Stuart Jeffery

Covid: Ignorance and Want


I have tried engaging with them. The trolls, that is. But those times are over for now. There is a growing divide in society between people who understand the difference between science and conspiracy theorists’ fantasies, a divide that like many divides is strengthened by social media and the willingness by some to forget social rules of engagement that we have spent centuries building so that we can debate issues without resorting to name calling and verbal violence.

Yesterday I took my second trip to the local Sainsbury’s (Aylesford in Kent) since covid hit. It used to be my weekly food shop but after a Saturday morning trip around April this year where I found myself in a crowded aisle surrounded by people who worn no face coverings and refused to social distance, I stopped going.

Month’s later, laws in place, I tried again. 7pm, Monday evening, so it was quiet at least. I needed Quorn pieces as my current shop doesn’t sell them. Sainsbury’s Aylesford is a huge shop, yesterday evening there were maybe a dozen shoppers. No security guard on the door when I got there. This set an alarm bell in my head. Every shop that I’ve visited in the past few months has had someone on the door. Not Sainsbury’s. As I said, it was quiet and I was probably halfway round before I started to realise that there were quite a large proportion of shoppers in there without masks. Probably half of them.

I asked the staff why masks were not being enforced. Company policy. Too difficult. Too dangerous. A manager was punched trying to police it.

So what makes Sainsbury’s special? Why are they not prepared to protect their staff, for it is their staff who are at greatest risk from catching covid from a shopper, a far higher risk than shopper to shopper transmission. When a member of their staff dies from covid as a result of company policy, what will the Health and Safety Executive say? What will the courts say? Would this be corporate manslaughter?

I tried to complain online but they don’t do complaints. You have to phone them. I tried to phone but couldn’t get through. So I tweeted them.

I also informed the police. Sainsbury’s said that the police are not interested in the problem. Not interested in criminal behaviour. I do understand that the Tories have cut the police resources to a point where they are forced to make choices. I’ll wait with interest for the response from the police.

The tweets though… Using @sainsburys meant that quite a few people saw the tweet. The response was not great. Sainsburys replied saying they were happy to encourage mask wearing. Big deal, it’s like saying please don’t punch the staff or smoke in the shop. The twittersphere trolls replied with disdain and hatred. Not many of them fortunately, and I have a thick skin. If my skin was thinner it would have hurt, a bit.

Facebook was as bad, if not worse. Colourful language combined with ignorance and an inability to engage. Dickens famously described ignorance in his Christmas Carol:

“They are Man’s and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

So, I won’t be returning to Sainsbury’s until they start to care for their staff. I encourage everyone who has an ounce of conscience to do the same. The staff in Sainsbury’s are key workers, they should be protected and valued. We should be clapping them not allowing their corporate masters to put their lives in danger.

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