Sobering data has emerged over the last week, casting a certain gloom over the nation’s headlines. More than ever, of course, we have reasonable cause for optimism. But no amount of good news about the future can undo the past, the horrors of which are recorded in the Office of National Statistics’ new report detailing the virus’ death-toll in the various sectors of the economy.
Between 9 March and 28 December of last year, 7,961 working-age Britons lost their lives to coronavirus. For the ONS, ‘working-age’ refers to anyone between 20 and 64 years of age. Now, it is worth emphasising that this data relates the situations in England and Wales – it does not include records from Scotland. Nevertheless, this number must be read not as some abstract figure but as an enumeration of real tragedies, of lost children, parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and partners of all genders, of 7,961 new empty spaces in the lives of those left behind.
By a somewhat notable margin, these Britons were men, the ONS reports. As far as can be known at the moment, this is not a reflection of some sex-based vulnerability. The sectors which suffered the most were the service occupations and what the report designates as ‘elementary’ occupations. These can be anything from low-level jobs in processing plants to security guards. Of course, these are ‘elementary’ occupations because they are foundational to the daily functioning of our society. They are, also, male-dominated occupations.
As I have tried to emphasise, these are not deaths which, now that they are memorialised in government archives, cease to have any effect on the present and can be respectfully but comfortably mourned by the nation. These deaths leave families without breadwinners, children without parents, elderly Britons without carers, not to mention dependent friends or relatives now stranded. On less intimate terms, our most vital sectors have lost staff – often, some of their most valuable staff.
So as we inch closer, day by day, to a future free from COVID-19, let us not forget all of those who were on the front-lines in jobs that often go overlooked, jobs whose very necessity can render them invisible. Let us not forget how important they were, and are.
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