#132 Getting in shape during the lockdown

apple norms size standards

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Don’t get me wrong, I was already obese before the lock-down with a body mass index (BMI) of 31.8. The BMI is a convenient rule of thumb used to broadly categorise a person as underweightnormal weightoverweight, or obese based on tissue mass (muscle, fat, and bone) and height. Commonly accepted BMI ranges are underweight (under 18.5 kg/m2), normal weight (18.5 to 25), overweight (25 to 30), and obese (over 30).

Half-way through the lock-down, the lack of activity and ready availability of beer meant that I put on 7kg (15lbs), going from 92kgs (200lbs) to 99kgs (218lbs) and raised my BMI to 34.4.

To get a healthy BMI I would need to lose 27kgs (59lbs). You can check your own BMI at the NHS website. It told me that losing and keeping off 5% of my weight can have health benefits, such as lowering my blood pressure and reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Healthy diet and exercise also helps to improve mental health which I wrote about last month

Given that obesity is the top underlying conditions for severe Covid-19 and even mild obesity could put a person at risk of developing severe COVID-19 and dying it seemed like a good time to start. The NHS site told me that, over time, I should work towards achieving a healthier weight and that if I’m concerned about my weight I should speak to my doctor. It suggested a recommended daily calorie intake of 1881 – 2418 kcal and to lose 1-2lbs a week stick to the lower end of the range.

In truth, I had already been doing some exercise using a couch to 5km app. I don’t download the NHS podcasts, instead I downloaded one by App Symphony which I have been very pleased with.

The NHS has a 12-week weight loss plan and one of the first things I needed to do was start counting my calories.  I created a spreadsheet so that I could include all the information the programme was asking me to record on their food and activity chart.

They also have a change4life programme which contains healthy recipes of all kinds.  At the end of the first week I had already lost 2kg (4lbs) and another 2kg by Tuesday of the following week.

In week 3, I started alternating my aerobic couch to 5km activity with strength and flexibility exercises, the aim being to do at least 150 minutes of activity a week. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the incredible NHS has a 5-week strength and flexibility plan in which you can download podcasts which start at a very basic level and work their way up.

By the end of week 3, I had lost another 1kg, meaning a loss of 5kg in three weeks. I am in the middle of week 4 and am looking forward to seeing how much progress I have made. Hopefully, I will be close to the weight I was at the start of the lockdown and can continue to lose weight beyond that.

The NHS also recommend that you measure your waist. They say that measuring your waist is a good way to check you’re not carrying too much fat around your stomach, which can raise your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. You can have a healthy BMI and still have excess tummy fat, meaning you’re still at risk of developing these conditions. To measure your waist:

  1. Find the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.
  2. Wrap a tape measure around your waist midway between these points.
  3. Breathe out naturally before taking the measurement.

Regardless of your height or BMI, you should try to lose weight if your waist is:

  • 94cm (37ins) or more for men
  • 80cm (31.5ins) or more for women

You’re at very high risk and should contact a GP if your waist is:

  • 102cm (40ins) or more for men
  • 88cm (34ins) or more for women

Another benefit of this new diet is that I am also moderating my drinking more.  A pint of beer is generally around 200 calories and 2 to 3 units of alcohol, a gin with slimline tonic is 1 unit of alcohol and only around 55 calories depending on the gin.

To keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level men and women should not exceed 14 units a week and to spread that amount over three or four days. This equates to two units a day over seven days which means a pint of beer a day or two gin and tonics a day. I tend to find I am a little more thirsty than this so I have devised a system. Now, I only add 10ml of gin to my gin and tonic rather than the standard 25ml or random bottle tip. This means I can drink 5 gin and tonics at a cost of only 110 calories and 2 units a day, keeping me within both limits.

I’ll try to keep you up to dates with my progress and would love to hear your lock-down weight loss stories.

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#131 Environmental consequences of covid-19

bird s eye view of woodpile

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Much has been said about the cleanliness of Venetian canals, of Indian skies and wildlife wandering through lockdowned towns. There is little doubt that global carbon emissions have declined during the pandemic. The International Energy Agency, a policy advisory group to 30 member countries, projects that global carbon emissions are set to fall by 8%, or levels the world hasn’t seen for a decade.

“This may sound small at first, but it is the largest drop since World War II, as emissions have generally increased year-over-year, even during recessions,” Ankur Desai, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA TODAY.

However, this is not enough to counter the long term effects of decades of greenhouse gas emissions.

The current drop in emissions is also not yet detectable in total carbon dioxide concentrations, according to Benjamin Houlton, a professor of environmental science at University of California, Davis. “The challenge is that carbon dioxide has an average lifespan of around 100 years in the atmosphere,” he told USA TODAY.

Emissions would need to drop by more than 25% to see a total drop in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and thus slow an annual global rise in temperatures, Houlton explained.

Despite these falls in carbon emissions around the world, Brazil is bucking the trend. The carbon emitted in 2020 due to deforestation could increase by 50% in relation to 2018 levels. So while the rest of the world is anticipating a net reduction of 6%, Brazil could see an increase of 10%.

Only today, the BBC reported that up to one fifth of of Brazilian soya exports to the European Union could be contaminated by illegal deforestation. Researchers discovered that 2% of properties were responsible for 62% of illegal deforestation.

“Without knowing it, we’re eating meat and dairy products from animals fed on soy grown on deforested land in Brazil,” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK. “We need to stop importing habitat destruction.”

The research, published in Science magazine, also revealed that European purchases of Brazilian soybeans may have been indirectly responsible for 58.3 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions between 2009 and 2017 from both legal and illegal deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado regions.

Tragically, the Brazilian Government reacted to the release of the June deforestation figures by sacking an official at the national space agency Inpe whose department is responsible for satellite monitoring of the Amazon rainforest. Lubia Vinhas was the general-coordinator of Brazilian space agency Inpe’s Earth Observation Institute, which is an umbrella for divisions that monitor the Amazon and panels to debate climate change with civil society organisations. It’s unclear whether the removal of Vinhas from her position was connected to the data. Her subordinate who heads the division directly overseeing satellite monitoring of Amazon deforestation remains employed. Inpe said in a statement posted to its website Monday night that the change was part of a shake-up at the agency to improve synergies.

Inpe figures published on Friday showed 400 square miles (1,034 square kilometers) of deforestation in the Amazon in June (two thirds the size of London and four fifths the size of New York City), a new record the month since data started being gathered in 2015. So, next time you reach for a burger, just remember that the cow you are eating might have been fed on soya grown on land illegally deforested.


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#130 Struggling with mental health

therapist comforting patient

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In these unusual times, the stresses and strains of everyday life, which can seem overwhelming at the best of times,  can be amplified by the pressures of social isolation. A  pandemic raises fears for the health of oneself and others as well as financial worries for those for whom the future of their employment or businesses is unsure.

These stresses can manifest themselves in different sleeping or eating habits as well as negative implications for both physical and mental wellbeing which, in turn, can result in increased use of tobacco or alcohol.

If you feel that you are facing a crisis then you should not hesitate to seek help. In the US, the CDC has a list of places you can turn to for help and in the UK, the NHS Every Mind Matters site has lots of useful advice including tips if you are worried about coronavirus, how to sleep better, looking after children and young people, working and living at home and what to do if you feel lonely. You can even create a mind plan to help you deal with stress and anxiety.

Our brains rely on four chemicals for happiness: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphin.

Dopamine gives us determination to accomplish goals, desires and needs. Deficiency can lead to procrastination, low self-esteem, low energy or fatigue, an inability to focus, feelings of anxiety and hopelessness and mood swings. Tactics to deal with this deficiency could include meditation, a daily to-do list, long-term goals, foods rich in L-tyrosine such as cheese, soybeans, beef, lamb, pork, fish, chicken, nuts, eggs, dairy, beans, and whole-grain, exercise or taking up creative activities such as writing, music or art.

Oxytocin gives us a feeling of trust and motivates us to build and sustain relationships. A deficiency can result in us feeling lonely or stressed with low energy or fatigue, becoming disconnected from relationships or suffering anxiety or insomnia.  This can be alleviated by physical touch, socialising, massage, acupuncture, listening to music, exercise, cold showers or meditation.

Serotonin helps us to feel significant and gives us a calm form of accepting ourselves with those around us. A deficiency can lead to low self-esteem, over sensitivity, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, a feeling of hopelessness, social phobia, obsessive/compulsion and insomnia. The best ways to build levels of serotonin are exercise, cold showers, sunlight and massage.

Endorphin releases a brief euphoria to mask physical pain and can alleviate anxiety and depression. A deficiency can lead to anxiety and depression, mood swings, aches and pains, insomnia and impulsive behaviour. The best remedies and laughter or crying, creating music or art, eating dark chocolate or spicy foods, exercise, stretching, massage and meditation.

If you suspect you may be suffering from depression you might want to complete this patient health questionnaire which helps medical professionals to diagnose if a patient is suffering from mental health issues. The questionnaire will give you a Depression Severity: 0-4 none, 5-9 mild, 10-14 moderate, 15-19 moderately severe, 20-27 severe. Even if you feel you have a mild or moderate depression then you should consider contacting a medical professional such as a doctor, counsellor or psychologist or at the very least find someone with whom you can share your concerns.

Likewise, there is a general anxiety disorder assessment which uses a similar questionnaire to identify mild, moderate and severe anxiety. If you have a score of more than 10 then further evaluation is recommended and you should speak with a medical professional.

In situations when exercise, meditation, healthy diet, and psychologists seem to make no difference then a psychiatrist may be able to prescribe medication to help your brain to absorb the chemicals above. Sometimes we genetically inherit and inability to use the chemicals that help us to be happy.

For example, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a widely used type of antidepressant. They’re mainly prescribed to treat depression, particularly persistent or severe cases, and are often used in combination with a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

It’s thought that SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a messenger chemical that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain). It’s thought to have a good influence on mood, emotion and sleep.

After carrying a message, serotonin is usually reabsorbed by the nerve cells (known as “reuptake”). SSRIs work by blocking (“inhibiting”) reuptake, meaning more serotonin is available to pass further messages between nearby nerve cells.

It would be too simplistic to say that depression and related mental health conditions are caused by low serotonin levels, but a rise in serotonin levels can improve symptoms and make people more responsive to other types of treatment, such as CBT.

However you are feeling at the moment, you can be sure you are not alone, there are millions of people around the world who are feeling the same way. Do not be afraid of reaching out for help because there is plenty of help available. If you suspect a friend or family might benefit from seeking help then don’t be shy in reaching out to them.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

Stay safe and take care

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#129 Interview with Sam Fires, author of Dog Meat

The Heaps are massive junkyards containing the old world’s scrap and rubbish, which is now a valuable commodity. The heaps are protected by brainwashed children known as ‘heap sharks’ and are ruled over by “Heap Lords” with an iron fist. The “Heap Sharks” are very violent pawns and you would not want to fall into their hands. When the world ended, the Heaps contained mankind’s last resources. They are impenetrable, but young brothers Olly and Israel survive as scavengers and plan on robbing one. The riches inside mean nothing less than the boys’ survival. They’ll need to outwit and defeat the savage Heap Sharks if they are to have a chance and not get themselves captured in the process. The end of the world brings with it a grotesque Darwinian doctrine, survival of the fittest as man eats dog is the new law now. Can the brothers make it out of the Heaps in one piece—and what of their father’s violent death?

Dog Meat is the debut Post-apocalyptic/dystopian novella by Sam Fires. Book 2 ‘Shark Tactics’ and Book 3 ‘Sharks’ Fury’ are being released on 22 June.

Sam lives and works in the UK as a lawyer and says she has always loved books: “I’ve always enjoyed psychological thrillers and books with a psychological element to them but it is only recently I discovered I love post-apoc and dystopian fiction and then the ideas for books started flowing.”

She is currently working on new post-apoc series: “After the world was hit by a virus (which mutated into several lethal strains) that decimated the population we are now living under Martial law, the protagonist is an ex-cop who is being hunted down under orders of the President, and we follow his journey as he tries to escape their clutches and at the same time using his detective skills to find out why he is the target of their interest.”

Her secret ambition (and it is secret as she hasn’t told anyone yet about her interest in writing and being an author) is to be able to be a full-time author and travel the world writing (once lockdown is over of course).

Dog Meat is available on Amazon

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#128 the wider effect of George Floyd’s death

people protesting on a street

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What has been happening around the world in terms of inequality and prejudice is tragic and unacceptable and has been going on for hundreds of years.

It is also a shame that it requires tragedies like the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this year, or the death of Mark Duggan in London in 2011 for society to sit up and take notice.

Like the death of George Floyd, the death of Mark Duggan was followed by widespread rioting and looting. I remember having to leave a supermarket via the delivery entrance with my 3-year-old daughter because rioters were heading our way and the shop had closed the front doors which would later be broken.

Of course, it is right that people protest against the injustice of the situation but I wonder how many of those who stole phones out of shop windows in Clapham Common in 2011 had the tragic death of Mark Duggan on their minds as they looted. Interestingly, the bookshop next to the phone shop was untouched.

We need to be still talking about inequality when the media has lost interest in the riots and the protests and not look on minority ethnic groups with pity but celebrate the successes and work towards a world where the same opportunities are available to everyone.

The lack of social distancing at the protests and riots will result in more cases of Covid-19 and it is an unfortunate fact that those with darker skins will be disproportionally affected by the disease. This is partly due to economic and social conditions which result in poorer nutrition and a greater prevalence of underlying conditions but also to the simple fact that darker skin takes longer to absorb vitamin D which can result in a vitamin D deficiency and a poorer immune response.

The effect of this increase in cases on the medical services will only be seen in around three weeks and, at a time when distancing measures ate being relaxed, the impact will be greater.

Another unfortunate effect of the death of George Lloyd has been the way the police have responded to both the public and the press.

The New York Times has observed how the police have reacted to protests how their unnecessary use of force, with more force. Possibly even more worrying is that the status of a free press has been compromised by police action against journalists and camera operators.

This disregard for journalists is worrying in a society which already has a worryingly high level of gun ownership. In Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro appears to ape every move made by President Trump such as threatening to leave WHO, the situation is, even more, worrying with Bolsonaro suggesting that he wants to arm people to prevent a dictatorship.  Then, in a publicity student, he drank milk in one of his broadcasts, a gesture associated with white supremacy and was seen riding around on a horse breaking the law that requires everyone to wear a mask in public places.

The situation here in Brazil continues to worsen and the Ministry of Health has responded by changing the statistics the present on a daily basis so that, at a glance, the situation does not look so bad. States and local governments are relaxing restrictions in Brazil, it is almost as if they think the confirmed cases and confirmed deaths graphs in Europe are referring to Brazil and that they have no idea that Brazil is not bending the curve.

Many shops and businesses here that are meant to be closed are actually allowed customers onto their premises, the inadequate economic support from the Government leaves people with little choice but to try and make money. The Federal Government has just transferred R$83.9m ($16.91m) from the family benefits system (Bolsa Familia) to pay for Coronavirus Propaganda. The University of Washington has warned that Covid-19 deaths in Brazil could reach 125,000 by August.




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#127 Remembering Dunkirk


I wanted to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the evacuation at Dunkirk, so I thought I would share this short excerpt from my book, Fred & Leah, which is a fictionalised account of my grandfather’s experience in France – he was one of those tens of thousands left behind after the evacuation.

Thursday, 23rd May 1940 – Lanheres, France

“I won’t lie to you, Wooll,” Major Potts told Fred when he had managed to reunite his platoon with the battalion and the rest of the 51st Highland Division at Lanheres near Etain. “The general situation is very serious.”

The major looked around to check there was no one to overhear.

“You’re a career military man, like me. You’ve been around a bit, you know what it’s like. Between you and me, it’s now not so much a question of the division re-joining the BEF, as avoiding destruction or surrender.”

Fred had imagined the situation was bad, but this had exceeded his worst expectations.

Major Potts checked once more that the coast was clear before lowering his voice to a virtual whisper.

“It’s becoming apparent that the French are collapsing.  It sounds like they’ll try to evacuate the BEF from the coast, so we’re going to move somewhere north of Paris, and from there we should be able to make it to Le Havre.”

Fred didn’t want to show it, but inside he was relieved. News of a boat from Le Havre to England, where Leah and the rest of his family were, was the best news he had received in months.

“I heard the French have been giving up by the thousands, sir. They think they’ll be taken prisoner and then sent to their homes.”

“Of course, none of this is definite, you understand,” warned the Major. “I’m telling you because I know you’ll be able to maintain the spirits of the men without going into detail.”

“I understand,” said Fred.

“Get your men ready to leave tonight. Keep this under your hat, but we’re heading to Cornay, near Varennes. It’s about fifty miles, but it’ll take a couple of nights to get there. The roads are congested with French transport and refugees, and the route may be difficult to find.”


If you would like to read more, you can download a free sample of the book here.

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#126 The economic impacts of Covid-19 in Brazil


As you should be able to see from the graph above, about 55 days into the pandemic here, Brazil has not yet managed to bend the curve and is now registering the second-highest official daily total of deaths in the world.  Needless to say, the actual number of daily deaths above the average is likely to be much higher but the data is difficult to obtain.

There are several reasons why Brazil’s efforts have been so ineffective in containing the virus so far, not least because the President, Jair Bolsonaro, parades around in a Trumpesque display of sound bites calling the virus the sniffles, sacking his health ministers and encouraging people to gather in protests where he can shake their hands and cough on them. In this appearance, reported by the Mail Online, there are some salutes which are frighteningly close to Naziesque but perhaps that’s how they always pray.

From the early days of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has been at odds with the state governors who have been trying to encourage social distancing in an effort to flatten the curve. He knows that the economic consequences of the virus are going to be significant in Brazil and he is setting himself up for a time after the pandemic when he can blame the recession on the political rivals whose measures he is now opposing.

The unfortunate immediate consequence of this is that many Brazilians, especially those on the right-wing who support Bolsonaro, are not taking the mitigation measures seriously and in some instances are deliberately trying to hinder local government efforts to slow the spread. It is estimated that only 48% are self-isolating but the target is 70%.

bolsonaro with mouth covered with gaffa tape

“Brazilian scientists have created a mask with the capacity to save millions of lives.”

For example, as traffic on the streets increased as paulistas tired of staying at home, the Sao Paulo mayor, Bruno Covas attempted to implement a rule which would permit only cars with registrations ending in even numbers to be used on dates which had even numbers and cars with registrations ending in odd numbers could only be used on dates with odd numbers. The measure would effectively keep half of the motorists at home at any one time but the result was not effective and so they withdrew the measures after one week.

Covas says that Sao Paulo hospitals are at 90% capacity (91% yesterday) and could run out of space within two weeks. and so has taken the desperate measure of taking two bank holidays from June and November and moving them to tomorrow and Thursday with a third holiday proposed to be moved from July to next Monday, effectively creating a six-day holiday.  He explained his reasoning by saying that yesterday Sao Paulo only saw 56% isolation and that the periods of highest isolation have been on holidays and at weekends. However, the immediate effect of this seems to be lost of paulistas heading to the beach for a long weekend, the state government did not co-ordinate any measures to prevent this mass exodus.

queues of cars

Cars queuing at toll booths on their way to the beach for the surprise long weekend

It is not only the covidiots that are breaking the isolation. It is very easy for white-collar workers like me to work from home and continue receiving my salary, but for those who worked in the restaurants and bars or shops that have been closed by the state governor, or those who were employed to clean them or the homes, schools, universities which are no longer employing as many cleaners, security guards or kitchen staff, then life is not quite a rosy.

Adults who find themselves unemployed and have a family income of less than the monthly minimum wage (approximately $500) can apply for emergency help from the government which is equivalent to just over $100 per month. So far, 50 million people, a quarter of the population and a half of the working population, have applied to receive the benefit.

The scheme has been administered online through an application but given that in 2016 only half the population was online and this was predicted to rise to 68% by the end of 2019, it is not surprising that large queues formed outside banks with people wanting to apply. Needless to say, the social distancing rules were not rigidly applied in these situations despite the best efforts of some of the staff.

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“The council marked out the queue to ensure social distancing but the people always find a way”

For families in which the household income has been lost completely this emergency help is not going to go very far, even if they are in receipt of Bolsa Familiar (government benefit equivalent to family allowance). So, it is not surprising that hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons are inviting customers for illicit cuts, waxes and polishes. Even my local off licence (liquor store) only has the shutters half closed so that regular customers can top up their stocks. Bolsonaro declared hairdressers,  beauty salons and, amazingly, gyms as essential services so in some cities they have already re-opened.

When I arrived in Brazil I was told that the country does not have hurricanes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, the only natural disaster, I was told, is the people. It certainly seems that, in the case of Covid-19, there are those who are struggling to isolate but there are also many who refuse to listen to science and prefer the platitudes of those who should know better.

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# 125 The real losers of the Coronavirus are the usual suspects

man wearing a black face mask

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Obviously, there are no real winners of the Coronavirus pandemic, unless you count supermarkets and Amazon who seem to be doing quite well at the moment. What I mean by my deliberately provocative title is that there are those who are fairing much worse with the virus and others who are predicted to suffer as the virus spreads across the world.


There is quite a lot of data showing how those in older age groups are more at risk of dying from Covid-19, those with underlying conditions are more at risk and in addition to this those in certain ethnic groups appear to be more at risk.

In the UK, it has been estimated that black Africans are 3.7 times more likely to die than would be expected, even when taking into account their geographical location and age. Health conditions, living conditions and occupation may all be contributing factors. The socio-economic situation, access to health care and deprivation clearly play a role, however, very little is being said about the biological fact that those with darker skins absorb vitamin D much slower and vitamin D’s role in the immune system. Political correctness seems to be dictating that we cannot talk about factual biological differences between races that don’t make one race better than another. Dark skins absorb vitamin D more slowly but they are better at protecting from harmful UV rays.

Dr John Campbell has been arguing the importance of vitamin D and the immune system on his YouTube channel and posted a study from Indonesia which suggested that vitamin D deficiency could make patients 10 times more likely to die of Covid-19. Obviously, this is only one study and much more work needs to be done but asking your doctor whether you should supplement your diet with vitamin D, especially if you have dark skin or if you don’t get much sun, seems like a good idea.

Another issue Dr Campbell has been highlighting on his YouTube channel is the inequality between developing and developed nations in their ability to respond to the virus. For example, Italy has 80 ventilators per million people compared to Kenya which only has 0.5 ventilators per million. The UK has 28 doctors per million people whereas the Democratic Republic of Congo has less than one per million. In Nigeria, only 4 out of ten people have access to running water which is going to make handwashing quite difficult. On top of this, underlying conditions such as TB, HIV, Malnutrition and Malaria are widespread across Africa.

In addition, David Nott, a trauma surgeon from Wales who has volunteered in crisis and conflict zones, says there is only a short amount of time before the most vulnerable parts of the planet are hit by the coronavirus.  In a paper to the Lancet, he said: “The main positive influences on reducing the number of deaths from COVID-19 have been handwashing, social distancing, and the lockdown. For the most vulnerable people on this planet, such strategies are not an option. People who live in conflict zones or in refugee camps cannot physically distance, they cannot self-isolate, they have inadequate facilities for washing, and are often without access to health care.”

Speaking on Sky, he added: “David Miliband, from the International Rescue Committee, did a survey very recently on 34 fragile countries using the same sort of modelling used by Imperial [College London].

“In these countries, he said there is going to be between 500 million to one billion infections”.

40 countries have pledged $8 billion to help fight the spread of the virus but questions have to be asked about whether this is going to be enough and why developed nations only consider health conditions to be important enough to fight serious after it has affected their own citizens.

According to UNICEF, 15,000 children die every day, most of these deaths are preventable. This has been going on for years. On September 11th 2001, 2,996 people died as a result of the terrorist attacks in the US, these deaths were, of course, tragic and they led to the invasion of Afganistan and then Iraq. In 2007, it was estimated that the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost US taxpayers a total of $2.4 trillion by 2017 when counting the huge interest costs because combat was being financed with borrowed money. Basic maths would then say the US spent $800 million for each person who died in the 2001 attacks.

In 2019, the New York Times estimated that over $2 trillion had been spent on the war in Afganistan alone.  They say there is little to show for it. The Taliban control much of the country. Afghanistan remains one of the world’s largest sources of refugees and migrants. More than 2,400 American soldiers and more than 38,000 Afghan civilians have died. The Taliban are getting stronger and stronger and in 2017 328,000 hectares were being cultivated for opium poppies as opposed to 84,000 in 2002.

UNICEF complains that global progress on child survival has stalled largely due to a lack of political commitment and leadership. Why are the lives of these children worth any less because they were born in a developing rather than a developed country? If 15,000 British children died in a day, the Prime Minister would be expected to do something pretty quick or he wouldn’t be the prime minister for long. Why are we not as appauled just because these children are dying somewhere else?

In 2017, the World Bank estimated that countries need to quadruple spending to $150 billion a year to deliver universal safe water and sanitation by 2030, helping to reduce childhood disease and deaths while boosting economic growth. This suggests that only $37.5 billion was being spent per year as of 2017, a mere $6,520 per infant mortality.

I believe we should apply the same value to people wherever in the world they happen to be born and it worries me that if Covid-19 had not affected so many people in developed nations we might not have been as bothered to do anything about it.

The World Food Programme is reporting that the coronavirus emergency threatens the delivery of vital food assistance to nearly 100 million hungry people. You can donate to the World Food Programme here.

Every week, around the world, hospitals, medical personnel and aid workers come under attack. They are not a target. Health Care in Danger  is an initiative of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement aimed at addressing the issue of violence against patients, health workers, facilities and vehicles, and ensuring safe access to and delivery of health care in armed conflict and other emergencies.

According to the UNHCR, conflict and heavy floods has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in Somalia, amidst COVID-19 threat. You can donate to the UNHCR here.

You might be reading this while on lockdown yourself, or while watching the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread rapidly and without discrimination, make its way across the world. You can help UNICEF protect and support children and families affected by COVID-19.

After five years of war, people in Yemen have some of the lowest levels of immunity and the highest levels of vulnerability in the world. If that wasn’t enough, only half the hospitals are open. You can donate to the UN Population Fund here.

Medicins Sans Frontieres teams are racing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in over 70 countries, including opening projects in new countries as they become pandemic hotspots. You can donate to MSF here.

I understand that many of you reading may have lost your jobs as a result of this pandemic. My thoughts are with all of you and I will endeavour to write a post related to the economic and other impacts of Covid-19 soon.

Stay safe.


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#124 Reading The Man in the High Castle


I thought you might be up to your ears in posts about Covid-19, so decided to post a book review this week rather than reporting on the debacle that is unfolding in Brasil.

A friend of mine told me he had started watch the Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle, so I thought I would give it a go. I was already a couple of episodes in before I realised I had picked up a copy of the Philip K Dick novel from a backpackers hostel while on a stag weekend in Rio de Janeiro.

PKD, as he is affectionately known by those who like abbreviate the names of great people a la FDR or JFK, was quite a prolific author for his day, writing 44 novels and 121 short stories.

Some of his most notable works include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which was adapted into the film Bladerunner. Many of his short stories were used for a series of short animated films on Netflix called Love Death and Robots.

The novel of The Man in the High Castle is, as is often the case, quite different from the series. Elements of the novel are clearly recognisable in the series but the Amazon adaptation quickly departs from the original, adding new characters and new story lines. Having said that, both work in their own way and should be considered completely separate if they are to be enjoyed individually.

The book goes into much more detail regarding Frank and Eddy’s jewelry business and their relationship with Childan is quite different. Tagomi is central to the novel’s plot which is much more focussed on the role of the I Ching. Juliana and Joe are together in the neutral zone from early in the novel.

If you haven’t seen the Amazon series or read the book, you might be interested to hear that the novel is set in 1960s USA in an alternative history in which Germany and Japan were the victors of the Second World War. Both the novel and the series explore the concept of multiple universes and I would recommend reading the novel and then perhaps watching the series if you can tolerate how annoying some of the characters become.

Either way, they are both entertaining ways to avoid writing.



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#123 Celebrating Easter with Covid-19


When I say Easter, I obviously mean the holiday we are given in April which was the time, the venerable Bede observed, that the pagan Anglo Saxons held their feasts in honour of their goddess Ēostre. She is thought to be a descendent of the proto-indo-European goddess, Hausōs, who was the bringer of light and the dawn. Given that the sun rises in the East it is no surprise then that the words are so similar.

The Christians use this time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Jews celebrate pass-over and our consumer culture celebrates with the easter bunny and easter eggs. The egg is an ancient symbol of new life and rebirth and is likely to derive from ancient page ceremonies, although early Christian communities in Mesopotamia were reported as having painted eggs to represent the blood of Christ. Rabbits are also an ancient symbol of life and rebirth.

covid-confirmed-deaths-since-5th-death (1)

At the moment birth is far from the minds of many and it is death that is the focus as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the lives of millions around the world. As you can see from the graph above, the UK curve is still very close to that of Italy, slightly above the US, while Brazil is still slightly below where the UK was at that point in the epidemic.

Here in Brazil, Human Rights Watch has accused President Bolsonaro of attempting to sabotage anti-covid-19 efforts. In a news release the advocacy organisation, which investigates human rights abuses all over the world, said: “President Jair Bolsonaro is putting Brazilians in grave danger by urging them not to comply with social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 from state governments and his own Health Ministry, Human Rights Watch said today. He has also acted recklessly by disseminating misleading information about the pandemic.”

In the streets of Sao Paulo, where there is not the same level of lockdown as is being enforced in the UK and New York, people are out buying easter eggs for Sunday. Many in the population already seem bored by the social distancing measures and the country is in danger of these measures breaking down at the worst possible moment.




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