Coronavirus pandemic shows how risk-averse Americans have grown

Do you remember the 1957-58 Asian flu? Or the 1968-69 Hong Kong flu? I do. I was a teenager during the first of these, an adult finishing law school during the second. But even though back then I followed the news much more than the average person my age, I can’t dredge up more than the dimmest memory of either.

I don’t have any memory of schools closing, though apparently, a few did here and there. I have no memories of city or state lockdowns, of closed offices and factories and department stores, of people banned from parks and beaches.

Yet these two influenzas had death tolls roughly comparable to that of COVID-19. Between 70,000 and 116,000 people in the US died from Asian flu. That’s between 0.04 percent and 0.07 percent of the nation’s population, somewhat more than the 0.03% of the COVID-19 death rate so far.

The Asian flu, unlike COVID-19, was rarely fatal for children and was more deadly for the elderly — and pregnant women.

The Hong Kong flu, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says, had more precisely an estimated U.S. death toll of 100,000 in 1968-70 (years that included the Woodstock festival), 0.05 percent of the total population. Both flus had high death rates among the elderly but, apparently, not as high a proportion as COVID-19 has had.

Once again, there were no nationwide school closings, no multi-month lockdowns, no daily presidential news conferences. Apparently, neither the nation’s leaders nor the vast bulk of its people felt that such drastic measures were called for.

Perhaps some of this calm reaction can be ascribed to confidence that a vaccine would be developed, as other flu vaccines had been developed after the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic. But flu vaccines are never entirely effective, and none were widely available until after the Asian and Hong Kong flus had swept over the nation.

Fundamental attitudes can change in a nation over half a century, and the very different responses to this year’s coronavirus pandemic and the influenzas of 50 and 60 years ago suggest that Americans today are much more risk-averse, much more willing to undergo massive inconvenience and disruption to avoid marginal increases in fatal risk.

At least some of this can be explained by different experiences. The Asian and Hong Kong flus arrived in an America amid and at the end of what I call the Midcentury Moment. That’s my name for the quarter-century after World War II when Americans enjoyed low-inflation economic growth, and a degree of cultural uniformity and respect for institutions that some yearn for today.

Midcentury Americans had living memories of World War II, with its 405,000 American military deaths. They were troubled not so much by the number of military deaths in Korea (36,000) and Vietnam (58,000) but by our leaders’ failure, after years of effort, to achieve victory.

Contrast this with the shrillness of outcries over orders of magnitude fewer military deaths in Iraq (4,497) and Afghanistan (2,216). Yes, every death is a tragedy, but those numbers total less than the average number of deaths in America every day (7,707) in 2018. But today’s Americans, beneficiaries of a victory in the Cold War that was almost entirely bloodless, seem to blanch at paying any human price.

They seem to also expect any competent leader to come up with policies that preserve every life at any cost. Thus the high approval of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said his lockdown is worth it if it saves just one life — although if he really believed that, he’d impose and strictly enforce a 5 mph speed limit on the New York State Thruway.

You can argue that Americans in the Midcentury Moment were too willing to accept pandemic or battlefield deaths, just as they were too willing to accept racial segregation or to stigmatize uncommon lifestyles.

But there’s also a strong argument that they had a more realistic sense of the limits of the human condition and the efficacy of official action than Americans have today — certainly more than the governors stubbornly enforcing lockdowns till the virus is stamped out and deaths fall to zero.

Behind that stance is the assumption there’s an instant and painless solution for every problem, rather than a need to weigh conflicting goals and make tragic choices amid unavoidable uncertainty.

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Twins born during pandemic named Corona and Covid

A boy and a girl born in the midst of India’s coronavirus lockdown have been named after the deadly virus.

The parents of Covid and Corona hope the twins’ names will serve as a reminder of the hardships they overcame as they were brought into the world during the pandemic. But the couple from the city of Raipur say they might change their minds later and rename the children.

Mother Preeti Verma told PTI: ‘The delivery happened after facing several difficulties and therefore, me and my husband wanted to make the day memorable. Indeed the virus is dangerous and life-threatening but its outbreak made people focus on sanitation, hygiene and inculcate other good habits.

‘Thus, we thought about these names. When the hospital staff also started calling the babies as Corona and Covid, we finally decided to name them after the pandemic.’

After going into labour late at night on March 26, Verma says her husband called for an ambulance through a special service launched for pregnant women.

But the vehicle was stopped by police several times on the way as cars and vans are not allowed on the road due to the nationwide lockdown.

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Family members who would have loved to come to the birth were unable to make it to Dr BR Ambedkar Memorial Hospital as busses and trains have been halted.

The babies were delivered in the early hours of March 27, within 45 minutes of the couple’s arrival.

Doctors performed a caesarean section due to complications. A spokesman for the hospital said both Covid and Corona are healthy and have now been discharged with their mother.

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Some Celebrity Pandemic Content Is Actually Pretty Good

Tamia and Deborah Cox

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It’s hard to believe that the universally pilloried video in which various celebrities “sing” John Lennon’s “Imagine” — ostensibly meant as a sincere gesture spearheaded by Wonder Woman actor Gal Gadot — took place only two weeks ago.

Life under quarantine has rendered time, as well as most of our daily routines, obsolete. At this point, days practically blend into one another (What day is it now, anyway?!) so you’d be forgiven if you don’t remember Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Fallon, Natalie Portman, and several other entertainers attempting — and failing terribly — to invoke a digital kumbaya for our pandemic-stricken world. Those were, after all, the early days, and many people, not just celebrities, were struggling with how seriously the virus should be taken. But America is now knee-deep in crisis mode — at the latest White House press conference President Donald Trump warned that between 100,000–240,000 people could die from COVID-19 despite social distancing.

And for people who quite literally thrive on attention from the masses, the coronavirus has put many celebrities into a prickly predicament. As my colleague Tomi Obaro pondered a few weeks ago, “What is the role of the entertainer in a snowballing public health crisis?” What’s been made clear is that even celebrities themselves do not know the answer to that question. In a New York Times article about how celebrity worship has begun to falter, Amanda Hess writes that the pantheon of famous people in the “Imagine” video seemed to believe their “contributions suggest that the very appearance of a celebrity is a salve, as if a pandemic could be overcome by star power alone.”

Thankfully, there are some stars, mostly musicians, who are cognizant of the fact that what people really crave right now is community and connection, even if the moment is fleeting.

This past weekend, the vocalists Tamia and Deborah Cox posted an Instagram cover of “Count on Me,” which was featured on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack and originally sung by Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans. “Even though we’re apart I love that we are all finding creative ways to keep connected and stay together during these times,” Tamia wrote on Instagram in a caption about the rendition, adding that it was a song that brought her and her friends “comfort.” The post, which got nearly 400,000 thousand views, seemed to resonate beyond Instagram too. Essence magazine picked it up, and various Twitter users posted the cover, which also went viral on Twitter. One particular reason this video seemed to hit is that both Tamia and Cox are professional singers, and the song felt sincere rather than a manufactured attempt to say we’re all in this together. Of course, nostalgia also played a role in the success of Tamia and Deborah’s collaboration, and they’re not the only celebrities making the most of that ever-reliable feel-good longing for simpler times to bring people a modicum of good cheer.

On Sunday night, a faction of Twitter users were excitedly tweeting about a song battle between producer and songwriter Johntá Austin and singer-songwriter Ne-Yo. The task was simple, the two, via Instagram Live, would play a few of their most memorable songs — 20 each — and the fans would decide which song they liked best. (Austin won, hands down.) The livestream topped out at nearly 80K people watching as the two artists walked down memory lane, reminiscing about how old they were when they wrote certain songs and giving fans a deeper appreciation for their craft. The producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland had come up with the format for the battle last week when they went head-to-head in the first song battle. Since then, the competition has taken off, featuring The-Dream vs. Sean Garrett, Boi-1da vs. Hit-Boy, and most recently, Austin and Ne-Yo. Among the thousands of fans tweeting and commenting about Austin and Ne-Yo, prominent musicians like Tyrese, Bryan-Michael Cox, and Wale were just as engaged. And naturally, people have been imagining their own ideal songwriter/producer battles, like Jermaine Dupri vs. Diddy or Diane Warren vs. Babyface.

The actor Leslie Jordan, Brian Littrell from the Backstreet Boys, and Mariah Carey.

Celebrities who have always embraced their wackiness have been the ones best-equipped for helping people get through quarantine, like Mad Men star January Jones, who has truly been leaning into weird self-isolation content. Similarly, actor Leslie Jordan has been a reservoir of happiness for people stuck inside. Jordan, in his distinctive Tennessean accent, consistently charms people with bright opening lines in his videos, like “Well, hello pilgrims and fellow fitness fanatics!” Other times he’s just making random skits that’ll surely make you burst out laughing in delight. Take a scroll through the comments on any given video, and you’ll find lots of people thanking the star for putting a smile on their face, people who say they look forward to his videos every day. Network television has also gotten inventive as shows have been shut down because of the coronavirus. Celebs like Mariah Carey and the Backstreet Boys each sang one of their ’90s hits as part of the Living Room Concert for America, hosted by Elton John, an event which came together after the 2020 iHeartRadio Music Awards were postponed due to the ongoing pandemic.

But celebs aren’t just relying on their talent to foster joy and hope for their fans. They’ve been doing Instagram Lives like regular folk, which effectively become fan-servicey moments for their loyal followers. See: Justin Bieber and Tom Holland or Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus. Basketball star Steph Curry, who can’t play his sport because of the pandemic, also participated in a livestream with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to ask questions about the coronavirus. The stream was watched by at least 50,000 people and drew the attention of Bieber, as well as former president Barack Obama, who urged people to “take care of each other.” Lizzo, with her flute in hand, led a meditation session to “promote healing” which people can access whenever they please; Taylor Swift personally DM’d and donated money to fans amid the ongoing outbreak; and actor Josh Gad volunteered to read — to you and your children — as a way of supporting people during the crisis. Rihanna has donated millions of dollars to help medical workers receive PPE while pledging to personally cover the cost of ventilators for people in her home country of Barbados.

The last month of the ongoing pandemic has given fans unprecedented access to their favorite celebrities and illuminated the stark differences between their lives and those of everyday people. Celebrities often have more resources that allow them to be tested for the virus and likely don’t have the same level of worries when it comes to finances, which is far from the reality facing the average American. Stars, unequivocally, aren’t just like us. But when they dial back the unnatural veneer of celebrity, it certainly feels like we’re all on the same playing field, trying to find hope and connection where we can. If only for a moment.●

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Government pandemic exercise four years ago predicted NHS shortages

Government pandemic exercise predicted a virus coming from Asia would overwhelm an NHS desperately short of protective equipment and ventilators but nothing was done

  • Exercise Cygnus was carried out by Imperial College epidemiologists in 2016 
  • Set seven weeks into pandemic that came from Asia similar to H2N2 influenza 
  • Experts told ministers NHS would suffer shortages but report wasn’t revealed 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

A Government exercise four years ago predicted a deadly virus from Asia would arrive in the UK and leave the NHS on its knees, it was revealed today. 

In October 2016, epidemiologists from Imperial College London told Government ministers what Britain would look like seven weeks into a pandemic. 

Exercise Cygnus showed the NHS unable to cope, with a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses, inadequate numbers of ventilators and mortuaries overflowing. 

It was carried out by the same experts responsible for the nation’s coronavirus modelling, but the results were never revealed, reports the Sunday Telegraph. 

Urgent questions have now been raised over why then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s administration failed to act on the alarming findings.  

In October 2016, epidemiologists from Imperial College London told Government ministers what Britain would look like seven weeks into a pandemic and revealed the NHS on its knees, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff (pictured) and a lack of beds

Urgent questions have now been raised over why then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s (he is pictured at St George’s Hospital Tooting in 2017) administration failed to act on the alarming findings

A paper detailing Imperial’s research read: ‘The exercise was set seven weeks into a severe pandemic outbreak and challenged the NHS to review its response to an overwhelmed service with reduced staff availability.’   

Cygnus was based on a virus similar to H2N2 influenza, which like COVID-19 causes deadly respiratory illness in patients. 

It pretended that the hypothetical virus had reported its first cases in South East Asia two months before. 

The infection had then arrived in the UK a month later via a group of travellers. 

It had not yet reached its peak in the researchers’ scenario, but the NHS was already ‘about to fall over’, according to the paper. 

Cygnus highlighted a terrifying lack of critical care beds, ventilators and general NHS capacity. 

It came at a time when Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was cutting beds.

The model also showed that the Government’s emergency messaging was not resonating with the public – similar to the situation Boris Johnson has found himself in this week. 

Boris Johnson is writing to every home in Britain warning them that they must stay home or suffer even more devastating consequences than we face now 

Mr Johnson is writing to every home in Britain warning them that they must stay home or suffer even more devastating consequences than we face now. 

The Government’s leading epidemiology advisor Professor Neil Ferguson yesterday warned Britons that they will need to stay indoors for a full three months to stem the spread of the virus. 

The Government’s leading epidemiology advisor Professor Neil Ferguson (pictured) yesterday warned Britons that they will need to stay indoors for a full three months to stem the spread of the virus 

Yesterday, the UK death toll reached 1,019, with more than 17,000 cases reported nationwide.  

Questions have been raised as to why Exercise Cygnus never saw the light of day.

One source, close to the Government at the time, said the results were ‘too terrifying’ to be made public.

They told the Telegraph: ‘It’s right to say that the NHS was stretched beyond breaking point [by Cygnus]. 

‘People might say we have blood on our hands, but the fact is that it’s always easier to manage the last outbreak than the one coming down the track. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.’ 

Although little can be found about it online, a very small number of local authorities mention the term ‘Cygnus’ in their contingency planning.   

These include Croydon Council’s ‘Pandemic Response Plan’ from earlier this month, Rotherham’s Health Protection annual report from 2016 and Northamptonshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board annual report from 2018.    

Yesterday, the UK death toll reached 1,019, with more than 17,000 cases reported nationwide

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How to join the NHS Volunteer Army during the pandemic

If you’re looking to help the UK’s frontline health workers during the coronavirus pandemic, here’s how to register for the NHS Volunteer Army. 

The biggest thing we can do for our NHS right now is stay at home. We can also stop panic-buying food, so that there is enough available for frontline health workers to buy after a shift. And at 8 pm on Thursday (26 March), we will all show our appreciation and respect for our NHS heroes by clapping in unison from our balconies, gardens and front doors.

Now, the government has shared a new way people can help: join the NHS Volunteer Army.

Health minister Matt Hancock made the announcement on Tuesday (24 March) during the Downing Street press conference. 

He said: “I know how worried people are and while this is a great time of turbulence, it is a moment too that the country can come together in that national effort.

“As the next step in that effort, today we launch NHS Volunteers. We are seeking a quarter of million volunteers – people in good health – to help the NHS, for shopping, in delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielded to protect their own health.”

Hancock also announced plans to transform London’s Excel Centre into an emergency hospital, known as the NHS Nightingale Hospital, with capacity to treat 4,000 coronavirus patients. 

And he confirmed that more than 11,700 retired doctors, nurses and health professional have returned to the NHS following a government appeal for medics to return to the frontline,

Here’s everything we know about the NHS Volunteer Army.

What is the NHS Volunteer Army?

The NHS is looking for up to 250,000 volunteers to help up to 1.5 million people who have been asked to shield themselves from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions.

GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff will be able to request help for at-risk patients via a call centre run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), who will match people who need help with nearby volunteers.

What will I do as an NHS volunteer?

According the NHS website, volunteers can be called on to do simple but vital tasks such as:

– delivering medicines from pharmacies

– driving patients to appointments

– bringing them home from hospital

– or making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home.

Who can join the NHS Volunteer Army?

Volunteers must be 18 or over, and fit and well with no symptoms. Those in higher-risk groups (including those over 70, those who are pregnant or with underlying medical conditions) will be able to offer support by telephone.

How do I sign up for NHS Volunteer Army?

You can sign up on the NHS Volunteer Responders website. Once you have registered and checks are complete you will be provided a log-in to the GoodSAM Responder app. Switch the app to ‘on duty’, and you’ll see live and local volunteer tasks to pick from nearby.

You can find more information on the NHS Volunteer Army and register here.

Images: Getty

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