Going back to how things were before coronavirus isn't an option
How will you look back on 2020? With sadness, regret, or with just sheer bloody relief that you’ve simply survived?
Regardless of your viewpoint, any retrospective of the last 12 months will undoubtedly be dominated by one thing and one thing only – COVID-19.
A virus that didn’t even have a name as we began the year but a few months on has wreaked a path of death, despair and social and economic destruction.
This pandemic hasn’t just been a global health crisis, it has changed our world and the way we live in it.
The foundations of our relationship with government, with work, and even with each other, have been unalterably shaken.
When simply hugging a parent, a newborn or even someone bloodied or dying requires you to have a second thought, a moment of hesitation as you consider your safety, that is a measure of how fundamentally this new normal has upturned how we used to live and to love.
The First Minister has said that she is not the same person that she was going into this crisis. And the same must apply to us all.
And for some, going back to how it was, won’t be an option.
For the thousands that have died, there is no second chance, no opportunity to start again. No rerun or time to say ‘goodbye’.
And for those who are grieving, who were deprived of that precious moment to comfort loved ones as they breathed their last, that’s a time that can’t be replayed. It’s over, and the regret and the ‘if onlys’ will be a long-running sore.
For the thousands of people that have lost their jobs, their homes, their hope, they can’t just turn the clock back and wish it all away. This is their new reality.
And even for those born into this extraordinary time, their lives will be forever scarred by a world that they can’t even recall.
Children too young to understand why they can’t play with their friends or hug their grandparents, or have the freedom to just be, they will carry deep-seated roots of anxiety born from the emotional distress of not knowing who or what is safe anymore.
And for teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, their education and future job prospects will be forever judged on exams they failed but never sat. A blight on a CV that identifies them as the COVID generation.
Physical lives haven’t just been lost to this pandemic, it’s killed ambition, strangled hope and been an assault on our very souls.
A common refrain from our political leaders has been that they will have made mistakes. It’s a caveat they must make given the evidence from our care homes and our classrooms.
Old people were undoubtedly the collateral damage of a knee-jerk health policy designed to protect an institution, but that ultimately sent the elderly to their death.
And others, people with cancer or other life-threatening diseases, have lived every excruciating day with a time bomb ticking away as their treatment was put on hold.
Failing hearts that couldn’t cope with the stress and just stopped beating.
My neighbour, too caring to bother a doctor during a pandemic with a stomachache, who struggled on until he could take it no more and drove himself to A&E where he collapsed and later died.
An elderly friend of a friend found hanging after weeks of isolation.
A pensioner in Glasgow found starved to death because she was too frightened and too confused about the rules to go shopping.
These stories are real and can be multiplied many times over. But it won’t say that COVID killed them.
It is too much to process and yet each and every one of us is carrying bits of this around in a pressure cooker half-life that some no longer think is even worth living.
How can we believe that we can ever get back to anything resembling normal?
And yet we must.
But even as the UK Government ‘winds down’ its response to the pandemic and encourages offices to get back to work, no one can afford to believe that this is all over – Aberdeen shows us that.
And there is no vaccine.
Masks, sanitiser, distancing, and test and trace, all will become part of our ongoing lives.
On 31 December last year, the Chinese media reported for the first time on an outbreak of a viral pneumonia in the city of Wuhan. It seemed so far away, a foreign disease affecting foreign people. Eight months on, with more than 4,000 people in Scotland dead, 46,000 across the UK, and more than 20 million people infected across the world, there is no ‘over there’. We are all of one world.
But paradoxically, we have also learnt that we are not all in this together.
Yes, the virus is universal – it is a threat to us all. But its impacts are deeply unequal. The harshest consequences of this disease reflect the deeply entrenched inequalities that were already there. If you are black, poor, or disabled, this virus will hit you the worse.
Coronavirus has not created inequalities; it has shone a light on them.
It does feel dismal. But we will weather this crisis. We have survived plagues before. But life will be different. There must be no return to what went before, and the new normal, the world we create, a more equal world, is in our hands.