Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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24 Aug 2020 : Finger Lickin Good No More

Queensland in Australia is experiencing a new outbreak centred o a youth detention centre in Brisbane. After months of zero cases and no community transmission we are back in the wait and see game. I have been wearing masks to shops throughout, but gradually easing off in my own precautions. I have been deliberately trying to ease my own unease about opening-up and re-entering the ‘normal’. I have been to a bar twice with friends which felt completely weird, spending a lot of time trying to fight my own anxieties. It is strange how we are all engaged in personal risk calculations, the metrics of which shift with the virus, with information and messaging. This private calculation is happening for me each day and I am not in a particularly risky area or profession. Do people just tire of it and eventually give up and get on?

Not many things about the pandemic have made me laugh. But news in today from the fast food giant KFC did. It seems the marketing people have decided that the times are not right for ‘finger lickin good’ and have withdrawn the familiar slogan from branding. How will customers clean the dust of fingers that coats the chicken from now on, will the chicken be eaten with disposable cutlery, what is the new slogan? Something like ‘please enjoy, wash your hands and don’t be a lickin your fingers’? When will we know what to do with the chicken?

Yesterday it was announced in a pre-print study undertaken by Hong Kong University that they have verified a case of re-infection with COVID. This is the first verified case, a man who cleared the virus in April has tested positive again. This is terrible and really depressing news, adding to many of the fears about the possibility of long-term (or even short-term) immunity. Hopefully these cases of re-infection will remain rare, otherwise we are in another world of trouble with this virus.

In Brazil there seems no end to the first wave nor the incompetence and mismanagement of the pandemic. Bolsonaro continues to take a macho and anti-scientific stance to the virus. As ever, he rivals Trump in his malign narcissism, lack of basic competence and morality. The country is seeing over 17,000 new cases each day and total official cases are now at 3,622, 861, heading rapidly to the 4 million mark with no real attempt to control or mitigate. In a public event this week the President calls journalists ‘wimps’ claiming that their lack of athleticism will make them more likely to die from COVID. The implication is that his own survival was built on his athletic past and military fitness – he is a horror show. On Sunday he also told a reporter that ‘I want to punch you in the face’, after a question about a cash transfer to his wife’s bank account from an aide now embroiled in another corruption scandal. The Brazilian state is disintegrating. As with Trump, Bolsonaro is ready to sabotage the state, law and good governance for his own self-image and power.

In further sad news this week, there is the first report of cases in the community in the Gaza Strip. Of course, Gaza has been under blockade since 2007. The health system is completely ravaged, suffering from lack of supplies of medicines and with power outages every day. Any sustained community transmission and spike in cases will clearly be something that Gaza will struggle to cope with, so warns the ICRC. People live in the most densely populated place in the world, and multigenerational housing is the norm. The question is what will the Israeli state do if there is mass infection? One would hope that supplies of medicine and humanitarian corridors would be permitted. Leaving Gazan’s to themselves would be inhumane.

Yet another battle of many is playing out with regard to universities and schools opening up. I am most connected with this in the contexts of the USA and the UK. Mandatory mask wearing is being required in Scottish schools and considered in England. In the USA many of the universities that have opened for in person teaching in the new academic year have experienced a disaster. This was widely predicted by faculty, with university administration choosing to ignore in-house expertise that widely warned that infections would occur. What is staggering is how quickly it has dissolved into a frankly criminal mess. In the University of Notre Dame, for example, had entry testing, picking up about 1% COVID positives. The spirals to 17 some two weeks later. Notre Dame closes for two weeks to ‘contain’ the spread. Lest we forget the President of Notre Dame wrote an evidence informed op. ed. in the NYT in May stating that opening was ‘worth the risk’. The University of Alabama likewise tests entrants, finding a very similar 1% which rises to 29% leading to closure. The list goes on: Michigan State, UNC Chapel Hill all opening and closing down quickly due to infections. The blame is being placed on students who do what students do, they party.

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