Taking a closer look at the current Stay at Home order, and how it works (it doesn’t).
As of now, we are entitled to one form of exercise a day. That can be a run, walk, or cycle, but you should stay at least two metres away from anyone else that isn’t from your household (1). However, there are calls to restrict it further. And it is a real possibility: In Ireland, for example, people can go for a walk only in a radius of 2km from their home, and Paris recently banned daytime exercise (2,3). While the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said that there aren’t plans for imminent changes to social distancing policies here, he said that he “could not rule out further steps,” and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party would support the government if it decides to toughen lockdown measures (4). Many celebrities are voicing support to such decisions, and some people engage in quarantine shaming, calling everyone to stay off the streets (5). Unfortunately, what they wish for has tons of flaws.
Let me be clear at the beginning: I am not against social distancing, or against working from home. I respect it, and I see it as a necessary measurement at present. However, the “Stay at Home” movement simply is not the same as social distancing, and many people seem to confuse the two. It is no surprise, since the UK government is pushing the message through omnipresent fear-fuelling ads like this:
There are tons of benefits of going out on both mental and physical fronts; there’s no need to justify that. However, it does need to be done responsibly. And that is far more achievable when there are no distance limits. So, let’s start by talking about the distance restrictions. Think about the population density – an area full of blocks of flats will be much more crowded than one with detached single-family housing. This creates a double standard for people, and much worsen the abilities to socially distance for those living in dense urban areas. Look at Scotland’s two biggest cities: Glasgow has a population density of 3,555 people per square kilometer, whereas Edinburgh’s 1,828/km2 (6,7). That means, on average, people in Glasgow would have it almost twice harder to distance than people in Edinburgh. Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner gets it, as she said that it’s “‘all right for people who have got big houses and huge back gardens’ to tell sunbathers observing social distancing in a park to stop doing so,” as BBC reported (4). The environment is another argument: everyone could go somewhere where is plenty of space for everyone, and it is pretty. For some, however, that means going a bit further than for others. Deciding who can, and who can’t access these places based just on their address is the same as to say that one ethnicity can go out, while another must stay inside.
If you look where the support of the restrictions mostly comes from, you can see the links. It is often from prominent people with enough resources to get through this hardship with ease. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged people to stay home, but his home sits on 2.5 acres property, including a swimming pool with a spa, a tennis court, a field for horse jumps, and more (8,9). Conor McGregor recently called on the military to enforce the Ireland’s lockdown, while he’s also named the 65th highest-earning celebrity on the planet of 2019 (10,11).
Another group who is avidly promoting the “Stay at Home” situation is those who profit from it. Google and YouTube, just like Facebook and Instagram, are full of messages about how staying at home is the best thing you can do.
But let’s remind ourselves, these are not public service information channels. They are for-profit corporations, which make money by showing advertising to their users. Now, as everyone’s at home, people spend more time watching and clicking on their ads, skyrocketing their revenue. Amazon recently announced to hire 100,000 workers. Not as a charity, but as a response to a surge in online orders (13). Of course, people fed with adverts like “go out and die” feel better to have their stuff delivered than to go collect them in person. Meanwhile, those who are in the warehouses or packing the orders are among the least likely to get any benefits (14).
It is hardly surprising that CEOs earning bonuses from people staying at home are supporting such a state. But how about our leaders, they should be trustworthy, right? Well, let’s look at another their ad:
The “Don’t share nonsense” part is a wonderful message. Except, it comes from the same people who shared that “Brexit would mean an extra £350m a week going to the NHS” (15). Remember that spread of false information? It might not have caused deaths, but it sure caused economic damage and an enormous headache for many. So, it is essential to question their claims before accepting them as facts, too. Moreover, many members of the parliament are in a similar net-worth bracket as celebrities.
If the messages from celebrities, governments, and big corporations are questionable, who should we trust? People with medical and science background, people who know their stuff. For example, Doctor Catherine Calderwood, a person who, according to the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, made “highly valuable contribution to the medical profession and to health in Scotland,” (16). Dr Calderwood was the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, until she resigned last weekend because she got caught travelling between Edinburgh and Fife. Umm, that is awkward!
Yet, it shines a light on the situation with the lockdown. She went to Fife to visit her second home, during which she stayed within her household group and observed the social distancing rules (17). Basically, a person who worked with the latest data regarding the pandemic decided to follow the guidance of social distancing but didn’t observe the Stay at Home rule. So, while her choices might not be the smartest in the current situation, again, it invites us to question the rule in the first place.
So, let’s talk about social distancing, as the authorities are saying that they want to lock people in because they don’t respect the measures. Parts of that claim, unfortunately, seem fair – recently, I saw people in parks playing collective games in groups. It wasn’t many cases, but there were some. The government’s answer to that is to close the parks. Hmm, but do you know where are people gathering more than in parks? In grocery stores. If you’ve been in one recently, you might have also been annoyed by people ignoring the guidelines. The other day, besides people breaking the distancing, I saw a guy sneezing into his hands and carrying on with shopping. Yet, nobody’s talking about closing the grocery stores. Rightfully so, as A) the infrastructure is not ready to feed tens of millions of people remotely, and B) it is not the best solution. Just like closing parks isn’t.
What should be the centre of the focus are these few irresponsible people. Which is not the same as people being outside. Applying collective guilt to everyone because of a few, as it is the case of the Stay at Home order, is like as if some idiot would drive 160 MPH through a town, smash a pedestrian, and as a result, the government would void the driving license of everyone in the whole country. “For the benefit of others,” they’d say. The Genesis flood supposed to get rid of corrupted men, and we all know how successful that was. My point is, collective punishments are wrong.
So, how to deal with it instead of restricting movement close to your home?
The government should spend money where it matters – Not on social media adverts, but on the health care services. For all the money wasted on public relations, they could get arrays of ventilators, or get extra staff to conduct the testing. Moreover, the press would pick such movement, and the news will cause a more significant spike in government trust than any Instagram advertising will. Then, don’t waste police officers’ time by letting them check if people are two or ten kilometres from their house. Make them ensure that people aren’t gouging prices of goods, sneezing all over the place in public, and gathering in big numbers. Or, like in Iceland, let them trace those who came in contact with the virus to limit its spreading (18). There is no need for troops to stand around with rifles to do any of that – they can help elsewhere if needed.
And, perhaps above all, let’s be consistent. In pretty much all the places where a strict lockdown has been introduced, liquor stores are considered essential. In America, gun stores are rendered as necessary, too (19). I see reasons why people want to have access to such products, but let’s face it, there aren’t many cases of death because someone did not have a special imported bottle of wine, or a handgun. And if these are open, why not also open hardware stores, art supplies, clothing chains…? How come those big hypermarkets can carry on selling all the other goods, but specialized shops are out of business? And don’t get me the “to prevent gathering” argument. If a person who wants books have to go to a hypermarket instead to their local bookstore, it makes the hypermarkets more crowded than not. And how is maintaining a golf course essential (20) but other landscaping illegal? It is yet another set of double standards, another thing that makes no sense to anyone except those who profit from it.
Either let the other folks who can work while distancing to keep their jobs too, or stick to your words and limit distribution of everything that isn’t necessary for survival, replace the non-essential products in hypermarkets with food. That way, people can maintain the distance with more ease than when all bread is piled on one shelf. But if you want to maintain the state as it is, might as well let the big companies have their headquarters in the Westminster Palace, just to keep it transparent.
And for the “ordinary people,” let’s adopt a new slogan. Instead of “Stay Home,” let’s make it “Think First.” Many are already doing that, so let’s reinforce it instead of making the situation worse. Let’s not downplay the virus, but keep questioning the “what and why” behind the decisions of our leaders, while observing the distancing rules. Let’s also be responsible, and do not attempt to push our limits. Calling the emergency, now that they are busy with the virus mess, because of something like a concussion from a triple backflip off a kitchen table, would not be cool. And finally, even this should be common sense, maintain hygiene, and if you are sick, stay away from others. Simple as that, thinking prevents cases of injury and death.
And the next time you go for a responsible walk, don’t feel bad about it.
Thanks for reading. If you disagree with the points I made, please get in touch. I’d honestly love to see it more optimistically. If you found this as a good read, share it with those who might enjoy it too.
1. Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do. GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
2. Carroll R. ‘Stay home’: Varadkar announces sweeping two-week lockdown. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/27/stay-home-varadkar-urges-irish-in-drastic-lockdown. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
3. Paris bans daytime outdoor exercise. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52202700. Published 2020. Accessed April 7, 2020.
4. Public urged to follow ‘mission-critical’ rules. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52172035. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
5. Can I go for a walk? How to avoid ‘quarantine-shaming’. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52022743. Published 2020. Accessed April 6,2020.
6. Glasgow. Wikipedia.org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasgow. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
7. Edinburgh. Wikipedia.org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
8. Dovere E. Arnold Schwarzenegger Plays Hero One More Time. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/03/arnold-schwarzenegger-coronavirus-videos/608581/. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
9. Arnold Schwarzenegger House in Pacific Palisades California. Celebrity Homes on StarMap.com. https://starmap.com/celebrity-homes/arnold-schwarzenegger-house-pacific-palisades-california/. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
10. Conor McGregor calls on military to help enforce Ireland’s coronavirus lockdown. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/mar/28/conor-mcgregor-military-enforce-ireland-coronavirus-lockdown. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
11. Conor McGregor. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/profile/conor-mcgregor/. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
12. Stay Home. Save Lives. Google.com. https://www.google.com/doodles/stay-home-save-lives. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
13. Mattioli D. Amazon to Hire 100,000 Warehouse and Delivery Workers Amid Coronavirus Shutdowns. WSJ News. https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-to-hire-100-000-warehouse-and-delivery-workers-amid-coronavirus-shutdowns-11584387833. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
14. Panetta A. ‘We’ve kept the whole damn country running’: Pandemic deepens divide between haves and have-nots in U.S. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/pandemic-unequal-usa-1.5511837. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
15. £350 million EU claim “a clear misuse of official statistics.” Full Fact. https://fullfact.org/europe/350-million-week-boris-johnson-statistics-authority-misuse/. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
16. Calderwood resigns over coronavirus lockdown trips. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-52177171. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
17. Police warn Calderwood after lockdown trip. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-52171694. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
18. Marx W, Bishop M. W. Detectives aid COVID-19 tracking in Iceland’s fight to contain spread. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/iceland-employs-detective-work-testing-quarantine-coronavirus-fight-n1170166. Published 2020. Accessed April 7, 2020.
19. D’Souza S. ‘Unprecedented’: Gun and ammunition sales spike amid coronavirus spread. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/unprecedented-gun-and-ammunition-sales-spike-amid-coronavirus-spread-1.5502092. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
20. Carroll S. Greenkeepers CAN work during lockdown, say England Golf. National Club Golfer. https://www.nationalclubgolfer.com/news/greenkeepers-advice-coronavirus-lockdown/. Published 2020. Accessed April 7, 2020.