To the Editors of the Berwickshire News; the Border Telegraph, the Peeblesshire News and the Southern Reporter
When the Queen addressed the nation on the impact of Covid-19 on 5 April, she captured – as she invariably does – the moods of all us. But, as she also acknowledged, the effects of the disease and its consequences are being addressed and experienced locally, within communities, as much as nationally. They are also being felt individually, especially by the bereaved. Our thoughts are especially with them. They cannot commemorate the lives of those they love in ways that they would have liked, and we send our condolences.
Here in the Borders our gratitude for the professionalism, pertinacity and courage of the NHS is focused on the Borders General Hospital. We became accustomed to singing the praises of the BGH long before this March, and now our confidence in it gives all of us a sense of security if we are healthy and reassurance if we are sick. The BGH is in the frontline in dealing with Covid-19. That in turn increases our reliance on the wider NHS and care network in the Borders – the local hospitals, our GPs, the district nurses, the pharmacies, the care homes and the army of volunteers that support them. They too are working flat out, often cut off from their families and exposing themselves to the possibility of infection.
Scottish Borders Council and Police Scotland have kept the fabric of our lives in place; extraordinarily little has changed given the additional burdens they are having to shoulder. The rubbish is collected and the postie still comes. Each of us has a part to play during this epidemic, and by fulfilling that role we contribute to the common good. For some it means working long hours providing essential services; for others it is by being still, in isolation and perhaps loneliness. Some are struggling to remain employed so that they can support themselves and their families; others are working from home alongside their school-age children. These adjustments bring strains, but they can also open new avenues, new ways of doing things, or even help us to re-discover skills and habits we have lost.
As centres of infection emerge, each part of the country is being exposed to the impact of Covid-19 at different times and to different degrees. Undoubtedly the lives of those who live in Britain’s major cities have been more fiercely affected than have ours. Proportionately, we have – so far – suffered far less severely than Glasgow or London. Here in the Borders, even the residents of our towns are close to open countryside and can take exercise without infringing NHS guidelines. But we also have many people living in remote locations, without access to public transport or adequate on-line services.
The commitment to our communities, which is a hallmark of Border life, and which is maintained by innumerable individuals ‘who make a difference’, has come into its own in the last few weeks. ‘It’s at times like this that you find out who your friends are!’ Many people have found that their friends live next door or just down the road. Neighbours to whom they have only nodded have been willing to do their shopping or chat on the phone. The Community Resilience Groups have found out who is at risk and collated the information. The Community Support Groups have contacted volunteers, set up easy access points, and established who needs assistance and with what. Towns and villages have been sustained by hundreds of community initiatives. Those of us who have to self-isolate must just live with our guilt at not being able to reciprocate, knowing that by doing so we are helping to contain the problem. The capacity to cope with Covid-19 comes from here, from this collective response – as the Queen recognized and for which we give thanks.
Finally, there is one group for whom the advent of spring and the imminence of summer are always busy, whether there is or is not an epidemic. This year is no exception. The Borders are set in countryside of outstanding beauty because we are in large part an agricultural community. Farms do not stop in ‘lock-downs’. Lambing is now in full swing, and shortly crops will be ready to harvest. New life and new birth should feed our hopes and renew our optimism.
The Duke of Buccleuch, HM Lord Lieutenant, Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale
Professor Sir Hew Strachan, HM Lord Lieutenant, Tweeddale
Mrs Jeanna Swan, HM Lord Lieutenant, Berwickshire