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Lockdown London

Lockdown London Posted on 28 April, 2020Leave a comment

When stockpiling at the supermarkets started at the beginning of March, I was quick to dismiss it. I stood at the pasta aisle of Sainsbury’s, and an elderly man looked at me and said, a sign of the times! Less than a week later, this took into full swing, supermarkets shelves emptied – specifically long-life foods from pasta, rice to canned fish and veg, all sorts of cereals and toilet paper.

As CoVid-19 panic buying happened in Asia, my mum frantically told me there simply was no toilet paper, baby wipes and rice. People swept everything off the shelves as they were nervous about the supply chain from China being interrupted. That’s right, so many household items, as we are now reminded “came from China” so it would be wise to get everything before those stocks become depleted.

We came back to London over Chinese New Year but have extended our stay as schools in Hong Kong remained close (continuing as of yet). So for me quickly settling in the faraway West, I was quick to dismiss her concerns – as a very respectful child. I thought that was just another example how self-serving people in Hong Kong are! There was even a raid on toilet paper by armed robbers in the middle of February. Everyone laughed of course, such irrational Asians!

But a few weeks later, panic buying happened here as CoVid-19 started to spread. We could micro-analysis this, and you could argue that it’s human nature to stock up as it interrupts daily life, shopping for groceries being one of them. But it has truly come as a shock – one night at our local Sainsbury’s, all fruit, veg, meats, fish and cupboard foods were sold out, toilet paper and baby wipes too.

Even in SW London, people were quietly scrambling for food. (I say even because panic buying really did not seem to differentiate across boroughs!) I saw a lady in the next aisle paying for her 10 bags of oranges – chances were she was not running an OJ shop!

A few days later, the week beginning 23rd March, lockdown was officially announced and took immediate effect. Richmond High Street was eerie – a bit like a warm Christmas Day apart from a couple of shops which remained open. For two weeks we limited our time going out, only taking turns to get groceries. The children certainly did not, but as we got used to it, Audrey accompanied either of us to the shops to get a few bits.

It was also during these strange times that shoppers turned their gaze towards local farm and corner shops to replenish their supplies for food and toiletries. I hope this is a sustainable move, but we as consumers are sensitive to price points, and smaller independent outlets simply don’t have the buying power as the Big Four. We might also become a little too used to doing a big shop in one place, as Tesco’s CEO announced this finding today:

Sadly, this means some of the shops are unable to catch up with the competitive prices at big supermarkets, and have to close down opposite our apartment, like the Armstrong’s butchers which had been in business for over 40 years:

Ass Professor Tim Lang from City University as argued at the beginning of this lockdown, the bigger problems about feeding the UK, and that it has been food insecure for a very long time, which is in his new book, called Feeding Britain. Link here:

The idea of growing our own food is amazing, but is this truly feasible for everyone? Carolyn Steel who has just written her new book ‘Sitopia’, argued in her webinar, that we do need to relook at our food systems and stop externalising the true costs of food from labour to the environment.

At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be end in sight for the current lockdown and the economic nose-dive by CoVid-19 has already threatened our humanity in unprecedented terms at least in recent history. I hope the silver lining out of all of this, is that we could become more attentive to the real workers in our society, from NHS staff to bus drivers – we are all in this together.

(updated at 9:40am on 29 April)

We also started wearing masks when lockdown began. We got a few of them from our mums from both Hong Kong and the US back in February. We were quite adamant at the beginning as with other people thinking that don’t actually work to protect ourselves from infection. But if everyone is wearing it on a community level, perhaps we might be able to prevent spreading the infection, especially amongst people who are asymptomatic? This is seen in the case in many countries around Asia, but the people were also much more socially aware of the dangers with their previous experience of SARS back in 2002/03.

The UK government remains adamant that masks are not needed as long as physical distancing is implemented, but many European countries have since updated their guidelines. Professor Trisha Greenlaugh at Oxford published this really powerful paper last night to combat the ‘weak evidence’ on face masks. It reminds me how important narrative reviews are and should be taken into account, and not just the classic ‘systemic reviews’ when it comes to looking at scientific evidence during a crisis. After all, these are human lives which matter. Shouldn’t their experience be acknowledged in the literature as well?

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