Today’s ratio of deaths to confirmed cases is 1 in 20. In truth there is very little knowledge of the true scale of infection. Lack of screening has been criticised by scientists to a point where the British Government is increasing tests from 2,000 to 25,000 a day.
The Government predicts around 20,000 deaths from COVID-19. If that were from any other cause there’d be outrage and public inquiry. Yet today’s report from the scientists at Imperial College, London, suggest there could be 250,000 in the UK before any vaccine is rolled-out across the population.
Whatever the morbidity rate it is shocking on any number of levels.
The Government failed to heed lessons from China or Italy and took no notice of the World Health Organisation. Prime Minister Johnson and his cronies continued with the test-tube experiment of “herd immunity” while Italy’s doctors spoke of experiencing an “unimaginable catastrophe”, unable to cope with the number of people requiring intensive care.
People are therefore dying unnecessarily, and we are all left to decide precisely how to react. Pressure from trade unions and teachers has seen the government finally close schools to all except the most vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers. It was, at the same time, a fait á compli as more and more teachers and support staff fell ill or self-isolated because of others ill in their family.
This is an entirely new social situation without any historical reference. Society is vastly different to the post-war influenza epidemic of 1918 or the polio outbreak when I was a child. The ease of transmission and infection of CORVID-19 should create shock and due diligence on an unprecedented scale. Perhaps thats why “panic-buying” is also now at epidemic proportions. Yet social distancing and self-isolation is not.
It is probably predictable given the human condition, that there is no hegemony of accepted ideas or responses. Some billionaires want excessive tax handouts to sustain their corporate profits, some local shopkeepers have quadrupled the price of toilet rolls, whilst many locals have joined forces to offer voluntary support to the isolated and the vulnerable.
In short, the hoarding is happening at the top of society not the bottom.
The responses inside families is not uniform either, and there are already clear signs of disagreements over how to act through to arguments between polar opposites on the spectrum of what the government should do. That may sound familiar as a pattern in every intimate household, and certainly will become more intense as self-isolation becomes a requirement rather than recommendation.
But there is a difference with COVID-19. There has never before been a demand to stay indoors for 14-days or more. Alongside the ensuing claustrophobia lurks hidden tensions, the close proximity without escape being a breeding ground for an increase in domestic abuse and violence, already experienced by 1 in 4 women in the UK for an average period of 7 years at a time.
Children of all ages but particularly teenagers will soon be jigging their legs and losing their tempers, going “stir crazy” to a degree that will make the classroom appear as nirvana by comparison with their bedroom. Toddlers will be in revolt, no doubt.
Nevertheless, it is the relationships between grown-ups that I am most concerned with. Yes, the virus is unforgiving of those with pre-existing conditions. But the “stay at home for three months” government diktat, already weighing heavily upon the over ‘70’s and older people with underlying health problems, is fraught with dangers.
It only takes one householder to determine the threat level to be higher than does their partner and there will be discord. Household routines, some decades old, have to change fundamentally. And the very basic facts of life, rarely discussed until crisis comes, include arrangements for death.
And death has loomed large. Where one self-isolates and the other lives a more relaxed existence, what is to be done? Government advice includes that people should live in separated areas of their home for periods if one is mixing with others and the other not. Eat, sleep and languish separately, for 14 days at a minimum when one has come into contact with potential carriers, up to 3 months where one has to continue to risk the outside world.
Any loving relationship is going to be tested by this. The strength needed to say “I Love You” but I’m living away from you is substantial. The strength needed to accept the other’s self quarantine, equally tough. Both require the starting agreement that neither want the other to catch Coronavirus, whatever it takes.
And then there’s the dilemma of care and nursing. If one gets the dreaded cough and temperature, does the other desegregate to offer tender loving care? If both are elderly, vulnerable, and long-established as a couple, how could they not? After all, the likelihood of being hospitalised despite their health records is extremely low.
And then there’s death. Lovers tend, on their death bed, to take some solace in knowing that their partner will live on, remember them but move forward and enjoy more life. Would the dying partner want to be nursed by their partner, placing them at great risk? Or is it expected that one goes, both go in a strange incantation of “I can’t live without you”.
And what of the relatives? Children and grandchildren. Their sudden bereavement will breed potential recriminations towards one grandparent not having done enough for their partner, now deceased. Or conversely, is now at deaths door because s/he broke the quarantine out of love and compassion. There is shallow compensation in the fact there shall be no family funerals or wakes as theatres for the feuding family flack to fly.
A compassionate society based upon collective need not private profit would respond with decency to these core human dilemmas. There would be well protected and trained community nursing staff to prevent the risk to partners. There would be early and routine testing to catch the contamination quickly enough to isolate and treat before spreading.
There would be a sufficiency of beds in Intensive Care Units to relieve partners of the moral dilemma let alone the arduous and self-denying nursing care.
But there are none of these things. Not in the UK anyway. In Germany there are just over 29 ICU beds per thousand of the population and they’re under pressure. In Italy, now experiencing the horror of fragmenting infrastructure whilst not yet at the peak of contamination, there are 12.5 beds per thousand, most dying on camp beds in school gymnasiums. In the UK, just 6.6. This is what a crisis looks like.
The chances of getting specialist care as an older person with COVID-19 is minimal. The consequent upheaval for partner and family is as excruciating as the death, a pneumonia-like inflammation and painful shut down of the lungs, a sudden and premature loss of love, companionship, security. All within a couple of days. How to prepare for that.
The best preparation is to seek by all means possible not to catch the virus. Those who treat it lightly, or who scoff at the self-isolation of the worried, should reflect deeply on the consequences of their attitudes and actions. And those intimately involved will have to recognise that a period apart, quarantined and alone, is infinitely better than the much longer alternative.
And those who have created such an inhuman society should never be forgiven.