The kids are in meltdown – but who’s actually listening?
Does anyone still believe that we’re “all in this together”?
If they did, then surely Matt Hancock’s awful teenage smooch with his taxpayer-funded aide must have exposed the myth. The Covid rules are for ordinary people like you and me. If you’re powerful enough, or rich enough, it appears that they don’t apply.
What made Hancock’s brazen disregard especially nauseating was that he was instrumental in criminalising contact with others. People died alone, without even the comforting touch of a human hand, yet when Hancock thought nobody was looking he embraced his adviser and groped her bottom.
It’s grotesque. It stinks. Morally corrupt doesn’t even begin to describe it. And for the disgraced Health Secretary then to plead for privacy, when he has spent the last year policing our private lives? I have no words.
Hancock’s antics are merely the latest instance of hypocrisy and blatant double standards. Don’t forget Northern Ireland’s own unique contribution, the Bobby Storey funeral.
More recently, we watched as world leaders and their partners mingled freely without masks, social distancing or quarantine at the G7 barbecue. And thousands of football VIPs will be permitted to jet in for the Euro 2020 finals, without having to quarantine.
What pains me most about the “all in it together” mantra is the appalling suffering of our children and young people caused by the lockdown measures.
They had no choice but to comply. Their wellbeing has been sacrificed, their lives derailed, in our fatally flawed, panic-ridden attempts to protect the elderly from Covid.
The most dreadful irony is that children themselves are at virtually no risk from the disease. Yet they weren’t even permitted to do outdoor sports — a real lifeline for many — not because it was dangerous but because, according to NI health minister Robin Swann, to do so would go against the stay-at-home message.
Have we realised yet exactly how much harm we have done to them? I don’t think so. Maybe we’re in denial about it because the reality is so awful. Yet every day, the ominous signs grow clearer.
Many, many youngsters are mired in fear and despair. A systematic review into the devastating impact of school closures found that half of teenagers have been left traumatised and anxious. Psychologists have seen a 50% increase in children and teenagers showing signs of agoraphobia — being too terrified to leave the house — following repeated lockdowns. The number of children taking anti-depressants has risen by 40% during the pandemic.
Our kids are in crisis. This is a national emergency. But is anyone listening?
In April, I was troubled by a photograph released by the NI Department of Health showing the chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, smiling cheerfully as he leafed through a book written by children about their experiences of the pandemic. “This has been a very difficult year for our children but their resilience is remarkable,” said the caption.
Why is Dr McBride smiling, I asked myself. What is there about children’s experiences of lockdown that warrants a smile?
We like to comfort ourselves that children are resilient, and can easily shake off trouble. Children themselves — perhaps eager to please or reassure a stressed parent — may try their best to play that role, squashing down the pain they feel inside.
But as the new children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, says, if we keep insisting that kids are resilient and will bounce back, we risk not hearing their distress.
Youngsters are like sensitive young plants, full of potential and the desire to grow. They are also uniquely vulnerable to harm. It’s our duty to protect them, to provide them with a safe, stable environment, free from threat and disruption, so that they can thrive, not dwindle and wither.
Please let’s stop the pretence that children have not been seriously damaged, in some cases permanently, by what they have been put through. For them, “all in it together” isn’t a rallying cry, it’s a prison sentence.
Indeed, the chaos imposed on them continues. There is no end in sight to mass testing, bubbles, and entire school year groups having to self-isolate because of a positive test.
The link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths is clearly broken, yet youngsters are still paying the price for our worst fears. If society had declared war on children, we could hardly have treated them much worse.
The first step must be honesty. Acknowledging to ourselves how badly we have hurt them.
Because if we don’t admit the harm that’s been caused, how can we ever hope to alleviate it?