From David Maughan Brown in York: Roosting chickens

October 14th

Flocks of chickens are coming home to roost on our Prime Minister, the supposedly Honourable Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and it isn’t just the odd stray feather they are contributing to his general air of lazy dishevelment.  When the great moment came on Monday for the unveiling the new Covid-19 tiered lockdown system that had been trailed so extensively for the better part of the previous week, Boris Johnson’s Chief Medical Officer, standing a socially distanced few feet beside him, calmly asserted that he had no confidence that it would work.  Immediately after the news conference, the Scientific Advisory Council for Emergencies (SAGE) released the minutes of a meeting it had held on 21st September at which the Government’s own hand-picked scientists unequivocally advocated a short, sharp, ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as the only way to get the rapidly escalating incidence of infections under control. Boris Johnson rejected their advice and implemented his Rule of Six and the 10pm curfew on restaurants and bars instead, thereby comprehensively demolishing any last remnants of his endlessly repeated claim to have been ‘following the science.’  He can no longer get away with blaming the scientists.

The latest figures show that very nearly 20,000 people were diagnosed as Covid-19 positive in UK yesterday.  There has been an exponential increase in the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths in the weeks since Boris and his lackeys took that September decision, and we are headed within the next two weeks to equal the March and April numbers in intensive care and we haven’t hit winter yet.  The trailing of the severe Tier 3 restrictions in Liverpool five days in advance inevitably resulted in the predicted partying in the streets on Tuesday night in anticipation of the midnight implementation of the new rules.  The almost unbelievable stupidity of that crowd differed only from the stupidity of the similarly maskless crowd that flocked to Donald Trump’s recent election rally in Florida in that, whereas the stupidity in Florida was suicidal given the age-profile of that crowd, in Liverpool the sozzled revellers appeared to consist largely of young people who probably won’t die themselves but will inevitably be passing the virus on to their elders, some of whom most certainly will die.  The measures brought in by Boris on 21st September as an alternative to the lockdown simply haven’t worked, and there is no reason whatever to imagine that his new Tier system will work either.   The number of infections in York, currently in tier 1, has increased by almost 50% in the past 24 hours.

If the current exponential growth in infections and deaths is stripping the Emperor of whatever clothes he had left, the wedges Johnson’s incompetence has succeeded in driving between the different nations of the supposedly United Kingdom will soon be making his unsightly nakedness even more glaringly apparent.  Northern Ireland has decided to implement the national lockdown Boris is refusing to agree to.  In two weeks time it will be possible to compare the results of the two different approaches to the crisis.  In the meantime the government of Wales has felt obliged to take the extraordinary step of trying to protect the public health of its citizens by banning cars from the North West of England.  Scotland, one gathers, is contemplating taking similar measures.  So some parts of the UK are, indeed, taking control of their borders – but, again, not in the way Boris anticipated.

The flocks of chickens do not cluck in unison.  Johnson is caught between several competing factions.  One flock consist of the supposedly ‘libertarian’, Tory backbenchers who oppose any kind of lockdown on the basis of the damage it does to the economy.   Closer inspection would probably reveal that that group really doesn’t care how many plebs in ‘the North’ die, just as long as their own shares in in the Wetherspoons pub chain don’t take too much of a hit.  That group would be better described as braying rather than clucking.  Another group, including extra-parliamentary experts, is warning the government about the destitution that will result if a lockdown is implemented without adequate support for those whose incomes will suffer: parents won’t be able to buy shoes for their children; women will have to prostitute themselves to keep food on their children’s plates.  The official opposition is demanding a national lockdown along the lines of SAGE’s September recommendations.  The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, is still threatening to bring legal action against the government and refusing to cooperate if restrictions in his area of responsibility are raised to Tier 3 without adequate financial support being put in place

If the variously suicidal or homicidal crowds of revellers and Trump devotees can be fairly described as stupid, their idiocy does not begin to compare with Johnson’s stupidity as he steadfastly lumbers towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit in 10 weeks time, apparently intent on making sure that the worst crisis in UK since World War II gets a whole lot more catastrophic for everybody involved.   And ‘everybody’ includes the entire continent of Europe, even if it will be vastly more catastrophic for us in the still ‘United Kingdom’. Having opportunistically lied and cheated his way into the position from which he can do greatest damage to the country he is supposed to be leading, Johnson fully deserves everything the roosting chickens can dump on him.   If I sound close to despair, it is because I am.

Susan D in Ottawa, Canada: Isolation

17 July 2020

The solitude of my initial isolation was quite pleasant as I prepared the rental house for our granddaughters, and ranged through a too large selection of books culled from the many not-read options in my library.  In the end, I read When We Were Orphans by Kasuro Ishiguro (acquired from the sale of books at our local library), The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (bought because I wanted to know whether I agreed with the award of a Pulitzer prize) and Factfulness: Ten Reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think, by the wonderful Swede, Hans Rosling.  The first I found a beautifully written story.  The second I found a gripping page turner, much to my surprise.  And the last I loved; I had truly saved the best for last.  I bought the book when it was released after Rosling died, but being quite familiar with his work I had never read it.  Our current worldwide situation, made it rather attractive: the title promised a more optimistic reading and thinking than current events, and it more than fulfilled the promise.

I came upon the work of Hans Rosling while working at the Paris based UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (better known as IIEP).  He used software called Gapminder to graphically convey his messages about the state of the world over time.  In those days when graphics were not so well used as now, I found it very powerful and potentially interesting for the educational planners studying at IIEP.  Rosling himself was a very powerful and entertaining communicator.  As a youngster he had wanted to become a circus artist – his parents preferred that he get an education and so he became a medical doctor and eventually professor of international health at the Svenska Institute in Sweden.  There he set himself the task of sharing and explaining a worldview gained from analysis of large data sets – that things are getting better in the world – even though we tend to think they are getting worse.  Through his many presentations and TED Talks he energetically shared this vision, and occasionally gave a sword swallowing performance at the end.  Before he died, he worked along with his son and daughter-in-law to put his messages in a book.  His heartfelt address to the reader is on the fly leaf, and concludes thus:

This book is my last battle in my lifelong mission to fight devastating ignorance …Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software and energetic lecturing style, and a Swedish bayonet for sword swallowing.  It wasn’t enough.  But I hope this book will be. *

Then two weeks ago, our granddaughters finally arrived in Ottawa from Florida.  Heart could be removed from mouth and put back where it belonged.  As pre-arranged, they phoned when they had crossed the US/Canada border that is currently closed to all non-essential travel and there was relief for everyone watching the progress of their three-day journey north.  They were very well prepared for the border crossing with a folder of documentation, including negative test results.  The official just stuck to a series of questions, and satisfied with their answers he sent them on their way with the specifics of the required fourteen-day self-isolation.  They were directed to stay in the house or in the garden.  No one could come on the property except for deliveries.  And they were contacted by telephone to ensure they were complying with the rules. They have worked, gardened, cooked and today their period of self-isolation ended. We are celebrating with dinner together in our garden.

And to conclude, I would not be a Canadian if there was no mention of our foe, the weather.  We have been having extremely long heat spells, even the mornings and evenings, that keep us indoors most of the time.  Even with a spacious home, this additional restriction weighs on one, and is yet another unpleasant indicator of advancing years.  Heat that was once bearable, now saps all energy and turns me into a limp, lethargic lump.  Nonetheless, I am continually heartened to see the smiling faces of our granddaughters across the street, safe from the rising numbers of COVID cases in Florida.

* Hans Rosling. February 2017

from Shannon in Florida, USA: life seems relatively normal …

April 28. I must say given how crazy the things have been and how cumbersome (putting it mildly) all restrictions have been for most people around the world, my life seems relatively normal. 

I am lucky to be working as a consultant, which means working from home is not new or far fetched. Yes, you are in meetings starting at 8 and ending around 18, and you are lucky if you can close your computer and enjoy dinner before 20, but still this is better than most. Usually for work I am traveling Monday – Thursday to be on client site,  which means I don’t get to spend as much time with family, or pets, but now things are different. My schedule has adapted, and I am not complaining in the slightest. I get to take my pets on a long walk on the morning and the evening, see my mom and dad, and workout from home. I don’t have to think about missing a flight, or what I am ordering for room service because I can’t be bothered to leave the hotel after a long day at work.

I am in Florida where people seem to care more about their tan, beer, and “freedom” than anyone else, which may play a part. Beaches are open, people have quarantine parties, and everyone seems to think this is all just a big vacation. I would normally be frustrated that peoples ignorance will just prolong the situation, but I would just be in a bad mood all day if I thought that way. SO instead of being upset that my travels are cancelled, that my boyfriend is on the other side of the world, and that people seem to not care about anyone but themselves I am choosing to see positives. 

I am spending more time with my parents than I have since I was about 8, I get to walk outside on an empty golf course with two extremely happy dogs, the sun is shining, I have a job, and I know eventually things will go back to normal. 

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Why are some people so unconcerned?

22 April: My daughter, her husband and my grand-daughter live in Florida. My daughter is a nurse. She doesn’t need to be told that covid19 is serious. She knows that very well – and has to go to work every day in that knowledge. Her fellow citizens in Florida however, including the Governor, don’t seem to be that concerned at all. Even when the Governor, one of the last Governors to do so, called for a ‘stay-at-home’, his order listed “essential services” to encompass “attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship” – and indeed, he actively encouraged people to attend Easter services. This order was supposed to be in force from 3 April to 30 April but, surprise, surprise, he opened various beaches on 17 April. Sure enough, people flocked to them provoking a rather unpleasant hashtag trend ‘FloridaMorons’ – and there are all sorts of people tweeting that they have a right to respond to the virus in any way they please without being labelled in this way.

Apart from having a vested interest in Florida being rendered as safe a possible during this time, I am fascinated by what makes people scared of one virus and not others. I am reading a book called Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond  by Sonia Shah and she asks the question: “why do some pathogens provoke yawns while others trigger panic?”  Americans have not been particularly disturbed by Lyme disease, dengue (which, by the way, is likely to become endemic in Florida), malaria or rabies but they were absolutely terrified by Ebola. The terror took on a name “Ebolanoia”. Shah concludes that it didn’t seem to matter “that Ebola was easily and simply avoided”, it was “its untamable nature that was at the root of the panic.” Corona virus statistics clearly don’t frighten and the death rate, except for specific categories, is relatively low. So far.

Polls in Britain show that the British are concerned, support the lock-down measures and reduced train and car travel suggests people are obeying the rules (#TheEconomist, 18 April)

One can’t resist pondering whether the difference lies, partly, in the messaging from the leaders in the two countries. In Britain, the Government’s message is unequivocal: “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” – and it is repeated all the time on all media. Maybe it is the positioning of ‘protect the NHS’ that strikes such a strong chord. It seems to me to be an excellent communication.

In sharp contrast, in the United States, the messaging from the glorious leader has been confusing, obfuscating and sometimes, downright wrong.

We know that this pandemic will change the world in many ways, unknowable right now but we should call governments to account for their unpreparedness for this pandemic. That is something that should concern us all. It shouldn’t happen again quite like this. I recommend  Shah’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/sonia_shah_how_to_make_pandemics_optional_not_inevitable