Daily Diary: Feeling The Cold Light of Day
Having made the journey out to Kent yesterday and knowing it’s likely to be the last journey we’d make for a while, I see today as being the first day proper of self-isolation. There’s a ‘cold light of day’ feeling about the whole thing. Every foray beyond the house is going to be riskier than the last. My best guess is that figures for those testing positive for coronavirus probably reflect about one per cent of the real numbers. There are 41 new cases in the Borough of Greenwich, suggesting at least four thousand infections if that’s anything to go by.
I start the day with a routine. Go through the emails. Some are interesting and feed my Twitter account, and I get a similar number of Twitter notifications as I do emails – more if something I tweet or retweet gets traction. After an hour or so I go down and have a session on the rowing machine. Then a light breakfast, always including a filter coffee.
Some things start to become more important. Cleaning teeth has to be more thorough because a visit to the dentist might prove to be a chink in my social distancing armour. How we use provisions is important because a shop is a risky environment. I’ve just seen a clip of a young woman in ICU explaining what Covid-19 is like if you have a bad attack. It’s not something I wish either Vicky or myself to catch. We’re not among the over-70s, but we’re not far off either.
Emily WhatsApps to wish Vicky a happy Mother’s Day. At least we can communicate visually by phone. Tom looks as though he’s going to be seconded as a ministerial adviser to do with the pandemic, being in limbo since his date of transfer to Berlin has been set back, so he becomes another useful pair of hands during desperate times.
Emily is still going into school. Schools have become creches for the children of essential workers. She is also putting herself forward to help isolated elderly people and will be helping out Metzi, an elderly lady in her nineties, who lives a few doors away. She feels strongly that she and Tom should ‘do their bit.’ There’s something very moving about this – the younger generations wanting to help the more vulnerable.
It really is reminiscent of the ‘Blitz Spirit,’ only it isn’t the one fantasised by many Brexiters who never encountered it in the first place.
It’s something for real.
The tone has changed.
The Bigger Picture: A Rising Tide
I don’t know about a rising tide lifting all ships but it certainly threatens all beach properties.
The rising tide of Covid-19 in an age of worldwide media brings with it fear. Our collective extended vision through camera lenses shows us very sick people in ICUs, lying belly down, necks pierced for ventilation. It shows us the grim human outlines in black zip-up bodybags and convoys of military trucks that do all but call us to bring out our dead.
So far, the coronavirus has spread to nearly seventy countries, paralysed the world’s greatest cities and claimed thousands of lives. It will in time infiltrate every populated part of the planet. From rather murky origins in the Chinese city of Wuhan it has infected ninety thousand people to date and is blooming exponentially across the human population. It has already surpassed the 2003 SARS outbreak in a fraction of the time and it’s estimated that everyone who is infected will, on average, pass it on to between one and a half to three others. That means in four infection cycles, the amount of time it takes an infected person to become infectious, a single person could pass the disease to eight others.
It slips between us like a submarine in a shipping convoy, our knowledge of it only arising once it has struck.
A rising virus sinks all ships.
Or does its best to.
That’s its potency. We can’t see it coming. Researchers find that mild to asymptomatic cases were a large driver of the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. As well as that, the number of undetected cases is estimated to be 11 times more than has been officially reported. Modelling the pandemic is both stark and alarming. If America meets the challenge of halving its transmission rate, from the current 24,000, some 650,000 people may still become infected in the next two months.
Humans, used to linear thinking, can’t grasp exponential until they’re totally freaked out by the alarming fact it isn’t linear.
So much so that at present, in the face of opposition from numerous sports associations, Olympic officials are still insisting that the Tokyo Games will still go ahead this summer.
Tied in by a particular groupthink it will take a while for the new reality to be grasped.
But once grasped that seismic change brings uncertainty and uncertainty in turn brings fear. New cases are accelerating in New York, the number now standing at 10,350. The national level of preparedness in hospitals and health centres falls well short of the mark. In Washington State the coronavirus tore its way through a nursing home, leaving two thirds of its residents, 47 of its staff fell ill and 35 people died. It’s not the only example. And doctors are fearful that they’ll be forced forced to make that ghastly triage in hospitals pushed to the edge of their capacity, namely who will be saved and who won’t.
Once they run short of PPE medics turn from healers to casualties in no time. It’s happening. An Italian doctor dies of coronavirus after working without gloves due to shortages, making up one of its current death-toll to the virus of 5,000. France loses its first hospital doctor to Covid-19.
One in four Americans is being asked to stay home in an effort to curb the pandemic. The governors of California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois told their residents to stay indoors as much as possible, issuing far-reaching demands that all nonessential workers must remain at home. “These provisions will be enforced,” Governor Cuomo of New York said. “These are not helpful hints.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel is self-isolating after a doctor she saw last week was infected.
In Britain all non-frontline workers are also being asked to self-isolate. “This week will be ‘absolutely critical’ in the NHS’ ability to fight Covid-19,” Former Health Secretary echoes Prime Minister’s plea for people to stay indoors.
The over-70s to self-isolate for 12 weeks from the 21st March. All over the country a web of arrangements is underway between relatives, friends and neighbours to see right our most senior citizens. Although well-meaning abounds there are still issues, as the network is both ad-hoc and informal. Many do not have family or friends who can bring them groceries, or their family may become unwell and be unable to deliver food to them because their own self-isolation.
Wealthier, fitter pensioners can manage, but going it alone is tough for many who are less fortunate. Supermarket deliveries are a boon but some have minimum spends and delivery costs which could be considered to be high for people over 70, especially if they are shopping for only one person. Charities, religious communities
The call comes out from my own local council, the Royal Borough of Greenwich:
“Can you volunteer in response to Covid-19? The Royal Borough of Greenwich is aware that many people are keen to volunteer and coordinate action during these challenging times.”
Such calls are well responded to. They become indicative of the public spiritedness that typifies the early stages of Britain’s lockdown. Liverpool stewards offer to help supermarkets during the coronavirus crisis. Reds CEO Peter Moore says staff will assist with “crowd control, queue management, parking control and assisting the elderly and infirm.”
4,500 retired doctors and nurses are returning to work to help fight coronavirus. Thousands of retired health professionals have signed up in the first 48 hours of the government’s call to action.
On my local Nextdoor feed comes a message of appreciation for all our health workers. It simply says:
“Thank you, NHS for all your hard work.”
It’s also hard for the more vulnerable in other ways too. Here’s another Nextdoor message that came my way today:
“Nearest walk-in centre. Hi there. I would like to see a doctor as soon as possible for urgent medical care. All I need is a prescription. No, I don’t have the virus. I can’t make a phone call and I am getting conflicting info on websites, so please someone help. Calling NHS 111 will not help as I cannot hear. I am thinking of just going to Queen Elizabeth Hospital A&E. Just need to talk to a doctor and get a prescription. I live in West Thamesmead, so the nearest is Plumstead or Woolwich.”
Another local resident gives a helpful reply:
“There is an urgent care centre in Erith Hospital as well as Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Erith is usually less crowded so I think it is worth going there. Opening times are 8 am to 8 pm.”
I don’t know what happened next and I hope all was resolved.
I get other local messages. There are more today than usual. A local independent looks like it’s setting up a delivery service while a customer dissatisfied with their second delivery responds with a scathing comment:
“Just got my second delivery and this time around I am pretty disappointed. Strawberries really watery and completely tasteless, apples are old, grapes are sour. The 30 eggs are expiring in one week. Won’t place another order.”
Someone else comes up with a scheme to stop greedy shoppers via intel on their loyalty cards.
These are the important minutiae of everyday life – what matters as we all recede into the snail shells of our domestic existence.
To a large degree it’s the local action that defines Britain in the days leading up to lockdown. Government still seems on the back foot, dealing with the unexpected (largely through lack of planning) and tying up innumerable loose ends. Bizarre things like nurses trained abroad must pay more than £1,000 if they want to register in the UK. The Government faces calls to relax the registration rules during the Covid-19 emergency.
Or the missing out of freelancers in the chancellor’s financial support package. For a country that has long preached entrepreneurialism and where the arts are so central to not just the economy but its way of live it’s strange that the Swiss government can pay freelancers and the self-employed 80 per cent of their salaries, while in the UK we can only access £94 per week.
While big fish, and friends of Number Ten are allowed disproportionate access.
For some there is a cost. The British airline industry is to be part-nationalised under rescue plan to save jobs. Airlines will be told not to pay investors millions in dividends and to axe executive bonuses.
The state gets bigger in the hands of those who sought to shrink it. One of Covid-19’s many ironic outcomes.
So, as I’ve said, we all recede into the snail shells of our domestic existence as we enter a new world of cabin-fever and stir-crazy. No sports. No exercise classes. No birthday parties. No nothing.
We still have the gift from Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web. Writers give online readings, songwriters come up with new hand-washing songs that last the full twenty seconds, food writers draw us into their world of novel recipes for beans and the like, and at least one astronaut, Scott Kelly, veteran of four space flights, three-time Commander of the International Space Station, with a passing resemblance to Star Trek’s Jean Luc Picard, tells us about how to deal with isolation.
And after all that there’s still the opportunity to visit a drive-in movie show, that will evolve through time into drive-in rock concerts, theatre and a political convention or two.
If human behaviour is our curse in coping with the virus it also offers some redemption.
But the curse of how we behave. Our selfishness, our stupidity still persists. The National Trust closes all parks and gardens as crowds ignore social distancing. Rural leaders urge people to stay away as city-dwellers head for the hills. There are fears that the NHS and shops in rural areas could be overburdened by an exodus to the countryside. And a man is charged in the UK with selling fake coronavirus testing kits around the world. The kits contained potassium thiocyanate and hydrogen peroxide which are extremely dangerous chemicals if they are ingested.
These are bad times.
The Queen plans a televised speech on the coronavirus crisis. It will be the Queen’s first televised speech addressing a public crisis in 29 years.
These really must be bad times!
We’ll all be singing “The Big Red Candy Mountain,” that anthem of the Great Depression, next!