Monday 6th April 2020

Daily Diary: When It’s All Over, A Place To Go

The days of siege continue. No one has any idea about how long they will go on for. No one is clear about how we come out of it. None of the supermarkets have a delivery slot still, and at 67 and 68 respectively with no recent health conditions we are highly at risk yet fall under the radar. I hear a few cross words in a nearby house and know the psychology of being cooped up is beginning to tell. The charity Refuge has a twenty-five per cent increase in calls for help and a hundred and fifty per cent increase in visits to its website. There has still been a persistent minority flouting social distancing by various activities in the open. There’s even a photo of someone kite-surfing. At least it’s socially-distanced. My concerns are about the crowds clustering cheek by jowl on the beach.

The Queen gave her speech to the nation last night. It was sombre, as she spoke from self-isolation at Windsor Castle, filmed by a solitary cameraman dressed as if he should have been at the other end of the camera in the movie “Contagion.” She was dignified and statesmanlike, urging us all to remember what we did in these dark hours with pride, with more than a passing reference to the Blitz, when as Princess Elizabeth, she gave her first address to the children of the nation. But it many ways it struggled not to be overshadowed by PM Boris Johnson being admitted to St Thomas Hospital ‘for a checkup.’ Today he’s been tweeting that he still has his pecker up and is in contact with his team.

No doubt, his personal melodrama will be followed by all.

It pays to be cheerful, although it’s testing. This is dystopia, it’s not fun and we’re all in it for the long haul.

I receive an uplifting email from the proprietor of the Auberge de Gorges du Loup in Provence. We had once booked to stay there but had subsequently cancelled – I can’t remember why. Needless to say, we ended up on her mailing list and she sent out a message saying she was sorry that the auberge was shut down for the coronavirus.

“As you know already the Auberge has been closed since March 15 due to the epidemic of the Covid-19 virus.

“Rest assured, we are all in good health, as our families.

“But the real reason for this message ………. and how are you?”

“Not a day goes by without us thinking of you, our loyal customers, our friends and we would like to hear from you.

“If you have the time and if you want, take five minutes to share your daily life with us during these moments of confinement, we hope that you and your loved ones are in good health, do not hesitate to reply to this message.

“Take good care of yourself and your loved ones, because nothing is more important than your health, we think of you and hope to see you very soon at the Auberge.

“Madeleine, Jean-Pierre, Francois, Julien, Stéphanie and Oualid”

Despite never having been there I’m still pretty touched, thinking of all those who had.

Maybe, when all of this is over, it’s a place to go.

I had this fanciful idea of making bread. It’s really trending. But was thwarted by supermarket shelves being totally devoid of flour.

If you’re going to have a lockdown hobby the lesson is: do something more original.

Anyway, it would have been shocking for my waistline…..

And when I go back into the air I’ll be flying like a house-brick!

The Bigger Picture: Driven By Weakness

Narratives are driven more by people’s weaknesses than it is by their strengths. It’s certainly true for novels, dramas and movies and you could argue that that’s a writer’s contrivance, but it’s not too difficult to see that that’s how it works out in real life too.

Covid-19 is an acid test, like jumping out of an aircraft is the ultimate way of testing a parachute. If prepared and deployed properly it will save a life. If not, it won’t. Allowing for the very rare exceptions who have landed in trees, snowdrifts, even on a couple of occasions five metre high piles of cardboard boxes (although that was deliberate) parachutes not opening have drastic, usually fatal, outcomes. There are no half measures, like half-opening your parachute or attaching it to just one of the two harness carabiners, in the belief that working half as well as it normally does should be okay.

Fail the acid test through not realising how all-or-nothing Covid-19 is and plummet into a disaster zone.

Fail as a leader and you take your people down with you and there are key behavioural changes that can make the pandemic worse.

The first is denial. Countries like Taiwan, which experienced SARS in 2003, were aware of the dangers of denial. Rather like cancer in a human body, denial allows the disease to spread, to metastasise and embed itself in the organs and systems, disabling physical and mental functions. Avoid denial, recognise the threat early and proactively set up control measures and the disease is so much easier to control.

The second is to engage in displacement activities that make it look as though you’re in control of your environment. So the great publicity attached to increased purchases of ventilators, or all the engineering firms put to task creating them, when the reality is there also is insufficient oxygen needed for them to work would be a case in hand. No one is going to openly criticise such stories, as it appears callous to do so, when it relates to people in their direst hours of need, so they distract, as does the ongoing saga of leaving the European Union. These are side shows that conceal a reality that demands a much tighter grip. 

The third is a thirst for good news. A false optimism in the face of adversity. If ever there was a master of promising good news tomorrow it is British PM Boris Johnson. There is even a name for it – boosterism. It won him an election, but now, repeatedly overpromising and underdelivering it’s proving disastrous with the virus.

As someone tweeted:

“It’s always a lovely day tomorrow with Johnson. And when tomorrow comes and it’s shite because of his actions yesterday, it’s still a lovely day tomorrow.”

Among the leaders who ticked all three boxes for what not to do was Boris Johnson. On March 3rd he said at a press conference:

“I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.”

Nothing to see here and a deluded belief that there was some magical force behind his optimism that was absent from other people’s.

Deluded it was and Boris Johnson remains ill with Covid-19. His ministerial colleagues are putting up a brave front that he’s still working on matters of state. It’s reasonable to suppose the reality is different. That he’s struggling, caught out by denial, deflection, hubris and that he is an overweight man in his middle fifties who’s been doing a lot of social interaction and right in the firing line for an opportunistic gene-bot.

Nevertheless, most people appear to wish him well. This is a disease no one in their right minds would wish upon their worst enemy. When, hopefully he does recover, he will face tougher scrutiny from a newly reformed Labour opposition, now under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer QC, a successful human rights barrister in a former life, who subsequently became Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service, holding these roles between 2008 and 2013. He’s much more heavyweight, more pragmatic and less doctrinaire than his heavily ideological predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

He recognises the series of serious mistakes the Johnson government has made to date and intends to ask ‘difficult questions’ but avoid ‘point scoring.’ He intends to be not so much Johnson’s enemy, nor an ally to be taken for granted.

Critical friend is too soft a description.

More critical frenemy.

In America under President Donald J Trump denial, distraction and a thirst for good news is also the order of the day. Little wonder both countries either side of the pond have parallel tales of woe. Top US officials are saying the coming week will be as bad as 9/11 and news reporters are describing the country bracing itself for a ‘Pearl Harbour Moment’ as death toll approaches 10,000. Many believe that that number is actually undercounted. With no uniform system of reporting coronavirus related deaths in the US, and shortage of tests, some states and counties have improvised, obfuscated, and at times backtracked in counting the dead.

According to experts, the US is nowhere near reopening the economy.

In the midst of all this there is a face-saving fiasco as hundreds test positive for Covid-19 and a capital ship of the most powerful navy on the planet is as stricken as an infected cruise liner.

Trump condemns Brett Crozier, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt’s captain, who writes a scathing letter to three admirals, including the commander of the United States Pacific Fleet and Admiral Stuart P. Baker, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 9 and his immediate superior, including demanding the crew’s safety amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter leaks to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Captain Crozier is relieved of his command, and there are echoes of when the British establishment, heading the greatest naval power of that era, executed Admiral Byng in 1757.

More civilised these days but both for embarrassing the establishment of the day by having their own minds.

That’s not all though as the President of the United States uses his position and authority to again promote the unproven anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine.

Trump’s encouragement two days ago:

“What do you have to lose? Take it.”

Then yesterday:

“In France, they had a very good test,” he said. “But we don’t have time to go and say, ‘Gee, let’s take a couple of years and test it out, and let’s go and test with the test tubes and the laboratories.’”

It never is established that hydroxychloroquine is the effective treatment for Covid-19, but it will be some time before many come to terms that simply being president does not confer divine or magical medical insights.

Other aspects of Trumpism have a bearing on the progress of Covid-19. His disdain for international agencies has become decoupling the United States from those institutions, at least at the highest levels. It’s dangerous because it weakens those institutions, especially the World Health Organisation (WHO), from which Trump has withdrawn American support. It’s not just the serious loss of funding but also the loss of authority.

That loss of authority and weakness in leadership becomes deadly on a massive scale as the WHO’s failure to challenge China over the Covid-19 has cost the rest of the world dearly. The international body blithely accepted Beijing’s assurances that there was little to worry about.

The authoritarian regime in China can be credited with getting the virus under control and ultimately eliminated. But its deceit and face-saving mean that patient zero and how they came to be infected remain unknown. The origins and early stages of the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic are better understood than those of Covid-19 in 2020.

A country that has weathered the storm now lacking the kindness to all humanity of letting the rest of the world how it began.

Its leaders letting us guess, rather than admitting a weakness.

Welcome to the self-preservation of the most powerful, and with it the weakness of greed.

Which brings us to the store chain, Debenhams. There are 142 stores across the United Kingdom, employing 22,000 people and it’s fallen into administration for the second time in a year. Last time 22 stores were closed. The store chain’s owner, Sir Philip Green is blaming the coronavirus pandemic for “severely” impacting sales across its brands, but the fact of the matter is that the store was faltering in the first place and the ruthless virus culled it once and for all, like a predator making a herd stronger.

There has been a history of store closures in Green’s empire, and that firms were milked of their assets more than they were ever invested in. The scandal of the unpaid, and then reluctantly paid into – and only partial at that – BHS pension fund in 2016, the folding up of a list of well-established high street names, like Etam, Tammy, Principles and Richards, the collection of a £1.2 billion bonus, untaxed as it was banked in his wife’s account. She lives in Monaco.

In better times businesses thrive when profits are reinvested, and suffer if more is taken out than put back in. It’s not just money either. It’s commitment and being on the ball. It’s adapting to an ever-changing environment and doing what’s necessary to survive.

John Lewis, with a very different and more collective management model, has found the going hard, but has the capacity to survive, but reading the trends due to Covid-19, doing the research and upping its online offer from 40 per cent to over 60 per cent meant it’s doing what was necessary to continuing to be in the retail trade.

By comparison, Debenhams struggled to keep up, underinvested because the profits went elsewhere. Yachts in Monaco harbour are expensive assets to buy and maintain.

It’s puzzling that those with money most of us can barely imagine feel such a sense of entitlement to such great wealth. But it’s not something restricted to the questionable financial morality of tycoons. At a time of pandemic there’s a Premier League pay row. When Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday that players should ‘take a pay cut and play their part’ to help out during the coronavirus crisis, the Premier League announced the following day that all 20 clubs had unanimously agreed to consult their players over a thirty per cent salary cut.

The Professional Football Association, representing Premier League footballers, responded that the proposed 30 per cent wage cut would result in a £200 million loss to taxable contributions.

A compromise is reached, but there is reputational damage to both the League and its players. Was Matt Hancock’s remark careless or deliberately divisive in order to deflect public emotions away from the Government’s mishandling of the crisis?

Then there is that day to day greed. Of grifters seeking to screw a pound or two out of the situation. People living two or three doors away finding a way to easy money. The Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been investigating an increasing number of bogus medical products being sold through unauthorised websites claiming to treat or prevent Covid-19.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), has seen an increase in coronavirus-related scams with British consumers losing a total of almost a billion pounds over the last couple of months.

If weakness of leadership has been ruthlessly exposed by the virus, so too has the weakness arising from the fragility of human psychology. In some cases, it’s the ability of some people’s minds to latch on to unproven preposterous ideas. So there are people who believe enough in what televangelist Kenneth Copeland says and does to attend his sermons, Or are they performances? And are they a congregation or an audience as he ‘blows the wind of God’ at the coronavirus during one such sermon, claiming that the pandemic is ‘destroyed’ in a sermon.

The pandemic continues to grow.

People still attend his sermon-performances.

And in a similar way some are so convinced by a conspiracy theory that 5G and coronavirus are connected that they go to the destructive lengths of setting phone masts on fire.

It’s not just such in extreme and bizarre mindsets that psychological fragility makes people vulnerable. It’s the day-to-day horror of commonplace but all to often unspoken behaviour as well. According to the charity Refuge, domestic abuse cases are up twenty-five per cent since the start of lockdown.

Some even go stir-crazy.

A Russian man was arrested on Saturday evening for allegedly shooting five neighbours (for making too much noise) with a hunting rifle in a town under quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

Perhaps the weakness coronavirus benefits from most is indulgence – the inability of some to show self-restraint.

Manchester City and England footballer Kyle Walker apologises for hosting a sex party at home during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s CMO, resigns after breaking lockdown, getting exposed by the Scottish Sun newspaper and then warned by police about two visits to her second home.

When passengers embarked at a downtown Sydney wharf on the ‘Ruby Princess’ on 15th March there had already been a number of coronavirus outbreaks on other cruise ships from as early as January. Some, like the story of sister ship the ‘Diamond Princess’ had made international headline and TV news. But cruise operators were still accepting bookings and people were still going on board, as if they really were looking for that holiday to die for.

With a wildfire epidemic in the region the ship’s crew had less than twelve hours to clean the vessel between cruises, so it was ready for the 2,647 passengers on its next voyage to see New Zealand’s fjords and mountains. Lip-service was paid to recognising the risk as a health questionnaire had to be completed for every passenger before they could board.

“We knew even before we got on things were serious,” one passenger said.

But got on they did, and during the voyage fifteen passengers died and 660 were infected. It has become the deadliest known outbreak on any cruise ship and the biggest individual contributor to cases in Australia.

The ship berthed again at Sydney, the passengers disembarked and dispersed unchecked to seed outbreaks widely across Australia, making a significant contribution to the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

So great has been the lack of due diligence that the Australian police have assembled a 30-strong team under the leadership of a homicide detective to investigate the ship and its owner, Miami-based Carnival, the world’s largest vacation travel company.

Many questions, not least why did people still go on cruises after the bad press about others?

As the same passenger explained:

“At the end of the day, we knew what was going on around the world. We knew how quickly it spread in ships. People just didn’t care.”

It would be an attitude that would expose so many to avoidable risk.

The coronavirus has a way of exposing, as it does our relationship with the natural world. The next pandemic is already coming unless humans change how we interact with wildlife, according to a number of scientists. By a process known as zoonosis a potentially deadly pathogen can jump from one species to another, such as from animals to humans.

And even back again, as four-year-old Malaya tiger Nadia contracts Covid-19 from an asymptomatic zoo keeper in Bronx Zoo, New York.

But there are other signs too, with Covid-19 looking like it could lead to a fall in CO2 not seen since the end of World War Two, and even more subtle signs like the fall in seismic activity as humans are less busy and shake Mother Earth less than they did before.

And the disease keeps rolling on.

  • Lynsay Coventry, a 54-year-old midwife and nurse Liz Glaniste, 68, an ‘at work mum,’ become the latest members of the NHS to die from the virus.
  • China, which thought it had beaten Covid-19, discovers asymptomatic cases turning up.
  • In Europe the rate of new infections starts to fall, as do new deaths. Spain sees the smallest rise in coronavirus deaths in almost two weeks – 637 – while the rate of new infections continues to fall as the government says universal basic income will be brought in ‘as soon as possible’ to help families.
  • Italy’s death toll is the lowest in two weeks. Lombardy insists on facemasks outside the home to stop Covid-19.
  • City in Ecuador runs out of coffins.
  • Twenty million jobs in Africa are at risk from the pandemic.
  • The market for Chinese-made masks is a madhouse, says broker.

While here in the UK, pharmacists raise concerns about a lack of PPE for their staff and Carers and elderly people have been abandoned to catch coronavirus with inadequate testing and equipment. The UK has no route out of the coronavirus crisis without mass testing and anything remotely resembling that is still some time away.

So we settle for the comfort of tradition as a televised message from the Queen is a rare occurrence which reflects the national crisis.

We can overcome enormous challenges to the daily lives of us all, she reassures us.

If we can be reassured, that is.

One thought on “Monday 6th April 2020

  1. Having read this I thought it was really enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this short article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s