Jess Dunsdon: A return to normality?

Credit: ITV Channel TV

Have you noticed how different Jersey's town centre feels these days? Since the reopening of retail, beauty services and hospitality, the hustle and bustle of daily life has injected some much needed vitality back into the struggling streets of St Helier.

It gave me a real buzz to see people all dressed up last night - finally with somewhere to go! And it got me thinking; just how far away from 'normality' are we? And is a return to normality even possible post pandemic?

Jess wonders how much longer will we have to wear a mask for? Credit: Jess Dunsdon

While more and more businesses are being allowed to reopen as the weeks go by, there are still many unknowns. Unlike the UK's very specific timeline out of lockdown which was announced yesterday (Monday 22 Feb), there is still no set date for gyms, pools, nightclubs and indoor sports and large gatherings to resume in Jersey.

The Chief Minister can't tell you for how much longer you'll  have to cover your face in the shops, office and salons. We don't yet know when you can hug your friends and hang out in their houses, or let your hair down at a big wedding celebration. And crucially, we have no idea when borders will reopen for tourists or for families to reunite without having to lock themselves away for 10 days.

There are still so many questions, with so few answers. And without them, all we have is hope, as the vaccination programme rolls on.

Jess has not seen her mum and in-laws since September 2020 as they live in the UK. Credit: Jess Dunsdon

We're led to believe the vaccine holds the key. But much will depend on its efficacy once administered to the population. The principle being, we can live with the virus, as long as we can prevent it from killing or incapacitating people. But the key question for me is; what level of death and morbidity are we, as an island, willing to tolerate long term?When it comes to other illnesses for which there is a vaccine, such as influenza, we accept that some islanders will die from it. We accept some level of death is just part of life. We do not shut down life for every member of society or stop the circulation of a virus every winter, in order to prevent a relative few from succumbing to it.

So once the population is fully vaccinated, will Covid-19 be treated the same as the flu? Will the vaccine be as effective as the trials showed? Or will we be bouncing in out of successive lockdowns and restrictions the moment someone dies? This is a vital debate and one that needs to be had in order to balance the protection of public health with the protection of public freedoms.

Jersey's vaccination programme is on schedule. Credit: PA images

Even when our freedoms become unfettered, I'm not sure how I'll adjust to the new normal. For the past year, all my social activities have revolved around outdoor walks meaning I'm now having to retrain my brain to embrace the wider options out there; such as going for dinner, indulging in some retail therapy or having my nails done.

So, when the time comes, how weird is it going to feel not to have to wear a mask indoors and not to have to hesitate before throwing my arms around a friend? I can't quite imagine it yet.

Many are missing a good party like this scene from Jess' wedding in 2016. Credit: Jess Dunsdon

Of course there are many things about the past year which have been a catalyst for positive change, such as our re-evaluation of certain jobs like teachers, nurses, doctors, delivery drivers and retail workers. The order to work from home has forced employers to find ways to allow staff to do their jobs remotely, meaning fewer excuses not to implement more flexible ways of working. It's shown us the power of simplicity and slowing down in order to reconnect with what really matters. The focus on death has made us appreciate life. How much of this will carry over to our post-pandemic world? That remains to be seen.

Jess' two year old Josh has been having fun with her mask in some role play. Credit: Jess Dunsdon

But one thing I am sure of is that these have been the strangest of times and I'm grateful my toddler is too young to understand it.  I took this picture at the weekend and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It's tragic that this is the grown up world he wants to emulate. But there's also something funny about him entertaining himself with a tool used to prevent people from catching a viral plague. I just hope by the time he's at school, he'll be learning about it through the history books, rather than living through it himself.