Day Fifty Seven: Monday 11th May 2020

Daily Diary: A Muddled Monday For Me.

Today has already been called “Muddle Monday,” after the confused messaging from prime minister Boris Johnson, and it has already promised to give me a headache or two about the club taking to the air again. I have an exchange of emails with the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA) chairman, Marc Asquith. From the BHPA’s point of view they will give clubs the decision once they get the green light from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Then the decision is ours, club by club. There are eager pilots out there, straining at the bit to fly. Covid-19 might be a risk, but in a sport which has the potential to have serious, even mortal, consequences, it’s easy to see how to some the virus is a relatively small element when they consider the overall risk being taken, and anyway there are very few places indeed that are more covid-free than climbing up towards cloudbase thousands of feet above the ground.

There is a Zoom meeting this coming Friday and I’ve got to get my head around this over the next day or two. If the CAA don’t give a green light for leisure aviation to continue then there isn’t an issue, but in the general scheme of things and the restlessness of many people they might, and we’ve got to be ready. For my part, I probably won’t fly any time soon. Vicky and I have committed ourselves to isolating as the means of protecting ourselves. Sheltering from the storm.

Today I rang the pharmacist to get our repeat prescriptions. They’re there and she tells me to collect them in half an hour.

I ask if they are doing a delivery service like they did last time.

“We’re not doing staff delivery. There’s an 0800 number, where you can get a volunteer to come along….”

That poses extra layers of difficulty. Are we over seventy? No, we’re 67 and 68 respectively. Did we have any health conditions? Well, not exactly, but we’ve always had a bit of a worry after Vicky almost died a few years back, as a result of a botched operation. We don’t fit the criteria. We ‘kind of’ almost do, but not quite. We’d have to explain all that perhaps, or at least feel that we have to. Along with a subtext of feeling fraudulent, knowing there are many out there much needier and more deserving than we are.

“I’ll wear a mask and gloves and come along,” I said. It breaks the perfect isolation and compromises the shield we’ve made for ourselves, but it is the easiest course of action, and perhaps the first babystep in ending our own lockdown.

After all, the snail has to come out of his shell a little to start moving.

Then the postman comes along with a package. It’s quite big, containing four nursery planter trays, so I can now transfer the geranium seedlings that are about to leave the nursery for primary school. They’re just what the doctor ordered and the little geraniums will be rehoused in a day or two. The package is decontaminated with bleach spray and the conservatory smells like a swimming pool for a few minutes.

I head off to the pharmacy. I have a freshly sterilised mask and a pair of surgical gloves. When I get there I see the following notice:

PLEASE RING THE BELL

A MEMBER OF STAFF

WILL COME TO THE DOOR

The whole operation takes place outside and the medicines are passed out as if I’m picking up something dodgy on the black market.

In the short wait another person shows up. He too is wearing a mask and gloves. We have a brief chat, which can be paraphrased as “when will this end?” which ends when we get our medicines. An icy wind is blowing – deceptive, because it looks like t-shirt weather.

I take the medicines home and decontaminate the packaging. Then I take the car for a short run to see if it’s still working okay, having been nowhere since the start of lockdown.

I find the drive really enjoyable. It’s good to be back in that liminal space, LBC blaring through the speakers about the muddle and confusion of ‘stay alert.’

Mostly it was good just to drive and watch the world pass by,

Even if it was only to Erith and back again.

The Bigger Picture: A Muddled Monday For Britain.

As of today, Covid-19 has infected more than 4.1 million people and killed over 282,000, according to a tally by John Hopkins University. It is a cruel, ruthless disease, choosing those already less favoured in increasingly unequal societies, passing some by almost arbitrarily, yet kicking others hard who are already weakened by age and infirmity.

Yet for the most part, as if it’s trying to persuade us that it isn’t the spawn of diabolical creation, the virus spares our young.  Numerous studies have found that the virus is a mild disease for children. In one of the largest studies, conducted by doctors in Shanghai, 94 per cent of children with the virus had an asymptomatic, mild or moderate illness. A separate review by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, found that children accounted for fewer than five per cent of diagnosed Covid-19 patients globally. Of 2,572 infected children analysed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.7 per cent were hospitalised, and three died.

On the diabolic scale, there are humans in our troubled, unsettled world, who are less sparing of children. Humans so gifted with the cornucopia of code genetica it elevates them to the domain of choice and free will.  Covid at least has the mitigation of being a relatively short strand of ribonucleic acid, doing what relatively short strands of ribonucleic acid do best.

But it’s that meeting of those ultimately simple and ultimately elaborate codes genetica  where the truly diabolic happens.

Because covid confounds.

Being the simplest of all life forms – so simple many argue it’s not a life form at all – its existence can be checked in the simplest way of all. By simply not allowing it to pass from one person to the next.

Being the most elaborate of life forms – so elaborate many argue they have transcended beyond the natural world – putting a stop to the existence of SARS-CoV-2 proves to be insurmountable. Not allowing it to pass from one person to the next is hampered by the elaborate world we have created for ourselves and our indulgences.

The more we wish to indulge ourselves in that elaborate world the more confounded we become.

Cue Muddle Monday.

As we locked down, a huge sector of the economy that serviced our elaborate needs, to eat out, have a bevy or two and shopped till we dropped froze in time, like the courtiers in ‘The Sleeping Beauty.’

Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing has warns, “Our industry is on the brink of collapse,” while retail footfall suffers biggest ever drop with shoppers.

Not even the dead are exempt. British funeral services group, Dignity, has said that clients seeking to bury loved ones during the pandemic were opting for simpler services, as it reported a rise in the overall deaths compared to last year, and a drop in profits.

The conflicting desires to start the escape from lockdown while at the same time controlling the spread of a virus has led to a loss of focus and direction.

For a start, largely straightforward rules about lockdown have become more complicated and in many cases, logically inconsistent, making them more difficult both to explain and enforce. For instance, Londoners are allowed to drive to the beach to sunbathe but unable to take a bus to get to one of the capital’s great parks, which is one in the eye to millions who do not have a car and rely on public transport.

Secondly, the prime minister’s messaging left the Great British public nonplussed, with a new poll finding less than a third of people saying that they know what the Government’s new ‘stay alert’ Covid-19 message is asking them to. The confusion arising from what can only be described as a ‘back to work for some’ message resulted in commuters packed on to the London Underground, while foreign secretary Dominic Raab belatedly explained they were supposed to have stayed off until Wednesday.

Many scratched their heads, trying to remember where this whole ‘Wednesday thing’ came from.

And almost instantly the Government’s lack of clear messaging around plans to ease lockdown has fuelled a rise in rule-breaking, despite lockdown spot fines rising to £100 on Wednesday.

The ‘back to work for some’ message is also met with unease, as it starts to highlight the deep inequalities in British society.

The GMB union said ONS figures indicating raised rates of deaths involving Covid-19 among men in certain occupations were “horrifying,” John Phillips, acting GMB general secretary said: The figures are horrifying, and they were drawn up before the chaos of last night’s announcement.

With the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that caring, leisure and service occupations have the highest female death rate.

In other words, if you are low paid and working through the Covid-19 crisis you are more likely to die.

John Phillips went on to urge Ministers to pause any return to work until proper guidelines, advice and enforcement are in place to keep people safe – something that fails to adequately materialise in many sectors.

The same muddle applies to Britain’s borders:

  • Heathrow Airport calls on the UK government to layout its plans for reopening borders.
  • Willie Walsh, chairman of IAG, the aviation group including British Airways, Iberia and United Airlines, asks the Commons Transport Select Committee, “What about passengers coming into the UK on other forms of transport besides air travel?”
  • A reasonable question, bearing in mind that French passengers are exempt from the UK quarantine plans ‘at this stage’ of the coronavirus lockdown.
  • While migrants stranded in Greece by Covid-19 fly to the UK. A group of 50 refugees and asylum seekers flew from Greece to Britain on Monday to reunite with relatives in a transfer that had been held up by the coronavirus lockdown. The group includes 16 unaccompanied minors, Greek migration ministry officials said. Some 130 Greek nationals stranded in the UK because of the COVID-19 lockdown will be repatriated on the return flight, the ministry said.

Muddle and confusion at UK borders continue to be a continuing theme throughout the pandemic. Ironic, because ‘taking back control of Britain’s borders’ was central to the Government coming to power.

In America more than 1.3 million people have been infected, and at least 78,700 have died from Covid-19. Nearly a third of those deaths were linked to long term care homes for older adults. There have been at least 189,791 cases of Covid-19 in New York City according to the New York Times database. As of Sunday afternoon, at least 19,429 have died.

Nowhere occupied by human beings is exempt from the virus.

Hearts of government, where people closely associate for power, influence and all too often personal gain are particularly vulnerable. Like moths drawn to a flame. Vice President Mike Pence was expected back to work today after one of his top aides tested positive for Covid-19 amid fears an infection could be spreading through the White House.

Despite that, Covid-19 ‘Liberate’ Groups are finding an audience in the White House. They form a caucus of conservatives, climate change deniers, and now anti-science Covideniers.

This overlap of views is something really puzzling. It’s as if they come as a package. With other opinions you get diverse responses. What’s your favourite colour? Favourite food? Music genre? Spectator sport? And so on. Ask a handful of questions and you’d soon be identifying individuals.

Not so, it seems, with contrarian views. In for one means in for all. These aren’t opinions, but tribal markers.

Covid denial is definitely one of them. It will form a whole new cluster of takes on the pandemic, from claims that the death toll is being inflated, to the lack of importance of social distancing, mask wearing and when they become widely available, vaccines.

The denial started very early. On January 20th 2020, the WHO declared that the outbreak of the novel CV 2019, which causes the disease Covid-19, was officially a ‘public health emergency of international concern.’ At the time there were cases confirmed in 19 countries, and deaths in China had reached 170. The very next day, the pro-industry advocacy group, American Council of Science and Health (ACSH) published an article entitled, ‘Coronavirus in the US: How Bad Will It Be?’

‘Is coronavirus worse than the flu?’ it began.

‘No. Not even close.’

The ACSH is part of what President Trump has come to call the “Liberate Movement,” also known as the State Policy Network (SPN), a network of state-level conservative think tanks advancing pro-corporate agendas, which has received money, among others, the Koch, Devos and Mercer families.

Supporting corporate interests knows no bounds, even during a pandemic.

US fossil fuel companies have taken at least $50 million in taxpayer money they probably won’t have to pay back, according to a review of what Covid-19 meant for struggling small businesses, according to the investigative research group Documented and the Guardian. A total of $28 million is going to three coal mining companies, all with ties to Trump officials, bolstering a dying American industry and a fuel that scientists insist world leaders must shift away from to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.

Something stinks!

In the meantime, the virus continues its relentless path across the globe:

  • The Queen will reportedly withdraw from public life for “months.” The absence is expected to be the longest period in the Queen’s 68 year reign, during which she has stepped back from public duties.
  • India reports its biggest increase in cases as it prepares to gradually resume train services while easing its virus lockdown. On Monday, India’s government reported 4,213 new cases of Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours. It now has more than 67,000 cases, which includes 2,206 deaths. Footage showing half a dozen dead bodies lying on beds next to Covid-19 patients in hospital has horrified India and exposed how the nation’s health system is struggling, in some areas, to cope during the pandemic. The footage from Sion hospital in Mumbai showed the bodies, wrapped in black plastic, lying next to patients undergoing treatment. Families tending to the patients were also seen moving round the ward with the bodies lying nearby.
  • Informal labour may look entirely different in the post-lockdown world – and with fewer breaks, lower wages and longer hours, may involve a great deal more exploitation. This is no clearer than in India, where the lockdown enforced to fight the spread of the virus suddenly left hundreds of thousands of informal workers without their livelihoods. Experts predict that as workplaces rush to reopen and recover lost time after lockdown, these informal workers – already among the country’s most exploited – face seriously modern slavery risks. This is because informal workers by nature have no legal protection from exploitation, despite the fact that they are estimated to form close to a staggering 93 per cent of India’s total population.
  • Russia, once so eager to send support to Italy during earlier pandemic days (only a couple of months ago) has registered a fresh daily record high of new Covid-19 cases. The Government’s task force in charge of combating the outbreak said the country has registered over 11,600 new infections in the last 24 hours, more than half of them in Moscow. That has brought the nation’s total to more than 221,000 cases, including about 2,000 deaths.
  • Increase in Covid-19 infections in Germany is a cause for concern. Dynamo Dresden put team in quarantine after positive Covid-19 tests. The 2 Bundesliga team were due back in action on 16th May, but say they will not be able to participate.

Despite that, more than 130 are detained in Germany after protests against lockdown. Lockdowns are proving to be difficult options, especially in liberal democracies, where people’s personal freedoms, from the sublime to the ridiculous, have come to be cherished.

Although numbers are high it seems like the high point has passed and they are now steadily declining. The seven day average daily deaths in Britain still stands at 476, something like seven times the peak midwinter high for influenza in pervious years, and horrific when seen that way, it raises the possibility of better times ahead when we can stop battening down the hatches. The high tide mark has been passed too in other parts of Europe too, it seems.

  • Boris Johnson reveals more lockdown exit plan details as Dominic Raab announces pubs and restaurants to reopen in July. Primark is poised to reopen stores as soon as lockdown rules are lifted. Store managers are reportedly returning to branches of Primark to prepare for reopening. There is also a call for vigilance from Britain’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton. As businesses reopen and seek to recruit workers quickly in sectors such as hospitality, vulnerable workers are at risk of trafficking and exploitation. Meanwhile, a petition circulates to give parents the option not to send children back to school if they reopen in June.
  • The French government approves new health measures as it prepares to ease lockdown. Measures include collecting health data ‘without consent’ if necessary. The French have begun leaving their homes for the first time in two months without permission slips as the country starts lifting its lockdown. The reopening is somewhat chaotic, however, with mixed messages from authorities and a last-minute legal tangle for President Emmanuel Macron and his government. In Paris, crowds packed into some subway lines and train stations despite new social distancing rules. Clothing shops, hair salons and estate agencies were among businesses large and small reopening on Monday, with strict precautions to keep Covid-19 at bay.
  • Belgium is taking a major step in relaxing its Covid-19 lockdown by opening shops under strict conditions. Even still, public transport in the capital city of Brussels was hit by a strike because bus drivers did not feel safe under the current virus precautions. Authorities on Sunday permitted people to start meeting with four close relatives or friends, allowing many families to celebrate a restricted Mother’s Day.
  • Dutch schools are welcoming back students who had been forced to stay at home for two months. Schools, libraries and businesses such as hairdressers were allowed to reopen on Monday in the Netherlands on condition that they take measures to enforce social distancing. Some hairdressers opened their doors at midnight to welcome customers desperate for a trim.
  • Some fitness clubs in North Rhine-Westphalia opened shortly after midnight to let gym-starved customers build up a sweat again. Authorities agreed last week to further loosen restrictions on movement, but with a fallback clause designed to clamp down on any new covid clusters.
  • Roughly half of 47 million Spaniards are stepping into a softer version of the country’s strict confinement, beginning to socialise, shop in small establishments and enjoy a meal or a coffee in restaurants and bars with outdoor seating.
  • Greece has entered the second phase in lifting its lockdown with all remaining retail stores that had been shut down in March allowed to reopen and the final year of high school resuming classes.
  • Shopping centres, barbers shops, hairdressers and beauty salons have reopened for business across Turkey for the first time in seven weeks as the country gradually eases restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. Turkey has recorded nearly 140,000 cases of the virus and almost 3,800 deaths attributed to Covid-19.
  • Shanghai Disneyland reopens with Covid-19 precautions.

But for all the upbeat moves an uncertain and ominous future is spelled out, as Wuhan reports its first Covid-19 cluster since the lifting of lockdown.

Finally, Captain Tom Moore is to get Freedom of the City of London in a virtual ceremony. The WWII veteran, who raised £33 million for NHS Charities Together by completing 100 laps of his garden before his hundredth birthday. It’s another honour after his promotion to Colonel.

Sources:
Change.org, Desmog, Euronews, Evening Standard, France 24, Freedom United, Guardian, The i, New York Times, PA Media, Reuters, Sky News, Ozy, Times

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