Pandemic As Lived Experience: The Interconnection Between Individual Loss and Political Change

George Walker discusses the UK's approach in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is difficult to overestimate the full ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic. Families were torn apart, people’s lives were prematurely taken, crucial treatment was stalled, and government failures were laid bare in the most explicit way possible. The days merged into one another like those of a dream as we huddled around the television set waiting for good news; waiting for something, anything, like those endless nights around the wireless, waiting for the dead, as the toll increased day by day, and some spoke with no quivering lip about a potential 400’000 dead. For a time, it seemed that all that was once safe and sacrosanct was crumbling before our very eyes, that the stakes for the country, nay the world, were higher than ever before in our lived history.

While big questions of the government have been crucially important, the real essence of the pandemic is its social impact on our everyday lives. While the national picture is often shocking, the story of the pandemic is one of isolation, heartbreak, and loss.

Someone taken during the past three months was my beautiful grandmother: the de facto matriarch of my family, a hand to hold when the world all seemed too much, and voted most likely to drink you under the table. My grandma was diagnosed with cancer in December, after what seemed like routine health complaints she was rushed into hospital with jaundice and was in her words “As yellow as Marge Simpson”. The wonderful staff at James Cook in Middlesbrough fixed her with a stent to stop her jaundice, but it became quickly obvious that this cancer would kill her, and it was a case of living with this.

She was at first characteristically stoical, keeping up her vibrant social life and independence. However, with the lockdown both my grandparents were shielding, and any access to services and treatment were side-lined due to her relative stability and the pressure of the pandemic on an already crippled NHS. While she coped her condition inevitably deteriorated. She rang up one morning complaining of feeling particularly ill, and it became obvious that the cancer had taken her away from us. We sat in her living room, as she torturously deteriorated, losing her voice, her ability to walk, and her reasoning of the world around her. She died peacefully in hospital a few days later.

Her death, while not due to coronavirus, has to be seen in a larger context of a rotten governmental response to the biggest administrative challenge since WWII, and the uphill battle faced by the NHS and local government to keep communities afloat. Fundamentally, the government’s response to the pandemic was marred from the outset by its own making, a turgid social and economic order of austerity that has routinely underfunded and outsourced public health and local government services over the last ten years. In the NHS alone, the past decade has seen the lowest budget increases since its inception in 1948, and an 18% loss in beds from 171’000 in 2008/09 to 141’000 in 2018/19.

Ultimately this legacy bore the worst fruit when the pandemic struck the country, as it meant that the country quite simply didn’t have the structural framework to respond best to the virus, leaving councils helpless, hospitals pushed to near full capacity, and stockpiling negligible. Take the supply of PPE by Supply Chain Co-ordination ltd, a company awarded the contract to save the NHS £2.4 billion by 2023/4, but who failed to keep their stock in date as 45% of the 19’09 boxes of PPE had expired by early March.

If a different political path had been taken, then perhaps this country would have been more prepared for this virus. Perhaps my Grandma could have come out of safeguarding earlier, perhaps she may not have survived but could have accessed end of life NHS services to make her illness more manageable, and perhaps millions of others around the country may still have a grandparent, or a partner, or a sibling today. While my Grandma’s life could never have been saved, and her experience was relatively stable compared to so many others, she still fell through the cracks, and her case offers a window through which to analyse the ills of the social and economic order which has allowed coronavirus to ravage the UK; more specifically England, without prejudice.

George Walker is a recent graduate in History from the University of Manchester, he is now a freelance journalist blogging regularly at

He tweets at @GeorgeWalkeee.

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