Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Covid-19, Policy and the People

Covid-19, Policy and the People

The United States of America could see this coming. Why did a concerted strategy take so long? What about the People? Why the apparent chaos?

For those of us who have been covering US external policy for decades, and criticizing it strongly, this is not a time to grandstage, take petty shots, make silly quips or jump on a bandwagon. People are dying, fork-lift trucks are piling bodies up in the streets of Queens, New York, it appears the USA does not have a nationwide, concerted strategy, even today and the population is terrified. Understandably, as this wave prepares to sweep across the country.

So in the absense of direction, with part of the USA locked down, and another part moving freely, with people asking questions as to what they are supposed to do, with the President himself firing off in different directions instead of providing Leadership, let someone at least provide some guidelines for the people of the United States of America to follow because from Europe, and Latin America, we can see what is coming to them. Here it is, hope it helps.

Leadership

At a time like this, it does not make sense to criticize a leader just for the sake of scoring political points and it works against any political opposition to be too vociferous in doing so. True, President Trump has been taken by surprise because "nobody was prepared for this" but one would have thought that a team of advisors could have predicted what was going to happen. Especially because an event like this has been planned for at the highest level since 2016 at least. So to say "I was taken by surprise" is OK for people like myself or any other common citizen but a President? It makes him look like a whale floundering around on the beach.

Ineptitude, incompetence, inability

We now find out that December 31st at Wuhan Wholesale Fish Market was perhaps not the date or venue of the first case of an unusual pneumonia, which had been reported already in Italy in November and Chinese researchers seem to have uncovered cases as far back as October. Even if we take December 31 as the starting date, and due to the severity of the contagion of the virus, it was obvious (to me at least) what was going to happen and if I had copied and pasted what I wrote about Influenza A H1N1, MERS and Ebola over the last decade, I would have saved a lot of time and the content would have been bang on. In the event I only had to paraphrase what I had already written because the way the authorities treat these healthcare emergencies is indeed, a copy and paste of ineptitude, incompetence, inability and criminal negligence.

It is almost as if the world's health authorities want these things to spread far and wide for a pharmaceutical giant to make a mint out of a medicine or a vaccine. Anyone else had that thought?

It is not surprising, therefore, with the WHO reiterating "be vigilant" (i.e. adopt the pose of a voyeur) and not recommending any travel or trade restrictions, that the Trump administration sat back and watched, claiming that it was listening to the experts, as did everyone else.

That is not a crime in itself. But it is not Leadership, especially when such things have been planned for, since 2016 at least and more recently last year when the Trump Administration's Crimson Contagion plan outlined and simulated a pandemic. Nothing appears to have been done. That is not Leadership, it's posing. The bottom line is that when you are on a pedestal, people fire darts at you, which is the only way to test Leadership qualities. The bottom line is that the United States of America, and its cousin across the Pond, the United Kingdom, were slow to react, when Continental Europe was already imposing lock-downs by mid-March (16th) and most people were already self-isolating themselves before that. It took the UK until 23rd, losing seven vital days and the USA longer.

The Community Immunity and Let the Economy Flow approach

The initial approach which was apparently considered in both the UK and the USA was that of allowing people to circulate freely, going about their affairs, allowing the economy to tick over, isolating those who test positive. This policy has been followed to a degree in the Republic of Korea and also in Sweden. The flaw is that it does not protect people, especially the elderly and most vulnerable. Lockdown does.

Lockdown

It makes common sense to lock down a city, region and country as soon as something unusual is reported. The health authorities disagree, stating that we need to be vigilant and to report cases but do not recommend any travel restrictions. For fear than an airline might suffer? Well look at the air industry now. Look at the travel and tourism and restauration industry, the hospitality industry, as the first wave hits.

This was yet another occasion when too little was done, too late. True, there have been around 65,600 deaths from Covid-19, a drop in the ocean compared with malaria (405,000 deaths annually, worldwide), AIDS (770,000 deaths annually, worldwide, a total of 32 million since the disease weas discovered) and seasonal flu (up to 500,000 deaths worldwide annually).

US citizens, here is what to do

First off, quoting comfort stories and belittling the potential danger of Covid-19 is counter-productive because it decreases readiness. This thing kills and readiness is your weapon. It is not very strong - soap suds kill it, common household bleach kills it. Dead. Here is the plan I adopted back in 2009 with Influenza A H1N1.

Most of the time, I live in an apartment with an enclosed garden, in a city. My shoes are kept outside my front door in the corridor. A visit outdoors means I am wearing a mask, gloves and a plastic bag over my head and shoulders (the type that comes with the shirts ironed at the laundry). A visit to the shops is preceded by a phone call in which the boys prepare the goods in plastic bags and when I go inside the shop nobody else is allowed in. I pick up the goods, take off one glove to pay by cash card, come home, kick off my shoes and leave them outside the door, deposit everything outside in the garden on a table (if it is raining, I leave it inside under the kitchen table). Gloves off (in the garden and sprayed with bleach), clothes off, in the machine, shower, change clothes. I then wipe the food packages or cans one by one with a kitchen paper and bleach and wipe the plastic bags down the same way. Vegetables and fruit (the main part of my intake) are washed in water and vinegar and dried on clean teacloths. Hand wash (again), the groceries are stored in the fridge and freezer. Next, bleach and kitchen paper, wipe the outside door handle, the inside door handle, security locks, light switches, bathroom tap, garden door handle inside and outside. Hand wash.

I know it is a pain and the temptation to make a mistake and touch the face is huge, but I have taught myself never to do it. For this reason I limit my shops to twice-weekly.

Walking the dog is the same, the only difference being he has to step through some bleach sprayed on the floor outside the door, then outside in the garden he has to walk through a pool of water to get to his dinner (everything strategically organized). That, ladies and gentlemen, is the way to protect yourselves, not possibly staying inside or possibly wearing a mask "but I ain't going to because it looks kinda daft but hey I might change my mind, who knows?". Air the house, change the bedclothes after every two days, do the hand wash every time you remember or when you pass the bathroom door. It sounds a little OCD but that is the way to protect yourself and your family and community. As for visits to the old timers, no way (unless it is absolutely necessary).

Buy and disinfect the groceries for them in the same way, leave them outside their door and under no conditions should they venture outside.

Don't panic

As I said, this is a nasty little virus which acts like a coward, targeting the vulnerable, like a playground bully and like a playground bully, it is hiding something. In the case of the former, the aggressiveness is probably because he is a closet crossdresser and has issues with it, in the second case it is because the thing is so puny, soap suds kill it. Make it your mission to eliminate as much of this crap as possible, each and every day.

Despite the constant inundation of statistics day after day on TV, speaking about the number of "infected" and "dead", although nobody else has yet said this, my take, based on what I see and hear, is that the cases reported are the 15% tip of the iceberg and the other 85% of cases are unreported because most people either have a dose so mild they don't notice anything, or else think it is a cold, or flu (with varying levels of discomfort from nothing to mild sniffle, to fleeting headache, temperature, loss of taste and smell, sore throat to coughing, vomiting and diarrhea to breathing difficulties and at the top end, a hospital visit/internment in the ICU). The worse the symptoms, the fewer the number of victims.

This does not mean there is room for complacency, because to catch this you need to make one mistake.  True, most of the victims are the elderly or those with underlying health conditions but it has also killed infants, teenagers and healthy young adults. It is also not clear yet whether people can be reinfected or infections after having a mild case and recovering.

To every action, a reaction

As usual, it is the poorer who will suffer most and incredible as it may seem, I have already become aware of cases of people being thrown out of their homes into the streets. In what kind of medieval shithole is that? In the USA for instance. And not only. It is the poorer who will be more likely to share a smaller space with more people. Imagine being locked down with five kids screaming up the walls, swinging from the lamps, followed by the dog. And cat. And the canary. While the goldfish have a rave in their bowl and the turtle decides to go psycho.

To survive this, there need to be two reactions, one from individuals and another from the Institutions. Landlords and banks should think about writing off a part of their income from rents and morgage repayments so as to receive anything at all in the medium term. People should think about paying the cleaning lady anyway, whether she comes or not. Put it down to a bonus for her loyalty and past work - she is the one who will bear the economic brunt of this, she and her kids.

On a more personal level, create a Zen space for you and the family. Set routines. Get up at the same time as usual, have your shave, breakfast, shower, get dressed normally rather than lying around in pyjamas, comb your hair, arrange yourself as if you had your shit together. It might feel great to slob around on the sofa, disheveled and unkempt, unshaven for a few days but this is not the approach the family needs. If those of us with our own offices equipped with TV, meeting table, desk, bar and a garden outside, dare to complain about anything at all, we should be horse-whipped. We should be helping those who face the challenge of a cramped space with noise interference. Buy a family a TV if they don't have one, donate an old laptop which works, cook a nice meal and leave it outside someone's door. Offer someone a bottle of wine.

By Zen space I mean something which brings you pleasure. Learn a language, read a poem to the family, have a whiteboard where the kids can create a Covid Collage, allow people to turn this around to become an opportunity, to share together, to enjoy the family's company, to phone the elderly, see if they are OK, use videoconferencing platforms to find new clients, internationalize yourself. Read a book. Draw something. Have family activities such as board games, cookery classes, baking sessions, presentations. Use it as a means to gain something for yourselves as individuals, as families.

Resist the temptation to provoke (looking at his cell phone or trawling through his laptop, it is his private space, butt out and mind your own f***ing business) and resist the temptation to explode if provoked. Count to ten, go outside the house. Research the basic movements of Tai Chi (back straight, head up, breathing from the diaphragm). Make your wife a nice lunch and yes you can, it's just a question of common sense and good will.

It's the economy, stupid!

Here is the crunch, the whole crunch and the real crunch. Our globalized market economy model, flawed from the start, was not made to bedshare with a punk like Covid-19. And now we're speaking about Covid, let us remember that he has a nasty close cousin called MERS, also a Beta-Coronavirus and also from bats, with a 34% mortality rate, not 3.4%.

Stimulation funds are useful in the short term to help keep companies afloat, the challenge being the second phase which will be financial rather than economic, in which banks and insurance companies feel the pinch as the shockwaves from phase one start to reverberate. Once again, we see that the socio-economic model needs to take into consideration the fact that if people had their accommodation paid for, or provided for free, there would be a massive burden taken off their shoulders. With good will that could be expended to the provision of public services: water, energy, Internet, communications, entertainment. It has been tried before and passed the test.

The serious issue here is what happens to jobs and how proficient are our social and economic models in providing for those who through no fault of their own have lost their means of income and are one paycheck away from the street. Nobody has seriously considered the issuing of a kind of virtual currency, call it for example the Note, pegged to the dollar and circulating freely alongside the national currencies, issued by central banks and distributed equally at say 1000 units per month, bought back by the central banks in a system where nobody sees evil, nobody speaks evil, nobody hears evil and over (a pre-set) time, the new notes then being absorbed into the system as if nothing had happened. If a time limit were set, it would quash those shocked economists who say "But you can't do that".

Think about the guy going to the bank with a business plan like this: Well, see, I...I....I don't actually intend to make any money, or have any income, or sell any products....

The worst kind of reactions

It does not surprise me to hear examples of individuals and countries benefiting from this crisis, withholding supplies, stealing supplies, preying off the elderly disguised as healthcare officials, sending viruses on SMS saying your food delivery is delayed. These are the one per cent of bad apples which get the batch a bad name but do not get to rot the lot because they are so inconsequential. 99 per cent of people have pulled together, countries are sending vital supplies to one another without making a big deal out of it, we are sharing knowledge to help each other, as indeed I am trying to do here. Hopefully it can help.

At the end of the day we are all in this together. I always said it would take a space invasion to bring Arab and Jew, black and white, indigenous and coloniser, Christian and Moslem or whatever, together. In the end all it took was a bat.

Finally, ageism

The notion that someone can be denied a ventilator just because they are 90 years old and someone of 40 needs one urgently is abhorrent and extremely unfair. This is not how the system should work. Imagine the ninety-year-old has spent her/his entire life helping people for free, has probably been through at least one war, did everything that was expected, and much, much more and just when they need something in return, it is given to some drug addict who spent his entire life screwing up families and sowing misery?

If the system cannot do better than that then it stinks and I demand the people make sure that next time around, we take all these ideas into consideration.

A Covid foot touch, an elbow shake and (cringe) stay well!

Photo: By William Holman Hunt - http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/230319, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38948121