Britain’s pandemic lockdown has been extended, and no one’s out waving guns and flags and demanding the right to exchange germs on the open market. Instead, the lockdown’s widely supported, although I’ve seen reports that a few people, mostly young and assuming themselves to be immune, have used coughing and spitting as a way to attack health workers, police, and random civilians. Or pretend to attack them, since I believe their claims that they’re infected as much as I believe their claim to have brains.
My best guess is that this isn’t widespread, but it has a huge resonance. It’s now illegal, but only if you catch them.
Why is the lockdown accepted better here than in the U.S.? For one thing, although British politics are crazy, they’re not as crazy as American politics, and it’s a different breed of craziness. The underlying assumption that the pandemic has brought out is that we’re all connected and everyone is in it together.
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that some people are in it a whole lot deeper, but that’s not–yet–the dominant note of the national conversation. It’s mostly just cranks like me pointing it out.
It helps that there have been some efforts to support people who are out of work. People who’ve been furloughed from their jobs are promised 80 percent of their pay up to £2,500 per month. None of that money–as I understand it–has reached people yet, but it is in the works.
Some people will fall through the cracks, though: They were hired too late; they weren’t furloughed from their jobs but canned. The system’s chaotic and patchy, but it’s better than leaving everyone to rob stores or understand why they should’ve been donating to food banks back when they could’ve afforded to.
If you’re self-isolating because of the virus, you’re eligible for sick pay.
For the self-employed, everything’s messier, and self-employment is something any number of people were pushed into rather than chose. Delivery companies in particular are known for using the mythically self-employed, although the conditions they work under don’t read like a description of self-employment–or of a decent job.
A mortgage holiday’s been announced. Renters, though–.
Yeah. Renters don’t get a break. One group of tenants wrote their landlord to ask for reduced rent and were told that they were saving so much on the lunches they weren’t buying and the holidays there weren’t going on that they didn’t need a break. They hadn’t lost a penny.
Which came as a surprise to the tenants, who had a whole ‘nothing impression of their financial situation, but what do they know?
Some tax breaks have been announced.
Businesses have been promised loans, although they’re being channeled through banks and only a small percentage of them have been approved. And, of course, they’re loans. They’ll have to be paid back.
Richard Branson, the UK’s seventh richest person (£4.7 billion at last call), has promised to mortgage his private island to help get his Virgin Group through the pandemic. He’s also, incidentally, trying to get a £500 million government loan.
Denmark and Poland have refused to bail out companies registered in offshore tax havens. They’re not in Britain, I know, but it strikes me as worth mentioning anyway. And while we’re crossing borders–or things that soon will be borders–the European Union has banned executive bonuses, dividends, and share buybacks for any company that gets state aid to get through this mess.
I’d love to do a decent roundup of what support’s promised to who, what’s actually been received, who’s been left out, and how well or badly it’s working, but I haven’t been able to find my way through the maze. What I do know is that some people are getting help and some people aren’t. And most of the ones who aren’t getting help don’t have £4.7 billion under the mattress. Or a private island to mortgage.
Almost a quarter of all British families have taken a financial hit. More than a fifth are struggling to pay their bills. Prices on basic food, toilet paper, and sanitary goods are up 4.4 percent. Or more. Or possibly less. The picture’s changing too fast for the numbers to be accurate for more than three minutes at a time. And I’d love to give you a link for that but the article’s behind a paywall.
Some of the homeless have been housed, but if you’re both homeless and a migrant, and if the migrant category you fall into doesn’t allow you to have recourse to public funds, you’re shit out of luck: No one’s going to pay the local government to house you, and so local governments aren’t going to house you.
Some thirty homeless people–both native-born and refugees–are sleeping in Heathrow Airport. One said the airport staff have been kind to them.
The government’s announced a program to get laptops or tablets to some of the most disadvantaged students while schools are closed, along with broadband, so they don’t fall behind in school. I don’t know when that’s supposed to happen, but I know two kids who don’t have them.
Lots of official programs are bringing together volunteers and people who need help, and so are a lot of unofficial ones. All of them remind us that without each other we’re all lost.
I’m the reluctant recipient of some of that help. I’m 73. Ida–my partner–is 80. It’s a mystery how we got that old. We didn’t start out that way. We stay out of supermarkets–it’s just too hard to control the exposure–although the smaller local stores are manageable. Younger neighbors have picked things up for us when they shop. It wasn’t easy to accept at first, and then somehow it was.
I’m grateful–and I really, really want to do my own shopping.
Crime’s down in several predictable categories. With so many people stuck at home, houses aren’t getting broken into much. With so few people out in public, muggings are down, along with all the other crimes that concentrate in busy public spaces.
Football hooliganism? That’s out, since there’s no football.
What’s football hooliganism? As far as I can figure out, it’s a particularly British thing involving disorderly and sometimes violent behavior at football matches. For some people, getting into a fight seems to be the point of the game.
I wanted to include categories of crime that have gone up, but the Department of Silver Linings vetoed it. Sorry. Everything’s great. Don’t worry.
Worldwide, a quarter of a billion people face starvation unless the world gets its act together and sends food.
In Launceston, Cornwall, a fabric shop set a table outside the door, with a sign telling people to help themselves if they’re making protective equipment.
See? I told you everything was okay.
Medical people and social workers still can’t get protective gear, and the government’s still saying it’s on the way. The government’s only been in touch with 1,000 out of the 8,000 relevant manufacturers in the country and is working with just 159. Many say they’ve offered to provide certified equipment quickly and have been ignored. It’s being sold abroad. What else are they supposed to do with it?
Half of all care workers make less than the living wage. I haven’t found any statistics on what all the delivery drivers and food and farm and store workers are paid. They used to be called low-skilled. Now suddenly they’re being described as essential.
Something in the neighborhood of 700 fake sites are sucking in people who want to set up subscriptions to Netflix and Disney Plus.
Folding@home is using donated time on home computers to figure out the workings of the Covid-19 virus and identify drugs that could attack it. Combined, the computers are six times more powerful than the fastest supercomputer. They can perform 1 followed by 18 zeros operations per second. That’s called an exaflop–a quintillion floating operations per second.
Don’t say you didn’t learn anything here. And don’t ask me what a floating operation is.
A flower farm in Somerset is donating its flowers for funerals, key workers, a nearby hospital, and a nursing home. The flowers “keep on growing,” the farm’s managing director said. They don’t know “we’re in lockdown.”
Parliament will meet semi-virtually: 120 MPs will use a video link and no more than 50 will be physically present.
No more than 50 are physically present most of the time anyway. A fair number of debates take place in a nearly empty chamber, with MPs rushing in to vote when bells ring. They’re like Pavlov’s dogs, looking for food to appear in their troughs. But the new system will keep them out of the hallways and lobbies as well as the chamber.
That chamber business makes it sound like you wandered into a movie you won’t want to tell your friends about, doesn’t it?
The problem with the videolink is that MPs who are low on the food chain used to count on buttonholing more important people in the lobbies and corridors. That’ll be hard to recreate. And the time-honored bizarrity of bobbing–alternately standing up and sitting down to get the Speaker’s attention–won’t be possible. Neither will the noisy heckling that MPs indulge in.
That could only be an improvement.
In Muthill, in Perth and Kinross, two women have turned a retired red phone box into a food bank, inviting people to take what they need. The stock ranges from canned goods to chocolate, from fresh fruit and vegetables to jigsaw puzzles–which I admit aren’t edible but can keep you sane in crazy times.
It’s on a give what you can, take what you need basis.
A couple in Westhoughton, in Greater Manchester, have taken to running through town in what the British call fancy dress–in other words, in costume–to keep people amused. Click the link to see them dressed as a dinosaur and a cavewoman.
In New Zealand (which is not in Britain but don’t worry about it), rats are enjoying the lockdown. Pest control was categorized as non-essential–a particularly problematic decision in a country whose ecosystem didn’t evolve in the presence of rats. They threaten any number of native species.
If there’s a positive side to the story, it’s that people who’d normally be out hunting deer are now hunting local rats.
The deer have asked me to pass on their thanks.
New Zealand went into lockdown earlier than most countries and has had only 13 deaths and not many more than 1,000 confirmed cases. Its prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, took a 20% pay cut in solidarity with the country’s workforce.
So when comic Laura Daniel was in a TV competition and had to make an iconic New Zealand cake, she baked a tribute to Ardern by creating her face in cake. It was so bad that it went viral and Ardern took the time to send her a couple of emojis. I’m not sure what emo- the -jis are supposed to represent, but hey, who cares? The prime minister she admires texted her.
What did Daniel learn from the experience? “Don’t bake your heroes.”
I’d add that, if you’re going to lose a competition, lose spectacularly. She’d never have gotten as much publicity if she’d won.
A British citizen repatriated from New Zealand last week reported landing in Heathrow and finding no health checks and no Covid-19 testing.
“All arrivals in New Zealand are quarantined in hotels for 14 days at the government’s expense,” he wrote.
Which might be vaguely related to how few cases the country has.
The Taneytown, MD, the police department posted the following on Facebook: “Please remember to put pants on before leaving the house to check your mailbox. You know who you are. This is your final warning.”
And just so speakers of British and British-influenced English are clear on this: In American, pants are trousers, not underwear.
My thanks to cat9984 for letting me know about this important story.
Back in Britain, people may be buying–or trying to buy–more flour, yeast, and toilet paper than usual (not, we hope, all for the same recipe), but they’re buying less makeup.
Is anyone surprised?
They’re also buying more alcohol but less toothpaste and fewer toothbrushes. The kindest explanation for that business with the toothbrushes and toothpaste is that people stockpiled earlier. The other possibility is that everyone’s keeping six feet away anyhow.
At least 100 health and care workers in Britain have died of coronavirus.
The Medical Defense Union has called for emergency legislation to protect medical practitioners and the National Health Service against negligence claims during the pandemic. Many doctors are being asked to work outside of their areas of expertise. Others have been called out of retirement. Medical students have been thrown in at the deep end of the pool slightly before they finished their training.
If they don’t get immunity to lawsuits, the NHS could be liable for any claims against them, because the government has promised to cover any lawsuits.
Some US states have emergency legislation protecting them from civil liability for “any acts or omissions undertaken in good faith.”
Horrifyingly, in the US, federal agencies have been seizing shipments of protective gear ordered and paid for by states and health organizations in what is effectively a blockade–the kind of thing a country might mount against an enemy state. The Intelligencer writes, “We don’t know where these supplies are going. We don’t know on what grounds they are being seized, or threatened with seizure.”
The Intelligencer isn’t a publication I know, but its article relies heavily on reporting from the New England Journal of Medicine, and you don’t much more respectable than that.
Again, from the Intelligencer:
“This is not just the federal government telling states they are on their own, as it has done repeatedly over the last few weeks . . . [which is] itself a moral outrage . . . because, in many cases, states are legally barred from deficit spending, which means in times of crisis . . . they are functionally unable to respond at all. In such situations, the federal government is designed to serve as a backstop, but over and over again throughout this crisis, the White House has said states will get little to no help — that they are entirely on their own. (The federal medical stockpile isn’t meant for the states, as Jared Kushner has said, as though the country is anything more than its states.)”
The federal government is also bidding against the states, driving the prices up, sometimes until they’re ten times higher.
And because we need some good news after that, the Minneapolis StarTribune ran some fine photos of chalk art in the Twin Cities area. I don’t know if they’re from before the recent snowstorm or after it, but I lived there long enough to testify that it wasn’t during it. It’s worth a look.
Sorry this has been so long. The hardest part is deciding what to leave out.