The probably inevitable post on our interesting times

I hereby offer to you probably the twentieth set of thoughts you’re read on the sudden appearance into our lives of the coronavirus.

Be aware that I know nothing about medicine, or indeed statistics. My attitude is coloured by my good fortune in having spent almost all my life in a state of offensively good health.

That said:

  1. One of the few good things about this virus is that it is forcing people all over the world to pay attention to what’s going on… all over the world. How much did I know before about religious pilgrimages to Iran? I think it’s salutary that foreign countries, Italy, South Korea etc, with which we’re not even at war, should be frequently on our front pages.
  2. On the other hand we’re in danger of ignoring what isn’t coronavirus. The Pope has mentioned hungry children; there is still war in Syria and Yemen; someone’s just tried to assassinate the Prime Minister of Sudan. (I’m particularly concerned for the joint military/civilian interim government of Sudan.)
  3. We don’t know which to choose between the two extremes of “for goodness’ sake, it’s less deadly than flu, just wash your hands more often”, and “this is an unknown illness with no current cure, spreading extremely rapidly – the flu pandemic in 1918 killed millions, and the NHS has limited capacity.”
  4. I think it’s impossible not to look at pictures of the empty spaces in Italy without thinking that yes, we are living in extraordinary times, even if the most extraordinary thing is the fear. We should feel compassion and concern for the countries and people most affected. (Obviously.) Nothing like this has happened in Britain, or the world, for a very long time.
  5. Britain’s policy seems to be developing differently from many other countries. I yield to no one in my distaste for the current government, but it may be making the right call. We don’t know.
  6. All this uncertainty is itself unpleasant, especially for those who worry a lot anyway for whatever reason, or those for whom drastic alterations to normal life are difficult to cope with.
  7. The knock-on effects, such as the stock market crash, are not trivial. Jobs and pensions at risk are a legitimate cause for concern.
  8. On the plus side again, we are being forced to value government and what it can do in terms of contingency planning, co ordination etc. I’ve heard the argument (Jonathan Freedland in Saturday’s Guardian) that the American electorate may turn against a President who so plainly despises and underfunds the machinery of government. For me that would be a plus.
  9. Each organisation and family needs to address its own behaviour, whether this is the Bloggers’ household laundering all towels, or the Church of England issuing guidance on whether we’re allowed to use the common cup at communion. (One result is that I now know what “intinction” is, a word I’d never heard of before, being Low Church.) Choose your song/chant for handwashing, whether it’s Happy Birthday, Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot!” speech, Star Trek’s “Space: the final frontier”, or the Lord’s Prayer, all of which have been suggested on social media.
  10. But am I the only person who thinks that getting people to worry about touching their face is a step too far? Trying not to touch your face simply encourages constant obsession, which isn’t healthy about anything. Wouldn’t it be more useful to try to address how people can self-isolate if they are (for example) parents of small children, or half of a couple with only one bedroom? Is this guidance given out by 111?
  11. I do feel that the church as a whole is missing something here. There’s too much talk of handwashing and schools closing. Is this how the Church responds to national crisis? How are we helping our neighbours, Christian and non-Christian, at this time of national, even worldwide, panic? I cannot do better than share the excellent thoughts of the Diocese of St Albans.
  12. “If only,” a friend said to me, “we got this alarmed about climate change…”

And finally, three cliched thoughts that may still have something to offer:

Keep Calm and Carry On (within the new rules)

In a world where you can be anything, be kind

Although you may need to plan, Do not worry about tomorrow… let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day.

Love from the PPI Blogger

PS Next post should be on 27th March.

1 Comment
  • Stephen Sheridan

    14th March 2020 at 8:16 am Reply

    A very thoughtful post Penelope. The UK Government at least seems to be guided by the medical experts, but those experts themselves are uncertain. There is already criticism that we should be closing big events much earlier, but the experts accept the virus will just move through and want to try and match the peaks to where we have the most resources. If we shut down too early, then when we re-open and the virus just explodes again. The impact of re-opening is yet to be seen in China.
    There will be lots of lessons to be learned from the countries who have managed this most effectively, which so far looks like Singapore and Taiwan. There also be big lessons about subsidising drugs and equipment to be made more locally and production to be evened out across the globe. Heads will have to be banged together at the UN to get a better global policy informed by evidence. International task forces have done good work on ebola (including brilliant work by the UK), so we should be able to copy this.
    Plague has followed war throughout history, even from very early times. The Bronze Age Hittite Empire sacked Babylon and the Hittite Great King was full of hubris at his great victory and then his realm was crippled for decades by continuous waves of plague brought back by his victorious soldiers and he was perplexed why all the prayers and sacrifices to the Hittite gods brought no relief. Given the UN Security Council has the Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty above its meeting room, perhaps some eloquent diplomat could point out this link and start a process to end the pointless multi-polar conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

    In the UK the religious authorities have been a bit slow – why aren’t they organising an ecumenical/multi-faith payer week for instance? The great advice you have passed on from St Albans would get a wider spread.

    Thank you for sharing.

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