This morning I smiled as my happy, lively five-year-old son skipped into the school playground, babbling excitedly about presents for his approaching sixth birthday.
Not too long ago it was an altogether different story. From March 2020, the cumulative effect of three oppressive lockdowns over 12 months led to a transformation in my son that was painful to behold.
His attention span, enthusiasm for learning, even his burgeoning vocabulary — they all but collapsed under the isolation and loss of routine that characterised each lockdown.
That’s why the declaration this week by the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock that Britain must be prepared for more of the same in future pandemics — but with wider, earlier and more stringent lockdowns — filled me with horror and fury in equal parts.
Horror because as a mother, I was a near helpless witness to the corrosive effects of these restrictions on my son, and anger because history has shown us all too viscerally that, deployed unwisely, lockdowns can be as fatal and damaging as the virus they are meant to suppress.
From March 2020, the cumulative effect of three oppressive lockdowns over 12 months led to a transformation in my son that was painful to behold
That’s why the declaration this week by the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock that Britain must be prepared for more of the same in future pandemics filled me with horror and fury in equal parts
I’m far from a lockdown refusenik. Faced with a rapidly accelerating, devastating and little understood virus, I saw the order in March 2020 to stay indoors as a necessary evil.
It made sense to keep people from mingling until we knew more about the virus or found a vaccine. But by the end of 2020 both these things had happened, so the third lockdown the following year made little sense — especially when I could see what was happening to my son.
He couldn’t attend pre-school, go swimming or have the playdates he loved with his friend. Worse still, as he was born with mild cerebral palsy and had weakness down one side, his development was delayed because of missed appointments with his paediatrician.
Is it any wonder that, deprived of the routine and sociability on which he thrived, my three-year-old morphed from lively and bubbly to anxious and withdrawn? Once, he was able to reel off the names of pretty much any model of car, but post-lockdown he did little more than stare listlessly at the TV.
His enthusiasm for learning disappeared along with his attention span, both of which were underscored by his teachers who, when he finally enrolled at school, remarked that he struggled to concentrate.
This is hardly a unique story. Education and medical professionals — not to mention parents — witnessed terrible damage being wrought on children as they were deprived of the structure that school brought to their lives as well as the simple pleasure of playing with friends.
Today, we are confronting that pernicious damage, in particular to mental health. Only this week, GPs reported a steep rise in anorexia and self-harm in teenage girls in the wake of the pandemic.
Which is why it is nothing short of obscene for Hancock to declare himself in favour of tougher, harsher lockdowns in future.
Is it any wonder that, deprived of the routine and sociability on which he thrived, my three-year-old morphed from lively and bubbly to anxious and withdrawn?
Granted, mistakes were inevitable in the wake of a spiralling pandemic for which the Government seemed little prepared. But history has now shone an unforgiving light on the effects of Hancock’s mishandling of the epidemic, be it the scandal of sending Covid patients from their hospital beds into care homes, to a hugely expensive track and trace scheme that hardly got off the ground.
To this grim list we must now add the collateral damage to the mental health and education of our children, some of whom are still recovering, like my son.
While pretty much back to the boy he was, he still lacks focus. So Hancock’s new lock-‘em-up strategy on steroids for any future pandemic won’t be for me — a sentiment which, I suspect, is shared by a vast majority of the population.
Thank goodness he’s well away from the levers of power. But whoever is in charge must learn from his mistakes — and show a more flexible approach because once-compliant citizens like myself may not be so biddable now we know the consequences ahead for our children.