Postpone the parties

I’M WRITING this column on 7 April, which happens to be my birthday, but somehow that doesn’t seem important at all.

(Picture by sunfe/Shutterstock)
(Picture by sunfe/Shutterstock)

We all have far bigger things on our minds these days as it becomes clear the Covid-19 pandemic will be one of the most devastating natural disasters of modern times.

Just over two weeks ago I pointed out the death toll was just 6% of the number who’d died in the Boxing Day tsunami. The trouble was, I said, that unlike earthquakes, eruptions or tsunamis, the pandemic wasn’t a one-off catastrophic event. Rather it was an escalating contagion which could mushroom. It’s done just that and we are a very long way from being out of the woods.

It’s now 16 days on from my last column and the worldwide death toll has passed 80,000, or 32% of those wiped out by the tsunami. An enormous increase in just over a fortnight and it will get much worse.

A few months ago feels like an aeon – China was at the centre of the storm. Then it moved to Iran and on to Europe. Firstly Italy, then Spain, the UK, France and several other countries saw frightening peaks in both new cases and mortality. Sadly the Channel Islands are not exempt. But as the epicentre moves on from Europe, as it soon will, other areas of the world may well fare far worse. The reasons for that vary.

America looks certain to be by far the hardest hit of the world’s affluent countries.

That’s partly due to its ostrich-like ‘leadership’, which thought denial was a good strategy for avoiding a pandemic, and partly due to a health care system which effectively denies full access to those on low incomes.

Russia and Japan also face worrying situations. Then what about Africa and the rest of the developing world? Many countries there have health systems not remotely fit to cope with a Covid-19 outbreak. As for war-torn regions and refugee camps, I shudder to think.

The way things are going, the scale of this disaster will dwarf not only the Boxing Day tsunami but all other natural disasters of the last 100 years, barring famines. It may even exceed the dreadful Yangtze River floods of 1931 in terms of lives lost.

OK, Roffey. Time to stop all of your depressing doom-mongering. There are actually many positives to draw on, even in these dark hours. China, South Korea and a few other places have shown that proper measures to prevent infection, strictly observed, can tame the virus. Not always through reliance on blanket lockdowns but also by using massive testing, contact tracing and isolation of those affected. We must take our lead from those relative successes and show discipline, courage and fortitude.

This is neither the black death nor the Spanish flu, mainly because these days we know much more about how to avoid spreading infection. We also have far, far better health care systems. Crucially we can, and surely will, develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus over the next year or so. In the meantime it is the duty of all of us to keep up our resolve and our discipline and to follow best practice.

We simply mustn’t let boredom, frustration or fear triumph over common sense. We owe it to our most vulnerable to stay focused for the duration.

Even if you are suffering from claustrophobia, or worrying about your future livelihood, there are others in worse positions and we owe it to our community to do our bit. And now at least we can have gardening/DIY supplies delivered to our doors, which might help to ease the tedium for many. Good move.

I know that is still not easy and some of you will already be feeling the onset of cabin fever. To be honest, I’ve found myself thinking some pretty strange thoughts myself during the long lonely hours of the lockdown.

For example:

. Why on earth were we all so obsessed with Brexit just a few months ago, thinking it was the news story of the decade?

. In future strategic planning, will the States have to factor in a new ‘baby boom’ as a result of couples being forced to spend so much time together?

. Or will that ‘ordeal’ lead to sky-high divorce rates instead?

. When lockdown is over, will the cliff paths be so overgrown that they are impassable?

. Could rapidly clearing them represent an instant job creation scheme?

. With all of the barbers closed, will Guernsey soon look like it did during my hippy heyday?

I really must get a grip on my wandering mind.

Personally, despite the genuinely tragic nature of the events we are living through, I am determined to look on the bright side too.

Guernsey’s gardens, never too shabby, are surely going to be exceptionally well tended this year. It’s just a shame the proud owners can’t invite lots of other people around to admire them just yet.

The population is surely going to be fitter than normal. The sheer numbers of the people out walking, running and cycling each day during their allotted time for outdoor exercise is truly amazing. Great to see how friendly everybody is too – please keep it up.

Those of a more studious nature can’t complain any more that they’ve no time to read books. May I perversely suggest an old classic called The Decameron? You can’t pop out to buy a paperback copy but you might be able to download it to your Kindle. Look it up to understand why I’m suggesting it.

So lots of positives, but on the downside Radio 4 insists on putting poetry and homespun philosophical reflections into its flagship news programmes, presumably in a bid to keep our spirits up. Please stop it.

Finally, back to the fact that I’m writing this on my birthday. I always knew it was going to be a bit weird this year, being my first as a widower, but until recently I never dreamt I would be celebrating it alone, under virtual house arrest.

I’m not unique. I know the ‘lockdown’ means many islanders are seeing plans to mark all sorts of special days go up in smoke. Not just birthdays but much bigger and more important occasions. This blasted virus is ruining christenings, retirement dos, weddings and even limiting attendance at funerals. All deeply upsetting.

For some it must be even worse. Last year I was caring for a terminally ill partner and the only thing which kept me relatively sane was the constant stream of good friends dropping in to help share the load. Out there in our island today there must be others in the same position I was then but having to cope without those support systems. My heart goes out to them. We owe it to them to make the restrictions really count. There can be no slacking.

Thinking about it, one missed birthday is no great shakes at all. In fact I’ve already solved the problem by copying the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics. I’ve postponed my celebration by exactly one year.

Actually I think Guernsey, as a community, will probably badly need to party too when it’s possible again.

Of course there will be those who will be so touched by grief or so worried by economic travails that they won’t feel remotely like partying. Our public finances will also be in a complete mess, which it will take hard years to recover from. But please, ‘Uncle Gavin’, however bare the cupboard is, try to find a little something to give islanders a proper knees-up once this crisis is over. They are going to need it and they are going to deserve it.

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