Covid-19: Absence of leadership in USA and UK

Rocket Science, the UK and USA...and Covid

The UK is "thinking" about making the wearing of face masks compulsory, the US President is wearing one for the first time. Where have these countries been?

In many countries, people were wearing face masks in shops in early March. Nobody even had to tell them. In February, people were already finding alternatives to public transportation when they could. They were avoiding public gatherings and they locked themselves down in their homes, using home delivery services where possible.

It is called common sense.

Shocking scenes from the USA and UK

So how shocked was I this weekend when I saw mass raves in the UK, with hundreds of youths gathering, some with face masks worn on the chin, others with none at all, drinking and dancing together, then attacking the police when told to break up the party; in the USA, protests against the face mask, people refusing to wear one and deriding those that do.

It reminds me of the meme You bomb people. People get angry. People bomb you. You get angry. You bomb people...

So we could alter the wording, and apply it to the (lack of) leadership in these countries. Covid breaks out. You impose a lockdown. People get bored. You break the lockdown. Covid breaks out...

So in the absence of a common policy, with the absence of leadership in the USA and UK, the rest of the world has a say because public health policies which lead to a propagation of the virus will affect us all, since international travel has opened up again. So let us try to talk some common sense into the part of the populations of these countries who appear unable to understand basic logic, and their leaders  who quite obviously do not get it and fail to lead by example.

Dear President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson, the people of the USA and UK

The scientific community is still trying to understand exactly what Covid-19 is, where it came from and how it operates. What we do know is that whether it originated in Wuhan or wherever, whether it made the species jump from bat to pangolin or from wherever to human, it is a potentially lethal vírus. The fact is that on average some 3 to 5 % of people who get the virus die from it directly (respiratory problems, kidney failure, cytokine storm) or indirectly (strokes, heart attacks caused by blot clots). Among the elderly, the figure is far higher, among the young, lower. Most people experience varying degrees of discomfort from nothing to mild symptoms to very uncomfortable. The unlucky 15 per cent end up lying on a hospital bed. Between a fifth and a third of these don't make it. Many of those with mild symptoms or without any symptoms go on to experience uncomfortable conditions months after being "cured".

The undeniable facts

The fact is that the virus can travel, propelled by coughing or sneezing, some 2 metres, or six feet. The fact is that is can also be propelled by speaking and so a critical mass can build up in a small, unventilated space with particles of the virus hanging in the air. The fact is that wearing glasses or goggles and wearing a face mask can protect you by up to 30 per cent from getting the virus, and the more layers you wear, the higher the rate of protection. The mask not only protects others from an infected person who will not sneeze everywhere, but also provides the wearer far greater protection than someone not wearing the mask.

It is just plain common sense.

It is not a question of freedom, it is a question of civility, protecting others and protecting oneself and one's family and friends.

So let me spell out the way I have been behaving from the beginning.

My routine

Before leaving home, I have my trainers lined up outside the front door in the corridor (in this country, I live in a block of apartments on the ground floor with a garden at the back). I have two facemasks ready, a visor, surgical gloves, glasses (with ungraded lenses) and a spray against bacteria, viruses and funghi.

I spray one of the masks (the outer one), put on the glasses, put on the gloves. I take off my shoes inside the house, then step into the trainers out in the corridor. I carry the visor and put it on when entering a shop. I avoid supermarkets and use small shops with nobody inside. I spend little time in the store, pay by contactless debit card, come home, leave the trainers in the corridor, carry my shopping to my garden, take off my gloves and desinfect the packages with the spray, wiping them down with kitchen paper.

I then throw my clothes into the washing machine, have a shower, put on new clothes and wipe down the surfaces I have touched (door handles, keys, taps) with alcohol gel, then I disinfect my hands again with the same gel. Now it isn't that difficult, after all, is it? It isn't rocket science.

I am lucky enough to do all my work by videoconference or by Internet (journalism, copy writing, translations, consulting and management of my assets) and I am lucky enough to have a certain amount of space here at home, with my own office and a reasonably sized garden, so I do not have to take public transportation. So I am one of the lucky ones, I know that and I am nearly self-sufficient in terms of needs from outside and I can sit this out for the long term.

This is going to be with us for some time

And this is the rub, and this is why societies have to think carefully about their policies because until we find a cure (which is difficult because the virus mutates every time it makes replicas of itself) this is going to be with us. Get used to it. Either we throw caution to the wind, as President Bolsonaro did in Brazil claiming that Covid is going to infect 80 per cent of the population and everyone has to die some time anyway, so face it like a man, for f*** sake. Yes he actually said that. Now he has the virus himself; or else we follow simple procedures as I have laid out above - all of us, and get through this together.

What we cannot have is some countries being sensible and parts of others behaving like idiots. Given, our socio-economic model is not prepared for something like this and until a cure is found, we will go round in circles with flare-ups happening here and there, some getting out of control, others killing people, always affecting the economy. If this goes on for years and years, we need to find a solution; walking around without masks and holding raves is not it. We need to think of those who need to leave the home to work, those who have kids, school, college, those who need to take the Metro, those who don't eat if they don't earn.

Suppose this lasts for 3 years? Or longer?

Has anyone thought about what will happen if the much-vaunted vaccine does not arrive? Or proves ineffective, or dangerous? The thing is the virus propagates itself by entering a system, latching onto a cell, entering the cell, making a copy of itself then leaving the cell. The copy, like any copy, can be near-perfect or not. So with these constant mutations, finding a vaccine or a cure is not as easy as it may appear. Which means this thing could circulate for years, maybe many years. If leaders cannot even handle things for a few months, what will they do in the event that we may be having this conversation in 2022,still?

May I forward a possible solution?

Two quarantine periods, back-to-back, total lockdown. Everyone stays indoors for a month. The logistical problem is massive for those economies which have never been controlled, less daunting for economies which can easily adapt back to the system where food was delivered to distribution centres. Brazil has a package called "cesta básica de alimentação" or "Basic Food Hamper" which caters for people's needs for a month: so many kilos of dried beans, pasta, rice and so on.

Obviously governments would have to work the contingency plans out meticulously, taking into account families with babies, all special needs, getting stocks available, working at the national, regional and local levels, giving people time to stock up on non-essentials such as beer, wine, chocolate, coffee and helping families who live from day to day with food vouchers or else free distribution. It is doable. It is only for a month. Then everyone stays at home, they have emergency numbers to call when in need and after one month, no more cases circulating in public, and the economy starts operating fully, at 100%. Lockdown starts on October 1st. On November 1st, back to business as usual. Treat it like an eccentric Summer vacation.

Meanwhile highly restricted international travel, with quarantine, borders closed. Food for thought...

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey