain new habits from new fears. Have we stopped to consider what the ‘new’ handshake will be?

This isn’t pitying. It’s the reality of a global pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives, crippled the economy and left us all housebound. We’ve barely begun to address the backlog of surgeries, medical treatments and appointments that need to resume. The calamity is unprecedented.

Napoleon said he very rarely encountered 2am courage: when the voice inside your head starts and doesn’t let up its checklist of what could go wrong. We’ve spent years asking our society what happens when children are exposed to violent or graphic games and TV shows. The same logic applies to adults – what happens after months of constant bad news and worry and upset? Can the switch just be flipped back to OK?

When this is over, or shows signs of easing, how many of us will actually want to spend time in crowds? How many of us will be able to do so without wondering if the person within breathing distance is sick? It’s not paranoia on the back of a national lockdown.

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Cautious optimism has to be the new, tempered norm. We’re a shell shocked nation now, and we have tread carefully and accept that normality is in front of us, not behind us.

Alastair Stewart is a public affairs consultant with Orbit Communications. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart