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Sensemaker: Beginning of the end?

Sensemaker: Beginning of the end?

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Boris Johnson said “hope springs eternal” as he prepared to fly to Brussels, probably tomorrow, in pursuit of a last-minute Brexit deal (more below).
  • Breakdancing, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing were added to the list of Olympic sports for the Paris games in 2024.
  • Americans were promised they would be first in the queue for Covid vaccines produced in the US, despite a report that the Trump administration turned down a chance to order up to 500 million extra doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Beginning of the end?

Some good news, at last. The vaccine has been rolled out. At around 6:30 this morning, Margaret Keenan, 90, received the Pfizer/BioNTech jab in Coventry hospital, in England’s West Midlands. The second patient to receive it, rather strikingly, was a gentleman from Stratford called William Shakespeare (if you prick him, apparently, he does bleed). 

This is a good moment to think about prioritisation of the vaccine – and what happens now. One issue in all this is that the health service is not set up to come up with big lists of people for calling up to this type of programme. The data that they need does not exist. 

For example, we know that people with Down’s Syndrome are vulnerable to Covid: they are on the UK government’s shielding list. Deaths among people with learning disabilities are much higher than the population at large. 

Many of them live in communities together – but the plan is not to deal with all of those care homes at once. Whereas older people in care homes are being prioritised for the vaccine precisely because they live together – and so there is a greater risk from contagion – the same thought process does not apply to younger people with disabilities in similar settings. The first wave is for care homes for older people only. 

Instead, the plan is to identify individual patients based on their medical records. But while Down’s comes with health conditions, doctors do not treat Down’s itself. In their notes, they will usually note that they are dealing with a patient with a learning disability, but not gazette the cause. So there is no list.

This is not a criticism of those doctors: they were not to know they would need such a list. But it is a serious worry. And if society opens up too quickly as the vaccine rolls out, and people stop observing social distancing, it is vulnerable groups – like people with learning disabilities who have been put too low down the list – who will suffer.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Brexit run
Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, is set to travel to Brussels to try to personally unblock the impasse in the Brexit negotiations with the European Commission. As ever, the issues remain fishing rights and the so-called “level playing field” – the measures intended to make sure Britain doesn’t slash its regulatory standards. Normally, this would be a good sign: the optics of going and failing to get a deal are fairly grim, so this would signify they were closer to an agreement than they were letting on. The UK government, however, is very badly run so maybe rein in any assumptions that they are playing 3D chess.

New things technology, science, engineering

Uber’s big play 
Uber, the ride-hailing app company, has disposed of its self-driving cars unit. Bullishness about how fast self-driving cars can be rolled out has been a trope in Silicon Valley for a little while – but it remains a stubbornly elusive goal. While the self-driving research continues – and the software will continue to improve as it gets more experienced – we are a long way from widespread public use. Predictions on self-driving have all been too optimistic. Uber itself said it hoped to have 75,000 driverless cars on the road by 2019.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy

Chuck Yeager
The first man to break the sound barrier, General Chuck Yeager, almost made it to the 100-year milestone, too. Yeager died at 97. He fought in the second world war as a pilot, shot down 12 Axis planes, was shot down himself, escaped occupied France and became a test pilot. He was the first pilot to break the sound barrier – something he did while hiding from superiors that he’d broken two ribs. His flights paved the way for space exploration – though he himself was rejected from the space programme for lacking a college degree. He then went on to fight in Vietnam and train air force personnel in preparation for potential militarisation of space. All in all, he crammed a lot into 97 years.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

The property-renting app is preparing to go public on Thursday – not in the circumstances which they might have chosen. The company has been hammered by the pandemic and laid off a quarter of its staff earlier this year. But it also proved more resilient than its competitors: the people using the app to let out properties absorbed most of the pain. It is aiming for a valuation of $42 billion for the company – a bet that the pre-virus world is coming back pretty soon.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Plastic vandals
A report on plastic waste has named Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle as the worst plastic polluters – based on an audit of waste collected on beaches and riversides in 55 countries. This year, Break Free From Plastic collected 346,494 pieces of plastic waste, 63 per cent of which were marked clearly with a consumer brand. But this is more than a few small companies. Other companies have a lot to do to cut down on single-use plastic items: the audit also found that single-use sachets were the most commonly found type of item, followed by cigarette butts, then plastic bottles. 

Stay safe, wash your hands. 

Chris Cook

Photographs Getty Images