Day Fifty Eight: Tuesday 12th May 2020

Daily Diary: Ten Thousand Pounds I’ll Give Away!

Every time Pa Finagin notched up another year on the clock he would say at the breakfast table:

“Today it is my birthday!

Ten thousand pounds I’ll give away!”

And Ma Finagin, along with my sisters Corrie and Judith would all shout out:

“Hooray! For he’s a jolly good fellow! Three cheers for Pa on his birthday!”

Then he’d follow:

“On second thoughts I think it best

To put it back in the old, old chest!”

And we’d all call out!

“Boo! Shame! Meanie! What a bludger! String him up”

Well it’s my birthday today. I’m sixty eight, and although I don’t feel another year older I do feel older than I did say fifteen years ago. I remember Nana, my grandmother, who lived until she was a hundred and two, that she always felt that she was still an eighteen-year-old inside. But I know I’m ageing, and I know it’s a one-way journey. The secret, I was once told, is to make the most of this journey.

I’m lucky. By and large I have enjoyed good health. I had gallstones in my thirties. If I had lived in the middle ages I guess at some point I’d have been done for. But maybe in the middle ages my diet might have been different and no stones would have appeared. On the other hand, my guess is that there’s a characteristic in my genetic make-up that predisposes my liver to less than perfect cholesterol metabolism, that could have precipitated my downfall. Who knows? The likelihood is that twentieth century surgery saved me and gave me decades more life, and enough to read this.

Even so, it was deeply invasive surgery in the pre-keyhole era. A diagonal slice through the body wall, lift up the lobes of the liver and whip out the gall bladder, along with the offending stones. One stone was quite large, about two centimetres in diameter, looking just like a pebble. The other had shattered into gall-gravel. Because I was a biology teacher the medics presented me with a nicely labelled path tube, that I’d take out of my pocket every time I taught about the digestive system.

That’s what I call an intimate association with my subject. For a teacher that’s important. From some pupils it will get oohs and ahhs. Others it will be ewwwws and urghs, but what matters is that memorable moments matter.   

Then, shortly after I turned sixty, I had an unpleasant experience. I was paragliding at Liddington, just south of Swindon. It’s a shallow, often tricky hill and pretty technical to fly. On the other hand it works well on thermic days and has a good reputation as a good site for setting off on cross-country flights. It was on one such day I caught a thermal on the western side of the hill and started climbing. The whole hillside started kicking off lifty air, and over the newly cropped summer fields the thermals were big and not too easy to fall out of. So with others I started to climb, circling like a cluster of multicoloured buzzards. Every turn up and up until I was a couple of thousand feet above the ground.

And then it happened.

I needed to go for a shit!

It’s a horrible, urgent feeling. Under normal circumstances it’s the sort of feeling that makes you bolt for the toilet. A couple of thousand feet up you don’t have that luxury. There’s you, a canopy, a harness and not much else.

No one in their right mind wants to crap themselves, so I break away from the gaggle and head back to the hill. I land at the bottom in a big cropped field next to where my car was parked. Relief! But also an awareness of the danger I was in. Bodily sensations can be overwhelming and stuff going wrong in the sky is what I call a serious situation.

I managed to drive to a nearby service station and just made it too their loo, thanking my lucky stars it was vacant.

The experience alarmed me. Normally, your bowels don’t threaten to kill you. At least not dramatically. So I saw my doctor, and although I made light of the situation and she shared the associated graveyard humour, she referred me for a colonoscopy ….. that found a polyp just past its benign stage ….. that resulted in a hemicolectomy. The cancer was still at a very early stage. Whether it was the cause of the ‘urgency,’ or whether it frightened the shit out of me – literally – it was found early and didn’t get a chance to progress. I’m pretty much back to normal and consider it to have been a strange stroke of luck.

My left knee went about five years ago, climbing back up the hill after bottom landing at Dunstable Downs. At the time I thought, “that’s it,” and was very lame for quite a while, but a short hospital visit, an operation, lots of physiotherapy and my knees are back to normal now. No discomfort. No pain. Lots of gain.

So I’ve been lucky. I’ve got this far. I don’t have high blood pressure, chest pains, diabetes or anything degenerative. I don’t want to throw that good fortune away by chancing it with Covid-19.

Which presents me with a dilemma of sorts…..

As chairman of a hang gliding and paragliding club I sent out an email to members today, following on from prime minister Boris Johnson’s Sunday announcement. The ban to drive somewhere for an outdoor activity has been lifted with effect from tomorrow (although that wasn’t made particularly clear). People will, we’re told, be able to re-engage with many outdoor activities, including golf and fishing. The surfers are already riding the waves – probably because no police officer is going to wade out to chide them. It is only a matter of time now that free fliers will soar above our hills again.

Personally, I think all of this is premature. It’s clear that loosening restrictions can only increase the chance of contagion. Yesterday we had 3,877 hospital cases and 210 deaths. Those figures alone would terrify many countries into lockdown. Frankly, I want to see the new cases to drop to below 100 to feel it’s safe enough to go out and fly. We’re way off from that yet!

It’s not the flying necessarily that leads to the risk. It’s everything else that goes with it, from the inevitable gathering on the hill to those moments of exposure, like at a petrol station, or buying a sandwich that may have been touched. Contact with someone else’s kit and so on. The virus has found a niche in the dynamics of human behaviour, and with the events of the ‘day to day’ the banal ‘mistakes’ we make. In the same way it’s a struggle to keep a mouse out of our house because it exists in a different scale, so it’s almost impossible to deal with a pathogen that’s a tiny fraction of a micron – that’s a thousandth of a millimetre – across. These are different, alien worlds, beyond our natural grasp. All we can do is apply the precautionary principle. Avoid. Isolate. Shield.

So it doesn’t come naturally for myself, or other members of the club committee to give a green light to fly.

We’ll soon tell. I’m expecting the CAA to lift their restrictions on leisure aviation. Then it will be inescapable that some will want to fly and there’s nothing I can do about it.

It’s the problem of a free society. The freedom to get things wrong. To make mistakes. To endanger others. And a big political clash is on its way where more authoritarian ideologies will present themselves as the more desirable option for humanity. The ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats have already begun the argument as China and the West start trading verbal, ideological blows.

But enough of all this! It’s my birthday and in a couple of hours our daughter Emily will drop by for a socially distanced celebration.

The Bigger Picture: A Pivotal Pandemic

Plagues, wars and revolutions. These are pivotal events, and the world is never the same after them than it was before. It’s not just the immediate impact of events that change us, but the shifts in perception that happen as a result of their occurrence, even to witnesses without direct experience. These are paradigm shifts.

There was a world before covid and one which will follow, and they will have only a passing resemblance to each other.

The pandemic exposes our weaknesses and strengths. How the story unfolds will depend on our leaders.

Leaders know they can lie, if they choose to do so, about most things and the passage of time dulls those lies and creates an amnesic disconnect between what was promised and what was delivered. By the time a lie is exposed a dozen further promises will have been made and hopes raised for a better future.

And people, having largely forgotten and by default forgiven, share those hopes.

But Covid-19 is different. It moves on a timescale hundreds of times faster than an economy or a policy initiative, and with it consequences months or even years in their unfolding happen in days. So, regardless of spin or rhetoric the real measure of a leader’s intentions and competence is exposed in days.

In this way, Covid-19 has revealed the dark sides of our world, including the fragility of international supply lines, the disadvantages of offshore sources for critical goods and the limits of international bodies. More locally, it unveils the intentions of those governing – whether they seek to build better ways of dealing domestically and internationally with this challenge and prepare for inevitable future ones or let our world become meaner and more selfish, divided and suspicious.

South Korea, Denmark and New Zealand have controlled the pandemic more effectively than other countries, a common denominator being that citizens have faith in the authorities and each other. By the same token, those governments that have made chaotic responses and played blame games, have exacerbated divisions in their societies, and even with other nations. So Trump’s America, withdrawing from moral and material leadership of the world, has grown more hostile towards China, and it’s a two way street. Rogue states such as Russia gleefully stir up more trouble, and seem more preoccupied with that than the pandemic within its own borders, while the UN increasingly looks like a side-show, full of good ideas about a worldwide solution to Covid-19 but, without America’s unequivocal support, without the authority needed to implement them.

Britain remains diverted by the whole Brexit process, its government most likely calculating that if it let the project drop it would lose momentum, and with that would come losing the engineered divisiveness that brought them to power.

All of this is worrying, as the lesson from history is those societies that survive and adapt best to catastrophes are already strong.

The historian, Margaret Macmillan, wrote in ‘The Economist:’

“For every Jacinda Ardern or Angela Merkel, the leaders of New Zealand and Germany who are talking to their citizens about the difficult road ahead, there is an illiberal, populist demagogue playing to baser fears and fantasies. In Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro dismisses covid-19 as “the sniffles”; in India the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party blames it on the Muslims. President Donald Trump claimed he had “total” authority, demonstrating something about his instincts if not his knowledge of the American constitution.”

It doesn’t look as though all governments are sufficiently wise, but perhaps the experience of what it takes not just to endure Covid-19, but to recover and eventually thrive in its aftermath, will bring about the changes needed to move on. Keynesian economics is already replaced the harshness of monetarism through pragmatic necessity rather than political ideology. Brits might not continue to stand by so quietly about the underfunding of the NHS, to the point it becomes untouchable politically. Countries, especially the more powerful might invest in key international organisations like the World Health Organisation and give it greater power to protect the world from disease, and bodies such as the G7 and G20 could become more actively collaborative, rather than groups of countries arguing their own interests regardless.

It’s possible. Humanity might still fall short of the mark, but what it cannot do is reset itself to a time before Covid-19.

And perhaps more countries will learn that strong societies arise from their social capital being in balance with material capital. A moral tale, dare I say it, that’s nothing new. In fact it’s as old as the most ancient religions on the block.

Meanwhile Planet Earth continues to warm inexorably and humanity will need those lessons to have been learned if it is to thrive.

Possibly even survive

Today also marks the US Congressional Hearing about the country’s Covid-19 response to date. The panel includes senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray, and sitting in the hot seats are the White House administration’s advisory team, Anthony Fauci, Director of NAIAD, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and who will be one of the most prominent figures throughout the course of the pandemic, Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a vital organisation that’s been often marginalised by the Trump administration, Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, that Trump has boasted about his ability to direct their actions, and Assistant Health Secretary, Robert Giroir, who has become known as the ‘testing czar,’ although to be czar of a creaking regime is at best a dubious honour. Under investigation are the Trump administration’s lack of preparedness for a pandemic, the confusion arising over the few pharmaceutical responses medical services have, and non-pharmaceutical responses that appear to be all over the place.


The Trump administration decided to end a $200m early warning program designed to alert it to potential pandemics just three months before it is believed Covid-19 began infecting people in China.

It’s unclear whether the project, called Predict, had been run by the US Agency for International Development since 2009. It had identified more than 160 different coronaviruses that had the potential to develop into pandemics, including a virus that is considered the closest known relative to Covid-19.

The end of the program saw the departure of dozens of scientists and analysts working to identify potential pandemics in countries around the world, including China.

According to the AACN, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, the administration’s lack of preparedness has also led to shortages in PPE, personal protective equipment, ventilators and other lifesaving equipment, posing a clear and present danger to nurses and other healthcare professionals caring for patients diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19.

It will also transpire in five months’ time that that almost half of American nursing homes have gone through 2020 with dangerously low levels of PPE.


At this time the only drug appearing to have a limited success in treating hospitalised Covid-19 patients is Gilead Sciences’ experimental drug, remdesivir. It is understood that at a time of crisis like this there is the need to balance the rigorous testing of a new medicine for safety and effectiveness with the moral imperative to get patients a treatment that works as quickly as possible. But the calling of that balance by Gilead is shrouded by bureaucracy secrecy, and that lack of transparency extends to which hospitals are being supplied with the drug and on what basis.

Meanwhile, as hydroxychloroquine, a drug much touted by the president himself, becomes increasingly discredited, questions are arising about why it continues to have a EUA, an Emergency Use Authorisation.

The Wider Response to the Pandemic:

Trump is eager to reopen the economy. Time before the November election is now limited and the president is a man both feeling the pressure of time and needing to be where business rather than public health is the key paradigm. He is much more comfortable with the reality of the former compared to the latter. A month ago he announced a reopening in May and set up a White House special council to get it underway. Conspicuously absent from that council is anyone from a scientific, medical or public health background, although Trump claims it was made up of “the greatest minds.”

So it was pretty clear that certain questions would arise, such as:

  • Why is the White House encouraging states to lift restrictions when they haven’t met the White House’s own guidance for reopening?  
  • Why did the White House shelve a CDC report that outlined how and when to safely reopen?
  • Having said only last week that testing was “overrated,” does the president believe that testing is the key to reopening the economy, and if so, why is he pushing for states without sufficient testing capacity to reopen? President Trump said last week that testing was “overrated” but outside experts across the political spectrum have said that there still aren’t enough tests to safely reopen schools and businesses.
  • Models of the epidemic are already predicting a second wave, likely as winter approaches. What is being done about it?

In the meantime there is mixed messaging, particularly about masks, which become the first expression of America’s deep-seated culture war, dividing the country into mask wearers and refusers, coinciding closely with people’s political affiliations. The White House orders staff to wear masks while Trump himself is wilfully ambiguous.

Trump displays his attitude towards dealing with the pandemic when he abruptly ends a press conference after a heated exchange with reporters: Weijia Jing of CBS asked Trump, who frequently compares the United States’ testing ability and mortality rate with those of other countries, why the statistics surrounding the virus are a “global competition” to him. “Well they’re losing their lives everywhere in the world, and maybe that’s a question you should ask China,” Trump responded. “Don’t ask me. Ask China that question. Okay? When you ask that question you may get a very unusual answer.”

“Why are you asking me that specifically?” asked Jing, who was born in China and raised in West Virginia.

“I’m not saying it specifically to anybody. I’m saying it to anybody who would ask a nasty question like that,” Trump replied before moving on to another reporter. The president has frequently blamed China for the outbreak, suggesting that the country could have stopped the spread of Covid-19 if it had acted sooner.

Meanwhile, America remains fractured:

New York reports 521 new covid hospitalisations – bringing the state “right back to where we started,” Governor Cuomo says.

Despite that, a growing number of conservative personalities on media sites are claiming that the government’s Covid-19 death toll numbers are exaggerated. It’s now possible to create conspiracies around the death toll.

Fewer than five per cent of US employers are sold on Covid-19 antibody tests.

Little wonder, therefore, that protestors started waiting out on the pavement outside a Florida courthouse yesterday in a call for gyms to open amid the lockdown. The group of 30 gym-goers gathered outside Pinellas County courthouse in Clearwater to protest against a statewide order that closed gyms last month because of the virus outbreak.

The cracks are appearing.

Riddle me this.

When is it hard to count how many people have died from a particular disease?

Today’s figure from the ONS, Office for National Statistics, shows that there were 35,044 deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales up to May 1st, and which were registered up to May 9th. This compares with 26,251 deaths of people testing positive for Covid-19 reported by the DHSC, Department of Health and Social Care for the same period. The ONS total is 33 per cent higher than the Department of Health total. This is because ONS figures include all mentions of Covid-19 on a death certificate, including suspected Covid-19, and are based on the date that the deaths occurred. The DHSC are based on when the deaths were recorded and are for deaths where a person has tested positive for Covid-19 within 28 days.

There is also an unspecified number of deaths at the outset of the pandemic in the UK in March that were not directly attributed to Covid-19 but to other causes, as expressed by the symptoms, such as pneumonia, for example, so pinpointing exactly how many people have died from the novel coronavirus is at best problematic.

The commonly used statistic of excess deaths is also unreliable, because they cover a number of causes, and there will be times during the course of the pandemic that the excess death indicator will be lower than deaths within 28 days of testing positive.

The discrepancy is estimated to be about 20,000, and there are many who will add this to the DHSC’s official figures when making statements about the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the Westminster government in dealing with the pandemic.

In many countries in the developing world the unreliability of data is even worse. A lack of testing, incomplete record keeping, especially in the poorest and most remote areas, underdeveloped healthcare systems and instability, including civil wars, all add to difficulties. Reported deaths worldwide turn out to be half the estimate for total deaths for Covid-19.

At best it seems that all we can do is get a sense of order of magnitude. The exact numbers will never be known.

It is the twenty first century and we’re having trouble counting our dead.

I find the idea chilling.

However, we are learning, bit by bit, about the disease:

  • The chances of catching covid outside are lower. Outdoor spaces with higher degrees of ventilation prove to be less problematic environments.
  • AIDS, TB and malaria are set to get deadlier due to Covid-19.
  • It’s possible to spread Covid-19 without symptoms, meaning any one of us could be a ‘Typhoid Mary.’
  • Covid-19 has been found in semen, but that doesn’t mean it can be sexually transmitted.
  • Higher Covid-19 death rate in men doing low-skilled work. Male security guards, taxi drivers and chefs are among the worst hit by Covid-19, according to new data released by the ONS.

In England, the biggest problem for the majority of people is the confusion that’s arisen with a much anticipated statement about the replacement of the Government’s “Stay at Home” message with “Stay Alert.”

We’re told by prime minister, Boris Johnson, that “common sense” will help beat Covid-19, followed by a garbled list of unclear messaging, such as work from home if you can, unless you can’t, in which case definitely try to get to work, but do not – if at all possible – take public transport.

Some are concerned that citizens will consider the crisis over. Others that the lack of clarity will lead to anxiety about how the new lockdown rules may impact people’s mental health.

There is a feeling that the prime minister is only reluctantly committed to the covid restrictions,  and, being the libertarian that he declares himself to be, is eager to fully reopen up the economy, even if it incurs some setback in controlling covid.

That ambiguity, along with hospitalisation and mortality rates that don’t compare well internationally, leads some to begin to lose trust. Only the first sign, but the political capital he had gained from weathering the storm when hospitalised a little over a month ago is already starting to recede.

His journey of the soul in St Thomas’ Hospital was what anthropologists call a “credibility-enhancing-display,” something they believe was crucial for establishing trust between strangers. When people walk the walk, and not simply talk the talk, co-operation becomes possible.

Johnson had walked that walk during those days in the ICU, and in good faith the public bought into it.

Now they can be now best described as alert but confused. 

“You can meet a new person in the park every day,” the health secretary tells the nation as he denies that the new rules are confusing. Airlines and airports declare they are baffled by the quarantine guidelines. Schools are told that classes are to have a 15 pupil limit when they return in June, but how they manage after that is up to them. And Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, accuses Johnson of giving no clear direction on the lockdown exit.

Then dark news breaks that several councils have threatened to withhold funding to help care homes deal with the Covid-19 outbreak if they didn’t agree to take in Covid-19 patients. It comes as care homes fear a government policy allowing the transfer of covid positive or untested patients is a “major factor” why Covid-19 deaths are so high. The policy was changed in the middle of April but some care homes believe the damage was done by then.

Saving the NHS involved sacrificing tens of thousands of elderly care home residents, and many staff. As hospital beds became released without due care and attention, so outbreaks appeared in residential homes.

Combined with the poor provision of PPE there is a national scandal, but with a public inquiry two years from now and parliamentary democracy creaking on Zoom it’s all overtaken by the here and now.

It appears that the trial on the Isle of Wight of the Government’s much-vaunted homegrown NHS Covid-19 tracing app has run into difficulties. To date more than 55,000 islanders have downloaded the app but it’s been beset by technical glitches. It was as much about Brexit nationalism as it was about managing a pandemic. With much less media hype the NHS is developing a second app, pretty much in the same mould as Britain’s European neighbours it so desperately didn’t want to be seen emulating. It seems, as one reporter from The I wryly commented, that it’s the Government, rather than the Isle of Wight’s residents who may be technologically challenged.

Brexit nationalism has also fused with the Covid-19 in making the country a less attractive prospect for skilled workers. The twin economic impacts of lockdown and Brexit have plunged future plans into uncertainty across the whole of society, but particularly those from eastern Europe who want to build their lives in the UK. “There was an element of disappointment in the British response,” Barbara Drozdowicz, chief executive of the East European Resource Centre said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “The restrictions were introduced too late, they were too light touch. In Poland people were under quarantine much earlier – from the week commencing 16th – and I think if you had the option to return, many people would have done so.”

Over the months ahead this particularly toxic combination would result in East Europeans leaving the UK in the largest numbers since their countries joined the EU, hitting some areas of the economy such as hospitality, agriculture, construction, transport and health and social care particularly hard.

Already, restaurateurs, along with the rest of the hospitality industry are among the hardest hit by Covid-19, losing both income and staff, and want to know what the Government’s new lockdown strategy means for them. Reopening strategies are hard to configure without clear, set guidance, and at the moment such guidance is vague.

This is echoed in the US, where even massive hospitality industries, such as Disney are being hit hard. Disney grew, thanks to their parks and resorts. Then came Covid-19. The firm finds itself having diversified into exactly the wrong businesses for a pandemic. There is something almost Darwinian about the random curveballs the virus throws into human endeavours and American executives are more worried about the economy than were last month.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to extend the furlough scheme to September, but to be cut to 60 per cent of earnings. He actually extended it to October.

The political and economic pressure to exit lockdown is huge.

WHO warns that some countries are blind-driving their exit from lockdown.

Their fears are that such exits, especially if poorly thought through, will not mark the end of the pandemic.

In the United Kingdom, the devolved governments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make their own decisions about dealing with Covid-19. All too often, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make more measured decisions than England. The Westminster government appearing obsessed with reopening the economy, some conservatives, it has to be said, expressing the view that turning a penny was more important than saving lives, although it isn’t expressed as directly as that.

Here’s how Northern Ireland plans to set about lifting the lockdown:

The Northern Ireland Executive document states an ambition to relax restrictions and shares a five-point plan:

The first step of this includes groups of four to six people who are not from the same household being able to meet outdoors, while monitoring social distancing, drive through church services, churches opening for private prayer, opening of outdoor spaces and public sport amenities, drive through cinemas and more sports, including some water activities, golf and tennis.

The second step will see groups of ten being able to meet outdoors, team sports training on a non-contact basis in small groups, reopening some libraries and open air museums, as well as indoor activities involving limited contact of less than ten minutes and with two to four people.

The third step will see groups of up to 30 being able to gather outside, reopening of more libraries as well as museums and galleries, concert and theatre rehearsals resuming and larger indoor gatherings.

The fourth step is set to see socially distanced church services, resumption of competitive sports behind closed doors, or with a limited number of spectators, leisure centres reopening and outdoor concerts resuming on a restricted basis.

The fifth step will include the resumption of close physical contact sports, spectators at live events, as well as the reopening of nightclubs and concerts, all on a restricted basis.


  • Countries in Europe and elsewhere are beginning to lift lockdowns, pushing social distancing to the fore in the fight to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But getting people to keep their distance – especially in the busy metro networks and crowded train platforms – is a huge challenge.
  • As already mentioned, hospitality finds itself at a crossroads. As restrictions ease across Europe, many in the travel industry hope that with higher cleaning standards and social distancing, businesses can continue in a new form. Hotels and Airbnb managers, reeling from the economic paralysis and border closures, now face crucial questions, which could determine their chances of survival.
  • The Czech Republic has so far managed to escape the worst of Covid-19 and it’s all been done with outdoor life continuing relatively normally. Parks and public squares are busy with people cycling, jogging, or taking the crisp spring sun. Nurseries, gyms and small shops reopened last week, and by May 25th almost all business activity is set to resume. And, starved for culture, Czechs have a drive-in festival.
  • After extending the state of health emergency until 10th July, France began to relax lockdown restrictions today. Shops are reopening and people are allowed to leave their homes without having to carry a certificate to prove why they’re out. Speaking to Rosie Wright in the centre of Lyon, Bruno Bonnell, an MP from La République En Marche, admitted that the new situation was a “risk,” and the government might have to reimpose lockdown if the infection reproduction rises above 1.85.
  • Life in Berlin as lockdown eases: “It feels like reawakening from hibernation.” It’s after the sun sets, however, that the city feels most strange.
  • Lockdown measures will be eased today in Djibouti, which has had over 1,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and at least three deaths, the highest total in east Africa.
  • Relief mixes with anxiety as New Zealand eases its lockdown.

For the most part, lockdown has not ended. Here are some of the stories about the ‘new reality’ that have emerged today:

  • The BBC released the documentary, “Hospital Special: Fighting Covid-19,” an excellent programme that showed the faces behind the masks.
  • Pornography is booming during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Social distancing rules prompt performers to offer their private webcam shows.
  • The National Women’s Health Network is urging the FDA to make the abortion pill more widely available to women who are quarantined at home.
  • Brits are unlikely to be able to travel abroad for summer holidays this year, health secretary Matthew Hancock has said. The health secretary warned that restricted movement is a “reality of life” amid the pandemic. Asked whether “summer was cancelled,” he told ITV’s ‘This Morning’ show he thought that was “likely to be the case.”
  • In the US (and elsewhere) child contact centres are forced to close due to the pandemic means some parents are unable to see their children, while others fear for their safety.
  • And online child abuse complaints surpass 4 million in April.
  • There are fears that UK students could be trapped paying rent into next year. The National Union of Students said there is “no clarity” about whether students will be held to future rental contracts signed months ago.
  • Doctors and nurses suffered as Iran ignored virus concerns
  • Sun-shy Indonesians are suddenly soaking up the rays. The belief that sunlight kills the coronavirus is widespread.
  • Wuhan reported five new Covid-19 cases on Monday, after confirming its first infection since 3rd April on Sunday. Authorities said the small number of cases came from the same residential compound. But there are also concerns elsewhere in China and South Korea, where Covid-19 is largely thought to be under control.
  • The South Korean government has been forced to re-adopt some stricter social distancing measures after a fresh outbreak in Seoul’s clubbing district.
  • Canada: Health inspectors who refuse to work at meat processing plants with Covid-19 outbreaks are being threatened with disciplinary action by the government, the country’s agricultural union has said.

But it’s important to realise that the history of the pandemic is a tapestry woven from people’s stories.

Ticket collector Belly Mujinga, 47 died in hospital on April 5 – 13 days after she had been spat upon by a passenger at London’s Victoria Station.

Rory Kinnear touchingly describes in The Guardian how his disabled older sister Karina died from Covid-19. He wanted to make the point that it was the virus rather than her health conditions that killed her and it didn’t mean her life was “disposable.”

And in the mixed bag of experiences there are triumphs too, as a 113 year old Spanish woman becomes the oldest person in the world to beat Covid-19.

Many of us hope that the world is moving on to become a better place. Hoping too that the pandemic will somehow be a punctuation mark in the course of human history, the paragraph following it being more positive than the one before.  

Already it doesn’t look like it will be.

The rising tensions between America and China arising from trade imbalances and increasingly nationalistic politics in both superpowers, particularly following the ascendence of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump as presidents of their respective nations, have been exacerbated by western accusations that the novel coronavirus originated in China.

It all became politicised. I can still almost hear Trump sneering, “the Chinaaah virus.”

So China’s emissaries have done away with diplomacy. The niceties of international relationships, hypocritical at the best of times but essential nonetheless, have been binned.

Beijing’s ‘wolf-warrior’ diplomats – named after a set of films in which Chinese special operations fighters defeat west-led mercenaries – have over the past two months replaced courtesy with intimidation, with claims that pensioners in French retirement homes were being left to die, threats of a boycott of Australian produce if Canberra pursued an investigation into Covid-19, pressure on governments from Prague to Wellington for public praise in exchange for mask shipments, along with tweets of conspiracy theories that the US created the pandemic to hurt China.

The current narrative about the pandemic has caused reputational damage to the world’s most aspirational superpower. Admitting liability would dent their assertiveness (someone once said countries were prone to behave like paranoid adolescents) would be a display of weakness, not fitting with the assertive world power Xi’s China sees itself as being.

And the virus has pushed aggressive tactics to the centre of Beijing’s foreign policy.

Those tactics have included cyber warfare and China is not alone in presenting digital threats to the west. Russia and Iran are in there too.

A cyber-attack brought a Czech covid testing laboratory to its knees in the middle of a pandemic. Japan faced a deluge of hacking attempts from Russia and China, immediately after the Covid-19 lockdown ended in Wuhan. And as the world leader with more than 50 million internet assets that are remotely accessible – thus vulnerable – the United States is a giant sitting duck.

It’s not just government departments and agencies that are being targeted. Major manufacturers, energy industries, critical infrastructure are all ‘fair game’ and security specialists are in demand more than ever before in helping  institutions protect themselves from a spate of cyberattacks launched amid the panic of the pandemic.

Coping with the pandemic is also a sign of national strength. Some countries, like New Zealand come out well by prudently managed measures and trust by the public in their government.

Others bluff.

With difficulties managing the pandemic Putin locks down and the Russian capital resembled a ghost town on Victory Day, with traditional military parades and lavish celebrations cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The once bustling and traffic-clogged streets of Moscow were eerily empty with only the occasional car or passer-by to be seen. By contrast, President Lukashenko, in neighbouring Belarus, puts on a full military parade of some 3,000 soldiers in Minsk. Tens of thousands of spectators, few of them wearing masks, attended the event.

He’s a leader who’s told his citizens that a good shot of vodka will send covid packing.

Recently his citizens have learned Lukashenko imprisons those who disagree.

Reported deaths from Covid-19 are low.

Excess deaths in the Belarus population are huge. A tragedy no one dare speak of in this autocratic regime.

Finally, it’s not just international politics that have been soured by the pandemic. The world’s climate has too. There was a hope that we would learn from the clear blue skies of the lockdown spring, the suppressed din of traffic so we could hear birdsong so much more clearly and the lockdown extending Britain’s longest run without coal since 1882.

Then we discover that global carbon dioxide levels are at a record high and deforestation of the Amazon has soared under cover of the coronavirus.

And hopes, if not dashed, are a little bruised.

After this lockdown we still have a long way to go.


ABC News, American Association of Critical Care Nurses, Associated Press, Economist, Euronews, Evening Standard, Financial Times, Forbes, Guardian, Huffington Post, Independent, iNews, Mail, Mirror, New Statesman, New York Times, Sky News, STAT, Telegraph, The Hill.