Monday 30th March 2020

Daily Diary: The New Reality is Weird – And Not In a Nice Way

It’s grey and overcast, but I’m writing in the conservatory, the back doors are open and it’s not cold. The coronastory is now huge, epic and global. Beyond my own small island that ends at the garden fence there’s a whole world going about its business, largely from countless other islands, some I guess ending with garden fences too. There was a big fundraiser on Fox TV – a huge global music event, all from people’s living rooms. When I was younger this would have been science fiction, with the virtual and real worlds beginning to overlap, so it’s possible to be in isolation and be in a community all at the same time.

Yesterday Vicky rang Midge, who we’d taken to her daughter in Rainham for the lockdown. She has heard that John, Claire next door’s partner, had gone down with the coronavirus. It sounds as if it’s not the worst of attacks and he is now at the other side of it. The previous evening, he had gone for a walk outside. That’s put Claire into quarantine. Vicky then rang Claire to see if she was okay for things. Because she’s recovering from cancer, she’s a priority case for Sainsbury’s deliveries. Her fridge and larder are bursting! She’s better off than we are. Claire gives Vicky the contact number for Sainsbury’s. Vicky still has a ‘rattle’ on her chest ever since the surgical disaster she endured at King’s about five years ago. It may be that being over 65 with a post-traumatic condition she might be a priority too and we might be included on Sainsbury’s delivery list.

But it’s not to be. There’s an NHS letter, a code, and if you don’t fit the bureaucratic criteria, go whistle.

Claire is short of toilet roll and soap, so we pass some on to her. There’s the rigmarole of social distancing – parking a shopping bag of goods, ringing the doorbell then staying well clear.

A bit like when we were kids, although we didn’t park shopping when we played knock-down-ginger.

Worrying times. The world feels more hostile, more alien, than it did even a fortnight ago. Most of it might be in the mind, but it doesn’t make it unreal.

The Bigger Picture: A Matter of Us and Them

It’s getting serious.

As the UK hospital death toll rises to 1,408 and prime minister Boris Johnson is afflicted by Covid-19, he has his Damascene Moment.

“One thing I think that the coronavirus has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society,” he says.

The PM is one of 29 MPs who are self-isolating due to Covid-19 symptoms, prompting calls for a ‘virtual Parliament’ to be introduced after Easter. Some are saying that in-person Parliament could be shut for months.

Linked to Boris Johnson’s self-solation is, according to a news bulleting, his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser, is self-isolating at home after suffering coronavirus symptoms. We’re led to believe he has gone back to his £1.6 million home in Islington, having scarpered out of Downing Street, satchel over his shoulder, like a naughty truant bunking off school, half an hour after his boss’s announcement he was self-isolating. If he isn’t en-route to County Durham, breaking a number of the rules he was instrumental in making for the rest of us, he soon will be.  

It’s that instinct at the core this government that it’s one rule for them and another for everyone else. It’s one that will in the weeks ahead corrode public good will and influence the course of the pandemic in Britain.

Us and them.

Tory MP Bob Stewart has been accused of fuelling xenophobia after a Facebook post in which he called coronavirus a ‘foul Chinese illness.’

Us and them.

With June 2021 set as the date that EU citizens without Settled Status becoming illegal in the UK, disruption caused by Covid-19 means that people who require face-to-face support with their applications won’t be able to access it in time, and are in danger of becoming undocumented migrants overnight. Windrush, that combination of callousness and incompetence, casts a long shadow. Many of the very same migrants who are now playing a vital role in keeping the country running could soon lose their basic rights. Children in care, victims of domestic violence, elderly people with insufficient language or digital skills who struggle with their applications are particularly at risk.

By contrast – and at last – Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announces £75 million to fund charter flights to repatriate stranded Britons from ‘priority countries’ overseas. Some would turn out to have been safer from the virus had they stayed at their destination, but life presents other pressing priorities and anyway, there is no place quite like home.

Especially if you become ill.

The severity and inexorable spread of the novel coronavirus is beginning to come home. As cases continue to rise, political leaders are taking ever more drastic steps to try and limit the virus’s spread. It even affects the political leadership of countries. The Hungarian parliament passed a bill to give prime minister Viktor Orbán sweeping new powers without any time limit, including the suspension of all elections. It gives the government virtually unlimited authority to enforce social distancing and other related rules but with liberal democracy under threat from quarters like Islamism and the alt-right some are worried.

That too is a problem. There has been a growing distrust of government throughout the west. This is not particularly that government has become significantly less trustworthy, although here and there it might be so, but because of the way in which issues become readily amplified through social media. Communication technology has rapidly outpaced people’s capacity to come to terms with it. Education has become increasingly utilitarian and critical thinking has been low on the agenda. In America and Britain especially, opinions are even permitted to hold the same weight as scientific facts. This alone will turn out costing countless lives.

In America on Sunday, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious disease (NIAID) director Anthony Fauci predicted that the US could see millions of coronavirus cases and 200,000 deaths. At the time it sounds shocking, but it turns out to be conservative. For the country with the most powerful defence forces in the world its biological security is woefully and alarmingly inadequate. It’s also where the N95 facemask was invented. Outsourcing abroad means there are virtually none manufactured in the US. This is true for other PPE and testing equipment too. America is like a sleeping giant woken up by a swarm of invisible angry hornets, thrashing about, making lots of noise but ultimately vulnerable. Hospitals around the country are running short of PPE and healthcare workers are having to re-use masks. There are some cases of masks being made to last a week, many more where face coverings are improvised.

President Trump, on a call with governors, suggested a shortage of test kits had been resolved. It’s simply untrue.

New York is fast becoming the world’s next coronavirus hotspot. It’s locked down. There are $500 fines for congregating in public. The wealthy depart for second homes, as they will from cities across the developed world. It is one of the contributory factors for class and ultimately race tensions come to surface. It’s not the only one.

The FDA’s US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS) is still not yet fully mobilised to fight Covid-19. USPHS officers are highly-trained public health professionals who work nationally and internationally in careers such as medicine, veterinary sciences, dentistry, nursing, epidemiology and biomedical research to serve underserved and vulnerable communities. It’s an indicator of the slowness of response.

Trump relents the Easter deadline, after hearing Dr Fauci’s prediction that 200,000 Americans could die during the outbreak and extends social distancing guidelines to April 30th. Everyone in the United States must avoid non-essential travel or gathering in groups of more than ten for at least another month, and perhaps until June, the president said on Sunday. He had earlier expressed a desire to relax the coronavirus guidelines and get the country back to work by Easter, April 12th

He also favours a business approach to dealing with the pandemic over a public health agency one as his administration spends nearly half a billion dollars on one company in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine. Forbes found a $456 million order with Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceuticals arm Janssen – even though the pharma giant hasn’t yet started any clinical trials as other firms have.

Mr Trump’s hefty black signature is barely dry of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and scammers are already coming up with schemes to defraud already cash-strapped citizens, using confusion over the stimulus cheques to convince potential victims to turn over personal identifying information.

These are not the only shysters. There are many fake cures and treatments available. Some, like heavy doses of Vitamin C, with a history of anecdotal claims of being an immunity booster, don’t protect against the novel coronavirus. Others are simply downright dangerous, yet still available to buy online on Facebook Marketplace.

Where there’s an opportunity there always seems to be someone ready to take it, and it never takes long to happen.

The coronavirus does turn out to have a knack of exposing human weakness. Name any one of the seven deadly sins and it wouldn’t be too challenging to find a coronastory to go along with it. The ones that come to the fore are greed, pride and sloth. Sloth is its original meaning of acedia, which includes not being bothered to make the effort to face up to scientific realities and to act rationally in response. So that the tiresomeness of social distancing doesn’t register that economic losses would be even worse if efforts to control the pandemic are relaxed too soon.

It’s lazy thinking that creates the binary world we’re in and politicians on the right have done their best to stoke the tribalism that results from it, so following a political movement becomes little more than supporting a football team. So already there is this adversarial set of opposites – to take measures to control the virus or to get the economy moving – the blind-spot being that both are co-dependent.

It’s the failure of people to observe that basic rule of co-dependency that’s starting to turn economics on its head. It’s hard to make sense of it, like seeing symptoms but not being able to figure the underlying illness or how to treat it. For example:

  • It’s not just the UK but countries all over Europe that abandon fiscal disciplines and control deficits to spend, spend, spend their way out of a crisis. How Northern European countries frowned upon what they saw as profligate spending by countries such as Italy and Greece, now find themselves needing to behave in much the same way. No-one seems to know where all this will end up and everyone who has hit the buffers with a credit card spree knows it might not be pretty.
  • There are some of the most powerful companies on the planet becoming even mightier. Not only that but they are changing the whole ecosystem in which they are doing business and we don’t know where it leads, only on a personal level where everything I’ve purchased barring a car and a paraglider wing (both red, by the way) have been delivered to my door.
  • Even so, the big guys can still be hit by the perverse pandemic. Hundreds of Amazon workers in a Staten Island warehouse are planning to walk off the job because the warehouse stayed open after a confirmed positive test result.
  • Weird things are happening with energy. The price of oil plummets. Saudi Arabia floods the oil market. America tries to prop up prices. But for supply to match demand, they may have to fall even further.
  • Macy’s, which owns Bloomingdale’s, plans to furlough most of its 125,000 workers as stores remain closed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • EasyJet, one of Europe’s biggest airlines grounds all flights due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Health insurance giants Cigna and Humana will waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatments.
  • It’s estimated by the St Louis Fed says that the pandemic could lead to 47 million jobs lost. America is in steep decline.

It’s getting serious and there’s no easy way out. We’re trapped in vagaries when it comes to even a notion of systematic testing and months away to see the light of the end of the tunnel when it comes to the quest for a vaccine. Clutching to be seen to be doing something both the British and US governments make a big deal about ventilators. Stories like how a Formula 1 team built a breathing aid for coronavirus patients in just ten days hit headlines, but the underlying reality is one of disarray. The CEO of Germany’s Drägerwerk, one of the world’s largest ventilator manufacturers expresses his scepticism of non-specialists’ ability to ramp up production of these highly specialised machines. He also worries about a shortage of supplies as demand soars around the world.

The four thousand bed NHS Nightingale hospital created in Docklands’ Excel Centre makes headlines too. As does the number of former NHS staff who have returned to help reaching 20,000, as Boris Johnson is all too ready to reveal in an online video.

They are significant achievements but all three are about dealing with the last-ditch defences, not keeping the virus at bay where we’re on the back foot. Buildings don’t break apart and dark waters don’t come rolling in but this is as much of a disaster as anything the elements can throw at humanity.

When it comes to scaling natural disasters in the US “Waffle House Index” has been used by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) since 2011. It uses the time it takes for Waffle House’s 2,000 no-frills diners in 25 states to reopen after calamity strikes and is based on the reputation of Waffle House for having good disaster preparedness and staying open during extreme weather, or reopening quickly afterwards.

“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad,” Craig Fugate, former Head of FEMA and coiner of the index explained.

In two and a half weeks’ time 99 per cent of Waffle Houses will be closed.

 “We’ve never seen anything like this,” says chair Joe Rogers, JR, a co-founder’s son.

It’s like we’ve entered a world where everyone has gone home. It becomes the centre of our lives and all our activities, whether watching streamed content on Netflix, turning to jigsaw puzzles – there is a rush for jigsaws from online stores, engaging in arts and crafts, or making the most of outdoor spaces, from gardens to windowsills. Those with kids find the extra challenge of keeping others occupied, home-teaching and DIY games.

“I survived a week of home teaching with a seven-year-old and a toddler,” a triumphant mum declares, adding, “Just 11 more weeks of lockdown to go.”

Home becomes the backdrop to all our lives. The previously strange sight of media personalities backed by bookshelves, living room posters and paintings.

“I’m sure it never occurred to me that Krishnan Guru-Murthy had a living room,” observed Eleanor Margolis in iNews. “I guess I thought he lived in the news.”

Home becomes the base for pretty much everything. Even home abortions in England, Scotland and Wales are to be made easier during the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Health has confirmed.

For some home becomes a sanctuary, especially when going to a very different kind of isolation in hospital. Many simply put off the day, not even waiting for the letter of a postponed appointment. Others have no choice.

“I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my second daughter,” writes Emma. “I was recently admitted to a maternity ward due to a suspected pulmonary embolism. I had to attend some tests and I was told that due to the Covid-19 outbreak I’d have to go alone and not be permitted visitors during my stay.”

For others it imprisons innocents from the lives they wish to lead.

“Postponing our wedding because of coronavirus means we can’t live together yet.”

Sticking to love, lust and relationships yesterday was Tinder’s busiest day ever. A record in smartphone screenswipes. Read into that what you will.

Yet maybe home is not that safe as a cat is confirmed to be infected with Covid-19 by its owner.

There are times the coronavirus just appears downright sneaky.

Before you realise that’s a sneaky anthropomorphic notion.

I get a notice from Greenwich Police on Nextdoor.

Safety First

Please follow government guidelines to only make essential journeys, if/when going out for your necessities continue the social distancing rule of staying 2m (6 ft) apart and respect others’ space. In these difficult times we all need to work together.

For any further information please see http://www.Gov.uk . We continue to be out on patrol so should you need us, please email or call.

Thank you

Further afield:

  • In Italy, football club Juventus reached a pay cut agreement with its players and coaches to control costs while sports are shut down, saving $100 million through June. European media outlets are reporting superstar Cristiano Ronaldo sacrificed some $4 million, despite being still on track to become the first $1 billion footballer this season.
  • In India millions struggle. Prime minister Navendra Modi has asked the nation for forgiveness over the strict lockdown measures, but said there is no other way, while thousands of poor urban labourers are returning to their rural birthplaces on foot after facing catastrophic loss of income and potential loss of housing.
  • In the Caribbean a number of islands, including  Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St Barts, and St Lucia manage to control the virus by the most pro-active and decisive disease containment strategies in the hemisphere.
  • While Brazil’s president is in fateful and fatal denial. It’s just a sniffle, he claims.

A simple message comes to me via Nextdoor.

Pray for everybody, it says.

2 thoughts on “Monday 30th March 2020

  1. The diary brings back the times all too well. I would add the number of instances that I found myself yelling at the TV because of an idiotic statement or denial of reality. Let’s all inject Clorox. Now there is a vaccine and these same non-maskers are not going to get vaccinated. I watch with disbelief and dismay.

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    • I do too. From a medical point of view the vaccine story in the US has been hugely impressive, so I’m mystified why numbers of cases, and in a number of states, continue to rise. It’s close to tragic. I think that over the past four years Trump has sought political advantage over the discourse of not trusting government among his base, and although he’s left the stage it’s a painful legacy. In the UK there’s a higher level of trust in the vaccine, but it’s by no means universal. I do think trust is a big issue.

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