- 19 Feb 21
Well, not cholera exactly. Covid-19 has been ravaging the planet. The performance of the authorities in battling it has frequently left a lot to be desired. Workers, businesses, and especially musicians and artists are suffering. And yet the vaccination campaign is proceeding at a funereal pace. In response, our best option is to look forward and prepare for the new dawn when it comes. It seemed like a good moment for a new logo that would take us powerfully into the future... Illustration by David Rooney.
Let’s be honest: we are still slap bang in the middle of a monumental, unfolding, global disaster. I remember during the early days of the pandemic nailing my colours firmly to the mast. l opened this column in what was a special Lockdown Edition of Hot Press with a full-frontal declaration: I hate Covid-19.
And sadly, we are still in the same boat more or less.
I don’t generally do hate. I know that it’s a futile emotion and most of the time I put the feeling to one side. Keep a smile on my face. Get on with things. But then I hear about the torture friends are going through: out of work, their income is gone and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
I can understand the frustration, and the anger that they feel.
So you can understand why it irked me greatly when, over the past year, I heard people begin sentences with the phrase ‘What’s good about the lockdown…’ Maybe they’re just grasping at straws. But there is no excuse for it really. The phrase should be wiped from our collective vocabulary. There is nothing ‘good’ about something that has inflicted untold misery, and will inflict more yet.
What tends to follow that opening gambit are platitudes about hopping off the treadmill; how much easier it is working from home; getting in touch with our spirituality; appreciating the simpler things in life; enjoying closer contact with nature; and generally being a goody-two-shoes, saving the planet.
Which is all very well, as long as the pay cheques keep rolling in.
Meanwhile, the appalling toll of the virus continues to escalate alarmingly. To date, in case you’ve been losing touch, there have been almost 110 million cases globally – and that’s just the ones that have been reported. Close to 2.5 million people have died. The seven-day moving average of new cases is just under 400,000. Deaths across the world every 24 hours, meanwhile, are running at just under 12,000.
It is not a pretty picture.
Bizarrely, the worst places in the world for deaths per 100,000 are a couple of ‘protectorates’ – Gibraltar, which is, of course, aligned in some twisted, arcane and altogether ridiculous form with the UK; and San Marino, a weird little statelet within Italy, the existence of which has to be based on some nexus of tax avoidance and Catholic Church chicanery. In these two deeply suspect little bolt-holes, the death rate per million stands at 2,583 and 2,119 respectively.
I’m sure that a high proportion of those who died are in their 80s and 90s. But it doesn’t make the figures any more palatable. By most standards, these places are stinking rich. They could and should have done better.
Things are rough in the Czech Republic, where deaths per 1million stand at 1,702. Belgium, Portugal, Hungary and Bulgaria have all fared badly. The same goes for Italy, Spain and France. But all of those countries – who can be accused of failing their citizens to one degree or another – have been outdone in their failure to avoid calamity by two of the richest countries in the world, the UK and the USA.
In the UK, the acknowledged level of deaths per million of the population so far stands at 1,724. But that is just the Government-approved number. The process of tracking the real death rate has been complicated latterly by a significant drop in the number of deaths due to influenza – in Ireland, for example, there has been zero incidence of flu over the winter months, suppressing the number of ‘excess deaths’ in this country enormously. The same, or something like it, will have happened in the UK.
At one point, the true figure for deaths in the UK was 50% above what the Government was claiming. The differential is not as high now – but the reality is that the true figure for Covid-related mortality is likely to be as much as 20% higher than the figure declared by the UK government. That would push the number per 1million up over 2,000, making Britain the worst fully-fledged nation in the world for Covid deaths. Which, indeed, in truth it has been for a long time.
Meanwhile, we are all aware of the Covid horror show created by the US government under Donald Trump. There have been almost 30 million cases in the US – not far off 10% of the entire population. There may be a few small countries where the daily death rate is higher, on a per capita basis, at the moment, but – at circa 900 – by far the highest number of daily deaths is being recorded in the richest country in the world, the United States of America.
You cannot get away from the fact that unnecessary deaths are a tragedy for everyone close to the bereaved. The Lancet has estimated that 40% of the deaths in the US to date could have a been avoided – that’s 200,000 of the half a million deaths that have occurred there so far. The picture in the UK is as bad, or perhaps worse, suggesting that as many as 48,000 deaths might have been avoided if Boris Johnson’s government had not made such a complete hames of the whole business. And yet there was an article in the Guardian, about Valentine’s Day last week, offering the view that the world is full of love right now!
Tell that to the people of Myanmar.
NEAR BREAKING POINT
The view that this madness may in some way have been good for us is generally offered by privileged, middle-class people who are to one degree or another cosseted from the impact of the Coronavirus by their employment status.
There are people working in multi-nationals – in Pharma or Tech, say – whose livelihoods, lifestyles and creature comforts have been largely unaffected by the impact of the lockdowns. In fact this is true of a significant swathe of Irish society. Members of An Garda Síochána, for example, are faring okay. They may or may not be doing quite as much overtime as usual. But that’s a detail.
They don’t have to worry about the bank knocking at the door, looking for the keys to the houses that they bought in good faith and now can’t afford to pay for. They won’t have to get up in the morning, wondering how to fill in the day, when all the normal avenues of work have been closed down.
They don’t have a clue what it is like for the owners, managers and staff of restaurants, cafés and bars, closing down, opening up, closing down, opening up, and being closed down again. How could they? For many, the realisation is dawning that the businesses they spent five, ten, fifteen or more years building and nurturing might never re-open. That it could be game over. That the staff are out of work. That the business is finished.
This is happening in hospitality. It is also happening in music. All of the language coming from the Department of Health, NPHET and the Government suggests that, for the second year running, we can write off the summer festival season. Bands, artists and promoters are left in a quandary. They have been endlessly pushing dates and tours back, rescheduling them as best they can. All of that takes time, effort and resources. And then they have to repeat the exercise. Some of them are currently on their third or fourth run at it. For many, the noose is tightening. There is only so long they can go on. An entire industry is in peril.
The Department of Tourism, Culture, the Gaeltacht, Sport and Media will spread the resources they have been given as effectively as they can. They are determined to do the right thing. But it is a thoroughly thankless task: the stark reality is that the money they have been allocated is not remotely enough to keep everyone in the live music industry afloat. They can only do so much.
People do understand: the Government is faced with impossible choices. But there is no getting away from the core fact that normally hard-working, committed, productive people are being prevented from earning a living on the advice of NPHET. That advice is probably right in most respects from a public health perspective. But that doesn’t diminish the massive injustice of it all. Nor does it ameliorate the growing feeling that we have been let down by the Department of Health and by NPHET in relation to vaccinations.
There is no issue with the fact that we decided to be part of the EU vaccination programme when we did. It seemed like a sensible call. And the EU was lethargic in its responses.
But, we were subsequently among the slowest in Europe to get the vaccination programme underway. As a result, according to Euro News, we are currently in 23rd place in Europe, in terms of the number of vaccines administered. We are 11th in the European league in terms of the percentage of the population fully vaccinated.
Why are Malta so far ahead of us, at 3.6% against our 1.9%, in that index? The fact that Northern Ireland is operating at a different pace, as part of the UK vaccination programme – the one area where they got it right – exposes our performance to an even harsher light. But it does also beg the question: were we not talking to the health authorities there when we needed to? Were we not aware how far ahead they were likely to be?
Should Tony Holohan, Cillian de Gascun, Colm Henry – and all the rest – not have been as demanding in relation to all of this as NPHET have been about shutting businesses down? Would it not have been right to look beyond the EU programme – as some other countries have done – to source vaccines, if that was what was needed to keep pace with Northern Ireland?
I don’t have all the answers. No one does. But what I can say is that a huge number of people are at, or very near, breaking point. They need more than words. They need solidarity in the proper meaning of the term. And ideally they need to see solutions coming from those people who are also dictating the terms – particularly in relation to securing a bigger supply of vaccines. Right now, the idea that the vaccination programme is going to take until the end of September to complete seems crazy. We have to find a way of doing better.
BRAND NEW LOGO
Meanwhile, life does go on. We have to stay on our toes. Keep doing the right thing, in as much as we can.
The main source of hope – and joy – right now is that people have continued, in spite of the appalling situation unfolding around them, to do new, interesting and often brilliant things, and where possible to spread the love, helping in the process to tip the scales back even a little bit towards some sense of balance.
The human spirit is a wonderful thing. There is great kindness in the world. There is great creativity too, and an urgent desire, widely felt, to map a way forward. Individuals, artists, musicians, companies have all dug deeper.
We have been about that business here in Hot Press too, in numerous different ways. It is true that you can often see people’s goodness more clearly in a time of emergency. And you can see their resilience. On occasion it is very moving, opening a book, listening to a record or watching a film that has been produced, and achieves greatness, against the prevailing odds. That, now, is the name of the game.
There is a future – elsewhere in this issue, The Whole Hog strikes a far more upbeat note in that regard. It is what we feel too in HP central. The truth is that we have so many ideas jostling for priority. So many good things that we want and need to do. So much to look forward to making happen, and happen brilliantly, in a rapidly changing world.
With all of that held firmly in our hearts and on our minds, we figured that it was a good time both to reassert our values – and to make an important change. And so, in this issue, after all of 13 years with our familiar Hot Press badge in the top left hand corner of the front cover, we have unveiled a brand new logo as a statement of intent.
There is more on the history of Hot Press logos elsewhere in the issue. Here, I just want to say a big thanks to our art director Eimear O’Connor, who is the chief architect of this change, for the brilliant work she put into orchestrating what we believe is a powerful move – the right move – forward into the future.
To paraphrase the man who wrote ‘Zoo Station’, with our new logo on, we’re ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal, we’re ready to let go of the steering wheel, we’re ready – for what’s next.
Fasten your seat belts...