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In Episode 45 of his new book , author Julian Roup observes the teachers versus Boris match with Covid-19 as referee.
In case you missed Episode 44, click here.
Life in a Time of Plague
Sussex, 16th May 2020
By Julian Roup
This week the government got into a scrap with the teachers who it seems have a distinct reluctance to lay down their lives for their pupils. How unprofessional and downright cowardly is that?
A cartoon shows the way out of this impasse. The time to go back to work will be when every MP is back at Westminster and it’s standing room only in the Commons, and not a moment before. The government and its scientists were not able to reassure the teachers’ unions that their members would be safe from picking up the virus from their pupils on June 1, when primary schools are due to start. The aim is to begin with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes getting the ball rolling. It will be interesting to see who wins this standoff.
I mean, it’s not a big ask, really, is it? It’s not as if teachers are being asked to take on a PE class or even coach football. No, it’s simply a request to speed up herd immunity. And if some of the teachers fall prey to the coronavirus crocs in the shallows, so be it. Life must go on and the price of life is death for some. Though preferably not Tory cabinet ministers.
City grandees are getting restive. If work does not start soon, how are dividends going to be paid to the fat cats sitting the pandemic out on their private islands or in their private country estates? It’s all a bit of a mess, this lifting of lockdown. It wasn’t meant to be like this. Boris had a speech and a slogan, ‘Stay Alert’. Well, blow me down, the teachers are not only alert, they are frankly skittish, and are not wearing it. Back to the drawing board, Boris. Your move.
Parents are lining up behind teachers not Boris. The Guardian quotes one parent whose views are shared by many. Rachael Towers, 44, is a make-up artist from Stratford-upon-Avon. She says: “There is absolutely no chance I will allow my children, aged 4 and 16, back to school as early as June, while death toll figures and cases are still fairly high. I’d like them to go back to school, as they’re driving me up the wall, but it doesn’t feel safe yet. “September is the earliest I would consider. I have the ability to work from home, so I understand it’s hard for parents that need to go to work. But what is more important than your children’s lives?”
And if this was not bad enough, and public insurrection threatens, suddenly a new enemy appears before Boris’ appalled eyes. As Shakespeare put it: “When troubles come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.” It is Professor Martin Marshall of the Royal College of GPs, speaking on behalf of his members. He asks the Government for a plan on how to get out of lockdown by the use of testing. Who should GPs prioritise for testing, and how often should they test, and could they please get the results back faster from the black hole they disappear into? No doubt Boris would like the professor to disappear into a black hole of his own. Prof Marshall and the good doctors are a new awkward squad. Corporal Jones, in the TV comedy Dad’s Army, comes to mind, speaking of the use of the bayonet in Africa: “They don’t like it up them. No, sir, they don’t like it up them!” Boris sure does not like it up him, but the pandemic is now so far up him that Corporal Jones, I mean Professor Martin, may as well finish the job.
And this is no random mad professor. His CV is impressive. Martin Marshall is a GP in Newham East London, Professor of Healthcare Improvement at UCL and Programme Director for Primary Care at UCLP Partners. He leads Improvement Science London. He is immediate past Vice Chair (External Affairs) of the Royal College of GPs. Previously, he was Director of R&D at the Health Foundation, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, and Director General in the Department of Health, a clinical academic at the University of Manchester, and a Harkness Fellow in Healthcare Policy. He has over 200 publications in the field of quality of care, and in 2005 he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to Health Care.
Boris, this man would like some bloody answers and a plan. And yes, that is a very long scalpel in his hand!
The chickens are coming home to roost for Boris. He is facing mounting pressure to launch an independent public inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BAME) across Britain.
And now a millionaire businessman is launching legal action against the Government after it refused to disclose minutes of the SAGE meetings that informed its decision to impose the coronavirus lockdown. Simon Dolan, who owns Jota Aviation, said he received an unsatisfactory response to his challenge over the legality of the lockdown two weeks ago. He and his lawyers intend to go to the High Court to seek permission for an urgent judicial review of the background to the lockdown imposed on March 23. He had sought to obtain minutes from meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
“We are pressing ahead with the case and expect to be heard within the next ten days or so,” Dolan said. “I believe it is absolutely crucial in holding the government to account – they have introduced entirely unprecedented restrictions on basic freedoms, caused the losses of millions of jobs, destroyed businesses, incurred eye-watering amounts of debt, which will take generations to pay back, and yet they refuse to share the basic information they say they rely on to make these devastating decisions.”
So Boris is now getting a kicking from all sides, from teachers and doctors, two of the most respected professional groups in the country, from parents of school age children, from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, and from a random millionaire with a bone to pick about secrecy versus transparency. I really feel for Boris… well maybe just a teeny-weeny bit, even as I’m laughing. After all, it is one of the Great British myths that ‘You don’t kick a man when he’s down’. Untrue in practice, but much quoted and much beloved, like the myth of the gentleman, that bolsters our self-image.
The gentleman is one of England’s greatest PR tools. How is this nation which grew fat on wool grown on the land of exiled peasants; of Aztec gold stolen by the Spanish and then stolen from them; on enslaving a good chunk of Africa and then building the cities Bristol and Liverpool and parts of London (the fashionable and mercantile parts) on the proceeds. A nation which terrorised half the world, painted it pink and called it an Empire. How did the idea of the gentleman come out of this? One of the expressions that most shocked me was when fleeing apartheid South Africa, I arrived on these shores to hear the phrase: “The wogs begin at Calais,” enunciated in Old Etonian accents. To me, the gentleman is one who protects the weak and punishes bullies. So someone, somewhere, has misunderstood its meaning. Surely?
But let me quote another expression that I had not heard until arriving here: Maybe on defining the meaning of gentleman we just have to “suck it and see.” Suck what and see what, I’ve often wondered. The gentleman, it seems to me is a work in progress. Though like all generalities there are exceptions to be found here and there who really do deserve this description. I number some among my closest friends and even some clients. I will not embarrass them by naming them, for they know who they are. And manners, after all, are another defining quality of the gent, something I am still working on myself.
This lockdown has not been all hellish. One of its greatest joys (for some) has been the delicious languor of waking up to realise there is nothing to stop you going right back to sleep again. So, porpoise-like, you rise into wakefulness and then submerge gently back to sleep, or just doze and then come up for some more misty wakefulness, taking in the quiet, the deep quiet of the countryside, no sound of far-off traffic, no aircraft overhead, no deadlines, no ringing phones. Just peace.
If you are not struggling to breathe, dying in a care home, in hospital or at home, or grieving for a lost loved one, this has been a revelation, a sort of socialist heaven made manifest overnight as the ‘money forest’ was discovered. Workers stay home and play with their children, subsidized by the government, on furlough, with time finally to learn how to play the guitar you were given for your 14th birthday. We know it can’t last, but it’s had its moments that’s for sure.
And if Britain is going to the dogs, dogs may yet be our salvation. The BBC reports that sniffer dogs – Cocker spaniels and Labradors – are being brought in to screen large numbers of people. They are already being used by the charity Medical Detection Dogs to sniff out odours of certain cancers, malaria and Parkinson’s disease.
The first phase of the trial to use dogs against Covid-19 will be led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, along with the charity and Durham University. It has been backed with £500,000 of government funding. Innovation Minister, Lord Bethell, said he hoped the dogs could provide ‘speedy results’ as part of the government’s wider testing strategy.
More than ten years of research gathered by Medical Detection Dogs has shown that dogs can be trained to sniff out the odour of disease at the equivalent dilution of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. Dr Claire Guest, the charity’s co-founder and chief executive, said she was “sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of Covid-19.”
On the home front, our next Tesco food delivery arrives with a new toaster – hurrah! Jan disinfects and I pack away, and I only get bollocked once for trying to pack something away that has not been wiped down with disinfectant. We are making progress. I take our old toaster, the one, which committed hari-kiri, out to the bins and say a quiet farewell. It has been a good friend to me. But what I really need is a toaster for Boris!
Click here for Episode 46.
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