Day Fifty: Monday 4th May 2020

Daily Diary: The Times They Are A-Changin’

After an unsettling experience at Ian’s party the Zoom test with Emily goes well and I’m more reassured. It’s interesting that there’s a kind of generational takeover. An email from John Morris, paragliding friend and club secretary summed it up when he wrote:

“We are also keeping our heads down and so far, so good. We have a very neighbourly road, so the community spirit helps. Our girls and their families make us behave ourselves too!”

I’m minded of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” when he sings:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,

And don’t criticise what you don’t understand.

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.

Your old road is rapidly aging.

Please get out of the new if you can’t lend your hand,

For the times they are a-changin’.”

So much of the lyrics to Dylan’s legendary song hold. The last verse goes:

“The line it is drawn, the course it is cast.

The slow one now will later be fast,

As the present now will later be past,

The order is rapidly fadin’,

And the first one now will later be last,

For the times they are a-changin’”

It was the anthem that brought the boomers into the limelight. That made the boomers masters of the zeitgeist. With all the hopes, ideals, along with more than a little laid-back swagger and a better world ahead.

But we fucked up. Like every generation since the dawn of history, we boomers fucked up. We get full marks for not blowing ourselves up in a nuclear conflagration. We don’t get any marks for the self-indulgent and wanton destruction our generation put into play. Where single-use plastic has so permeated the ecosphere that we will be able to date this short era since 1970  by the presence of plastic residues in fossils and mortal remains.

So ended the reign of the boomers, who in their drug-nurtured idealism dreamed of a better world, but were too greedy, too indolent and too selfish to bring it about. They came in, it seems, with the bang of rebellion in the 1960s and went out on a hospital bed, customised for intensive care, with barely a whimper.

So it was interesting talking to John Morris this morning. In a similar state. Told by our children to keep out of harm’s way. Lovingly. Caringly. A generation that hasn’t really deserved it being loved by the generation it let down. Badly. The last vestiges of the mindset boomers created, in a naïve sense of fairness, mutated into the self-serving ideas and actions of the libertarians, who still hold that their individual freedom is worth the suffering of others.

John was an emergency medicine consultant before he retired – an expert in critical care management. But now, like Vicky and I, John and his wife Chrissie are retired and keeping their heads below the parapet – under instructions.

As John said, he still finds the whole situation surreal. Like a bad dream, that were you to pinch yourself, would go away.

But it’s not a bad dream. It’s real, and things don’t work that way.

Outside, the wind blows, the plants grow. Inside they do too and the first foliage leaves are appearing on the geranium seedlings, telling me there is life, there is hope.

The Bigger Picture: The Loss of Normality

Three and a half million. That’s the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus worldwide. Almost quarter of a million have died from Covid-19. It is a global catastrophe, requiring global action and EU leaders have pledged to raise billions of euros towards the global fight against the virus.

From its origin in China it has spread like a wildfire, embers creating new epicentres, spreading along the corridors of human activity and interaction, and because of the random manner in which embers may travel, settle and start new blazes the perplexing situation has emerged where some places have the virus running rife, while others remain largely unscathed.

So Covid-19 has killed so many people in Iran that the country has resorted to mass burials, but in neighbouring Iraq, the body count is fewer than a hundred. The Dominican Republic has reported 7,600 cases. Across the border, sharing the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, Haiti has recorded only 85.

There are already hundreds of studies underway around the world looking into how demographics, pre-existing conditions and genetics might affect the wide variation in impact.

New Zealand records no new Covid-19 cases for the first time since March. In Kabul, Afghanistan, a third of 500 people randomly rested were found to have the virus.

Russia on Sunday reported more than 10,600 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its biggest single day jump since the pandemic began. The increase marked Russia’s fourth consecutive single day increase, and pushed the country to seventh in the world, with 134,687 recorded cases and a death toll 0f 1,280. Russia’s Ministry of Defence also confirmed that members of the Russian military, including cadets, pupils and civilian specialists accounted for at least three thousand cases.

But the country with a world-beating level of disinformation might have worse figures still. Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow said that as many as two per cent – 250,000 – of the capital’s population was likely to be infected, substantially more than the 135,000 cases officially reported nationwide.

Where the virus has struck, the cliché, “things will never be the same again” is proving to be true. The same kind of optimistic mentality that tells people that wars will be over by Christmas hopes for a break from the nightmare by September.  

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that that’s not so.

Come September everything will not actually start going back to normal.

We see all around us new social customs, distancing practices and mandates, and we are becoming aware that this will be common globally.

I remember seeing face masks being worn by many in the streets of Kathmandu only three years ago, thinking it odd and somehow un-western. Now Eurostar is telling its passengers they much wear face masks from today on its trains and at its stations.

No mask, no travel


Nevertheless, human ingenuity tries to work its way around restrictions. Partygoers dance the night away under lockdown, thanks to ‘car disco.’ Despite strict social distancing guidelines currently in place in Germany, people in the town of Schüttorf managed to party the night away on Friday as they attended a disco from the safety of their cars.

But day to day life suffers in ways that don’t first come to mind.

Amanda Pinto QC, chairwoman of the Bar Council told the Commons Justice Committee that a barrister-wide survey of the possible impact to their practices of the Covid-19 shutdown was “shocking.” She said, “The results are frankly, shocking – 56 per cent of all barristers cannot survive six months in practice. That takes us from the date of this survey to October of this year. 69 per cent of publicly funded barristers cannot survive six months. And almost 75 per cent of young barristers – those in practice for less than seven years – will not survive six months.

Our heroes of the moment are our healthcare workers. There is an outpouring of appreciation, from army generals recommending they receive bonuses, to fashion designers making scrubs more stylish. An anonymous donor in California has gifted a local hospital one million US dollars, designating that the funds go directly to staff, from floor cleaners to nurses. Another, John Heffer, seeing the difference a phone charger made to his father, stranded in hospital with a drained mobile. So he launched GoFundMe to buy chargers for hospitals across the US.

Most offerings of gratitude come in the form of unsolicited donations of food, to such an extent that it leads NHS staff to plea, “Give it to the local food bank.” The pandemic has sparked an outpouring of support for NHS workers.

They, however, ask for public empathy, not sympathy, in the job they have to do.

The toll on families is great. There are now countless stories of heartrending experiences. One family, 2,500 miles apart, faced excruciating decisions as their matriarch, Carmen Evelina Turo, fought the virus on a ventilator in a hospital on Long Island. They gathered online and in the ICU to prepare for the end, a common situation many families are facing themselves. One of the cruelties of the virus is the way it sweeps through homes. Across the country, reports are surfacing of long-term couples dying of Covid-19 in quick succession, redoubling the pain for those left behind.

There are stories too of quiet heroism of care workers, who forego their personal life for the well-being of their residents. It happens in a number of care homes. One such case tells that for 47 days and nights staff and residents of the Vilanova care home on the outskirts of the east-central city of Lyon waited out the storm together, while the illness killed more than 9,000 in other care homes in France.

It has consequences too. Eager as they are to get the country ‘back to work,’ the government finds it hard in the face of getting office workers back into the office. Recommendations like no hot-desking, shared pens and staggered start times, along with firms not having to enforce two metres social distancing as long as they can show they are keeping staff safe, are insufficient a lure.

The workplace is being rethought.

Although working from home might not be as environmentally friendly as first thought. Scientists warn that homeworking can actually push up emissions, especially if some people travel to work a few times a week.

But at the moment lockdown looks good for emissions, that are predicted to fall nearly 8 per cent – the largest decrease ever.

Other portents of a greener future may or may not be the result of the pandemic, but they become part of a momentary environmental new consciousness nevertheless. The brown bear appears in north east Spain for the “first time in 150 years,” while the white tailed eagle, UK’s largest bird of prey returns to English skies for the first time in 240 years.

But they are momentary reliefs from an era that will be remembered more for its darkness. More stories emerge of domestic violence under lockdown, this time from the Ukraine, where women and children are experiencing domestic violence during the quarantine.

And lockdown corrodes our history, our heritage, as smugglers in the Middle East and North Africa are taking advantage of the situation to pillage archaeological sites and sell their ‘finds’ on the online black market. With security focused on public safety, museums and archaeological sites are more vulnerable than ever.

It makes ‘Love Island’ being postponed until 2021 seem pretty trivial.

So pressures to lift the lockdown grow daily.  Government lockdown is coming under sustained criticism for a number of senior Conservative backbenchers worried about freedoms and the economy, including Steve Baker, Sir Graham Brady, Sir Charles Walker and Robert Courts, although the prospect of getting it wrong and allowing the virus to resurge is grim. Even PM Boris Johnson  is displaying caution, insisting that ending the lockdown early would be the “worst thing we could do.”

As long as lockdown endures UK unity also appears to be under threat as Scotland sends different messages. UK Government insiders are increasingly frustrated with Nicola Sturgeon’s messaging, which often upstages announcements from Westminster.

But PM Boris Johnson still wants to project his image of the great leader in a time of crisis.

“We are passing through the peak,” he declares, as he reminds the nation of the five tests that need to be met before the UK can follow its “road map” and move on to the next phase of the “virus battle-plan.”

Johnson’s taken to using such neo-Churchillian rhetoric, as if somehow this is all our finest hour. It takes some stretching of the imagination to believe it is. In fact there are still fears that deaths in care homes may be increasing and PPE levels are still not being met.

So what are those five tests?

  1. The NHS has the capacity to provide critical care right across the UK: Hospitals have not been overwhelmed by patients so far in the pandemic, and in some places have been aided by the opening of the new NHS Nightingales. There are 3,190 spare critical care beds in the health service, and that in most parts of the country the number of people in hospital with coronavirus is beginning to fall. This test, therefore, appears to have been met.
  2. A sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from coronavirus: The high point of weekly average daily deaths was 851 on April 13th. Today, that figure is 555. There is a slow steady decline, and there are some suggestions that deaths in care homes may still be increasing. It seems that we’re moving towards meeting this test, but more data is needed.
  3. The rate of infection decreased to manageable levels across the board: The “R” value, or infection rate, is now thought to be somewhere between 0.5 and one, meaning that each person infected with the virus passes it on to fewer than one other person. It is likely this test has been met across the board, but the Government will be extremely anxious to ensure the rate of infection does not rise again.
  4. Operational challenges including testing and PPE are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand: Testing is struggling to pass the 100,000 a day target, but getting there. However, despite the distribution of more than a billion items of PPE, concerns over shortages remain, particularly among care home staff. Given the global spread of the disease, operational challenges in sourcing PPE may continue for some time. So far, this test does not appear to have been met.
  5. Confidence that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections: This means that to “avoid disaster” the fifth test was that nothing the Government does lifts the R value above one. For the coming two months this will seem to be a possibility, but in the longer term meeting this test becomes unachievable with the policies and their changes that the Government adopts.

There is a clamour for a return to normality. For work and for all our everyday lives. But it’s going to be hard to achieve. Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman says children should return to school “as soon as possible,” but qualifies her statement, admitting it was up to health experts to determine exactly when it was safe to send kids back into classrooms.

Britain is not alone in her desire to lift lockdown.

Belgium is starting its first phase of ending lockdown. Businesses can resume economic activities, but teleworking is strongly encouraged. People who must go back to work will have to follow strict rules such as wearing face masks. Public transport is open but only recommended for people who don’t have an alternative and outside peak hours. Face masks are mandatory for people older than 12, as soon as they enter a station. More generally, face masks are recommended where it is difficult to keep 1.5 meters distance from others. Walks and physical activities … in the open air which do not involve physical contact are allowed, although social-distancing rules still apply to people who do not live under the same roof. After carrying out these activities, the return home is obligatory. It is still forbidden to settle in a park to sunbathe or have a picnic. Private and public activities of a cultural, social, festive, folklore, sporting and recreational nature are prohibited.

Belgians are now able to “see a second friend or family member, always the same, under certain conditions,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès tweeted on Sunday. “We will have to resume our social life very gradually, although of course I wish it were different,” she said. Places of worship remain open, provided that social-distancing measures are respected, but most religious ceremonies cannot take place — with some exceptions. Funerals can be held as long as no more than 15 people attend them and social distancing is respected, while weddings can only be attended by the spouses themselves, their witnesses and the minister.

Shops that sell certain fabrics will be able to open to customers — a week ahead of all other shops — aimed at making it easier for Belgians to adhere to the mandatory mask-wearing on public transport.

While Greece has been gradually lifting its restrictive measures after a 42 day lockdown. As of Monday, many Greeks no longer need an SMS or carry a self-written permit to justify being outdoors.

And in Italy, lockdown measures will have eased from today, with travel between regions to visit family and takeaway services at cafés and restaurants allowed. Schools, hairdressers and gyms will remain shut, however, and masks will be compulsory in public.

In America, Donald Trump has insisted it is safe for individual states to reopen their shops, parks and beaches, so long as the public “stay away a certain amount.” The president’s comments come amid growing protest at the extension of lockdown in Democrat-controlled state capitals. Nearly half the US will reopen in some form from the beginning of this week. About a dozen states tentatively returned to public life on Friday, the first mass reopening of businesses since the pandemic brought America to a standstill six weeks ago.

India’s lockdown has been extended until 17th May, but some relaxations apply from today. Most travel remains banned and schools, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, cinemas and places of worship are closed. The country has relaxed some lockdown restrictions even as the pace of infection has slightly accelerated. On Monday, some economic activities resumed after a near total five week halt. Normal life, albeit with masks, social distancing and stringent hygiene standards have started to return in low risk areas while constraints on movement and work have continued elsewhere in the country. India has about 42,500 cases, 11,706 recoveries and 1,373 deaths, and has tested more than a million samples on Monday. But at 78 tests per million, India is among those countries testing the lowest fraction of the population. And experts warn that the virus has yet to peak.

Japan, with around 15,000 infections and more than 500 deaths, is expected to extend its state of emergency this week, although some restrictions on economic activity could be relaxed and bars reopened.

If the British Government has muddled its way through the medical and social aspects of the pandemic, where it does have some success is with the financial package, with furlough, loans and grants. Today on Nextdoor I receive two messages. The first is from the chancellor, Rishi Sunak: 

Last month I announced Bounce Back Loans. Today they open for business. Borrow between £2,000 and £50,000. Easy 7 Question form to fill. Interest-free for the first year. Repay over 6 years, 2.5 per cent interest. No early penalty.

The second is a Government Public Service announcement:

If Covid-19 is affecting your business you may be eligible for a grant. Small businesses in your area are receiving grants of £10,000 or £25,000 to help deal with the impact of the coronavirus. These grants do not need to be paid back. If you think your business may be eligible, get back in touch with your local authority and supply your payment details.

The UK’s arrangements seem much simpler than across the pond in the US, as the New York Times reports:

Requirements for using federal coronavirus loans are so complicated and confusing, some small businesses fear using the money altogether. Many of the small businesses that did receive loans through the Paycheck Protection Program are sitting on the money, insecure about whether or how to spend it. “I don’t accidentally want to commit bank fraud,” said Jodie Burns, who owns Blazing Fresh Donuts in Guildford, Connecticut. Under the rules, for example, business owners have eight weeks from the day they receive the cash to spend it in order to have the loan forgiven. That is made increasingly difficult when many states are still under strict stay at home orders.

But the UK’s tendency towards financial pragmatism goes out of the window when it comes to the ‘B-word.’ Calls for an extension to the Brexit transition in the light of Covid-19 are completely ignored by the Government – what turns out to be an act of pure folly. Part of the problem is the obsession about a trade deal. Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and US will kick off with a conference call between Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, and her US counterpart, Robert Lighthizer tomorrow. Both parties are insisting that the pandemic will not disrupt preparations for an accord.

But actually it does.

Trade negotiations become a Quixotic quest, for something that never quite comes about, even though the lost trade with the EU dwarves any gains from a transatlantic deal.

But the Government fears letting Brexit go. It is a creature spawned by identity politics, so much so it has infiltrated ministers perceptions and priorities.

Not least the PM himself.

It’s almost viral.

It’s not just the virus. It’s the far-reaching knock-on effects it’s having on other areas of healthcare:

  • Tens of thousands of heart and stroke patients risk their lives by avoiding hospital Covid-19. It’s an effect that’s having a dramatic impact on a number of people that are now presenting at A&E with life-threatening symptoms.
  • There’s the chilling reality for some such as myself of cancer patients being kept awake during operations to protect them from Covid-19. Hospitals have increased the use of ‘awake’ surgery, which avoids the need for general anaesthetic and intubation – to encourage patients to undergo life-saving treatment. Having experienced the weird effects of a spinal block and being totally befogged by Midazolam, I can see myself being so out of it as not to give a monkey’s, but the very thought leaves me uncomfortable!  

There’s also a Covid-19 related mystery. In 1961 Tomisaku Kawasaki reported a condition whose symptoms were a rash and a fever in a four year old child and later went on to publish a paper about similar cases. It became known as Kawasaki disease. It was rare and mysterious, infecting young children, boys more than girls, and of South East Asian origins in particular. The condition has been known to inflame different parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs, and to cause such symptoms as vomiting, diarrhoea, neck pain and rash.

Now, a small number children who have had the Covid-19 virus are expressing Kawasaki disease-like symptoms, in a disorder called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Fortunately MIS-C is rare, albeit deeply troubling. The fact that Kawasaki disease long predates Covid-19 has led physicians and scientists to refer to MIC-C as Kawasaki syndrome.

Despite the troubled road in developing test, track and trace in the UK the Government still tries to put a positive spin on the situation. The latest is to call upon twenty first century tech. Transport secretary, Grant Shapps has described smartphone apps for treating the spread of Covid-19 as “the best possible way to help the NHS” as part of a pilot programme begins in England. The NHSX app is being trialled on the Isle of Wight this week as part of the Government’s test, track and trace strategy and will be central to its efforts in slowing the spread of the virus.

While much is made in the press of British scientists unveil a 99.8 per cent accurate Covid-19 antibody test. The tests are useful in checking whether someone has had the disease (or several months from now, also been vaccinated) but cannot tell if they currently have the disease.

When it comes to treatment British scientists working for Synairgen, a university spin-off firm, founded in 2003 by three University of Southampton professors, have started testing an experimental Covid-19 drug, which they hope will significantly improve the health of coronavirus patients. The treatment, known as SNG-001, has been shown to stimulate an immune response in the lungs of patients with asthma and chronic lung disease during trials. The procedure uses the naturally occurring protein called interferon-beta which our bodies naturally produce when we get a viral infection.

Synairgen have allowed BBC Panorama to make a programme about their drugs trial. It’s hoped that the treatment will help Covid-19 patients and prevent the most severe cases from requiring intensive care and ventilators.

While the prize still remains the vaccine. The race to develop it is compressing years into months and is an endeavour that has been compared to the Space Race of the late nineteen fifties and early sixties. Researchers have found themselves having to navigate safety issues, commercial challenges and geopolitical tensions. Seven of the roughly 90 vaccine projects being pursued have reached the stage of clinical trials, moving ahead at unheard-of speeds, but uncertainty remains over effectiveness, how quickly a vaccine could be made available to billions of people worldwide, and whether the rush will sacrifice safety.

Finally a message appears in my Nextdoor inbox:

Welcome to the group! Need connection with other self-isolating men during these depressing times? We share our thoughts and feelings, fears and pressures, whatever buttons are pressed and whatever comes up is welcome. We relieve pressure by speaking it out, listening and being heard. It’s not a process party! Let’s support each other towards conscious isolation, sharing our tensions and taking the edge off these turbulent times.

It’s not particularly aimed at me, but it is a reminder that despite the phenomenal increase we all have these days in online connectivity, loneliness is still an issue on a large scale and it takes a pandemic to bring it to the surface.


Best for Britain, Euronews, Evening Standard, Financial Times, Forbes, Fox News,, Guardian, iNews, Mail, Mirror, New Statesman, New York Times, Nextdoor,, Sky News, Stanford Medical (Scope), Telegraph, Time, Wikipedia.

Day Forty Nine: Sunday 3rd May 2020

Daily Diary: Overwhelmed by Information.

I’m beginning to realise that I’m getting too good for my own good at finding stuff out. When I started this diary-of-sorts I’d probably be finding a dozen to twenty newsworthy items and I was limiting myself to headlines. Then my capability at finding out information improved. I was finding links that I seemed to pass by previously and getting feeds that I simply hadn’t previously anticipated. In the process I began to get a ‘feel’ for stories that simply had to be told. I think too the situation is getting increasingly involved and complicated, and with that even more human stories come to light. All of that leads to more work pulling the notes together and now it’s taking hours.

So, one way or another I’ve got to try to gather less and be a bit more discriminating in doing so, but the problem is will news pass me by? Often, a fascinating story starts off in a small way, then grows. Or I pick up a story that has come into full bloom and I realise I’ve missed the whole lead up to it.

In the process of trying to gather as much as possible I miss a valuable email from John Morris, our club secretary. He’s pretty experienced and adept with Zoom and has offered to help. And I missed it! So along with endorsing the last club meeting’s minutes I feel the need to apologise and I confess to feeling a bit guilty.

I’ve tried to limit my daily feed to make it more manageable, bearing in mind there’s happy birthday to my friend Ian at three pm and testing Zoom with Emily at five. So you cut your cloth.

I find the model I’ve been working on has too short a chassis. It simply doesn’t match the World War Two photographs for length. So, after measuring up photo after photo I’ve done a miniature ‘cut and shut’ and stretched the wheelbase. To my delight it’s worked a treat and I’m pretty pleased with the achievement. I quite like a change of task to break up what I’m doing. It helps me to focus. But I’m also amazed at how busy I’ve made myself as a result of lockdown.

Having said that, I’ll be glad when all of this is over, and however new or otherwise, there is some sort of normality when we’re no longer under siege if we’re not in the frontline.


Well I went to Ian’s Zoom party, was greeted by a young woman who then directed me to the conservatory, where Ian was, at a table with all sorts of snacks and goodies and a number of friends and family, practically all of whom I didn’t know. I felt really weird and unsettled and after a short time bottled it and bowed out. Even in RL I do have a problem with rooms full of strangers and find myself feeling awkward and not at my best. Zoom seems to exacerbate that feeling.

Not a comfortable experience.

Clearly I’m no zoomster!

The Bigger Picture: Learning From Bitter Experience

It can take a disaster to explode the myth that those with wealth, power and status have them because of the consent of those that don’t and a mutual trust exists within the social order that makes it so. It was true of the relationship between the class of passenger on the Titanic and the chances of their ice-cold watery demise. It is true of the novel coronavirus pandemic today – that those groups with wealth, power and status has a markedly greater chance of not dying from the virus.

Studies by research groups such as the King’s Fund and the Rowntree Foundation had been publishing studies of social advantage and life expectation for decades,  but they rarely made secondary stories, buried by the news of the day.

Now Covid-19 is the news of the day, and the stories take on a fresh gravity.

In Britain Covid-19 revealed not only disproportionate numbers of untimely deaths among the least well-off and ethnic minorities, but also, once lockdown had begun almost a fifth of households with children going hungry.

The New York Times reports:

More than 2.2 million Americans, through no fault of their own, lack access to clean running water and basic indoor plumbing the rest of us take for granted. Every state is home to entire communities facing this virus without being able to wash their hands, but the federal government has yet to form an emergency response that addresses their safety. It’s no accident that these places tend to be communities of colour. Decades ago, they were bypassed by government initiatives to build water infrastructure, and federal funding for water projects is just a tiny fraction of what it once was. Today, race is the strongest predictor of whether you have access to a tap or a toilet in your home. Nationwide, indigenous households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack access to complete plumbing, while African-American and Latin households are nearly twice as likely.

Donald Trump declares that the only way to cure the ills exposed by the virus and reopen the US economy is to break out of lockdown and get America back to work. In the deeply polarised country of which he is both a symptom and an active agent in creating it plays to the section of society that views all actions to control the virus as big government and an infringement of individual liberty.

His four point plan goes like this:

First: Remove income support, so people have no choice but to return to work.

Second: Hide the facts.

Third: Tell the people it’s all about ‘freedom.’

Fourth: Shield businesses against lawsuits for spreading the infection.

But the hard truth is that the biggest obstacle to reopening the economy is the pandemic itself.

It’s hardest for those at the very edge of society. In the US and elsewhere in the rich world, Covid-19 is spreading rapidly through the largely immigrant workforces of farms and most factories, but insufficient protections mean many migrant workers have no option but to keep on working, and have few options if they lose their job. Farmworkers and meat processors are particularly vulnerable to infection because they are exposed to elevated pathogenic loads, carcinogenic pesticides and other chemicals, working with little sanitation in cramped conditions. Yet, as immigrant employees they have very few crucial protections such as sick days, paid leave, or regulations against exploitation. Many live in makeshift housing with communal toilets, where social distancing is impossible.

For migrants elsewhere it’s even more bleak. One woman describes her plight:

“Stuck in a foreign land with no passport or work. I support a family in Ethiopia and have to pay my Lebanese sponsor who keeps my passport, and my cleaning work has stopped with lockdown.”

It’s a form of modern slavery called “situational vulnerability” as people are placed at greater risk of modern slavery due to their social isolation – which exacerbates the immediate vulnerability they have as a result of their destitution. These twin factors allow the marginalised to be enslaved as waste pickers and “manual scavengers,” an occupation that has been called “a particularly degrading form of exploitation.” In parts of India the caste system is at its root, and amid the pandemic, these workers face even greater risks.

So the myth that those with wealth, power and status have them because of the consent of those that don’t persists between people, classes, nations, even whole regions of the world. It’s a myth promoted by those with wealth, power and status, with strings, smoke and mirrors, hoping that the cogs and gears of civilisation run smoothly, without such glitches as a pandemic or the consequences of climate change to expose the unfairness and the deceit.

While the wealthy and powerful West fixates on Covid-19, more vulnerable countries are paying  the price. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN warns of a lack of solidarity with the developing world. 500 million people could fall into poverty. And in a world where debt-bondage is a feature among the world’s poorest, most vulnerable nations, as much as it is a feature of modern slavery among the world’s poorest, most vulnerable people.

There are some saying that, once the pandemic has passed, we will need to reboot the global economy.

 There are others saying we need to reprogramme it.

Covid-19 remains mysterious. It’s been compared to a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing and a limited understanding of how they fit together. This applies to its origins, the shape of the pandemic – a second wave appears likely, possibly a third, judging from history – and the emerging concern that the other, larger existential threat to humanity, climate change, may well make future infectious diseases even more difficult to fight.

Some of covid’s revelations are counter-intuitive. Observations from the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris indicate that smokers could be less likely than non-smokers to fall ill with the virus. With encouragement from the health minister, the organisations behind the Pitié-Salpêtrière study, which include the Pasteur Institute and the Sorbonne, are preparing trials. The plan is to offer nicotine patches to covid-19 patients, front-line workers and ordinary citizens. How they fare will be compared with control groups given a placebo.

Some have hypothesised that, although nicotine and other substances in cigarette smoke might not prevent infection, they might suppress that often fatal out of control immune response known as a cytokine storm.

Research might point to a way of treating the disease.

The pandemic brings its own twist to politics. When sexually active gay and bisexual men find themselves banned from COVID-19 convalescent plasma trials there is outrage expressed by the LGBTQ community, maintaining there is still a widespread view that being gay is still thought as a form of contamination.

The NHS point to guidance issued by the NHS Blood and Transplant agency, which claims these populations “are at an increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex,” such as the human immunodeficiency virus.

It’s a storm that doesn’t subside quickly and in six weeks’ time the NHS will relent, recognising that people of all sexual orientations genuinely want to play their part in ending this disease, along with the hard impact the pandemic has had on blood donors.

Elsewhere, the Johnson Government having made such a big deal about Brexit Britain going it alone, quietly seeks access to EU health cooperation in the light of Covid-19, pledges £330 a year to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which will help fund immunisation of 75 million children in the world’s poorest countries, and scrubs the £17 million order for 10,000 of Dyson’s built-from-scratch ventilators. The Dyson ventilator story becomes one of many examples of the ‘Johnson Chumocracy,’ as well-established ventilator engineering firms were passed over for the Dyson deal, along with Dyson himself being both a Tory Party donor and vocal Brexit supporter.

On a personal level, Johnson talks about the ‘death of Stalin’ arrangements that were made in case he died from Covid-19. He admits being in denial about how serious his diagnosis was, that he “really didn’t want to go into hospital” and was deeply frustrated about going into intensive care.

“Because the bloody indicators kept going in the wrong direction and I thought, ‘There’s no medicine for this thing and there’s no cure.’ That was the stage when I was thinking, ‘How am I going to get out of this?'”

Meanwhile, there’s a report from PA Media that a giant inflatable dinosaur has been spotted waddling the streets of Watford by delighted neighbours isolating in their homes. Georgina Cooper, a 35 year-old mum, has been using her daily walk to entertain her community as the friendly local Tyrannosaurus Rex. Mrs Cooper, who has two sons, aged one and five, said she bought the dinosaur costume from eBay “for fun,” but after its popularity “spiralled out of control” she began collecting money for PPE in care homes during the coronavirus crisis. She said she lost her severely disabled cousin Miriam, who the family only want to be known by her first name, after care home workers unwittingly brought the virus into her accommodation and she died after testing positive.

Captain Tom Moore inspires an army of OAP coronavirus charity heroes. Barely a day goes by without an elderly champion taking on a fresh challenge.

And queues have built up outside tips in Manchester as they are reopened for the first time since lockdown.

Freedom can be so prosaic.


  • Americans discover how powerful one to one is with pupils. After Covid-19 students are more likely to thrive if they have dedicated time with teachers, high school students are making Yearbooks for the class of 2020, while  schools nationwide are debating whether to issue grades to high school students during the pandemic and the two metre rule being reviewed amid hope that relaxed restrictions could allow schools to reopen.
  • There’s joy and trepidation as Spaniards enjoy an easing of restrictions.
  • Germany’s Covid-19 infection rate rises after lockdown is lifted,
  • Dentists in France have posted naked photos of themselves on social media in an effort to draw attention to their need for PPE.
  • With plans underway for a ‘Covid-19 Passport,’ resorts in Greece are now taking bookings and socially distanced sun loungers are being set up in Southern Italy.
  • China reports two Covid-19 cases for May 2nd. The country plans to crush new outbreaks with tough measures. Despite the personal and social cost being high, many see it as a necessary evil. A Wuhan British evacuee, Matt Raw, who was quarantined for two weeks when he returned to the UK has said he wishes he’d never left China, seeing how the situation in Britain was now much worse.

Finally, if there can be a silver lining to the darkest-bottomed storm cloud, the dean of an American medical school tells us the pandemic will make medical students better doctors.

Lawrence G. Smith, M.D., the founding dean of the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell writes in STAT:

No matter how great physicians’ technical skills are, they may not be considered healers until they’ve learned how to soothe and inspire, to comfort patients and family members alike (even when it’s compassionately delivering bad news), to deliver not only treatment but also hope. Working in hospitals packed with patients of all ages and demographics, and tending to those who, due to isolation, can’t be with their loved ones, will teach new doctors skills their older peers all too often had to pick up on their own.

There’s no substitute for experience.


Business Insider, The Economist, Euronews, Forbes, Freedom United, Guardian, The Independent, Daily Mirror, The New York Times, Open Democracy, PA Media,, Reuters, Sky News, STAT, The Times.

Day Forty Eight: Saturday 2nd May 2020

Daily Diary: The New Normal

We’re entering the seventh week of lockdown and the trope I really dislike is the “new normal.” It has all the attributes of gaslighting. All of a sudden, along with “stay safe” and “when this is over” it has entered the Lexington of the anglosphere. Politicians and presenters all over the place are dropping the phrase lazily – an expression of convenience. But to use it has an Orwellian ring about it. It can be manipulated, squidged here, squashed there, and before we’ve figured what’s happened, hurrah, here’s dystopia! But don’t worry your little head about it, we’ll call it “the new normal” and all will be well.

There’s a countermove to the new normal. It’s not particularly pleasant either. Not wanting the new normal – in fact not wanting any part of it – armed protestors stormed the Michigan State House over the Covid-19 lockdown. I’m not sure I’d want their “old normal” either. The Swedes have just said fuck it …… or maybe Fükkit, as I have a feeling there’s something useful travelling under that name in my local IKEA …… and carried on with the old normal, more or less. Seems to me that people are dying as a result. A horrible covid death that really doesn’t bear thinking about.

We’re only about 130 days into the outbreak – I mean 130 days since the virus ‘decided’ that human hosts would make a cool change of genetic scenery, and as the disease reveals itself, it’s turning out to be a particularly nasty piece of work. One way or another, it affects a number of human organs and we’re still in the process of learning about the damage it’s capable of inflicting. Evidence is emerging that even if you survive the disease your lifespan may well be shortened.

Some medics say sooner or later the virus will get to all of us and we’ll have to say our prayers to the Almighty, that in all his wisdom he has already fitted us DNA sequences that won’t let down Vicky, Emily, Tom and others near and dear to us. But that’s being selective and we know nature is pretty indifferent to all our existences. Harsh but fair, some might say.

 So as a rising 68 year-old it makes sense to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.

On the home front I did a trial Zoom with Nigel. Despite the fact that he didn’t have a camera or a working microphone it worked (we had WhatsApp running on our phones in the background) ….. technically, that is, and there’s a Zoom chat with Emily this evening and Ian’s 60th birthday ‘party’ tomorrow. Becoming quite the zoomster, and certainly the angst hurdle is behind me. Other than that, a birthday card to my sister Judith went into the post and I made some more fiddly progress on the portee anti-tank truck my dad used during the war. I take my time with models – they’re calming and focus the mind. They always present problems …… and this, which is highly customised, is a real challenge.

And then, of course, there’s watching plants grow, which is a lot more positive and less messy than watching paint dry.

The Bigger Picture: Disorientation

It’s about a hundred days since a 35 year old man walked into an emergency clinic just north of Seattle with a persistent cough. It was January 19th and he’d just returned from a family visit to Wuhan. Since then, in America alone, over a million people have been infected by Covid-19 and over sixty thousand people have died. Factories have shut down, airplanes have been parked on the ground and workers are digging hundreds of graves on an island off New York City.

More than 26 million people have lost their jobs and the unemployment rate for the entire country is trending toward 20 per cent.

The pandemic spreads like wildfire, its embers spreading far and wide, setting up new epicentres like a rash across the nation, its speed of travel unprecedented and people in its way unprepared, from health systems to individual citizens finding the daily life to which they had grown accustomed disrupted beyond all expectations.

Within a month of America’s patient zero seeing the doctor about his cough people are dying. The suddenness and speed with which the pandemic strikes, establishes itself and spreads disorientates, leading to misdiagnosis that Covid-19 is little more than a bad flu. On February 28th President Trump is more concerned about a political rally he’s heading to in South Carolina than he is about a devastating disease. “As you know,” he says. “With the flu, on average, we lose from 26,000 to 78,000 people a year.”

A doctor from Italy warns on TV that everything you’ve done up until now isn’t enough. You have to start preparing. It’s a warning from bitter experience in the first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic, but it falls on too many deaf ears.

By March 23rd more and more Americans are fed up with the lockdowns. A Colorado businessman, sums up a widely prevailing attitude. “The government should get out of the way of the free market. People should decide for themselves if they want to isolate.”

It’s about small government and individual liberty, and Donald Trump is eager to tap into those very American sentiments. “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” he says at a White House  press briefing.

He’s fanning the flames of his political base.

As a result, In several states, angry, flag-waving residents have begun protesting the stay-at-home orders, and Trump turns to Twitter to offer them his support: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”, he writes, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Finally: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

The latest is that armed protestors storm Michigan State House over the Covid-19 lockdown.

The problem is that light touch government and individual liberty at all costs, whatever their virtues in the post-Enlightenment western world are the kiss of death when it comes to pandemic management. 

Little wonder then, thatpublic confidence in President Trump’s ability to handle the pandemic has taken a considerable hit over the past month, and he has lashed out at aides last week after receiving internal polling that showed Joe Biden beating him in several important states. It’s a sensitivity that almost certainly leads to the White House blocking Dr Anthony Fauci from testifying before Congress about the Covid-19 response.

Trump also apparently feels the need to deflect attention to America’s growing rival for world hegemony – China.

Starting a world-blighting pandemic is not a good look.

He claims to have evidence linking Covid-19 to a Wuhan laboratory after a both an intelligence chief and the WHO say Covid-19 is natural in origin. Laboratory escapes are not unknown, even from labs studying pathogenic viruses for medical research, but Trump’s inference is somewhat more sinister than that, suggesting manipulation of the virus.

It sets in train events that make it impossible to discover the virus’ origins. From now on, China goes into ever-increasing denial, followed by active obstruction and eventually downright lies, starting the twilight of co-operation between the scientific communities of both countries.

More from America:

  • ‘America First’ gets darker as the Trump administration and major manufacturers press Mexico to keep factories that supply the US operating, even as their workers fall ill.
  • ‘Republican States First’ becomes the next step with Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s crazy idea to let states go bankrupt rather than get federal aid, politicised as “blue state bailouts” has set off a debate that has engulfed Washington.
  • In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will render a decision that will determine whether nearly 700,000 individuals protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will remain in the workforce, protected from deportation. If the court strikes down DACA, then every DACA recipient — including 29,000 physicians, nurses, health aides, and technicians — could be forced from the United States within two years. Some could have only weeks. That would totally jeopardise America’s pandemic response.
  • California is closing Orange County beaches after photos of packed beaches caused outrage. Governor Newsom called the beach crowds an example of “what not to do.”
  • A New York nursing home reports 98 Covid-19 deaths in a “horrifying” outbreak.
  • New York City’s subway system – one of the few in the world that runs 24 hours a day – will shut overnight to provide more time for disinfection.

It could be due to the shock and disorientation from the rapid spread of the virus that citizens living under lockdown in several European nations have showed a renewed support for democratic institutions in their countries, as well as their respective prime ministers or presidents. Or so a study at King’s College London found.

Or could it be that being stuck with whoever we had has led to a particular variant of Stockholm syndrome? Regardless? Who knows?

Even Boris Johnson, after all his bluster and blunder, along with a cabinet startingly bereft of intellectual heft and governmental experience, has an approval rating (likes minus dislikes) of +28, although it is slipping. There’s a lot of war lingo, fighting rhetoric and willy-waving, making the Government’s response to the coronavirus all a bit macho. But the British public seem to put up with it. Women’s voices in leading the nation through and hopefully out of the pandemic are notably absent, despite women bearing the brunt of the hit to the economy, are trapped in dangerous households and make up the majority of Covid-19 diagnoses in some regions. In fact, it took over three weeks of daily Downing Street briefings before a female minister took the stand – Priti Patel – on April 11th.

With Johnson’s “War Cabinet” being entirely made up of men – Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove – little wonder.

Yet for all the alpha male posturing of Johnson and his team, the reality is one of indecision. You could be forgiven for thinking that an 80 seat majority would result in a unity of purpose. But it hasn’t. Among Tories there are lockdown hawks and doves, there are those who see large scale state intervention as necessary, and those who see a return to small government at the earliest opportunity as the covid economic crisis deepens?

Some look to Sweden, that has controversially forgone stay at home orders and measures like public mask-wearing. As a result of this more relaxed approach the country is hard-hit by Covid-19, with a rising infection rate of 26 per cent, higher than its more restricted Nordic neighbours. Even President Trump says Sweden is ‘paying heavily’ for its failure to lock down as death tolls rise above 2,500.

The architect of Sweden’s approach was state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell at the National Institute of Public Health. Driven by a cost-benefit analysis of lives versus the economy, along assumptions about Swedes’ self-discipline, expecting them to act responsibly without requiring orders from authorities the Swedish government took a step back and allowed Tegnell to manage his model to run its course, even until herd immunity was reached within the population as a whole. According to the World Values Survey, Swedes do tend to display a unique combination of trust in public institutions and extreme individualism. As sociologist Lars Trägårdh has put it, every Swede carries his own policeman on his shoulder.

By late March it was becoming clear that Tegnell’s model was in trouble. Belatedly, and playing catch up the government found itself needing to step in. From March 29th, it prohibited public gatherings of more than 50 people, down from 500, and added sanctions for noncompliance. Then, from April 1st, it barred visits to nursing homes, after it had become clear that the virus had hit around half of Stockholm’s facilities for the elderly.

Further restrictions followed.

Tegnell had made assumptions about the special exceptionalism of Swedish social behaviour and the changing demographics of his country – a quarter of the population are of non-Swedish descent. Worse than that, he had not factored in the asymptomatic transmission of the novel coronavirus, a factor that was increasingly coming to light. In comparison with other Nordic countries, on April 17th Sweden’s deaths from Covid-19 were 136 per million, compared with 58 per million in Denmark, 30 per million in Norway and 15 per million in Finland.

UK deaths per million on the same day stood at 217 and much as PM Johnson and his government had entertained the idea of a model recognisably similar to the Swedish one – maybe without hypothetical personal police officers sitting on citizens’ shoulders – it was clearly not a path that could be trod.

It’s clear that the UK lockdown will have to continue until numbers are much lower, and the economy, along with government revenues will have to take a hit.

Businesses continue to suffer. Today’s updates:

  • The National Trust is set to lose £200 million this year.
  • Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, is cutting 3,000 jobs in order to survive.
  • According to a Law Society survey 71 per cent of high street law firms will be forced to close this year as a result of the pandemic, according to a Law Society survey.

But eyes are already on the next step – lifting lockdown and getting the economy to recover.

The PM and other officials are hoping some shops, offices and factories can reopen on May 26th, the Tuesday after the bank holiday. But this plan is only the ‘best hope’ and could change if the current slowdown in Covid-19 cases picks back up again. There is a suggestion that commuters should check their temperature before travelling. Other ideas to ease lockdown reportedly include wearing face masks, a reduction from 2 to 1 metres distancing, the distribution of hand sanitiser at bus stations and new signage to warn commuters against getting on to busy trains, as Boris Johnson prepares to lay out a “roadmap” next week for schools and businesses reopening. Other countries have been much clearer about their plans

The government has been criticised by Labour and business groups for failing to lay out a strategy for easing the lockdown, as other countries have done, but PM Johnson, true to form, keeps it vague with a fair sprinkling of boosterism. “What you’re going to get next week is really a roadmap, a menu of options,” Johnson said on Thursday. “Until this day comes [when a vaccine is ready], we are going to have to beat this disease by our growing resolve and ingenuity.”

Part of the problem, according to Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, is that the ‘stay at home’ message has been too successful, as polls show two thirds of people are anxious about going back to bars and restaurants. Perhaps, he goes on to suggest, Britain will need a campaign to persuade people to start living again.

The UK is far from alone in that respect. The Germans too are split over lifting lockdown. A growing number of people in Germany are resisting lockdown measures imposed to contain the coronavirus. The rift between those who support the measures and those who are critical of them is growing.

While in the US, as some states begin to relax lockdown orders and allow businesses to reopen, a new report from the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) on Friday found that reopening before June could save 18 million jobs but also result in over 200,000 additional Covid-19 deaths.

It’s a painfully hard trade-off.

In Italy, despite the number of Covid-19 cases slowly rising, the country enters Chapter Two of the Corona Crisis, as the country is now facing the next phase of a serious crisis: how to kickstart an economy that has been at a standstill for weeks.

Back in Britain, a government dominated by its Brexit agenda, finds itself in what can be described as a ‘Britain First’ trap in its messaging about immigration. Its assiduously driven ‘hostile environment’ policy persists, breaking the most vulnerable of recent arrivals with desperation and poverty. Forced to live on just £37.75 a week, asylum seekers are now facing an impossible choice between eating and staying safe. While in reality, the UK’s problem rebooting its economy after covid is likely to be too few immigrants, not too many, and the politically manufactured ‘hostile environment’ will be central to that problem.

Leaving lockdown is a lot harder than going into it, and every bit as perilous, not only in its economic challenges but it also means understanding the immune responses to the virus.

A lot is still unknown.

We don’t know what the future of Covid-19 will be. Recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave, or a persistent crisis are seen as being the three most likely possibilities, but they are very different. From previous pandemics a second wave seems likely, and maybe a third and more. A deadly resurgence of the coronavirus could change the way we live for many years to come.

We do know from experience dealing with Ebola that it’s not enough to fight one disease outbreak – systems need to be built to prevent the next ones.

Aspects of its transmission are still unclear, such as whether the virus can spread via the eyes. As are the mysteries of why Covid-19 expresses itself in particular ways, the most recent being how it is causing strokes in healthy people.

Many countries have learned the hard way the importance of testing. Limited testing and delayed travel alerts for areas outside China contributed to a rise in Covid-19 cases from late February, Dr Anne Schuchat of the US CDC said. The first case of the coronavirus was reported late last year in Wuhan, China, the initial epicentre of the global pandemic, but the US have since become the hardest-hit nation.

In America and elsewhere, testing becomes a business gold rush, as The New York Times reports:

Some biotech companies are cashing in on the race to produce Covid-19 antibody tests, taking blood samples from people who have been infected and selling them on at exorbitant prices. And the people who give their blood to help with the fight against Covid-19 may not realise it is making such profits for the companies. Documents, emails and price lists obtained by the New York Times show that several companies around the world are offering to sell Covid-19 blood samples to labs and test manufacturers at elevated prices. One is Cantor Bio Connect in California, which charged $350-400,000 for just a millilitre – less than quarter of a teaspoon – of blood. Another, the Indian company Advy Chemical has charged up to $50,000. The more antibodies in the sample, the higher the price. The companies insist they are not profiteering, but doctors call the practice unethical. “I’ve never seen these prices before,” said Dr Joe Fitchett, the medical director of Mologic, a British test manufacturer that were offered high samples. “It’s money being made from people’s suffering.”

While in Britain it becomes a battle for political credibility for a beleaguered government.

With the solemnity dial turned up to 11, the health secretary tonight declared that the Government had met its “audacious target” of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by April 30th. But with around 39,000 accounting for home testing kits mailed out, rather than tests actually used – it’s fair to say that the health secretary was bending the truth.

Professor John Newton, the Government’s testing co-ordinator toes the party line, insisting the 100,000 daily testing target was met, despite home tests being counted as they are dispatched rather than when they are returned. Home testing kits are as accurate as the swabs taken in drive-in centres, he added.

Matt Hancock’s 100,000 a day testing target is a key plank in the Government’s strategy for managing Covid-19.

But it’s all a numbers game, skirting close enough to misinformation to be kissing it. Without an army of contact tracers, 100,000 daily tests will be useless.

In fact, the only way to manage this pandemic with anything resembling control is to test early, test often, test broadly and repeatedly. When we look back on our response to this crisis, our failure to test the population will be one of the big mistakes.

Meanwhile, firefighters in Corsica are aiming to teach canines how to sniff out coronavirus, as they can other conditions. It’s hoped that detection dogs could be used to identify people with the virus at public places like airports. Their trial is one of several experiments being undertaken in countries including the UK and the USA.

They will turn out to be experiments that will yield promising results.

The FDA has announced an Emergency Use Authorisation of remdesivir as a Covid-19 treatment, despite the FDA’s actions, not everyone thinks that remdesivir is really that promising.

But that in some way misses the point. There is no magic bullet – it’s a matter of layers of mitigation against the more severe symptoms of the novel coronavirus, so research teams continue to screen thousands of older drugs to see if they have the potential in the fight against Covid-19.

In Britain 450 UK Covid-19 patients will be recruited to take part in trialling a ‘promising’ Covid-19 drug. Researchers are launching a study into a Japanese-manufactured medicine that could aid with treatment. The trial will see participants split into three groups. A third will receive favipiravir – an antiviral drug produced by Fujifilm Toyoma Chemicals in Japan, another set will be given a combination of hydroxychloroquine, zinc and azithromycin, while a third group will be given existing standard care for Covid-19. Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London are participating in the trial, which also involves Imperial College and the Royal Brompton Hospital.

The other critical mitigation is keeping patients breathing. Invasive ventilation and ECMO machines that pump and oxygenate a patients’ blood outside of their bodies catch the headlines, but the heavy lifting for most hospitalised patients is done via oxygen masks and Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines, so much so that their availability becomes a continuing issue throughout the pandemic.

These quests continue, as does a looming vaccine challenge. Again the headlines are being caught by hard working biomedical teams and their ingenious immunological technology and the millions – billions – of doses that will need to be mass-produced, but Professor Prashant Yadav, an expert in supply chains, reminds us, “what about the vials it is stored in, or rubber stoppers in the vials or plungers in the syringes become the constraint?”

Like the oxygen masks and the CPAP machines (cheap enough to buy on Amazon to stop you from keeping your nearest and dearest awake all night with your snoring) the modest matters every bit as much as the high profile.

Never in human history has psychology played such an important part in our understanding of a pandemic. People suffered, both physically and mentally for sure, and writers such as Albert Camus explored the human experience, surviving a pandemic, but the relationship between the disease and our mental health, not just to sufferers and those in immediate contact with them, but the wider community is something new.

For many, lockdown has meant physical isolation combined with information overload, especially in the rapidly expanding field of social media. Events are witnessed in real time, or close to it. It comes with its benefits and drawbacks. Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp and other communications platforms have meant that staying in touch has become easier. On the other hand, misinformation is rife, and skills in what Hemingway and others referred to as ‘crap detecting’ have developed at a snail’s pace compared with the speed at which social media has evolved. Social media platforms such as Facebook find themselves in difficulties protecting the public from misinformation, not just simply from the volume of content, but by the limited amount of research into this concern on which to frame their policies.

No one has prepared in advance for lockdown. In many ways people were caught off-guard, left to their own devices with time on their hands. For many a corrosive boredom sets in:

“We’re really, really bored and struggling to entertain ourselves. At first, sitting down with drinks, chatting with friends over FaceTime added a lot, but we’re getting diminished returns on that. Or at least I’m feeling like that.”

For others, compulsive behaviours are given a chance to run loose:

“I spent over £2,000 on stuff I didn’t need amid lockdown panic. It was soon out of control and I was spending money I couldn’t afford to sacrifice.”

Where people are locked down together, some become victims of the behaviour of others in close confines, and signs already exist for a rise in gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriages. Sexual and reproductive services have been stripped back, gender-based violence hotlines have seen an increase in calls globally, and disruptions in education and preventative services means millions of women and girls are at greater risk.

Among the surprises of lockdown has been a raised consciousness of the importance of the natural world on our mental health. It was a growing awareness pre-pandemic, as the storm clouds of climate change were growing – real and figurative, but the sense that the wheels of twenty first century life had stopped turning and the stillness that followed, as anyone who has heard a factory stop can attest, changes perception and appreciation.

Among the most bitter of blows Covid-19 has brought to people’s sense of wellbeing has been its unfairness. Not simply the unfairness that comes from the virus being a product of natural laws – the machinations of selfish genes that catch conscious beings, among other life forms, in their blind bid for dominance – but also the unfairness it exposes in how humans treat each other and the cruelty in the attitudes of those moulded in the Creator’s image.

The Office for National Statistics finds that people who live in Britain’s poorest areas are twice as likely to die from the disease than in the most affluent, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that per capita deaths among the black Caribbean population in English hospitals are three times those of white British people. Both findings follow warnings from the Sutton Trust that two thirds of children have not taken part in online lessons during the lockdown and that pupils from private schools were more than twice as likely to get daily online tuition.

Women and young people are among the hardest hit by Covid-19. Young workers and low earners are facing the biggest financial consequences, while women are more likely to be key workers. A month ago the attitude that the elderly “were going to die anyway” was a factor in the scandal of care home deaths, until the shockingness that the elderly mattered to people – people with loved ones – partners, children, grandchildren.

The very nature that created the unfairness in the virus is an element in the unfairness we show towards each other is among covid’s most cruel revelations.

But humanity continues to show it can be better than that…..

In our spirit: NHS ambulance staff have created a heartwarming video to say thank you for the support they have received during the coronavirus crisis. The footage created by the Worthing Ambulance Station features smiling staff, sirens, clapping, a mountain of donated Easter eggs and a dog dressed as a paramedic.

In our ingenuity: Paul Hunter and Anthony Dunn have lived next to each other in Bowburn, south-east Durham, for the past 20 years. Frustrated that they could not spend time with each other because of social distancing, they turned their 6 foot fence panel into a horizontal table, using a hinge, so they can meet up and drink a beer together.

In our generosity: Greta Thunberg just donated her $100,000 prize to UNICEF to help the pandemic. The world famous teen climate activist said the pandemic is a children’s rights crisis, like climate change, so she donated the prize money to children.

While far and wide the stories keep coming:

Finally, medieval Britain was slow to implement quarantine too. Following the outbreak of plague in Ragusa in 1377, cities across Europe started emulating the city’s practice of quarantining plague victims. It would take England over 200 years and many outbreaks to finally draw up what were known as ‘plague orders.’

You’ll be pleased to know that by the time of the Great Plague of London in 1665, these orders were being ruthlessly enforced.

Always look on the bright side!