Tuesday 14th April 2020

Daily Diary: A List That Binds Us

There’s a clear blue sky and an icy north wind but if you can get yourself organised to be in a sheltered spot the sunshine is strong enough to feel warm.

I look up at the three geranium cuttings sitting hydroponically in small medicine bottles of water. It’s hard to see if they are beginning to sprout roots and in the absence of rooting hormone it’s hard to tell whether they will.

Yesterday Vicky made a chick out of a polystyrene egg supplied by Emily and I made a ‘Lady Posh-Totty’ out of mine. That was Task 3 done. In this family we extend occasions to weeks. So a birthday becomes a birthday week, Christmas becomes Christmas week, and it follows that Easter becomes Easter week. There are still two more tasks to do! One’s an egg hunt (or a creative alternative), the other a colouring-in Easter card, which I think we’ll pass on.

Today was also the day I believe I finally closed the door to Montmorency. The crafty, easy access point has been filled. Access denied! The battle with this mouse has been a bit like the relationship between Peter Rabbit and Mister McGregor. Will Monty and his crew find another route to bring irritation to an otherwise calm Victorian terrace? Time will tell. The mouse-catcher told me that mice are neophobic – they have a fear of the new, and that all too often far more than compensates for the yummiest of baits and diabolical (if you’re a mouse, that is) of traps.

Emily rang, thinking for some reason it was Wednesday, about the shopping list. We chat about preferred purchases, stopping spuds from going green and other grocery small talk. Tom comes in from the garden where he’s been reading. We have a chat about this diary and he tells me that he’s working for Dominic Raab, who’s deputising for the PM at the moment. It’s been hard work, but he feels a great sense of satisfaction about “doing his bit.” Wow, I tell him, we have a Whitehall Mandarin in the family. Next birthday we’ll buy him a shirt with dragons and big sleeves.

I mean really, really, really big sleeves!

Meanwhile, in the living room, Vicky is singing along to a DVD of ‘Phantom of the Opera.’

She has a lovely voice.

The Bigger Picture: A Clash of Titans

Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci were both born New Yorkers. Neighbours, in fact, from Queens and Brooklyn.

Both are also Titans.

Trump, because of his larger than life persona – love him or loathe him, and there seems no inbetween, no-one can ignore him, his inseparability from big money – whether he owns it or owes it seems to follow different rules from mere mortals, and his presidential power which he exercises with such unpredictability it evokes an awe and wonder about it, as it would a Marvel comic supervillain.

Fauci’s titanic superpower is his reputation, experience and expertise with infectious diseases. There are many who say that he is among the most trusted medical figures in America, having served public health for more than 50 years, advising every president since Ronald Reagan. He became director of the NIAID in 1984 and has made contributions to HIV/AIDS research and other immunodeficiency diseases. From 1983 to 2002, Fauci was one of the world’s most frequently-cited scientists across all scientific journals and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, in 2008.

Fauci was put on the spot two days ago in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Despite being as diplomatic as anyone is likely to have been he said “I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” continuing, “”What goes into those kinds of decisions is – is complicated. But you’re right. I mean, obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”

Trump, who on Sunday re-tweeted a supporters’ statement that Fauci should be fired, was furious, calling the epidemic expert to the podium early in a presidential coronavirus briefing.

Fauci, ever the diplomat, stepped back from the brink. It was a poor choice of words, he said.

Also, “Hypothetical questions sometimes can get you into some difficulty.”

It was a realisation of how thin-skinned Trump was, Supervillains do have their equivalent of Achilles Heels.

But Fauci was right. Trump could have seen what was coming. The president had been warned about the potential for a pandemic but internal divisions, lack of planning, and his faith in his own instincts led to the slow Federal response.

“Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” President Trump has repeatedly stated.


The president told Watergate veteran Bob Woodward in a taped interviews on February 7th and March 19th that he had known about the deadly nature of the Covid-19 outbreak and its potential to become a pandemic since a presidential briefing on 28th January, and he set out to play it down because he did not want the people to panic. It would be almost five months before this entered the mainstream media arena, but it throws light on what are a set of erratic decisions and a declaration from Tom Frieden, a former director of the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the country is less safe from Covid-19 when the channels of communication between the agency and the American public are erratic.

Behind the scenes Trump was torn between his business friends including Michael Corbut of Citigroup, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Steve Schwarzman  of Blackstone and the investors Paul Tudor Jones and Nelson Peltz, who wanted a quick reopening of the economy and medical experts who were pushing back against the move. His natural instinct, from a lifetime of immersion, was with the business community. In truth, in his ramblings about ventilators and off the wall medications, he had trouble engaging with the science.

Trump wants to be very much in charge.

“I will decide on easing coronavirus guidelines, not governors,” he declared, even though he actually can’t as to do so would be unconstitutional and his flexing of presidential power gets pushback across the political spectrum.

By the time it came to today’s presidential briefing he rolled back on that. But the briefing itself, where he rambled on for over an hour, was off the rails, bizarre and troubling. He pulled the US out of the World Health Organisation amid a tapestry of half-truths and conspiracy theories, made some totally weird and often factually incorrect statements about ventilators, lashed out at China and Democrats in roughly equal measure and was rude and abrupt to a number of journalists who had gathered in the Rose Garden.

It isn’t necessarily the first time that President Trump had displayed his inability to manage the pandemic, but it was a turning point in how observers saw the helplessness of a flailing Titan in the face of a rising pandemic and the human toll it was exacting.

And time will show that Fauci would outlast his president.

Other American news:

Back in Blighty:

Dominic Raab says, “Our plan is working,” but it’s too early to relax lockdown rules. The lockdown is set for a three week extension as worldwide cases of Covid-19 near 2 million. There’s also a call to scrap ‘triple lock’ on UK pensions after the coronavirus crisis. It’s expected to raise £20 billion.

But it will be some time before the situation improves significantly. There have been 777 deaths in the UK in the last 24 hours, leading to an overall death toll of 12,107. Hospitals are still under enormous pressure. At least 38 NHS workers have died from Covid-19, ranging from a 23 year old nurse to a 79 year old professor. There are many accounts of medics who find themselves treating their own colleagues critically ill for Covid-19.

Pressure on the NHS over admissions and transfers to ICUs is such that it issues the Covid-19 Decision Support Tool to help triage which patients go into intensive care. With about 5,000 coronavirus cases presenting every day and some intensive care wards already approaching capacity, doctors will score patients on three metrics — their age, frailty and underlying conditions — according to a chart circulated to clinicians.

It is recommended that patients with a combined score of more than eight points across the three categories should probably not be admitted to intensive care, although clinical discretion could override that decision.

Some deaths from the virus don’t even make it to hospital. About half are in care homes and to give a sense of scale of the problem, coronavirus outbreaks have been detected in 92 care homes in the last 24 hours. The Covid-19 death toll at a care home in Stanley, County Durham, hits 13.

Care workers are not as well protected by PPE and staff recruitment has always been a problem, even in pre-pandemic times. In Scotland, care workers are given a 3.3 per cent pay rise in view of the problem. It doesn’t happen elsewhere in the UK.

When it comes to PPE there is a deadly combination of the care sector being the poor relation to medicine in Health and Social Care and a desperate overall shortage. Even in the medical sector unions are warning that the UK stock of protective gowns is critically low.

Some of that shortage is political. The British government, deep in its Brexit mindset, decided not to participate in the EU purchasing consortium. It is going it alone, and as time will tell, muddling its way through.

Testing and tracing, abandoned in the early stages of the outbreak when, as Germany has shown, it could have been most effective in controlling Covid-19 creaks along in the UK, run by private contractors with little real experience in terms of rapidly creating an effective system. I looks very much that those in government simply haven’t got their head around the task at hand.

“We need an army,” said an expert in contact tracing, who had deal with outbreaks of Ebola, HIV and tuberculosis, as he observed the rise of Covid-19.

We currently have a privately hired militia.

And a fad in what’s fashionable among a smartphone obsessed population. Government orders NHS Bluetooth technology app after tech giants give the green light. The NHS is now working with Apple and Google to develop an app that will track how close users get to those with Covid-19.

The only time I will ever come to use this app, when it finally arrives, when I am in an indoor venue with other people in six months’ time, I find I appear to be the only customer using it.

Tech isn’t tech unless it can solve a problem. That’s what tech means. Most, even those in high places, with power and control over all our lives, forget it.

Vaccination still remains a hope rather than a reality. Much of the science behind developments that have been quietly underway since January has been repurposing existing vaccines to the new Covid-19 genome. The concept of general immunity has also been raised  as negative  correlations are reported between systematic BCG vaccinations as a national public health enterprise and the impact of Covid-19. But desperate times breed wishful thinking and critics are quick to point out the myriad of other variables such as socioeconomic status, demographic structure, rural versus urban settings, time of arrival of the pandemic, number of diagnostic tests and criteria for testing, and national control strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19.

What is known and worrying, however, is that according to UN agencies 117 million children may miss their measles shots due to Covid-19.

And for all our ability to gather knowledge, wisdom is harder to come by, exemplified by a deadly Covid-19 cluster in North West Tasmania may have been sparked by an ‘illegal dinner party’ of healthcare workers, and a premier drug company became a ‘virus super-spreader’ as a conference among Biogen employees unwittingly spread the coronavirus from Massachusetts to Indiana, Tennessee and North Carolina.

“Don’t bet on a quick global resurrection. The speed of economic recovery will be more tortoise than hare.” Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist and Covid-19 modeller predicts.

The coronavirus’s economic effects are hitting ethnic minorities and the young hardest. It’s a universal problem, the more vulnerable the group, the harder hit it is by Covid-19 and it’s indicative of human societies, whatever they claim, that governments, and even the rest of more advantaged citizens simply don’t do enough.

Globally, there are now 1.9 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 120,000 deaths. It’s a number that will rise into millions. Worldwide institutions become necessary to prevent an outbreak of economic disasters as the IMF provides debt relief to help 25 countries deal with the pandemic. But the slump in economic activity looks like it may lead to the biggest fall in carbon emissions since World War II. But experts warn that without structural change emissions declines caused by Covid-19 could be short-lived as economies get back to normal.

That will involve burning oil. The bitter price war between major oil producers has come to a truce – for now. Production will be cut by nearly 10 million barrels a day from May for the coming two months. It’s the largest cut ever and a reduced supply for up to two years.

It’s a time that oil markets have become erratic and as non-carbon-based energy alternatives lie at the heart of planning post-covid recovery it could mark the beginning of the end.

You could be forgiven for thinking about coronavirus as an agent of positive environmental change, particularly with respect to climate change, but don’t be fooled – the pandemic is far from environmentally friendly as opportunists take advantage of the crisis and deforestation spikes in the Amazon.

In Europe:

  • és and restaurants) has had to give way to more disciplined and structured meetings via Zoom and similar social media platforms.

Further afield:

While, step by step, daily reality is mutating:

Two things touch me on a personal level. The first is, were this not the height of a pandemic, this message from the local police congratulating the public for good behaviour would seem Orwellian, Now, it doesn’t shock.

“Over the weekend we have been all over #Bexley, #Lewisham and #Greenwich keeping you safe. We are really pleased to say that the majority of people we spoke with were exercising responsibly and others understood and walked on when asked, #StayHomeSaveLives.”

The second is someone declaring they have gone the full Bridget Jones and started a lockdown diary. Up to ten pages a day when they didn’t shower, leave the flat or see another living person.

How did they manage it?

2 thoughts on “Tuesday 14th April 2020

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