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Lockdown Lows

This week we read about a nurse struggling to deal with Covid-19 deaths all around her. As if that wasn’t bad enough, outside her hospital, she could see a green space where people were ignoring social distancing. So much post-traumatic stress is brewing alongside the pandemic. The news doesn’t really improve. And even with all the benefits I enjoy, I am loathe to admit it, but I will because it’s true: this week I hit a bit of a lockdown low myself.

How long, O Lord, how long? If only we knew when the end would come. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that to talk about ‘the end’ is a misnomer. There is not going to be a ‘now we can celebrate, we’re all safe’ end point. There just isn’t!

At the same time, we must continue to look to the future. We must cultivate hope. But cultivating hope is about more than resorting to blind optimism. It takes wisdom and skill.

How not to cultivate hope was demonstrated to me in a story I read this week about a woman overheard in a supermarket on the Isle of Wight. This rhomboid shaped island just off the south coast of England is the UK government’s choice as a trial location for the Covid-19 contact-tracing app upon which so many hopes are pinned.

The idea of an app to track the virus sounds great. The trouble is, it will only work on comparatively modern phones. That means that people who either have no mobile phone or may not be able to afford the latest mobile phones are immediately excluded from any benefits and thereby disadvantaged. The same would be true of people with few or no computer skills.

And then there’s the app itself. Experts report endless technical problems in its development, use and reliability. Even more worrying are the data protection issues. Will there be a public debate about privacy and the systems for holding of what could be seen as a massive data-grab? It doesn’t take too much imagination to recognise the temptation for government to use data to increase surveillance. And this government – the party of Brexit – have form on using data gathering for political purposes.

Enough of conspiracy theories! Back to the woman overheard in a supermarket on the Isle of Wight. Like so many of us, she had clearly had enough of taking personal responsibility for social distancing. When reprimanded for not observing the rules, she had a ready answer. ‘It’s OK,’ she said, ‘We’ve got the app now!”

As lockdown times drags on, the temptation for all of us will be to seek easy remedies and comforting technologies to convince ourselves that we are in control of our lives again. The danger for each of us will be that in seeking that control, we will too easily trade in our freedoms and our privacy. The danger for our society is that, even if made, trustworthy, easy technological remedies may further widen the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in our country.

Those of us who claim to care about human flourishing and ‘the common good’ have work to do in lockdown. If we call ourselves spiritual and/or religious, we may want to consider the advice of Philip Toynbee who said, ‘The basic command of religion is not, ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that – but ‘Look’. And to those of us who are Christians, more than ever the words of Jesus come as a challenge: ‘Watch...and pray’.

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