Delaying the lockdown exit strategy until Sunday will inevitably raise expectations as to its contents and impact so let’s hope it’s worth the wait. It will need to carefully balance the need to prevent further spread of COVID with the need to recharge the economy and to halt further lockdown collateral damage – loneliness, anxiety, domestic violence, unhealthy eating and drinking and so on. It can’t please the government that an increasing number of Conservatives (Steve Baker the latest) have been joining in the chorus urgently calling for lockdown ending.
It’s very interesting that, in view of criticism of the secrecy around SAGE membership and proceedings and alleged lack of independence, former Chief Scientific Officer Sir David King has set up an ‘independent SAGE’- its meeting streamed on YouTube earlier. Its own membership is the first thing Independent Sage tweeted (looks like a good cross-section of people including some public health experts, an area said to be underrepresented on SAGE).
We have to wonder if Dominic Cummings was watching this meeting – if not him, certainly some minions. https://youtu.be/cFLAwZeNfxE
‘Great to see that this debate is so open and not hidden like the govt version of SAGE and COBRA’, said one contributor to the chat room. It’s thought this development prompted the government to reveal the membership of SAGE – what a result.
Meanwhile, Matt Hancock and colleagues seem to be putting too much faith in tech to tackle a major task which should have been tackled months ago, namely contact tracing. The new NHS COVID_19 app currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight is expected to yield faster results than traditional contact tracing methodology. But despite an article in The Times explaining that the app wouldn’t give any more data to tech giants ‘than they already have’, many will be uneasy about some access to location, potentially leading to more anxiety. It echoes the broader concern as to whether current incursions into our privacy being made to cope with the pandemic will be withdrawn later. A major weakness must be the app’s selectivity: not everyone has a smartphone and its success will depend on 80% of smartphone owners downloading it, which can’t be guaranteed at present. The fact that Hancock has been closely associated with the discredited Babylon GP at Hand primary care app will not inspire confidence, at least in some medical quarters. Nor will the suggestion that the new app is to be supplied by Ben Warner’s brother’s company. (Warner is one of the No 10 attendees of SAGE). https://bit.ly/35CdnOs
There’s more thought-provoking listening about mental health on the BBC World Service. Now that a good part of the world has been living for a time in lockdown, presenter Claudia Hammond and her panel of psychologists and psychiatrists, including experts from China and India, answered the audience’s questions on the impact of the pandemic on mental health. The huge effect of continuing uncertainty was a substantial theme. Whereas some of the coping advice is fairly obvious and has appeared in various places, it was interesting to hear one psychologist state that those who have already navigated adversity and challenges during their lives will generally cope better than those who haven’t. Also that as many as 17% of the population suffer from health anxiety (formerly known as hypochondria), living in a state of hyperarousal and likely to be more seriously impacted than others.
As the country gears up (or doesn’t) for the VE Day celebrations on Friday, we could be wondering who will mark it. There’s a Facebook suggestion going around that we all set up tables, chairs and drinks outside our houses, which could be done with distancing, wear red, white and blue and decorate our houses similarly. Someone who experienced VE Day itself described the atmosphere as ‘delirious’. We might not feel quite so exuberant this time round but it could be good for community engagement and some kind of national esprit de corps, provided it’s not recruited cynically by the government to deflect from their failings, for example by making inappropriate comparisons between VE Day and ‘getting through’ this pandemic, aka ‘battle’ or ‘war’. Opinion seems divided as to whether this is a real cause of celebration, acknowledging the sacrifices made back then, or jingoistic nonsense keeping us stuck in the past. But it could at least prove an innocuous way of escaping COVID gloom for a few hours, therefore a ‘good thing’.
‘Lockdown is really messing with my mind’ read one tweet. ‘I’m presently fighting back the tears at the thought of singing “We’ll meet again’ with my neighbours on Friday night’! This reminded me of having had to learn this song as part of a tap dance show years ago but the lyrics didn’t stick.
Finally, an interesting quote to ponder from Japanese author Haruki Murakami, via Inner Space: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”