Think there’s no harm in bending social distancing rules? When the second wave hits, it’ll be because of you

James Moore
Crowds continue to gather on UK beaches despite lockdown and social distancing rules: Getty

“It’s like being in Tesco’s,” said the woman on a beach she’d spent an hour and a half driving to reach before going on to grouse about people failing to observe social distancing (“it’s quite annoying”).

Did you get a migraine from banging your head on your desk after seeing that, or something like it? I sure did.

OF COURSE PEOPLE AREN’T STAYING TWO METRES APART WHEN HORDES OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU HAVE IRRESPONSIBLY DRIVEN FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF TO GET TO THE BEACH IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC.

Phew. That feels better.

Honestly, the more I look at Britons, the more I think we’re the “Homers” from Zombieland: Double Tap. For those who haven’t seen that admittedly rather forgettable sequel, they’re the undead creatures named after the Simpsons patriarch because they’re too dozy for the heroes to have to overly worry about.

Nobody knows what the hell “stay alert” means (which apparently includes Boris Johnson and his comms advisors) but it was pretty clear that our sun seeker was violating it along with everyone else on that beach.

But here’s an interesting question posed by my editor: are we in danger of falling into the same trap as she fell into by rushing to condemn others?

Wasn’t she doing something all of us are guilty of at some point; namely, applying a different standard to others and their motivations than we apply to ourselves?

Here’s how it usually goes: we’re going stir crazy so we are justified in seeking the relief of a day out before we go back into partially lifted lockdown. Oh my God! Would you look at all those nincompoops ignoring social distancing rules now we’re here? How dare they!

At this point, if you have, like my family, scrupulously obeyed the lockdown rules, you’re probably saying “I would never do that.”

So let me ask you this: have you ever taken a car journey of less than two miles?

Cars contribute greatly to something that hasn’t been much in the news of late: the climate crisis. By the way, it’s still with us. The crappy air quality in our cities that leads to asthma and a host of other health conditions? It will be back as soon as the lockdown is fully lifted precisely because of those trips.

According to the Office for National Statistics, more than 40 per cent of Britons used cars for jaunts of less than two miles that could just as easily be walked in 2014. I doubt that’s changed much. But I bet everyone who has taken one of those journeys had a good reason at the time. It was raining; their diary that day was chock full; the clock was ticking and they had no coriander, without which the Thai green curry would be a failure with the guests. Hope Tesco’s car park isn’t full!

Nearly every one of us has probably done something socially unacceptable at some point, something we’d condemn others for doing but found a way to justify ourselves.

Well, maybe Toby Ord hasn’t. He’s the Oxford ethics professor who gives a huge chunk of his income to charity and founded Giving What We Can, an international society whose members pledge to donate 10 per cent of their earnings to charity.

Perhaps Ord has never put something in the general rubbish that should really have gone in the recycling, because, I dunno, the recycling box was overflowing that week. But the rest of us probably have at some point. Especially if we have kids. Even those who believe in environmentalism (yes, yes, I’m guilty, and I’m sorry, I’m not going to try and justify it even though I did at the time).

You see where I’m going with this?

The problem with all these little hypocrisies is that they add up, and as a result, the planet is slowly being strangled.

So, am I now giving the sun seeker and everyone else on that beach a pass? No. Absolutely not. In no way, shape, or form.

There’s a global pandemic out there. It’s killing people in a quite horrible manner. It knocked my wife and I flat for nearly two months. It has killed more than 10 times the number of people who succumbed through decades of strife afflicting Northern Ireland in this country alone, and in just a few short months.

Humanity surely needs to clean up its act. And fast. We all of us need to recognise those little hypocrisies for what they are, and to indulge in them less often.

That said, there are some actions that are so breathtakingly anti-social and stupid, so glaringly, screamingly Darwin Awards-level daft, that they occupy a separate category.

The sun-seeking beachgoers? They’re in it.

The lockdown is horribly unpleasant. Everyone’s fraying. Social distancing is proving harder to maintain now it’s been partially lifted.

Trouble is, if too many of us try and find reasons for why we’re uniquely justified in busting it, we’ll end up right back where we started.

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