We have seen crashes before, recessions and depressions, but nothing like this. Our fear of coronavirus has hindered and halted every aspect of daily life. We look out of our windows and barely recognise the country we’re in: police film dog-walkers and pour black dye into lagoons to deter swimmers. We wait in queues for empty-shelved supermarkets. The stock market collapses, surges, then collapses again. None of the old rules make sense.
Who would have thought that Sweden would end up being the last place in Europe where you could go for a beer? We have, in our normalcy, suddenly become an exotic place. Other countries are closing their cities, schools and economies, but life in our corner of the world is surprisingly ordinary. Last weekend I went to the gym, met up with friends, and sat in the spring sun at outdoor cafés.
My foreign friends are stunned.
The world as we have known it for the past 40 years has come to a stop. We have a supply chain crisis, a demand crisis, a labour market crisis and an oil price crisis. The second crash that people were long predicting has arrived — but against the backdrop of the Covid-19 threat, it seems like a second-order story. The pound has already hit its lowest rate for decades, and more shocks may occur in the bond and currency markets.
There is a concept at least as old as computing itself — Charles Babbage, the father of the field, expressed the sentiment, if not the words themselves — ‘garbage in, garbage out’. The idea is not a complicated one: no matter how advanced the calculation machine, no matter how good the statistical model, no matter how intricate the formulae, if the data on the way in isn’t reliable, the calculation that comes out will be suspect at best — and is liable to be outright wrong.
As we contemplate the havoc being wrought by coronavirus, most of us see mainly sickness, death and economic ruin. Dr Rupert Read, spokesman for the climate protest group Extinction Rebellion — plus sometime Green party candidate, and associate professor of philosophy at the University of East Anglia — has rather a different view. In this pandemic, he writes, ‘there is a huge opportunity for XR… It is essential that we do not let this crisis go to waste.
Many of us try to give things up during Lent. Usually it is alcohol, or biscuits. Who would have thought that this Lent we would have to give up each other, and distance ourselves even from those we love most and from all those activities upon which we have relied so much. Even church.
In order to slow the spread of Covid-19, our buildings are closed for public worship and even for private prayer. Nothing like this has happened since 1208.
I arrived on Novolazarevskaya base on the northern coast of Antarctica in a Russian plane, flown by an ex-USSR air force pilot and his crew. I was here to begin the longest non-mechanised polar journey ever done by man — 5,306 km to the summit of Dome Argus, the highest and coldest point of the Antarctic plateau. The next morning, I headed south towards the Somo Veken glacier with my drop-off team. Over 14 hours we climbed to 9,000 feet and passed between majestic mountains jagged and untouched.
Is there nothing people won’t panic-buy during this crisis? Having stripped shelves of food and toilet roll, shoppers are now turning to chickens. Coop company Omlet reports a 66 per cent rise in sales, and breeders have sold out of pullets. The British Hen Welfare Trust, which rehomes caged hens, has stopped taking new customers out of fear that the people bidding for their birds were either planning to eat them or didn’t really know how to look after them.