It is sometime in November 2005, my 12-year-old self is trudging to the none-visible side-line of a saturated quagmire the grassroots FA call a football pitch. Its 6°C, the rain slashes sideways and we are losing 3-0 rooted firmly to the foot of the table. “Think positive son” – my dad encourages as I gulp my water and shiver, “work hard, you’ve still got the 2nd half to turn it around”. We go out to win the remaining half 0-3, earning a tough-fought point; the same point, as I like to think, that keeps us in the division by summertime.
It may seem obtuse to compare the global COVID-19 pandemic to that of a schoolboys sporting struggle. However, in that moment that was all that mattered, and everything was as miserable as it may seem with the present situation. Nevertheless, the message of positive thinking, drilled into me during every junior football game for a decade, has stuck throughout my life. Now, more than ever, the old axiom of ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ couldn’t be more useful. Here are some of those silver linings.
Firstly, one thing we recently reported within the WA Blog is the positive environmental impact. As flights are grounded, factories close and people travel less the air and water quality around our cities have shown significant improvements. Nitrogen Dioxide and Particular Matter have both shown marked reductions across the UK, a trend echoed across continental Europe. In Venice, a city struggling to cope with over 25m annual tourists, total lockdown led to reports its canals running clear and blue with locals witnessing Cormorants diving for fish they couldn’t previously see.
Individually, working from home or being placed on furlough is leaving many with more spare time. This provides a great opportunity for family time, picking up old hobbies or getting in shape. WHO recommends adults aged 18–64 do at least 150mins of moderate-intensity exercise a week (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity); something that can often be ignored during a busy working week. As exercise is stated as one of the accepted reasons for going outside, there has never been a better excuse to go for a walk, run or a cycle. Countless research shows meeting these recommendations can lower rates of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancer, and depression. It may just be that forcing people to stay indoors is the thing that gets us moving!
There have been huge, almost instantaneous, changes in the way businesses operate. It is inevitable that for many, some of these changes will become permanent. Microsoft reported a 775% increase in usage of its cloud services in regions implementing social distancing. As each business is forced to experiment with working from home, many will find unintended benefits to worker wellbeing and efficiency. Research suggests that in some industries, working from home can lead to 13% performance increase and also a 32% reduction in workplace stress for those who usually work in open plan offices. High levels of workplace stress is correlated to increased levels of absenteeism, another possible benefit from the recent changes.
For me the most prevalent ray of light to come out of this episode is the outpouring of goodwill and community spirit that is being experienced across the nation. Despite the incredible heartache and suffering being experienced by many, it was difficult not to be moved by the “Clap for Carers” which saw rapturous applause reverberating around communities over the last fortnight. Few would have predicted that 750k people would sign up to the NHS volunteer service within 48 hours, decimating the target of 250k. Windows have been filled with rainbows painted by children reminding us to stay safe during our daily allowed exercise.
It may just be that in a time spent indoors, with empty calendars and away from friends and family to combat this invisible foe, we might ignite a reawakening to the realisation of what is important.