The past year has provided the world with a fantasy novel in its own right: offering the tale of two pandemics: one with more freedom than the other. Manchester and Cornwall are two opposing sides, each depicting alternative ways to slow the outbreak of Covid-19, with varying death rates and limitations on social meetings as a result.
So what has the last year actually taught us, is it that freedom is worth the few days of beer gardens? Or perhaps is it just a mixture of luck and different regional inequalities that have divided the country over the last twelve months?
Cornwall has perhaps had some of the lightest restrictions in the United Kingdom. After all, it’s the county with just 465 Covid-related deaths, remaining in tier one and experiencing the liberty of meeting with friends way up until Boxing Day.
By comparison, 5726 people have lost their lives in the Greater Manchester region, with residents only experiencing full liberation from lockdown measures for a mere 28 days this past year. From the 4th of July 2020 when pubs and hairdressers reopened, the government made a swift U-turn on their Covid exit strategy: placing all Greater Manchester areas into a local lockdown on the 31st of the month.
Meanwhile, the summer holidays and Hancock’s infamous ‘Eat out to Help out’ scheme brought holidaymakers to the South West. A sense of unity and comradery fuelled the streets: cries of ‘it’s all over’ and ‘so lovely to see you again’ could be heard over the clinking of pint glasses and seagulls swarming over their next pasty-holding victim. Cases remained low despite the mass movement as tourists flocked in the ‘busiest summer on record’ and it did really feel like Covid was a pandemic of the past.
Two hundred miles north, Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham was doing his upmost to control the anger and confusion that Mancunians expressed. Few barbecues were had, and many grandparents put off trips to see family, with fear of catching the virus or getting stopped by the police holding pensioners prisoner inside the four walls of their houses.
By Autumn, cases were on the rise but both locations held the same restrictions, highlighting the regional divides in population density, access to PPE and any other Covid-related factor the government used to justify the tier system.
Falmouth students were getting slaps on the wrist with landlords spreading rumours of house parties across the town. Cornish cases remained lower than average, in a time where often there were less than forty positive cases of Covid-19 per week. The place by the sea remained what it always has been: a quiet village with a mood matching the gentle lapping of the waves off Gyllyngvase Beach. A place where the streetlamps turn off by 12 and the odd bottle of Rattler carried by the wind down the high street causing the only disruption.
With Falmouth University still open, the streets didn’t even change over lockdown, with students merely swapping nights at Wetherspoons for daytrips to Swanpool, or meetings with masks in the Fox Café offering some solution to the solitude felt alone in halls.
Further up country, tensions were rife. Andy Burnham was halfway through the ten-day-standoff between GM and the Downing Street as the Mayor accused the Prime Minister of playing a ‘game of poker with people’s lives’ upon refusal to offer Greater Manchester a sufficient support package to deal with the financial implications of tier three measures.
As Autumn rolled into Winter and with the promise of a normal Christmas broken, the third lockdown began. The past three months offered an equilibrium of restrictions and for the first time since the 4th of July 2020, both Mancunians and the Cornish faced the ‘Stay at Home’ order once more.
It’s been a full year since lockdown began and the people of Greater Manchester have been in a state of lockdown for 237 days, Cornwall? 77.
In any tale, there are heroes and villains; winners and losers. But a pandemic it feels like there’s a far cry from any celebration: regardless of how many days spent in lockdown, dancing between the pub, self-isolating, shielding and zoom calls, everyone is just trying to get by. Everyone lost their freedom for the safety of the others.
The transmission of Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate. That’s perfectly obvious from the science our Prime Minister preaches in every press conference. The happy ending still hasn’t surfaced, but how many more dramatic climaxes can this country take?
There may be notable differences between those in lockdown and those who escaped the majority of restrictions: the days under lockdown can more than highlight this. But like any tale, the characters of it are all under the control of the same narrator: who can change their lives in a second, or in this case, bring on a new lockdown in with just hours to act.
This may be a tale of two lockdowns, with endless statistics to show the outcome for each region of the UK, but until we’re out of this pandemic, everyone is fighting the same battles, just in different contexts.
Regardless of how you perceive Mancunians, they certainly are not the sole reason for spreading Covid into Cornwall. No matter how many times you tell me ‘it’s because of people like me that we’re still in this mess’, it’s not that I’ve taken seven tests to travel to and from my hometown or anything.
So tell the tale of these two lockdowns however you wish, they’re different for everyone. Let’s hope we get to the final chapter soon and the two counties can stop the blame game in their respective Covid rhetoric.
Then perhaps we can finally ride off into the sunset without socially distancing at all, regardless of where you’re from.