Alice came upon a table set out under a tree in front of a house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a dormouse was sitting between them fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.
“This must be the daily COVID briefing,” thought Alice to herself. The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it. “Social distance! Social Distance!” they cried out at Alice as she approached.
“There’s plenty of room!” said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large armchair at one end of the table.
“Take some PPE,” said the March Hare in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all around the table, but could see nothing of the sort. “I don’t see any PPE,” she remarked.
“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.
“Well then, it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” said Alice angrily.
“It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,” said the March Hare.
“But I was invited,” said Alice. “I’ve come for the daily COVID briefing.”
“Do we still do that?” said the Hare.
“I don’t believe we do,” replied the Hatter, “but then I generally don’t believe anybody.”
The dormouse shook itself, and started muttering “next slide please,” repeatedly in its sleep, until eventually they had to pinch it to make it stop.
“I just want you to explain the new rules on social distancing, if you have the time?”
The Hatter stared at her with great curiosity. “You need a haircut,” he remarked finally, “but then so does everybody these days. As it happens, I do have Time, I captured him just last week and keep him in the basement. So we shall educate you in the ways of distancing.”
“Firstly,” the Hatter stood and took two large strides away from the Hare, “when with anyone outside your household, you must keep two metres away, thus.”
“Unless”, said the Hare, himself taking a stride towards the Hatter “you cannot, in which case you must stay a metre away, and do other things.”
“Other things?” said Alice.
“Yes,” said the Hare. “Precisely those.”
“I don’t understand,” exclaimed Alice.
“Sorry?” whispered the Hatter in reply, tilting an ear towards her.
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND!” she shouted in reply.
The Hatter and Hare both jumped and rushed back to their seats, hugging the dormouse in terror.
“No shouting!” exclaimed the Hare “That’s one of the things!”
The dormouse began to sing quietly to itself:
“No shouting allowed, except in your house,
Wash your face and clothes often, you poor dirty mouse,
At work or in business, just do what you’re told,
And open the windows to let in the cold.
When inside with strangers then cover your faces,
Do what you can to avoid crowded spaces
Working from home is still the best thing,
And most important of all, please don’t ever sing.”
“Don’t sing! Don’t sing!” shouted the Hare, tossing the dormouse into a teapot, and holding down the lid to muffle the sound.
“Will he be alright in there?” exclaimed Alice.
“I should think he will remain at least half left,” replied the Hatter. “Now please go away, we have graphs to draw and the scales make too much sense.”
“Why don’t you want them to make sense?”
“Because then people would understand them, and then where would we be?”
“Well I still don’t understand anything,” said Alice, suddenly feeling she might know how to play this game, “and I’m right here, so if you want me to go away you had better explain it to me.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the Hare, “and if we were to explain, would you tell us where you went?”
“I would imagine so.”
“Very well,” said the Hatter, “I shall explain.” He adjusted his hat slightly, took a long sip of his tea, and then started talking extremely quickly.
“You can meet in groups of up to two households in any location, and with different households at different times, remembering that bubbles are households too – but you must socially distance the whole time. Up to six people can meet outside, and don’t have to be from the same household, but still have to distance - unless you’re a premiership footballer. However you must not meet together in groups of more than two households if you’re indoors, except of course if it’s in a pub or a restaurant or a cinema or any other business that has multiple groups of people gathering in one indoors area, in which case they can, but only if they pretend not to know each other. Theatres can open, but they mustn’t put on any plays. Highly vulnerable people are no longer highly vulnerable except in the fact that they are. Stay as alert as a raven or a writing desk.”
Alice had grown increasingly restless throughout this description, and had instead started rifling through bits of paper strewn all over the table. One was titled simply “Test and Trace” and appeared to detail the criteria by which the Test and Trace system would determine that someone had been in “contact” with another person with COVID-19. Seemingly any contact with someone confirmed to have the virus would result in that individual being told to isolate for 14 days. The criteria seemed much simpler than the Hatter’s monologue or the dormouse’s song. “Contact”, it said, was:
- Any face to face contact with someone (less than 1 metre away)
- Spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
- Travelling with someone in a small vehicle, or close to them on a plane.
“Why don’t you just tell everyone about this?” said Alice, waving the leaflet. “It seems very easy to understand, and not following it could mean closing down businesses, or GP surgeries or whole hospital wards.”
“Well, we just did,” said the Hare, “otherwise how would you know it at all?”
“I just found it myself, you kept talking about singing, and bubbles, and groups of six, and pubs and…”
“Stop!” shouted the Hatter. “I can’t stand it. Listening to you is impossible, it’s all so confusing.”
“Well, that’s a little unfair. After all I don’t think…”
“And neither do we!” shouted the Hatter triumphantly, before crossing his arms and collapsing back into his armchair.
This last act was more than Alice could bear, and she decided it was time that she distance herself from the Hatter entirely. As she turned to walk away she reached into her pocket and found a small piece of fabric. It appeared to be a face mask, bearing the simple words “wear me”.
“That’s very curious,” she exclaimed, “but everything’s curious today, so I might as well try it.” She put on the mask, and immediately grew so large that the Hatter and the Hare, and the house seemed tiny and insignificant, and she was suddenly struck with how small and silly they really were.