It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

“One of the theories is perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow coronavirus to move through the population without really taking as many draconian measures.” PM Boris Johnson

Many years ago, I travelled by bus from Cardiff to Glasgow. The bus slowly started filling up with smoke. We all looked around shiftily, never quite making eye contact. Eventually, at a crucial moment, someone shouted Fire! and within seconds, we were screeching to a halt and jumping out of the emergency exit onto the M8.

This image has been recurring in my mind lately, as we scrabble around, looking for the grown up in the room. We’d like to know how to stem the encroaching avalanche of Covid-19 cases that are potentially coming our way, before we hit the hard shoulder at speed. It won’t be Johnson. He’s gleefully ignoring available guidelines, smirking behind the Chancellor, as the populist budget of the century is delivered. Only days ago, he was sharing space with his C19 positive junior health minister Nadine Dorries. Ironic, considering that Johnson appears to have been self- isolating since he Got Brexit Done.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have to take responsibility. Unfortunately stupidity has been taking over the planet for a while, and currently stupid appears to be winning. If stupid lives in a democracy, stupid votes for other stupid, selfish people, sometimes at the expense of their stupid selves, friends and family. Stupidity and selfishness really get in the way, not least when they first met the virus, with an onslaught of racism towards Chinese people. Shame. Most folk are okay.

Stupid stopped buying toilet roll today but has bought all the soap and the pasta. Stupid morphs seamlessly to bad, when it steals the hand sanitisers from hospitals, buys up all the surgical masks and re-sells their haul for ridiculous prices.

Stupid is also still saying that this is no more than a seasonal flu, deliberately overblown by government and media. Seriously? Who thinks that Johnson and Trump actually have a clue? Note their erratically changeable, blustering, blundering statements. In the past, Trump has openly stated that he prefers veterans who never became prisoners of war. This attitude carried him through the initial denial stage. He’d prefer Americans who don’t get sick. He’d like to protect them from Europeans now. “Not altogether crazy” says one commentator, but lacking in any strategy of international co-operation. Also lacking real awareness that the virus has already arrived.

We may yet see the day when both Johnson and Trump have the virus. It’s highly probable in fact, and Johnson may well “take it on the chin”. However, I’m stopping short of the temptation to describe this virus as the great leveller. Access to private health care misses the point at the centre of the crisis. That the NHS will collapse without the necessary measures, strategy, supplies and staff to cope. Johnson is unlikely to be subject to a decision about whether he is allowed to carry on breathing, based on resources.

In fact there’s nothing really about this virus that screams equality. It cares not who it targets, and will certainly take its toll on older and more sick and immune-suppressed people. It cares even less for those whose luck was already running out in terms of access to resources, nutrition, hygiene. Thinking of homeless people at the extreme.

We really are not all in this together. No matter how we try to keep calm and carry on, this won’t turn out to be a Brexiteer’s wet dream. Empty shelves and overstretched healthcare, and a long look into the abyss of uncertainty may only be a warm up for our post Brexit years.

Maybe Stupid bottoms out somewhere, if you’ll pardon the pun. I doubt it. Capitalism, you are the biggest, stupidest, most uncaring of the stupid. It, and its stupid world leaders care less for the welfare of citizens than they do for the economy. The populist budget announced by the Chancellor on 11th March goes nowhere in real terms towards allaying the real fears of those who feel the pressure to withdraw from the labour market, and the inevitable closure of schools, but without the financial security to bear this burden. Tax blogger Richard Murphy sums it up;

“To be blunt, the social epidemiology of this is quite simple: there is a trade off between how quickly we allow the virus to spread, and how many people die and what the economic impact of the epidemic is. We can go for saving people, or we can go for saving the economy, but we cannot go for both. What you need to know is that the government is choosing the economy.”

To everyone who has pointed out the relative insignificance of covid-19 against a background of climate change, poverty, disease, starvation. Yes, I know. You’re far from stupid. You’re outward looking and most likely caring, but all those wrongs only serve to underpin the intransigence of the world leaders in the face of welfare versus wealth and power debates. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it’s hard to get away from an unbearable feeling that the death of our most vulnerable will, by default, solve a problem for the most callous governments.

This feels ominously like the beginning of a story without a foreseeable conclusion, about an issue without borders. We await decisions from reserved and devolved positions about the “delay” stage. It already feels too little too late. Not just because we have been paying scant attention to the available information about trends from already affected countries like Italy. It is too late to make repair the damage done by decades of austerity. Damage to our NHS, our care-services, our health and communities.

There has been a sense of “who will blink first.” Should I cancel my flight, my concert, my visit to my elderly mother? How large is a large gathering? Why 500? Will I be isolated or accused of over-reaction if I stay at home? Will I be irresponsible if I don’t? The profit-focused airline company may hope that you blink first, and cancel before they have to refund you.

I have no advice or credential for offering it. Just this; if you can’t find, or don’t trust any of the grown ups, it’s you. Don’t mind what others think of you. This is where we are. Stay safe.

Val Waldron






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