I’m fond of the old WWII slogan Keep Calm and Carry On. It’s not just that it captures something appealingly British (yes, there are still appealing aspects to the stereotypically British character), it’s that in most circumstances it’s such excellent advice.
These are not most circumstances.
As a response to terrorism, carrying on is just perfect. It demonstrates that the terrorists have not won, and indeed that terror has not won. As a response to the vicissitudes of life — non-working toasters, delayed flights, cars that break down just after you’ve paid to have them serviced — it’s the only rational approach to take. The universe is not out to get you.
But COVID-19 is not like that. Keeping calm remains good idea, as it always is; but it’s appropriate to feel a degree of fear as well. Not just appropriate: helpful. It’s not the case that there’s nothing we can do but grin and bear it. We really do need to change our behaviour to delay its spread and mitigate its effects.
In our family, we’ve always been slapdash about hygiene, and I think on the whole that’s worked well for us. Fiona and I, and the boys, all seem to have built up decent immune systems that mean we are rarely ill, and when we are it never lasts for long. But that casual approach that we’ve taught ourselves by repetition over the decades is not the right thing now. It is exactly the wrong thing.
Social isolation really is necessary.
Breaking isolation, going to a pub or restaurant, hanging out with friends, palying football — all these sane, sensible things — are currently genuinely dangerous. Going ahead with them anyway is not brave, because the person doing them is not just risking his own health but everyone else’s. It’s not just foolish, it’s selfish.
This is a moment to keep calm, but not to carry on.