Week three of lockdown in London has an eery feel to it. The first two weeks were more focused, functional almost – week one: eat too much, drink immoderately, fret about loo paper, edit diary; week two: establish an exercise regime, perfect queuing and swerving manoeuvres, become Zoom literate, dust off Anna Karenina.

As I write, though, with the new daily disciplines in place and most of 2020’s ‘looking forward to’ events already cancelled (including, sadly, my daughter’s wedding), I’m searching for meaning, a plan, the helicopter view.

Instead, I’m staring at an exponential curve of COVID-19 cases, trying to reconcile opinions of the optimists and the doom-mongers, of the sensationalists and the shoulder-shruggers. And it’s Easter of course, with its extremes of emotion, palpable even to a non-believer like me.

The leadership vacuum doesn’t help (apart from the intelligent, earnest interventions of ‘Dishy Rishi’). It’s as if the teachers are taking lessons from the back of the classroom, cigarettes in hand. The endless stream of Trump nonsense is particularly scary as the US careers out of control.

On the other hand, no one seems to have told the weather or the birds that Homo sapiens is in trouble. Both are unseasonably upbeat. And, as for dogs, they are beside themselves. So much attention from their quarantined owners. Apparently, vets are increasingly having to prescribe pain relief for sprained tails!

But what’s the big picture? Well, firstly, on a positive note, we will get through the health crisis. We will look back upon perhaps the finest hour for our welfare state, for the NHS, for paramedics, for carers, for all frontline staff who thankfully respond to their calling despite its pecuniary disadvantages.

To that point, hopefully we will emerge more appreciative of the important role played by the lower-paid members of our community. Unable to work from home, some are facing an uncertain future on furlough while others are putting themselves at risk, yes to put food on their tables but also to keep the country going. Typically, they live without a financial safety net and, specifically, if a Secretary of State cannot live on statutory sick pay of £94.25 a week, then the chances are that this vital cohort can’t either.

My concerns relate less to the virus itself, however, while acknowledging the trail of human tragedy in its wake.  I am genuinely worried about the aftermath which at present seems unclear at best. What will be the economic consequences of the pandemic, how will these contribute to the wider social implications?

There is a stark reality, I feel. All types of business, from plant nurseries to rugby clubs, are seeking a government bailout. Brutally, despite best intentions, the scale of the problem has been massively underestimated. There will not be enough money to meet the demand and/or it will not be delivered at the required speed. As a result, enterprises large and small will soon go bust with crippling knock-on effects.

Weave into this analysis the high levels of personal debt in the UK and many households will quickly plunge into difficulty. Overall, as jobs disappear, homes will be repossessed, lives upended.

Most significantly, the scourge of our time, social inequality, especially in wealth and health, will increase further, potentially to breaking point. Civil unrest is not beyond the realms of possibility. As an aside, I should concede that I don’t believe that complete equality is achievable. If, today, we divided equally the world’s assets among its population then by tomorrow there would again be rich and poor people. What cannot be justified and is genuinely sinful, though, is the sheer scale of inequality that exists across the globe, in every political and economic system.

If all this seems unnecessarily dystopian, I do sense that many of us are imagining the worst. American author David Kessler, in the Harvard Business Review, recently described such feelings as “anticipatory grief”. In short: “Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We are grieving on a micro and macro level”.

Regarding the latter, to quote Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, in commenting on the epidemic and its potential consequences, “we need a spirit of global co-operation and trust” (not “nationalist isolation”), reminding us that solidarity is “the big advantage we have over viruses”.

At the micro level, our mental state is not helped by enforced separation and, where we can exert some control, we are taking steps, for example, to combat the unnatural limitations of social distancing.  Group video chatting/meeting platforms like Zoom are all the rage and represent a step change in remote communication, despite alleged privacy and security issues.

But seeing and hearing family, friends and colleagues, while better than no interaction, doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction. In the words of Chris Segrin, a behavioural scientist at the University of Arizona: “A lot of the meaning conveyed between two people is not in actual words but in non-verbal behaviour. Subtleties of body language, facial expressions and gestures can get lost with electronic media”.

In the long run, therefore, beyond a time of need, in a time of normal, modern technology is no substitute for the real human touch. We must not permit the current crisis to become a trigger for getting into the habit of connecting less.

Stay healthy in these difficult times and make a list of all the people you are going to see, in person, when the all clear is sounded. Where appropriate, hug them, kiss them, hold their freshly washed hands; most important, just be with them and remind yourself how that feels. Over one hundred years ago, French sociologist Émile Durkheim coined the wonderful term ‘collective effervescence’ (remember that?!). It’s how humans truly connect, how all relationships flourish.

And I didn’t use the word ‘unprecedented’ once. Doh!