Day Fifty One: Tuesday 5th May 2020

Daily Diary: Three Mysteries.

Everyone’s talking about the blue skies. It’s as if Gaia is trying to tell us something and for once , because we’ve stopped our hurrying, scurrying lives, we’ve paused long enough to listen.

Well, some of us anyway.

There seems to be a big divide between key workers and the rest of us. There are, of course, homeworkers, and we’ve all learned a lot more about networking online. But the key workers are run off their feet, as if they’re trying to make up for everyone else, who are a lot more sedentary.

Phil came round to collect the birthday surprises for his wife, Heather, who’s turning forty. They had to cancel a special weekend break in York, and as a result Phil, between hectic shifts, is preparing surprises for the big day.

The presents are put in the small lobby by the front door – the airlock, we call it – for Phil to collect, but nevertheless we open the front door and have a chat, with Phil, well ventilated in the sunny breeze and Vicky and I behind the front door. Phil’s dressed in a yellow cycling kit and certainly looks fit in it, as if he’s just won an étage in the Tour de France. He cycles to and from work, whether it’s the ambulance station some days, or the call centre at Waterloo at others. Today has been a Waterloo day. He reports that people are already drifting back to their old ways, with the roads in and out of town almost as busy as they were before lockdown. There’s no doubt that the great mass-quarantine has worked, but there’s no doubt also that among some a restlessness is appearing. Politicians on the right are going on about ‘freedom,’ a meme caught from America.

It’s a strange kind of freedom that puts at risk the freedom of others, by the confinement of disease, death – traditionally the ultimate loss of freedom – or the longer term disabilities covid has visited upon many who knocked at death’s door, then thanks to all the medics who keep the ICUs working, have recovered in part.

Perhaps it is that we humans are restless creatures, sharing in common with practically all our primate cousins the need, it seems, to fidget and disrupt. Perhaps it is that edginess that’s got us this far in evolution and without doubt it will be a major factor in what happens next.

I guess we chat across the airlock for twenty minutes or so. We update each other with what we know so far. Phil from direct personal experience, me from my daily research, and Vicky, who has watched more news than I have. We talk about the origins of the virus. It’s pretty much a given that it originated in China, but exactly how, where and when remains a mystery, Many governments have made mistakes, including our own, and China is no exception. It’s becoming increasingly clear that China’s secretiveness, whether because it’s a totalitarian state, or whether, as some suggest, it wanted to make sure it got first dibs on what was needed to contain the outbreak, or was utterly paranoid about frightening its huge population, or maybe a mix of all three, remains to be established, remains to be established, but China’s secrecy doesn’t help. Quite the opposite, as, championed by Donald Trump, it simply feeds conspiracy theories, an entire crop of which currently abound.

But along with that comes the second mystery. When exactly did it escape from China? There’s a news report that Covid-19 might have appeared in France as early as December 27th 2019, four days before the Chinese authorities reported the outbreak to the WHO. Then Vicky mentioned Kath, her stepmother, who was rushed to hospital with very Covid-19 like symptoms at the end of January. Phil mentioned that his boss had gone down with a mysterious coronavirus-like disease around the same time.

With so many silent carriers and with an asymptomatic early stage to the disease it is feasible that it travelled, especially with the absurd laxness at airports like Heathrow. A study in Germany showed that the number of infections were ten times what was originally thought, a quarter with no symptoms whatsoever. It is possible.

We say bye to Phil, who then sets off home to Eltham with another, more benign mystery in his backpack, on his final leg of the Tour de Greenwich.

And there’s another mystery. Little by little, the portee anti-tank gun on its snub-nosed CMP Chevrolet is taking shape. There are plans for the chassis, which I had to stretch and cab, but none for the portee back of the truck. My only source is a collection of World War II photos. As I dig my way through, trying to make sense of all the details I come across a photo of a convoy of three portee guns parked in a North African street – it could be Tripoli, Benghazi or even Tobruk. I look at the nearest truck. There, wearing an overcoat, woolly hat and driving goggles perched on his forehead is someone I’ve seen in other, unrelated old photos.

Someone I have seen in RL……

It’s my dad!

The Bigger Picture: The Blind Firefighters

Today is both Hand Hygiene Day and International Day of the Midwife. Both have a relevance to Covid-19 as it becomes one of the biggest killers of 2020. So far this year its global toll exceeds that of breast cancer or malaria.

It’s the dominant global event, even overshadowing, for the time being at least, the greater existential threat to humanity of climate change. Global leaders and international donors gathered today in an online planning conference led by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The initial plan was to raise at least 7.5 billion euros in order to accelerate and scale up the development of a Covid-19 vaccine and guarantee equal distribution of the treatment. The initiative, called the Coronavirus Global Response has so far collected 7.4 billion euros. Each euro, or dollar, will be channelled through global health organisations such as CEPI, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund and Unitaid.

The pandemic is a global crisis.

Global for some, that is. The British Government still remains wrapped up in its insular Brexit project. There are many calling for a two year Brexit transition extension due to the coronavirus crisis, including the Scottish Nationalist Party. The EU would accept the delay, and it would give more time for planning, with issues like the Northern Ireland Protocol and logistics at all the UK’s borders, the commonsense request falls on tin ears. Instead, talks are to commence on what we’re being told is an ‘ambitious’ post-Brexit trade deal, that will ultimately prove to be a Quixotic quest.

While Nigel Farage, xenophobe agitator, and the Prophet Isaiah of Brexit, is visited by police over ‘breaking lockdown,’ by travelling to Dover to report on migrants.

Brexit’s tunnel vision meant a failure to plan for other contingencies, driven to the margins as ‘getting Brexit done’ was the mantra designed to capture the voting public’s imagination. As a result, poor planning left the UK without enough PPE, leading to procurement problems and contradictory guidance and leaving frontline staff fearful and suspicious.

But Brexit is too easy an excuse for an underlying complacency. America too found itself on the back foot, caught out by events. As states run short of masks and other PPE, tests, ventilators and drugs, they have been largely sourcing their much-needed resources on their own. This free-for-all has prompted unnecessary stockpiling and the uneven distribution of resources based on purchasing power instead of patient need. In tandem, the federal government has been amassing its own supply.

While the public jitters about Covid-19 results in the availability of masks in French supermarkets sparking suspicions about a shortage. Had they, people wondered, been stockpiling for this event?

Back in Britain other frontline workers are feeling that all the public’s attention is being monopolised by those in health and, to a lesser extent, social care. An ad-hoc pecking order appears. Perhaps supermarket staff come next, along with bus and train drivers. So some start to feel that they are overlooked, and at a time when shortages are still an issue and the virus a genuine and frightening concern, there are those who see themselves at the bottom of the list, not least Royal Mail staff having to continue their duties without PPE for Covid-19, and I sign an online petition in support of their cause.

It’s becoming clear that to a lesser or greater extent, PPE is going to play a part in all of our lives, if only getting into the habit of wearing facemasks.

Public use of face masks is “inevitable,” Labour leader, Keir Starmer endorses that view.

One of the pandemic’s mysteries is why information was in Government ministers’ hands, along with those of other senior politicians in the West, for so long. It’s reasonable to suppose that it was possible for ministers to be “fully aware” that China had covered up the magnitude of the coronavirus outbreak, according to intelligence sources.

A senior, former M16 official said the intelligence agencies knew what was “really happening” in China and passed that on to Government ministers, while an intelligence dossier, seen by an Australian newspaper, was shared among the Five Eyes security alliance – US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – and accused China of covering up the severity of the outbreak from early December 2019.

It is understandable, even if it cannot be condoned, that a totalitarian state that has authoritarian control over its population, will try to save face and buy time when faced with a potential epidemic. They did as much in the SARS outbreak of 2002. Early in the epidemic, the Chinese government discouraged its press from reporting on SARS, delayed reporting to WHO, and initially did not provide information to Chinese outside Guangdong province, where the disease is believed to have originated. A WHO team that travelled to Beijing was not allowed to visit Guangdong province for several weeks, resulting in international criticism.

According to a new report by the Department of Homeland Security, seen by the Associated Press, on this occasion China covered up the severity of Covid-19 and delayed telling the WHO in order to input more medical supplies to respond to it.

What’s less easy to understand with hindsight is why western governments buried what they knew at the time.

It is likely that Covid-19 reached Western Europe, possibly even the US, before China told the WHO about “a cluster of pneumonia cases” in Wuhan on December 31st. For example a French hospital which had retested old samples from pneumonia patients discovered it had treated a man as early as December 27th. This date is significant, as it is nearly a month before the French government confined its first cases.

But of course it would have been possible not to have understood that the cause of the male patient’s pneumonia was a novel coronavirus, because from the hospital’s point of view it was an as yet unknown disease, even among respiratory medics.

The only reasonable conclusion is that any reports from the intelligence community, particularly the five eyes, were not treated sufficiently seriously. To all intents and purposes SARS and MERS gained such small toeholds in the West, so along with China’s underplaying of the Covid-19 outbreak, the senior politicians and their officials had downplayed the threat.

Now the cat was out of the bag it had led to bitter exchanges during a time of growing geopolitical tensions. The US ramps up its criticism of China, with US President, Donald Trump, alleging Beijing might have deliberately chosen not to stop Covid-19, while his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has claimed that there is a “significant amount of evidence” to prove that the novel coronavirus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan. The WHO, however, says it has no proof of such ‘speculative’ claims.

But the damage has been done, and it will, for now at least mean that the origin of the virus – wild animal or laboratory, benign biomedical virology or malicious agent – and patient zero will remain unknown.

In some respects you could say that twenty first humanity has failed at first base.

So now it spreads – an invisible conflagration across humankind.

Russia hits new daily Covid-19 record, as hospitals struggle to cope. Russia registered a record increase in Covid-19 cases on Sunday. But some say official data is still underestimating.

In the US, the Trump administration is privately projecting 3,000 Covid-19 – nearly double by June 1st. even as it presses states to open.

While the North West overtakes London for numbers of Covid-19 cases.

Deutsche Welle reports, a new study out of Germany has suggested that the Covid-19 infection rate could be much higher than initially thought. Some 1.8 million people could be infected nationwide, a quarter of them without symptoms. The number of Covid-19 infections in Germany could be ten times higher than currently thought, researchers from the University of Bonn have concluded in the final edition of the much-discussed Heinsberg Report, which took a closer look at the effects of Covid-19 on a small community in Germany.

What strikes me about this stage of the pandemic is its complexity, its many facets and the limited way we understand it. It challenges those notions that we really are in charge and have a handle on things. Most of the time we humans find ourselves muddling our way through, learning as we go along and figuring out how we’re going to deal with it.

We’re still installing the instruments in the control panel.

Rising in importance as an important reference, certainly in the UK and Western Europe is the R-Number, or R-value, which indicates  the rate of the spread of Covid-19, using the reproduction number. The number indicates how many people one person with the virus can infect. For instance, if the rate is equal to 1, it means that one person is infecting, on average, one other person.

And as such references are used in TV briefings and the media a previously bypassed statistical indicator becomes common parlance as it enters mass consciousness.

We’re still learning about the ecology of the virus and its relationship with ourselves as our niches overlap. That air pollution can make Covid-19 more deadly is “entirely plausible,” according to England’s CMO, or that the virus is able to live in water for a few days, potentially even a few weeks, with a reassuring caveat that just because a virus can survive in water doesn’t mean it’s present in large enough concentrations to infect us.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 hammers our capacity to manage all the other threats to human health. It has become the all-demanding cuckoo in the nest. In the US, routine cancer screenings have plummeted during the pandemic. Appointments for screening for cancers of the cervix, colon and breast were down between 86 and 94 per cent in March, compared to average values for the three years before the first US Covid-19 case was confirmed.

The picture elsewhere is no different. I receive a desperate plea for crowdfunding in my e-mail in-tray:

Covid-19 blocked seven year old Danny’s plans for life-saving cancer treatment. Please help.

Like so many others, I will come to lose a relative to cancer before the pandemic ends, left wondering whether it played a part, knowing it would be too insensitive to ask.

If not taking the threat of Covid-19 seriously early enough and if, as seems the case, China’s late declaration that it had an outbreak that could lead to an epidemic and possibly a pandemic, then it is possible that in a highly interconnected world the virus could have already escaped undetected before the end of 2019. A combination of virulence, asymptomatic transmission and the absence of a testing system as gatekeeper could have resulted in the seeds of possible future outbreaks already been sown. I now know of three anecdotal cases from people I’ve spoken to, dating back to the end of January 2020, of covid-like cases with severe breathing difficulties leading to hospitalisation and intensive care.

They could have been severe cases of seasonal flu, but the fact of the matter is we don’t know.

At first, it looked like the UK Government knew what it was doing, even though by the end of January the PM had skipped two Cobra meetings to deal with an emerging problem. When Britons arrived back home from Hubei Province in China on January 31st 2020 they were tested and quarantined.  It was a good look, even though in the background anyone entering Great Britain from anywhere else came in unchecked, and the first domestic cases, a York University student and a relative, were recorded on the same day. They had come from Wuhan.

However cases were also reported in Thailand, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Germany, US, France, Vietnam, UAE, Canada, Italy, Russia, Cambodia, Finland, India, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Spain and Sweden, and if these, as the German research suggested, were the tip of the iceberg the problem could be ten times larger than what the reported cases indicated.

Without a vaccine or effective cure all that was left was an effective systematic testing regime, so that people who had been infected could be isolated and those they had come into contact with could be traced. However, on 12th March 2020, the Government abandons mass testing and contact tracing, a practice that was achieving a level of success in other countries such as Germany and South Korea.

By the time the Government resume mass testing of those with symptoms at the end of April, the virus has been able to spread through the population for weeks unseen, and until lockdown occurs on March 23rd, unchecked and uncontrolled.

If the pandemic can be compared to a forest fire, then the firefighters have been trying to contain it blindfolded. The British public are fearful of the virus and have a lack of confidence in the Government’s ability to deal with it. People are still dying in their hundreds daily – 674 in the last 24 hours.

To regain the confidence of the anxious public, the Government set itself a target of 100,000 tests per day that would be achieved by the end of last week.  On Friday, the UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that the Government had exceeded its target with 122,000 daily tests. However, it soon became clear that more than 40,000 tests had not been processed. A test somewhere in the Royal Mail counted as a test done, and the practice of counting those swabs simply posted out, but not returned, was questioned by some.

But in the main, many media figures touted these figures without criticism. We were being gaslighted yet again by a cynical government more predisposed to controlling the narrative, regardless of the reality. The numbers game was set to create a perception that things were being done, while there are still serious shortcomings, like getting protective equipment to all frontline workers and making sure that those in care homes are safe, and that at this point, at over thirty thousand and still rising, the UK has the most deaths of any country in Europe.

Deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam added that, “there is another lab opening next week,” which suggests another 20,000 a day capacity on top. That would give the UK a capacity to conduct nearly a million tests a week. Getting that testing rate up is obviously crucial to Hancock’s ‘test, track, trace’ policy – known to some insiders as TTT. The other key planks of the strategy are the NHS smartphone app, due to go live on the Isle of Wight on Tuesday, as well as the 18,000 human contact tracers needed to roll out the scheme nationwide.

The app holds a certain appeal, that perhaps the modern ubiquitous smartphone can come to the rescue. What’s more, a number of other countries, such as Austria, Australia, Greece, Israel already have systems in place. Even Cyprus has an app called COVTRACER, which allows people who test positive with the novel coronavirus to share this information with the public health authorities. It is then possible to trace anyone who may have been in close proximity to the infection. So far, use of the app is entirely voluntary.

There are conversations within the EU, which spurs Britain to have her own app. It’s a symptom of Brexitmania that still stalks the corridors of power. Developed by NHSX, the digital wing of the national health service, it has been trumpeted as being the way the Government is using the very latest in technology, without recourse to other countries’  developments.

And it will be a centralised system, dovetailing into the country’s digital health service. There are a number of people and organisations, who have concerns about such a centralised system, including Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, who has said the Government should look at decentralised app models, where contact tracing stays on the user’s device. The organisation’s concerns are that “the Government might be planning to route private data through a central database, opening the door to pervasive state surveillance and privacy infringement, with potentially discriminating effects,” was put to the health secretary.

Mr Hancock responded, “That’s completely wrong.”

In the eponymous words of Mandy Rice Davis, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

But in testing itself progress is being made as Pharmaceutical giant Roche receives an Emergency Use Authorisation from the FDA for its new Covid-19 antibody tests and in Costa Rica automation to massively expands the country’s testing capabilities, making it lead the field in Central America and dogs are being trained by the emergency services in Corsica to try to detect people who may be infected. Firefighters in Ajaccio are using sweat samples from Covid-19 patients who have agreed to be part of the trial.

With each small development the relationship between people and the pandemic shifts subtly. It will be this, as well as the traditional responses to a plague that will ultimately end the pandemic. It will fade like a threatening spectre, in part through pure attrition. In part by being drowned out by other stories, especially with the shadow of climate change already growing stronger, like the coming winter in George R. R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones,’ eventually becoming a subplot in an epic saga.

Among those developments are drugs whose actions can be explained by science. There are two in particular, remdesivir which acts as a substitute for Adenine and creates flawed RNA in replication and actemra, which blocks the cellular receptors for a cytokine called interleukin-6. Step by step, the worst effects of Covid-19 are being mitigated, and although Google and the aerospace industry are partnering together to produce more ventilators, it’s the growth of medication rather than mechanical intervention that’s increasingly saving lives.

Gilead Sciences announced that it would be donating its entire stockpile of potential Covid-19 treatment, remdesivir to the US government.

And science-based treatments do not end there, as Melbourne-based biotech company, Mesoblast, announced earlier this week that it’s begun enrolling 300 patients for a randomised, controlled study of its stem cell therapy, remestemcel-L in the treatment of Covid-19 patients experiencing acute respiratory distress syndrome. Over 20 hospitals will participate in the study, which is expected to last 3-4 months.

While progress with vaccines continues.

The US government is getting its vaccine supplies ready in anticipation of a working cure. Two separate orders signed off on 1st May 2020, total $110 million and specified needles and syringes ‘for a Covid-19 mass vaccination campaign.’ One $27.5 million order went to Colorado-based Marathon Medical, the other $83.7 million to Texan business Retractable Technologies. The orders were placed by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The orders came as a raft of different vaccines are under development and testing. The US government has backed a handful, including a $450 million deal with Johnson & Johnson arm Janssen Pharmaceutical for its Covid-19 cure. The vaccine could be ready by early 2021.

But the pandemic is not just the greatest medical event in living memory. It is also the largest single social and economic event since the end of World War 2 seventy five years ago. 

Here are some stories about the current economic state of play:

  • In Britain, the government gets something right. Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed that UK businesses have applied for 6.3 million workers to be furloughed since the start of lockdown, making more than half (53 per cent) of all adults are now paid by the state.
  • Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte has apologised to thousands of furloughed Italian workers who are yet to receive state aid as compensation for economic paralysis. The government had promised to pay over two million workers their wages, after imposing a national lockdown on 9th March. But the payment scheme appears to have overloaded Italy’s bureaucratic mechanisms.
  • In France, workers in Lyon are unhappy. “We feel used,” they say. With few supplies and fewer customers, many businesses have been moving in slow motion for the past seven weeks. Firms have had to reduce staff to comply with social distancing measures, forcing the remaining employees to work longer and increase their exposure to the virus.
  • Millions of Chinese students brace themselves for joblessness. As it surveys an economy ravaged by disease, the leadership’s biggest worry is unemployment. In February, the jobless rate jumped to 6.2 per cent, the highest ever. In March it fell slightly to 5.9 per cent a businesses reopened. But official figures mask the scale of the problem. Urban unemployment could reach 10 per cent this year, reckons the Economist Intelligence Unit. And that does not include the millions of migrants who sat out the epidemic in their ancestral villages. Many of them have no jobs to return to in the cities.
  • Remote working is encouraging a culture of so-called E-Presenteeism, according to a new survey, leading employers to feel overworked and overwhelmed. Four in five HR managers think working from home has encouraged E-Presenteeism, meaning employees feel they should be online and present as much as possible.
  • In America, the virus threatens a meat industry that is too concentrated. Healthy animals are being killed and buried for want of slaughterhouse workers.
  • The impact of Covid-19 on the movie industry is far-reaching at the production end, with gathering large teams together in a variety of locations virtually impossible, closed cinemas and cancelled film festivals. Films once destined for the cinema are now being released on the small screen through online distributors like Netflix and Amazon.
  • Air travel poses a ‘big challenge,’ says health secretary Matt Hancock. A euphemism, if ever there was one.
  • Most of us would like a summer holiday this year. But for some countries it’s more than a wish. A dearth of holidaymakers could be ruinous. Tourism accounts for about 25 per cent of GDP in Greece, where the economy is only just beginning to recover from a devastating financial crisis. And about half of Croatia’s 20 million annual visitors arrive in July and August, with tourism there responsible for at least a fifth of its economic output.
  • In York a one way system on the city’s most famous street is hoped will save tourism after lockdown. There are calls now to make twenty other narrow medieval alleyways one way.
  • Covid economic weirding: On the US stockmarket it’s been a strange economic slump. The bear seems to have been an unusually short-lived member of its species. Although economic data have continued to deteriorate, share prices have staged a remarkable recovery. April was Standard and Poor 500’s best month since January 1987. Having bottomed at 2,237 on March 23rd, it rallied by 27 per cent by May 1st. Technically, that has put shares back into the bull market, even though they have yet to regain their pre-pandemic losses.
  • The most notable winner is new billionaire Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, which was the first company to begin human trials of a Covid-19 vaccine on March 16th in Seattle. When the WHO declared a pandemic, Bancel’s net worth was some $720 million. Since then, Moderna’s stock has rallied more than 103 per cent, lifting his fortune to an estimated $1.5 billion.
  • While today’s American loser is clothing retailer J. Crew, filing for bankruptcy due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, assurances are made that stores will reopen after lockdown.

“After Lockdown” is beginning to sound more and more like “When This Bloody War is Over,” and I’m surprised there isn’t a fine Methodist tune and two or three verses to go along with it.

“When this lousy lockdown’s over,

No more hideaway for me.

No more worry about covid.

Oh how happy I will be……”

Or something like that!

Tentatively – with baby-steps – it’s beginning to happen. Healthy over-70s are set to be released from strict Covid-19 measures. Health secretary Matt Hancock says he’s “absolutely open” about Premier League football returning next month, while a group of 36 Tory MPs urge bishops to allow funerals in churches.

England’s CMO suggests that the UK may have passed two of the five tests to exit lockdown. He said the risk of a second wave was under close review and new cases need to fall further before the UK enters the second phase.

Not everyone in the UK is at ease with lockdown easing plans “that could put workers at risk,” as the Government prepares to reveal its plans to reopen the economy. News leaks suggest workers facing staggered start times, more homeworking and ‘health passports.’

PM Johnson said today, still cautious from his own experience said, “The worst thing we could do now is ease up too soon.”

It’s a caution that will fade over the coming months.

Further afield:

The booziest part of Australia is planning to reopen pubs this month. Businesses have been asked to prepare Covid-19 safety plans beginning today, ahead of several types of venues reopening in the Northern Territory on May 15th, including the pubs, restaurants and cafés.

America increasingly shows a divided attitude to lockdown and its lifting. Why the difference? Some of it is only natural. Conservatives tend to be less densely populated and conservatives are often uncomfortable with government directives. But the growing partisan divide also reflects a fundamentally different view of the virus between the leaders of the two parties. Republicans are focused on the economic damage of a prolonged shutdown. Many Democrats, on the other hand, continue to see the virus as a dire threat. They believe that opening up now – without the availability of tests that President Trump has long been promising – will needlessly cost lives. The bottom line is that the country is about to enter a new phase of the virus, with a near-national lockdown giving way to more regional variation.

While the South African consensus is that it seems risky to be lifting lockdown on the numbers they have.

In the meantime it’s lockdown that determines everyday reality:

  • Consumer and disability rights groups have called on the government urgently improve the coordination of food deliveries for vulnerable people, warning that thousands are not getting the help they need during the pandemic.
  • Covid Care in London looks like any other budget hotel, with a bland corporate frontage and rows of small square windows. But its 80 rooms have been transformed by an NHS homeless outreach team and Médecins Sans Frontières, who provide ten nurses, into the UK’s only treatment centre for rough sleepers with coronavirus. So far nearly 40 homeless people have been treated, with more expected in the coming weeks as the facility starts to take homeless patients with Covid-19 directly from A&E departments in London. There are an estimated 11,000 rough sleepers in England. More than 5,400 rough sleepers known to councils have been offered accommodation since March but there are still more than 35,000 homeless people living in hostels across the UK. Forthcoming UCL modelling indicates that more than one-third of the hostel and street homeless population could get Covid-19 without intensive infection controls. This could lead to 4,000 hospital admissions and 364 deaths by August.
  • As part of a worldwide concern about the safety of travelling, Hong Kong International Airport is conducting a trial of procedures and facilities to eliminate viruses and bacteria on individuals and airport surfaces.

Although children are far less likely to suffer from the extreme effects of Covid-19 (a 70 year-old is over 3,000 times the risk of dying from the virus as a 12 year old), they are particularly vulnerable in other ways, the loss of schooling, the damage to mental health, and now an increase in online grooming, as parents in the UK are urged by the police to be vigilant as nearly 100 children are targeted.

Even more vulnerable – perhaps the most vulnerable – are unaccompanied refugee children, and across the whole of Europe their plight becomes even worse during the pandemic. Already there has been a constant risk of abuse as they get drawn into undocumented labour and even sexual services, and the fragility of the whole unauthorised migration ecosystem as a result of Covid-19 has simply served to make matters worse.

Yet on the bright side, there are many examples of children helping others in lockdown. From charity to cheer, the national outpouring of altruistic acts from youngsters has been heartening. Kids have been sewing face masks, 3D printing face visors for the NHS, setting up crowdfunding for PPE, raising spirits through streaming exercise videos and so much more.

There is hope.

Forbes magazine tells the story of Dr Afok-Manin:

“Decades ago, Dr Afok-Manin watched her mom, a single mother and immigrant from Ghana, transform their Los Angeles home into a makeshift care and learning centre. Her mother has since passed away from cervical cancer – one of the reasons why Afok-Manin wanted to be a doctor in the first place. But her mother’s spirit lives on in her daughter, who’s playing her own part to give back to the community during the pandemic by creating myCovidMD, a free testing and telehealth services platform. That platform prioritises residents in underserved communities who are affected by the pandemic. A much-needed service, considering Covid-19 has been disproportionately affecting black and brown communities across the US, in part because of lack of healthcare services.”

While I could not resist the headline in my “The i” newsfeed.

“Until Covid-19 lockdown I never knew my sister was a doomsday prepper.”

I was expecting bunkers and Armageddon. Instead I read an article about the practicalities of being prepared.

It reminds me, as I work my way through each day’s newsfeeds to dig a little deeper than headlines.

I think, in this era of three word slogans, it’s good advice for us all.


Associated Press,, City AM, Deutsche Welle, Economist, Euronews, Evening Standard, Forbes, France24, Guardian, Huffington Post, newscabal, New York Times, STAT, Sun, Telegraph, The i, Unlock Democracy, Wikipedia

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