Monday, 11 May 2020

Easing of the lockdown - what it means.......

So that is the rather muddled and confusing beginning of the end of the lockdown. 

Or, the end of the beginning of our relationship with COVID? That’s one Churchillian way to look at it, but 1940 was a long time ago and the irony is that many of those who lived through those terrible times are now facing more and sometimes sadly, their last challenges from COVID in our nursing homes.

So was yesterday’s ‘back to work and the outdoors’ easing of the lockdown of a sign that we are making progress in the 'war' against COVID or just another step along our rocky road to “herd immunity by the back door” with all the casualties that will cause along the way?

I have so far been impressed by the rapid action in South Korea, Germany and China in containing this outbreak, yet with the resultant release of their lockdowns, the bigger issues are reappearing. The rate of infection in Germany looks to be heading upwards and their ongoing success depends on rapid and effective contact tracing, testing and isolation.  Fingers crossed!

South Korea too, flush with their early success, seem vastly over-confident in their new approach, allowed nightclubs to open resulting in the infection of 50 people from a single infected person. That was in just one club and that was just one clubber! Their testers and tracers will be busy too. More fingers crossed. Clearly, this virus is not going away!

That is what I mean by herd immunity by the back door – taking it one wave at a time. Lockdown- easing and returning over and over until the vast majority of the population have been infected. Barring of course, solutions emerging from a vaccine or treatment, neither of which are easy. This is not the message we are receiving. 

I’d afraid any notion that we have 'beaten' COVID, and that the first wave will be the last is dishonest nonsense.

Developments testify to the impossibility of having it both ways; an economy bouncing back quickly and infection rates under control. Putting it another way, how many deaths in the elderly and in vulnerable populations is it morally or practically acceptable to avoid suffering in the rest of the population? Years of life lost due to COVID versus the quality of lives gained due to resumption of our way of life? The dilemma is unprecedented.

Life versus livelihoods, as one friend put it. 

The outcome may be different in different nations with their varied tactics, but as lockdowns are eased, or even abandoned we are heading back into the zone where some very big experiments in life and death are playing out. With plans for comprehensive testing and tracing in the UK yet to be established, ending the lockdown might seem premature, but ther are big questions to be asked of its effectiveness. I can only guess why regional and local government networks have not been utilised for this task.

Without this, more outbreaks are surely inevitable.  

However we manage lockdown, there are many aspects of life we should not return to. Our climate busting way of life was on track to cause far more deaths than COVID, or any plague ever could. Intensive farming is a ticking time bomb, our consumption patterns are destroying the natural world we depend upon for survival.

Population growth means we all have to do things differently, including reducing inequalities between and within nations, liberating the worlds women from lack of contraceptive choice as well as using and wasting far less than we do now.

Long before COVID our fate has been in the balance

There are some positive signs. International co-operation, essential for a response to this and further pandemics, will now perhaps come of age. Despite some dreadful politics, there are positive moves in this direction in science, research and technology. Politics remains important; every one of us should make our voices heard.

On the small scale, where  most of us lead most of our lives, there are positive changes in the air. One small scale but important example close to my heart is more growing of food in 
gardens or allotment. This is more relevant now than ever.  Sales of seeds have soared. We can expand allotments, we can improve farming, our soils and our food. We can buy from local producers. To address the climate crisis, will have to have richer and more complete local lives. 

We can concentrate on what matters rather that what makes a profit and better still try to merge the two. We desperately need less inequality and that means less wealth and less poverty.

There is evidence that humans and viruses have co-evolved in ways that defy the imagination. More on this later. All the individual tragedies and suffering that COVID has brought cannot distract us from some pretty fundamental and direct messages it offers regarding our relationship with other species, the land, the pathological aspects of the economy, the poor quality of politics and co-operation between nations. 

At this point, the future looks so totally and so worryingly unpredictable; but that also means a better future is possible.

Brace yourselves for this journey; it’s going to be a rocky ride.  

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