On Friday it was 980. Nine hundred & eighty souls.
On Saturday, it was 917. Nine hundred & seventeen souls.
Those are the numbers of people who have died from coronavirus in just two days. Just in this country. Actually, those are the numbers of people who died in hospital. The totals don’t include those who died at home, or in a care home, or anywhere else. The reality – the final toll – will undoubtedly be significantly higher.
It is an unimaginable horror story, playing out in real time all around us. The overwhelming loss of life. The sheer unbearable scale of it all. The inevitability that thousands more will die.
At Hillsborough, 96 precious lives were lost. On 7/7, 52 precious lives were lost. At Lockerbie, 270 precious lives were lost. When the Marchioness went down, 51 precious lives were lost. When the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized, 193 precious lives were lost. Five human catastrophes that happened in my lifetime, each of them seared into the national consciousness. I remember them all. Taken together, a total of 662 precious lives were lost as a consequence of five events that no-one in my generation is ever likely to forget.
Not even close to the number we lost to the virus just yesterday.
And I feel horrified. Bewildered. Angry. Frequently struggling to find the right words. Because, behind each number, there is a name. Behind each name there is a family. Behind each family there is a story. And none of those stories has a happy ending.
I feel horrified.
- Horrified that the UK seems likely to be “one of the worst, if not the worst affected country in Europe”.
- Horrified by the apparent failures in the supply of adequate PPE to frontline medical staff.
- Horrified by the apparent inadequacy of our testing arrangements.
- Horrified by the speed and effectiveness of the response in this country when compared with so many other places around the world, not least in neighbouring Ireland.
- Horrified by the fact that, while the rest of the western world was locking down, we were going – in our tens of thousands – to concerts and football matches and the racing at Cheltenham.
- Horrified by the stories of police officers being coughed at, spat at and bitten by those claiming to have the virus.
- Horrified by the sustained level of trauma that members of our emergency services are being exposed to.
- Horrified by the fact that, until very recently, so many of those engaged in the frontline of our response to the virus are those who were considered by some of us to be ‘unskilled’ (and, in the case of many of those who have come to this country from overseas, ‘unwelcome’)
- Horrified by emerging evidence suggesting that coronavirus is having a disproportionate impact on members of black and minority ethnic communities.
- Horrified by the certain knowledge that the costs and consequences of the virus will greatest for those least able to bear them: the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the lonely, victims of domestic violence, victims of child abuse, those suffering with mental ill health, those without a secure source of income, those already suffering every possible disadvantage in society.
All of it is horrifying. This isn’t about politics or blame, it’s about humanity. It is the simple human cost that horrifies most of all.
And yet, even with all of that said – somehow, in spite of everything – there is still hope to be found.
- Hope founded on the frankly staggering levels of courage displayed by the nurses, doctors and health workers who have not hesitated
- Hope founded on the greater love shown by those who have already given their lives in the care of others
- Hope founded in the precious, old-fashioned sense of duty displayed by police officers and other emergency services workers
- Hope founded on the quiet professionalism of those stacking shelves and ringing tills and driving trucks and delivering the post
- Hope founded on the endless acts of kindness shared between strangers and friends – on the rediscovery of what it means to love our neighbours
- Hope founded on the slowing down of life and the reappraisal of what it is that really matters
- Hope founded on the clearing of the air and the renewal of the natural world
- Hope founded on the fact that we are being given a chance to change
- Hope founded on the fact that, in the worst of times, we discover the best of who we are and what we can be.
We’re not out of this yet. Not by a long way.
But I haven’t lost my hope.