Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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11 Apr 2020 : The Brilliant Virus

Start to think of new project for writing next week, building on some previous work and an unrealised ambition. I always wanted to write a much wider and theoretical price on market failure and health. Why would you put faith in a mechanism so ill suited to providing such an essential human service and where demand does not change with price. If you are ill or need medicine the price does not change need or desire, and you can’t switch. Of course, this COVID crisis has seen so many instances of market failure. The absence of robust vaccine platforms and under-investment in research; staff deserting aged care facilities; price gouging for medicines and PPE; the failure to provide paid sick leave forcing people to go on working and infecting others. It is a long list. I will start next week.

I see a really great thread on Twitter, which I RT. It is very matter of fact about the mass burial site on Hart Island. In fact, I do think she misses the point (the scale of the present crisis is new), but I will quote at length due to its chilling simplicity:

[Julia Kite-Laidlaw writing from New York:] ‘Hart Island, off the east side of the Bronx, has been the city’s potter’s field for decades. It has also served as a Civil War prison camp, a Cold War missile storage site, a drug rehab facility, and lots of other things throughout NYC history. It is not a park. It is not open to the public. You can’t get there unless you can prove a relationship to someone buried there, and then you are allowed onto a ferry. This is not “dig a trench in Central Park and throw bodies in it. Why are people buried there? Many reasons. Most are either destitute, unidentified, and/or have had no family member or friend claim them from the morgue. That’s not true in every case. Some next of kin have not known what “city burial” meant or simply couldn’t afford more. The timeline for going to Hart Island used to be 30 days unclaimed. Because of the skyrocketing numbers of deaths here, it has been shortened to 14. It doesn’t mean the instant your loved one dies, they are taken to the trenches. Not at all. Bodies are treated respectfully. The caskets are labelled so that if someone steps forward in the future to claim a body, the person can be disinterred and moved to a cemetery elsewhere. Obviously nobody under any circumstance wants a family member buried in a potter’s field. But even before coronavirus, such a place has been necessary for a large city where every day, people die unidentified and alone. That is urban life. The Office of the City Medical Examiner is full of experts on this difficult subject. I have full trust in them to be respectful and make the wise decisions. When I found my uncle dead and I was the only one around to handle it, they treated me with the utmost professionalism. What they are doing on Hart Island is not new, it is not shocking. It is a shift in the timeline of what has been done for ages on a designated burial site, from 30 to 14 days, because we’re in a state of emergency. That’s all. This is not the apocalypse.

Meanwhile, Trump really hit rock bottom last night at the briefing, a now low in blithering, total idiocy. I honestly think the best strategy for the Democrats is just to let him keep talking. According to Boston Globe, many in the GOP are getting uneasy with his tone and message and lack of care. This today was special: “Antibiotics used to solve every problem and now one of the biggest problems the world has is the germ has gotten too brilliant that the anti-antibiotic can’t keep up with it…”. Where to start this defies parody or comment.

Meanwhile the number of cases in the US is above 500,000 and the last 24 hours saw 2000 deaths. In the land of another idiot science denier, Brazil, there were 1000 deaths yesterday. So inaction will mean that Brazil will be ravaged, particularly in the favelas. In the UK the BMA is up in arms about clinicians being routinely without PPE and continuing to treat patients, and the numbers of staff amongst yesterday’s ghastly 1000 deaths is way too high. The government needs to be held accountable for this. However, many are tweeting news that Oxford team has high hopes for a new vaccine candidate. The scientist leading the team seems confident about its efficacy, and I hope to god it works.


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