The Coronavirus Diaries – #1 social distancing, home schooling, lockdown and finding a new ‘normal’

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I have moments where I find myself questioning if this is really happening. Am I dreaming? Did I imagine it? And then there are the moments when I wake up (on the nights I can sleep… because often I am wide awake, unable to switch off) and I forget for a second before it all comes hurtling back into the forefront my mind.

The idea of a whole planet engulfed by an infectious disease with a significant death rate, billions of people staying at home, keeping their distance from others, hospitals overflowing, supermarkets stripped bare, ignoring government advice. It sounds like the plot of a blockbuster disaster movie or something from the history books. A true pandemic.

Yet here we are, March 2020 and the UK is in the midst of battling Covid-19, a deadly type of Coronavirus, which has already caused devastation in China, Iran, Spain in particular and many other countries… and is spreading worryingly fast around the UK, with the worst yet to come. As I write this, the total number of confirmed cases in the UK has risen to 6,650, up from 5,683 from yesterday. The number of deaths stands at 335; 54 more than yesterday. 354,677 cases confirmed globally; 15,436 confirmed deaths. Rising constantly. You don’t need me to tell you any more about the ins and outs of Coronavirus: it’s inescapable in the news and social media. It’s all anyone is talking about.

Trying to contain the disease – to lessen its death toll and to ease the burden on the NHS by avoiding a huge peak of infections – has seen mass events cancelled. Restrictions on international travel. Smaller social gatherings stopped. Whole workforces transforming, pretty much overnight, to work at home. Theatres and cinemas closing. Pubs and restaurants turning to take away only… and now shutting up completely. We were told to stay at home as much as we can. If we do go out, to stay at least two meters away from anyone else. Not everyone was listening though. Tourist attractions over the weekend were as busy as a summer bank holiday. So now we are on lockdown; we have to stay at home other than limited essential reasons.

And of course the schools are closed to all but the children of the most essential key workers.

Like I said, it sounds like some apocalyptic movie.

But it’s our reality.

And it’s going to be our reality for months to come.

I have days when I feel completely overwhelmed and the tearful outbursts are plentiful. Last week was one of those weeks. Would events be cancelled or wouldn’t they? Could we go to places or not? Would the schools close? Will our May holiday go ahead? All my work started to disappear. I found the uncertainty difficult. The feeling of fear would start in the pit of my stomach, travel up my chest and leave me gasping for breath. I’m grateful to have yoga in my life to be able to breathe myself to a calmer state. Until it all starts up again.

Anyone with any kind of possible symptom was being told to self-isolate for seven days. And then the advice changed to 14 days along with everyone else in their household. We’ll never know if they had Covid-19 or any other winter bug. But we couldn’t take the chance that it could spread. On Wednesday came the announcement that the schools were to close by Friday….

Living near University Hospital Wales, I have a large number of friends working in frontline NHS services. The first time I realised how serious Covid-19 could be was back in early February when a friend who is an experienced nurse in infectious diseases told me were long overdue a pandemic… and she highly suspected this was going to be it. I have friends who are GPs, nurses, consultants, radiographers and it wasn’t long before I started hearing their stories from the frontline. It was real here in Cardiff way before the media told us it was real. My nurse friend was always one step ahead of the government with her advice on social distancing and keeping our circles as small as we could. My NHS friends are terrified. They fear for their patients. They fear for the hospitals being overwhelmed. They know they and their families are at risk. But what else can they do other than do their utmost to look after those in their care?

I spent most of last week on the verge of tears. The messages from school became more frequent and urgent. Self-isolation with any symptoms. Make sure we have your contact details. Make sure you can access learning sites. We are preparing for all eventualities. And then. The Announcement. My WhatsApp groups went into overdrive. My eight year old asked when he might next see his friends and that broke me. I honestly didn’t know what to tell him. The teachers looked completely shell shocked at every drop off and pick up. Parents panicked about juggling work and teaching their kids.

Strangely I feel calmer now we are at home and there is less uncertainty about what will and won’t be open or taking place. I know we are at home for the foreseeable. Even before tonight’s lockdown we had made the decision to stay in the house other than taking short walks around our immediate neighbourhood and visiting the shops when we need to. I’m sad I can’t say the same for others who treated the last few days like a summer bank holiday rather than a global emergency, visiting local attractions in their droves and ignoring all the advice on social distancing. We all knew lockdown was the next step; people were asked nicely but they ignored the guidance. It’s the only option left.

Our days are different now. Who knows how long this will last. We are slowly trying to find a new normality. And it’s hard! It’s really hard to be stuck at home, no change of scene, not seeing anyone else, no socialising. But that’s the sacrifice we must make because the alternative is so much worse.

Today was our first day of home learning. With a makeshift school on our dining table and a mum who doesn’t quite know what she’s doing yet. The internet is filled with memes on how it’s okay if your kids don’t learn much. This isn’t home school; this is a global emergency and we just need to do what we can to get by. Forget the academic stuff and just reassure your kids with cuddles and stories. Play games and help them to learn life skills by doing things around the house. But then it’s also full of brightly coloured learning schedules and ideas for home study and learning projects… and a lot of us are left wondering if we are failing our kids by being unsure on how to teach them, sometimes multiple kids of different ages, as well as work from home. There are children who can’t sit their GCSEs or A-levels. There are parents who are stressed and worried and panicking. There are parents with busy toddlers who have no idea what’s going on and why they can’t leave the house right now. It’s overwhelming for lots of us.

Our day today was mixed. We didn’t have a rigid schedule, preferring to find our feet first and see what works for us as a family. We jumped around the living room to Joe Wicks’s live PE lesson at 9am. We did a science experiment at midday thanks to Techniquest’s daily video uploads. We had moments when the learning was going well. We had semi-structured play sessions. We had downtime and free choice. But then we also had tears and tantrums and abandoning of what we were doing in favour of the TV.

As I said to my kids, it’s all new to me too and we need time to find our own way in all of this.

“Mummy,” said one of my children. “We will be part of history.” And yes, we will. And don’t we want our grandchildren and our great grandchildren reading those history books to know we did everything we could?

We’ll see what tomorrow holds.

And the day after that, and the day after that. And for who knows how long.

Our new normal isn’t quite here yet. But we’re working on it.

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