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Sensemaker: A gruesome year

Tuesday 23 March 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • The UK government announced £5,000 fines for anyone attempting to take a holiday abroad before July.
  • Ten people including a police officer were killed in a supermarket shooting in Boulder, Colorado.
  • French officials said the Stade de France would be temporarily converted into a mass vaccination centre.

A gruesome year

Today is a day of reflection in the UK – the anniversary of the first lockdown announcement. A moment’s silence is being held at midday and there are calls for people to display remembrance candles at 8pm. So far, 126,000 people have died of the virus.

One year ago, it was striking how much Britain was struggling with getting pandemic infrastructure into place. Germany, in particular, was held up as a model – its testing infrastructure gave it an early advantage. Today, Germany is drifting into yet-tighter restrictions as the slow EU nations’ vaccine roll-out continues to take a toll – in lost lives and livelihoods. 

At about 3am last night, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, announced new “emergency brake” rules – she said new variants mean “we now basically have a new pandemic” and that they must “break the exponential growth of the third wave”. The number of new cases is up by more than 60 per cent in two weeks, taking the country back to January. 

Merkel’s position is that they are experiencing today what Britain did in December: “After we were able to sharply bring down the number of new infections in January, we are now experiencing, through the spread of the more contagious British variant, a more dangerous variation – the numbers are going up and the intensive care beds are filling up.”

From 1 April, Germany will lock down harder for an Easter break: supermarkets will close for all but one day, church services will be online only and people cannot meet in groups of more than five. Without a widespread vaccine roll-out, this is what life during a pandemic looks like – a drumbeat of death, fear and disruption. 

The discussion of blocking vaccine exports is both a response to and a distraction from the fact that Europe’s vaccine roll-out surely ranks among one of the most important modern peace-time failures of public policy.


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

AstraZeneca vaccine 
Good news and bad for Astra’s roll-out: the company’s US trial, which filled in holes in its prior analysis, showed a 100 per cent reduction in death from coronavirus – and a 79 per cent cut in serious illness. But the NYT ($) is reporting that federal officials are unhappy with the analysis underpinning this conclusion. The vaccine is unlikely to be authorised and available in the US until May, by which time officials say there will be enough doses for the adult population from three US manufacturers – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Sturgeon survives
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, has been cleared by an independent review of breaching the so-called “ministerial code”. A parliamentary committee, however, has concluded she misled them in giving evidence about her handling of complaints about her predecessor, Alex Salmond. That one report, on its own, won’t be enough to sway a majority in the Holyrood parliament to pass a vote of no confidence in her. She now turns to the business of trying to secure a majority for the SNP in May’s election – the launchpad she wants for a second referendum on Scottish independence.


New things technology, science, engineering

Amazon union
A push to unionise Amazon workers in the US could be the path to one of the biggest wins for the American labour movement in years. The drive is focussed on a plant in Bessemer, Alabama, where a union recognition process has already drawn in support for unionising from Joe Biden, the unusually pro-union president, but also from some Republicans, like Senator Marco Rubio. 


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Sanctions
The EU, UK, US and Canada have announced sanctions on Chinese officials accused of involvement in the barbaric assault on the Uyghur people. The local police chief and top members of the local Communist party in Xinjiang, including Chen Quanguo, have been added to the sanction lists. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said China was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity”. Given that verdict, going for a few local officials seems quite a mild response.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Outsider trading
The US’s main financial watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, has filed some quite funny charges for insider trading. James Roland Jones of Redondo Beach, California, went on the dark web selling what he said were secret tips. But there is a twist: they were just his own suppositions and research. As Matt Levine puts it, “When he shared his predictions with you, sure, you were getting correct stock predictions that made you rich, but you were nonetheless defrauded, because you were hoping to get illegally rich, and you only got legally rich.”

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook
@xtophercook

Photographs Getty Images

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