I returned to Belfast this morning for the first time in almost two months. I had volunteered to work a four hour supervisory shift in the office where a skeleton staff are performing key duties. While my own team have been closed down for now, I offered to help another team who are still operating a customer service. It wasn’t the most taxing of days. All I had to do was field a few phone calls and clear some e-mails. Even I could manage that, I thought.
Normally the motorway into Belfast would be bumper to bumper at that time of morning but I was greeted by light traffic. It felt more like a Sunday afternoon as opposed to weekday morning. Upon hitting the city I pulled over to let a funeral cortege pass; the hearse followed by around fifty mourners on foot. I felt bad for the weeping relatives at the front as they shuffled disconsolately behind the coffin. A wreath marked ‘Dad’ caught my eye.
Had the deceased been a victim of coronavirus? And why were none of the mourners adhering to social distancing guidelines? My natural sympathy was tinged with annoyance. Couldn’t they pay their last respects in a more careful manner? Or how would I have reacted in their place? What would I have done? Grief erodes logical, rational thought. People crumble and succumb to the relentless pain. Did I have a point and, if so, why then did I feel such a pompous hypocrite?
Work itself was quiet. I did what I had to do and then made my way home again. My next shift isn’t for another two and a half weeks and there are no plans for the office to open on a more permanent basis. The Northern Ireland Executive, our devolved government, issued a five stage plan yesterday for returning to a semblance of normal society. Offices re-opening are at Stage 3, with no definitive date. I won’t hold my breath.
If nothing else, I felt like I was making a contribution. Sitting at home on full pay might sound great, and initially it was, but the novelty wears off after a while. I need to get back to work just as the kids need to get back to school. This can’t go on forever. But it must be done gradually and with great care. Relaxing the lockdown too soon could lead to the dreaded second wave that everyone is talking about. 627 people died in the U.K. yesterday. Have we even passed the first?
Tomorrow will be a return to the ‘new normal.’ I’ll get up, watch the morning headlines and then go for a run. There are chores to do around the house. The day will meander by as the previous fifty in lockdown have. We are at home and safe but for how much longer must we remain in limbo, uncertain as to what the future holds. There is light at the end of the tunnel but it is a very long tunnel. All we can do is wait. And hope.