By Oliver Speer

As I write this, I am in lockdown in a shed at my sister’s garden in the countryside just outside  Hastings. Two days ago, our Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a very confusing and contradictory speech to the public and replaced the previous red (for warning) framed lockdown slogan of “stay at home > protect the NHS > save lives” with a new slogan, framed in green with the words “stay alert > control the virus > save lives” effectively greenlighting us to get back to business whilst putting the responsibility for any repercussions squarely on the shoulders of the public. This announcement was made less than a week after the UK overtook the rest of Europe with the highest number of virus-related fatalities. 

The day after this confusing message was sent out to the public, London tube trains were once again packed with commuters. These new measures have highlighted the class divide; in his speech Boris suggested that people work from home if they can but it’s the working class who can’t afford this luxury. To say that this disease is the great leveller and can be contracted by anyone does not bring into account the people who don’t have the privilege to work from home or self-isolate. I am one of the lucky ones, but only because I have a supportive family. Where I live normally in the city of Brighton is a one room flat in a concrete high rise with no garden or balcony. The building is a hotbed of potential contamination, there is no option of social distancing when there is only one lift running and over one hundred people coming and going at any given time of day, pressing the same lift buttons and breathing the same air. This is where I feel sure I had contracted the virus. 

Twenty years ago this summer, I was hospitalised with AIDS complications. These included a pericardial effusion (infection of the heart), pneumonia and tuberculosis which left me with scarring in the left lung. Twenty years on from this near-death experience, I seemed to be exhibiting potential symptoms of coronavirus: fever, hot and cold flushes, nausea, a sore throat and a general feeling of toxicity that was the worst I can remember since my hospitalisation twenty years earlier. I couldn’t risk the infection going into my lungs so I followed what advice I could find online and drank lots of hot drinks and gargled. My sister prepared her shed with a radiator, a bed, chairs, a table and a chest of drawers that fitted under the bed. The shed already had electricity and running water and it was near enough to the house to have WIFI too. My nieces decorated the walls with posters of my band Pink Narcissus, and our favourite cartoon, Adventure Time; they also gave me an Adventure Time duvet. 

My friend Amelia agreed to drive me to Hastings as her husband had recently returned from Italy exhibiting symptoms, so she was sure she had already been exposed to the virus. However we still took precautions, wearing a fresh mask and gloves and I sat in the back of the car, in the furthest possible seat from her. 

The shed was cosy and I felt safer than I had felt since news of the epidemic broke. We practised social distancing with my sister posting me meals through the shed window and I continued to drink hot liquids and gargle. Within a couple of weeks my symptoms went away. 

The government’s lack of action around testing means that I might never know for sure if I had the virus or not, for now at least, I’m going to play it safe and stay put. My family are happy to have me here and if this epidemic follows the pattern of the 1918 influenza pandemic than the recent government decision to relax the lockdown is disastrous and the worst is yet to come. Returning to my life before lockdown is a risk I’m not prepared to take. Sadly, not everyone has this privilege and my heart sinks to think of the lives that will needlessly be lost as well as those we have lost already. 

My heart sinks to think of the lives that will needlessly be lost as well as those we have lost already

What can we learn from this epidemic? It has exposed the fragility of capitalism and the ineptitude of some governments. Our supposed leader missed five essential cabinet office briefing meetings which were set up to coordinate the national response to the crisis, yet he still presents himself as the voice of authority and someone who is acting in the public’s best interests when it’s becoming glaringly obvious that he is prepared to let thousands more die for the sake of the economy. 

I truly wish that the worst is over, if it isn’t, then it won’t be the elite who will suffer, it will be those who work in retail and the cleaners, carers, factory workers, construction workers, nurses and doctors, bus and taxi drivers, more elderly and disabled and those with underlying health problems, such as myself, who we will lose. It is not a very pleasant feeling to know that in the minds of the elite and those in power we are expendable. My only hope is that when the next election comes around people will remember these times and vote for a government with compassion and basic human decency. 

Oliver Speer is a singer-songwriter and musician who grew up in Hastings and has continued to be a regular presence on its live music scene.

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