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EXPRESS OPINION: It's time to explain what "living with covid" means

EXPRESS OPINION: It's time to explain what

Tuesday 15 June 2021

EXPRESS OPINION: It's time to explain what "living with covid" means


There’s a phrase you’re going to hear more and more: we will be told to “live with covid”.

Politicians and officials, both locally and in the UK, are already now casually dropping it into briefings, almost to see if anyone notices and asks them what they actually mean?

It’s like it has just fallen out of a pocket - or is written on a t-shirt which is accidentally exposed in a wardrobe malfunction. Did anyone notice?

Are they just parroting the latest ‘must-have’ covid buzz-phrase - or do they actually have a very clear idea of what those simple, and common, words really mean?

Perhaps they are teasing the idea to see how people react, when it is not yet – at least as far as we know – official government policy.

Is it a literal reference to the fact that, it seems, fewer people are now needing hospital treatment? Is it more cryptic, and we are implicitly being told that actually, more people will need to "live with" the virus, as case numbers are about to spike again? Or should the phrase be uttered with a sigh of world-weary resignation, that after more than a year of restrictions previously unheard of in peace-time, the Government (and its coffers) really have nowhere left to go?

Like all the best political epithets, the words "living with covid" can mean any, all, or none of that; or they can mutate into a multitude of other variations. Funny that.

They are the lexicographical equivalent of a shape-shifter, guaranteeing that whatever political situation transpires, they will be ready to serve – as we’ve (always) said, people, you need to "live with" the virus!

As ever, it is worth watching the actions, rather than the words. The twin streams of increasing case numbers, and the corresponding restrictions, are now seemingly going in opposite directions.

For the last year, they have been aligned, as the first increases, so does the latter; and once the peak is passed, both slowly reduce.

At the moment, case numbers are increasing (although so far, the source of each has been identified), but restrictions are being released, as evidenced by last week’s announcement drastically cutting the isolation time for travellers from red areas, as long as they have had two jabs.

Is that idea of "living with" the virus driving that rationale?

For many islanders, the phrase may find its concrete form in "living with" quarantine, rather than the virus itself.

As of Tuesday morning this week, there were more than 700 direct contacts of covid cases in Jersey. Each one of those will be "living with" the virus – as will their families, schools friends and employers - and that number looks to be at the beginning of a steeply upward curve.

As we head into the summer, with fewer restrictions at the border, and around our lives within Jersey, it is the risk of being "contact-traced", which most will be living with. If you have an important event, appointment, or (whisper it quietly) a holiday planned, you really don’t want to be told that you need to isolate as a "direct contact".

It is not only the virus that is changing - it is also our perception of risk, and the responsibilities we have to each other.

That process relies on accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date information.

Which means it is time for the Government to explain the current strategy – when it talks, by-the-by, almost in passing, about living with the virus, what does that really mean for the people doing the living?

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