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View from Manchester: The right way to look after 'Number One'

Image credit: Ingram

Too many powerful types are blindly careening around in clown cars. Don’t let them run you down.

The US President seems focused on a spat with on social media as his country’s deaths due to Covid-19 pass 100,000. The British Prime Minister this morning (May 28) sent out a giggling Health Secretary to promote a track-and-trace project based on public trust, after having, according to one senior scientific adviser, “trashed” that trust. The launch also stumbled as the UK was rated as having the highest rate of deaths attributable to the virus.

All, well, maddening.

For a few brief hours yesterday, technology writers could embrace the increasingly rare prospect of writing about something other than this bloody virus. The landmark crewed Nasa/SpaceX mission seeded a lot of excitement across the tribe. Then though, they scrubbed the launch.

We still have Saturday (May 30). But notwithstanding the rescheduled launch, it did again feel like having something held tantalisingly before you only for it to be snatched away at the last moment. Some may claim this as good practice for what will now happen as the UK seeks to relax its lockdown.

That however doesn’t solve my immediate problem. With the anticipated Muskite respite on hold, what should this column be about?

Given everything that is swirling around, I think it needs to be about us. It usually is, perhaps, but here I mean that in a very personal way.

Right now, bad stuff seems to be arriving in increasing volume even as, thankfully, the overall rate of fatalities is slowing.

The lockdown has throughout been creating problems because of social isolation. Many of us are grieving for family and friends to whom we could never really say goodbye. Then, on top of all that, so much of that ‘bad stuff’ now coming along relates to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I’m not going to argue that the STEM factor here is first order. But it is perhaps incrementally dangerous. In so many of the cases where things are going wrong, people in our communities are cursed with being best able to see how and why – leading to reactions that include increasing frustration, anger and dismay.

They can see, for example, the promotion of suspect medical procedures (including almost certainly dangerous drugs and definitely dangerous ophthalmological diagnostics), the deployment of statistical sleight-of-hand (are UK PPE glove counts dictated by an uncommonly high number of manual unidexters in British healthcare?) and a resort to inexplicably dodgy data gathering practices (what good reason is there for NHS Test & Trace to hold personal information for 20 years?)

In the US, research just published by the federal Census Bureau found that a third of the adult population is exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or depression. For all the often-unhelpful talk of ‘stiff upper lips’ and ‘Blitz spirit’, it would not be surprising to hear similar numbers for the UK.

So think about yourself. We are all in it together (though there are some grounds to debate that), but there are also those things we need to manage individually and within our closest groups. Mental health is one of the most important.

The NHS has put together a list of things you can do to maintain mental wellbeing while staying at home (though it also looks useful for those now going back to work). It’s well worth your time – particularly since you are likely to have plenty of it.

Meanwhile tonight (May 28), BBC One will show a documentary on men’s mental health led by Prince William, and later make it available on the iPlayer. This is not a gender-specific issue, but it is the case that blokes are far less honest when it comes to acknowledging and addressing mental-health problems.

Right now, so many of us are signing off emails – and here an article – with the message: ‘Stay safe’. It’s worth remembering how broad that encouragement needs to be, and that in this case we really do need to practise what we preach in every sense.

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