The pandemic news from Britain: no guns and no protests, but not much protective gear

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. 

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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. 

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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.

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Worldwide, a quarter of a billion people face starvation unless the world gets its act together and sends food. 

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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.

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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?

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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. 

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Something in the neighborhood of 700 fake sites are sucking in people who want to set up subscriptions to Netflix and Disney Plus.

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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. 

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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.” 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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At least 100 health and care workers in Britain have died of coronavirus.

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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.”

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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.

78 thoughts on “The pandemic news from Britain: no guns and no protests, but not much protective gear

  1. An excellent spattering of news, as usual — and most of it is just as applicable in Canada as the U.K.

    Do you mean “floating point operations”? They’re multiplication operations with a variable amount of decimal places — contrast “fixed point operations”, which are much quicker.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Um. Possibly. Or possibly not. Sorry. I have a disability that causes me to hear nothing but a loud buzzing sound when math is discussed–or even written about. I read your sentence several times but can’t figure out how you’d do any sort of math with a number that has a variable amount of decimal places. Do they change while you’re multiplying? That doesn’t, I know, sound like a serious question, but it is. It’s all I can understand of what you wrote.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A very comprehensive round up of the important, the trivial and the downright weird, thank you. I saw news reports and photos of the Ardern cake: it’s hysterically funny, but I don’t think the baker will be on Bake Off any time soon. Football hooliganism was much less prevalent than it used to be, even before lockdown, and has been a problem in many countries, not just here: hopefully they are all seeing the same reduction of tribal nastiness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the football-hooligan update. I’ve never been able to make sense of it and follow it from too great a distance to be a good reporter. I blame my sports allergy. I don’t want to aggravate it.

      I actually think What’s-her-name should be on Bake Off. She’d double the audience size, instantly. Who wouldn’t watch to see what she’d do next?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I know the incident you’re talking about (guns, flags, etc), it’s not as rampant as assumed. There have been a couple incidents, there have been more incidents of college kids still doing their “spring break” activities. So, if you assume the first group is politically right, then you must assume, also, that the latter group is politically left, as most universities here are anti-right.

    Being a larger country than the UK, there are going to be more incidents from both sides, and what happens here seems to be more widely reported, especially if it is negative and the actors can be identified as right leaning.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I only mentioned the college kids because colleges here are definitely not a-political, and because the protests have been on both sides. Yes, waving guns and MAGA hats make good video, but you can find other groups that are protesting the closures as well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Send me a link, would you? I haven’t seen anything about non-right-wing public demonstrations. Everything I hear about is virtual.

          And whatever the overall politics of a school, plenty of people will be a-political, and some will hold opposing views.

          Like

  4. So much the same Ellen and I appreciate knowing that you all succeed in some areas and fall about as short as we do in others. We all seem to be floating on our own figurative islands, I for one know little about what’s happening in the rest of the world so I appreciate knowing you and Ida are okay and being looked after as needed. I’m sure you’ll pay it forward as you can, when you can. Stay well.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: The pandemic news from Britain: no guns and no protests, but not much protective gear — Notes from the U.K. | malignedterritory

  6. It turns out that the demonstrations against lockdown in the US (and they aren’t very big, in spit e of all the publicity) are financed by a known conservative group putting ads up on Facebook. Approval of lockdown in is the high 70s percentages, but these morons get the news feeds. Anyhoo, we’ll likely have some Covid hotspots in a couple weeks as a result. And a shout out to New Zealand and Jacinda Ardern! That woman rocks.

    Liked by 3 people

    • She is amazing but–did you see the pictures?–really shouldn’t be on a cake. It was the stuff of nightmares, including what looked like a real set of dentures.

      That’s interesting about the support for lockdown. I hadn’t seen that. If they could guarantee that they’d keep their germ exchange within the group, I swear I wouldn’t object, but it doesn’t work that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The Governor of Georgia(the US State, not the region of Russia) has reopened the State starting Friday. Businesses allowed to open include hair & nail salons, tattoo parlors, barber shops and…well you get the idea. Social distancing is still to be observed, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered if they’d hired more drivers–and what they’re doing about trucks for them to get around in. Our neighbor who works part-time for Morrison’s (he’s mostly retired) was working all the days they could find for a while, but they’ve finally hired more people and he’s back to the schedule he was hired for.

      I’m glad your son found something. It’s tough out there.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Apparently Tesco have a new fleet of vans and are just keeping the old ones instead of selling them. The old hands reckon they have never had it so good – everybody is home, they don’t have to traipse into people’s houses and everyone is grateful or at least they don’t get the chance to complain and send anything back!

        Liked by 3 people

        • It’s true. I got sent some sliced raw turkey instead of sandwich meat (Ida eats meat; I don’t; it has its odd moments) and instead of sending it back I looked at it blankly and thought, okay, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it but it’s here now, and I accepted it.

          We cooked it and froze it. It’ll make some fat sandwiches.

          That was a smart move on Tesco’s part–but I still can’t get a delivery from them, only from Morrison’s. Must be further down west.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jim. We are trying. I swear, after a while it gets hard to remember that the threat is real. It’s a beautiful spring here. Germs are invisible. The roadside isn’t littered with dead bodies, although a friend of ours has died. But I have to keep reminding myself not to touch, not to get too close, not to, not to, not to, not to.

      You stay safe as well, okay?

      Liked by 2 people

  8. A cup of tea isn’t going to fix this…but put the kettle on anyway. Not only am I bringing my Dark Chocolate covered Digestives but a big, big bottle of fine, fine liquor to add to any hot (or cold) liquid refreshment served….keeping our required distance of course. XRaye

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I just placed my third grocery shopping online order – it’s a tactic I’ve used to try to keep Pretty from the crowds in South Carolina whose governor never really shut down much of anything but is now proudly opening up everything including beaches, barber shops, all retail, and massage therapy. We just found out that a third friend died today from the coronavirus.
    Somehow my problems with ordering groceries online just got a lot less important.
    Stay safe and sane, my friend. Amazing post – I really don’t know how you collect such intriguing tidbits of information. Intriguing and entertaining – a great combo.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you felt that way about it. I didn’t think it was one of my better ones, but I’d already tinkered too long. I compile it by turning the couch into a mass of newspaper, which never quite empties out. Sooner or later, I’m going to end up on the floor. Ida, fortunately, has a chair she loves, and puts up with me.

      That is frightening, everything opening back up, in complete denial. Lunacy. I’m so sorry to hear about your friends. We lost one friend, here in the village. Be careful. Stay well.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. There are so many here (in the US) waving guns and flags and demanding “give me liberty or give me death” (entirely without any sense of irony) because our leader and his FOX noise machine are, as usual, actively trying to stoke division. This is their re-election strategy. Perhaps your country’s leaders have made mistakes, but they aren’t being deliberately maliciously divisive. Or maybe they are, and I just haven’t noticed.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Interesting question, and I’m not sure of the answer. I think they were during the Brexit campaign, which had a very nasty edge to it, including a lot of xenophobia, islamophobia, and–sorry, the English language is, once again, failing to line up neatly–immigrant-o-phobia. And the Brexit dis-assembly line is still creaking on, but it’s behind the scenes now, which we clap for people the government can’t manage to pay properly or find protective equipment for.

      Yeah, you’re right: I am angry.

      Liked by 4 people

  11. There’s no way the official figures for deaths, given out with fixed solemn expression by whoever got the short straw at the daily press conference, is actually accurate. We are looking at malevolent incompetence from our Government every day, with ass covering and blame apportioning being the default settings rather than leadership. Reaction instead of action.

    It is beyond frustrating to see this lot in charge when their talents for dividing and manipulating that have served them in getting into power are bought into sudden and sharp focus on their actual competence, of which they have none. It’s like the parade saying the circus is coming to town with billboards and razzmatazz and no-one organised the bringing of the actual circus. Suddenly they’re scratching around to find ANY performers and ANY tent, people are queueing up outside, but there’s only three drunk blokes with wigs and red noses so far and the ringmaster has run off with the trapeze artist.

    In other news, one RAF plane’s journey to Turkey, with one load of protective equipment that won’t even last the NHS one day, was covered by all the media all weekend like it was the Holy Grail, so well done finding all the rest of the stories Ellen!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I really hope you can do your own shopping soon:) I always found shopping a tedious chore and now I couldn’t be more grateful for my exciting potato run. So much so that the only thing that consoles me for its absence is concealed booze. I read in the comments above that you stopped drinking…so maybe another form of concealed joy could make up for the lost joy of shopping:) https://helpincoronatimes.wordpress.com/2020/04/10/gat-on-a-cold-tin-roof/

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Thanks for the extensive round up of new, Ellen. I have also read the comments about the protesters in the US with great interest. There’s a small gangs of RW anti-vaxi-type people in Ireland who all turned up to a court case in Dublin going on about people’s “liberty”. One of the people bringing the case against the state has claimed that there’s nothing to fear from Covid-19. I can only assume that these people are being funded by right-wingers (americans?) because you’d think the fact that thousands around the world (and in Ireland & UK) are dying on a daily basis might make their supporters stop and think.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’d think, but you’d probably be wrong. I got into a restrained and polite online argument the other day with a religious blogger who was upset about a relative being isolated in a Minnesota nursing home when Minnesota’s had a relatively low death rate.

      Guess why it’s had a low death rate.

      I do understand her concern about her relative’s emotional state, but she went well beyond that to–okay, not full-blown conspiracies but you could catch a glimpse of them lurking in the wings. Evil agencies, that kind of thing.

      I got nowhere. I can’t say I was surprised. I don’t know what it’ll take and who they’ll blame when the deaths get close to them. Freemasons, maybe.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I obviously spend too much time watching the BBC – I missed that story about the court case in Dublin. There was a crowd of people from a certain community I probably shouldn’t mention by name – they claim to be an ethnic minority but plainly are not – who turned up to a funeral in large numbers not too far from where I live. Even their ‘community leaders’ pointed out they weren’t doing themselves, or the community, any favours.
      Sorry, I am probably talking out of turn as a Brit living in Ireland. What has been wonderful is the “Community Call” with national and local government and the voluntary sector coming together to co-ordinate help for those of us cocooning. Stay safe, Emma, Ellen, Ida and all your followers.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Just today I saw a chart of cornonavirus deaths in Ireland and Northern Ireland, which have handled the pandemic very differently. Northern Ireland’s was twice as high. But the country we should probably all be looking to is South Korea. More about that–I hope–next time.

        Convincing alienated minority community groups to follow a government’s guidelines can be a challenge. You run up against a longstanding, deep-rooted, and often justified suspicion that the government doesn’t have the group’s best interests at heart. And then, when it turns out that they actually do (if for no better reason than because it will also protect the majority community), you don’t have a lot of goodwill to fall back on.

        Like

  14. Very interesting read, Ellen. Great to hear that crime has fallen but that could be because some people like the homeless have been housed. Here in Australia we’ve got something simliar – some who are homeless or out of a home because they are out of a job in these times have been housed in empty public buildings, hotels or motels. Here in Australia the lockdown for most part is also widely supported, and we’re just getting on with life as best as we can.

    Good to hear football hooliganism is pretty much non-existent for now. I do miss EPL as it was quite an interesting season. But that will have to wait. Don’t doubt football hooliganism will come back at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I expect it will. It seems to be a deep part of the culture–and incomprehensible to outsiders. I’m glad Australia’s staying sane. I don’t know how we’ll all end this mess, but I do know that just calling off the lockdowns will be a disaster.

      Like

  15. It looks like we are all in this together. We might get more comic relief from our resident man in charge, but he didn’t earn any sympathy by getting infected. Maybe he should try that…

    Like

  16. My next-door neighbor is a police officer. He told me car thefts increased during isolation. I don’t get it. But I don’t get a lot of things right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suppose it depends on the neighborhood. If your car’s in the driveway, it’s not a great time to steal it. If it’s on the next block it is–no one will notice for a good long while.

      Then there’s the question of not getting caught while so few cars are on the road. Yeah, you’re right: I don’t get it either.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Rats over here are so dependent on restaurant leftovers that they’re hungry and getting into fights. For some inexplicable reason, I keep picturing them in the opening scene from West Side Story

    Liked by 1 person

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