Friday is language day on this blog, so what about the peculiar language to which we are now accustoming ourselves, which even a month ago would have seemed utterly alien?
See Shielding below.
Coronavirus / COVID-19
There are in fact seven known coronaviruses in humans (including two associated with the “common cold”) and many more in animals; the most recent, also known as the “novel” or “new coronavirus”, is the one we generally mean currently.
“The new coronavirus is formally designated the ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2’, abbreviated to SARS-CoV-2.”
“Coronavirus” is often used also to refer to the disease.
“The disease associated with the new coronavirus is the ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’, abbreviated to COVID-19.”
“Essential” is perhaps the most complicated word used during the pandemic, deriving ultimately from Latin essere “to be” and cognate with “essence”. Across the world people are being told not to go out or not to go to work unless it is, or they are, “essential” – so, etymologically, “necessary for being”.
“It’s confusing because only part of the store supplies groceries so only part of it is really ‘essential’.”
It is difficult for any government to define “essential” on indeed “non-essential” precisely. “Essential journeys” are usually for “essential work” or “essential supplies” (usually understood to mean food and medicine) but may also be to “help a vulnerable person” (most obviously one “shielding”, see below); exercise is also deemed “essential” but, in Northern Ireland at least, this absolutely must not involve a vehicle (so you may exercise from home, but it is not “essential” to drive anywhere first). Generally, “essential” or “key workers” are deemed to be those associated either with Healthcare or with essential supplies (most obviously food), although this is often expanded to include those working in waste disposal. Many businesses, notably those involved in construction or the sale of certain health-related (but not specifically pharmaceutical) products, are deemed in the UK neither “essential” nor “non-essential”, a situation further confused by guidance that journeys should only be undertaken where they are “essential” and that people should work from home “where possible”.
Unlike in the rest of the UK, for example, in Northern Ireland off-licences (i.e. stores which sell almost exclusively alcohol) were initially specifically deemed “non-essential” and instructed to close; the “non-essential” designation was subsequently removed, but they were never deemed “essential”, meaning that they may or may not re-open. As it happens, my local one has opted to remain closed, presumably judging it is better served by “furloughing” its staff; the one in my parents’ village has, however, re-opened and is offering delivery. Make what you will of that…
“Furlough” in fact derives from Dutch, meaning a “leave of absence”. It has long existed in the English language specifically to mean a leave of absence to do with the special needs of the employer. It need not refer specifically to any wage being paid (by the employer, the Government, or anyone else), but is primarily to do with the idea of a temporary lay-off.
“The US Government Shutdown of 2011 led to plans to furlough 800,000 federal employees being drawn up.”
In the UK and elsewhere, the Government has intervened to assume those special needs of employers apply right across much of the economy, and to allow and indeed specifically encourage “furloughing” from 1 March for at least a three-month period.
Note, in the UK at least, that “furloughing” may apply to charities as well as businesses; and that it is possible to “self-furlough”. Furloughing is actively encouraged, leading intentionally to a situation where many businesses which were not instructed to close nevertheless opted to do so.
See Essential above.
“Lockdown” strictly refers to the compulsory closure of all non-essential businesses and other workplaces, with the objective of ensuring people stay at home other than for essential reasons (typically the purchase of goods or medicines, participation in essential non-closed work, or helping a vulnerable person; exercise may or may not be allowed within this).
“There will always be a question about whether the UK should have entered lockdown before Mother’s Day”
For many people, however, “lockdown” essentially means the application of all “social distancing” measures at once. The typical order is the requirement to “self-isolate” and “quarantine”; the prohibition of large gatherings (so no large festivals or sports events) and then small gatherings (including pubs); and then the closure of educational institutions and non-essential businesses and services.
On both the strict and popularly understood basis, currently, the entire Western World except Sweden (which has not closed most schools an restaurants) and arguably eight US States (notably those which still allow church services) is regarded to be “in lockdown”.
“Quarantine”, probably the oldest term on this list deriving from a Venetian term for the requirement to stay at home for 40 days during plagues in the Late Middle Ages, refers strictly to the requirement to stay at home to stop the spread of a disease.
In the United States, “quarantine” may be regarded as the effective consequence of what is referred to as a “shelter-in-place” order.
In the current situation, “quarantine” initially referred to the requirement to stay at home without having shown actual symptoms; typically, either because a member of the same household had shown symptoms, or because of moving from an area with (or perceived to have) higher incidence of the virus to an area with lower or no incidence. In many countries, “lockdown” is perceived as a compulsory “quarantine” for the entire country, although in fact for most people in most cases it is not quite as strict (particularly if, for example, people are allowed out to exercise).
The first arrest in the British Isles to do with the new coronavirus was of a man who had entered the Isle of Man from England and did not “observe quarantine” for the required 14 days.
“Self-isolation” strictly means the requirement of someone having symptoms of COVID-19 to remain isolated – not just at home, but in the case of a multi-person household a specific room (with specific access arrangements to a bathroom and kitchen). The person self-isolating should take steps not to touch anything out of their designated room; to use their own towels, crockery etc; and not to come into contact at all with anyone else.
“Those who show symptoms of COVID-19, notably a persistent cough or fever, are required immediately to self-isolate.”
Some people confuse “self-isolation” with “shielding” or “quarantine”, or just use it more generally.
“My son developed a cough so I thought I’d better self-isolate too.”
“Shielding” in the UK or “cocooning” in Ireland is the term used for the requirement for vulnerable or at-risk people (terminology there varies) to “quarantine” strictly. The requirement is generally not to leave the home or come into contact with anyone outside the home for any reason whatsoever; thus, the “shielded” or “cocooned” person will require assistance from relatives, friends or the community at large for “essential” need such as groceries and medicines.
“A shielding letter has been sent to over a million people in England.”
“Shielding” is quite often equated to “self-isolating”, but in fact is closer to a strict “quarantine”. The person shielded may operate around the household relatively normally, but must not leave for any purpose.
If they work and cannot reasonably work from home, shielded people should be “furloughed”.
“Social distancing” strictly refers to any of a series of “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (so, not involving medicine or treatment) designed to stop, slow or restrict the spread of a virus or disease.
“Social distancing measures, including staying away from the most at-risk groups in all circumstances, were introduced in different countries at different times.”
For many people, the term actually now refers specifically in context to the most obvious form (also referred to as “keeping distance”), namely the maintenance of 2 metres or 6 feet distance (some countries require only 1.5m or even 1m) between yourself and anyone not from your household.
“We were at the park but there was plenty of room and no problem with social distancing.”