Sunday, April 12, 2020


So, how are your New Year’s resolutions going?

To all those that declared that 2020 was going to be “their” year, it feels natural to write it off as a false start, and skip to 2021. Twelve days were “lost” when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar, in Europe, in 1582 – we could do it again! Australia could have Christmas in winter!

Addressing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of coronavirus disease 2 (COVID-19), has taken time because I believed doing so would not be helpful. Realising I needed to do it for myself, concerns over tone, and point of view, melted away. We all need hope, but we have our own hopes.

I understand the characterisation of the fight against coronavirus as a war, because of our collective memory of the last national emergency on this scale, mobilising an entire country against a common enemy, even if the Queen saying “we’ll meet again” at the end of her special broadcast made me think of “Dr. Strangelove.” 

But this enemy has no strategy, forcing sacrifices in routine not seen even during the Second World War, for our bodies are under attack, not our homes. (I know it didn’t stop Donald Trump calling coronavirus “a brilliant enemy... genius... hidden, but very smart,” but his words surprise no-one anymore.) Coronavirus may not be a plague, or a pox, but my mind headed there. Reading the diary of Samuel Pepys from late 1665, recounting the figures from the weekly bill of mortality, and hoping the impending frost will flush out the plague from London, is not far from our hourly news bulletins and talks of an “exit strategy.”

My exit strategy from coronavirus is set – having studiously followed Government advice to stay at home, leaving only for exercise or to buy essentials, I’ve had time to think. I needed a haircut before the UK was locked down, and it is now my priority - it’s weighing my head down. I will then head to a restaurant, most likely Five Guys – my burger toppings are “all the way,” with no ketchup. I fixed on these two actions as the signs of a return to normality, and decided not to question them further.

Once these are done, I can assess how my actions will change, just as everyone adjusts to new realities. The short version of the rebuilding of London after the Great Plague, followed by the Great Fire, was that a competition was held to devise a new layout for the city, but abandoned with the need to start rebuilding quickly... but the closed sewers, wider streets and installation of pavements to separate the public from the road ensured lessons were learnt just as fast.

In April 2020, we cannot yet say what we will change, but when a respirator can be conceived, designed, and approved for medical use within days, innovation caused by necessity will outstrip wish lists and ideology – see Brexit for further details. I have made attempts to order a contactless debit card, with cash being accepted in fewer shops, and have made changes at home to continue working. At the same time, internet networks will be strengthened to take a shift to working online that may eventually stay. Virtual or phone-based GP appointments, formerly a compromise, are mostly the only option right now, but more people are ready to accommodate them. Some shops that have adopted a delivery-only model during the crisis may continue in this manner without reopening their physical location. More consideration is going to be given to ideas previously dismissed as inconceivable, like a universal basic income, due to emergency measures like the Government-paid furlough in the UK. It would be a mistake to expect things to go back to normal – at least, not straight away.

There are also things that never change. Mobile phone masts have been attacked in the UK over the misplaced belief that the electromagnetic waves generated by 5G mobile signals make changes to people’s bodies, that will make them more susceptible to coronavirus. However, this conspiracy theory, itself spread by 5G being adopted first in more densely populated cities, ignores the fact that those frequencies use capacity vacated by digital television, so not only did these waves already exist, they were being used to broadcast “You’ve Been Framed!”

Meanwhile, as people stay at home, television increasingly resembles the YouTube series of “Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers.” My tips for making your video calls look better are very simple: sit or stand back from the camera, have the lens at your eye level, instead of looking down or up at your device, and use cool white lightbulbs at home instead of warm ones. My only extras are an external microphone and green screen, and you don’t need either of those.

I won’t go as far as saying “we’ll meet again,” but I look forward to saying “Happy New Year” again.

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