Thursday. 5/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Shock resistant

Yesterday, London’s restaurants were doing a brisk trade, lunch spots had queues of people waiting for takeaways and shops were busy with customers making high-speed Christmas purchases. And today? Well, the city is back in lockdown – along with the rest of England – for at least four weeks. In March, when the first lockdown started, everything in the city closed overnight. Even businesses that were allowed to continue operating often decided that they would pull down the shutters and wait out the storm. It will be different this time.

From taxi drivers to shopkeepers, pub landlords to business owners, there’s a determination to keep things ticking over. This is not based on denial, nor a desire to ignore the rules. It’s just that people are learning to live with the virus and, importantly, have grown weary of scare tactics. Trying to frighten people to stay home, to not see friends, to not earn a living, is a manoeuvre that soon runs out of impact.

This week, MPs had the chance to quiz England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, as well as Patrick Vallance (pictured), the UK’s chief scientific advisor, about the data they presented last Saturday to justify the imposition of a new lockdown. A key focus of the MPs’ raised eyebrows was a petrifying suggestion that the country could be facing 4,000 coronavirus-related deaths every day in just a matter of weeks. It’s an outlier number that seems fanciful to many commentators and scientists who believe that it was given extra emphasis because it would scare people into accepting the lockdown.

During his questioning, Vallance apologised if the number had scared people. It is too late for that. Politicians, the media and the public are increasingly sceptical because they feel that they have been manipulated by misleading charts and the badly framed presentation of data. They want something that’s measured and treats them with respect.

This links to another story making the headlines today – the surprising performance of Donald Trump in the US presidential election. Although much of the focus in recent days has been on the risk of civil war, blood on the streets, culture wars, of coronavirus never being curtailed, it seems that more US voters than predicted by pollsters refused to focus on the scares and voted for something simpler: the promise of more money in their wallets.

Politics / Ivory Coast

State of paralysis

On the face of it, the Ivory Coast’s presidential election was decisive, with 94 per cent of voters in Saturday’s poll supporting the incumbent, Alassane Ouattara, for a third term. However, presidents in the West African nation are limited to a maximum of two terms. Although Ouattara argues that a constitutional change in 2016 means that his first term doesn’t count, the opposition parties urged their supporters to boycott the vote and have fiercely contested its result. Looming large is the spectre of the Ivory Coast’s 2010 election, when a disputed vote led to civil war, although experts believe that the country is unlikely to experience that level of violence again. “Ivory Coast could well remain trapped in the current political face-off for weeks,” Paul Melly, Francophone Africa specialist for Chatham House’s Africa Programme, tells the Monocle Minute. “A key factor will be how the mood evolves in the sprawling conurbation of Abidjan which, with more than 5.2 million people, is one of the largest cities in West Africa.”

Diplomacy / South Korea

Border town

Panmunjom, a village established after the Korean War in the demilitarised zone on the border between South Korea and North Korea, will partially reopen to visitors on Friday. The area, which is a favoured crossing point for those seeking to flee the north, has been shut for more than a year due to an outbreak of African swine fever – and then, of course, coronavirus.

South Korea’s unification minister, Lee In-young, seized on the occasion to call on North Korea to restore suspended communication channels between the two nations, which were cut by Pyongyang in June, and to resume the reunion of families separated by the war. His remarks came just a couple of hours after a North Korean man was detained by South Korea’s military after crossing the border on Tuesday night. Perhaps Friday’s reopening will pave the way for more co-operation between the two nations.

Politics / Brazil

Winning ticket

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are facing hard-fought mayoral elections on 15 November but in one of Brazil’s largest regional capitals, [Belo Horizonte] (https://monocle.com/magazine/issues/41/hello-from-belo/), the winner looks set to be a shoo-in. According to the latest polls, incumbent mayor Alexandre Kalil (pictured) is on course to be re-elected with more than 60 per cent of the vote, which is quite a feat considering Brazil’s volatile political arena and the fact that he faces 14 rival candidates. His success is partly down to the efficient handling of coronavirus by the city, which has had a lower average death rate than much of the country. He’s also benefited from introducing swift measures to fix perennial flood problems. The former president of a Belo Horizonte football club, Kalil has created bonds with the city’s diverse residents, whether by attending the gay-pride march or maintaning good relations with the evangelical community. Perhaps that’s the secret to doing well in a country that’s been increasingly divided politically in recent years.

Culture / USA

Escape artists

Watching hour after hour of election coverage has exhausted most viewers in the US and beyond, which is why New York-based Fridman Gallery and the Wide Awakes has created a different kind of livestream. Until midnight on Thursday, the gallery is hosting a number of artists on its website to engage in (increasingly rare) “joyful expressions of activism”. It’s one of the many events organised by US cultural institutions this week, listed as part of a report by The Art Newspaper, to take the pressure off what’s going to be a pretty nail-biting few days. Fancy some culturally engaged diversion? The National Jazz Museum in Harlem is presenting a Jazz and Social Justice talk tonight, while Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum is hosting a guided meditation session – which you might well feel that you really need right now.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Product-design highlights

What do architects, outdoor enthusiasts and kitchenware specialists have in common? They all make great product designers. For proof, we check out David Chipperfield’s new suitcase, Japanese brand Snow Peak’s tasteful tents and share some inspiration from Switzerland’s V-Zug.

Monocle Films / Georgia

Tsinandali tunes

The first edition of a Georgian festival that’s bringing together musicians from the Caucasus to discuss their shared future.

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