The death toll soars, but Britons still live by the golden rules

Tuesday January 12 2021
Death pic

Travellers wear protective face masks as they wait on the concourse at London Victoria train station in central London on March 3, 2020. PHOTO | AFP

In Britain today, we live by three golden rules: Wear a mask, wash your hands often and keep your distance from other people.

They are the major defensive measures against the coronavirus, though there are a million others (or so it seems), which prevent us from going for a haircut or a beer or a meal or on holiday or to visit our loved ones in hospital or a care home.

The death toll at the time of writing is 500 to 600 a day and rising.

Experts predict the UK total will pass 100,000 before the pandemic is over.

Facing figures like these, you might wonder how useful the three golden rules are, but I am not about to question their necessity and for sure the death toll would be higher without them.

What is strange, even comic at times, is the way we try to follow them.


Hail Mary

Washing hands, for instance.

We can really only do this at home, public toilets being closed, and home is surely the safest of places. Never mind, wash we do.

Next question: how long to wash? Some say for as long as it takes to say the Lord’s Prayer (presumably Catholics can save some water by saying the Hail Mary, which is shorter).

The non-religious could try reciting all the good things the government has done or the advantages of leaving the European Union, though in truth that would scarcely wet the knuckles.

Then there’s the social distancing rule – stay at least two metres from everyone else (except those you live with).

We are currently in another national lockdown, but even before that, people’s behaviour could be odd.

In the quiet inner suburb where I live, passers-by would take extravagant measures to avoid each other, even swerving off the footpath and into the road. But then, in the busy city centre, they would walk shoulder to shoulder with crowds of shoppers.

Defining totem

The mask is the defining totem of the pandemic. From starting out as a simple light-blue piece of fabric with elastic bands for the ears, it has evolved into a series of elaborate designs, colours and shapes. Some people even add their own decorations, usually a mouth with large, scary fangs. At least, that’s something to smile about.

Masks can be a challenge for those who wear glasses, for instance when the lenses steam up or the tapes get twisted, or worst of all, when an elastic band snaps and delivers a painful smack to the ear.

Most important rule of all: Never forget you’re wearing a mask -- unlike the man I saw who blew his nose but forgot to lower his mask first. Yuck!


* * *

Last week this column highlighted how the pandemic was persuading many people to lower their alcohol consumption by ditching the booze during January, a New Year’s resolution made by nearly seven million British drinkers.

Now it’s tobacco addicts. During 2020, some 22 per cent of smokers gave up the evil weed, the highest number since 2007, when smoking was banned in most public places.

Campaigners are now urging renewed efforts during 2021.

World falls apart

Smoking kills 80,000 people a year in England and respiratory consultant Dr Ruth Sharrock said, “Each week in my job I have to break terrible news because of smoking, telling people and their families they have lung cancer and watching as their world falls apart.”

One who took the message to heart was Mrs Cam Walton, 38, who quit smoking last May when her daughter begged her to stop.

“I smoked 10 cigarettes a day,” she said. “One day I went upstairs and found my oldest daughter crying in her room, she was so worried about losing her mum. I promised her I would stop.

“I had stopped several times in the past but always went back, but this time when I finished my packet, that was it, I quit, cold turkey.”

Loads of money

At present prices, a ten-a-day smoker can expect to save around £1,899 in a year by giving up.

Mrs Walton said, “I am saving loads of money so I can treat my two daughters and buy nice things for the house. I’m not wasting money on something that could kill me.”

* * *

An American tourist asked a verger at Durham Cathedral, “Do you have a telephone?”

The verger: “A telephone! It took us eight hundred years to get a toilet.”

A penitent entered a confessional box and was surprised to find it equipped with a beer tap, a TV set and box of expensive cigars. His reverie was interrupted by the voice of the priest, “Get out of there, that’s my side.”

A one-time prime minister of Britain, Lloyd George, a Welshman, said, “Wales is famous for two things: curates and coal. I leave it to you to decide which have given us more warmth and light.”


Gerry Loughran is a retired journalist living in London