Remember the early days right after the World Health Organisation’s March 11 declaration that we were faced with a pandemic?
Several hundred WhatsApp and Facebook groups sprang up across the UK with the selfless mission of helping vulnerable neighbours with food and medicine shopping and virtual hugs.
Three times as many people as there were jobs signed up for the NHS “volunteer army” within days of Boris Johnson’s government launching its biggest plea for help in England since WWII.
Design students at secondary schools and universities across the country began to make personal protective equipment (PPE) for local hospitals, paramedics and GP surgeries.
Several people put free face mask sewing templates up on the net, urging others to share, copy and send the end product to NHS staff.
Week after week, starting 26 March, millions stood at their windows and front doors, clapping or banging saucepans to thank medical personnel and key workers.
War veteran Tom Moore became the inspirational face of Britain by raising £32 million for the NHS on his 100th birthday.
Determined to stay connected despite social distancing regulations, people assiduously scheduled virtual cocktails, book club discussions, pub quizzes and dinner parties.
And Houseparty, the group videochatting service that allows participants to play games together, flourished. App usage was reportedly up “72x with 50 million downloads” in the first five weeks after lock-down.
It was a pandemic of kindness, everyone said.
Yale professor emeritus Frank Snowden put it all into context:
Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up the mirror to human beings as to who we really are…They show the moral relationships that we have toward each other as people…
Frank Snowden, professor emeritus, Yale
Snowden, of course, knows a thing or two about pandemics. His Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 course is still considered one of the best on the subject.
But pandemic of kindness or not, there are other aspects of life that still look pretty much like pre-pandemic times.
Crime, for instance.
Criminals remain inventive. According to Merseyside police, gangs are now dressing young couriers as nurses and Deliveroo workers in order for them to home deliver cocaine, heroin and other drugs.
There is a booming market in fake anti-coronavirus products — sham covid-19 medicines, substandard masks, PPE and hygiene products.
And the UK’s Chartered Trading Standards Institute says the coronavirus crisis has unleashed an avalanche of scams, all themed around covid-19. They run the gamut from fake tax rebates from the government, to criminals trying to enter the homes of elderly people on the pretext of offering an NHS coronavirus test.
Pandemic criminality, it turns out, looks quite a bit like pre-pandemic criminality.