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Corona Diaries – enter the Virus Police

March 14, 2020

Evening all. Now that the British government has delegated the management of the coronavirus crisis to the Department of Agriculture, those of us who are not approaching the end of our useful lives, and who don’t have swine fever, tuberculosis or foot and mouth disease can rest easy that we’re in safe hands. To hell with omnidirectional clamour of the experts. Herd immunity is on its way.

The rest of us look nervously for signs that point to a cull, be it by vets with rifles, vans with frosted windows or a chap with a black cowl and a scythe stalking the neighbourhood. Note, by the way, the headline in today’s London Times, which screams “Police get powers to detain virus victims”. Do we think they’ll be heading for police cells? I don’t think so.

I’m joking of course.

Seriously, I do worry about the substantial portion of the population that keeps invoking the example of the Second World War. This little fetish is much loved by Brexiteers, who keep reminding us how we stood alone against the monstrous force across the Channel.

Now we have folks recalling the spirit of the Blitz, when we pulled together as the Nazi bombers rained death and destruction upon us. The analogy, though stirring, is a little fragile, I’m afraid. For example, we didn’t leave the sick and the elderly out of the air raid shelters to create space for the able-bodied, who could thereby continue to drive the buses and deliver the milk. We did massacre our pets, but not our grannies and granddads.

But such minor details are unlikely to put off the war fetishists. While the Italians are singing arias out of their balconies, most of us, not having balconies, will no doubt be singing Vera Lynn songs out of our front windows during tea breaks from building Anderson shelters in our gardens which will be used not for hiding from bombs but for concealing vast quantities of stockpiled loo paper (amongst other essentials).

Also don’t be surprised if the government, embracing the spirit of wartime discipline, doesn’t create a Ministry of Information, and make it illegal for anyone to spread alarm and despondency. In which case you’re unlikely to hear from me again after Dixon of Dock Green has taken me off in a Black Maria.

One bit of positive news is that America finally seems to be waking up to the seriousness of the pandemic. Even Donald Trump, for whom the whole affair seems to be an opportunity for him to look presidential, seems to get it, even though he still seems happy to shake hands with people, and he still refuses to be tested. I half expect to hear him declare “I have great immunity. No one has better immunity than me.”

But it’s no joke for ordinary Americans, who seem to be going through all the circles of hell to get tested and diagnosed. I also have a sneaking worry about the haphazard melange of announcements and decisions coming out of the US. If things get seriously bad, and half the population is required to work at home, what about those who can’t, and who look after facilities that not only Americans but all the rest of us need to work properly?

Maintenance of nuclear power stations comes to mind. If one of them accidentally melts down (remember Chernobyl), there will be global consequences.

Then there’s something else that we all seem to take for granted, especially during the current crisis: the internet. The US is a key technical hub for the net, and if connectivity and bandwidth start degrading because there aren’t enough staff to maintain the nodes, we’ll all be in trouble.

Which calls to mind one of my favourite novels of last year, Robert Harris’s The Second Sleep, set in a world eight centuries from now that has returned to the Middle Ages after an unspecified disaster wiped out all the infrastructure and much of the population on the planet – around now. Unspecified because a resurgent church blames the collapse on the biblical apocalypse, and does its utmost to hide the real cause for fear of losing its hold on the imagination of the surviving population.

But this is a flight of fancy, and I don’t for a moment believe that the internet will fall over, though I suspect that we might be in for some patchy service in the coming months, which will not be good news for those of us, which is most of us, who rely on ebusiness in our daily lives.

On a practical level, if large numbers of people are confined to quarters over the next few months, there will need to be a network of volunteers who are prepared to drop food and other supplies to those who can’t go out. Provided I’m not one of them, I’m more than happy to help.

Perhaps this is where community spirit will assert itself, despite efforts by the government to encourage the survival of the fittest. We should never underestimate the ability of people to care, even when much of the evidence suggests otherwise.

On that optimistic note, I’m off to Waitrose for a spot of panic buying. Half-baked ciabatta, walnuts and ginseng are top of the list. Oh, and loo paper, because our consignment still hasn’t arrived.

Back soon, virus permitting.

From → Politics, Social, UK, USA

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