By Elliot McKernon
I’ve never been a holiday kind of guy. I’m not even very good at taking the weekends off, as I tend to see any time away from work as an opportunity to get my house in order and prepare for the coming days. On top of that, I find change stressful, and I’m pretty fond of my routines.
So, needless to say, I tend to stay put during holidays (I don’t think this is healthy, or even productive long-term, so I do give in to my girlfriend and travel with her occasionally).
However, this all changed in 2020. The lockdown to control the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, and though it lifted in some areas of Britain in June, my area of the UK has remained under local lockdown. During that time we’ve had Easter when I’d normally visit my parents, both my parents’ birthdays, my and my girlfriend’s birthdays, as well as my PhD submission and subsequent oral exam.
All of these were times when I’d like to have seen friends and family, to celebrate and relax. But we’ve been stuck here throughout, trying to celebrate remotely over a dodgy video call, or relaxing by visiting a different part of the house and having some whiskey. The whole thing has made me long for the days when I could hop on a train and see my parents, go to local cafes with them, or gather together on the sofa and watch a film. I miss being able to go to the pub with friends to catch up, rather than relying on texts to try to comfort or connect with people.
I’ve even started to miss change and the unknown. Six months of the same routine in the same space with the same people has been too much for even me. I look back on stressful conferences abroad and poorly organised family trips with an unfamiliar nostalgia.
Holidays on the Horizon
I look with both hope and trepidation towards the end of the year. The Christmas period is the one time of the year that I can guarantee that myself, my brother, and my parents will all be in the same place.
Sometimes we go to Scotland to spend time with my mum’s family, sometimes we just stay at home. But we always spend that time together. For this reason, I’m excited and hopeful that the end of the year won’t be as chaotically unusual as this summer has been. I want to be able to return home to settle on that sofa with my family and watch that film we’ve all heard good things about.
But the threat of a second wave, and another lockdown in response, looms large in my mind. I know that winter is when the influenza virus is at its most deadly. This happens because the virus can survive for more time indoors during winter, due to less humidity. But another major factor is that winter is when people gather together, travelling from home to home to hug and eat with family from far away. This stirs the pot and maximises the spread of the flu.
I don’t know whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, has the same propensity to survive in less humid air, but I do know that social distancing and restricted travel dampened the initial impact of the coronavirus, ‘flattening the curve‘ to minimise deaths. But this isn’t the end of the story.
Another public health strategy that looks further into the future is called ‘the hammer and the dance‘. The ‘hammer’ is the same attempt to flatten the curve. The ‘dance’ is the long-term and oft-changing measures that will have to be taken to stop another exponential rise in the number of cases, with governments and individuals resisting the temptation to relax all the rules.
If winter does turn out to be a high-risk time for coronavirus to spread, I’m afraid that another lockdown will be the best thing for public health. Even if social distancing and travel restrictions aren’t enforced by the government, my parents are in a high-risk demographic. They’ve taken the lockdown extremely seriously, and I don’t want to put them in danger by visiting while the virus is known to be spreading.
I don’t know what my Christmas and New Years will be like. If I have to stay where I am, I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to make it cosy and enjoyable. And I’m sure I’ll be able to persuade my brother to get over his aversion to video calls and join my parents and me for a conference call. But it won’t be the same, and I hope that this dance will be a short one, so we can all get back to spend time with our families in the cold months next year.