22 March 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has produced a number of enthralling by-products.
When he was told back in 2018 about the concerns businesses had about Brexit, that nice Mr Johnson said “Fuck business”. At Thursday’s Covid 19 briefing, he promised “I’m going to stand by the workers of this country”. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised the government will provide “whatever it takes” to deal with the virus and its effects on everything from the NHS to transport to small businesses, including covering up to 80% of sick pay. Imagine the Tories’ reaction if a Labour government had made these promises.
It’ll be interesting to see if either of them has any intention of honouring them.
What’s just as fascinating is to see how the big players are dealing with the pandemic. China’s action was fast and draconian but seems to have been effective. Indeed, China is now emerging as an international saviour by sending the most seriously affected countries testing kits, ventilators, masks and medics.
Europe is shutting down bit by bit and one of our friends’ parents, who live in Brittany, can’t leave their house without a permit.
At the other end of the scale, America’s response has improved all the way from non-existent through to feeble, with Donald Trump telling people the virus would disappear as the weather got warmer. He’s since panicked and declared a national emergency, having realised that there actually is a problem, though Trump’s more worried what it’ll do to the economy (and therefore his chances of getting re-elected) than how many people it will kill. On Thursday, he even said that a therapeutic drug would be available “almost immediately”, only to be immediately contradicted by officials, so he started rabbiting on about using anti-malarial pills. Next week, shrooms (they don’t work on Covid 19 but you don’t care).
We’ve also discovered one major difference between panics in the UK and America: we buy loorolls, they buy guns. (It’s why America’s no longer a British colony – our strategy of “lay down your guns or we’ll throw some lavatory paper at you” didn’t work.)
The UK, naturally compromised, doing rather too little rather too late, and our dear leader closed pubs and restaurants, cinemas and gyms, and produced some classic Johnsonisms, including that all schools would be closed from this weekend.
What he didn’t say (because he dursn’t) is that schools won’t actually be closing but that children whose parents aren’t important enough to be missed if they stay at home will have to do so, while children who have at least one parent who is important will still be able to go to school.
So the schools will still have to stay open to look after them; and, as a special treat for the teachers, their holidays have been cancelled and they’ll have to postpone the collapses from nervous exhaustion and catching up with colds they normally save up for school holidays.
Elsewhere, we wrinklies are supposed to be self-isolating and there are rumours of imminent ‘lock-downs’ to be enforced by the army who will have instructions to shoot on sight anyone walking a dog without a poo-permit.
You can imagine Johnson sitting there saying “Close everything, isolate everybody” and a cleverer person asking “How do they buy groceries with no delivery slots available from any of the seven big store chains for at least a month?” and Boris replying “Don’t bother me with details, just get it done, let them eat cake”. Just like Brexit.
But some see the pandemic as an opportunity for free-market Thatcherism. Ebay entrepreneurs are making a fortune by selling multi-packs of lavatory paper and cleaning materials at many times their original cost and Summerfield Healthcare, a private company, is selling testing kits for £249. Last week they cost £149. The director explained the price rise as due to “increased demand and supplier costs”. (“Increased demand” explicitly confirms that their policy is to rip off people in need and brands them as a company to be avoided in future.)
Contrast this with the French group LVMH which has switched production at three of its factories from perfume and cosmetics to hand-sanitiser which they will distribute to French hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients. They expect to produce twelve tonnes of the stuff this week so you may want to panic-buy Christian Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy perfumes now, before the shelves are bare.
One of the incidental tragedies of the pandemic is that enforced isolation is likely to lead to an increase in domestic violence as it already has in China and America but, naturally, the UK hasn’t yet started thinking about this.
Another curiosity I came across this week is Vantablack. a super-black coating that absorbs almost all light and therefore reflects almost nothing. It can give particular, striking effects to artworks and the berks at BMW have now sprayed it all over their VBX6 model. Most of us want our cars to be as visible as possible so other drivers can avoid them but BMW have decided a car that’s almost invisible is a good idea. No doubt some idiots will actually buy them – I just hope I’m not with them when they’re trying to find it in an unlit car park.
This week’s biggest kindness came from two former footballers, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, who have closed the two hotels they own in Manchester and given their facilities to NHS workers unable to stay with their families. (Their employees will keep their jobs and be paid in the normal way.)
Back at home, some smaller but very thoughtful kindnesses from our neighbours and friends – we’ve now had five offers from people who have offered to shop for us, one of whom I’d never even met before until he raised this while we were chatting about why his motorbike had stopped working. Everything I know about repairing motorbikes came from ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ but he didn’t know that …