Monday, 1 June 2020

May: the first easing of the lockdown

Living through a plague is something very few people experience, so I am hoping to summarise our progress at the end of each month:
At the beginning of the month Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK was “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak and “we are on a downward slope," acknowledging that every mountaineer knows that this is often the most dangerous part of the climb!
As Amanda said in the MEI Online newsletter of May 7th, we at MEI would like to thank you for all your support during this tough time. With over 38,000 Covid-19 deaths in the UK our privations are miniscule compared with the sufferings of many people and businesses, but MEI is a small family business, and the decisions we've had to make in the last few weeks will impact on us for some time to come.  Knowing that we are part of a larger, wonderful community, made up of people from all over the world, helps us to remain positive, and the many messages we've received have made us feel a little less isolated, so thank you.
We are fortunate, however, to live in one of the most beautiful areas of the world and our spirits have been uplifted by long walks on the Falmouth coastal path, all the time observing social distancing. 
There was certainly no social distancing on May 8th 1945, when crowds poured out onto the streets of Britain to celebrate Victory in Europe (VE) day. It was a much more muted celebration 75 years on, and in her second televised address to the nation during the pandemic the Queen praised the nation's lockdown spirit and urged Britain to "never give up, never despair" and to draw inspiration from how those dark days of WW2 were overcome.
Two days after the Queen's broadcast, Boris Johnson addressed the nation and set out his "conditional plan"for a gradual exit from the lockdown, encouraging those who cannot work from home to return to workplaces in order to kick-start the economy of the UK, which is now heading towards its worst recession since 1706 in the reign of Queen Anne. The gradual exit allowed us to spend unlimited time out of doors, and within days the Falmouth beaches began to take on their pre-virus look, as we "held our breaths" hoping that there would not be a consequential increase in infection rate (or the R number, which must be maintained below a value of 1).

Falmouth beaches 25th May
Relaxing the rules regarding distances that can be travelled to beauty spots has led to worries that the virus will be brought into remote and attractive areas such as Cornwall and the "normal" beach scenes have contributed to a feeling among many that the crisis is over and that social distancing can be relaxed. The Government's messages have unfortunately not been particularly clear, highlighted by the PM's ludicrous equation for the virus threat, which he proudly revealed in his address to the nation:
Even a 10-year old would see that this is nonsense, as C is between 1 and 5, R should be below 1, and N is hundreds of thousands!
In truth the Government has shown remarkable ineptitude in dealing with all aspects of the pandemic, culminating last week with many Conservative MPs calling for the resignation of the PM's chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, after it emerged that he had travelled to Durham from London with his family during the lockdown when his wife had coronavirus symptoms. As Cummings was a major force behind the "stay at home" message, his actions were met with almost universal condemnation, an insult to many people, including those who have not been allowed to leave home to be with dying loved-ones or to attend their funerals. However, not surprisingly, many cabinet ministers flocked to his defence and in a dismal press conference that totally failed to allay concerns the PM insisted that Cummings had acted "reasonably, legally and with integrity." The following day's hour long grilling of Cummings from an angry press did little to calm the general feeling, but it did lead to senior ministers digging enough holes to fill the Albert Hall while pathetically attempting to justify his actions. At the time of writing Cummings remains in his post, and for once Boris has unfortunately not performed one of his famous U-turns.
(Peter Brookes The Times, 22nd May)
MEI's major decision this month was the cancellation of our October conferences in Cape Town.  Most international events for this year are now either postponed or cancelled, including the International Mineral Processing Congress (IMPC) scheduled for October in Cape Town, the first time in the 68 year history of IMPC that a congress has had to be rescheduled. The XXX IMPC will now be held in Cape Town in April next year, an unfortunate and surprising clash with MEI's Comminution conference, which was postponed eight weeks earlier. However, we are working with the IMPC to bring these two events together successfully over a single week in Cape Town, knowing that when air travel becomes viable again it is likely to be more expensive than in pre-Coronavirus days.
Cape Town and South Africa in general had a very severe lockdown imposed, with even a ban on the sale of tobacco and alcohol. Now the lockdown is being eased, and concerned about the possibility of multiple mine closures, and inactive mines becoming potential safety risks, the South African government had already permitted all mines to operate at 50% capacity as of April 16, and by 1 May open cast mines were able to operate at 100% capacity, while underground mines remained at 50%. The decision was not easy, however, as work on a mine poses inherent challenges to social distancing, especially underground where it is near impossible, and towards the end of the month some operations were forced to close again due to an increase in infection rate.
And finally some good news. Captain Tom Moore, the war veteran who raised more than £32m for NHS charities by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday this month, was "overawed" to find that he was being awarded a knighthood for his fundraising efforts. He will be formally known as Captain Sir Thomas Moore, and PM Boris Johnson said the veteran had provided the country with "a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus".
Let's hope that easing of lockdown, which will be relaxed further from today, has not been premature and that there will be more good news in June to light up our lives.

1 comment:

  1. Barry,
    I have no words to thank you for such wonderful positive narration; hope all take it as something beyond anyone's imagination and suffering. The scars will remain but we and young generation may learn many lessons on how to relook at our ways and on how to plan the future apart from how to avoid such things coming and spreading so fast.
    For Mineral Engineering community, MEI is very close to heart and we deeply appreciate you and your TEAM for all you people did to keep our morale also up and not to loose focus on our profession. Hope some new ideas will come out in our practices.


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