Besides the daily death toll, another depressing piece of news is Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty’s view that the UK will have to live with some social distancing measures for the rest of the year.
Today’s Guardian editorial paints a reactive rather than proactive picture of the government’s COVID19 strategy, presenting an analysis of what’s wrong and what’s needed. This is in the context of the much-hyped vaccine announcement yesterday, itself looking like a government attempt to claw back some dignity from the flak being flung at it.
‘While no expense should be spared to find a vaccine, the UK government must also display the wherewithal to design an administrative system to support and enable the public to live with this threat. That means getting the basics right. So far the signs have not been good. In Britain, everywhere you look you see a state overstretched and driven by politicians’ panic rather than careful planning.’
The article shows that other countries did not make unrealistic claims about tackling the virus but the UK did, eg saying said we’d have 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. ‘There do not seem to be coordinated, sustained efforts by the government….’ The operative word here is coordinated, with ministers like Simon Clarke saying x or y isn’t in their portfolio. Level is another operative word, because they have ‘levelled’ about the likely cost to the taxpayer post-pandemic but not about other important areas: ‘Ministers need to level with the public over the PPE shortfalls and blockages.’
The article suggests that two things need dispensing with PDQ – ‘They must shed ideas of British exceptionalism that saw them waste chances to purchase kit and protective equipment on the global market, as well as delusions that “herd immunity” was a way out of the pandemic. Again, increasing doubts about the government’s approach will increase anxiety in the population. At least, though, the government finally has some effective opposition and it sounds as if Keir Starmer gave Dominic Raab a good run for his money at PMQs today, the first of this new virtual parliament.
Although not surprising, it’s depressing to hear of the rise of scams, taking advantage of people’s insecurity and anxiety during the crisis. They range from the more predictable finance scams to the more insidious ones, eg the sale of expensive ‘vitamin infusions’, allegedly helping to protect people from the virus. Those purveying such things aren’t prevented from doing so despite NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) pointing out the lack of evidence base and asking them to desist. Of course, those with health anxiety will be especially vulnerable to this kind of exploitation. Not for nothing is there a hashtag on Twitter: #nutribollox.
Meanwhile, there are some cheering lockdown stories, people doing and making new things and those unable to do their old jobs adapting to the situation eg the tailor turned food picker featured on Radio 4 You and Yours.
We’re used to hearing about NHS staff at risk but the difficulties facing the psychiatric sector have largely been overlooked. Mental health units are hugely at risk because only half the psychiatrists surveyed said they’d been able to get tested (despite assurances that any NHS staff could get tested), and units can’t get PPE. A very real concern is that people living with mental illness might experience worsening symptoms and others might develop new mental health problems, especially depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, while loss of employment and financial worries may lead to a sense of hopelessness.
Sir Simon Wessely (Professor of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London) has usefully drawn attention to this interesting blog, also written up in The Telegraph, about how we resume our lives after lockdown. Rather than everyone going mad celebrating when lockdown ends, it looks at why people may be more reluctant to resume their previous lives, preferring safety to freedom.
Author Professor Bill Durodie (University of Bath) suggests that ‘as a slogan, “Stay Home, Save Lives” encourages what, at the time of the Second World War would have been recognised to be a paralysing “deep shelter mentality”. It fails to engage people actively in the collective effort to restore normality.” He argues that this ‘prolonged period of social isolation, fear and dependence….could lead to a culture of suspicion, avoidance and intolerance towards others, an unwillingness to embrace life’s uncertainties..’, – sounds more like existing than fully living. [For some reason the blog URL will not post but it’s University of Bath IPR blog – Getting on with life is the real battle now]
At 8 pm on Radio 4 (or catch up on BBC Sounds) Mary Ann Sieghart presents the last episode of Fallout, looking at the kind of society likely to emerge post-pandemic, focusing tonight on the environment. Key questions discussed include ‘How will COVID-19 affect how we think about risk? If we can change our behaviour to fight this emergency, could we also do it to avert a climate emergency? Or will we be even less willing to do so, as we’ll be more concerned about putting food on the table? Will governments also be less interested in tackling climate change when climbing out of a recession is a higher priority? Will we see more global co-operation to tackle global problems or the opposite: a more nationalist and divided world?’