Mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun
The Japanese don’t care to
The Chinese wouldn’t dare to
Hindus and Argentines sleep
Firmly from twelve to one – Noel Coward, Mad Dogs and Englishmen
I’m into my fifth day of quarantine in my Hong Kong Interim Bureau, nine left to go. The first few days have largely passed in a blur of jetlag, work and uncertainty about the future but as the sleep pattern has started to return so has a sense of balance.
Even from the confines of our small Tung Chung apartment I’m struck by the vast gulf in attitudes towards COVID-19 here from those held commonly in the UK, Continental Europe and, especially, the US.
It may be mandatory to don masks in public places here but one suspects that most people would insist on wearing one anyway. Battle-hardened from SARS in 2002 and 2003, the people of Hong Kong (as in much of Asia) know just how important such simple protection is, not just for themselves but for the safety of others.
We’re not allowed to take a single step outside our apartment (our electronic tags ensure we do not). Our food waste is collected from outside our door and any deliveries are born by mask-wearing staff who discreetly place the orders at the door. It’s just as it should be.
And yet I cast my mind back as recently as last weekend and a visit to our local village bakery in London. People queued up carefully outside, maintaining a marked-out 2-metre social distance before they were ushered in one by one.
One staff member (wearing a mask around her mouth but not her nose) placed the items I pointed to into a paper bag and then handed it to me to take to the till. There the assistant stood behind the counter with her mask dangling pathetically from her left ear like the PPE equivalent of an earring. What was she trying to protect? Her earlobe? It may have been difficult for a certain art master to wear a mask in a pandemic (below) but her version of mask-wearing protocol symbolised the stupefying ignorance of so many.
And then, yesterday, I read on the BBC that ‘sun-seekers’ had to be turned away as thousands descended on the English seaside towns of Bournemouth and Poole to visit their beaches on the UK’s hottest day of the year. I quote: By mid-afternoon, nearly all of the seven-mile stretch of beach between Poole Harbour and Highcliffe was marked as red on the council’s beach app, meaning ‘avoid, safe social distancing not possible’.
Dorset Council said car parks at Lulworth and Durdle Door, on the Jurassic Coast, were also full and urged visitors to go elsewhere.
Jurassic eh? That somehow seems appropriate. The Jurassic period (199.6 million to 145.5 million years ago, just slightly older than me) was synonymous with dinosaurs and we all know what eventually happened to them.
In the middle of a global pandemic that has killed over 46,000 people in the UK (the world’s fourth-highest death toll and the second-highest fatality rate per million people among the 100 worst-affected countries), thousands upon thousands decide to abandon all common sense in the interest of, yes you read it right, sun-seeking. In travel retail parlance it’s like a Buy One, Get One Free promotion – Get a tan and your complimentary coronavirus!
The madness is not, of course, confined to the UK. In Berlin, thousands of people took part yesterday in a protest against the country’s coronavirus restrictions. Demonstrators said that measures including the wearing of facemasks violated their rights and freedoms. Some held up banners proclaiming ‘Corona, false alarm’ and ‘We are being forced to wear a muzzle’.
Germany, thanks largely to prudent governmental measures, has been less affected by the pandemic than most of its near neighbours. Nonetheless it has recorded over 211,000 cases (and over a thousand yesterday) and more than 9,200 deaths. False alarm? Judge for yourself.
Then of course you have the madness in Washington. Not only has Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park reopened in Florida but the company appears to have launched a branch in the White House, judging by the Mickey Mouse behaviour going on there. Actually, there is little question that Donald Duck would have made a better fist of handling this crisis than Donald Trump (now there’s someone who should wear a muzzle), who himself looks as though he may have spent too much time on a Bournemouth beach. Roll up, roll up, get your hydroxychloroquine now from a snake oil salesman near you!
So rather than follow the example of the Mad Donalds and Englishmen, and go out maskless in the midday sun, I’ll take my chances with the good citizens of Hong Kong who see the mask not as a muzzle but as a way to keep themselves and others alive.