Breaks are not what they used to be – at least not in Wales, where a national “firebreak” lockdown will be in place from Friday until 9 November, or Northern Ireland, which has been subject to a “circuit breaker” lockdownsince last Friday, or Ireland, which is moving to a good old fashioned lockdown at midnight on Wednesday.
They are no longer a time to rest and reset, to meet friends, travel, think nice thoughts, watch 12 hours of Come Dine with Me and then take a nap.
Now, when we take breaks, we are taking them with a side order of saving lives. Our breaks have become life and death, do or die – do as in “do you want to kill your granny?”, die as in “yeah, that’ll happen if you even think about the inside of a pub.” They are associated with fires and circuits, sharpness and deepness, and they exist only to temper that swirling inferno of viral load just itching to set up camp in your lungs.
The theory is that we all sacrifice a couple of weeks under intense lockdown as a means of stopping the rampant spread of the pandemic and, after that, we’ll be grand. It’s a one-stop shop, a silver bullet which will ultimately save the day. When it’s done, we can probably go out again.
Except, of course, that is not the case. While we’re being told that a short and snappy break will help the cause, we’re also being told that we’re in this for the long haul, to expect a miserable Christmas and a crappy new year.
This narrative of immediacy, intense urgency and panic may well provide short-term relief from climbing case numbers; but, set against a dreary background of long-term restrictions, the risk is that it will be followed by a period of complacency, a ‘job done’ mentality.
Because for months our leaders have weaved an enduring tale about living and functioning with this virus as part of our lives, and we have invested; we bought the hand sanitiser, we learnt to open doors with our elbows. Now they are ripping it apart with cries of emergency, crisis, and death knocking at the door.
Getting people to comply with this rollercoaster of messaging will require heavy policing – which will no doubt compound the problem. Sometimes it feels like what we most desperately need is a circuit break from this anxiety-inducing, discombobulating narrative.