As the UK’s lockdown begins to unravel from the top down and starts to be unpicked by the media, on the day the government launches its half-baked test and trace system, we turn our attention to the letter H.
Yesterday, I bumped into my hairdresser. He ignored me, totally blanked me; well, it’s been a long time. I had been working out whether to pay him three or four times the amount he usually charges for my first haircut after lockdown. Now he’ll be lucky to get a tip. I might even go elsewhere. Loser.
It’s nice to be appreciated at work; I imagine. And something we should all remember, going forward. Mind you, being applauded every week, in lieu of any monetary recognition, probably gets a bit wearing after a while.
What is the absolute best protection against a pandemic?
What is the best way to destroy someone’s health, as rapidly as possible?
Lock them up for three months and only let them out once a day. And shut all sports clubs and gyms. And open up all the fast-food outlets. Job done.
My daily steps have halved over the past three months and I think I’m really trying. Withings, who make activity watches, have just published some lockdown research and the results are actually quite surprising. Bear in mind that the data comes from people with Withings watches, so are probably quite invested in their fitness.
In the US, the average person has put on only 0.21lbs during lockdown, in the UK it is 0.35lbs, Germany 0.41lbs, Italy 0.42lbs and France, 0.19lbs.
So it would appear that people are, actually, getting their steps in and the figures partially reflect this. In the US, people have decreased their daily steps by an average of 7% during lockdown (New York -22%), in the UK, average steps are down by 8%, Germany 1%, Italy 28% and France 27%.
In the UK, one positive ray of hope, has been the government’s intent to provide housing for the homeless.
Since lockdown began, around 5,500 rough sleepers have been moved into hotels. Addressing what will happen to them after lockdown, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), said it will bring forward £160m of its four-year rough sleeping services budget and 6,000 housing units will be built and rough sleepers housed through the scheme will be provided with support for mental health or substance abuse issues.
Housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, said: “This will be completely transformative and change the lives of thousands of rough sleepers for the better.” Jon Sparkes, of Crisis, welcomed the announcement, but said he was waiting to see the details of the funding. “Is this only for the people who have been given safe accommodation in hotels, or is it also for people who have not yet been taken off the street? If it is going to be a step-change it needs to be for everybody.”
The government says 90% of rough sleepers have been offered emergency accommodation, but charities have reported a rise in the number of homeless in recent weeks, particularly in London.
A lot of private tenants are currently having problems paying rent to landlords, who can take a mortgage repayment holiday, and after lockdown there will be a huge increase in the number of people evicted and it will be interesting to see if the government are paying more than lip service to eradicating homelessness on UK streets.
One of the tragedies, and travesties, of the UK government’s response to coronavirus, was the lack of protection given to care homes, containing the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
Tens of thousands of care home residents have been killed by the virus across Europe and the US, but in Hong Kong, not a single resident has even contracted Covid-19.
Hong Kong shares a border with China, but in this city of 7.5 million, there have been only four Covid-19 deaths.
That is because this is not their first coronavirus episode. In 2003, six years after the former British colony was handed back to China, it became the epicentre of the SARS outbreak: 299 people died, almost 40% of the global death toll.
As with Covid-19, the elderly were the most susceptible to SARS, and as in the UK, about a fifth of Hong Kong’s population is over the age of 65. By the epidemic’s end, 54 nursing homes had had cases of SARS. Two nursing home workers died. It was not a trauma the industry quickly forgot.
On 21st January, an infected tourist from Wuhan crossed the border into Hong Kong, becoming the city’s first case. Four days later, the government announced that it would be enacting the emergency phase of its infectious disease protocol.
Because of Hong Kong’s collective memory of SARS, individuals, organisations and businesses did not need to wait for instructions from the government. Nursing homes enacted their own measures.
They banned visitors completely, closing off their residents from the outside world by the end of January. There were only 13 confirmed cases in Hong Kong at the time.
To stop the spread from hospitals into nursing homes, confirmed cases were also quarantined for up to three months. Testing is available to all patients who exhibit symptoms, whether at private or public clinics, with the government continuously expanding its capacity to test asymptomatic people.
In Hong Kong, care home residents were treated as fragile, valuable treasures; in the UK, they were seen as economically unproductive collateral, in the fight to protect a chronically underfunded NHS. Hong Kong knew that by preventing the spread of Covid-19 among the elderly, it would also stop the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, with old people taking up valuable resources like ventilators.
A locked-down population is a passive population and it is in Hong Kong that we can see the first signs of a coordinated rebellion. Hong Kong citizens have been protesting against legislation that threatens to bring the territory further under Beijing’s control. There have been riots and arrests.
This could run and run and is an important flashpoint, as the world will soon start training its sights on China and its role in this pandemic paralysis.
H is also for Happy, but that can wait for another time.