Daily Diary: We’ll Fly Again, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When.
In a horticultural disaster, the local grey squirrel semi-affectionately known as Sid Snot digs up the two avocado stones, leaving them to roll about the patio slabs rather than grow in the good earth. We have a love-hate relationship with this pesky beastie. We love him because we’re all supposed to love God’s creatures, with the particular instruction from above that if they are furry, all the more so. And he is a pretty handsome, dapper fellow. We hate him because he’s a destructive arsewipe of a mammal who undoes all botanical aspirations we’ve put love and time into, in acts that appear to be nothing more than wanton vandalism.
But enough of furry Sid! Last night’s Zoom meeting actually worked, and I felt much more comfortable. Where I felt a little self-conscious was made up for by others much more in the know, and although I didn’t go into the meeting with no agenda other than to figure out how a group of seven people would work together online we did come up with ideas for a club meeting. Gary was going on about the VE Day celebration this Friday, showing how adept he was with Zoom by having Vera Lynn in the background was met by Martin – a German – reminding us about Brits and The War.
“You did well,” I reassured him, resurrecting an old Monty Python joke. “You were runners up, after all.”
Personally, I think it’s about time we buried it in the depths of history, but hey, banter is banter. I told Gary it was all getting a bit Dad’s Army – which was set on the south coast of England, which also happens to be where much of our paragliding takes place.
But it worked, and we’re going for a meeting on Friday the 15th. This time, I’m sure, people will be less forgiving and I’ll have to be much more structured.
The most prominent question is when will we open our flying sites again? I’ll have that in the meeting. The British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA) left it very much to individual clubs to close sites, but I fear that there will be an uncontrollable chain reaction once sites start opening again. I think we’ll have to wait until other outdoor activities become allowed. Matt Pepper has flown in Austria. They’ve taken the step of putting the decision to local jurisdictions, and Austria – or at least the part that Matt’s in – has been open to paragliding for a couple of days. France, Steve U posts, is about to lift flying restrictions. I think when that happens the pressure will be on here in the UK. Andy McNichol said that there had been instances of people taking crafty flights, but it’s not with approval from clubs or even the police. But it’s something as current chairman I have to be conscious of. Hospital admissions for Covid-19 are still too high, in my opinion. I think when the daily number of deaths is a matter of tens rather than hundreds it will become safer. I’ve got to think, “What if…..?”, even if others don’t. But there will equally be – and it is beginning to happen – a pressure for some sort of normality to occur, and in our leisure lives that means how we fill our time. In a sport where there are clear risks it’s something that needs thinking through.
Judith rang today. She’s my younger sister by three years. It was partly in response to sending out the picture of our dad looking pretty cool, posing on the back of a Chevrolet truck carrying a portee anti-tank gun. We have a great long chat. Mike, her husband, has had major surgery to deal with cancer of the throat. He’s now unable to swallow and has got to be safeguarded from the virus. An infection could be deadly. But he’s keeping well and the lovely weather in their beautiful enclosed garden has kept up his spirits, but it much be hard for both of them. Their son, my nephew, Jonathan is a cardiac technician, so he’s been in the thick of it up at Jimmy’s (St James’ Hospital) in Leeds. There are worries if your ‘child’ is frontline. Jonathan lives in the attached granny-flat annex they built for Mikes mum, a lovely lady, now sadly passed. So they’re nextdoor neighbours but have to keep well apart. Three of Jonathan’s colleagues have recently tested positive, so Judith is understandably fearful for him. She describes a mixture of pride and anxiety, and I think of the countless mums and dads across the country who must be sharing very similar, deeply conflicted emotions.
The virus, in turn, separates him from his partner, Georgia, and the conversation about whether she should come around “for just a night” between son and mother has taken place on a few occasions, with Judith strongly discouraging him. All it takes is a chink in our behaviour, a moment’s weakness, for Covid-19 to wreak its chaos. If a government scientific adviser on SAGE, Niall Ferguson, allegedly the architect of lockdown, can fall foul for an evening with someone he loves, then anyone can.
Georgia, in turn, is housebound because her son, Enan, told his school he was feeling unwell. The moment he got home it was a miracle! Enan mysteriously made a lightning recovery! But his mum was committed to stay at home to care for him when she could have been at work.
“Oh what tangled webs we’ve seen,
When people have to quarantine.”
Judith and I come up with the idea of a family Zoom, Can it be done?
I’ll ask my big sis Corrie.
It could be a whole lot of fun!
The Bigger Picture: Doing It Right, Doing It Wrong!
If I’ve learned anything from this pandemic it’s not to be overly optimistic about those powerful people running nations getting it right. That somehow better natures easily prevail when the fate of billions of people hangs in the balance. It’s something I find hard to come to terms with. I’m left feeling that even if we were invaded by aliens, some world leaders would take the aliens’ side, however ghastly they looked and acted, just to get one over on their neighbours.
And in a sense something very similar to that has happened with Covid-19. So we have the WHO saying the US hasn’t given it evidence to support its ‘speculative’ claim that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory.
The pandemic was an opportunity for global collaboration.
Giving peace a chance.
And nobody took it.
On March 23rd, the same day that lockdown began in the UK, and it was becoming increasingly clear that Covid-19 was securing a grip on the whole world, Antόnio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, issued a call for a global ceasefire.
“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he declared.
It was a call echoed by Pope Francis and others to secure a respite for those countries and regions so weakened by violence and conflict that they would be especially vulnerable to the pandemic.
In response, by early April, fighters in 12 countries, including Colombia, the Philippines and Colombia had answered Mr Guterres’s call and downed weapons, at least temporarily, and for the moment hope prevailed. Could the coronavirus cloud have a silver lining?
All it needed was a swift and decisive resolution was needed to back the secretary-general’s words. instead there has been silence.
And a window of opportunity closed.
The reason could have come straight from the pen of Jonathan Swift. In drafting a ceasefire resolution, a process marshalled by France, wording was agreed relatively quickly on some robust clauses demanding a full 90-day pause in hostilities in conflict-ridden countries.
But the Trump administration, accusing the WHO of mishandling the crisis, and in particular of colluding with the government in Beijing to cover up China’s role in spreading the virus in the first place, do not want the WHO even mentioned in the preamble to the resolution. The Chinese insist that the organisation must be named.
So like Doctor Seuss’s North and South-going Zaxes, the world’s two greatest superpowers faced each other off.
“Never budge! That’s my rule.
Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west!
Not an inch to the east!
I’ll stay here, not budging!
I can and I will
If it makes you and me
and the whole world stand still!”
But the world doesn’t stand still, and in the vacuum conflicts resumed as the world’s most powerful bickered.
Many of the conflict-ridden countries that could benefit most have some of the weakest health-care systems in the world and so are the least prepared to combat the coronavirus.
For now, tragically, an opportunity has been squandered.
So it goes.
The deficit of humanity from those in power doesn’t just exist in conflicts, or between squabbling nation states. It also pervades the fabric within those states themselves, as CNN reports:
“Advocates for independent news media used Sunday’s World Press Freedom Day to call attention to what’s called “coronavirus crackdown.” Journalists in numerous countries have been harassed, threatened and arrested while trying to cover the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International, which track down such incidents. “From the earliest days of the pandemic – when Chinese authorities censored media reports and punished whistleblowers, journalists around the world have been risking their lives, freedom and jobs to share potentially lifesaving information with the public.” Amnesty’s director of law and policy, Ashfaq Khalifa said. Another advocacy group, the International Press Institute said it had registered “162 press freedom violations related to Covid-19 coverage over the past two and a half months.”
Antόnio Guterres also added that the world’s one billion people living with disabilities are among the hardest hit by the pandemic and called for them to have equal access to the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.
It’s a wish, a hope, a fine principle, and there would be few who would disagree. But with a UN based on good will and a desire for altruism, no doubt many will simply be denied such a fundamental right.
In the context of the UN, with all the power of my local ramblers association, the question persists: How can we prevent a pandemic like Covid-19 from happening again?
For sure, vaccination programmes, strong health systems and international collaboration are crucial to reducing the rise of epidemics. But also is the immediate and effective action by our leaders and policymakers.
Timo Ehrig and Nicolai J. Foss write in Quillette:
Former World Bank president Jim Yong Kim argued that “no one in the field of infectious diseases or public health can say they are surprised about a pandemic.” And yet, the Covid-19 outbreak did take most policymakers very much by surprise. From their perspective, the situation was one still characterised by the kind of radical uncertainty highlighted by economists such as Frank Knight and George Shackle: Policymakers were simply unable to assess the possible consequences of action and inaction, and this has made cost-benefit analyses of alternative (probabilistically assessed) outcomes impossible. One thing was, however, clear: The consequences of a runaway pandemic could be disastrous. In such a situation, the precautionary principle tends to apply. As a prominent member of the Danish parliament told us in mid-March, “This is a natural disaster in slow motion. We basically know nothing. The only rational thing is to shut down entirely.”
For those like Bill and Melinda Gates, who have been warning about the imminence of a global pandemic (there was even a Netflix documentary series on that very topic released by these guys in the autumn of 2019) it was increasingly like the boy who cried wolf.
And pandemics had been wargamed by the British and American governments, but the lessons were shelved and forgotten about.
“They were about flu,” we were told.
That’s a bit like saying it was a different species of tree leaf on the tracks, or the wrong kind of snow that’s paralysed the railways.
The heuristics of dealing with an emerging known unknown situations with the capacity to cause great suffering and harm are not that hard to figure, but they have to be in place in advance of the event.
- Observe the advancing threat: Covid-19 had appeared in China at the end of 2019. By February 2020 it had broken out in northern Italy. It was self-evident that in countries like Britain and the US with transport hubs and open borders, it was simply a matter of time, and the amount of time was going to be short.
- Take drastic short term measures: Such as closing borders and locking down. From the get-go this should be anticipatory, precautionary and limited to a short period, say two weeks and must go hand in hand with a fully committed effort to adjust policy responses as more and better data become available, and countries move from situations of radical uncertainty to situations of informed risk.
- Ask the right questions in the right way: Communicate a preliminary set of questions that need to be answered. Be cautious not to create common emotions of panic with inflammatory or alarmist comparisons, and in the UK, with its sensationalist tabloid press, have a communications strategy to avoid a predictable torrent of hyperbole. If news is an information diet, then there are elements of the press prone to gross overindulgence.
- Manage the transition from an emergency mode of policymaking to committed contingency planning: In particular, the emergency mode should be discontinued once remaining uncertainties are comparable to other sources of uncertainty. Of course, Covid-19 could mutate and/or create unknown harmful effects. But similar uncertainties apply, for instance, to new technologies, especially in this case in the biomedical field.
- Build a holistic picture of the wider situation: Balance the long-term measures designed to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 with the need to address other related sources of hardship and suffering that these measures may unintentionally exacerbate, for example deaths as consequences of loneliness, untreated other illnesses, unemployment and so on.
New Zealand got it right and pretty much followed this playbook.
The UK didn’t.
Its covid death toll above 32,000 is now the highest in Europe and it’s shameful that one of the wealthiest countries in the world has been brought to its knees by an incompetent response to a national crisis. An under-resourced NHS managed to pull off a miracle of treatment while the common sense of British citizens prevailed. They not only abided by lockdown rules but initiated themselves voluntarily while their government prevaricated.
Along with this shocking statistic, the pandemic has exposed the level of health inequality in the UK, with double the rate of deaths in poor areas compared to wealthy ones.
In terms of the first four steps, such was the concern about the outbreak in Lombardy that on 31st January 2020, the Italian Council of Ministers appointed Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection, as Special Commissioner for the COVID-19 emergency. PM Boris Johnson has already skipped two Cobra meetings, and will skip three more before he attends his first on 2nd March. And drastic short term measures were not put in place until the start of lockdown three weeks later on March 23rd.
By that time at least 20,000 people infected with Covid-19 had arrived in UK before lockdown, amid a lack of restrictions. Today, James Brokenshire, minister for security. has just defended the decision not to close UK borders in a bid to stop the virus spreading across the country, saying that the move would be kept “under review,” He was probed on the decision after the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said most of the Covid-19 strains being spread across the UK in March came from people returning from France and Italy.
Boris Johnson started engaging with the crisis of a country under threat from a deadly virus at the start of March. It was unclear whether the government had asked any questions at all, and for all the noise, bluster and boosterism from Johnson none had been communicated to the wider public.
And as for asking the right questions in the right way, Johnson reassured the British public on prime time TV by telling them he had met a number of Covid-19 patients and had shaken hands with every one of them.
As for the next step, contingency planning depended on test, track and trace within the community, that the government abandoned on March 12th, Minister for security, James Brokenshire, speaking for the Government, said there was a “shift in expert advice,” without qualifying what exactly that meant. And asked about the falling numbers in tests undertaken, with the Government failing to hit its 100,000 daily target for the third day in a row on Monday, he said that capacity is there but demand will vary.
It was if the Government had stumbled at every hurdle.
This was more than incompetence borne by ignorance. It was incompetence arising from an agenda. The same agenda that brought the Johnson government into power with an eighty seat majority – the unstoppable juggernaut of Brexit, with a momentum all of its own.
From the start, the UK government’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been clouded by the ideology of Brexit and isolationism. They’ve refused to take part in the EU ventilator scheme, and they’ve ignored international advice on testing and lockdown. At the moment, Boris Johnson’s plan is not to extend the Brexit transition period beyond 31st December this year. This would be a disaster – walking away from Europe, with barely any time to negotiate a deal, just when we need to be working together. It would also mean losing access to vital European medical schemes.
But Brexit was hard-wired into thinking at the heart of government, with Michael Gove telling a Lords committee that the UK is prepared to accept potentially huge extra costs for businesses exporting to the EU as a price worth paying for taking full control of laws from Brussels.
There are reports of talk within Tory circles is that any cost from Brexit will be irrelevant compared to the upheaval caused by coronavirus. No one will notice which bit of the hardship was caused by leaving the single market, and Johnson will be tempted at least to smuggle the economic pain of Brexit inside the bigger pain of Covid-19.
Dealing with a scourge as rapid and ruthless as Covid-19 needed one hundred per cent focus on the problem, where every day was critical. But Johnson’s notoriety throughout his entire career in both journalism and politics for late deadlines and last-minute responses aside, there simply wasn’t the motivation to give the problem that level of focus as it could well be a cloud with a silver lining.
A man’s character is his destiny, claimed the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclites.
It is nigh-on certain that Boris Johnson, with his Classics degree from Oxford, and a well-documented sense of his own place in history, knows the saying well, but can’t stop himself from indulging his weaknesses.
About such ironies were Greek tragedies written.
Boris Johnson knows that too.
If an adherence to the Brexit agenda proved to be the Achilles’ heel in the British Covid-19 response then the extremes of political partisanship, widened considerably under the Trump administration is proving to be America’s. Dealing with the pandemic has demanded big government, an anathema to Republicans. Despite the rising tide of Covid-19 there are still fourteen states, including Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, who have not expanded Medicaid, leaving the less well-off having to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table.
Senate lawmakers are returning to Washington to begin work on the next round of stimulus legislation and the issue of corporate liability is suddenly front and centre, as businesses weigh the risks of opening, including Covid-19 lawsuits from customers and employees, against the cost of remaining closed. Nancy Pelosi pushes pandemic aid package as Republicans exercise caution.
Former New Jersey governor, Republican Chris Christie, is the latest politician who says Americans should go back to work, despite high Covid-19 deaths, contrasting with a poll finding that Americans are deeply wary of reopening.
Trump takes sides with the Republicans and the White House is already talking about ending its Covid-19 Task Force, set up on January 29th to monitor, prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread” of the virus. That talk caused alarm to the director of BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, as a result of which he filed a whistleblower complaint, alleging that the Trump administration ignored his early warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic and objecting to treatments advocated by administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services prioritised contracts based on political favouritism, nepotism and cronyism.
For the thin-skinned president, who recently complained that he was being treated worse than Lincoln, the criticism was too much and Bright was removed from his post and effectively demoted to a more junior position in the National Institute of Health.
Trump personifies the polarisation in American society, and the voices on both sides are becoming ever more harsh and shrill as Covid-19 spreads from sea to shining sea and God Bless America becomes Devil Take Her.
During the 1984 election campaign for his second term in office, Ronald Reagan declared it was “Morning in America,” with a political ad depicting Americans across the country heading to work as the sun rose over the picket-fenced suburbs and farms – a positive, prosperous nation under President Reagan’s wise governance. By contrast, yesterday, the Lincoln Project, a political action group supported by Republicans who are critical of Mr Trump, released a new ad, “Morning in America,” that depicts a broken country with shuttered factories, abandoned homes and tens of thousands of deaths from the Covid-19 outbreak. A sombre narrative ticks off the economic and public health devastation of the coronavirus – “a deadly virus Trump ignored.”
The virus doesn’t only aggravate divisions – it also creates new ones, as its pervasive presence invades everyday lives.
In Alabama, a woman called the police on a group teenagers, doing what teens do – messing about outside a bowling alley. In Utah, officials closed tattoo parlours and salons after fielding more than 500 complaints. And in Wisconsin, a doctor was suspended from work after attending a packed rally without a mask. Call it virus-snitching: a growing number of frustrated Americans are calling the authorities on people they believe are flouting social distancing guidelines.
Back in Britain one of the key areas Brexit distractions that had an impact was test and trace, where the optics were playing a much larger part than problem-solving. If you’re having difficulties solving a problem, putting energy into keeping up appearances that you really are making progress and burying the reality as best you can becomes more important than the consequences of being open about it. And if the problem is that once you have neglected to address the problem of an invading pandemic at the outset, then catching it once it had become to all intents and purposes endemic in the population is impossible.
The UK Government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says that the UK failed to ramp up Covid-19 testing quickly enough and extra testing at the start of the outbreak would have been beneficial. Referring to a more successful testing regime in Singapore, the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer calls for 50,000 Covid-19 tracers, and much as though the high tech appeal of the NHS app might be, it will not be able to do the heavy lifting for tracking the spread of the virus.
In the absence of a catch-all treatment – all treatments so far have alleviated symptoms of severe Covid-19, rather than stopping the virus from getting a hold – or a vaccine, and with the frustrations and economic consequences of lockdowns, reaching out for test and trace is like clutching at straws, and the straws in Britain are elusive and evasive.
Each new test coming on to the market raises hope.
And when scientists announce that a new CRISPR test for Covid-19 could be a simple and cheap at-home diagnostic, it reassures us all a little during these times of darkness, even if we don’t understand what CRISPR means.
However, many antibody tests, used to determine whether people have been exposed to Covid-19, have yielded unreliable results. In America, in response, the FDA said on Monday it was giving companies that sell the tests 10 days to prove their products work or pull them off the market.
Abbott Labs has been among the most reliable of test manufacturers and announced its success in shipping Covid-19 tests around the US.
They’ve shipped 1.4 million tests.
The US population is around 330 million.
It gives some idea of the scale of the challenge.
The race for a Covid-19 has definitely begun. Today there are two announcements.
Scientists at Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Italy, in collaboration with the biotech firms Takis and Rottapharm, have claimed they have a vaccine candidate that can neutralise coronavirus within human cells.
Meanwhile the US pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, along with German company BioNTech, has launched its first US human trial of multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates.
Pfizer will catch the imagination and the market in the months ahead. People won’t be talking about Takis, but it will be there, with a number of other Biotech firms, developing vaccines on a slow burn.
But catching the imagination are human challenge trials, and hundreds of young, healthy volunteers from a number of countries have come forward. These are people who are prepared to be infected with the virus alongside being vaccinated. Human challenge trials speed up the development of a vaccine, but the ethics behind having ‘human guinea pigs’ are challenging.
Most of us are passengers, carried by the tide of a disease spreading through the population, withdrawing and self-isolating to stay out of harm’s way. But there are some who want to play their part in conquering the disease, and without being medics or scientists this is something they can do. It’s an opportunity for service, purpose and even self-sacrifice. Perhaps, as many sociological studies have indicated, there is something about being human that seeks and highly values having purpose and meaning in life, rising above financial and other material rewards, besides costs and expenses.
That hundreds of volunteers have come forward is one of the quieter revelations of the pandemic, and it’s one of hope.
A less quiet revelation is about black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, acronym BAME and effectively describing the non-white element of the population.
The statistics are both inescapable and alarming. Taking excess deaths as an indicator they are:
- 1.5 times higher than expected for the Indian population,
- 2.8 times higher for the Pakistani population,
- 3 times higher in Bangladeshis.
- 4.3 times higher for the Black African population,
- 2.5 times for the Black Caribbean population,
- 7.3 times higher for Black Other Background individuals.
- 1.6 times higher for the Mixed Any Other Background population.
Covid-19 has exposed a level of inequality in Britain so stark as to create this gross disparity in mortality. There are five main reasons why BAME communities are disproportionately affected:
The first is that BAME communities are disproportionately urban, Specifically, they tend to live in Britain’s larger cities, such as London, Birmingham and Manchester – often within populous urban wards. Contagion rates are high in these areas, in part because it’s easier for a contagion to spread in a big city than in the country’s more sparsely populated and predominantly white countryside.
Second: BAME groups in the UK tend to have more aggravating health conditions, known as comorbidities, e.g. type 2 diabetes and hypertension/circulatory problems.
Third: Immigrant populations are more likely to contain more than two generations under one roof.
Fourth: Getting public health information to citizens is much more challenging in the case of first generation BAME who have limited English abilities.
Fifth: BAME workers make up a disproportionate share of NHS medical staff. A fifth of nurses and midwives are from BAME backgrounds. The same is true when it comes to social care, transport and many other jobs which involve being in close proximity with the wider public.
Some recognition comes with the first rehabilitation hospital for Covid-19 patients, in Surrey, being named after Mary Seacole, as a result of the petition plus media interest and the alarming rate of Covid-19 among BAME staff for working for the NHS.
And as if to confirm that social disadvantage is a major factor in Covid-19 outcomes, traveller communities are also buckling from the pandemic’s impact.
An end to social disadvantage now appears further away than ever, as the pandemic eats away at countries’ economic well-being. The problem’s worldwide, with global remittances are projected to decline sharply by about 20 per cent in 2020 due to the economic crisis induced by the Covid-19 pandemic and shutdown. The projected fall, which would be the sharpest decline in recent history, is largely due to a fall in wages and employment of migrant workers, who tend to be more vulnerable to loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in a host country. Remittances to low and middle income countries (LMICs) are projected to fall by 19.7 per cent to $445 billion, representing a loss of a crucial financing lifeline for many vulnerable households.
The increased personal difficulties are exacerbated by charities losing millions because of Covid-19. International development organisations like Oxfam are in desperate need of help as their work tackling poverty around the world has come under threat. In Britain there is some emergency funding released by chancellor Rishi Sunak, but a number of MPs warn that it goes nowhere near helping charities on the brink of collapse. Charities that support domestic abuse and slavery victims in lockdown receive £76 million. The housing minister said the funds will go to charities that are supporting vulnerable people ‘trapped in a nightmare’ during the pandemic.
Rishi Sunak is no exception to financial intervention. It runs against his monetarist instincts – having launched a furlough scheme he plans to wind it down in July – but the reality is that politicians across America and Europe are scrambling to help firms, some more successfully than others. In America, the US Treasury will borrow a record $3 trillion this quarter, as stimulus spending soars.
Whole industries are on their knees. Virgin Atlantic announced plans to cut 3,150 jobs and its operation of Gatwick, while Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary slams Lufthansa and Air France as “state aid junkies,” angry about the uncompetitive practices when it comes to Germany and France’s national carriers.
It’s been a bad year for cruise ships, the hotspots of several Covid-19 outbreaks as well. Norwegian Cruise Line stock recently dropped 20 per cent.
Covid-19 is also having a devastating effect on the film business as box offices worldwide face losing billions and stoppages have left thousands in mostly a freelance industry without work. Big budget films, like the latest Bond movie, or Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan, have been pushed back, throwing the release schedule, a fundamental tool that serves the film industry, into total disarray. Many films intended for the big screen end up being streamed for smaller screens by Netflix and Amazon Prime.
In American supermarkets the consequences of outbreaks in meat processing plants results in meat rationing. Costco, for example, has limited sales of fresh meat in response to potential meat shortages stemming from virus outbreaks among slaughterhouse workers. Each customer can buy only three fresh beef, pork or poultry products. Kroger, the country’s biggest supermarket chain, has also limited meat purchases in some states.
But there are green shoots. International coffee chain, Starbucks, announced on Tuesday that 85 per cent of its US stores will be open by the end of the week, with ‘responsible’ tactics that focus on take-out.
And Britain’s billion dollar Babylon Health app set to launch for millions of New Yorkers.
On the British political front, the Government seriously considers a ‘traffic light’ approach to managing the Covid-19 risk as the way to ease lockdown, while SAGE – The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – has published details of the documents it uses to produce its advice. Professor Niall Ferguson has to quit after a lockdown break linked to an extramarital affair, Boris Johnson struggles his through a Commons select committee grilling and Nadine Dorries, the first MP to fall ill with Covid-19, is promoted to minister of state in the department of health.
On the wider world stage, Covid-19 puts an end to the ‘golden decade’ of relations with Beijing that PM David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne hoped for only a few years ago. For a while the Conservative government, in power since 2010, didn’t find it too difficult to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and China, but the deaths of more than 20,000 British citizens and the crippling damage inflicted on our economy make it harder to overlook China’s behaviour now.
Covid-19 has been like a flash of lightning at night. The Chinese government’s mishandling of the outbreak has unveiled its authoritarian nature, just as the subsequent ‘wolf-warrior’ offensive by Chinese diplomats has uncovered its malicious character. That dream that China would become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the global economy and the broader international order has evaporated. Maybe it was delusional, but the world seems like a more insecure place.
The international trade secretary, Liz Truss, will open up much-hyped trade talks with the US today via video link. She’s expressed her hope that a new deal would help the economy bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis, but the Government’s objectives for the deal point to the modest economic gain of 0.16 per cent of GDP over 15 years. Small returns compared to the severing of many trade ties with the EU.
In all, the country and indeed the world feel less hopeful.
- EU leaders host a summit on Wednesday with their six Balkan counterparts whose praise for Chinese and Russian support during the coronavirus crisis has ruffled feathers in the bloc. The EU says it has not been given enough credit for the 3.3 billion euros (£2.9 billion) it is providing, which officials said outweigh medical supplies. Beijing and Moscow sent to Serbia sent to Serbia and Bosnia in the early phase of the pandemic.
- In Italy hairdressers get angry as they remain under lockdown.
- In Portugal 600 union activists gather for May Day in Lisbon. Hundreds rallied for workers’ rights while respecting social distancing limits applied to them.
- While in Mexico, as cases of coronavirus grow, cases of Corona beer suffer too. Mexico’s beloved brand shares its name now with a pandemic, and it’s hurting business.
- Newly-confines cases of Covid-19 appear to be accelerating in Russia. Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, thinks health authorities are underestimating the overall number of those hit by the disease. Medical equipment is severely lacking in hospitals, especially those outside big cities. Some facilities have fewer than five respirators.
- France’s political leaders have praised the work of caregivers – saying without them many more lives would have been lost. Some health services say the recognition comes after weeks of battling shortages of PPE and uncertain working conditions.
- And a painfully poignant story from Spain, as the virus recently killed the couple Alfonso Ariza and Cesarea Andres almost simultaneously, after 56 years of living together. They were among the thousands who have died of the disease in retirement homes across Europe. Their daughter, Almadena and her sisters say they had spent days trying to get news of their ailing parents. Finally, they got a communication from the nursing home that both would be sedated. The couple died alone, without their family by their sides.
I don’t know how many tragic tales like that of Alfonso Ariza and Cesarea Andres, but we know that the only other attendant human beings will be healthcare workers. In our collective psyche they personify the pandemic. The military expression “on the frontline” has taken a grip, although they are saving lives, not taking them, but the parallel of being so much in harm’s way holds strong. It captures our imagination, our hearts, and when we wish to contribute to dealing with the pandemic, it’s healthcare workers that first come to mind.
So Nike is donating Nike is donating more than 32,000 pairs of shoes to healthcare workers, specifically designed for long shifts that are hard on the feet.
And Queen and Adam Lambert do ‘their bit’ for healthcare workers by singing, “You are the Champions,” teaming up to release a new version of the 1970s hit to honour those on the frontline. Proceeds will go to the Covid-19 Solidarity Fund.
For most of us, our reality shift is more banal. Cooking at home has for some become meditative and stress-relieving, with mundane activities such as folding eggs and sifting flour can bringing light relief. There’s even advice about how to still enjoy cooking and eating when the virus has robbed you of your sense of smell and taste, forgetting of course that a drastic loss of appetite is also a symptom!
But time on hand has led to many reconsidering their diet. The popularity of alternative meat has skyrocketed, with sales about doubling for top brands since lockdown began. A desire for sustainable and healthy food has been compounded by meat facility closures and supply chain disruption. Those who have shifted their grocery habits from visiting supermarkets to at-home deliveries are finding themselves thinking and planning more, finding the benefit of not experiencing those impulsive moments of weakness as the trolley tours the aisles.
Our behaviour is changing,
This is the psychopandemic running alongside the medical one.
It’s for real and we’re still trying to make sense of it.
Some of it is surprising: Many politicians, especially libertarians such as Johnson and Trump had convinced themselves and tried to convince others that there would be widespread resistance to lockdowns, but it turns out that even in those countries subscribing to individualism that the vast majority of people are happy to stick to social distancing. One behavioural scientist suggests that it’s because people are ‘freezing’ in response to Covid-19. Whatever the truth in that conclusion happens to be, the fact is that the pandemic is up-ending our understanding of behavioural psychology, especially in relation to public health.
Some of it is revealing: Of the challenges healthcare workers are facing, as crisis counsellors find themselves as the “paramedics of mental health,” waging a wrenching battle on the Covid-19 front lines.
Some of it is alarming: As American behavioural scientists research why people bring guns to Covid-19 protests they find that it hinges on one thing – fear.
Finally I receive an e-mail from the Toyota garage in Kent, where I take my car for servicing:
We hope you are keeping safe. We know you are due a service/MOT soon, but with Covid-19 restrictions there will be a delay before we can see you. We would like to reassure you that late servicing due to the covid restrictions will not affect your warranty. In addition, the Government has granted a six month extension to their MOT because of the pandemic. Don’t worry – once we’re able to look after your car we’ll contact you. Thank you for your patience and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
I’m hardly driving at all these days.
Nevertheless, I’m reminded of a keynote speech I once attended, by the film director David Puttnam, where he revealed that Toyota tested every single component of their cars to destruction six thousand times.
So reassuring. That’s why Toyotas are so reliable – good news at the moment if the garage aren’t around to fix things.
But David Puttnam then asked us:
“How many times is a development in education tested?”
That wasn’t reassuring at all!
Another Europe, Associated Press, Beadles Toyota, British Medical Journal, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (Oxford University), Change.org, CNN Business, Economist, Euronews, Evening Standard, Forbes, Future Majority, Global Citizen, Guardian, Huffington Post, Independent, iNews, New Statesman, New York Times, newscabal, Open Democracy, PA Media, Quillette, Reuters, STAT, Telegraph, The Zax by Dr Seuss, Times, Washington Post, World Bank