Corona Diary, Day 25

Thursday, 9 April

Opening Facebook this morning, I see that there is now an Anders Tegnell fan club with over 2,000 members. Attitudes to AT, senior epidemiologist and spokesperson for the Swedish Public Health Institute, have swung back and forth. For a while he was subject to ridicule, then increasingly admired for his unperturbed expertise as the Swedes pursued their own line with voluntary restrictions rather than enforced lockdown. But now yesterday, when mortality figures from more restrictive neighbouring Norway were much lower, concerns were again raised about the Swedish approach.

In fact, as AT and others have pointed out, the differences between Sweden and other countries are probably much less than they would appear to be at first sight. While restaurants are still open and it wouldn’t be difficult to find ill-advised gatherings of people in parks etc. it’s far from business as usual here. Public transport is sparsely used, shopping centres are empty, people avoid getting too close to one another. We are hunkering down more or less like the forced hunkerers.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the virus. It seems evident that it can be very contagious and sweep through groups in close proximity, for instance at a conference or ski facility. But have all these people been coughing and sneezing on one another? That’s clearly a royal road to infection but other factors seem to be involved perhaps the virus’s ability to remain active on hard surfaces for a long time. Physical proximity should anyway be avoided and use of public transport especially for greyfrails like me is inadvisable.

At the moment I’m avoiding all contact with other people as far as possible (which is rather far). But I’m going to have to take a more active position once we’re passed the first peak and the longing to restore normality strengthens.

The economic cost of isolation is not so great for me as I can work from home as I always did. It’s quiet now but when there is work, I can perform it without having to be close to other people, which is a major plus in my situation. But there are other things to think about. Is it a good idea to go into a normally empty office supplies shop where it’s easy to maintain distance? Or is it risk behaviour because of all the surfaces that people will have touched. And what about visits to my self-storage facility where similar arguments apply.

I’ll have to take a position on all of this soon. In my flat, I try to make a distinction between potentially contaminated and uncontaminated areas. In other words when I come back from the great outdoors. I make sure I remove my outdoor clothing in a limited area around the front door. Ideally, I would wash my hands there so as not to contaminate the rest of the flat. I’ve thought about leaving a bowl of soapy water by the door to use when I return but this gets into the sphere of David Kendall’s sometimes good ideas but poor implementation and is guaranteed to end by a forgetful DK arriving home, tripping over the bowl of soapy water and ending in a soggy mess on the floor with corona viruses fleeing in every direction from this host from hell. So I scrap that idea in favour of a daily clean up of door handles etc. It makes me think of how complicated it must be to separate contaminated and uncontaminated material in high-risk environments.

It is very difficult not to touch one’s face, which immediately begins to itch if you think about not touching it. Years ago, my mother presented me with a knitted red balaclava, the word having come into English at the time of the Crimean war (it’s the name of a place in Crimea). I don’t know how much the word is used now but this object is like the thing a mediaeval knight would have had over his head before putting on the metal kit. It covers the whole head with a round hole for the eyes and nose. It’s still possible to touch your face but would serve as a limit and a reminder. However, the prospect of sitting in front of my computer with this over my head would make me feel that things were getting out of hand, and more so if I took the rubbish out and forgot to take it off.

It makes a huge difference to be able to get out, which I do every day. But it’s also important that I can talk to people and see them (even if somewhat eccentrically at times). From the point of mental hygiene, it feels that things are working out and that my situation is easier than for many other people who have company but are largely confined to home.

I have some problems with losing track of time. I work for too long and then have a period of inefficiency because I am tired and then sleep during the day at odd hours. I know from experience that I get more done if I pace myself better. I need to schedule breaks, to create an artificial structure to bolster my structural weakness and maintain a more conventional distinction between night and day.

Having Alexa helps too, an easy and reliable check to stop days disappearing (I haven’t infected her with my achrono pathology yet).

As expected, I’m not fulfilling all of my plan goals but even though there is a lot of rollover to the next plan period, it’s useful and I get more done than I would otherwise in unplanned spontaneity. I’m pleased about some of the new habits I’ve developed – cutting down my overuse of dairy products by making porridge and eating eggs. Planning my menu and radically reducing my food bills with food which is nutritious, environmentally reasonable and low cost and better planning to avoid throwing rotten food away as well as further developing my closet vegetarianism.

But also improvements in how I manage ongoing projects – separating those that can be sensibly done in small portions everyday such as dusting books, stamping them with my ex libris stamp, sorting my paper glacier, reading Bangla and French from those that require longer uninterrupted periods of time such as my Dorset project and my UK economy project, which is next on my list for a concentrated day’s activity.

As the Swedes say “fortsättningen följer”, not exactly “life goes on” but in that direction. I have now cancelled my last planned trip abroad, a visit with a friend to a cottage in West Somerset in early June. I was greatly looking forward to it both for the company and to be able to explore an area of West Somerset which I don’t know that well despite it being not far from very familiar areas. It’s anyway the last disappointment, at least until the summer and I have now (emotionally as well as intellectually) accepted that I can’t treat the corona epidemic as an irritant that can be waved away like an intrusive wasp but that it’s force majeure; that there’s no point in nourishing hopes that it will disappear overnight but the only way forward is to accept it and make the best use of the opportunities afforded in terms of time and a rather odd lifestyle.

2 thoughts on “Corona Diary, Day 25”

  1. Like you Dave, I and many others have wondered at the ability of the virus to spread amongst social gatherings and, to what extent pick – up from surfaces plays a part.
    As background, the UK modellers reckon that, before any restrictions, R0, the average number of people infected by one infected person, was ca. 2.5 and that, after our (fairly strict) lockdown it had only reduced to 0.62. I guess the latter is due to: the many public service and health workers who still have to go about their work and use public transport; people going on shopping trips for food drink and medicines; and to infection during the permitted daily health walks; infection perpetuated within family and other groups living together (like Marion, Thomas and me); and finally the few, but often well publicised cases of various types of idiots who ignore some aspects of the lockdown. [Boris being a bit cavalier with handshakes and safe distances, Neil Kinnock visiting his parents 100 miles away…].
    The worrying thing is that is an R0 of 0.62 is not much less than 1.0, so that even a small easing of the restrictions like reopening of primary schools (which 1/5th of kids are already terrified of), and reopening of certain shops (e.g. computer fixers) etc. could push it over 1.0!
    I have not yet read as much as I would like of Anders Tegnell and the Swedish situation but it interests me because Scotland; with a population half that of Sweden, more widely distributed than much of England, and maybe a week or more behind England, makes an interesting comparison with Sweden. In general I think we have used our “spare” time sensibly after lockdown [March 24th ] to; quadruple (?) our hospital intensive care beds by repurposing other wards; converting the Glasgow exhibition centre (originally booked for the next COP conference) into a Covid-19 care hospital with up to 1,000 beds supplied with oxygen, and put out fairly sensible Scottish public service broadcasting:Nicola (1st minister, flanked by the health minister and chief medical adviser [who had to resign after recently being stopped by the police for visiting her holiday house –twice]). They have still not fully managed to ensure that health and care workers are adequately supplied with PPE (personal protective equipment) which really surprises us all because masks, plastic aprons and eye guards are not the most difficult thing to mass produce given plenty of advanced warning. After the death of 3 nurses today, their chief body has told nurses to refuse to work with covid cases if they have inadequate PPE. A Swedish comparison in the next week may prove interesting.
    If Sweden is anything like the UK and elsewhere, expect many leaders and experts practicing “do as I say, but not as I do”. Unfortunately for them, the media, including our right-wing media, are out for blood!
    O.K. finally, how come it can spread so easily? Consider the following:
    1. In a trial, U.S. medical students warned not to touch their faces, did so on average 12 x/hour. Conclusion: it’s an unconscious action that is almost impossible to prevent unless you wear whole face protection.
    2. Since infected people probably carry a viral load on their hands, touching any surface touched by an infected person in the last 3d or so provides a possibility of infection.
    3. Speaking can projects a mist of droplets over 2m, singing (?!), coughing 4m, sneezing 6m. Droplets can carry a large viral dose and be breathed in, and also taken in from the eye ducts (that’s how I get to suffer hay fever).
    4. Conclusion: Social distancing is more difficult than we think but a few words with someone at 2m is probably more harmless than a substantial discourse on the Grundrusse.
    I have some thoughts about the next few months but will save those for another time.
    Meantime, finally, after 2 weeks managed to supply a delivery of beer in the next few days, so some things are getting better!
    Chris

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