The UK Government has introduced new rules this week in the fight against coronavirus COVID-19. For the foreseeable future, it will be illegal to socialise in groups larger than six or to “mingle” outside of such a group. Several people have observed that this seems to go beyond the concept of social distancing and is now moving towards an attempt to restrict socialising.
First of all, I would say that the concerns are understandable. With a deadly virus still prevalent in society, there are risks from social contact, particularly if unmanaged/controlled. Furthermore, whilst I have not agreed with every decision the Government has made during the pandemic, I do not believe that they are motivated by some sinister desire simply to reap economic rewards whilst implementing an authoritarian police state. Everything I know about the current Government’s political philosophy and their personalities suggests that this is a route they particularly want to go down. However, I am concerned that they are somewhat hitting the panic button and that might lead to some very costly mistakes. I believe this is one.
As Christians we immediately recognise the importance of community. It is there in Genesis 1:26-28 when humans are commissioned to fill (populate the planet). It’s there again in Genesis 2:18 when God observes that it is not good for man to be alone. We can see it in Genesis 12:1-3 where God promises Abraham many descendants. This is then fulfilled in the New Testament with the church and the promise of a great multitude gathered around the throne in eternity. We are social creatures, made for community.
All of us can see though the huge and devastating impact that the loss of community has had. Our society with its pursuit of individualism already had a problem with loneliness and isolation. COVID-19 only serves to exacerbate that and we are increasingly seeing the cost on mental health. I believe we will also see it affecting community cohesion and workplace productivity before long. For this reason, I suspect that the great “working from home” experiment will come to a close as and when the fear of the virus subsides. Indeed, colleagues currently being affected by the break down in day to day communication and who will also be getting their electricity bills dropping through the door may already be concluding that home-working has its limits.
So, I would argue that the Government risk heading down the wrong track. Rather than trying to discourage socialising, their focus should be on how we can encourage and facilitate genuine, meaningful social interaction in as safe a way as possible.
 It is also all well and good to ask prosperous middle class workers with a spare room, multiple devices and good broadband to work from home but that will not be everyone’s circumstances.