‘Covid is still out there – I go shopping before 6am’

Scientific Society’s president, part of ‘an invisible minority’, calls for compulsory mask wearing

Thursday, 19th May — By Tom Foot

Simon Lang

Simon Lang, president of the Hampstead Scientific Society

THE president of the Hampstead Scientific Society has urged people not to forget those at serious risk from Covid infection and called on the government to reintroduce mandatory mask wearing.

Simon Lang, still shielding more than two years after the pandemic first hit, only goes to the shops in an emergency and no later than 6am.

He said he understood society moving on but at the same time feels part of an “invisible” minority still living in fear of catching the virus.

While infection rates are currently low due to free testing being scrapped, doctors have this week warned that the hit rate of positive cases per test are similar to the winter.

Mr Lang, a plumber by trade who grew up in Somers Town and now lives in Hampstead, said: “Most people have got this impression that Covid is no longer a threat and somehow it is all over. That’s obviously nonsense.

“We are still in the middle of pandemic, it’s just the government has chosen to pretend it has gone away.

“I’ve never been a believer in living in denial; not thinking about something does not make it go away. I had a rough childhood – I had two alcoholic parents – and they believed their lives were written by fate. But we do have control over things, but only if we take appropriate steps.

“I would like to see mandatory mask wearing brought back. There is not a scientist in the country that would say stopping that was a good idea.

“It would be nice if people who think Covid is over would understand that there are a fair few people out there who are still very vulnerable. I’d like them to give people who have grey hair more space when walking past on the pavement.

“If someone doesn’t give me space I hold my breath and when they pass I breathe again. I don’t blame people for this. It’s in our genes to copy what other people do.”

Talking about his wife, he said: “Jackie ran a plumbing business, Aquarius Hampstead. She was my office manager. That’s how we met. I’m very grateful for all those years she helped me and so caring for her now is nothing.

“Now she has an enlarged heart. She suffers from asthma and epilepsy. Unfortunately she is obese. The weight piles on when you are housebound and when you have an enlarged heart it is hard to do things like exercise – you quickly run out of puff.

“I organise all the shopping and help her with hard-to-do things, reaching and cooking. But the main point is I have to make sure I don’t bring the virus home with me. It means I cannot afford to go out.

“As the president of HSS I perhaps understand viruses a bit more than the public. And so I know enclosed and unventilated areas are to be avoided. If we need something from a shop in an emergency, I won’t go after 6am. I couldn’t also, for example, go for a walk in the daytime. I could so easily walk past somebody with Covid.”

The sea of statistics are now not so easy to find but Mr Lang said he kept an eye on the “R” rate that shows how quickly infections are spreading.

He said he was “champing at the bit” to get back to the Hampstead Observatory, near Whitestone Pond. The last time he was there was around the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings.

One of the niche wonders of Hampstead, the observatory has been shut during the pandemic and before that because of a dispute with Thames Water. But it will reopen to the public in September unless, says Mr Lang, “anything diabolical happens”.

During his extended lockdown Mr Lang said he had fallen back in love with trees overhanging his garden that he had usually held in contempt for blocking his telescope’s line into the night sky.

“I grew up in a council flat in Somers Town, in Phoenix Court. So I know what that is like. I’m very lucky to have a garden to sit in and to have a big TV and the internet. It’s not like the 70s, it’s much easier to keep yourself entertained at home.”

The HSS holds regular Zoom meetings and Mr Lang is looking forward to an upcoming discussion on “geology of Europe in the last one million years”.

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