When this is over, I hope we will be a kinder nation, says ROSS CLARK

Shoppers practise social distancing

Shoppers practise social distancing (Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

We had the chief executive of Sports Direct threatening to defy the Government's order to close his shops and a hotel chain evict an overseas worker from company accommodation with no warning. Yet many businesses have behaved in exemplary fashion, with supermarkets setting up special shopping times for the elderly.

Most disgracefully of all, youths in Bristol on Tuesday set alight a pair of Iceland vans that had been delivering much-needed groceries to elderly people who are self-isolating in their homes.

Yet there are far more examples of communities pulling together, like the anonymous man in Oxfordshire who has set out to save his local pub by ordering fish and chips for the entire village until it is allowed to open its doors again.

But above all else sits the selfless attitude of NHS staff who, while the rest of us are confined to our homes, have been daily travelling into hospitals to look after desperately sick patients, knowing that the price of doing so could be that they, too, contract the virus.

We have learned so much about ourselves over the past few weeks – and will no doubt learn much more before the crisis is over – that it would be a tragedy for it all to go to waste once normality returns.

Above all, we are learning the need for self-sacrifice.

It is astonishing to think that there is no one much below the age of 80 who has any recollection of growing up in wartime.

The rest of us have been lucky to grow up and live in an age of unparalleled plenty.

We have been conditioned to think that we can have what we want, whenever we want it.

Yet suddenly, that world has been taken from us.

Of course, the privations which have been forced on us in recent days are nothing compared with what the wartime generation went through.

No one is being asked to run into a field of fire or squeeze into the rear gun emplacement on a plane night after night, knowing that the chances of remaining alive are very slim.

We can't go down the pub, but we can still eat and drink well at home – the only food shortages are ones we have imposed on ourselves by panic-buying.

Even so, it is a shock to lose the freedoms we have long taken for granted.

We have been forced to rethink our lives and to appreciate what is really important.

Physically, of course, we have had to retreat into our personal private spaces.

Yet at the same time we are reaching out to friends, neighbours – and even people we don't know – in ways we've never done before.

The result is more empathy and co-operation – combined with less avarice and self-centredness.

With the shops closed we are beginning to ask ourselves whether we really need to acquire so many possessions.

It is remarkable how celebrities seem to have shrunk into the background during this crisis – now that emulating their outwardly enviable lives is less of a priority.

Boris Johnson came to office promising to level up Britain.

Perhaps he won't need to try too hard – British society seems to be levelling up by itself.

It doesn't matter how wealthy anyone is, they are subject to the same restrictions as everyone else.

They can't go out to posh restaurants or jet off to the sun.

Many fortunes, in any case, have been shrunken by the collapse of the stock and bond markets.

No doubt some hedge fund managers and the like will do well out of the crisis, but few rich people will have escaped some degree of evaporation of their wealth.

What we have gained, on the other hand, is vast quantities of what some people like to call "social capital".

It is our relationships and our sense of collective responsibility which have suddenly come to matter.

Yes, of course, the crisis will be over, in a few months if not weeks.

The shop tills will start ringing again, the planes will once again take to the air.

There will be a clamour to go shopping and to travel the world.

They are not evil things – and of course the retail and travel industries keep vast numbers of people in employment.

But hopefully, we'll retain something of the spirit of this time.

Our sense of community and public-spiritedness will outlive the virus which, with so little warning, has turned all our lives upside down.

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