As the second lockdown takes effect, I’ve wondered how Bicester will cope 8 months on from the first. I noted in earlier articles that some of the benefits of not being able or willing to travel (both locally and nationally) might help people re-think their lifestyle with more active travel, less emphasis on daily commuting or face to face meetings, lower carbon emissions and better air quality.
Not surprisingly, lockdown fatigue affected us all but some of the lessons remain to be learned and not necessarily to our benefit. COVID19 decimated public transport. It’s hard to make the most of buses and trains when there aren’t any to speak of in the first place and where there are – trains and buses into Oxford and London for example – passengers are required to socially distance to the point where services become less and less viable. Bus transport passenger levels nationally for example are currently 45% or less of pre COVID 19 lockdown levels of service in January this year.
And it was noticeable as the lockdown eased during the summer that the volume of traffic in Bicester rose quite quickly with the usual pre-COVID queues on Banbury and Buckingham Roads, Field Street and Kings End re-emerging and ring road traffic increasing. After all, with a large number of cars either carrying just the driver or at worst someone from your ‘COVID bubble’ social distancing isn’t a problem. It would be ironic if the principal casualty of COVID19 were to be the viability of public transport and a consequent increase in carbon emissions in an area not well blessed with local services.
Most worryingly, the impact on children and education may yet be seen as the direst of all consequences. That it has taken the intervention of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford to make the case for free school meals during the half term and Christmas holidays to force Government to act is a disgrace. But the impact is wider. We know that the first lockdown adversely impacted children’s progress and educational attainment across all age groups and abilities but disproportionately affected those from less privileged backgrounds. Now we learn that it wasn’t just academic progress that suffered but also social skills especially amongst younger age groups – a vital facet of growing up.
That schools will remain open this time is welcome as we must ensure children’s education is maintained given the exams fiasco of the summer. There are other risks however. Only last Sunday, Cooper School Y10 was forced to self-isolate and learn from home until Monday 23rd November following a confirmed case of COVID19. Fine for those with resources to cope with home schooling but not in the absence of access to technology or for parents who have to work through the lockdown.
No doubt the experience of Cooper School will be repeated in other year groups and schools as winter progresses. Interruptions to education like this are bad enough but the disruption affects not only learning but also children’s behaviour and mental health and may be storing up even bigger problems for the future.
Hopefully, this week’s news regarding the emergence of an effective vaccine will help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on all strata and age groups of society as it begins to be rolled out next year. The virus itself, the change to children’s life chances and the impact on society will be with us for some years to come.