OPINION: Postbag reflects a mixture of strongly held yet contradictory views as all restrictions are lifted - MP Andrew Jones
On March 26, 2020 we entered lockdown; a legally enforceable ban on movement and mixing. Now, nearly sixteen months later all the legal restrictions are gone.
I write this article on Sunday, July 18 – the day before restrictions are lifted.
My postbag reflects a mixture of feelings.
There are many who want a legal duty to wear facemasks in some settings to continue and others who vehemently oppose this.
I have even been sent facemasks anonymously through the post scrawled with messages on that theme.
Some parents appeal to me to allow their teenage children to be vaccinated and others telling me they will never vote for me again unless all vaccinations are stopped.
People write telling me they are going to delete the contact tracing app in case they get pinged and advised to isolate. Months ago people were emailing angry that track and trace wasn’t working.
What do these strongly-held and contradictory views – often expressed with great passion – tell us?
My take on it is that our community is nervous. We are nervous about leaving behind the safety provided by masks and at the same time nervous at what mandating mask-wearing might mean for our civil liberties.
We are nervous that as we do get back to normal a ping on our app may see us isolating again.
Some of that nervousness is stoked by social media where ludicrous stories about the vaccinations circulate.
Some of the anger is generated when we feel that we are not treated the same as others when it comes to ‘the rules’ – whether that be politicians, football officials or anyone else.
My position is to reject the extremes. We cannot stay locked down forever; the country, the health service, society, businesses all need to get working again.
We need to lift the pressures that lockdown has brought, and I am particularly thinking about mental health and people not coming forward for treatment for non-covid conditions.
We need our conference industry supporting our guesthouses and restaurants. We need events like the Crime Writing Festival this week bringing people to the district.
But we shouldn’t need laws to tell us how to be sensible – it is a civic duty to isolate and test if you have symptoms, it is common-sense to socially distance for the time being while infections are rising, it is manners to wear a mask in crowded spaces where others around you might be nervous or vulnerable.
So I will continue to wear my mask in crowded indoor spaces and on crowded public transport while infections are rising so dramatically.
But I will do this using my common-sense too.
If I am late-night shopping and the supermarket aisles are empty I might not wear a mask but I will try to keep my distance from others who are also shopping.
If I am shopping peak Sunday afternoon I almost certainly will wear a mask.
If I am somewhere indoors which is less crowded but many are wearing masks or the others are in more vulnerable groups I will wear one too. Why would one not? I do not share the view that wearing a mask is an inconvenience.
So I ask everyone to think about those around them, about the situations in which they find themselves and about their own infection risk and act accordingly.
Because as our community opens up it can only stay open if we look out for one another and act as a community to do so.