By ProgBlog, Dec 15 2020 07:43PM
Christmas 2020 looks like being a very different celebration this year, coming after more than ten months of grappling with SARS-CoV-2. There’s nothing at all good about Covid-19 with more than 68 million cases worldwide and over 1.5 million deaths (as of 10/12/20); it has exposed a failure to prepare for a pandemic and the shortcomings of some of our world leaders; name-calling and displays of patriotism were never statesmanlike but in the current crisis, even less so. If there’s one silver lining to the cloud, it’s exemplified by the collaborative approach to firstly designing test kits to detect presence of Covid-19, and then producing effective vaccines against this coronavirus. The novel mRNA vaccine should give hope to anyone suffering from a range of other existing diseases that don’t yet attract funding for vaccine research.
For those who value ‘the economy’ over an individual’s wellbeing, the salutary lesson is that an economy only functions when people have jobs and their earnings are used to buy things, so everyone’s wellbeing should be the highest priority. Global interest rates are so low it doesn’t matter how much a government borrows to secure the livelihood of its citizens but some nations, like the UK, have staggered from one policy to the next with a dogmatic myopia, arguing over pennies for food vouchers and haggling over a rise in income support while handing out billions to unqualified friends without the usual scrutiny. Can anyone be surprised that these ‘jobs for the boys’ have proved a gargantuan waste of money?
Though a vaccine is obviously going to be the most important measure to eradicate the virus, the simple things like hand sanitation, face coverings and social spacing still have a crucial role to play, as does clear communication of a long-term strategy and the political will to make difficult choices. Here in the UK, the nationwide Christmas amnesty from the Covid-19 restrictions is possibly the most foolhardy idea the government has come up with, following on from a late initial lockdown, an early lifting of restrictions (largely due to the erosion of the good will and understanding of the general population following Johnson’s unwillingness to sack Dominic Cummings after a clear breach of the regulations at the time), the tiers which didn’t work, and the delayed second lockdown.
The government is looking for a boost from an elusive feel good factor even though only 10% of the population think government regulations are too harsh (49% thought they weren’t strict enough) but when guidelines are eased, the rate of infection increases, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s gamble reward our endurance and coincidentally help the hospitality sector has only proved to be an expensive way to help spread the virus. With unprecedented job losses taking money out of the economy and uncertainty surrounding the control of the virus, Christmas preparations have been delayed and any window of opportunity to hit the streets to shop has highlighted our inability to follow the most basic public health instructions.
Recent communal Eid and Diwali celebrations were suspended, so why are we relaxing rules for Christmas gatherings during a second spike of the disease when we’re pretty sure it will lead to a third spike? There will be many parents genuinely unable to pay for presents and a large number who will still buy gifts they can’t afford, not through fecklessness, but because Covid-19 arrived on the back of 10 years of austerity; Conservatives pursued austerity policies and the current administration is filled with neoliberal zealots who are totally incapable of handling the pandemic, a Cabinet tied to the notion that Christmas spending will somehow save the economy.
I'm not religious but I accept that some people ascribe meaning to this time of year although their belief is being trampled by the out-of-control machine dedicated to profit. The hostilities between parties advocating the commercialisation of Christmas and traditionalists pushing their views on religious significance has been raging since the height of the cold war, when the ideological conflict was being fought over consumer goods as much as the race to over-stock with nuclear arms. Fifty years ago, the West fought dirty with propaganda directed at housewives, seducing them with a wide range of appliances and products on supermarket shelves that they were obviously unable to live without. The East failed to deliver promised social equality because money was poured into the military-industrial complex rather than into basics. Despite, or rather because of planned obsolescence, the West won the day, granting us the power to consume. Then along comes 2020’s Covid pandemic which seems to have defeated the proponents of consumerism and left the Church searching for answers.
The live music industry has ground to a halt. I managed to attend two events in Genoa, the Porto Antico Prog Fest in July, just as the UK was emerging from lockdown and Italy had shown that it was possible to overcome the first wave of the pandemic with a strict lockdown, and the Abracadabra Festival in September, just before the UK had to impose tiers of restrictions and the Italians hadn’t quite started their second spike. It was a relief that musicians could continue to write, record and release new music, but promoting new material is reliant on gigs. Live music has its own economy which creates billions for the exchequer, a workforce behind the bands and a network of venues, all of which had to be closed. It’s ironic that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport were holding a select committee inquiry into the economics of music streaming while artists and support staff have not been provided with any sort of bail-out because of the way they slip between the holes in the safety net.
I wouldn’t suggest it’s unreasonable to ban concerts and other forms of human congregation because this is a measure that will save lives. The unacceptable cost of restricting our normal behaviour is when lockdown results in a loss of income for workers, ignoring the very real concerns of millions of self-employed and those on zero hour contracts, and anyone that doesn’t fall under the key worker banner. Many musicians fall into this category, as do others working in the industry such as road crew and studio technicians. Sunak’s forced U-turns on support are an indication that he cares more about the state of the country’s finances more than he does for the people who generate the wealth and when he reluctantly concedes ground, he is still far less generous than the finance ministers of most major economies and incapable of ensuring money goes to the people who need it.
What am I wishing for this year? A solution to the pandemic, full financial support for sectors forced to close along with anyone who has lost their job or is unable to perform their normal work due to Covid-19, and peace on earth (yes, really!)
To the government: Save livelihoods. Save lives. The economy will then take care of itself.
I wish everyone else the best Christmas possible under very difficult circumstances.