The pandemic

Other than that I now look like I’ve spent two years chained in a basement, the pandemic was a blessing for me. It meant that I could participate in all sorts of meetings in the States all of a sudden. The cruel isolation that I’d been forced into in England had always been agony for me and suddenly, that isolation was over and I had access to developments on the cutting edge again. It was bliss!

For others too, the new and unexpected nature of the pandemic can not only be seen as frightening but also as exciting and as a marvellous learning opportunity. A chance to do much better from now on! It’s highlighted so shockingly well were the weaknesses in our society are, for example. Now we must and can improve this situation. The lockdowns too caused many to reconsider and reorganise their priorities. Less traffic, less noise, less air pollution.

I doubt that all the lessons it is teaching us will be put into practice, but some will surely stick. A lot of people have had an opportunity to reassess their values and bring their daily practice in better alignment with those values.

It astonished me that governments around the world – except in Asia – were so ill-prepared, though. To learn the real lessons, however, we must also analyse what happened at the time of the swine flu scare.

It baffled me that the UK government was so slow and clumsy to respond to the pandemic. It wasn’t rocket science. (This may be what I mean when I talk about my ability to extract the bits that matter from a body of knowledge.)

Did we know the scientific intricacies of the virus from the beginning? Did we know how quickly we would have vaccines? No. But we didn’t need to know that to be able to respond. My mother used to say that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Better to be caught with an umbrella in bright sunshine than being without one in a downpour. Political motives dictate something very different.

That said, the “protecting the NHS” approach made sense, but one may wonder if the NHS was ever protected well enough in this crisis.

To my surprise, I predicted measures and provided certain advice and information ahead of the UK government, sometimes months before. It was reassuring to see that the UK government would eventually come around to my ideas. (I don’t mean this as daft as it may sound.)

I wrote this in early April 2020. On 14 June 2020, I posted the text below.

I also wrote the above based text very early on, based on an article published on 22 March 2020. It took the UK quite a while to start spreading that message. I also mentioned asymptomatic spreading long before the authorities did.

Others and I also caught out two Californian doctors. They were very likely financially motivated when they started giving news conferences downplaying the pandemic and denying the need for any measures. They even went as far as to state that nothing much was happening on the east coast, while particularly New York City was getting overwhelmed. They had a very different video on the website of their Covid-testing clinic that they had quickly built, however, but the pandemic was not raging in California yet, so I guess that their new clinic was not doing well while their other, pre-existing clinics were seeing a marked decline in business. YouTube decided to remove the two videos of their press conference.

What I was wrong about, at the very beginning, was the need to shut down international travel to the UK. I didn’t think it could be done, thought that it would be too impractical and I was also concerned about the xenophobia it might result in. In a way, though, I was right about that too. As in many other countries, a typical knee-jerk response was to close the borders to flights from China, while the infection cases were arriving from Italy unrestricted.

As soon as there were tests, I focused more on testing before, upon and after arrival as well as monitoring the indoor air at airports.

The latter was later partly taken over by monitoring sewage, as its non-infectious virus content reflects local infection levels.

This is something we can quickly put into practice when the next pandemic hits, depending on its exact nature, because it enables you to direct resources to where they are needed. Testing, measures, vaccines, and other kinds of support. Think “support”, yes, instead of “battling” or “combatting”. When you battle or combat something, you’re thinking from a position of weakness, from a defensive stance, whereas supporting comes from a much more empowering frame of mind.

What I was right about was to suggest privately – to two or three people in positions that would require them to stay as functional as possible if they caught the disease – that N-acetyl cysteine might help ameliorate Covid symptoms (and that it likely wouldn’t do any harm in any case, but to consult with their doctors, as they might have conditions I was not aware of). Several studies – such as this review – were later carried out into that; clinical trials were started as well to quantify this effect.

I found it unfortunate that some scientists and scholars were unable to communicate well to the public what they meant by some statements, in everyday practical terms. There seemed to be no anticipation, for example, of the situation that people could end up living in a lockdown area but working in an area with fewer restrictions and be expected to show up for work. In theory, people could be intercepted by the police and arrested in England while driving to their workplace in Wales, but I am not aware of any related incidents.

We did see police overreact in the US as well in the UK, though. I found that worrisome – and made a video about it -because of the risk of losing the public’s cooperation in the long run at a time when we thought that developing vaccines would take much longer than it took in practice.

The latter shows…

where there is a political will, there is a way!

Let’s remember that. For example, we have now seen the health impact that socioeconomic inequality has on all of us. The solution is not necessarily to reject any measures that would increase such disparities, but to keep tackling the disparities at their roots.

In England, most Tories believe that great inequality is a wonderful thing because it puts more money in their pockets. The Tories are in charge. So it looks like we all have to find ways to change that situation of excessive inequality without paying too much attention to what the UK government is doing.

Employers can do that, for example, by paying the Real Living Wage. Do not trip over the government’s attempt to take the wind out of the Living Wage Foundation’s sails by renaming the minimum wage the living wage. (Tory governments do this kind of thing often, I have noticed.)

We can do that, on the local and regional level. But it will take guts and insight.

And mistakes, the guts to make mistakes and learn from them.

You don’t for example empower poor people by giving them or allowing them to purchase defective, discarded white goods. You empower them by lifting them out of poverty.

Those with ample income – locally – could voluntarily decide to donate part of their income towards a poor family’s electricity bill or internet access, effectively leaving that family with more income.

They could also – individually or collectively – decide to pay a poor family’s council tax bills. Even after council tax benefits, that would still leave the poor family better off. A council could install such a scheme without needing to violate or carefully work around privacy laws, simply by offering such a scheme and making its existence well known.

You do not empower poor people by making them shuffle through the rain and letting them wait in line for a hot meal, while repeating to them that they must behave. (After all, they are poor so they do not know how to behave, right? Only the well-to-do know how to behave.) The hot meals are wonderful, but all they do is maintain the status quo and keep people feeling helpless. (In fact, they emphasise their helplessness.)

Councils also could also set up a scheme that allows the well-off to send a supermarket gift card to families on benefits.

While it might be better to get the well-off to connect with the poor, to expose the poor to a world that has more opportunities and show the well-off that the poor are nowhere near as dumb as they perhaps assume, privacy concerns would make this too labour-intensive.

But a council that can send out council tax payment reminders can do more than that and can use the same system towards accomplishing some real change.

Councils could also decide to give a few benefits recipients the entire sum that they would have received during a year as a lump sum, to enable them to get out of poverty, the way it was done in a televised project a few years ago. It worked very well for most people. This would need support, but this could be done by qualified volunteers with the expertise to advise people and the mindset that would bring them great joy to be able to do so.

I have at least one friend who is decidedly pro-vaccines and another who is very much against. I do my best – a benefit of my ripe old age – to resist rejecting people on the basis of their opinions – or their opinions – and instead try to listen to them and make them feel heard instead of instantly rejected.

Because it also sometimes gives me the chance to end up showing that some alarmist conclusions are likely merely the result of some professionals’ unfortunate phrasing of certain matters on some public health websites.

Besides, history has shown that those who were ridiculed and sometimes even persecuted in the past because of their deviant views turned out to be right after all. Galileo, for example. That too, is a reason to listen.