The turning of the seasons: the changing nature of coronavirus response.

The 1st of September is officially the start of autumn and yet where I am sitting now it feels as if we are amid a summer of sunshine – and allegedly the sun and warmth are set to continue for at least another week. As the adage goes now the schools are back the good weather starts. The turning of the seasons has always been of interest to me, not least that move from summer to autumn then onwards to winter.

It has been a strange summer. We have gradually seen Covid restrictions ease in most of society with heightened anticipation and dependent on where you are for some people a full thrust into reverse gear back to past actions. For the majority some degree of ‘normality’ has been possible but for many not least in our care sector restrictions have remained and a sense of the normal has still been out of reach.

I have taken some time off over the last few weeks and in most instances have been seeing family which has meant that I have been to almost the southernmost part of England and far north in Scotland. As I have travelled and talked to people, I have noted a real divergence in attitudes and behaviours during this Covid summer. This is in part because of the diverse messaging from governments and politicians and dependent upon the extent to which Covid has impacted on local communities and people. The lack of consistency in public health messaging from politicians and scientists has been singularly unhelpful and at the very least the failure to mandate mask wearing in public places in parts of the UK will doubtless be the object of hindsight regret.

The diversity of response and behaviour was much on my mind as this week I travelled to Edinburgh for the first time in 18 months. Even a partial return to my old work routine was a strange revisiting of behaviour. I was struck by the level of anxiety that consumed me in a journey which I used to make three or four times a week. I was aware of my physical reaction every time someone who did not wear a mask got on the train, every time someone started to cough beside me or when I saw someone behave in a manner which I would probably have ignored two years ago. That’s to say nothing of the crowded busyness of tourist filled Edinburgh.

When I got back to the cocoon of my own space, I reflected on why I had been so anxious and concerned and in truth it was the same for many of the moments over the last 18 months when conditions changed, lockdowns ended, and restrictions were relaxed. For many folk it has been hard to change the routines of self-protection and preservation.

It was in the context of such thoughts this past week that I have read and watched as both scientist and politician have consistently increased the tenor of warning and that discussions on further restrictions have started to appear.

Anxiety is becoming commonplace as people witness the growing number of cases and the rise in the number of people being admitted to hospital. Scotland has just yesterday recorded over 6,800 positive cases and one of the highest test positivity levels. Against all this we are told that though people are becoming infected the impact is not as severe because of vaccination. But this week we have also read that the immunity granted by vaccination is depleting at some pace, down to 67% for those of us who are Astra-Zeneca double dozed after several months. Hospital cases are rising and at times I fear people are immune to that soundbite, forgetting that a case in hospital is not just someone feeling slightly unwell, but someone admitted with serious illness. And then the data on death and mortality which is thankfully very low compared to earlier in the pandemic – but I do have concern that our reaction to the daily number of deaths is displaced from the compassionate stance we had when we were losing more people every day. For each person there is a life, family and connection shattered and lost.

Looking at the data for care homes we see there are in the past week 97 staff who have tested Covid positive compared to 56 the week before. In the week to 22nd August there were 42 new Covid cases amongst residents, 8 more than the previous week. The number of outbreaks in care homes has also risen sharply in the past week to 47 which is the same number as in mid-February. All the data shows that the majority of both the recent resident and staff cases have been double vaccinated.

We seem to be in a place where the seasons are turning and anxiety rising, where the warmth of the summer sits uneasily with the coming chill, where warnings are rising and concern increasing.

And while all this is going on in the last week, I have held countless conversations which have been dominated with a sense of deepening crisis and fear for the sustainability and stability of the social care sector.

We are amid what feels to me like one of the worst workforce crisis the care at home and care home sector has faced for many years. There are more and more care providers who are struggling to recruit staff because there is so much competition from other sectors such as hospitality. The absence of incentivised reward and adequate remuneration which truly values the skilled work of care is not helping at a time of acute job competition. Added to this we have seen a dramatic drop in the ability of social care providers to recruit from outwith the United Kingdom. Now lest someone immediately says we should be using our own population – I would say do the sums! – we are a nation that needs the creativity, innovation, and insight of those who come to this country and become our community. We have an ageing workforce with a population which is older in greater percentage than any other part of the UK. We need to urgently address the exhaustion and tiredness of our care sector staff and to provide support in very practical terms as we move into autumn and winter.

I do not know what the future will bring but I am more than aware that we need to work with the fear and anxiety which is palpable around us in many quarters. A false positivity will not help address the reticence of people when faced with the fear of debilitating illness and the rising numbers of Long Covid. Covid19 is with us for some considerable time to come and glib phrases like ‘we need to live with it’ will not give the re-assurance needed to those who are fearful and cautious, most especially in our care sector.

Throughout all this the ability to listen, to empathise and to work collectively in authentic partnership must be at the heart of how we move forward both as a care sector and as a wider community.

The brilliant Maya Angelou has long been a personal favourite and many of her poems are poems of ‘transition’ – they occupy the liminal spaces of life between love and hardness, emptiness, and joy. One such is her poem ‘Late October’ which describes life as a cycle and uses the seasons of the year as a metaphor for life describing the ‘special insight that lovers have into endings and beginning.’

Life as we have known her has disappeared into the summer mists, from our future comes the hope of a new way of relating one to the other, it is a hope we build by addressing the fear and anxiety of the moment, it is a hope we nurture by walking with those who fear rather than abandoning them. I know not what the weeks will bring and hope that the pandemic will come under control once more, but the price of ‘freedom’ can never be at the cost of the harmony, hope and peace of others.

“Only lovers
see the fall
a signal end to endings
a gruffish gesture alerting
those who will not be alarmed
that we begin to stop
in order to begin


Donald Macaskill

Last Updated on 6th September 2021 by Shanice