from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Gratitude

May 1. Migration from rural to urban is reality in India. Millions of people are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban areas and metropolitan lobour markets, industries and farms. It has become essential for them from the regions that face frequent shortages of rainfall or they suffer floods, or where there are less or no opportunity for employment. There are other social, economical and political reasons also. It also adds burden on the urban areas in many aspects.

Many of these migrants do not bring their families along with them. Once a year they go to their native places to visit families. Among the biggest employers of migrant workers is the construction sector,textile, domestic work, transportation etc. They are poor people.

Sudden announcement of lockdown due to corona outbreak and because of the sealed borders they could not go back to their native places. When all others were staying with their families, these poor people could not. Under these kinds of situations everybody needs emotional support. They somehow tried to go back even walking several miles. They were stopped on the border of the district by the local administration  and quarantine them in schools, hostels or whichever place was readily available in that area. Their life became miserable. However, Government and NGO’s made some arrangements for their food free of cost as their income is nil in these days. 

Now the State governments are trying to make some arrangements to send them to their native places. The number of corona positive cases are increasing and therefore It is a challenging task for the government to send them safely. Now after 40 days various state governments talked with each other and made a plan to send these migrant labourers to their respective homes safely. Both the Government and these migrant workers faced problems because of the lockdown. But I must say that the Governments have failed in social intelligence before taking a decision of lockdown. There is a need to amend lobour laws for these kinds of situations about fixing the responsibilities of the respective governments.

But I have a story to tell about some sensitive migrant labourers even when they were suffering. Some migrant labourers who were provided temporary shelter in a school building during lockdown in a village Palsana, district Sikar, state of Rajasthan in India. As they were getting good food from the villagers they said we will go home when time comes, but we can not stay idle for long. We may get sick if we don’t work. They voluntarily offered to paint the building. We will not charge anything but give us paint and brush so that we can facelift the school building. Students studying in this School are like our children, at least they will speak good about us, will remember us. Villagers, administration, sarpanch and principal made all the arrangements and we are grateful to them. Hats off to labourers for showing gratitude to villagers for taking care of them in time of crisis.

I must say that they may be poor but rich in their heart!

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: on National Pride …

April 21stBritish readers will recall the carefully crafted address by the Queen on 5th April.  It studiously avoided saying anything about the Government whose leader had so embarrassed her over the proroguing of Parliament last Autumn.  Instead it concentrated on national character:

I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.  And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.

The question of whether we still have any right to take a national pride in the response to coronavirus has been thrown into relief by the revelations in the press over the weekend, particularly the 5,000-word piece in the Sunday Times.

The generalised ‘attributes of self-discipline, quiet good-humoured resolve and fellow-feeling’ remain valid.  Indeed, they have proved stronger than the Government initially feared as it hesitated about imposing a lock-down.  The street protests against restrictions on movement in the USA reported this week demonstrates what can happen in the absence of such resolve.  That said, there are also worrying reports about a sudden growth of domestic abuse inside closed-down families which may yet disfigure the celebration of fellow-feeling.

In terms of public policy, however, shame is the more appropriate sentiment.  Just ask yourself this question, of all the countries fighting the pandemic, which are seen as a model to be followed?  South Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany and some others.  No-one is viewing the daily British news conferences for lessons about what they should be doing.

It is not as though we have no inherited strengths.  We have an economy strong enough to withstand emergency bail-outs worth many billions of pounds.  We have a sophisticated production and distribution system which has ensured, unlike many developing countries, that there is still food in the shops.  We have a health service which, in contrast to Trump’s America, covers the whole population.  And once we led the world in the specific field of pandemic resolution.  No longer.  According to the Sunday Times:

“Several emergency planners and scientists said that the plans to protect the UK in a pandemic had once been a priority and had been well funded for the decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But then austerity cuts struck. “We were the envy of the world,” the source said, “but pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years, when there were more pressing needs.”  [to judge from a TV interview I saw, that ‘source’ is Sir David King, a former Chief Scientific Officer]

The planning had atrophied.  The funding had been cut.  And once the crisis began, the wrong decisions were taken by a Cabinet whose members had been appointed solely on the basis of their attitude to Brexit.  Its leader fulfilled all the expectations which his career had predicted:

“There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there,” the adviser said. “And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”

What we still have is a world-class scientific community (though universities, including Imperial, are going to be very hard hit by a combination of the pandemic and Brexit).  It may yet be that those working on a vaccine at Oxford and elsewhere will come up with the solution that will save the world.  Then, and only then, will we have a cause for national pride in how we responded.      

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Borders

March 14. Every morning, I draw back the curtains in my bedroom and look across the Severn into Wales.  About six miles away, as the crow flies, there is a volcanic outcrop called The Breiddens in what was once Montgomeryshire and is now Powys.  On the summit of the hill sits Rodney’s Column, a forerunner of Nelson’s monument in Trafalgar Square.   It was erected in 1781-82 by the “Gentlemen of Montgomeryshire” to commemorate the victorious battles of Admiral Rodney.  The Admiral and I greet each other, and go about our day’s business.

The Welsh Border weaves through the Marches, the outcome not of rational planning but the bloody skirmishes fought in the Middle Ages.  If we drive north from our English home, we pass into Wales around Wrexham and then back into England as we approach Chester, once a Roman defensive outpost.  Shrewsbury is not only an English county town, but much the largest commercial centre between England and the Mid-Wales coast.  In the streets you hear Welsh accents, and from time to time a different language spoken by those who have travelled in for a day’s shopping.  The town’s railway station is the main hub for the otherwise fractured Welsh system.

People and cultures are irretrievably mixed.  I was therefore astonished to hear in last Wednesday’s government briefing a journalist ask the Minister whether the four nations of the United Kingdom would adopt different policies of social isolation when it came to relaxing the Coronavirus lockdown.  This would mean adjacent and interleaved communities pursuing different contact regimes.  The prospect seemed so insane that I expected an immediate denial.  None came.  This was presumably because earlier in the day the First Minister of Wales had been widely reported speculating on the policy he might adopt on this critical question, without any reference to what other devolved administrations might do.  He has the power to go his own way, and at present does not seem to be consulting with the English Government.  Today the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she may introduce her own scheme.   There is evidence that staff in the nations are now fighting each other for essential kit.  Welsh and Scottish care home managers have complained that their usual suppliers have told them that all their PPE stock was now earmarked for England.  Each administration has its own Chief Medical Officer (or did so until the Scottish official was forced to resign because she had twice visited her holiday home in defiance of the lock-down policy she herself had promulgated), and is running its own systems.  The NHS scheme for identifying the especially vulnerable that I discussed on April 6 I now discover applies only to England.  Were I living a few miles to the west, I would not be affected by it. 

Within England, the coronavirus has further exposed the incoherence of devolved power.  To the south of my home the newly created Mayor of the West Midlands has authority over regional transport but little else.  To the north the Mayor of Manchester actually has power over health provision, though it is too soon to know how well that is working.  The adjacent Mayor of Liverpool, on the other hand, is responsible merely for ‘leading the city, building investor confidence, and directing new resources to economic priorities.’  The new Mayor of Leeds, like the West Midlands, just does trains and buses. There is little sense of local ownership of medical services. The Strategic Health Authorities might have pulled an integrated regional policy together, but they were abolished in 2013.  It is now recognised that a reason why Germany has been so much better than Britain at developing coronavirus testing systems is that the Länder, whose identities in some cases pre-date Germany itself, had long built up effective networks linking public and private provision in their regions, which they were able to mobilise in ways in which Public Health England has conspicuously failed to do.  The ritual that has now been established of daily, London-based briefings merely accentuates the sense that everything that matters in terms of decision-making and public spending is based in the capital.

This crisis is placing all our systems under an unforgiving spotlight, not least the incoherent mix of centralisation and regional initiative that has built up in Britain.   This sense of impoverished local ownership and dislocated national devolution had much to do with Brexit, and is now being further exposed by the pandemic.

from David Vincent, Shrewsbury, UK: An infection foretold.

April 10.  Now it’s personal.  I learnt last night that my niece, my sister’s younger daughter, has coronavirus.  She is a twenty-eight-year old, recently-qualified doctor, working in a city-centre hospital.  She was infected five days ago, and is resting at home.

I am of course anxious about her, though her symptoms do not seem serious.  She is young and fit and the likelihood must be that she will make a full recovery.  I am also concerned for her parents’ anxiety.  But most of all I am just infuriated by the event.  Many of the cases of coronavirus can be described as random misfortunes.  Not this one.  She was told three weeks ago that she was being posted to a Covid-19 ward.  I was in touch with her parents, who were very worried that she would not be given appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE).  The press was full of stories about shortages, and I could understand their fears.  But I did think that by the time she entered the ward, something would have been done.

It was not.  She lasted just a week before a coughing patient got through her inadequate protection.  This was a predictable and predicted outcome.  A monument, amongst many others, to the criminal lack of preparedness of the NHS, and the Government that funds and manages it.  We are now nearly three months beyond the point when the spread of the epidemic to Britain became a realistic likelihood. And still every part of the system is in arrears.

There is my niece’s suffering – it started with a fierce headache, and she was tested and sent home when she complained she could not taste the chocolates a well-wisher had sent to the ward.  Now she feels extremely tired.  And there is the sheer misuse of resources.  My niece was freshly trained and full of enthusiasm.  She shared a flat with another young doctor who as a consequence has had to self-isolate.  So that’s two doctors who should be on the front line, shut up at home.  It is an utterly stupid, avoidable waste.

from Susan S. in Washington, DC. USA. April 1, 2020

April 1. Does anyone else feel as if you are living in two different realities at once?   I wake up in the morning and go outside to pick up the newspaper, which has been delivered faithfully by 0600  – the same as always.  On Thursdays the men in the large noisy garbage trucks rumble through the alleys collecting rubbish – as they have for years.   The Post Office is open, and the same clerks who have been there forever, are still as surly as ever.   The coffee machine in my kitchen continues to work. And the cat demands his breakfast as he always does.  I think about whether it is warm enough yet to put vegetable plants in my plot in the nearby community garden.   So, on one hand, the situation seems normal.  But when I turn on the radio for the news, the other reality begins to crowd out normalcy.    

Each morning the new numbers of infected and dead – locally, nationally, and internationally – dominate the news.  The latest usually erroneous  and always self-aggrandizing statements by Trump are repeated (why do news organizations continue to give him oxygen by covering every stupid statement he makes??).  Today I spent a couple of hours on the internet watching videos of how to make a no-sew face mask, because we now anticipate the recommendation will soon be that everyone should wear a mask when leaving the house.   A woman on our community listserv asked if anyone had a sewing machine they don’t use and would give it or lend it to her to sew face masks.  I responded, took my old sewing machine that I haven’t used for years, and dropped it on her front stoop.   A smart woman in our neighborhood put out a call for volunteers who would be willing to run errands from people in the neighborhood who are homebound.  30 of us signed up right away. I’ve only been called on once to pick up and deliver medication from the pharmacy to an elderly widower.  We spoke through the door when I got to his house. He was clearly relieved.  Parks are now being shut down, because young people continue to congregate, play basketball (contact sport!) or sit close together at picnic tables talking and laughing about whatever 15 year olds talk about.   They’ll find somewhere else to gather.  There hasn’t been any flour or yeast in any of the stores.  Is everyone baking bread? 

 Obviously, these are all quite unimportant matters compared to what is going on nationally.  Trump announced at a press conference the other day that he isn’t going to give much-needed medical equipment to certain states unless the governors ‘are nice to him.’  States like New York, which is now the center of the CV in the US.  I watch Gov Cuomo’s press briefing most days.  Today he announced that based on the modeling they’ve done and in one of the worst case scenarios, NY will need 117,000 beds and 37,000 ventilators.  Trump has sent NY 4,000 ventilators.  Florida, on the other hand, which has a Republican governor, got 100% of his request fulfilled.   These are lives at risk, folks.  Unconscionable.  

 So, as to helping to stay sane, I have been gathering web sites that provide some relief and distraction.  Here are a few of them.   Maybe collectively we can continue to add to the list.   Keep well and stay strong!

 The Saint Who Stopped an Epidemic Is on Lockdown at the Met

 Songs of Comfort,

 Virtual garden tours,

 Google arts and culture,

 Coursera – free course on The Science of Well-Being, taught by Yale U psychology professor, Laurie Santos,

 Globe Theater performances,

 10 virtual tours of the world’s most famous landmarks,

from David Maughan Brown in York, UK. March 2020

31 March. So much for our liberal society.  NHS staff who are risking their lives every time they go near a Covid-19 patient without adequate protective equipment, which for many of them is most of the time, are now being told that they risk losing their jobs if they speak to the media or complain on social media about the lack of appropriate equipment.  So they have a choice: risk their jobs or risk their lives.  Not that speaking out about the danger they are expected to court every day would appear to have made any difference.   At least there are two sides to the hopelessly bad planning and general incompetence coin:  significant numbers of NHS staff in self-isolation can’t get back to work, and can’t therefore run further risk of contamination, because they can’t be tested.  Germany is testing 500,000 people a week; we, after weeks of promises to ramp up testing, think we might have got it up to 7,500 a day.

In the meantime a liberal reluctance to issue clear and unequivocal instructions to the police and general populace has resulted in some police forces taking it upon themselves to “shame” people who have been driving out into the countryside to take their one form of exercise a day by publishing drone footage of their dog–walks, and to issue people with court orders for going for a drive or going to the shops to buy “non-essential items.”  Corner shops have been instructed in some parts of the country not to sell Easter eggs because they aren’t “essential”. Tell that to the parents of all the children who will be looking out for the Easter Rabbit come Easter. Or is home-schooling these days supposed to include lessons on how closely related Covid-19 is to myxomatosis?

30 March. We were scheduled to be in the Kruger National Park today with Sarah, Andreas, Hannah and Mia.  Apart from anything else, that would have made sure Andreas was well away from the “front-line” at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield’s A&E department, where he is a consultant.   Worrying about how he is going to survive the pandemic in the absence of the protective equipment all the medical staff need has cast a shadow over the past 10 days for us all – a particularly deep and dark shadow where Sarah is concerned.

As the novelty of coping with the lockdown fades, its place is being taken, for me at least, by steadily growing anger.   A new global plague such as Covid-19 has been predicted for decades. Peter Schwartz, to give just one example, identified it as one of his ‘inevitable surprises’ nearly 20 years ago.  Ebola, swine flu, and SARS have since highlighted that likelihood, but without going on to become global pandemics themselves.  So what has the UK government done by way of preparation for Covid-19?  It has spent the past ten years cutting the funding to the NHS, and the public sector more generally, in a blindly ideological, and wholly unnecessary, ‘austerity’ drive whose underlying goal has been to shrink the State.   Look where that has got them.  It has generated a shortage of some 50,000 nurses by removing university grants for nurses and discouraging qualified staff from other countries with its xenophobic Brexit rhetoric and the reputation its ‘hostile environment’ has given us.  It has hastened the early retirement of doctors by imposing ill-judged pension taxation and enabling increasingly unsustainable workloads.  Where Covid-19 itself is concerned, it initially followed the infantile example of Johnson’s friend Trump in not taking the virus seriously and delaying essential social distancing measures until it was too late.  And now, on the absurd grounds that ‘we have left the European Union’, it has refused the invitation to join an EU purchasing consortium dedicated to obtaining the protective equipment and respirators indispensable to coping with the pandemic.  All of which is going to result in thousands and thousands, potentially tens of thousands, of wholly unnecessary deaths, including the deaths of doctors, nurses, carers and other staff who are being expected to soldier on on the ‘front line’ unprotected by their derisorily inadequate ‘protective’ equipment.   One can only hope that once people have got over the “Stiff upper-lips Chaps, let’s all pull together, this is no time to criticize the government’ syndrome there will be a forensic, rigorous and unforgiving reckoning with those who have been criminally responsible for the many thousands of wholly unnecessary deaths.  

29 March. Part of the morning has been spent cursing IT as I carried on trying to find and retrieve files and folders on my iMac after a Zoom conference-call on Thursday somehow resulted in my desktop being wiped clean and some of my folders disappearing from view.  Zoom’s ‘documents transfer’ facility is apparently vulnerable to hacking, viruses and other nasties – not that we were transferring any documents – so time needed to be spent updating virus protection and getting it to scan everything in sight.  Unfortunately it isn’t much good at spotting coronavirus.

Part of the afternoon saw the other side of the coin as – again using Zoom – we played charades with the grandchildren in Cape Town, Sheffield and York, feeling profoundly thankful for the communication made possible by IT. 

28 March. The ‘New Walk’ along the bank of the Ouse, established in the late eighteenth century (hence the ‘New’ in its name), is eerily empty today – probably as empty as it has ever been early on a Saturday afternoon when spring has just sprung.  The occasional person being taken for walk by his, or occasionally her, dog was suggestive of the aftermath of a disaster movie in which 99% of the population has been wiped out and, with all the shops closed, the dog is being granted its wish for a final walk. 

The highlight of the lockdown to date has been this evening’s surprise dinner – a seriously good parmagiano – prepared for us entirely by James, our eleven-year-old grandson.  All we needed to do was pop it in the oven to bake for 40 minutes. James, very poignantly, could only stand on the pavement on the other side of the front gate and wave proudly to us as his father passed it to us at the front door.  With only the recommended two or three hours of structured time being devoted to ‘home-schooling’ every day, and no sport to play in the afternoons and evenings, one of the positives that could come out of the lockdown is the range of new interests and skills children are having the opportunity to develop.

27 March. News from Cape Town seems better, or at least no worse.  Brendan and Becky both feeling better but not, I suspect, entirely up for home-schooling two lively little girls who would appear from Face Time to be fully recovered and now feeling cabin-feverish rather than Covid-feverish.  

Our boiler has taken itself off duty.  Having observed the warm spring weather of the past two days it has decided it is no longer needed in the war on cold and gone AWOL.  Given that Intelligence is available suggesting that the cold has only beaten a brief retreat by way of a diversionary ploy – the forecasters are predicting a full frontal assault over the weekend with the temperature dipping to 2 degrees – we have called in auxiliary forces by way of true British Gas.  (Well we wouldn’t be expected at a time of national embattlement to tolerate any other nationality would we?)  We are relying on whoever we have enlisted in this particular skirmish to get the boiler back on duty in appropriately sergeant-majorish style.  A luta continua!

26 March. News comes of the first family members to contract the virus.  Becky, our Cape Town daughter-in-law, had been working very closely with the first member of the Cape Town university staff to test positive, and had been self-isolating for ten days.  She’s had a high temperature and bad headache for two or three days, but no cough; both our granddaughters have had temperatures, one for three days the other just one day; and Brendan now has the temperature and very bad headache.  Becky had booked to have the test but her GP told her after a phone consultation that it would be a waste of a test as he was certain she had contracted the virus.

One of the consoling factors about living so far away from them has always been the thought that if anything bad happened, if our support was ever really needed, we could get a flight to Cape Town and be there within 24 hours.  Now there are no flights, and even if we could get to Cape Town we wouldn’t be allowed in: the border is closed.  For the first time in my 44 years of being a father I find myself wholly unable to go to the help one of my children if he really needs me.  It is a rather bitter irony that the best thing we could do in present circumstances to help was, in fact, what we did:  two weeks ago we cancelled our visit to Cape Town at the last minute, partly because of the responsibility it would have put of Brendan and Becky had anyone in the family gone down with the virus.

25 March. Time Stands Still. The clock on the Tower House clock-tower across the road has stopped working.  Time stands still.  Is it just that whoever usually winds the clock is self-isolating, or is there some kind of cosmic message there for us to spend our weeks of down-time puzzling over? It stopped at exactly twelve o’clock.  If there is a message to be read, one would much rather the clock had stopped one minute before it reached midnight.

My one permitted daily outing for exercise yesterday took me along beside the river again on my bike.  People were abiding by the ‘social distancing’ advice this time: keeping their distance, walking dogs and children in small family groups, going for solitary runs or bike-rides.  And that was on both sides of the river, not just the side where I saw four policemen ambling peaceably along in pairs in the spring sunshine making their uniformed presence visible.  Media commentators are talking about ‘house arrest’.  This is not, at this juncture, house arrest as those of us from South Africa know it.   Nor is the injunction not to meet more than one non-family member at a time as yet comparable to the Riotous Assemblies Act’s prohibition of ‘gatherings’ of more than two people.  Perhaps the clock stopped at midday and not at midnight.

24 March. So Boris has now formally and with due, and uncharacteristic, solemnity ‘enlisted’ us all in the ‘fight’ against Covid-19.  His best Churchillian imitation having been much more reminiscent of Captain Mainwaring, I can now feel myself authoritatively confirmed as a member of Dad’s Army, and go on military maneuvers around my house to make a cup of tea, knowing that I am ‘winning the battle’ by staying at home.

The wholly inappropriate invocation of World War II and the ‘Blitz spirit’ in the coronavirus context is a supreme example of selective memory.   The Blitz spirit didn’t ‘beat’ the bombs which rained down on our cities and, like the virus, killed large numbers of people; the heroic little boats that rescued the troops from Dunkirk wouldn’t have had to do so but for the shambolic and humiliating army retreat from which they serve as a distraction; and the cowardly and wholly unnecessary massacre of the civilian population of Dresden has to be conveniently forgotten if that war is to be invoked as our inspiration.   Coronavirus is a disease people need to avoid getting; it is not an enemy army we need to go to war against.

23 March. Went out for a ride beside the river yesterday afternoon to make the most of the spring sunshine and do something about incipient cabin fever.  There are no longer designated cycle and pedestrian sections of the path, the rubric being ‘share with care’.  That meant not only bewaring of dogs on seemingly endlessly extendable dog-leads, when they were on any leads at all, and avoiding children learning to get around on assorted skates and scooters, but also having to negotiate a way through clusters of socially undistanced young people busily ignoring all medical advice.

Are these the same young people who are reportedly pushing past elderly people to clean out the supermarkets during the hours supposedly set aside for NHS staff and the vulnerable?  Or haven’t they heard that there are 30 and 40 year olds with no underlying health conditions in intensive care in London? Or don’t they believe anything the experts are saying? Or do they just feel invincible?

22 March. It is going to be a very bleak Mother’s Day indeed for millions of elderly or unwell mothers social-distancing and self-isolating all over UK and unable to hug, or in many cases even see, their children.   Nowadays we can consider ourselves lucky that we do at least have Facetime and Whatsapp, and no doubt many others, that allow split-screen family get-togethers.  But it isn’t even approximately the same.

It is going to be an even bleaker Mother’s Day for the florists who are going to be left with buckets of expensive flowers that aren’t going to be sold, and the Mother’s Day card sellers who are going to have to put most of the cards back in a cupboard and hope that if they still have their businesses by next year people will have forgotten the designs on the few cards they saw this year.   They, like so many others, will no doubt be spending their day wondering how on earth they are going to keep their businesses going.  One of the few categories of traders who will be enjoying the day are the wine-merchants with on-line delivery systems whose businesses are burgeoning.  It isn’t difficult to guess why.

21 March. The news carries footage of people queuing up the street with empty supermarket trolleys waiting to get into the supermarkets; people coming out of the supermarkets with grotesquely overfilled trolleys; and aisles and aisles of empty supermarket shelves. Today, the main news broadcasts have also picked up and broadcast a tearful plea to ‘just stop it!’ from a desperately tired critical-care nurse who had been to a supermarket to get some groceries after a 48 hour stint and found nothing to buy.  Everything had been taken by panicking shoppers stock-piling anything they could get their hands on.

“There’s plenty of food for everyone”, “there’s no need to stockpile”, we have repeatedly been told. The Prime Minister, flanked by his two chief experts – the Chief Medical Adviser and the Chief Scientific Adviser – have taken the opportunity to reinforce this message on more than one occasion from behind their lecterns at the daily 10 Downing Street news conference. They appear to be nonplussed that nobody seems to be listening to them. But, when it comes to having food on the table for their children to eat, why would anybody believe a Prime Minister who has built a career on being a serial liar? And, after the advocates of Brexit have spent three years trashing experts and pooh-poohing their expertise, why would people suddenly take any notice of experts just because Johnson, of all people, arrives at a lectern flanked by two of them? Chickens and roosts come to mind. But that doesn’t help exhausted nurses to buy the food they need.

20 March. There’s something quite liberating about looking at the calendar and recognizing that every commitment entered onto this month’s page, and next month’s too, if one could be bothered to look, could be erased, if one could be bothered to find a rubber to erase them. There’s nothing going on out there that I should be going to and need to be anxious about forgetting. It’s one step on from retirement, when I felt liberated at not having to go in to work from nine to five every day (at least in theory), but wondered how I was going to maintain some purpose in life. Right now the purpose in life is just to stay alive, and doing nothing at all apparently helps towards that end.  Whether that end is worth striving for, if going nowhere, seeing nobody and doing nothing much is what it takes, will be a question more easily answered in three, six, nine, twelve or even fifteen months time. Who knows?

19 March. Wake up with a slight headache and feeling a bit warm and immediately wonder whether it is the onset of Covid-19. No home test-kit available so you can’t tell. No test available at all, for that matter, until you are gasping your last in intensive care, at which point they test you to establish whether it is, in fact, the virus you are dying of so that you can be definitively added to the daily casualty figures. The vacuum where testing is concerned is just another telling symptom of the North/South divide.  In Harley Street you can pay £375 to have yourself privately tested.

The chances that it is coronavirus are very small. There isn’t only one virus in the universe. It is just that Covid-19, with the able assistance of the media, has bullied, harassed, chivvied and harried every other virus out to the very edges of global consciousness. That hasn’t stopped the common cold from still being common, or the winter flu from overwintering here before moving seasonally onward somewhere else. The other bugs just have to bide their time out there in the viral undergrowth and nip in to make stealth attacks while Covid-19 hogs the limelight.

18 March. It’s my youngest granddaughter, Rosie’s, third birthday today. She lives a mile away in York but the closest I can get to her in my ‘self-isolation’ is to leave her birthday presents in the re-cycling bin outside her house. At least we haven’t yet got to the point where a drone is going to tell me to get back inside my house, or a policeman stops me to demand to know where I’m going. But that might only be because austerity has denuded the authorities of policemen, and the manufacturers of drones are responding to government requests to manufacturers to tweak their production lines a little and make respirators instead.

We phoned Rosie this morning to wish her happy birthday. She responded by singing “Happy Birthday to you” to us over and over again. Tell two year olds to sing Happy Birthday twice every time they wash their hands to keep the hand-washing going for 20 seconds and the word ‘birthday’ becomes just a measure of the passing of time – a finite fraction of the twenty seconds worth of grains that have to trickle through the hour glass before they can stop washing their hands. But then birthdays are just a measure of the passing of time. Experience enough of them and you end up in self-isolation.

David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK – March-April 2, 2020

April 2, 2020 The loss of public confidence

Trust and communication police the boundary of acceptable and unacceptable isolation.  It is probable that the British population will accept any amount of inconvenience if the reasons for it are clearly stated, and if government and its agencies are believed to be competent.

Over the last twenty-four hours there are worrying signs that these conditions no longer apply.

Hitherto, vocal criticism of public policy has been muted.  There is a general sense that this is the moment to replace the divisive discourse of Brexit, which has dominated politics over the last three years, with a nurtured consensus.  There is an acceptance that short-term hindsight is unreliable and unproductive.  Whatever might have been done, Covid-19 could not have been fully anticipated.  Better to leave the search for mistakes to historians in later years.  There is also the contingent factor that the three leading figures who could be interrogated, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, and the Chief Medical Officer, are all self-isolating with the disease.  And the Labour Party, which might have held ministers to account, is currently largely absent, conducting a leadership contest (which will be over on April 4th).

But this morning’s press, particularly and worryingly for the government, the right-wing newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Times, have front-page headlines denouncing official policy. 

There have been rumblings of discontent, particularly from front-line medical practitioners, about the shortages of ventilators and personal protection equipment (PPE).  But what has translated complaints into focussed anger is the failure to provide testing facilities.  These are fundamentally necessary, as the Director General of the World Health Organisation has stated from the outset, to track the incidence and transmission of the disease.  They are also vital for health professionals, who need to know whether they are safe to go to work.  As is now pointed out, however, the government deliberately stopped testing on 11 March, when the policy of containing the disease was abandoned.  It would only be used for those seriously ill in hospital.  This policy was amended after the lockdown was declared on March 23, and the number of infections threatened to overwhelm the health services.

But now the government seems unable to source an adequate number of testing kits, and is competing on a hostile open market for new supplies.  At its daily press conferences it is setting out ambitions for testing which are contradicted by its own statistics. Today’s headlines are driven by the report that of the half million or so front-line health workers, only 2,000 have been tested.  The charges against officials embrace strategic mis-judgment, operational incompetence, and poor messaging.

This may be a blip.  It is possible that the tests will ramp up, the PPEs will be delivered, the ventilators manufactured, and public trust restored.  But on this day, none of this seems likely.  That the criticism may harm Conservative prospects in some future election is irrelevant.  Doctors and nurses are dying now who should live, or are isolating at home when they should be at work.  Confidence in those policing the lockdown may not recover.

As a footnote, I was interviewed on Monday about my book on solitude by the London correspondent of Die Welt.  When we finished I asked her where she would rather now be living.  She replied that although she had an English husband and loved the country, she would feel safer in Germany: ‘better health service, better political leadership.’ 0000

April 1, 2020 ‘The greatest misery of sickness is solitude

I have spent the last three years writing a history of solitude in the modern era.  Its long-planned publication later this month has suddenly turned niche subject into a topic of wide interest.  I have been writing for various online publications on this subject, in some cases with my colleague Professor Barbara Taylor who runs a large Wellcome Trust-funded project on the ‘Pathologies of Solitude’ based at Queen Mary University in London.  Barbara is an early-modernist, and has drawn my attention to the encounter with isolation experienced by the poet John Donne, at the time Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

In 1623 Donne, was suddenly struck down by a mysterious illness which left him feverish and sweaty (historians are not sure what it was; the most likely culprit was a form of typhus).  As he wrote in his Meditation V of Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, published the following year, he found the experience terrible:

[T]his minute. I am surpriz’d with a sodaine change, & alteration to worse, and can impute it to no other cause, nor call it by any name.

Weak and frightened, Donne was confined to the St Paul’s deanery, where fear of infection kept everyone away from him, even his physicians.

As Sickness is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sickness is solitude;

when the infectiousness of the disease deters them who should assist, from

coming…Solitude is a torment which is not threatened in hell itself.

The instinctive response of the healthy to the afflicted did nothing except increase his suffering:

when I am but sick, and might infect, they have no remedy but their absence, and my solitude. 

Donne’s Almighty was a social being:

there is a plurality of persons in God, though there be but one God; and all his external actions testify a love of society, and communion. In heaven there are orders of angels, and armies of martyrs, and in that house many mansions; in earth, families, cities, churches, colleges, all plural things; and lest either of these should not be company enough alone. 

In this regard, Donne, stood against a Christian practice that stretched back to the fourth century and thence to Christ’s sojourn in the Wilderness.  The desert fathers, who rejected company and material comfort in search of an intense communion with a lonely God, had a profound influence on the early church.  Their example was institutionalised in monasteries which sought to combine individual meditation with a structure of routine and authority that would protect practitioners from mental collapse or spiritual heterodoxy. 

In Britain the monastic tradition had been almost obliterated by the Reformation.  Instead there was growing emphasis on the natural and necessary sociability of mankind.  Further on in the same publication, Donne wrote in Meditation 17 one of the most famous passages in the English language, yet more relevant in this moment:

No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


March 31. Diary Writing and Blogging. Partly because of the scale of the crisis, and partly because so many people are at home with time on their hands, there is an immense volume of diary-writing and blogging taking place nationally and internationally.

The following highly pertinent quote comes via a German reader of the daily blog, Memex 1.1, kept by my friend, former OU colleague, Cambridge academic and Observer columnist, John Naughton:

‘However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows. Whatever cannot become the object of discourse – the truly sublime, the truly horrible or the uncanny – may find human voice through which to sound into the world, but it is not exactly human. We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.  Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times.’

John also ponders on the forms of personal communication which are most effective in this dark hour.   Voice, either as a podcast of some kind, or a conversation, carries more emotion than print.  Then there is the video conference to which all of us are turning.   I count myself as being in the bottom quartile of technical competence, but nonetheless my wife and I are holding more or less daily link-ups with family and friends (Zoom, the most user-friendly app, is now worth eight times the holding company of British Airways).  These vary from individual children and grandchildren, to large family meetings every Sunday at 4 and arranged drinks with friends.  So much better than nothing, but oddly less than a physical meeting.  There are constraints imposed by sitting still looking at a camera on the frame of a laptop.  Perhaps the best response is by my four-year old grandson Reuben.  After showing off his latest handicraft (last session a Lego Star Wars vehicle), he gets bored sitting still, and starts turning somersaults on the sofa, exploring what he looks like with his tee-shirt pulled over his head, annoying his more solemn older sister, giggling at private jokes.   We naturally sit still when reading and writing, also perhaps when listening to a broadcast, but not when talking.  And when in conversation, we look at our interlocutor, out of respect and also to gain clues as to meaning through facial and bodily gesture.  What we do not do is look at ourselves when talking, a requirement of visual conferencing, and one which is hostile to un-self-conscious communication.   

March 30. On the bank of the River Severn. One of the reasons why my wife and I chose to live in our village was its transport connections.  Its position on the bank of the River Severn meant that there was little through traffic and wide-open views into Wales.  But two miles to the East the A5 trunk road connected us to the major regional centres of Birmingham and Manchester.  Fifteen minutes’ drive took us to Shrewsbury railway station, with through trains to London and everywhere in Wales.  There were two major regional airports (with international flights) within an hour’s drive. 

In this we behaved as any modern country-dweller.  Where once there were shops, a post office and a pub in the village, now there is nothing.  We looked to urban centres for services, connections and entertainments, and were careful not to locate ourselves too far from them.  A consequence of the Covid-19 crisis is to make Britain local again.   Where the A5 goes, no longer matters.  The rail services are attenuated, the airports shut, the urban supermarkets dangerous, understocked, and inaccessible to the vulnerable.      

March 29. I live not in the county town of Shrewsbury but in a small village a few miles upstream on the edge of the recently and repeatedly flooded River Severn.  It is a small but ancient settlement, fully recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book.  Now it has no services beyond the church on Sunday.  But it has always displayed a collective spirit, mostly for seasonal entertainments and the maintenance of a village green which contains the ruins of a castle built to keep the Welsh in Wales.  Planning was taking place for a formal ball in a marquee on the green this autumn, and it may yet take place.  In the meantime, the ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ group, in place to deal with very rare criminal activity, has delivered a card to all residents, offering with help ‘picking up shopping, posting mail, collecting newspapers, or with urgent supplies.’  There is a ‘WhatsApp’ group ‘where there are lots of people wanting to offer support.’  By this means we will all survive.

The village clerk sends a notification that the planned 75th anniversary celebration of VE [Victory in Europe] Day has been cancelled.  We were to have a sit-down tea in the parish hall.   As many are now commenting, the Home Front in the Second World War is the nearest parallel to the current crisis.  When will we be celebrating (as the Chinese are now doing) VC – Victory over Covid 19 – Day?

The Eurovision Song Contest has been cancelled.  Amidst the destruction, there is some gain. And in the same vein, the Research Evaluation Framework for Higher Education is postponed sine die.

Although a national event, Coronavirus remains a patchwork of local incidence.  The fourteenth-century plague was worse in the countryside, where most people lived and where disease-carrying fleas had plenty of livestock to live on.  The 1665 plague was, by contrast, a metropolitan event with those who could afford to do so fleeing to small towns or country estates.  The same this time.  A friend who lives on the East Anglian Coast tells me that the fashionable resort of Southwold, full of Londoners’ second homes, has doubled is population in a week, much to the dismay of the local services.  It is reported this weekend that the West Midlands, the region in which I live, is an unexpected and unexplained hotspot.  On closer examination this refers to what is known as The Black Country, a decayed industrial centre north and west of Birmingham. The cause is unclear, though it may be at least partly to do with public and private deprivation.  It’s only about 40 miles from my home, but the current statistics for my rural area are much lower.  Distance matters.

So far, we have been fortunate in that no family or close friends have become infected.  For us, the anxiety has been at one remove.  I have two lifelong friends with near terminal illnesses, made just about unmanageable and unbearable, especially for their families, by this event. You might think that in such a pandemic, normal disasters would be suspended, but they are not.  In one case, what began as cancer has spread other conditions, whilst the sufferer’s children and friends are increasingly unable to provide any support.  Two daughters, long since moved away from home by marriage and careers, were unable to fly across the country because of the collapse of the Flybe airline, then were forbidden to make any contact at all with a father alone and possibly dying in an Edinburgh hospital.  In the second case, my oldest friend (we shared a desk on our first day at secondary school) broke his neck in a freak swimming accident. He and his wife had emigrated to France on retirement, and did it properly, taking out French citizenship and immersing themselves in the Occitan music scene.  They had gone on holiday to the French possession of Guadeloupe and now are marooned there, unable to get back to France whose hospitals are overwhelmed by Covid patients.  In ordinary times we could respond to such a tragedy by visits, or by organising help.  Now the wife is completely alone, (Guadeloupe shares the French lockdown), and all around her are wholly unable to help beyond supportive phone calls.  I hope my friends will both survive, but their trauma, psychological as well as physiological, will not turn up in the statistics.

Nike A. in Katerini, Greece. March 2020

31 March. I’m out of quarantine and preparing to go out for the first time. My father says, ‘I want to come out with you.’ Every day, 50 times a day for my entire quarantine he’d been saying, ‘just pop out and buy me a battery for my watch will you.’ My parents have forgotten all about their own grandson, my son, in Belgium battling the virus. They ask for me to bring them a variety of things including cash, what is this obsession old people have with having lots of cash around them? Anyway they ask for everything and anything but not about their grandson. They’ve forgotten about him. How? The moment he rang me and told me of his symptoms we both fell silent for a few seconds, we both knew he was in one the vulnerable categories and to fall ill with Covid had catastrophic potential. We smashed the silence by verbalising logic.
We went over the statistics chart and looked over the percentages. The serious cases were 5%. That means a 95% chance of a relatively easy experience. We ignored the death statistics. We had to stay with the logic, with the reality and the reality is he’s immunity deficient. Diabetes type one is an auto immune disease. So we studied the Covid symptoms, he had them all. We then discussed the neighbours who had medical backgrounds and how and when to call them in if required. Next, we looked at the closest hospitals and clinics to decide which ones might be more suitable for him. We worked out a game plan. It was the only way to stop ourselves from going apoplectic with worry. He then asked me for my recipe for rizogalo, rice-cream, one of those delicious comfort foods Greek mamas make for their little ones that adults never stop craving. It helped. It took our mind off things. We signed off from our conversation in good cheer and giving each other little encouraging phrases. After I hung up I put down the phone and howled until I couldn’t breathe – and I was delighted. I hoped it was more than sympathy pains I hoped it was some mysterious force removing the symptoms from him and transferring them to me. A voice yells at me from the other side of my door. “Don’t forget my watch battery.”
I get out my phone and look through my photographs. I imagine my son lying down while looking up through the skylight above his bed in his chic loft apartment. He’d made me have his bed for the duration of my stay with him. I’d taken a photograph while lying down gazing up at the skylight. I can’t stop looking at that photograph now because that’s what he’s looking at. Him there, me here but both looking at the same sky.

30 March. Katerini, Greece. 12 days ago I returned from Belgium after visiting my son who lives and works there. I’m still here in Greece in quarantine from that visit. While I was with my son we had extensive discussions of the situation. He works in health, specifically in matters pertaining to infectious diseases. Last year the government of Scotland asked him to put forward a proposal as to how he would move forward with a non-government organisation he was director of at the time. He was thrilled to be asked to do so because what he put forward was a detailed and extensive action plan for a pandemic. He’d been a central figure worldwide for training programs for the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS and was excited to put forward a plan for a coordinated response to a new pandemic – Especially because the HIV/AIDS pandemic is still with us, plus there was SARS and MERS and everybody in that field knew it was only a matter of time till another one occurred.
The government responded to his proposal with derision, called it unrealistic, and defunded his organisation.
He was offered a job in Brussels. Fortunately global thinking and global responses are not laughed at there. But – Four days ago my boy came down with a fever, he started to cough, and his body ached all over. He’s a fully grown man in his 40s but he’s also been a type one diabetic since he was two years old which puts him in the vulnerable category. When he told me his symptoms I made him call a clinic. The doctor informed him to just stay home and ride it out as they were saving tests and treatment for the more serious cases. This morning his breathing became laboured he was taken to hospital. Now we wait and see.

I must add that he had been in self-isolation and following the guidelines scrupulously.

Later: Update on my son. The hospital is at capacity. They took tests and found his blood to be adequately oxygenated and sent him home. They wouldn’t give him a Covid test because there aren’t enough and are saving them for the worst cases. Belgium is having an explosion of cases if you are watching the charts. In the meantime my son is still having breathing trouble and he’s lying on his bed alone at home hoping he won’t have to go back in and go through the whole process again. All flights between Greece and Belgium are cancelled for the moment so I can’t go to him and even if I could go I’d be instantly quarantined anyway and couldn’t go out to do things for him. If he is hospitalised I can’t be with him and if I return I’ll be quarantined again. It’s a no win. This is a dreadful situation and there would be many others in our situation too. His anger is fuelling him right now. Please take note of this case because the figures you see on the charts are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many very ill people like my son who need attention and are not getting it because only the extremely severe cases are being treated.

Latest update is that his fever has reduced. The aches and pains are still with him and his breathing is still laboured but he’s feeling optimistic. He’s just resting up, not that he can do much else. He’s trying to sleep and stay hydrated. I’m very grateful his neighbour is a doctor and the person in the apartment below him works in pharmaceuticals and is keeping him drugged up, so to speak.

24 March. Six days of quarantine left. I still can’t so much as step out my front door. And our high level measures of lockdown have become even stricter. I read the Australian newspapers online and I read the heading that a British style lockdown is about to be implemented. I couldn’t help laughing. the British are copying it from us yet somehow it’s seen as their prototype. Please! Their schools were still open until just now. Australia’s still are at the moment of writing. Here in Greece they shut over three weeks ago.
Anyway, I’m told there are police at the end of the street, on the corner, on most corners, checking if we have the correct documents to go buy a loaf of bread. If we don’t it’s a €150 fine. If I break quarantine it’s a €5000 fine. No one is complaining though. There is zero panic buying such as seen in Australia. Supermarkets are however monitoring access and only allowing a certain number of people in at a time so as to avoid crowding and maintain the 2 metre distances recommended here. Luckily, I have a person who does some shopping for me until I’m released from quarantine and she’s been letting me know the situation. Last week the council even removed all the benches from the parks and squares to discourage people sitting around outside.
The difficult part for me is I’m sharing the house with my two elderly parents who don’t understand the concept of quarantine or of lockdown. My 92-year-old father can’t understand why he can’t hobble outdoors to buy a newspaper even though he’s glued to the television during his every waking hour, it’s not sinking in. My mother can’t understand why she can’t come into my room. Finally, I had to sit them down and give them a very stern speech – from the hallway – I said, ‘Do you know why all this is happening? It’s happening to keep you alive because people like you are the ones most in danger of dying. The younger ones have strong lungs, you do not. We mustn’t fill the hospitals with such patients. People still will break bones, need heart surgery, give birth, have car accidents, strokes, and all sorts of emergency procedures. The hospitals must be free to continue these essential services plus manage the virus.’
My outburst worked – for ten minutes. They also have dementia so they were asking me the exact same questions right after and again five minutes later. Sometimes I just feel like banging my head on a brick wall.
The Greeks have a word for this – Psychoplakoma. The closest thing for an English translation would be ‘soul crushing’. It actually means soul flattening.
I felt so flattened I had to step out on the balcony for a gasp of fresh air, I am permitted to do that. Up until recently the balconies were full of people hanging out the washing, drinking coffees, watering the plants now you don’t see anybody. The sight of the Greek flag on an apartment building across a couple of blocks made me so emotional. Our government is being very open and honest with us which I’m very pleased about. And the health spokesman said that the reality is that with any virus we are only seeing the 15% tip. These are the people who actually present with symptoms and it’s only 15%. That means all those numbers we’re seeing about cases are only the cases that have been tested. The reality is we must increase whatever number shown in each country by 85%. Here in Greece our number is currently at 695 and 17 deaths. All our deaths had an average age of around 73 years and 14 of them were men. Our health department says the real number of cases is probably between 8000 and 10,000. They went on to say they expected as much because of the 15% rule. That was why they acted so strictly very early to keep that 85%number as low as possible.
I now have released myself of the need to keep busy. I’m going to give myself a day of malaise. I’ve been cooking up a storm, baking bread, tortes, tarts. Scrubbing, sweeping, disinfecting. Enough. I’m going to do a lot of reading from now on much more reading, and writing of course, and a touch more self-care. It will re-inflate my flattened soul. I brushed my hair for the first time in five days today. Seriously. I put on lipstick for the first time in a week. Nobody is going to see it but I know it’s there. It’s a bit like the tree falling in the forest did it really make a sound if no one heard it? I’m missing my children and grandchildren in Australia desperately but I’m also glad I’m in Greece right now so if you’ll excuse me I’m just going to step back onto my balcony and take another look at that flag.

23 March. Dr Sotiris Tsiodras. All over Greece church services were conducted in empty churches except for the priests and the chanters. In one church the chanter is an unassuming man wearing glasses and a plain grey suit. He’s one of the best Byzantine chanters of Greece. He’s also one of the world’s most respected experts on infectious diseases. Dr Sotiris Tsiodras, father of seven and of deep faith whose hobby is to chant in churches is also the man who helped to close them.
France’s Le Figaro newspaper ran a piece on him today as the man with the 27 page CV who kept Greeks from an early meeting with Death.

Dr Tsiodras understood immediately the impact Covid-19 would have on the world and insisted upon an urgent meeting with Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. To his credit, the Prime Minister listened. How many times has been the case where experts have advised leaders on dramatic action but were ignored for economic or personal gains or they just couldn’t believe they would have to make such extreme changes? Too hard. Fortunately the Prime Minister saw that not to act would make life even harder. Now, Dr Tsiodras appears on our screens every evening at 6 pm with updates and advice. And every single Greek is glued to the screen at that time.

Our schools have been shut for three weeks. Except for essential services, supermarkets and pharmacies everything is shut. Nobody can go out for any other purpose than accessing one of those essential services and we need to carry identification or other documentation on us at all times to explain the purpose of our outing. The slogan of Greece right now is, Μένουμε σπίτι, We Stay Home. The Prime Minister has outlined tax relief, rent relief, mortgage relief, benefit payments and many other measures to put the citizens at ease so they can feel secure while we are in one of the tightest lockdowns in the world. And it happened much earlier than almost any other country – I think. Thanks to a man of Science and a politician who listened and took early action. Our figures at this moment are 624 cases and 15 Deaths. Terrible. But they’re a fraction of those of our European neighbours, we believe, because strict measures were implemented quickly.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home.
Stay informed, properly informed. Follow the WHO guidelines. This way you don’t get affected by the pedlars of fear. This is not hiding. This is taking action. And frankly if me being kept indoors for a few weeks to ensure the safety of my family and community is all it takes, I gladly Stay Home.
This will pass.
And to those of you who still think it’s just a silly little flu that only attacks old people and their time has come anyway, I have these words, paraphrased from Dr Tsiodras, Stay away from the hospitals, they are sacred places doing a sacred duty to all patients not only those with The Virus. And these old people are our mothers and fathers. We are who we are because of them.

Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada. March 2020

30 March. First day out of the house since March 3rd.  We went for a walk in Agriculture Canada’s largely deserted Experimental Farm, which is close by our place.  A light rain certainly helped the desertedness, and contributed to lovely misty vistas and trees covered with silver droplets.  In addition to many fields the Farm has barns, lovely glass green houses and many many trees. Minor coughing, but no one about to fear I would infect them.

There are 6248 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada today, and 351 new cases in Ontario, the largest single-day increase.

At his daily briefing (not to be compared with the daily briefing given by the leader to the south), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that the trajectory of COVID-19 cases seems not to be that of the US. 

Although it is too soon to know the impact of Canada’s efforts to curb the spread, he said he is proud that Canadians recognise the importance of staying home and keeping their distance from others.  Encouraging words, but we have seen people walking down our street and not keeping a distance, and doubt that they were all couples or living in the same house.

During the briefing the Prime Minister also gave more details on the emergency wage subsidy he had announced last week. Businesses, non-profits and charities whose revenues have decreased more than 30% will be eligible for the rescue plan. The government will cover up to 75% on the first $58,700 salary dollars and it will be back-dated to March 15th.  Companies are encouraged to re-hire laid off staff.  Trudeau was stern, at least for him (the new beard seems to help with gravitas), about punishing any efforts to profit from the plan.

Post retirement excitement has been a massive renovation project to create our “old age home” for which painful undertaking we received an unexpected award….and eventual great pleasure.

25 March. After that, it was a fog of coughing, fatigue, relieved by free opera from The Met, Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey and room service from Drew who stayed far far away at the opposite end of the house.  Now, finally out of the fog, I am dressed and upright for at least half of the day.  And looking around now I see that the virus has been busy making its way about Canada and the United States.

18 March and later. Today is the 12th day of our self-imposed self-isolation. 

In mid-February Drew and I headed off to Paris for a two month stay to visit with old colleagues and friends from an earlier 20 year sojourn, planning to eat in favourite restaurants, to visit galleries and museums, to just walk about and look at the beautiful city that we love so much. 

I was aware of the coronavirus being active in China, and I had played host to the H1N1 virus in 2009.   But only the foggiest memory remained of how sick I was.  I do remember being left down a long corridor in the hospital for an hour or so on a hard little chair, and thinking that lying on the floor was looking more and more attractive – what could be worse down there than what I already had.

We were not really worried as we headed off, but we did take the precaution of refreshing our pneumonia shots.  We also tried to get hand sanitizer, which the druggist informed me had flown off the shelves and would not be restocked any time soon.  We didn’t pay enough attention to that little warning.

Once in Paris, it was not long before the situation was made very clear about what was happening right next door in Italy.  We did go about to eat and visit friends and walk, but there began to be a cloud of concern hanging over us.  The media treatment was comprehensive, coherent and constant.  It was certainly interesting to watch the communication strategy as the country informed and prepared its citizens so efficiently. The Minister of Health spoke frequently and the President spoke to the country on television and visited hospitals to reiterate the government support for the medical and support staff.  At first, it actually felt comforting to be so continually informed.  But of course it wasn’t really comforting.  There were all those families that had been skiing in the Alps during Spring Break who were about to return to France.  By February 28 we started to consider returning home and booked a return flight through Montreal on March 3rd, for which we paid a considerable sum – and lost the long planned visit in addition to the lost money.  Upon arrival in Montreal, we were surprised that only passengers who had been to Iran were asked to identify themselves, not Italy.  And no evidence of temperature taking.  The only bright spot was not being charged for exceeding the limit on expenditure free of duty!

So, on the evening of March 3rd we returned to the winter snow and ice of one of the coldest capital cities in the world, which we had been so happy to escape.  At that point there were no COVID-19 cases in Ottawa.  Safe for the moment, we thought. 

But maybe not.  After a couple of days, I developed coronavirus symptoms – though no fever.  Having travelled from afar, it seemed responsible to identify myself and my symptoms to Ottawa Public Health.  A nurse took an excruciatingly detailed history on the phone and sent me off to the nearest hospital emergency.  The young fellow registering incoming patients whipped around in his little glass cubicle and put on a mask and gloves before touching my health card.  After a three-hour sit in a room by myself on a hard little chair (reminiscent of an earlier hard little hospital chair), a well-protected doctor came in and examined me, and sometime after that a nurse arrived, stuck two sticks down my nose, twirled them around and released me back to my bed where I stayed for an inordinate amount of time.

So, I had brought something home from France, but thank goodness not the really dangerous virus.  But whatever virus it was, it made me good and sick.

from Rajan in Mumbai, India March 2020

30 March. Factually Speaking… Today I met the Health Minister of Government of Maharashtra to discuss the status of corona infection, preparedness and the challenges to address the issues in the state of Maharashtra. Had a meaningful discussion. I must putforth my appreciation on behalf of the citizens of the state towards him and his entire team who are seriously with sensitivity working to arrest the growth of corona virus. Today almost 27 days are over after the first case entered Pune city in Maharashtra. Till today the multiplying factor has not crossed 1.13 which is additive. I asked the Minister: what measures you have taken since the first case arrived in Maharashtra? His humble answer was that we patiently took stepwise decision from one week after the first case entered Maharashtra. Off course majority of the people supported our decisions. The decisions include: to quarantine those who were potential infected came from outside the country, making government hospitals ready to deal with such cases, training to health workers, closing down the malls, requested corporates to allow their employees to work from home, closing down schools, colleges and universities, postponing examinations, initially calling only fifty percent of the government employees to the office, later only five percent were called for work, reducing public transport, lockdown till 31st March etc. Chief Minister, Health Minister, Home Minister and other concern Ministers of the state were doing their bit and also coming on the television to make appeal to the people. All these decisions within first 16 to 17 days. On 19th March the Prime Minister appered on television to address the citizens to make an appeal to nation to follow one day Janata(People’s) curfew on 22nd March. It was successful except few incidences. But as the number of infected cases were increasing and few people were not understanding he had to come again and announce total lockdown for 21 days in the entire country. There are few lapses but unexpectedly the State and central governments are working with full efforts. Only people will have to have patience and they need to co-operate with the government for their own sake. The country otherwise have many challenges. Might be because of the stepwise interventions and majority of the people’s support the number of infected people till today (fingers crossed) has shown linear increase. There may be other reason for these reduced number is, less number of people who came forward or the government could trace them for infection test. I may be wrong rather I should be wrong in making this statement. In addition to this Civil societies and corporates are supporting the Government financially and in other ways. In last 27 days India has not crossed 1,250 whereas some countries cross more than 20,000 in the same period. Our situation is more challenging because there are around 25% illiterates and poor people. The Government shall take care of their basic needs during this period. Government is trying their level best.

I can’t end without appreciating the doctor’s, health workers’, police personnel all human resources in essential services, helping corporates, NGO’sO and off course all law abiding patient people seating at home in this lockdown. I pray God to educate those who are, may be out of fear or out of innocence or out of arrogance or out of over confidence not following the protocol/ instructions of the government, at the earliest.

Jay Jagat!

30 MarchHome … My daughter, Janavi Welukar, who has done her LLB, Masters in Public Policy and Masters in Development Management also got exited to write her reflection as below:

Marriage in India is considered to be a beautiful custom uniting not just two individuals but two families. I recently got married and walked into a new family. We have a traditional Indian joint family. Woah !!! I know what you’re thinking (how do you manage?). But you will know as the story unfolds. Me being a very unconventional individual been brought up unconventionally doing anything traditional was a milky way away for me. But somethings are pleasantly destined, I guess. I am an only child so as you may understand adjusting with a new family is a tough cookie. Everyone uses everyone’s everything. From your books to your bed and even your bathroom is a tragedy of commons. When your super new, all small things seem to bebig. Like from your food habit’s to sleep timing’s are dictated mostly by the timetable the family has been following for the same for the past 30 years preceding your entry. You seem like a lost owl in the family of penguin’s. Trying to /nd your own. Hence the first thing I thought aboutwriting in my quarantine diary was about family.

We are a family of six. My mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, his wife, their 8 year old daughter, my husband and me. All three women in my house including me are working women hence our lives until now were dictated being away from home for a certain amount of time like all others in the family. And all of us are really distinct personalities who like to do really diferent things to pass our time. I really consider myself to be lucky to have entered such a generous family who have been inclusive in their behavior towards me. Be it my choices in the arrangement of the furniture or my choice of food, they make it a point to at least try it once. So when began the epic tale of the quarantine we charted out the food menu first (yes, we are a family of foodies). And everyone took turns to cook the dish they suggested over days.

After day one we realized the importance of house help as they could not make it to do the daily chores. So our eight year old sprung up and said “I will mop the floor” and gave birth to the distribution of work equally amongst all the family members. Day 3, food coma was taking over and lethargy was slowly but steadily creeping in. And came to the rescue my brother-in-law, a national level basketball player who drove us all to the gym on the upper floor and gave us an individual exercise chart. While my mother-in-law watered the plants whilst explain us distinct features and life cycles of each of them. Yes, of course my husband played the DJ to motivate us and after exhaustion came in the surprise. My eight year old niece said let’s play cricket because she had nothing else to do apart from being sous chef to all. And so giving in to her wishes we all played and did rather well. Since we had been doing so much through the days we end the day with of course a big bowl of Dessert.

This reason I wrote this rather long story is to say how simple and really small things that aren’t worth much gave me so much joy. How easily it eased me into this new household made me feel like a part of it. It made me realize a single child the importance of community. Yes its true, it does take a village to grow a child but it also takes a village to and the deep seeded happiness within you. To glow in nothingness without material and brands and fancy nothings that have become everything for us in this world of fast. We’ve reached mars faster than our own heart. This compulsory pause has helped me certainly come close to myself and what drives me. Hope it does the same to all.

I thought only Indian’s are unprepared and casual

28 March. Since the laat two days I have mostly been watching television, going through whatsapp posts and reading the available literature on Covid 19. While reflecting on the number of infected cases, active cases, recovered cases and number of deaths all over the world, especially in the developed countries like USA, Italy, Spain, UK and others, I realised that these countries initially took corona virus rather casually. Only later did they take it seriously. But by that time the virus had already shown its true colours and the infection increased rapidly; in some cases exponentially. I think we all were in a state of mind known as ‘knowledge illusion’ i.e. we know everything. However, in one go the virus has brought all of us on ground; in fact, literally brought us to our knees!  Now, in order to save mankind and for the sake of humanity, we must change our approach towards the world in which we are living. We need to control the speed with which we are approaching ‘growth’ without realising ‘development’. This is a big lesson to all of us. It is telling us, “now or never”! The Corona virus has truly acted as an eye-opener regarding the preparedness of our health systems. The mounting anger and the frustration of the people is visible in various news paper reports and several articles in magazines and journals. Prior to the Covid 19 outbreak, various governments the world over were taking pride in their health systems – not only health care, but also disaster mitigation. Now people are asking questions to these very governments: where are the systems?This is the time to wake up! 

25 March. Government sealed the borders … But couldn’t seal the minds

On March 22, the majority of the people followed the curfew as appealed to by the PM. Few who did not made a negative effect on the innocent majority law abiding people. As soon as the curfew was over, the very next day, maybe because of the confidence (over confidence) on their immunity or ignorance or they might have felt that since the PM has told them to follow one day curfew, it is sufficient to break the chain of coronavirus.

Further thinking that now it’s over, they came out of their in large numbers for going to their work places as if now everything is normal. The result of this was lot of rush on the roads of big cities and markets. The third day also they made a rush in the vegetable market without following the instructions of the doctors and the government in spite of the curfew was still on. Even when the Government announced that essential commodity market will remain open. Might be out of fear that if government announces closer tomorrow then what?

Here we could have visualized the situation earlier and planned to take appropriate measures. I think social intelligence could have helped the implementing agencies. It can be made compulsory to teach social intelligence to all the students. It is surprising that even after the number of deaths in developed countries like China, Italy, Spain, USA, UK etc due to the infection of corona virus some over confident people are not understanding the scale with which it can destroy the nation economically and with human resources.

People think that they are independent, have democracy, freedom to think act according their own wish even under the present context. No doubt that the Government, the doctors and others involved in the rescue operations are doing a wonderful job but I am tempted to say rhetorically that the Government could sealed the borders of the villages, cities and states as a precautionary measures but unfortunately they couldn’t seal the mind of the people. Everybody shall be made aware of the checklist Dr Atul Gawande is talking about in his book “Checklist Manifesto”.

Finally after keenly observing I could not find a very effective but pointed communication about the chain effect of virus spread from the common man’s perspective. Government, media, celebrities and others are doing it but they can make it more effective with the help of Creative Media, advertiser’s, marketing and visualising experts so that people can understand. By understanding the chain effect, they will realise the scale. This will help arrest the growth of infections.

Of course, majority have shown the maturity but some have proved to be deaf and dumb. God bless all including them.

23 March. Will a one day curfew help India?

As number of cases of corona-virus infection have been detected and they are increasing every day. The government is taking it quite seriously. It has gone into the mode of taking emergent actions. They are trying to arrest the growth of infection. Two days ago, the Hon’ble Prime Minister requested the people to remain at home on Sunday 22nd March from 0600 hrs to 2100 hrs to which he termed as Janata (people’s) curfew. This kind of appeal was made by the then PM to the nation some 55-60 years ago. Secondly the PM also requested people to come out at 1700hrs in their gallery and clap or make a sound using metal utensils or a bell for 5 minutes to express gratitude and appreciate the great contribution of the Doctors, Nurses and other Emergency Services Staff. People overwhelmingly participated in the curfew. They actually locked down themselves in their homes. That was indeed a grand success. All roads were empty, shops, hotels were closed. Even temples, churches, mosques were closed for people except for the priest etc. who take care of these places. People did come out in the galleries with their families and clapped, made sounds. This also included the celebrities and politicians.

However, some enthusiasts made 5pm an event. They came out of their homes in groups. These included children and old people as well. They were standing without maintaining social distance. While recognising and appreciating doctors and other servicepersons, they forgot the instructions/advisories given by the doctors. I don’t know whether they really wanted to appreciate doctors or doing it to show to somebody that they also participated in the event. Is it not hypocrisy?

Moreover, one day curfew is not going to help us. If we really want to arrest the spread of corona-virus infection we need at least 14 days’ lockdown to break the cycle. Now the state governments have started taking more stringent measures by promulgating stringent laws and shutting down public transport. The positive part of this time of distress and pain is that the world is finally realising the relevance of Gandhi’s principle of self-discipline.

22 March. Are Children more responsive than…

The other day my domestic help came to the drawing room where I was watching an interview of the health Minister on the coronavirus. I asked her if she needed something? It was 9 p.m. in the evening. She said, “Sir, I will have to go as I have received a call from my daughter who is studying in senior KG. She is insisting that I immediately go to a doctor.”

On this I requested her to leave immediately. At the clinic, there was a big queue and they could meet the doctor around 12 in the night. Later when I asked her what was the issue. She told me that she had suffered a little cold recently. Her daughter knew this and when she had gone to the school in the morning, her teacher briefed the class on coronavirus. In her care & love for her mother the child asked her to go to the doctor for the check-up. She wanted to take all precautions for herself and her family.

In another news I heard of a very famous singer who had travelled from London to India recently. Avoiding the quarantine norm, she instead, threw a party to people after coming from London. Around 250 people attended the party including some politicians. Now the singer is tested positive but she had hidden the travel history from her guests. Similar cases of criminal negligence have taken place in Surat and Hydrabad, in India.

Actually, it is expected from adults that they obverse caution and also teach their kids about it. Here, it seems that children are more mature and caring!

May God save humanity!