Australians have a reputation for rugged individualism, grit and competence. But when it comes to the pandemic, we have seen another side to my country: insecure, anxious and frozen by the fear of death from Covid. A recent global poll found that Australians more worried about the virus than any other western country. They have been scared witless by the hysteria of politicians, chief medical officers and the media.
At first, Australia’s Covid strategy was hailed as a triumph: it had moved fast, minimised deaths and was on course to make enough AstraZeneca vaccine to double-jab the whole country.
In early March last year, I was self-isolating in my flat in London. Even though there were only a few hundred confirmed cases of Covid a day, I had met someone the week before who had tested positive.
This was before anyone knew much about the virus, but people were worried by the news coming out of China and northern Italy. I made frantic calls to 111 to try to get a test. No luck.
‘Why don’t you just come home?’ my mum in Sydney asked.
One morning in 1966, I woke up seeing double. I splashed cold water over my face and blinked a few times but I still saw double. I had had glandular fever the previous month, for which there was no treatment except rest and paracetamol, and the GP said in time it would cure itself — and though tiredness dragged on I was soon back to normal.
But now I began to ache all over again, my temperature was up, glands swollen, and when I lay down I went to sleep for six hours.
The Taliban do not yet control all of Afghanistan. As most of the country fell to the Islamic militant group with terrifying speed, Panjshir valley, about 100 miles north of Kabul, leading deep into the Hindu Kush mountains, remained unconquered. It is now the last province beyond the Taliban’s control.
While many Afghan politicians have fled the country, Ahmad Massoud — leader of the National Resistance Front, the anti--Taliban resistance in Panjshir — has decided with (perhaps) a few thousand followers to try to turn the valley into a final redoubt.
With a laboratory leak in Wuhan looking more and more likely as the source of the pandemic, the Chinese authorities are not the only ones dismayed. Western environmentalists had been hoping to turn the pandemic into a fable about humankind’s brutal rape of Gaia. Even if ‘wet’ wildlife markets and smuggled pangolins were exonerated in this case, they argued, and the outbreak came from some direct contact with bats, the moral lesson was ecological.
I thought I’d found the most efficient small clinic in Jerusalem, a quarter of an hour’s drive from my home. For months, I’ve been going there for testing, with no fuss or waiting time. At the end of last week, the government authorised the third ‘booster’ dose of Covid vaccine for over-forties. I made my appointment for a Sunday afternoon and soon found out how things had changed.
The car park was packed. Inside the clinic, in the corridor leading to the vaccination cubicles, matters were even worse: several people had been given online appointments for third doses for the same time.
It was halfway through lunch that something reminded my friend Marcus about Ray Charles and his plane. ‘Did you know he used to fly it himself?’ he asked the rest of us. ‘When it reached cruising altitude he’d insist on taking the controls. Obviously his passengers were terrified. They thought a blind man playing chess was one thing, but flying a plane? Someone asked him once why he did it. He said: “Because it’s mine.
The employee alleged that she was forced to drink heavily at a banquet during a business trip and was then sexually assaulted by her boss. She informed her managers, but they failed to act and told her to keep quiet. So she staged a protest in the company canteen and shared details of her ordeal in an 11-page document posted on a company message board.
The company was Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant, and the document quickly spread, creating a firestorm online.
The migration of European eels is one of the miracles of nature. They start life in the great deeps of the Sargasso sea in the north-west of the Atlantic ocean as tiny, flat creatures, like almost transparent willow leaves, which drift 3,700 miles on the Gulf Stream to Britain and mainland Europe. The journey can take more than three years. When they approach Europe they make their first metamorphosis into ‘glass eels’: thin rods, shorter than a finger, which are also virtually transparent.