As the lockdown starts to ease, it brings with it a degree of uncertainty and worry.
Two months ago, the message from government and health advisers was clear. Don’t travel unless you have to, and even then, don’t travel. If you must go out, stay at least two meters from anyone else – even cross the road to avoid them – and then wash your hands.
Oh, and don’t travel.
With a few exceptions, the nation was banished to its back bedroom, working from home.
The exceptions were, of course, frontline staff – NHS workers, police and transport staff who were keeping all the other frontliners able to get to work and back again.
It seemed to work. There were few trains running with even fewer passengers on them, no cars on the road and only a few people out walking their dogs.
But it couldn’t last. The NHS got on top of the pandemic, the government started to feel the pain of paying the wages of furloughed staff, now reportedly up to nine million people, and business owners needed to get at least some income to pay rent and services.
So, in June, things started to ease. People who couldn’t work from home were encouraged to get back to work, but on foot or by bicycle. If they had to, they could go by car. They should use public transport only as a last resort and wear a facemask – originally recommended and now compulsory.
Of course, that didn’t work either. At the first sniff of an easing of restrictions, we had people crowding onto beaches (and leaving them covered in litter), flocking to country beauty spots (and leaving them covered in litter), staging illegal raves and barbeques and generally NOT social distancing.
Then we had demonstrations, protests and, in some cases, riots, sparked off by events in America. Social distancing went out of the window – it’s difficult to distance when taking part in a large demonstration that is crowding the streets.
On the railways, the timetables picked up with more services running, though the unfortunate open-access operators, with no government funding, were all still on furlough with their trains parked up. Face coverings became mandatory on 15 June – a week later in Scotland – and rail unions were concerned that their members would be asked to enforce them. The government said that the police would do that, but that most people would be sensible and wear them from choice.
In fact, not many people wore them and almost nobody enforced the regulation. How surprising!
We therefore wait for the second spike of COVID-19 as the law of averages catches up with the bathers, picnickers, rioters and careless travellers. What will happen then?
Back to the back bedroom probably!
Through it all, RailStaff carries on, but even we are affected. We didn’t print in May but are doing so for this combined May/June issue. The next will be July/August and then, probably, September/October. Hopefully, we shall be back to normal for November. Whether we will be, who knows? It partly depends on how well behaved everybody is and whether we get the infamous ‘second spike’.
We are still bringing you the news – look for it daily at railstaff.co.uk – and the RailStaff Awards is still scheduled for Wednesday 25 November. Fingers crossed!