Taking back Control

Kia ora katoa! Kia Kaha!

Today is Wednesday April 22nd.

This morning I woke up, and everyone has been in action again. There’s lots of news, fresh episodes on my favourite podcasts.  Today I plan to go for a walk, and put on a big pot of soup.

Meanwhile, I recall that I sometimes omit things, and after closing down my computer, think “I really should have said such and such”. This is one of those days. Yesterday, on April 21, the price of oil dropped into negative territory. This is significant. The stock market has been falling dramatically since we realised that the Covid 19 virus was something to take seriously, and the price of oil has been dropping, and then fluctuating, but negative? Normally I’m not too bothered by the vagaries of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, unless it falls dramatically, but I realise that confidence is important and the price of stocks and shares matters, especially if you have investments, or have interest in an investment fund.  This was a significant day.  In practical terms, it doesn’t mean anything to us: we can’t drive anywhere, anyway, at the moment. Today, April 22, the oil price is still negative.

“We must not risk the gains we have made”. So spoke the Prime Minister. She also gave a heartfelt thanks to cleaners.

At the 1 pm briefing, Jacinda Ardern and Dr Bloomfield appear. I fear these briefings will become boring, but not with these two. There are 6 new cases of Covid 19, bringing the total to 1451.  There has been a further death, of an elderly woman, one of the contingent who were moved from a rest home to Christchurch’s Burwood Hospital. She was a “probable” Covid 19 case. There are 11 in hospital, two in Intensive Care, both of them stable. Of the new cases, 3 are linked to overseas travel.

 Yesterday 5289 tests were done, bringing the total number of tests in New Zealand to 94,797. There are still 16 clusters here.  More community testing is planned. There is to be more testing of health workers this week. Anyone can get a test, but you need to be referred by your doctor.

Community testing is being extended to several regions in Northland. People there are being encouraged to get influenza vaccinations, as well.  New Zealanders returning to NZ will continue to be quarantined in hotels under government control.

Overseas, there are several interesting stories. I start with a report by Dr John  Campbell of the UK citing a report from Stanford University discredited by him and by many others. Apparently this was not even peer-reviewed.  This is surely a big dent in Stanford’s otherwise stellar reputation. One wonders just what’s behind this.

There are also details of a the failure of a patient trial of hydroxychloroquine, touted by President Trump and Fox News, but discredited by many doctors. This seems to be effective for some patients, indeed it is sometimes tried as part of a cocktail of drugs (who’s behind this, I wonder), but has severe side effects on others. I don’t believe one would knowingly risk it, unless it was recommended by a physician, and one was truly desperate.

Then there is the case of Greece, no longer “the sick man of Europe”. Greece acted quickly to close its schools on 11 March, well before the UK acted, and put a lockdown in place. According to figure I’ve checked tonight, their Covid 19 total is 2,401 infections, with 121 deaths. Thus by acting quickly, they have avoided the dreadful pressure on their health system that so many other countries are facing.

Then there is the UK, where apparently a load of PPE has been flown in from Turkey, but for some reason they avoided being part of a European consortium to obtain ventilators and PPE. The Secretary of Health, Matt Hancock was forced to deny that this decision was political, but his weasel-words convinced many that this was a non-denial denial.

Then there is the case of the hospital set up in the Excel Centre as part of the Nightingale Trust, to accommodate extra patients, which cannot be used because of a shortage of Intensive Care nurses, the existing ones being “run ragged”.  NHS staff are not allowed to speak to the press, so we don’t hear many of their stories; the dreadful figures speak for themselves: 129,044 cases of infection, and 17,337 deaths. These figures are probably far lower than the reality, given how difficult it is to get tested, and the numbers dying in rest homes. Those in charge seem to shrug, and admit it’s all very sad, but what can you do?

In terms of what you can do, testing and contact tracing, and minimising social contact, i.e. locking down all but essential facilities, seem to make a bug difference, as does having appropriate PPE for medical and care staff. It seems though there are big differences in what a lockdown actually means, and what are essential services. There are big differences in how the lockdown is policed, and what fines, if any, are applied for non-compliance. There also seems to be a big difference in the leadership displayed, both in asking people to do hard things, and expressing gratitude for their sacrifice, and compassion for their sorrows.

The analogy of war is often used. In a war situation, a leader encourages and inspires those under their control to do things they would not normally think possible. Also, in wartime, there were often hurried weddings, with limited number s of guests, clothes, presents, partying and time.  People made do with what they had. Often soldiers died in war, on their own, and sometimes the body could not be returned. People made do, as they did in other epidemics.  Those of us who grew up in the wonderful age of vaccines tend to forget just how precarious life was. It still is, of course, but there are different threats now, and life-expectancy has increased significantly.  One is reminded of the old adage, that truth is the first casualty of war.

The US seems to be fighting the Vietnam war again, in a way similar to Britain’s fighting Word War One (the Great War).  It would be over soon, the boys would be home by Christmas. In both wars, thousands of soldiers died, yet politicians kept sending them.  In WWI they spoke about “going over the top” of the trenches to certain danger, almost certain death; medical staff have spoken about experiencing similar terror when going on duty, and trying to cope with almost impossible situations. In the US, these are aften documented.

Testing continues to be a big problem in the US, as well as the UK.  These problems are no doubt made more difficult by testing labs needing to make a profit. The materials are in short supply; access is different in different regions; and, of course, you might test negative on Monday, but in a highly infectious environment, you may be positive on Friday. There is a lack of swabs. Sometimes the results are unreliable. Antibody tests are still unreliable. The issue of payment is complicated, and people’s economic situations are becoming more dire as it appears federal assistance is uneven and unevenly distributed, with many people missing out. The lines of cars at food banks are distressing, as are the pictures of food being disposed of, because, in theory, there isn’t a demand for it. I think if you said it was available, people would come and get it? Perhaps that’s not a practical suggestion.

In the US, some desperately sad things are going on.  In Georgia (ironically it’s capital city Atlanta is home to the CDC, CNN and Dr Gupta), the Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who only just instigated a limited shelter-in-place order, has declared his state will be open from Monday April, including massage parlours, tattoo bars, hairdressing salons, restaurants etc. It is difficult to maintain distancing in these activities, and the air-conditioning is thought to play a part in circulating the virus too. There have been a number of protests this week from people who’ve found any level of lockdown a personal affront to themselves and their liberty.  All this while the figures for Covid 19 infections and deaths continue to climb: as at tonight, Georgia had 20,166 cases of Covid 19 and 818 deaths.

The outcry against Kemp’s move has been significant. Many television programs have focussed on the major opposition to his move, from the Mayor of Atlanta, to recovered patients, who say “don’t mess with this disease”, to desperate health professionals. “Who will care for you, when you get sick?”, they ask.

Even at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, where they are very well organised, handled Ebola cases, and are super-prepared, they are restricting Covid 19 tests to those with symptoms only, because they are rationing their PPE.

As at tonight, the US has officially got 819,175 confirmed cases of Covid 19, and has had 45,353 deaths.  The figure at the same time last night was almost 43,000.  This is a huge toll, and is being taken very seriously by many. On a brighter note, Bernie Sanders’s proposed Medicare for All doesn’t sound at all crazy, or even socialist, now. It’s recognised even by some Republican commentators that it’s pretty crazy not to have a better health-care system, in this day and age. How can you be great without great health-care?

Today I have been reflecting on a poem by Henry King, 1592-1669, Of Human Life.and

            Like to the falling of a star

            Or as the flights of eagles are,

            Or like the fresh spring’s gaudy hue,

            Or silver drops of morning dew;

            Or like a wind that chafes the flood,

            Or bubbles which on water stood:

            Even such a man, whose borrowed light        

            Is straight called in, and paid to night,

            The wind blows out, the bubble dies;

            Th spring entombed in autumn lies;

            The dew dries up, the star is shot;

            The flight is past – and man forgot.

While we’re into classical music, a Bach concerto takes my fancy tonight: Concerto No 1 in A minor. There are lots of nice recordings on Youtube.

Bye for now!

Nga mihi

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