Hundreds of thousands volunteered to help their neighbours. Millions joined the weekly clap for carers. Tens of millions complied with the government’s instructions when it dramatically deprived them of some of their most basic liberties.
When a national lockdown was imposed towards the end of March, the country was exhorted to think of it as a collective endeavour. Speaking live to a massive TV audience, Boris Johnson declared: “We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together.” This was, in many senses, highly artificial. The dangers posed by the coronavirus and the sacrifices demanded to control it have never been evenly shared. There was nevertheless a palpable sense at the time of the first wave that people wanted to unify in the face of an invisible menace.