‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. Writing in 1859, Charles Dickens had no idea just how poignant his immortal words could be centuries later.
As the world faces an unprecedented global health pandemic, we have shown just how far we can rise when faced with severe adversity, but also just how low we can stoop.
As the sun set on another uncertain day, music filled the streets of Italy as people used their balconies and terraces to form a united chorus to lift spirits. The virus has taken so much, but it cannot take away their culture. It has only adapted the medium of how they’re able to express it.
Closer to home, businesses have been modifying procedures to aid the community. Pret offered free hot drinks to NHS staff, alongside 50% off other items in shops. Since closing their doors on Saturday evening leftover produce has been delivered to over 100 different charities.
They’re not alone in their efforts with Marks and Spencer and Waitrose delivering sandwiches to the staff at neighbouring hospitals.
On a micro level, small and medium-sized businesses also appear to be taking the crisis in their stride to ensure the sweat, blood and tears they poured into their companies is not to be swept away in the winds of change.
Cafés became take away services and local farm shops began delivering. Even pubs beloved by so many started offering pints in takeaway containers, such as Somerset’s The Alhampton Inn, so locals could sip in the safety of their own home knowing they contributed to its survival.
Dare I say it, but it seemed behaviour in Westminster is even rising above usual partisan jibes while tackling an issue that transcends the political spectrum. As Health Minister, Nadine Dorries returned after 14 days of isolation, the applause was offered from both sides of the Commons.
Simultaneously, as Dickens warned us when humanity is capable of such compassion it is also capable of such foolishness. In Florida, spring breakers flooded beaches and neighbouring bars as a student proudly told one NBC news reporter that the virus “would not stop him partying”.
A short distance from the same beach, 93-year-old Shirley took part in an interview via telephone from inside her house and told the news channel it gives her the impression that young people today believe they know best. It is gut-wrenching that, regardless of country, this is how some are paying back those who built and defended our communities before us.
If only to add insult to injury, there are now reports that the young holiday goers in question have contracted the virus. The University of Tampa revealed that so far five of its students who continued their celebratory plans have tested positive.
In facing this pandemic, rhetoric from our leaders has turned militaristic. This does not necessarily need to be dangerous if it forces home the severity of the situation we find ourselves in. But, to turn the colloquial phrase on its head, what use is talk of winning the war, if we lose the battle in the process? We will beat this, but it must matter how.
Those over the age of 70 are part of the vulnerable section of society who are at risk to the coronavirus. This information must be met with vigilance and caution, but not with disrespect and nonchalance.
Decades ago when the country was met with a different crisis of World War, citizens gave their lives for their country. Yet to try and protect that same generation today we are simply being asked to stay at home when possible. To put this into perspective, Anne Frank was forced to do this for two years to protect herself and her family from capture by the Nazis.
The blitz, despite everything, brought people together. This is different. This has the power to pull us apart if we adopt this survival of the fittest mentality.
In World War Two, as we have heard so often, they gave their tomorrow for our today. If we get this wrong, we threaten to repay the sacrifice by forcing the same generation to do so again and sadly for some it is now too late.
It turned my stomach to see how many pubs were inundated with customers the night their closure was announced with cries to go for the last call for what may be a while. In a great act of irony, it seemed pubs, bars and restaurants met their last evening for the foreseeable future with a surge in clientele creating a viable environment for the spread of the virus.
The longer we fail to heed advice, warnings and indeed legislation presented to us we will prolong the already treacherous path ahead.
When faced with extreme adversity and given the chance to rise, more often than not our history has shown humanity to do just that. In the 1950s, two diplomats from polarised ideologies were able to pull the world back from the edge of nuclear war.
In 2001, after terrorists hijacked and flew two planes into the twin towers, there was no question as to who people were talking about when they referred to New York’s finest. When West Africa faced the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history, the global community banded together to aid the continent.
As a race, we survived that, and we will survive this. How and when is up to ordinary citizens just as much as it is up to our leaders.