From John in Brighton: Two Baby-steps for Man

20 May. After seven weeks of “shielding” (a euphemism for imprisonment for the uninitiated) this last weekend represented a couple of baby-steps back towards normality for me. I’d better own up that I have dumped my shield numerous times – but only to cycle  ten miles along the seafront as I deemed the benefits to mental and physical health justified the miniscule risk. There was a positive feel – football was reappearing albeit German and with cardboard cutouts, Eurovision was all but cancelled (seriously good news) and the weather was set reasonably fair. But it was bumbling Boris’ baby-steps and a case of needs must that really did it for me.
First off meeting a couple of friends for coffee. Confession number two it was in the back garden not a public place but we’re not stupid and pursued social distancing so I feel not an inkling of guilt or worry. No hugging, not even a handshake. If it’s any consolation to BJ the nip in the air ensured that we stayed alert. After years of NHS guidelines and policies I conclude that those that work best are clear and concise with no grey zones and brief enough to be manageable, no one reads a series of fifty page documents. Two-thirds of the public find the government’s new rules unclear apparently. The lack of logic and confused messages from bulldog-spirited BJ and his cabinet of spaniels makes me think that we should use our common sense as our Pole Star rather than any parliamentary edict. Returning briefly to football I am reminded of a well known chant albeit less heard since VAR took the ultimate control “Yer don’t know what yer doin'”. Anyway bearing in mind that one difference between humans and primates is our better-developed language it was really good to have an hour and a half of conversation in vivo, a bit of culture to add to my already lengthy reading list and to share the machine-gun trill of a rather vocal wren. And in case you’re worried the boys in blue (is that a bit Sergeant Dixon era, should it be persons in blue?) were obviously too busy patrolling the beach to worry about any geriatric misbehaviour. 

Sunday’s baby-step was a case of needs must as the DIY click and collect system was unavailable. Not Wickes or B&Q but the arrangement whereby I click a list, daughter shops for it and we meet and I collect. Works a treat if you haven’t tried it and all for the price of a bar of chocolate and a few satsumas. But she was busy, so armed with my new-found liberation I opted for the elderly and vulnerable slot at Waitrose. A real life allegory unfolded in lieu of the deficiency of church sermons at present. Being my first visit in lock-down and because the queue bent invisibly round a corner I spent ten minutes oblivious to the formalities whilst hanging around the door. Come opening a woman bellowed at me that there was a queue – instead of just watching me couldn’t she have told me that before?

By this point it was half way across the car park, heart-sink…..But a kind lady with whom I used to natter  back in normal times agrees to let me in, the lady behind seconds the motion  and like a game of snakes and ladders I’ve shot up from 26th to 5th in the blink of an eye. My goal is to get round and out as fast as possible and the only potential hindrance is that “she who is aggrieved of queuing” is visibly surprised and put out to confront me – “how did you get in?” she asks clearly concerned that a grave injustice has come to pass.

What is the matter with some people? Doesn’t she realise she could be on a ventilator or using a food bank? But maybe she is stressed for some other reason and so I opt to stonewall rather than engage in messy discussion. Get to the checkout by 9.50 for a ten minute wait but I’m still only second in the queue. First is a young oriental lady and she turns and asks if I’d like to go first, almost insistent – presumably because I look suitably geriatric and vulnerable. Inculcated with the proprieties of queueing and so taken aback that anyone should make such a kind offer (unprecedented as per the current demotic) I decline despite her repeated offers. I’m out by ten past ten, no one sneezed or coughed on me and so hopefully all will be well. But the experience was valuable on two counts – got a few bits for sustenance and more importantly The Observer which was the primary purpose of the mission.  But an unanticipated spin-off was to experience the stark contrast of human nature between the angry and rude as opposed to the kind and considerate. It reminded me that the latter is the camp I need to be in. We’ve seen outpourings of community spirit during the loc-kdown and long may that live and on a small scale I hope to emerge a kinder person and for more than the seventy two hours or so that we reduce our driving speed after passing an accident.

It’s over fifty years since Neil Armstrong took his “small step for man” but with my two baby-steps I’m over the moon. I still have reservation that there could be a second wave of virus and will be very selective in any external activities but the tips are reopening in Brighton and the lure of clearing several crates of garden waste may be my next baby-step . Need to ensure that I stop it becoming a baby-toddle at this stage but if hairdressers get the kiss of life then the temptation may be too much.

From John in Brighton: Baby steps But Is It Too Fast?

13 May: All of last week we sought answers about relaxation of lock-down and for once the Government was of a piece. “You’ll have to wait and see what the Prime Minister says on Sunday” was the repeated mantra. This seemed like such a key moment of revelation that for once I made a point to listen in live…and it felt rather bathetic. An outline was put forward but we’d have to wait another twenty four hours till his next pronouncement for details.  
So what have we got? “Stay at Home” is ditched and now it’s “Stay Alert”. The OED offers two definitions for alert – firstly able to think clearly and be intellectually active so I’ll continue the bridge three times per week and add Soduku on the other days. Secondly to be vigilant and quick to notice potentially dangerous situations which means honing our skills in social distancing, washing our hands even more and politely asking anyone who coughs or sneezes to go and get tested. That kills two birds – public safety and Matt’s chance of occasionally hitting the testing (in more ways than one) target. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick seemed to agree with much of my interpretation but added it also means stay at home as much as you can. Eh! So why not just stick with Stay at Home which people seem to understand and are largely abiding by? As Nick Cohen pointed out in The Observer most people share one common behavioural characteristic in that we don’t want to die and the daily rate of infections is well high enough to concentrate most peoples’ minds. We can go out for more than one dabble of exercise daily – I get that bit. We can meet one person from outside our household but two metres apart and in a public place. Why not in my back garden? Why only one considering you could cross paths at two metres with fifty people on the weekly supermarket visit? If possible work from home but if you can’t then you are encouraged to go back to work but not on public transport….and certainly not without a face covering. The videos of yesterday’s commuters showed considerable increases in numbers on the London underground and many with faces as naked as the Rokeby Venus. 
And why have the other three nations been more cautious in any relaxation and indeed the “Stay at Home” edict survives in all three? Does the virus really change its characteristics as it crosses Offa’s Dyke, Hadrian’s Wall or the Irish Sea? Are the Welsh, Scots and Irish different in their susceptibility to corona? I think not to all of those and any variations are simply down to an ideological basis, have no apparent logic and at worst could create some confusion.
I fully acknowledge that the decisions of when and how to exit lock-down are incredibly difficult and at some point the water must be tested and further changes determined incrementally or in reverse. I’m neither an infectious disease pundit nor an epidemiologist but I’m worried that although the government refer to the changes as baby steps the rather more nebulous Stay Alert and get back to work if you can may be more sweeping than first they seem. Even with social distancing maintained there is undoubtedly increased risk of closer contact than has been the case in lock-down. Indeed it is axiomatic that the current falls in new cases and deaths is because of the strict lock-down. Even so yesterday before the relaxation kicks in there were 3403 new cases and 627 deaths and bear in mind this is a likely underestimate as it only includes those who tested positive. The oft-quoted R(eproduction) number is between 0.5 and 0.9 so not far below the cut-off at 1.0 which is seen as the red line. In my humble opinion I’d be with the other Home Nations and keep a tight lock-down pro tem with perhaps some liberation of outdoor activity as my tentative neonatal step. It feels like a tug of war between health and the economy and I’d be adding my heft to the health side at present. Lives that are lost cannot be recovered whereas one can but hope that the economy can be resuscitated even if it is a long and slow process – Germany rose from ruin in 1945 to become the strongest nation in Europe. Secondly I worry that the push to start employment and business could be counter-intuitive in that if there is a second spike and reintroduced lock-down this could be a more lengthy and damaging process in the long run. Maybe I need to look on Amazon for a pair of rose-tinted glasses although I see that the BMA are also now suggesting that the changes could be too quick and risk a second spike.
I’m wondering who is driving this change. It was Professor Neil Ferguson who advised the government to stop their ill-judged policy of herd immunity and replace it with lock-down albeit belatedly but unfortunately he fell on his sword earlier this month after breaching his own advice. Who is now the main source of medical advice and on what evidence is the current advice being given?  Last week Matt Hancock seemed to be emphasising that the population’s health was the top priority in any planned changes and there should be no compromise that might induce risk. Yesterday morning to my surprise he was on Breakfast TV saying, and I quote, “that it is important that people can get back to work because there is a massive massive (sic) economic cost to what we are having to do for health reasons. And although I don’t like that I am absolutely determined to ensure that the health of the nation is protected”. Is Matt dissembling? Does he really support the importance of people leaving their homes to work or is he following BJ’s bulldozing party line? And is BJ taking a leaf out of Donald’s book? And we don’t seem to have heard from Dominic Cummings lately – has he had a part to play? I’d be interested in details of the process….
…and equally of how the Covid is going to respond to its newfound little window of opportunity.

From John in Brighton: It’s Thursday, it’s eight o’clock, it’s Clapadoc

It’s Friday, it’s five O’Clock, it’s Crackerjack! On a weekend when we look back 75 years we of a certain age only need to go back 55 for that gem of childhood TV. Albeit in very different circumstances we now have It’s Thursday, it’s eight O’Clock, it’s Clapadoc – the whole of the NHS in fact. And – a bit like the government care workers were added as an afterthought so it became Clap for Carers. Last week the turnout was low and I wondered if the gloss was wearing thin after seven weeks but a resurgence this week suggested otherwise. I suspect it was simply that a week ago it was bitterly chilly and the warmth of feeling this Thursday was pathetic fallacy after a day of bright sunshine. Let’s hope the waning virus doesn’t pick up any tips about a comeback in the weeks ahead giving a V sign (non-Churchillian) to BJ in response to any concessions he offers tonight..
As I recall the clap was initiated after a nurse went viral (perhaps it’s time to rename that phenomenon) as she tearfully reported how she shopped at the end of her shift only to find the stock-pilers had left aisles of empty shelves. The clapping extended into fundraising and a nigh-on hysteria as best shown by Captain – sorry Colonel – Tom raising over thirty million quid walking back and forth in his garden. That’s fantastic but it’s an extreme behaviour. Food donations poured in up and down the land along with various other goodwill offerings to NHS workers. The NHS has been the jewel in the country’s crown since it’s inception three years after VE day, one time envy of the World but perhaps a little less so of late and close to the hearts of the population. But Covid has driven that appreciation to another level.  Maybe it’s a genuine reassurance that every one of us is grateful that if afflicted the facility and expertise will be there for us and without a monumental invoice at discharge, maybe it’s sympathy for those working long shifts in sweaty and uncomfortable PPE or maybe anxiety and even guilt that others will be working at risk to themselves and their families because they haven’t got the PPE.  But Covid has also unveiled a large elephant which we’ve managed to brush under the carpet to date (there must be a cartoon there if someone’s not already done it). How often we hear of Matt referred to as Health Secretary but often minus the second half of his portfolio……and Social Care. As we salute the wartime generation and the gratitude we owe them,  many of the survivors live in care homes dependent on committed carers working under conditions at least as challenging in many ways as the NHS and paid at a lowly level. Sadly the staff have not received the government support they need and deserve despite Matt claiming that care homes had been a top priority since the start of the pandemic.  The evidence suggests otherwise.
Despite the public outpouring many of the NHS workers would not see themselves as heroes but simply doing a job. And indeed some are now acknowledging that they are in employment and can afford food which may contrast with the many who have lost their jobs and some are suggesting that perhaps food donations, albeit much appreciated, could be better given to those who are struggling and to food banks and the homeless. A detour to the nearest care home might not go amiss.
But what about the future?  In retrospect errors have been made and there will be lessons to be learnt in planning for future unpredictable health challenges. Regarding the NHS the progressive increase in funding is to be welcomed but against ever rising demand as the population ages and treatments and drugs become dearer so it’s running to keep up. Along the way there have also been “efficiency savings” – at what point does that euphemism become a cutback?  In a short piece in The Observer of 26 April Kenan Malik made the point that heroism stands out more in the context of lack of resources or poor conditions. This is well illustrated by the Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara whom Malik referred to “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a Communist”. We need to ensure that our NHS is appropriately funded and settle for no less. And may the profile of care of the elderly and vulnerable come out of the shadows with staff given the facilities and support that they need and a fair wage. In February Dame Esther Rantzen et al made the case to BJ for a dedicated Minister for the Elderly – as far as I’m aware we await a response…..

From John in Brighton, UK – The Race is ON

The Race is On
It seems a bit of a contradiction to describe a potential lifesaver as a “silver bullet” but all hope of eventual total freedom from corona lock-down is vested in a vaccine. One word of caution – just as we can’t guarantee that the natural infection confers immunity and if so for how long so we should remain optimistic for the vaccine but be aware of potential limitations.
The pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca is collaborating to produce the “Oxford vaccine” if that is demonstrated to be effective – it is hoped some initial data on the trial may be available by mid June. But even if production ensues soon after that it will amount to a mere tens of millions of doses by the end of the year.

The race is on says the popular demotic as an effective vaccine is sought in all corners of the World. But having lost this year’s Grand National perhaps this could be a metaphorical equivalent. Having cleared with ease the minor fences to fast track the process we now confront the giant sixth fence Bechers Brook in trying to  develop a vaccine. How we’d cheer if we could hear Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary “…and the Jenner Institute is clear and leading the field as they head towards the seventh…”. But unfortunately that may not be the toughest of the hurdles. The ninth is Valentines and that’s finding the most effective collaboration in terms of production and finance between research  and industry although that should be facilitated by the “not for profit” agreements. Over that one but the fifteenth is arguably the toughest of the lot – the dreaded Chair. That’s the moral and ethical debate about who gets the vaccine first. For worldwide coverage billions of doses are needed. Two other pharmaceutical leviathans GSK and Sanofi are collaborating but the chief medical officer of the former estimates they could only produce enough for about 20% of the World population within a year. So how best to maximise production and distribute it fairly and irrespective of any ability to pay?
In March, it was reported that President Trump had approached a German company, albeit with a US citizen as its CEO, seeking sole access for the US when they develop a vaccine  – and offering significant financial incentives. Matt Hancock is under pressure to guarantee Britons having priority access to any UK developed vaccine. On the other hand last week Dominic Raab joined Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Melinda Gates and others to back the WHO proposal for equitable access worldwide. Welcome back BJ and good luck with sorting that one. His mate Donald, along with China, Russia and India did not offer their backing incidentally.
Everyone will have a view. Mine is that if UK expertise and investment in research has borne fruit then the British should get first….and second, third and fourth bites of the cherry. That may prima facie be against the principles of social justice and fairness that I endorse but here’s my rationale. Firstly, yes it is partially and perhaps selfishly that we must all yearn the day when our lifestyles return to a semblance of normality and our economy can be kick-started. The finishing post can’t come too soon. But secondly I implicitly trust UK research notably over the efficacy of the vaccine and also production standards in the UK are second to none whereas I might feel less confident if the provenance was overseas. And thirdly it mitigates against a logistical nightmare. If we were rationed a proportion of available vaccine there would be endless debates as to who would be prioritized, which services do we need to bring out of hibernation first and how long will everyone else have to wait. The old? Underlying health issues? NHS front-line or the oft ignored care homes? Or the dark horses with two risk factors like the obese males, could they be the Foinavons? And would it be morally wrong to allow those with means to buy the vaccine privately? Far better surely to complete immunization of our population and then distribute appropriately and generously to other nations.
And finally, I ponder whether we may confront another potential price for BJ’s other baby – Brexit? We have heard much about Exercise Cygnus in October 2016 which looked at plans in the event of a pandemic albeit flu. It never got published nor acted upon and my suspicion is that all efforts were channeled into Brexit following the referendum four months earlier. We missed out on securing PPE earlier this year in a joint procurement with the EU purportedly because we never got the e-mails which the EU has denied. Again, perhaps cynically, I wonder if this was not an ideological decision. Could we be on the threshold of a third Brexit payback?  With BJ now in thrall to Donald  he may well see vaccine sharing as a golden opportunity to consolidate The Special Relationship. Presumably we’d get a shed-load of disinfectant as quid pro quo.

from John T in Brighton, UK: compare and contrast …

I was proud to be a doctor at the end of the Andrew Marr show this week – not for anything I’d done I hasten to add but for the performance of one of our number. The Herculean efforts of NHS staff is widely reported and rightly lauded and of course most of us were on the doorstep last night – I’m amazed how many decibels I can bang up with a frying pan and plastic spatula. But it was Sarah Gilbert’s interview with Marr that really inspired me – Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford (how niche can you get?) I’ve never had cause to meet her but she comes across as very normal, self-effacing and chasing the Holy Grail for the good of the World and not any personal glory or riches. Her answers were well-informed, clear and honest with Marr stating afterwards that you do get clear answers when you interview Professors. I’d say he’s spent too much time with politicians whereas many other professionals and almost all doctors will be equally candid as it’s dyed into our wool.

Later in the programme he interviewed Michael Gove and it was the usual smoke and mirrors, defensive answers and the stock responses (whatever the question) “we’re working round the clock…”, “we’re working as hard as we can….”. Yes but the point is Mike we’re trying to make up ground for previous delays and errors – as well illustrated in a “Five Page Special” in The Observer of the same day. It’s ingrained as a doctor that honesty and integrity are paramount and I despair at the deficiency in many MPs whose role should encompass leading by example. 

And there’s another thing as Professor Gilbert told of how there are other labs around the World  also pursuing a vaccine and although the race is on, it is not dog eat dog but the race is to find an effective agent as soon as possible and labs collaborate to that end. Oxford have developed a vaccine in a few weeks whereas it would normally be a couple of years or so. Contrast that to the appalling process of Brexit with politicians deadlocked in years of lying and engaging in squabbles and insults more befitting to the local primary school playground. A survey last Summer put politicians as the least trusted profession by a country mile – outscoring the notorious car salesmen by 50% incidentally – and doctors as top of the trusted league with nurses a little way behind in second. I rest my case, your Honour.

As well as dishonesty so duplicity is also anathema to me. Three years ago we saw Theresa May pour praise and gratitude on the firefighters of Grenfell but just two weeks later she voted against lifting the 1% pay cap on public service workers and so did Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock. The consequent scenes of Tory whooping were disrespectful and a disgrace. In the midst of a different crisis MPs left, right and centre express their heartfelt gratitude to NHS staff, and other public service workers, with BJ taking a lead role. First off clapping outside No 10 and then following a sojourn in ICU mentioning two nurses by name in dispatches which I think he should have done privately – to pick them out simply on account of the vagaries of rostering whilst many work equally hard up and down the country seems wrong to me. Presumably Boris was too poorly to object that one of the nurses was born in Portugal – an import from the EU would surely have been beyond the pale to a more robust BJ. But the key question is whether, as the country goes into recession the public services can expect the pay rise they deserve or will nurses pursue an alternative increase – the number resorting to food banks. MPs got a surreptitious 3.1% pay rise this month and I’d propose we give public service workers three times that and let the common people and not self-centred MPs decide. I feel another referendum coming on.

But it could be worse……although I’d rate BJ as the most egotesticle (sic) and inept PM I can recall he’s still trumped by his friend Donald who said this morning that we’re lucky to have BJ!!  I didn’t watch The Big Night In Last Night but I’ll bet there wasn’t anything as funny as what I saw on Breakfast News earlier. The Donald suggesting that we could defeat corona virus with ultraviolet light and if necessary get that into the body through the skin or failing that there’s intravenous disinfectant. Once I’d stopped guffawing I was left with two serious questions. Please God no one will believe him and reach for the syringe or dare a buddy to do so and secondly how on Earth can a nation elect this guy to be the most powerful person in the World?

But back in the real World of sanity the first two doses of vaccine have been administered yesterday to kick off the Oxford trial….we wait and watch with  fingers crossed.

from John T. in Brighton, UK: the obliteration of sport …

“I’m gutted” to dip into my football lexicon. I’ve been pre-empted to borrow from the bridge equivalent. For a while I’ve been thinking about another blog and earmarked this one specifically for today for one good reason. Then in yesterday’s Observer Kenan Malik nicks my thunder with an excellent article on a similar theme – corona and sport. Apart from trundling around on my bike my sporting base is largely block W1G at The Amex aka Brighton and Hove Albion, the boundary at Hove or an armchair. In the flesh is so much more atmospheric – my brother could watch England rugby on terrestrial telly but will happily travel from Cornwall to Twickers as a day out with adrenaline flowing, euphoria or dismay both mitigated by a pint or two ….of champers or beer depending on the outcome.

As a season ticket holder I’m sure that our first response as the fixture list comes out is to look for the zingers, the not-to-be-missed and for some at Brighton that would be arch rivals Crystal Palace but for me it’s Liverpool as a club that’s had a cachet for as long as I can remember. Bill Shankly was not only a great manager but had the odd pithy comment in his broad Scottish brogue perhaps most famously declaring football more important than life or death. His current counterpart Jurgen Klopp was perhaps closer to the truth as the coronavirus took a hold “football is the most important of the least important things but today football isn’t important at all”. Great teams over the years but has there been one better than the present –  World club champions, European champions and now 25 points clear at the top of The Premiership?

To borrow a much used word of late, that’s unprecedented. Why specifically today for the blog as alluded to above? Well as Rod Stewart sang “Tonight’s the Night” …or at least it should have been. I should have been at The Amex for an 8pm kick off to watch first hand the brilliant team and their charismatic manager, no rain and perfect conditions – today it doesn’t feel like it’s not important but of course it is in reality. 

And there’s something even bigger about Liverpool and a key feature of sport that we are missing. The crowd, the social side, it’s like a family – we celebrate the highs together and commiserate as we drift towards the dreaded “bottom three”. Congratulations to Michael Ball and Captain Tom on reaching the top with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but I’m afraid it will never top the Kop’s version in full voice. The Anfield anthem sends a shiver down the spine. I wish we had a song …so I started to write one:

Beware, before the season’s throu’

The mighty Seagulls will shit on you.

But they won’t – we lose more games than we win. And the BBC would probably ban us. So I gave up.

It’s not just a social event. Sport is an escape whereby for a few hours the mundane and the stress moves to the back-burner. A couple of hours watching Sussex cricket is so much more peaceful and genteel but has a remarkable calming effect lacking , at least for me, the passion that accompanies football. Willow on leather and some gentle applause is almost Ye Olde England. And it’s a chance to witness the thoroughbreds playing at a high level  – those who achieved what we might have aspired to but quickly realised was never to be. The Open golf comes South once every five to ten years and for the first time ever I have a ticket for Day 1 at Sandwich but I’ve no doubt it’ll be cancelled. Surely watching the very best golfers in the World will clarify why they make the game look ridiculously easy whilst us hackers tack from rough to rough and three putt to boot.

And then sport offers the chance to express a bit of national pride. For years we waited for a British winner at Wimbledon only to meet a debate as to whether strictly speaking Andy wasn’t one of us – he’s Scottish so keep your hands off him you Sassenachs. Will it happen again in my lifetime I wonder, certainly not this year thanks to corona? And of course The Olympics, arguably the pinnacle of international sport, has been postponed for a year.

So there it is the buzz, the highs and lows, the social contacts of sport knocked out (boxing is one sport I eschew) not by a hunky muscleman or a nifty sprinter but by a spiky little ball (that’s as near as it gets to sport) of genetic material coated in lipid and a mere 80-billionth of a metre diameter.  As Kipling said :

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 

And treat those two impostors just the same

For many of us the obliteration of sport feels like a disaster and we can but hope that a vaccine will kick the virus into touch and the good days and evenings resume before too long but I’m not optimistic.

from John T. in Brighton, UK: count your blessings …

All things are by degree as they say. Today would have been the climax of an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen but corona virus precluded the gathering of dwindling numbers of survivors and families.  

At 3pm on Sunday 15th April 1945 British troops entered the camp to horrors that were all but inconceivable. A sign outside the camp subsequently indicated that 10,000 unburied dead were discovered and another 13,000 succumbed within a short period of time afterwards.  The first journalist to gain entry was the war correspondent Richard Dimbleby and if you’re feeling sorry for yourself confronting another three weeks of lockdown (for starters) then a listen to his broadcast may reset your emotional compass. The BBC initially refused to broadcast his report as they didn’t believe it could be true but relented when Dimbleby threatened resignation.  It went out on the 19th April, 75 years ago to the day. Available on BBC Archive it is a brilliant account – in a mere twelve minutes Dimbleby paints a picture that leaves nothing to the imagination. He later stated that this was the worst day of his life. A sunny afternoon in Hove on lockdown suddenly feels like a walk in the park – which we are still permitted.–the-holocaust/zbdqrj6

Starvation was universal and cannibalism ensued – one survivor joked at a previous commemoration event that it was the first hot meal he’d ever had at Belsen and despite the panic buying shortage hasn’t really affected us.  Water has never been under threat for us – in Belsen you’d drink from a puddle. Yes, disease was rampant – typhus, typhoid, diphtheria and more and surely many a virus even if it wasn’t corona but there the commonality ends. Dimbleby describes that what was “so ghastly” (sic) wasn’t so much the individual acts of barbarism but the gradual breakdown of civilisation as happens when humans are herded like animals in such dreadful conditions. People ceased to care about the customs and conventions of normal life. Contrast that with one cause for corona celebration as communities and individuals have pulled together more than at any other time in the living memory of most of us. 

And there’s perhaps another reason to remember this day as well as a counterpoint to the relative hardship that we perceive. The news tends to focus on the topic of the moment and after months of Brexit, Brexit, Brexit I haven’t heard the word for about two months. We should not take our eye off the ball that there are pockets of ethnic and religious hatred simmering in various parts of the World and whose erumpent shoots could burst forth given half the chance. This must never be allowed to happen again. Corona virus may have brought most things to an end, albeit temporary for many, but we can’t rely on it to prevent other evils emerging.

from John in Brighton, UK: the debate of health v the economy

April16. As the debate of health v economy gathers pace I do support the current policy of maintaining the lockdown pro tem.  Maybe that reflects my background in health as opposed to business and economy which seems like a foreign land when people explain the intricacies of the economy. My level is that I have a certain income each month, certain outgoings and try to save a bit for the rainy day. Speaking of which, and I wouldn’t have said this a month ago when Covid first crossed The Channel, but perhaps our clap for carers could double as a rain dance for the weekend. But in the immediate notwithstanding my bias health would trump economy – every life saved spares families of the unthinkable grief, so well illustrated by some of the interviews we see on the news and we can always try and restore the economy to health in the months or years to come.

Nevertheless pent up in my South coast version of Wormwood Scrubs the recent warm afternoons have allowed my mind to drift into the sunlit uplands and reflect on whether we’ll be entering a different era. Above all will the pendulum that Margaret Thatcher swung away from the ethos of community and society swing back? It’s as if a genie has been let out of a bottle in the last few weeks and up and down the land people have grabbed the opportunity to do their bit – the Thursday clap, the NHS volunteers, communities looking after the old and vulnerable or the fundraising to name but four. Has there ever been a more extraordinary enterprise than 99 year old Captain Tom strolling in his garden aiming to raise a grand and this morning he crosses the twelve million mark and rising – all for the NHS?  It’s out of this World so with apologies to David Bowie perhaps I could plagiarise a few of his lines:

This is Captain Tom to Boris J

I’m stepping through the door

And I think my Zimmer knows what I must do

Tell the NHS I love it very much…

But here’s the crunch – is this a transient silver lining to a very black cloud or could it just be the beginning of a brave new world?  Will the moral compass swing along with Thatcher’s pendulum? Money will cease to be the benchmark of success and misguided lodestar towards bliss. Poverty brings misery but wealth won’t make you happy as my father taught me from a very young age. Instead we will focus on each other and the good of society now and the planet for the generations to come. Distinctly lacking in my view to date has been the role of politicians to lead by example – be it the dubious expense claims or the pay rises from which all other public servants are excluded there has been a degree of self interest and protection. So as primus inter pares we can look to Boris the bellwether – and perhaps his recent sojourn in intensive care might make him realise that the public services are a pillar of that society and deserve far more support than the Tories have offered to date. I don’t tend to gamble but I’ll stake a quid that he’ll be seen on the steps of Chequers this evening clapping away but more importantly will the tangible follow despite the enormous financial hit we are taking?  I’d love to be proved wrong but my glass is a little less than half full at present.

from John in Brighton, UK: an email from the GMC – the General Medical Council

April 10. I readily accept that examples of “being desperate” for the man on the Clapham omnibus would pale into insignificance in many parts of the World. The inveterate smoker on a long haul flight or train journey (not me) or urgently needing a leak on the motorway and the sign you pass says “Services 5 Miles” (been there, done that). Or more topically as the curtain is soon to come down on Lent my current yearning for chocolate after six weeks abstinence – surely that’ll mitigate some of the corona pain that we’re all feeling. But then there’s Matt Hancock’s desperate need for more doctors as their numbers shrink thro’ ill health (including a few deaths) and the vast numbers of patients. There’s no point building giant Nightingale hospitals if you cannot staff them. I was positively reassured that it was only to be doctors within three years of retirement who would get the call “Your Country Needs You” but just replace Kitchener with Matt or Boris. Let’s me off the hook, no need to feel guilty. 

But stone the crows on the afternoon of 2 April an e-mail from the GMC arrives out of the blue to tell me that my licence to practise is temporarily restored and if I don’t opt out within three days my details will be passed to the health service. My heart tells me that this is an opportunity to do my bit, something that will make a difference and is urgently needed – I’d love to do it. My head tells me otherwise and it’s unsafe in two ways. Firstly I’ve just received another text to say I’m high risk and essentially housebound for twelve weeks so that alone kicks it into touch. Maybe I could act as a telephone doc / advice helpline. But more generically I haven’t laid a finger nor a stethoscope on a patient for over five years. Medicine moves forward fast, my abilities retrograde with equal haste. I’m sceptical that a short refresher would get me anywhere near back to speed. I’d be worried that I might be something of a potential liability and I know from personal experience if you do make a serious error the stain on your conscience stays with you to the grave. Even in these unprecedented times I question whether I would want to take the risk and who covers my indemnity? Sadly I’ve declined the offer. Sorry Matt.

There is a final irony to this. I retired a little earlier than planned because of the bureaucracy and demands of revalidation – a process to weed out unsafe doctors (not that I was ever convinced it could). Politically correct, reassuring to the public but we all know that Shipman would have had no trouble revalidating. Maybe I would have still been in a position to help if I had stayed on – press-ganged into early retirement ‘cos I eschewed the safe doctor assessment, unwilling to resume now because I don’t feel safe.

from John T. in Brighton, UK: A week of sunshine

April 7. It must be at least fortnight since we saw rain and we’re blessed with a week of sunshine. The problem is that we’re like dogs who have been caged for hours on end in showing our enthusiasm to break free. The vast majority still adhere to the Government instruction staying local and restricting themselves to a once daily quota of exercise. But there’s always one … as the saying goes, except in this case rather more than one and some people sit in the park or on the beach or wander around in large groups. Sadly, unlike us humans, Covid does not adopt a happy and benevolent front under the spell of warm spring rays and our guard needs to be maintained.

Matt Hancock is quick to react but I can’t agree with his “threat”.  If people continue to transgress then the lockdown dial will be turned up and all outdoor exercise will be banned. Where I think this is flawed is that exercise is of paramount importance to physical and mental health and is to be encouraged. Add to that the reports of escalating domestic violence and there are very good reasons why we must “find a way”. Which leads to the second point – we would be punishing the vast majority who show social responsibility on account of a small number of recidivists. Cast your mind back a few years – it’s like the whole class will stay in at playtime because the culprit who committed some peccadillo declines to own up. Surely the right solution is to deal with the flaunters, even if that is to be deemed a crime, and let the rest of us out of our kennels for an hour or two.