Friday, 20 March 2020

Considering the continuing chaos!

Despite the continuing chaos of coronavirus, or perhaps as a kind of compensation for it all, we have a beautifully sunny day today. There was an icy wind when I went out running earlier but out of the wind the sun was wonderful.

I popped into the local coop for a couple of things and to go to the cash machine. Certain shelves were bare as bare could be. I expected that to be the case with loo rolls and tissues and hand-wash but bread and sugar?! Really! Either they had not had today’s delivery yet or the panic buyers had been out before 9.00am to strip the shelves.

My Italian friend has posted on social media a letter from a doctor working in Bergamo, near Milan. Now, my friend is excitable - she is Sicilian, after all - but as a rule deep down she is quite pragmatic about things. However, the news of over 4,000 deaths in Italy seems to have tipped her into panic mode. Here is the letter from the Bergamo doctor:

“Here’s the viewpoint of a senior doctor from Italy... where hindsight is 20-20.

I'm a doctor in a major hospital in Italy. Watching Americans and Brits in these still-early days of the coronavirus pandemic is like watching a familiar horror movie. The real-life versions of this behavior are pretending this is just a flu; keeping schools open; following through with your holiday travel plans, and going into the office daily. This is what we did in Italy. We were so complacent that even when people with coronavirus symptoms started turning up, we wrote each off as a nasty case of the flu.

We kept the economy going, pointed fingers at China and urged tourists to keep traveling. And the majority of us told ourselves and each other: this isn't so bad. We're young, we're fit, we'll be fine even if we catch it. Fast-forward two months, and we are drowning. Statistically speaking—judging by the curve in China—we are not even at the peak yet, but our fatality rate is at over 6 percent, double the known global average.

Put aside statistics. Here is how it looks in practice. Most of my childhood friends are now doctors working in north Italy. In Milan, in Bergamo, in Padua, they are having to choose between intubating a 40-year-old with two kids, a 40-year old who is fit and healthy with no co-morbidities, and a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, because they don't have enough beds. In the hallway, meanwhile, there are another 15 people waiting who are already hardly breathing and need oxygen. The army is trying to bring some of them to other regions with helicopters but it's not enough: the flow is just too much, too many people are getting sick at the same time.

We are still awaiting the peak of the epidemic in Europe: probably early April for Italy, mid-April for Germany and Switzerland, somewhere around that time for the UK. In the U.S., the infection has only just begun. But until we're past the peak, the only solution is to impose social restrictions. And if your government is hesitating, these restrictions are up to you.

Stay put. Do not travel. Cancel that family reunion, the promotion party and the big night out. This really sucks, but these are special times. Don't take risks. Do not go to places where you are more than 20 people in the same room. It's not safe and it's not worth it.

But why the urgency, if most people survive? Here's why: Fatality is the wrong yardstick. Catching the virus can mess up your life in many, many more ways than just straight-up killing you. "We are all young"—okay. "Even if we get the bug, we will survive"—fantastic. How about needing four months of physical therapy before you even feel human again. Or getting scar tissue in your lungs and having your activity level restricted for the rest of your life. Not to mention having every chance of catching another bug in hospital, while you're being treated or waiting to get checked with an immune system distracted even by the false alarm of an ordinary flu. No travel for leisure or business is worth this risk.

Now, odds are, you might catch coronavirus and might not even get symptoms. Great. Good for you. Very bad for everyone else, from your own grandparents to the random older person who got on the subway train a stop or two after you got off. You're fine, you're barely even sneezing or coughing, but you're walking around and you kill a couple of old ladies without even knowing it. Is that fair? You tell me.

My personal as well as professional view: we all have a duty to stay put, except for very special reasons, like, you go to work because you work in healthcare, or you have to save a life and bring someone to hospital, or go out to shop for food so you can survive. But when we get to this stage of a pandemic, it's really important not to spread the bug. The only thing that helps is social restriction. Ideally, the government should issue that instruction and provide a financial fallback—compensate business owners, ease the financial load on everyone as much as possible and reduce the incentive of risking your life or the lives of others just to make ends meet.

But if your government or company is slow on the uptake, don't be that person. Take responsibility. For all but essential movement, restrict yourself. This is epidemiology 101. It really sucks. It is extreme—but luckily, we don't have pandemics of this violence every year. So sit it out. Stay put. Don't travel. It is absolutely not worth it. It's the civic and moral duty of every person, everywhere, to take part in the global effort to reduce this threat to humanity. To postpone any movement or travel that are not vitally essential, and to spread the disease as little as possible.

Have your fun in June, July and August when this—hopefully—is over. Stay safe..”

There you go.  In the meantime, here is a collection of pictures of people clapping, singing, playing musical instruments from their balconies in various pandemic-stricken countries. Will we soon see pictures of people doing the same from their back gardens in the UK? Hmm! I doubt it!

And now a reminder from the estimable John Pilger that other, and possibly worse, things are going on in the world:-

 “A pandemic has been declared, but not for the 24,600 who die every day from unnecessary starvation, and not for 3,000 children who die every day from preventable malaria, and not for the 10,000 people who die every day because they are denied publicly-funded healthcare, and not for the hundreds of Venezuelans and Iranians who die every day because America's blockade denies them life-saving medicines, and not for the hundreds of mostly children bombed or starved to death every day in Yemen, in a war supplied and kept going, profitably, by America and Britain. Before you panic, consider them.”

 With that, I now plan to get Phil and me organised to go for a socially distancing walk up the hill!

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