LAST week, we engaged in the essential task of looking forward to a society after the coronavirus has been neutralised. It is salutary to recall that Sir William Beveridge began his work on post-war welfare reform in May 1941, only one third of the way through the Second World War. On Monday, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, marked six months since the first cases were reported in China. In this time, more than ten million cases have been recorded and more than half a million are known to have died after being infected. “Most people remain susceptible,” he said. “The virus still has a lot of room to move. We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is: this is not even close to being over.” The pandemic was actually speeding up, he warned, suggesting that, because of disunity within and between countries, “the worst is yet to come.” On this projection, if it turns out that the world is one third of the way through the pandemic, it is doing well.
These are sobering thoughts at the point that the Church is celebrating the reopening of its buildings for worship. But this is just the approach that must accompany every step away from the complete isolation practised in the UK in recent weeks. Those in charge of amenities such as national parks and beaches report having experienced resentment, even aggression, when trying to maintain a semblance of caution. This must not be allowed to happen in places of worship, despite the potential frustrations of restricted access and seriously restricted congregation sizes.
The concern is that, having thought and acted nationally, the country’s attention is going to be narrow. It is, of course, a relief that the Government’s armaments against the virus now allow it to isolate particular outbreaks. There will be a reckoning in the future about why it has taken so long to reach this point, and with such profound consequences. But local action should not distract the Government from participating in international efforts to mitigate the effects of the virus until a vaccine is found. The most shameful response would be to indulge any further in “league-table” thinking, using the failures of other countries to control the disease to put the shockingly poor UK record in a better light.
If the rapid spread of the virus taught one thing, it is, as Dr Tedros said this week, that “We’re all in this together.” The same sentiment has been expressed before: “Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde.” Or earlier: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”