I haven’t been able to write anything here for the last few days not for terrible health-related reasons but because I was just too wiped out in the evening to do so. When you find yourself having to do a full workload as well as a dose of childcare and a bunch of extra worrying about the world it doesn’t leave much time for relaxation in the evening,
So how do things look after the first full week of isolation? Things seem to be going in the right direction, at least so far. The day-on-day increase in infection numbers has gone from 40% ten days ago to 15.4% today, which is already a major improvement. However, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be out of here soon. The numbers need to get below 10% and stay there, and the current measures have been extended until Easter Monday (13th April). That’s another three weeks, after which if all goes well the measures will hopefully start to gradually relax.
People are doing a good job of sticking to the rules. The police have had to hand out a bunch of fines, mostly to people gathering in large groups in public and refusing to disperse, but mostly things are pretty orderly. Everyone is just getting on with it. It helps that the weather is forecast to be chilly for the next week – this will help to keep the numbers down in the park and make the required (at least 1 metre) separation between people easier to maintain. I’m happy that people are sticking to the rules, because so long as that’s the case the more likely it is that the parks will be allowed to remain open. If the parks have to be closed thanks to a small minority of idiots, those idiots are not going to be popular with the rest of us who cherish the ability to get out and enjoy the park even if it’s just for a half-hour walk.
Thoughts are now starting to turn to what sort of a world will emerge from the end of this crisis. It’s certainly going to look pretty grim from an economic point of view, with possible unemployment rates up to 20% and a long, hard road back to normality not just for the businesses and workers who have been affected but for society as a whole. But that society will be one in which a number of things are suddenly and starkly clear. Millions of people will be alive thanks to modern medicine and enormous scientific effort who would otherwise be dead. COVID-19 will not be conquered by goji berries and detox wraps, but by an unprecedented global scientific and public health effort with decisions made based on hard science or hard data (sorry, Gwyneth Paltrow). People are already learning to appreciate the seemingly miraculous production and supply chains which keep us fed, and the contributions to our daily lives made by the doctors, nurses, carers, paramedics, supermarket staff, postal workers and others who are giving their all to keep society intact. We can now imagine far more clearly how life would be without them because we’ve been forced to do so.
But ultimately, the most important thing which is happening now is the final death of Margaret Thatcher’s famous and much-repeated (although to her credit, actually slightly misquoted) line about there being “no such thing as society”. Anyone who couldn’t see it before must now see that there is indeed such a thing as society. We are seeing that when thousands of people lose their livelihoods through no fault of their own it is important that there is a properly-funded, accessible safety net to ensure they can continue to keep their heads above water with dignity. We are seeing that you cannot cut your way to redemption, that austerity puts lives at risk, that we all need to look out for each other. And we are seeing that the welfare of every member of society contributes to the welfare of society as a whole. The threads that bind us together are far, far stronger than the neoliberal, burn-it-all-down governments of the last decade thought.
As we watch previously “fiscally cautious” governments across the world open the floodgates and drive themselves deeper into the red than ever before in order to have a hope of having an economy worth speaking of when this is all over, the dogma that public borrowing is somehow immoral goes up in smoke. After all, surely they could simply leave things as they are in the knowledge that the free market would wave its magic free market wand when the time was right, no? Turns out that no, that doesn’t work, and that if you insist that it does people end up dead. I’m not sure where it was I read the claim that “just as there are no atheists on a sinking ship, there are no libertarians in a pandemic” (see footnote), but it strikes me as very true. When you’re standing on the top of the ladder you think you got there all by yourself, but as soon as a major societal crisis comes along and the ground underneath it comes to subside it’s straight off to the government for a few bags of cement, especially once it becomes clear that the magical concrete mixer of the free market is not going to intervene to prop it up.
I guess we shall see. Maybe the world will go straight back to its old selfish, mean-spirited political ways, but it would be nice if it didn’t. Oh, and if you haven’t read it, you should read Anthony “The Angry Chef” Warner’s absolutely superb essay on coronavirus, food, and society. It’s where I
stole found inspiration for most of the above ideas.
One more thing – some people still seem to be panic-buying toilet paper. What do they intend to do with it all?
Footnote: Except for the wacky American ones who think food only finds its way to your supermarket shelves thanks to the action of an unrestricted free market and that all pharmaceutical development is entirely done by private companies who gain nothing whatsoever from the huge amounts of publicly-funded research done in universities and elsewhere. You know, those ones.