From David Maughan Brown in York: Investing in a whelk stall?

August 16th

In the unlikely event of future political scientists or historians perusing this diary in future years, they might, depending on their political leanings, be inclined to start making deductions about the effect of lockdown on the mental health of those who have been locked down.  Her Majesty’s Government, duly elected by a mature electorate to grace the illustrious benches of the Palace of Westminster, the Mother of Parliaments, in December 2019 couldn’t possibly have been as utterly hopeless as diarists have tried to make out.  The grumpy carping must have been an irrationally resentful response on the part of mentally fragile people, who happened to have nothing better to do than write diaries, to the wholly rational decision on the part of government to lock them down for their own good.  The tempting alternative would have been to allow a ‘herd immunity’ strategy to sort them out and save billions on state pensions at the same time.  You can never please some people.

A rapid run-through of a random day’s coverage of ‘Home’ news, in this instance yesterday’s, August 15th, by the Independent, a broadly liberal and by no stretch of the imagination radically leftist newspaper (not that ‘paper’ has much to do with an exclusively digital compilation of news-reporting and commentary) might give the historians pause to reconsider that diagnosis.   With the exception of a nod in the direction of VJ-Day, a story about a man who nearly lost a leg as a result of being bitten by a ‘false widow’ spider, and an article on the implications for the Arts of a premature termination of the current furlough arrangements for employees, the rest of the coverage focuses entirely on four issues:  the quarantine regulations, in relation to France in particular; the government’s handling of various NHS related issues; the A-Level debacle; and the on-going situation with cross-channel migrants.  I’ve written about these individually (in some instances several times), but the cumulative impact when they are all extensively covered on the same day is impressive.

The photograph on the front page is of the queues of people at the airport at Nice trying desperately to get a flight back to UK in time for them to arrive before the magic 4am deadline.  The editorial takes this as its topic for the day, suggesting very mildly that, given the implications of 14 days of quarantine, a collective shrug on the part of government and ‘Well, you knew the risks when you went’, isn’t good enough. It goes on to suggest that 30 hours notice of a deadline, generally poor communication, and weak quarantine enforcement, in a context in which the Cummings episode shows that the rules apply to some but not others, aren’t conducive to public confidence or compliance.  For my own part, the 4.00am Saturday deadline left me wondering which particular bit of science the government was following that dictated that anyone who set foot back on British soil at 3.59am was bound to be Covid-free, but anyone who did so at 4.01am needed to go into quarantine for 14 days to protect the rest of us.

Where the NHS is concerned the reports focus on the government’s declared intention to keep the outcomes of inquiries into the Covid-related deaths of 620 health and care workers secret; the recall from NHS hospitals of 200,000 defective gowns, following closely on the heels of the recall of the 50 million defective face masks; and the quiet removal of 1.3 million tests from the running total of coronavirus tests nationally as a tacit admission of double-counting.

The on-going debacle over the A-level ‘results’ was covered in four separate articles, one of which predicted similar levels of chaos when the GCSE ‘results’, based on the same algorithm are released this coming week.   It is anticipated that up to 2 million results are likely to be downgraded, with the examining bodies already swamped by appeals against the A-level outcomes.  As one commentator put it in relation to the A-levels: ‘Unless Gavin Williamson [the Secretary of State for Education] can set up an appeals procedure that resolves the worst cases within days, he will destroy any illusions that his government could run a whelk stall.’

One article on the migrants who have been crossing the English Channel in small boats in their tens and twenties during the calm weather was written by May Bulman, and focuses on our bombastic Prime Minister’s assertion that “this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do.”  Bulman draws on legal opinion in pointing out that there isn’t any legal obligation on asylum seekers to seek asylum in the first EU country they arrive in, and that they aren’t, in fact, committing any unlawful act in crossing the channel in small boats to seek asylum.  She argues that making the crossing is neither ‘bad’ nor ‘stupid’ if they are seeking asylum and choosing a country in which they would be joining known communities, and there are no alternative routes to do so.  Bulman quotes Frances Timberlake, coordinator at the Refugee Women’s Centre in Calais and Dunkirk, in this regard: ‘I would use stupid to describe most of the policies [in this regard] the UK has proposed so far, which have totally failed.’

The anti-migrant rhetoric is obviously intended to pander to the xenophobic right wing of the Tory party and the populace as a whole.  Any one of the other three debacles – the mishandling of the response to Covid-19 and its impact on the NHS, the A-levels disaster, and the quarantine issue – should, one might have thought, be enough to sink any government without trace in the opinion polls.   Future historians, even those sceptical about the mental health of those of us who have been self-isolating for five months, seem likely to agree.  But, while Johnson’s own credit rating is falling, the polls suggest that responses to his government as a whole seem to remain astonishingly little affected.  So anyone up for investing in a government-run whelk stall? 

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!