Yesterday morning the BBC reported that self-quarantine would be imposed on travellers arriving from Croatia and Austria from 04.00 on Saturday morning. As I write, and as the early-birds among you read this, there will be people desperately throwing things in their suitcases, cutting short their holiday in Croatia or Austria, trying to find a flight to the UK or a ferry which will beat the suddenly-imposed deadline.
What would you do if you were a family of four - perhaps a nurse, a builder and two school-age children- if you arrived at the UK border at 06.00 a.m. on Saturday? You’ve only missed the quarantine deadline by a couple of hours. What would you be thinking? Perhaps you have been in a fairly isolated Croatian town with very few cases. People at work are depending on you. And you need the money. You’ve heard the tracing procedures are so haphazard and inefficient that they are inevitably unfair. Your children may well be old enough to understand why a small white lie may just become necessary. Who among your colleagues and neighbours will know exactly when you arrived in the UK? What would you do? Would you be tempted to turn up for work when they’re expecting you?
And what would you do if you were a neighbour to this family? Perhaps you’ve been watering their plants while they were away. You know when they arrived home. You suspect they missed the deadline. But not by much! What would you do? Would you raise the matter or turn a blind eye and just keep out of their way for a couple of weeks.
All over the place, people are faced with ethical decisions about caring for themselves and caring for others – where to draw the line? And each of us is constantly being confronted with opportunities to make fine – and more or less charitable - judgements.
Last night we visited a supermarket together to do a weekly shop – the first time since March. As we made our choices, I spotted her - a shopper without a mask! Why was she apparently not reducing the likelihood of transmission? Why was she not protecting us? It seemed selfish. A negative judgement formed instantly in my mind. I realised I had quickly signed up to the ‘mask militia’.
The woman may have been acting perfectly honourably and legally. She may just have forgotten her mask. Maybe she had a condition which exempted her from mask-wearing. Who knows? One more opportunity to make a fine judgement – to exercise understanding and concern – and to protect ourselves and others.
One of the casualties of this pandemic has been truth-telling most notably perhaps by politicians. One of the great gains has been the trust developed within communities by generosity and truthfulness. As the weeks drag on, let’s hope that in the ethical decisions we all need to make we will make the wisest judgements. Let’s hope and pray that in our behaviour and mutual understanding, we continue to cultivate generosity and truthfulness while thinking and doing the best for each other and ourselves.
There are bound to be some misjudgements and misunderstandings. Some inconvenient truths may need to be told and some inconvenient quarantines endured. But if we want to create an improved ‘new normal’, there’s more at stake than two weeks of isolation.