Monday. 19/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

A simple question – how does this end?

  1. In the coming months we get a vaccine or vaccines that halt the pandemic. Even the most ambitious voices suggest that, presuming they work, they will not be widely available until spring or summer 2021 and that even in wealthy countries a limited rollout could take months. But governments are not even planning for this to occur. In the UK the head of the vaccine task force has made it clear that vaccinating everyone “is not going to happen”. If successful, says Kate Bingham, it will be “an adult-only vaccine for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care-home workers and the vulnerable”. One other wrinkle? Ask your friends if they would have the vaccine: it’s staggering how opposed people are to a fast-tracked drug. Not conspiracy theorists, just sane people who would refuse the offer and take their chances.

  2. The virus will burn out. Maybe. The 1918 flu was at its most brutal over three waves and two years. But the virus did not vanish for decades. And few believe that coronavirus will mutate and weaken any time soon. Live in New Zealand? Waiting for Covid to disappear before you come back into the world? Let’s be clear, there’s no need to renew your passport.

  3. Mask wearing, track-and-trace measures, quarantines and mitigating drugs will beat the virus and let us move on. Again unlikely in the short-term as track-and-trace measures are routinely ignored and poorly run in many nations. In an interview in The Sunday Times, Devi Sridhar, one of the UK’s foremost experts on global health, was asked when the pandemic would ease with all of the above to hand: “I’m looking ahead to 2024, maybe 2023 ... we’re in this for the long haul.” Lockdowns and masks do offer some control of the virus and so we could face years of them being the go-to solutions – and only giving temporary respites.

  4. We will achieve “herd immunity”. In cities where there has been widespread exposure to the virus, such as London, some suggest that the number of people with antibodies could be as high as 17 per cent. But you need closer to 60 per cent to achieve real herd immunity (of course, vaccinations would add to the numbers of people with antibodies). Plus, it’s unclear how long immunity lasts. And on top of that more people would die in the pursuit of herd immunity, so governments are panicked at its very mention.

So when will it end? Not soon. And that’s why people are increasingly divided between those who see the risk and believe we need to live with it somehow and those who say the world as we knew it has passed and we have to accept new controls to protect the vulnerable. It’s a divide that will grow – and less along political lines – as people join one camp or the other (it’s hard to see healthy young people still sitting in sporadic lockdowns come 2024). But this is why we need to be honest, stop pretending that any of our governments have all the answers, stop thinking that things will surely be fine after spring or in a year, and ask what we want from our lives and how much risk is acceptable for us and the people close to us. It’s a difficult question but the only one that – whatever your views – frees you from the daily panic and prepares you for what’s ahead.

Elections / USA

Post haste

Election day in the US might be two weeks from tomorrow but a record number of Americans have already cast their ballots. According to the US Election Project, an independent monitor of voter turnout, nearly 20 million have already been cast – the highest level on record for a presidential election – and more than 80 million mail-in ballots have been requested. This is despite glitches in some voting systems, long wait times at some polling stations and Donald Trump’s attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of voting by mail. The president’s view stands in sharp contrast to that of Joe Biden, who has made voting early a key rallying cry. Given that Trump’s 2016 victory rested on wafer-thin wins in swing states, a strong early turnout among Democrats and depressed voting from Republicans could blot out those narrow margins. A clear result could also make it harder for Trump to avoid what he reluctantly committed to last week – the peaceful transfer of power.

Politics / EU

Brexit means Brexit

EU leaders concluded a summit last week with promises of closer co-operation to address the pandemic, including the EU-wide dissemination of a vaccine and the recognition of national testing results – but issues such as quarantines and border policy will remain in national hands. The talk of greater EU co-operation stood in contrast to the (barely) ongoing and fraught Brexit negotiations.

Germany’s Angela Merkel expressed hope of a last-minute deal that would spare both sides the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit on top of the pandemic at the end of the year – but few in Brussels seem to be listening. Boris Johnson says that the UK will “get ready” for an Australia-style arrangement “based on simple principles of global free trade”. Blame games aside, a deal requires two willing parties. For the moment, a last-minute turnaround in the next two weeks looks increasingly unlikely.

Culture / Ukraine

Proud of their ’roots

The Unesco Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage have a mandate to promote and protect the kind of cultural practices and traditions that can’t be kept safely under lock and key. These range from the Mitteleuropean practice of Alpinism to the whistled language of northern Turkey. Earlier this month, Ukrainian authorities announced plans to make a bid for the inclusion of that eastern European beetroot-soup staple, borscht. Although the flavour of this application might be a source of national pride, it’s also a matter of international rivalry. Russia has been making claims on borscht (as has Poland, for that matter) and the last thing that Ukraine wants is a culinary annexation. “To establish the authenticity of anything is fraught with problems,” Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “But the amount of regional varieties that we have in Ukraine indicates how intrinsic it is to our identity. It is a Ukrainian national dish,” she insisted. Soft power indeed.

Fashion / Norway

In vogue

Norway will be opening a National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo in the spring. The new 50,000 sq metre space on the waterfront will include the establishment of the first-ever International Library of Fashion Research. The repository includes more than 5,000 print materials dating from 1975 to today, including magazines, books, catalogues, lookbooks, posters and sketches from the likes of Hermès, Issey and Gucci, as well as independent labels. It is the brainchild of Elise Olsen (pictured), a 21-year-old Norwegian editor and publisher in Oslo. And if you can’t wait until next year to trawl through the archive, you’re in luck: the entire collection has been digitised and went live last week. Olsen’s hope is that the collection will continue to grow through donations, building “a free, globally accessible resource for fashion researchers, industry professionals and amateur enthusiasts”. The launch of the digital library makes a good start.

M24 / The Menu

Food for good

How one catering company found success by hiring ex-convicts as employees. Plus, why Ravinder Bhogal’s Jikoni restaurant declares itself proudly inauthentic.

M24 / The Stack

‘The Opening of the American Mind’, The Information and ‘Point.51’

We talk to the team behind ‘The Point’ magazine about their new book, ‘The Opening of The American Mind’. Plus Jessica Lessin, editor in chief of The Information website and Rob Pinney from ‘Point.51’ magazine.

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