I recently experienced a phenomenon that I cannot recall ever previously occurring in all of my life. This past week I heard Aberdeen, my lifelong love-hate affair, referred to during BBC Newsbeat on Radio 1. As menial as this may seem it did catch me off guard as usually to hear mention of Aberdeen on the radio you would have to turn to Northsound, Original FM or NECR (the home of teuchter programming). Yet this week I have not only heard mention of Aberdeen, but a centrepiece of news slating the inadequacies of its people during the Covid-19 pandemic and the spike in cases originating in some of the bars across the city.
Along with a couple of other headlines this has been a major feature of the BBC’s news broadcasting since Monday, when it was announced that a local outbreak had begun, starting from a few of the bars worryingly close to my flat. As concerning as this was it could almost be expected if you happened to be in town on almost any given evening, where the city felt livelier than I have seen it for a long while. Aberdeen has had quite a buzz about it since phase three pubs and restaurant were open for business, as people crawled out from the collective hibernation and attempted to make up for lost drunken evenings spent in dimly lit pubs. It definitely was not ‘business as usual’ for the vast majority of establishments, as I can say from my own experience. Every bar that I went in the few weeks of freedom followed the government ‘guidelines’ and provided proper protection to their punters, however, this was seemingly not enough to combat the drunken incompetence and gross mismanagement of a minority of Aberdonians.
One thing that I do not want to contribute towards in writing this, which I have seen spreading on Twitter, is a blame game pointing the finger at the people that could be spotted waiting outside pubs in pictures that have spread across social media. At the end of the day it is true that people are to blame, of course, but at this point in the pandemic it is worth asking what good the projecting of guilt really has in situations like these. Looking back, it is abundantly clear that some of the less prepared establishments really lacked proper enforcement and were never ready to open their doors in the first place. This was strikingly clear in the queues outside the likes of of Soul Bar, Justice Mill and Prohibition. The main problem that I would point to is the queueing system outside of these bars where, at most, enforcement took the form of a half-arsed line on the ground.
The negligence on the part of bars to put any effort in to one of the most important aspects of safety highlights a foolish arrogance present in some of the less affected areas during the first wave of the pandemic in Scotland. A majority of people seen in these online images, posted to cause outrage, were following the guidelines in place, the problem is not the individuals but the guidelines themselves. The allocation of guidelines was evidently not enough on the government’s part and some businesses would have felt it necessary to reopen as soon as possible as to prevent further losses after an already difficult year. The bars themselves may have felt rushed to snap back into routine, with all of the business surrounding them opening up. This kind of corporate level peer pressure could be responsible for businesses, resulting in an inability to guarantee customer safety.
The sudden rush back to normal life was always going to create problems if not handled properly. A combination of vague guidelines that can be hard to apply in differing social settings and a lack of any real enforcement have now led to exactly that in Aberdeen. If social distancing, a fairly simple concept, cannot be followed in a major population centre then what hope did we ever have of transitioning out of lockdown?
Instead it seems that the UK is slowly but surely entering the dreaded second wave, often feared as being the more lethal stage of a pandemic, following suit of some of the European nations that are a couple of weeks ahead in the disease cycle. It seems weird and unfamiliar for Aberdeen to be spearheading this leap backwards, and typical that the only major news story that we are caught up in has only worsened the image of the Granite City. If the online courts of Twitter have decided that the people of Aberdeen are to blame then so be it, but the high and mighty tones of Radio 1, echoing out across the UK from the ivory towers of London can fuck off.
On a more personal level the regression into isolation and depression is not what I had anticipated or needed, having only just tasted freedom again following a rough few months down in Glasgow in which I lost my first proper job. I am enjoying being back in Aberdeen and I have to say, did enjoy meeting up with mates at some of the now closed pubs more than I ever thought I would. I do not fear for my health or anything quite as drastic as that, but lockdown takes a toll on so many lives, particularly of the vulnerable populations that were seemingly forgotten about the second that the pubs reopened. My concerns lie more with the human cost of another lockdown even more so than the actual casualties directly from the disease itself. I know that this slip up of pandemic proportions will be costly for many, and this failure of a few could lead to an array of issues for the wider public, with mental health, local businesses and the homeless all being devastated by the announcement of a reintroduction of a local lockdown.
Walking through town in the week following the news the dour atmosphere that is synonymous with Aberdeen is looming over the entire city. The shapes slumped in doorways and staggering figures wandering the centre with stony faces morphed by years spent on the streets are deeply depressed and there is a tense feeling reminiscent of the first days of lockdown months earlier. For Aberdeen’s homeless population it is apparent that the coming months will be just as painful and lonely as the months prior, maybe even worse. Social distancing, for them, is a part of daily life, and so piling on another period of lockdown could push people to complete isolation from society. The weight of this on the conscience of Aberdeen should be considerable as we have truly let down the most vulnerable of our fellow Aberdonians, in a time when we needed to band together.
The recent news of several Aberdeen FC players going out for a few celebratory drinks after only losing to Rangers 0-1 has stoked the fire of media backlash directed at the North East. Aside from the strange motive of going out to one of the most crowded bars in the city immediately after losing a game that means so much to the fans, there is an obvious level of unprofessionalism by the players involved that is unacceptable. Over the past few days I’ve seen calls for the players to be sacked and for the club to be deducted points, some of which were more reasonable than others but none of which seem likely.
All of this swirling rage seems to have now been directed towards the eight individuals caught up in this, rather than the widespread naivety involved the hurried efforts to restart the SPFL, a sight that is becoming far too common across Scotland in this new climate of pandemic prevention. The desire to march onwards down the linear line of progress away from the dark days of lockdown led to a lack of appropriate consideration to protect the public. The problem in Aberdeen is based in the exact same issue but at different levels. The SNP, in following Westminster, have allowed us to enter the public spaces again and have granted certain liberties, despite having no real way of telling if anyone is actually following their loosely laid out guidelines.
The people have been pent up and unsurprisingly want to let off months of isolation-induced steam but we required a slower and stricter reintroduction to normal life. Instead people were suddenly let loose on the town, and with many bars opening before being properly equipped to deal with the pandemic, this has directly led to an outbreak in Aberdeen. This mishandled effort has trickled down to all facets of life, with only certain shop, bar and restaurant management implementing proper measures, there might as well be none. Any efforts to prevent the spread of disease must be consistent and constant to have any chance of success. One slip up can bring disastrous consequences and we are now seeing what this really means for us. Protecting the population requires the cooperation of everyone, but this is ruined by selfishness, greed and indecency. We are only as good as our weakest link, not our profit margins.
Coming right back to the newest catalyst for Aberdeen based discussion, I believe that the eight Aberdeen players that socialised outwith their bubble and acted against the guidelines should be fined heavily for their unprofessionalism. After this, rather than sacking the players or attempting to humiliate them further we should move on, they are not the only ones guilty of abusing post-lockdown freedoms and acting unprofessional. The players were not meant to be out in town drinking, but I doubt that they are the first. They were seen out in one bar (granted one of the busiest in Aberdeen) but one of the main factors making this outbreak so large is the pub crawl behaviour of those going directly against government advice and traipsing about town, drunkenly ignoring social distancing and passing germs at every turn. This once again comes right back to the government merely ‘advising’ rather than ruling. As a finger cannot be pointed at each these average individuals breaking the rules the media choose to cling to these footballers as if they know better. Let this be a reminder to anyone that may need to hear it: earnings do not correlate to intelligence. Despite all of the damming evidence, the players are far less at fault than the establishments and government who have rushed back to normality when the virus still poses a global threat, choosing profit over protection.
Overall it is clear to see that the situation in Aberdeen is grim, with reported cases rising daily and a media focus that seems intense compared to any of the several outbreaks down South. The city will get through this eventually and now more than ever we must band together and not lose our empathy, we are facing a difficult challenge and there is no time for judgement and smugness. To get through this second wave we need to learn from our mistakes and act in the interest of the public, just because something is allowed does not mean that it is necessary. Although no one may have stopped us from doing as we please, we now need to show refrain so that we can come out of this without complete devastation. Let us please use this as an experience to learn from become less selfish from.
Following the news of the lockdown the online comparisons to the giant dome isolating a city from the rest of the world from the Simpsons Movie following news of a second lockdown were immediate. This comparison, frustratingly, doesn’t appear far off the mark as the rest of Scotland (even Westhill somehow) enjoys increased freedom of movement and reopenings while we plummet back to phase two. There is a real sense of missing out and a collective pain in Aberdeen, as the rest of the country continue to enjoy the famous Scottish weather with friends and family, trying their hardest to reclaim at least a fragment of a shattered summer.
You could say that we brought this on ourselves, but really our city has been let down by the few, led by those driven by greed who traded public safety for profit. We, the people, got carried away and when visions of post-lockdown freedom started appearing from across the UK we rushed to match them and hoped to move on just as they were. But we have always been behind the curve in Coronavirus cases along every step of the pandemic, so it was foolish to blindly follow places such as Glasgow, Manchester and London in reopening businesses and public spaces. Maybe it is this that is the root cause of our outbreak although it is most likely, (as is usually the case) a combination of these different factors that have perfectly aligned to bring another season to finale in what is quickly becoming the bleakest year that I have lived through.
Words by Ewan Blacklaw