Covid-19 Watch: The Curve Steepens

Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal – www.alan-whiteside.com

Red text indicates figures or information will change. Bold text indicates a key point.

Introduction

I believe there are, at last, signs of hope in some of the data. My sense of optimism is, of course, helped by the weather and the advancing spring in Norwich. Mornings begin with a wonderful dawn chorus, quite unlike South Africa’s raucous hadedas. In the UK the chorus is begun by a robin, joined by blackbirds and many other species. In addition, the garden is full of daffodils, sadly just past their peak.

“I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” – William Wordsworth

On 4th March, the Johns Hopkins website reported 93,000 Covid cases, mostly in China. A week later, on 11th March, there were nearly 120,000 cases. China still had the largest number but only a slight increase. By Wednesday 18th March there were 201,530 cases. On 25th March there were 423,121. On the morning of 1st April there were 860,793 cases. The global doubling time is a little less than a week. There are excellent websites tracking the epidemic.1

I will begin with a review of the data and key responses, providing references. We need to be aware that science and medicine are not infallible. I will return to this. In 1976 when Ivan Illich published ‘Medical nemesis: the expropriation of health’.2 He stated:

“The medical establishment has become a major threat to health. The disabling impact of professional control over medicine has reached the proportions of an epidemic. Iatrogenesis, the name for this new epidemic, comes from iatros, the Greek word for physician, and genesis, meaning origin.”

This theme featured in the 2008 WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health3 and excellent analysis by academics Wilkinson and Marmot.4 But when a house is burning it is not the time to debate the diameter of the fire hoses or source of the water.

The Numbers

As of 9 am, on 1st April 2020 the Johns Hopkins website recorded 860,793 infections globally. I urge readers to look at the website. The country leading the count is the United States with an astonishing 189,633 cases, Italy is second (105,792), then comes Spain (95,923), China has slipped to fourth place with 82,301 cases.

There are still currently three main global centres in this epidemic. First is China and its neighbours, the second is Western Europe and the third is the United States. Turning to discuss these, it must be remembered that numbers are political. People have to be tested to be counted.

Asia

China’s data indicates it has contained the epidemic. When this communique was first published on 4th March there were 80,270 cases in China four weeks later there are barely 2,000 more. Do we believe this? Last week I quoted sceptical academic Ho-fung Hung:

“With the cover-up in December and January we really cannot trust the numbers from the Chinese government without more credible and solid evidence to verify.”

It would be good to see some critical analysis.

South Korea has 9,887 cases, a small increase on last week’s 9,037 reported cases, and continues its extensive testing and tracking. Japan had 1,140 cases last week and 2,178 this week, meaning the doubling time is just over a week. It would seem the epidemic is mostly under control in this part of Asia. However here, and indeed everywhere, “eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty”).5

In the rest of the region Malaysia has 2,766 cases (last week 1,624), and Australia 4,709 (2,044), and Thailand 1,770. Most other countries have lower numbers, but each needs to be doing their own epidemiological analysis and monitoring their situations. The largest country in the region, India reported just 511 cases on 25th March, but today has more than three times that number at 1,590. This will need careful examination.

Europe

The situation in parts of Europe remains dire. Italy has the most cases with 105,792 (69,176 last week) Spain has 95,923 cases (42,058). Germany has about 72,000 and France about 53,000. The United Kingdom has 25,481 cases, nearly three times as many as a week ago (8,164). Hospitals in Italy and Spain are overwhelmed. All over Europe temporary hospitals are being erected in repurposed buildings such as exhibition centres and sports halls. In London, the ExCel centre in Docklands is being turned into a field hospital capable of looking after up to 4,000 patients.6 Similar initiatives are underway in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

There are almost uniform and incredibly stringent lockdowns in place. The only shops open are pharmacies and food shops (and those that can claim to be selling essential goods, not sports equipment as Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct, claimed. He had to back down and issue a public apology).7 There are no entertainment venues and British police were found to be operating in a heavy-handed way in admonishing walkers in the open country in Derbyshire.

“Derbyshire Police was accused of “shaming” those who headed to the beauty spot amid a UK-wide lockdown. Former Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption branded it “disgraceful”, arguing officers had no power to “to enforce ministers’ preferences”. … Chief constable Peter Goodman … said it was “right that there is no power to stop people going walking in the country … he agreed with Lord Sumption that “the separation of state from policing is really important in a democratic society”.8

There is one exception to this lock down and that is Sweden. The schools, gyms, bars, restaurants and shops remain open. Public transport is moving. The government has advised there should not be gatherings of more than 50, people are to avoid social contact if over 70 or ill, try to work from home, and bars and restaurants must provide table service. The prime minister, Stefan Löfven, has urged Swedes to behave “as adults” and not to spread “panic or rumours”.9 It will be interesting to see if this advice changes and what the different European epidemics will look like.

Africa

The low numbers continue to surprise. On 1st April there were still no cases reported from Western Sahara, Southern Sudan, Malawi and Lesotho. The most African cases are in South Africa with 1,353 Cases (554 last week) followed Algeria with 715 (230) and Egypt with 710 (366), Nigeria only reports 139 (40). Possible answers suggested last week are:

  • The continent and countries are lagging in the spread of the epidemic and case development. It is less connected to the outside world by air transport.
  • The failure to find and report cases, especially given weak health systems, inadequate surveillance, little laboratory capacity and limited public health infrastructure.
  • Climatic conditions are less conducive to the spread of Covid-19.10

This demands further analysis which I will include next week.

The Americas

South and Central America still have low numbers of cases. Brazil leads with 5,812 cases (1,980) followed Chile at 2,738 (922) and Ecuador at 2,302 (1,049).

The numbers from North America are astonishing. The USA is now first in global rankings with 189,633 cases (46,805 a week ago). The largest numbers are on the east and west coasts with significant occurrences in the midwest. Canada has 8,591 (2,088) cases and Mexico 1,295 (367). Viruses don’t respect borders although controlling movement is a sensible containment policy. US citizens should definitely remain at home.

The glimmer of hope has been in the apparent change of heart of Donald Trump. Initially he did not believe in the virus (shades of Thabo Mbeki and HIV as well documented by Kerry Cullinan).11 He was variously reported as saying ‘we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China’ on the 22nd January. On the 26th February he said, ‘The 15 cases within a couple of days is going to be close to zero’. On 27th March the Guardian wrote: “Trump’s narcissism has taken a new twist. And now he has American blood on his hands”. The quote went on:

‘“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” he tweeted in caps lock at the start of the week, shortly after Steve Hilton, one-time adviser to David Cameron, had made that same argument on his Fox News show. … Trump and his outriders contend that, while mass death is not ideal, it’s better than allowing the US economy to stall.’12

Epidemic responses

The health services around the world are rightly being applauded by the populations they serve. They are putting their lives on the line. They are more likely to be infected given they are exposed for longer and with more intensity. Their lives are being lost.

Testing, prevention and treatment

There is a test which shows if people are currently infected. If anyone, but especially a health worker has this test, is infected and recovers, they can assume they will have immunity for a period (we don’t yet know how much or for how long). These are not readily available, even for health professionals, an issue that excises the media in the UK. Some countries are reported to do much more testing, Germany is among them.

As noted previously (fortunately) most people only have mild symptoms, so may not be recorded as having had Covid-19. That means epidemiologists do not know how big the at-risk population is. A simple antibody test to check for immunity would be a “game changer”. At the time of writing it seems that the launch of such an antibody test is imminent. The Telegraph reported on 1st April:

“The Government has announced that Britons will be able to conduct coronavirus antibody tests at home, with finger-prick kits that will be available from Amazon and Boots.”

The UK has purchased 3.5 million of these tests and initially they will be available to health care workers.13

In public health it is widely recognised that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. Testing is a critical part of this. Presently the main (only) prevention tool is social distancing, keeping people apart from each other. This, it is hoped will smooth the curve. We need to recognise this does not mean people will not be infected, but rather the patient numbers will be manageable. We further need to recognise that smoothing this curve will require different motivations and interventions in the crowded slums and informal areas of the global south. The areas under the lines of the rapid and the smoothed curves will probably be the same! Of those infected perhaps 20 percent will need to seek care. If they are sufficiently ill, they will need to be placed on ventilators (perhaps 5 percent of those infected), to have a chance of survival. The number of ventilators and health professionals to staff them are bottlenecks. There is rapid scientific, engineering and medical attention being brought to bear. It is possible that additional ventilators and other options will be developed and brought into service. These will be available in the rich world; it is quite unclear what will happen in the poor world.

There are no miracle drugs or indeed any treatments other than keeping patients breathing. There was yet another additional unhelpful intervention by Donald Trump, who used a press conference to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, to treat Covid-19, saying: “I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try.” He suggested that, used with antibiotic azithromycin it could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine”. Public health experts reacted with horror. Dr Anthony Fauci, warned there was only “anecdotal evidence” that these drugs could be helpful.14

By and large the alphabet soup of United Nations agencies that make up one arm of global governance have been shamefully silent. I think this is true of the World Health Organisation (WHO). We need, and deserve, better international leadership, including from UNAIDS and their new Director.

Vaccines

The salvation will be a vaccine, but this will take time to develop and bring to market. I am going to spend some time on this this week. An excellent source is the European Vaccine Initiative website which warns delivery of a vaccine usually takes years.15 It is a long and costly business. In 1984 US Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler took the opportunity of the news conference announcing the discovery of the virus to be optimistic. She said, “We hope to have a vaccine ready for testing in about two years, … “Yet another terrible disease is about to yield to patience, persistence and outright genius.”16 Heckler died in 2018, and we are still waiting for the vaccine despite the best efforts of science.

A 101 on vaccine development and deployment is that this falls into two stages. The first is pre-clinical development, research in lab assays and on animals. This includes:

  • Identification (discovery) of relevant antigens (e.g. screening)
  • Creation of the vaccine concept
  • Evaluation of vaccine efficacy in test tubes and animals
  • Manufacture of the vaccine to Good Manufacturing Practice standards

Next comes clinical development when the vaccine is tested in humans. This is done in four stages:

  • Phase I clinical trials are small-scale and assess safety in humans and the immune response.
  • Phase II clinical trials are larger and assess the efficacy of the vaccine against artificial infection and clinical disease, safety, side-effects and the immune response.
  • Phase III clinical trials are studied on a large scale with hundreds of subjects, across sites to evaluate efficacy under natural disease conditions. If the vaccine is safe and effective a licence to market for human use can be sought.
  • Phase IV happens after the vaccine has been licensed and introduced into use. It comprises continued monitoring of safety and efficacy.

It is important to remember these are stages all candidate vaccines must go through and it takes time. It is unlikely there will be a Covid-19 vaccine in less than a year.

Conclusion

I am constantly reading and watching the news. The best 101 for the science that I have come across is on YouTube. It will be a well spent 33 minutes.

So, what are the hopeful signs? It seems there are countries where the epidemic is under control: China, South Korea and Japan. There have been suggestions in the worst affected European countries that the ‘rate of increase may be slowing’. There will be a clearer indication by the time I write next week. Sweden’s response is a real experiment and deserves watching. The situation in the US is really ghastly and hopefully will bring real change to the way health and social care is delivered. The fact that Boris Johnson and other senior British government figures were infected and went into self-isolation makes this real for the general public.

To end this blog. A reader pointed out we are awash with information so what makes this weekly communique worth reading? A good question. It is automatically sent to about 270 people who subscribe to my updates. I post it on my website and put out notifications on Facebook and LinkedIn. We track visits and where they are from via WordPress’ statistics. The most are South African followed by the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, all the way down to one visitor each from 26 countries (I don’t know who you are in the Maldives, Lebanon or Cuba, but thank you).

Why do I write and what do I add? I have worked and written on HIV, its social and economic causes and consequences since 1987. It is also zoonotic disease that crossed into humans from animals, so I have a grounding in many relevant aspects. AIDS, the lack of, and misguided, responses inflamed me. I buried friends and staff. I understand some epidemiology, see the big picture and want to look ahead. There are important, interesting and troubling aspects of this disease and the crisis we face.

Everything I write is sourced. If it is my speculation or judgement, I make it clear. I have been writing monthly blogs for over ten years. Covid-19 means I have shifted my blogs to be useful rather than light-hearted sharing of my interesting or important events with friends and colleagues. I hope you find them useful.

In memorium. Professor Gita Ramjee, award winning HIV scientist and researcher, passed away because of health complications related to Covid-19. She was the Director of the HIV Prevention Unit of the South African Medical Research Council. A dear, respected Durban colleague.

Thank you to everyone reading, reposting and providing comments. Everything I write here is public domain so please share. I am keeping posts to 4-6 pages of text. I provide sources as well as commentary. Please forward and disseminate. My contacts: awhiteside@balsillieschool.ca


  1. There are various counters and maps available. The best is the Johns Hopkins University site https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html also http://www.ourworldindata.org/coronavirus, and https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56
  2. Ivan Illich, Medical nemesis: the expropriation of health, Pantheon Books, 1976
  3. CSDH (2008). Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization.
  4. Richard G. Wilkinson, Mind the Gap: Hierarchies, Health and Human Evolution, W&N, 2000; Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Allen Lane 2009; and Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On, The Health Foundation, February 2020
  5. Possibly from Thomas Jefferson in 1817, https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/eternal-vigilance-price-liberty-spurious-quotation
  6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-52039349/coronavirus-excel-centre-hospital-conversion-begins accessed 1st April 2020
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/27/sports-direct-mike-ashley-apologises-for-poor-covid-19-actions accessed 1st April 2020
  8. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-52109160 accessed 1st April 2020
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/30/catastrophe-sweden-coronavirus-stoicism-lockdown-europe accessed 1st April 2020
  10. Miguel B. Araújo and Babak Naimi, ‘Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus likely to be constrained by climate’, medRxiv preprint doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.12.20034728. The copyright holder for this preprint (which was not peer-reviewed) is the author/funder, who has granted medRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity
  11. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-03-13-trumps-covid-19-denialism-echoes-mbekis-hiv-disaster/ accessed 1st April 2020
  12. Jonathan Freedland, Guardian 27th March 2020 accessed 1st April 2020
  13. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/01/covid-19-coronavirus-home-test-kit-antibody-antigen/ accessed 1st April 2020. Boots is a pharmacy chain in the UK
  14. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/coronavirus-cure-fact-check-hydroxychloroquine-trump accessed 1st April 2020
  15. http://www.euvaccine.eu/vaccines-diseases/vaccines/stages-development accessed 1st April 2020
  16. https://www.nbcnews.com/id/21889662/ns/health-second_opinion/t/finding-way-again-after-failed-aids-vaccine/ accessed 1st April 2020

Covid-19 Watch: The World Wakes Up

Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal – www.alan-whiteside.com

Thank you everyone who is reading and reposting. Everything I write is public domain so please share. I am keeping this and future posts to about 4 pages of text. I provide sources as well as commentary. Red text indicates figures or information will change, probably rapidly. Bold text indicates a key point.

Introduction

The first blog was published on 4th March. I have issued one every Wednesday since. Last night, as I walked from my office to the back door of the house, I nearly kicked a hedgehog. I have not seen one in our garden for years. I wish I had its ability to curl into a ball and wait for troubles to pass. Unfortunately, we cannot, so read on.

On 4th March, the Johns Hopkins website reported 93,000 Covid cases, mostly in China. A week later, on 11th March, there were nearly 120,000 cases. China still had the largest number, but had a minimal increase. By Wednesday 18th March there were a cumulative total of 201,530 cases. On the morning of 25th March there were 423,121. The doubling time is less than a week. There are several excellent websites tracking the epidemic.1

This week we will review the data and some of the key responses. I will provide as many references as possible. I point to signs of hope slowly emerging from the murk. As Churchill said in 1942, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.2

The Numbers3

As of Wednesday morning, the Johns Hopkins website recorded a total of 423,121 infections globally. I would urge readers to look at the website (see if you agree with my deductions and inferences). The country leading the count is still China, with about 82,000 infections, followed by Italy which now highest death toll4, the United States, Spain and Germany. There are currently three main global centres in this epidemic. First is China and its neighbours, the second is Western Europe and the third is the United States. There are also statewide and local epidemics.

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Covid-19 Watch: The Crisis Deepens

Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal – www.alan-whiteside.com

Thank you to everyone reading and reposting this. Everything I write is public domain so please share. I am keeping this, and future posts to about 4 pages of text. I provide sources as well as commentary. Red text indicates figures or information will change, probably rapidly. Bold text indicates a key point.

Introduction

Covid-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the Director General of the WHO on 11th March.1 This is largely a formality and does not change the response. The need for clear information and guidance remains paramount. A week ago, the British Government appeared to be going its own way, essentially arguing for building up herd immunity. On 6th March Prime Minister Johnson held a lengthy press conference changing advice, based on newly released science.2 This will be addressed below.

Across the world there is recognition by governments and political leaders this is the most serious health crisis since the 1919 flu. Canadian Journal The Walrus published ‘An Anatomy of the Pandemic’ noting:

“Novel pathogens inspire a particularly pointed sort of anxiety among doctors. Many familiar pathogens are lethal on a broad scale—influenza caused over 34,000 deaths in the US in 2018/19, for instance—but their behaviour is known and tends to be consistent. Seasonal influenza … is monitored carefully and understood well enough that vaccines may be prepared … the best-case scenario for influenza each year includes many deaths, … The downside risk is not infinite. … With novel pathogens, this is not true. The worst-case scenario is undefined.”3

Movement of people has shut down, and countries and regions isolate. The potential psychological economic and social implications are emerging. Science can and will deliver a vaccine and treatments, probably sooner than expected. I need to draw from the arts including philosophy, poetry and literature to get to grips with what is going on. The phrase ‘This too shall pass’ originated in Persia. We should remind ourselves of this and Shelley’s Ozymandias with the shattered statue of a king:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.5

The numbers and extent of the epidemic

Early in my work on AIDS we produced a graph with three lines, see Figure 1. This argued there were three waves. The first the silent spread of HIV infections (this was, in the absence of treatment), followed by AIDS cases some six to ten years later. The final curve was of impact. The context of AIDS without treatment meant workers dying, children being orphaned, and elderly people being left without carers. Our first projections were deeply pessimistic, and the reality was much less ghastly than we imagined. Maybe ‘crying wolf’ was a necessary part of the response.

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Covid-19 Watch: The Numbers Climb to a Mixed Response

Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal – www.alan-whiteside.com

A week ago, I posted my first blog (or communique) on Covid-19. I was taken aback to learn that, by Monday, there had been over 14,000 visits to the article. Thank you. I find it humbling and greatly appreciate your engagement. Everything I write is public domain so please feel free to share this blog.

Red text indicates figures or information will change, probably rapidly. Bold text indicates a key point.

So, a week on, what has changed, what do we need to know and what do we need to do? I am going to keep this, and future posts to 4 pages of text. I continue to provide sources as well as commentary.

The consensus is, there is a need for clear information and guidance, which will evolve with the epidemic. The recent article by Anderson et. al. gives an excellent summary of what is known about Covid-19. It is a must read.1 We should adapt. For example, if the first presenting symptom is fever, people need to self-isolate immediately, not wait for a cough or shortness of breath. It may not be Covid-19, but this is the appropriate, effective early response, and will prevent onward transmission.

As mentioned in the last post, the emergence of this disease was not a surprise. Unlike the AIDS epidemic, it was not a ‘black swan’ event, a term which describes something that comes as a complete and unpredicted surprise; is rare; has major effects; and may be incorrectly rationalised with hindsight. It was based on the belief that all swans are white therefore black swans cannot exist. The idea was developed, written up, and popularised by Taleb2. Covid-19 will have major effects, is more serious than anticipated, but it, or something similar, has been forecast.

The numbers and extent of the epidemic

The number of new reported infections continues to climb3. On Wednesday 11th March there were 119,132 cases. The vast majority continue to be in Hubei province in China. Second highest is Italy with 10,149, most cases were in northern Italy, which was quarantined. On 9th March, the Italian government announced the entire country was going into lock down. Educational establishments are closed, only essential travel is allowed and gatherings, including sporting events, are banned. Iran is third (8,082), South Korea fourth (7,755), with France, Spain and Germany close to level pegging (1,650 to 1,800 cases). All other countries, except the US, report fewer than 1,000 cases.

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Covid-19 (the SARS-CoV-2) and you

Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal http://www.alan-whiteside.com

4th March 2020

Introduction

I am expected to know something about epidemics and pandemics,1 and their causes and consequences. Many friends and colleagues have been asking me about Covid-19.

Here is a quick ‘fact sheet’ as of 4 March – what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know. I include hot links. Please feel free to send it on.

Red text indicates the figures or information will change, and probably rapidly.

Bold text indicates a key point.

Obvious public sources of information are:

There is no shortage of information, but it needs sorting and sifting. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the trajectory of the epidemic, and how and when it will resolve.

Predicting the course and consequences of epidemic disease is not new. It has been addressed in the science and intelligence communities and in literature. The emergence of AIDS in the 1980s gave rise to a concern about the security implications of disease. One result was the US National Intelligence Council’s National Intelligence Estimate on the Global Infectious Disease Threat, January 2000. It noted the surge in HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, hepatitis, with HIV/AIDS and TB expected to be the major cause of death in developing countries by 2020. It stated: “Acute lower respiratory infections—including pneumonia and influenza—as well as diarrheal diseases and measles, appear to have peaked at high incidence levels”2. In the UK the Foresight project3 looked specifically at infectious disease and produced a multi-volume report in 20064. These and subsequent government work are prescient. The works of fiction detailing such events range from Albert Camus’ 1947 book The Plague to South African thriller writer Deon Meyer’s 2016 Fever.

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Family and Travel

March should mark the end of winter in England. There are clear signs that spring is approaching. Some of the trees are covered with blossom. The daffodils in our garden are almost all in full bloom. However, despite the signs that nature is stirring, the weather has been rotten. We experienced periods of sustained strong winds and rain for nearly two weeks at the end of February. The western part of the country has had flood after flood, houses and homes have been wrecked. I find it quite confusing to see car roofs protruding from the middle of floods, surely you can drive a car out of harm’s way.

Of course, the serious floods over the past fifteen or so years meant defenses have been built, and in many cases they have worked. It could have been so much worse. The problem is that there are just too many houses built in vulnerable places (unbelievably on floodplains), and the nature of these storms is that they are ever more intense, a month’s rain in 24 hours. Yes, global warming is real, and it is affecting us in the UK in clear and measurable ways.

I had been organising a lunch in London with our extended family in mid-February. It turned out to be the wildest and windiest weekend of the month and public transport was greatly disrupted. As my sister and her husband are not youthful, canceling the gathering seemed appropriate, and indeed this turned out to be prescient. Fortunately, we made the call to postpone before I finalised the restaurant booking.

My brother, Derek, was passing through London for a day on his way back from the United States to Cape Town, and so we decided to have a smaller lunch the following weekend, on Saturday, 22 February. The plan was for Douglas and I to take the train down to London and meet up with the family at a restaurant they had booked near Notting Hill Gate. This was a central location and gave easy access to and from Heathrow for Derek as he had a limited amount of time.

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Month One of English Living

Now that I am in Norwich for a spell I am in the process of organising my office and activities. This involves something of a clear out. I have been going through huge quantities of paper. Many printed papers have been recycled, the realisation is that I am neither going to reread or refer to them.

Books get appraised for their usefulness now and in the future, and there is a high bar if they are to remain. I probably have 300 CDs and they too need to be gone through. Anything that I am uncertain about is being put on the player. If there are scratches on the disc, or it is something I will never listen to, it either goes in the bin or the charity pile. In a few months I expect to have a very much more habitable and organised office.

Since London is where so many interesting things happen, I anticipate going down reasonably regularly. This is made easier because the ‘over 60’ railcard I have makes travel more affordable. In addition, to my surprise on looking at the train timetable, I discovered there is now a train that has cut 30 minutes off the two-hour journey, a few times a day. That does make it a great deal easier to travel down. I went at the end of January for the day – leaving Norwich at 9.30 and getting back at 10.30, not sadly, on the fast train.

Decades ago, I joined the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS). This was a club on Northumberland Avenue, very close to Trafalgar Square and only about 100 yards from the Embankment station on the Circle Line. When I first joined it was a bit dusty and old fashioned, but the club had a library, meeting rooms, a restaurant, lounge, bar and bedrooms. It was a great place to hang out and meet people. I organised meetings, seminars and dinners there and even, occasionally, stayed overnight. Unfortunately, over a period the offering dwindled, first the bedrooms, then the meeting rooms, until the club finally closed in 2013. I had been pondering what to do to get a London base and came up with a solution earlier this year.

In 2009 I was appointed as a Senior Research Fellow for the British Department of International Development. I held this fractional post for several years. It was great fun and I really enjoyed the experience of working in the Civil Service. This means I will get a small British Government Civil Service pension. It also meant, I realised, that I was eligible to join the Civil Service Club, very close to where the RCS was. The address is ‘Great Scotland Yard’! I applied and was accepted. The fees are modest, which is a real plus. Towards the end of January, I had occasion to visit London. I went to the club for the first time and got my membership card sorted out. I would not describe it as modern or flashy, but it has all the amenities one could want, and it is a place one can meet people, hangout and relax without feeling pressure to consume. There is a very nice patio for the summer and the street is extraordinarily quiet.

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New Decade! New Life?

The 1st January 2020 marks the start of a new decade as well as a New Year. I am aware that some purists (or pedants) think that the decade does not actually officially start until 1st January 2021, I am not part of that group. This is it! A new decade!

The next year will be interesting, I need to adapt my lifestyle. The first order of business will be getting used to living full time in Norwich. At the moment I have absolutely no travel planned for the next calendar year. As I am on sabbatical I don’t have to think about teaching but I am ‘on the books’ to the end of 2021. What should I do? This will become clearer in the next few months.

I returned to the UK on the 23rd December, just ahead of Christmas. My last few weeks in Waterloo were crammed with wrapping up the term and students and seeing and saying goodbye to friends. I also had to pack up the apartment for rental. Fortunately, I had help. The estate agent who is handling it for me, Dave McIntyre, is hopeful it can be let furnished. This means crockery, cutlery, furniture, linen and books were left out, but could be packed away if necessary. Dave is the chap who sold me the place originally and who will take care of the sale in due course. He is not just an estate agent but a decent and trustworthy person.

I did not write about this in my last post (not enough room), but at the end of November I went, with my friend Dana, to the event Dining with the Dead! This was held at the Kitchener Museum which had a themed exhibition on the afterlife. The way it was advertised was as a

“one of a kind dining experience! To coincide with the Exhibition at THEMUSEUM, we’re hosting Psychic Medium Kerrilynn Shellhorn (who) will utilize her strong connection to the other side to bring messages from lost loved ones while you dine on a delicious 3 course dinner.”

The food was excellent and the service great. The séance was, well, medium. There were about 35 diners. Only a few were given messages from the departed. I was not convinced but will chalk it up as an interesting experience.

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The end is nigh

It is many years since I included a ‘round robin’ in with Christmas cards and this, lazily, also constitutes my blog post for December. There is a good reason this year. I have significant news and don’t want to leave people out, or have to write it in all the cards I send.

You may recall in January 2014 I joined the Balsillie School in Waterloo, Ontario as a full time member of faculty. It is complicated appointment. My salary is paid by Wilfrid Laurier University, but I work at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Here I was, according to my letter of appointment, employed to teach two courses per year, and carry out the other responsibilities of a senior academic, including researching, writing and publishing.

About two years ago the University unilaterally, and with very little consultation, decided to change the conditions of service. They were, of course, made less favourable for academics. Of particular concern was the doubling of our teaching commitment. I came here because I had not, in 30 years as an academic, taught (two years of teaching one course at the University of Natal on Southern African Development in 1984 and 1985 had receded to a distant memory). I wanted to see what it would be like to work with and teach MA and PhD students. The idea of supervising a thesis from start to finish was intriguing, and I am happy to report that I did manage to do that with one student.

This new demand regarding teaching made staying in Waterloo problematic in the long term. I neither had courses prepared, nor much guidance on what to do. In addition to more teaching being mandatory my academic cohort was assured, when we signed up in 2012 and 2013, there would be research money available to us, without too many hoops to leap through. This promise evaporated like the dew in the Kalahari in January, although it was not entirely the fault of the university but rather the shocking behaviour of one of the other ‘partners’. In addition to this moving the goalposts, a part of the university bureaucracy was irrational to me. I have every intention of writing about this in due course.

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Invited Master’s Students Blogs from Waterloo

The following pieces were written by my students.

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