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Coronavirus has sorted out the heroes from the villains

PUBLISHED: 13:00 07 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:25 07 April 2020

Paramedics and medical staff with waiting ambulances outside  the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London, a temporary hospital with 4000 beds which has been set up for the treatment of Covid-19 patients

Paramedics and medical staff with waiting ambulances outside the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London, a temporary hospital with 4000 beds which has been set up for the treatment of Covid-19 patients

As we all deal with the impact of coronavirus, the nation seems to have naturally championed those who deserve our praise and, as Christine Webber suggests, filtered out those for whom we have diminishing respect

It feels like we’re actors in an episode of Tales of the Unexpected doesn’t it? Though I doubt even Roald Dahl could have imagined this disaster.

We’re living through a period of seismic change and uncertainty. Far too many patients are dying. Our heroes in the NHS are working themselves into the ground with inadequate equipment and protection. And even if we don’t have health problems ourselves, we have friends and family who will be in great danger if they get Covid-19. This feels utterly shocking, and it is. For them, as for so many others, a vaccine cannot come soon enough.

These then are desperate times, and yet because the human race is resilient and adaptable, we’re responding in remarkably positive ways. George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian: “The horror films got it wrong. This virus has turned us into caring neighbours.” I agree. It seems to me that we’re changing from a population who say “someone should do something” to one where we ask “what can I do?”

A nurse who lives in a busy street where it’s hard to park, came home after a shift to find that her neighbours had painted a white box on the road outside her house with the letters NHS inside it; they also put up a notice asking everyone else to park elsewhere.

Paramedic David Tillyer, went shopping in the Cromer branch of Lidl. As he joined the checkout queue, he was applauded by his fellow customers and told to go to the front where a woman he had never met insisted on paying his bill.

Everywhere you look, there’s a sense of kindness and community – not least in the WhatsApp groups springing up which connect people offering skills with neighbours who eed them. In fact, it’s amazing how technologically savvy we are compared with three weeks ago. Everyone seems to be on Houseparty, and I know I’m not the only grandparent home-schooling by Skype!

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Then there are surprising scientific collaborations that offer hope. One is the unlikely pairing of the Mercedes Benz Formula One team with the boffins of University College London. Together they’ve developed a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device, which helps infected patients breathe more easily without the need for a ventilator.

Meanwhile, as we have already witnessed, our battered planet has become healthier in response to us staying home. Notably, the canals of Venice have plenty of fish in them for the first time in ages, because there are no tourist boats churning up the water and driving wildlife out. Our reaction to this particular aspect of the drama is generating a lot of thought and discussion.

An executive of a leading investment bank told me that they are already having conversations about a new world order where far more international meetings and conferences are conducted online, and a greater proportion of their employees work from home. In time, he thinks, they will shut some of their shiny skyscraper offices around the globe.

Just imagine if some of those buildings could be turned into affordable housing for essential workers – that really would be a positive legacy.

Over in Cambridge, where so many scientific resources are being diverted to fight the coronavirus, an eminent medic says that the major lesson we must learn from the pandemic is that top of the range broadband in every home is far more crucial than new airport runways or major rail projects. “The lockdown is showing us that extensive home working is viable,” he says, “and that if more people adopt this practice, it can ease childcare situations, take pressure off existing transport systems and massively reduce our carbon footprint.”

As for our future health, if we keep up our handwashing-habit, we could become less susceptible to many of the coughs, colds, and tummy upsets we get annually. We may also, as a result of this trauma, take more responsibility for how we age. I personally know of several adults with medical problems whose reaction to the virus has been to address their unhealthy lifestyles. If people in every town in the land respond to this wake-up call in the same way, it will be a gamechanger for them and the NHS.

Another massive change is how we’ve realised that the Richard Bransons and Tim Martins of this world aren’t nearly as important as health care workers, carers, postmen and women, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, refuse collectors, and individuals who run small local grocery stores and farm shops.

Finally, I’d like to give a big shout out to both Norfolk and Suffolk Community Foundations for their swift responses to the crisis. They have already paid out substantial sums to support people who have become more vulnerable than usual at this time. Because they work closely with dozens of grassroots charities, Community Foundations have unique knowledge at street level of where emergency funding is required. Please contact them if you need help, or can offer it in any way: www.norfolkfoundation.com; www.suffolkcf.org.uk


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