From the moment when Boris Johnson announced that the country was moving from containment to ‘delay’ in handling coronavirus, the world’s biggest healthcare organisation has been on a war footing. What doctors like me have witnessed over the past days and weeks has been nothing short of extraordinary. Trusts in the NHS declared a ‘major incident’ on the evening of the announcement, and emergency plans swung into action within hours.
It was sunny on Monday so I took the children swimming in Mousehole harbour. It was almost empty but a woman sanding a boat on the quayside scowled at me. She couldn’t hear the children’s Cornish accents, which might tell her that I live here.
There have been tensions for years between native Cornish and the incomers who buy houses and drape them with nautical-themed junk. With pandemic, they have developed into hostility.
The generational effect of the corona-virus is cunning and baffling. By often being so mild in the young and healthy it turns people into heedless carriers. By often being so lethal in the old and sick, it makes carriers into potential executioners of friends and neighbours.
The virus is very dangerous for people who have certain underlying illnesses, which is probably the main reason it is so serious for the elderly.
A cartoon caption is a work of art. It is a sitcom in miniature — but whereas a situation comedy might take half an hour to reach its punchline, a cartoon caption has to do so in seconds. Cartoonists toil endlessly, revising and rephrasing, to perfect a caption. There are rules. The funniest word has to appear at the end. The caption has to be a balance between anticipation and delivery. The line has to be succinct and the rhythm has to be right — clumsy phrasing can ruin an otherwise strong comic idea.
In announcing the most far-reaching restrictions on personal freedom in the history of our nation, Boris Johnson resolutely followed the scientific advice that he had been given. The advisers to the government seem calm and collected, with a solid consensus among them. In the face of a new viral threat, with numbers of cases surging daily, I’m not sure that any prime minister would have acted very differently.
But I’d like to raise some perspectives that have hardly been aired in the past weeks, and which point to an interpretation of the figures rather different from that which the government is acting on.
When times are hard it helps to remember those who’ve endured far harder times. I remember my friend Manfred Alexander, who escaped from a concentration camp and hid in my grandfather’s flat in Berlin during the second world war. The month he spent alone in that apartment was far harder than any self-isolation I’ll ever face, yet he survived and prospered.
Manfred Alexander was born in 1920, into a bourgeois German-Jewish family, and became friends with my Gentile German grandfather in Berlin in the 1930s.
Working from home has been on the rise for years. No one expected the latest surge to happen in the way it has, but now that we’re here, what can we learn about home-working from those who have already done it?
The first rule — even when times are normal — is: make sure you stay at home. Victor Hugo resisted the temptation to go out by ordering his valet to hide all his clothes. The Greek statesman Demosthenes achieved the same result by shaving half of his head.