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‘Blitz spirit’ won’t help us with coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 09:46 13 May 2020 | UPDATED: 09:46 13 May 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is nothing like the Blitz - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to protect those who experienced it, says Rebecca MacNaughton. Picture: Getty Images

The coronavirus outbreak is nothing like the Blitz - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to protect those who experienced it, says Rebecca MacNaughton. Picture: Getty Images

© Getty Images

Watching the VE celebrations over the weekend made Rebecca MacNaughton uncomfortable – and it wasn’t JUST the parties.

The coronavirus outbreak is nothing like the Blitz - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to protect those who experienced it, says Rebecca MacNaughton. Picture: Getty ImagesThe coronavirus outbreak is nothing like the Blitz - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to protect those who experienced it, says Rebecca MacNaughton. Picture: Getty Images

Over the weekend I, like many others, tuned into the VE Day celebrations. There was a segment on pretty much every news channel and, for the most part, it was a wholesome and patriotic affair. It was something that would have made my Dad, a child of the Blitz, very proud.

The BBC’s The People’s Celebration was a particular highlight. The likes of Anton Du Beke, Katherine Jenkins and Adrian Lester performed in the empty grounds of Buckingham Palace, while other celebs such as Tom Jones, Joanna Lumley and David Dimbleby video-called veterans across the UK to share their memories and experiences. One rather distinguished chap even celebrated his 100th birthday.

But throughout, there were uncomfortable suggestions that the celebrations of VE Day would offer insight into how we, as a nation, might feel when lockdown restrictions are lifted. There were troubling comparisons, too, about how our lives have been changed. The implication was that we, the working generation, are drawing on the same “Blitz spirit” that our grandparents – or even great grandparents - did before us.

All of this came after a BBC news segment which showed swathes of people, close together, holding a patriotic street party – flouting those very rules which could protect more of the “Blitz spirit” generation from countless deaths sweeping our nation’s care homes.

The Second World War was a conflict based on ideology, morals and identity, and saw hundreds of homes – places we are retreating to now – completely decimated. It saw millions of men sign up and pledge allegiance to their country, and millions of children become separated from their families as they were evacuated from towns and cities across the country.

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Why, then, are we pretending that coronavirus is the same?

I suppose it isn’t that surprising when you think of the wartime comparisons made over the last few weeks: the assertion that Boris and his team must act “like any wartime government”, the rallying calls to “fight”, the fact that those who catch then recover from the virus are called “survivors”.

And, to a certain extent, it’s easy to see why. A national effort to defend ourselves puts into play the same kind of mechanisms: we need to act quickly, to work together, to pool our resources. And, as in any war, we need to further technology and output to force the virus to retreat - whether that’s in the form of a Spitfire or a world-leading vaccine, it’s the same idea.

But that, I think, is where the comparisons stop.

As Brits, I think we take pride in the fact that, for years, we did the “honourable” thing in defeating Hitler and saving and protecting lives, not just our own but of other nations, too. But at the weekend, when we had a chance to celebrate the courage and endurance of the generations before us, we dwelled on fear.

We talked about it to the people who really did fight – and those who it is affecting most – as a “threat” and a “battle”. More than that, though, we put more of them at risk.

Now is not the time to, as the wartime saying said, “keep calm and carry on”. It’s time to stop and think.


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