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Sensemaker: Another pandemic

Thursday 6 May 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Israel’s president gave Yair Lapid, a centrist politician and former media celebrity, 28 days to form a government that would end Benjamin Netanyahu’s long run as prime minister.
  • Colombians opposed to higher taxes clashed with police for an eighth consecutive day in protests that have left at least 24 people dead.
  • A Utah woman who disappeared in November was discovered alive in a tent after subsisting for five months on grass, moss, and water from a nearby river.

Another pandemic

The UK government’s initial response to Covid was focused on limiting the spread of the virus. It closed businesses, restricted travel, and isolated people. Its policy response was right at the time, but has raised the prevalence of anxiety, depression, and stress among the general population. If overlooked, this mental health pandemic may cause as much suffering as the virus itself.

Here’s what the Office for National Statistics found yesterday:

  • Around one in five adults experienced depression in early 2021, which is more than double the level seen before the pandemic.
  • Younger adults and women were more likely to experience depression, with over four in 10 women aged 16 to 29 experiencing symptoms, compared with around three in 10 men of the same age.
  • People living with a child experienced some of the largest increases in rates of depressive symptoms. Before the pandemic, only six per cent of households with at least one child reported symptoms. The number is now 23 per cent.

The last statistic is particularly worrying. It represents children, who weren’t surveyed by the ONS but who are under pressure on two fronts. Their guardians have depressive symptoms and, other surveys show, they’re reporting elevated behavioural, emotional, and attentional difficulties themselves.

The Centre for Mental Health, an independent charity, predicts that 1.5 million children and adolescents will need new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the pandemic. If its prediction proves correct, Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, which were struggling to keep afloat before the pandemic, will soon be underwater. 

As mental illness, for most children and adolescents, persists into adulthood, the costs of this issue will multiply if not addressed now. The government committed £500 million of extra spending on mental health services this year to address waiting times for specialists, now stretching to many months, and to invest in the workforce. But those services have been underfunded for years and, alongside the new demand from 1.5 million children and adolescents, the Centre for Mental Health predicts 8.5 million more adults will need them.


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

Intellectual poverty
The Biden administration has said it supports lifting patent protections on Covid vaccines. The proposal, which would allow generic makers to reverse engineer existing vaccines without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringement, is intended to ramp up vaccine production and stop the global spread of the virus. It’s still working its way through the World Trade Organization, but it has broad country support and was welcomed by the World Health Organization. Less happy were the pharmaceutical companies that invested large sums of money into the research and development of their vaccines. “It is so wrong,” Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla told the Wall Street Journal, arguing that patent sharing won’t increase vaccine production, which needs idle factories to be refitted for the purpose – and regulatory approval, and that it would discourage companies from developing products for the next pandemic.


New things technology, science, engineering

Facebook on Facebook
So Facebook’s oversight board has ruled that the social network’s suspension of Donald Trump after the Capitol riots was justified. Baring its teeth, the panel, which includes journalists, lawyers, and former politicians and is appointed and funded by Facebook, asked the company’s executives to reassess the suspension and come to a conclusion within six months because an indefinite suspension isn’t a penalty defined in the company’s policies. What if Facebook doesn’t play ball? Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and chief executive, referred to the panel as the “Facebook Supreme Court”. It has the dressing of a court, but no legal or enforcement authority, which is the point of a court. One of its justices, former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, wrote an “inside account” of the ruling, which he’s pleased with.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Continental charade
Two Royal Navy vessels are patrolling the waters off Jersey, a British Crown dependency that depends on France for electricity, after a row between the UK and France over fishing rights. Last year’s EU-UK trade deal required French fishermen to equip their boats with monitoring devices and to meet other criteria to get licences to fish in British coastal waters. France’s maritime minister, Annick Girardin, said the licences included conditions that were decided unilaterally, and said she’s prepared to switch off Jersey’s electricity unless those conditions were erased. French fishermen organised a protest of 80 vessels that sailed to Jersey’s main port this morning. The HMS Tamar and HMS Severn met them there to “monitor the situation”, the UK government said. Yesterday, the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death, Boris Johnson described the French fishing vessels as a “blockade”. A Jersey man in a tricorne hat shot a blank-firing musket at them.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Old money
Berkshire Hathaway, once a struggling textile business that Warren Buffett turned into the world’s most successful investment company, is trading at too high a price for one of America’s leading exchange operators. The company’s Class A shares rose near to $429,496.7295: the biggest number Nasdaq can handle on its data feeds, which use a compact digital format for prices. Buffett, who is 90 years old and one of the richest men in the world, recently identified his successor, 58-year-old Greg Abel. His relative youth, Buffett said, “makes a real difference.” Charlie Munger, Buffett’s 97-year-old deputy, said: “Greg will keep the culture.”


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Brood X
“It’s one of nature’s weirdest events, featuring sex, a race against death, evolution and what can sound like a bad science fiction movie soundtrack,” the Associated Press said of one of the largest broods of cicadas to date: Brood X. Cicadas grow underground for years and their broods are measured and numbered. The X is the Roman numeral for 10. Its cicadas have been underground across 15 states from Indiana to Georgia to New York for 17 years. Some have begun rising in Tennessee and North Carolina where soil temperatures are rising. When they all emerge, it will get noisy – 105 decibels noisy, the level of a nearby helicopter or large drum. They’ll shed their skins, climb up trees, and procreate before burrowing back down into the soil. “This is a feel-good story, folks. It really is and it’s in a year we need more,” entomologist John Cooley of the University of Connecticut said. “When they come out, it’s a great sign that forests are in good shape. All is as it is supposed to be.”

Thanks for reading, and please share this around. 

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Photographs by Getty Images


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