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Corona Diaries – a good day to bury bad news

March 24, 2020

One of the inevitable side-effects of a national crisis is the way big stories are forced off the front pages. UK readers might remember the Labour spin doctor who emailed a colleague on September 12 2001 to the effect that “today is a good day to bury bad news”.

Not quite appropriate in the case of Alex Salmond, but the former Scottish Chief Minister’s acquittal yesterday on charges of sexual offences would have been splashed all over the internet and the mainstream media. The trial began with a bang, as one of the women alleged to have been assaulted claimed that Salmond was “all over her like an octopus”. It ended with a whimper, overpowered by the sound and fury of the coronadrama. The story made it to Page 20 of The Times, for those not too exhausted by the preceding coverage of the pandemic.

For Salmond, perhaps, it was a bad day that buried good news, for he surely would have preferred his vindication to take place in a blaze of publicity.

On the bad news front, I also wonder how many businesses that were failing before the crisis will now blame the pandemic for their demise. Laura Ashley, the furnishing retailer that went into administration last week, will be unable to use that excuse because its troubles were well known. But how many others will quietly slip away, claiming it was all because of the virus? Even if the real cause was the incompetence (or criminality) of the directors, will they avoid scrutiny as the system for examining corporate failures becomes impossibly overloaded?

Equally, how will the government prevent companies in dire trouble before the pandemic from leeching public money to stay afloat under the current financial mitigation measures? This is perhaps more of an issue in the US, where Donald Trump insists that he will provide the oversight that will prevent large corporations from misusing money earmarked for bailouts. Yeah, right.

But the question for the government is do you support businesses that were already failing in order to keep people in jobs, thus creating yet more zombie companies that owe their existence to government support?

Another potential danger is a rise in cybercrime. People – particularly the elderly – who are stuck at home, and previously used the internet for the most basic reasons, will be looking to do more things online, such as banking and ebusiness. If their net savvy is limited, they are particularly vulnerable. Perhaps the government, in conjunction with the banks, should use their communications channels to educate them on fraud avoidance tactics.

An interesting development is how the BBC has become the government’s “voice of the nation” in matters related to the pandemic. Not only does it televise the government’s daily update at 5pm, but it carried Boris Johnson’s announcement of the lockdown at 8.30pm. How long before, on the government’s instruction, it creates a special Corona Channel carrying only news, announcements and directives? And how long before Sophie Raworth is replaced by a man in a dark suit and a bow-tie intoning “This is London”?

I hesitate to suggest that at some stage we might even see censorship of the media, but if we start seeing large-scale civil unrest, as opposed to people flocking to the beaches of Bournemouth in protest at the lockdown, I wouldn’t rule it out.

But before we get carried away in a rush of fear and paranoia, more prosaic concerns need to be clarified. For example, is a newsagent an “essential shop”? Whereas the fags and booze bit probably isn’t, given that the supermarkets will stay open, what about newspapers? The last thing the government surely wants is people crowding into the big stores to get their papers. And newspaper deliveries are surely one way of keeping people at home.

Then there’s the question of other deliveries, especially of stuff ordered online. None of Johnson’s ordinances seem to suggest that the likes of Amazon will grind to a halt, especially as they’re increasingly used to order “essential” stuff, such as the pallet of loo paper that arrived at a house near us last week. But as supply chains buckle under the strain, we can probably expect much longer than usual delivery dates.

Also, are DIY shops considered essential? As of early this morning Homebase, according to its website, was still open. But as of now, three hours later, the website has crashed, so who knows? Given that half the country will be engaged in the coming weeks in a frenzy of long-delayed house improvements, I would think that if they are open they’ll be doing a roaring trade just now. Anything we need we’ll order online.

That’s all for now, apart from couple of curiosities from elsewhere.

Search Twitter for “Italian Mayors”, and you’ll find a delicious collection of videos in which these officials rant at their disobedient citizens, including references to dogs with prostate problems, and people not needing elaborate hairdos in closed coffins. Priceless.

Then there’s the Texas couple who self-medicated with chloroquinine sulphate. One of them died, and the other is critically ill. The one who’s still alive claimed they did it because Donald Trump said it was a good idea. Oh dear, that’s another lawsuit the president has to look forward to when he leaves office, which hopefully will be soon.

That’s it for now. Back to my book-purging, CD-sorting and other mindless man-chores.

From → Business, Politics, Social, UK, USA

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