We need to start reopening our society, not just the economy

May 10, 2020 by

by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali:

Quite understandably, a great deal is being said about “opening up the economy”. People are conscious of the damage being done to business, and to their own income and savings. We should be getting back to work gradually but also speedily, with safety but also with effectiveness. The need, however, is not just economic: we are not merely homo economicus, we are also homo socius. It is society as a whole which needs to be opened up. We do not live by work or wealth alone.

One area of concern is education. While much can be done electronically, it cannot replace the warmth and intimacy of face-to-face teaching. These days, I am supervising students and lecturing through electronic means, but it is not the same as personal contact, with its fellow feeling and freedom of questioning.

Many are worried that they cannot visit relatives or friends who need care or company. Those living on their own have experienced sometimes frightening loneliness. I called on a lady (at a safe distance) who had not seen anyone since March. This is clearly not sustainable and will have a significant impact on the mental health of those thus isolated. The costs of mental illness, breakdowns and suicides will be a high price to pay if isolation continues for any length of time.

We need to travel for work and, if not for leisure, then certainly for family reasons: to visit the sick or to comfort the sad, for births, Christenings, weddings and funerals. The fragmentation of the family had already gone too far, but prolonged isolation will make family ties weaker when we need to make them stronger. Friendships also are formed and nurtured by meeting with one another and eating and drinking together. For a short period, they can be sustained remotely but not indefinitely.

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