Coronavirus - a little local difficulty

We seem to have quite a number of difficulties at the moment. There’s the flooding which has been greater and more widespread than we’ve seen in the past. There’s the apparent incompatibility between the negotiating positions of the UK and the EU. The dispute between Pretti Patel and her former chief of staff has been such a major difficulty that the anticipated arrival of the Prime Minister’s new baby has been deployed in order to deflect criticism from the Home Secretary.

And of course, there’s the small matter of the coronavirus. This is nearer to home for me, at least, granted that we’ve decided to cancel our fortnight in Sicily as a consequence of its appearance on that Island (now 9 cases in different areas). The owner of ‘Il Giardino di Oliver’ has kindly agreed to let us, as old folk at greater risk of infection, postpone our trip to later in the year, although of course subject to payment of any price difference. That of course presumes that there will be flights available.
Which is looking somewhat doubtful despite Michael O'Leary's optimism. He says normality will return in a few weeks. I suppose we could always try to find a ride on a cruise ship - there will probably be plenty of spare berths this year, although it might be best to wear a haz-mat suit at all times.

Then there’s the fact that the Mayor of La Balme de Sillingey, 15 km from Annecy, has tested positive for the virus. He attended a reception for 120 people just before his test result came through and, being a good mayor, will have shaken hands or ‘fait la bise’ with everyone present.  I suspect that the town will be a major hot spot.  Is going to Annecy now not on the cards either? What about Normandy.  Well, we first have to get there – normally on a big boat. I suppose we could take sandwiches and quarantine ourselves in our cabin for the 6 hours of the voyage. Or we could go through the tunnel on a train with lots of other motorists, but stay in our car for the duration.  It would though mean staying at a hotel overnight. More sandwiches? Maybe we should just sit at home until we have a heatwave and then make plans to go somewhere while (we hope) the virus abates, like its coronal cousins normally do in the warmer weather.

In the meantime, we see different approaches taken to combat the problem.  The birthplace of the virus, China, has taken steps which only an authoritarian country could take, steps which seem currently to be effective. Italy has followed China in putting towns and villages into quarantine, although only in the North. Further South, outbreaks caused by people travelling from the North have not resulted in travel bans. At the last count (3 March), in Italy there were over 2200 confirmed cases, with 79 deaths. Here, Boris emerged from his COBRA meeting on Monday to tell us: ”the virus is a problem which is likely to become more significant”. That’s the sort of profound insight which confirms the right to his status as this country’s leader.  How marvellous to have such a wise man at the helm. But what to do?  Well the advice is still not much more than to wash your hands and don’t cough or sneeze over people. There has though been much discussion of the use of anti-bacterial hand washes and whether they would kill viruses.  Answer – apparently not.  Only those with about 60% alcohol will work.  But as one might expect, there has been panic buying of alcohol-based hand gels and so now getting hold of it is very difficult.  Enter an actual expert virologist who tells us that alcohol gels only work if you already have reasonably clean hands.  In other words, if you have washed them properly in soap and water then you don’t really need the gel in any case and so can use the alcohol for recreational purposes instead.

In Iran, there seems to have been a degree of neglect, probably based on the idea that Allah will protect them. 
A bit of a forlorn hope.  The more devout are still kissing the gates of holy shrines and of course there is an expectation that everyone will attend the mosque for prayers. Poetic justice has now in fact kicked in, with the 23 MPs and the deputy health minister becoming infected and at least one close adviser to the Ayatollah dying. The percentage fatality rate is so much higher there than anywhere else that it is obvious that they have no idea how many people have been infected. All they appear to be doing is counting the more serious cases, those who have come to their attention because they are showing serious symptoms, and then recording how many of them die. In the absence of taking any effective measures to contain the infection, I think it means that the virus will spread even more widely in that benighted country.  The citizens are already very restless because of the American economic embargo and now there is further resentment of the government because of the spread of the virus.  Maybe the virus is, after all, the work of Allah, an Allah who wishes to bring down a corrupt regime.

But what about South Korea? This is second only to China in terms of numbers infected. And it seems that religion is again a major cause of their problems.  About 60% of the country’s more than 4000 confirmed cases are members of a sect called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, headed by Lee Man-Hee. Their doctrines are a little difficult to disentangle.  There is a reluctance to be too specific about them to outsiders. What is clear, however is that Mr Lee (aged 88), with dyed black hair, is Christ himself or an (immortal) prophet sent by Jesus Christ to lead the members of the church to heaven in the last days.  The book of Revelation on which this is all based speaks of 144,000 faithful being translated/whisked up to heaven.  Only those who are members of his church will apparently qualify as ‘the faithful’.  The rest of us will be destroyed on judgement day. A good way of encouraging fidelity. There is a slight problem with this though: the current membership of the sect is said by them to be around 350,000. So who’s not going to make the cut? Presumably the less faithful.  For this reason they are required to show just how devoted they are to Mr Lee. They do this by frequent attendance at lengthy, large-scale meetings (ideal for spreading of diseases), trying to infiltrate other churches in order to proselytise and probably contributing just a little of their cash. After all, being a poor prophet these days is not a good look!

A side effect of the teaching, however, is that they seem to think that, as the Second Coming is just around the corner, they do not need to take too much care of their physical bodies. They will after all shortly be replaced with something more durable. The government takes a slightly different attitude and has asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate Mr Lee for gross negligence homicide. Rather strangely for a prophet, or perhaps Christ 2.0, Mr Lee has publicly apologised for what has happened, saying that they had not done anything intentionally to spread the virus. You would think though that, as God’s appointed, he might have had a clearer idea of how viruses propagated and so could have achieved an outcome not involving the unnecessary infection and death of so many of his followers.  But then religion is not necessarily the most rational of activities.  Is it wrong of me to hope for an early test of his immortality - perhaps ‘Trial by Coronavirus’?  How unchristian.

Paul Buckingham

3 March 2020

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