Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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12 Apr 2020 : Read Eric Lipton NY Times

Start the day with message from my father. His friend Howard has installed an app that tracks flight paths of particular airlines, many people have this, I know. His son is a pilot with British Airways and volunteered to fly a Boeing 777 direct to Shanghai in China. There are 4 pilots and the entire plane is empty. Once there, the plane is filled with PPE equipment, entirely, the hold, the seats, the overhead luggage is all loaded. The flight time is 30 hours and they rotate. Once back in the UK the entire stock is emergency routed to the NHS. In the meantime, I see reports of an article in The Telegraph lauding Boris Johnson, describing him literally as the body politic of the nation, a language reserved for monarchs of old. The entire shortages, NHS deaths, and his own illness rest entirely on the shoulders of government. There are shortages of intensive care drugs. Priti Patel the hapless Home Office Minister gives a petulant and shambolic press briefing where she states, “I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings.” The BMA is now livid, shortages of PPE everywhere and most acutely in London and Yorkshire, and, of course, we are only as of yet focusing on front line hospitals. Again, suggestions of staff over-using PPE. 19 health workers have died to date. There are justifiable calls to recall Parliament, the government clearly completely rudderless. The peak is expected in another 2-3 weeks, and there are already 10,000 dead. I am of course worried about my parents and sister (who continues to have to work at special needs school).

In the US the death rate is alarming, with 20,000 confirmed deaths and many suspected to have died alone at home. I have decided to avoid any contact with Trump today, I cannot abide his pompous rubbish at the moment, far too angry. There are 180,000 cases in NY state alone. Monumental. Fauci reports a levelling off, but there are still many states where it is business as usual. Simply breathtaking. The New York Times journalist, Eric Lipton, puts online and on email leaked email between senior figures from a group of high-level infectious disease specialists in Veterans’ Affairs, the HHS. The DHS and State Department. It is clearly in the public interest, charting from January 28th exchanges expressing deep and escalating concern, then horror, at US failure to act. They express concern with Trump’s fixation that the disease could be stopped at the border. By the second week of February the group sees exactly ‘what is over the horizon’.  One email on the 23rd February realises the asymptomatic spread – the real game changer – Dr Kadlec head of COVID at the HHS is calmly neutral in relating the findings, but the message is clear to all I am sure. By March, with speeches of travel bans by Trump, the group is full and frank about the hopeless European travel ban as contrasted with the evident need for aggressive measures in line with Italy. They are also right with one brutal assessment that the CDC is missing the mark. Lipton concludes by stating ‘This is an extraordinary calamity. A mark in US history that will never be forgotten.’

In Africa cases are escalating and it is truly alarming. My initial worries way back in February 13th were for this to be the case, and unfortunately transmission appears to be rife. South Africa is particularly bad with 20,000 cases, but this could just be a factor of better testing and reporting in that country. But there is a deal of working with limited resources, spraying, conversion of private labs for COVID testing, and emergency field hospitals. Street gangs in South Africa are distributing food and there are other food programs springing up in countries like Rwanda. In Libya one of the opposition forces is still targeting one of the main hospitals in Tripoli, an act of extraordinary inhumanity. In Brazil there are fears that many already vulnerable indigenous groups could be wiped out, with those peoples already vulnerable to infectious disease, particularly respiratory illnesses.

All of this with me writing on the back deck. The sun is glorious, there is a breeze and my daughter is asleep. We are very lucky, and at these moments I get real waves of guilt. I may not have a job this year, but we appear to riding this out, for now.

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