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, politics.co.uk, Reuters, Sky News, STAT, The Times.