Pulling Together

Plague!

Well, not really. CoVid-19 is not quite under control, but is unlikely to kill in the numbers seen in the Black Death. In fact, it’s not clear yet whether it will become a pandemic or just an epidemic affecting several countries.

It seems likely that, a few days from now, cases in the UK will become too widespread to be able to identify contacts with sufficient accuracy to contain it. Italy has already reached that point and taken drastic action to “lock down” the whole country. Here, people with similar symptoms or who have recently returned from China and now Italy are expected to isolate themselves at home for a fortnight. It’s not clear how that will be enforced, however. After all, people returning from a trip abroad are likely to need to buy food and other supplies, and while they can order it on line in most cases, there’s no guarantee they will. Others will have jobs they have to go to because they do not qualify for sick pay or their employers are unwilling to let them extend their leave. Then there are those who are desperate to see loved ones or have dependents who need their help. It’s difficult to see how people can be forced to stay out of circulation. Those who try will still have contact with delivery drivers or close family if they live with others.

As someone with both Asthma and Chronic Kidney Disease I am apparently at particular risk from this infection, but at the moment I am more worried by the impact of trying to close down society than life-changing health consequences. How long could I stay at home without going mad? I have a close friend with a son who has disabilities and special needs, and simply will not understand or tolerate being kept at home if his school is closed. The only way she can get through days when he’s home is to take him out to safe places away from traffic where he can wander around and amuse himself. At this time of year those places have to be indoors — large shopping centres or other public indoor areas. If those are closed or she is not able to take him there it’s unlikely she and he will be able to cope.

Now, you might say, and it is a completely valid point, that I’m looking at small individual needs rather than seeing the far bigger needs of society as a whole. Just as with Climate Change, this is putting the aspirations of individuals above the needs of the world. I recognise that, but it’s hard to see someone you love suffering acute distress for the sake of the wider community. Small sacrifices are one thing, but something which really hurts a person’s emotional and therefore physical well-being is quite another.

If whatever measures needed to be taken to protect us all fail to take account of these sorts of circumstances and cater for them, they will fail to be effective, because people do, at the individual level, what they perceive they must do to survive. They simply will not obey laws they see as impossible, however much they fear consequences, because no one can do the impossible. Rather, they will become alienated from the State and the Social Contract will break down.

I look to the sky for the answer! The Equinox is only ten days away. The days lengthen and the sun grows in strength. I also expect the virus to become milder if it spreads more effectively among healthy people than through the nursing and funeral needs of the sick and dying. It could be preferable to have 90% of the population catch a cold, than 10% catch something life-threatening. It might also prove that people who stay indoors are more vulnerable because indoors is out of the sun, so health advice will have to be based on very careful scientific consideration of risks. I do not have that ability, and nothing I have written here should be taken as anything more than one man’s speculation, but I am aware we need to hear those who have.

Then there are the economic consequences. It seems the stock markets are panicking. There will be short-term disruption to production and consumption from this, and that will affect profits. For some small businesses depending on consumer habits, a sudden loss of custom or work force could finish them unless loan repayments are put on hold. On the other hand, there will probably be a temporary drop in carbon emissions this year as a result, so maybe this is nature protecting itself! Again, that is mere idle speculation, and unlikely to have significance in the long term.

Where will this go? I do not know, and neither does anyone. Let’s just hope a month from now this will be over, or at least past its peak, and we’ll be just as exercised about something else.

So, until next time, if there is one, goodbye for now.

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