From the Queen of Denmark to the mayor of Parsipanny, New Jersey, leaders around the world are reaching for a phrase that speaks to the challenge we face: we must come together by staying apart.
Ireland’s Leo Varadkar deployed the same line in an excellent speech to his nation on Tuesday night. It captures perfectly the struggle that countries face and the purpose behind the unprecedented measures being put in place in towns and cities the world over.
Very soon, millions of Brits including the elderly, the unwell and pregnant women will be told by the government to remain in their homes for 12 weeks. For everyone else, the challenge will be to practice social distancing — staying apart, retreating into a smaller world. But it will still be a shared world.
As the capital braces for more restrictive measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, a revived sense of community is palpable. As with other parts of the country, established voluntary groups and charities in boroughs across London are being bolstered by a new army of concerned neighbours and residents eager to do their bit.
It is often claimed that many people in London don’t really know the people with whom they share a wall or stairwell, but it’s remarkable how quickly nodding terms can expand into a more generous, thoughtful and compassionate relationship.
And even as many businesses face a fight for survival, those that can are stepping up to the urgency of the challenge that faces us. Pret won’t charge medical staff for hot drinks, Chelsea football club is making its hotel available to NHS employees, supermarkets are supporting the elderly, the National Trust is waiving entrance fees and the mighty BBC is demonstrating a hitherto unknown agility by swiftly adjusting its output to support children off school and a population in need of news, information and entertainment.
Perhaps most importantly, dozens of manufacturers have answered the government’s call for help in the production of ventilators and medical equipment. As the country hurtles towards its darkest hour, it can be tempting to focus only on the fear.
But whether it’s a young renter finally introducing herself to an elderly neighbour or a FTSE-listed manufacturer repurposing its factory in a national effort, the crisis may yet reveal the best of this country.
Main image: Getty