In Cygnus And In Health

I was a young bloke with raging testosterone when I married The Mrs. Signing the marriage certificate was easy, no vows were required. We just had to inform the marriage celebrant that we knew of no legal impediment which may have prevented us from marrying each other. It was not until I attended Violet’s wedding that the seriousness of marriage weighed on me like a tonne of bricks. My vivacious and elegant niece married in the posh 14 acre heritage-listed gardens of Melbourne’s Rippon Lea on Boxing Day of 2011. I was seated on the front row which commanded a central view of their beautiful ceremony, a privilege only a proud uncle could be accorded. The vows my niece exchanged with her husband under the floral arbour struck me like a thunderbolt. The touching moment made me cry from a realisation that I was unthinking and naive of the responsibilities once I got married. So irresponsible and reckless. My wedding was light-hearted, exciting and full of sunshine on that Saturday morning 39 years ago. I did not pause, not even for a second, to consider the many ramifications of marrying someone I love. When we were young, the idea that we could fall sick, very sick, never crossed my mind. So sick that we should contemplate death? “From this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” It did occur to me then that I should be responsible for her happiness and safety but her health? She was not a child and not stupid. She was and still is very capable of looking after herself. Her health or well-being was never something that I considered. In reality of course, when I looked after myself, I looked after her also. That is the basic ethos of a family unit. We look after each other – our loved ones are our responsibility, no marital vows are necessary to remind us of that.

In the workplace, OHS laws require employers to look after the safety and well-being of their workers and anyone who steps into the workplace. A duty of care is owed by the employer who may be held criminally liable and prosecuted in his personal capacity if found to be negligent in failing to provide a safe working environment for their people. Occupational health and safety standards are clearly expressed and adhered to in my business. Failure to do so could cripple our operations or worse, cripple us physically and financially. At work, we know to look after one another’s safety. We do not need the threat of hefty fines and heavy jail sentences to remind us our health and safety is paramount.

In Australia, animals are legally regarded as “sentient beings”, i.e. they have a consciousness that enables them to feel, sense and perceive the world around them and as such, deserve a quality of life that reflects their “intrinsic value”. Dogs cannot be confined for more than a day without being exercised. There are laws that protect them against animal cruelty – neglecting their basic needs will attract pecuniary fines, and injuring them deliberately and violently will land a person a few years’ prison sentence. In Queensland, the maximum fine is $266,900 or a 3-year imprisonment. Animals have rights and we know not to breach our duty of care for them, a duty which is based on the internationally recognised ‘5 freedoms’ of animal welfare.

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst.
  • Freedom from discomfort.
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
  • Freedom to express normal behaviours.
  • Freedom from fear and distress.

In affairs of the State, governments have a responsibility towards the welfare and health of their citizens. What can we conclude if a government were to deliberately ignore “terrifying” simulation results of a pandemic drill? Why would it even embark on a costly trial run if it were to simply bury the results and prevent the findings from being reported under the pretext of “national security concerns”? There was just such a drill that took place in the UK in October 2016, code-named Exercise Cygnus. The exercise showed that the hypothetical H2N2 influenza pandemic would cause the country’s health system to collapse from a lack of PPE’s, ICU beds and the inability to cope with the disposal of dead bodies. What do we say about a government that subsequently did the opposite to what was blatantly obvious from the exercise – cutting NHS bed numbers instead of adding more beds. There is a strong suggestion that with COVID-19 deaths still to peak in the UK, there will be a lot more blood on the government’s hands.

Across the Atlantic, there were even more warnings about an impending pandemic. What do we say about a government that repeatedly ignores the warnings and advice from their medical experts as well as their intelligence community? Trump said on March 19th, “Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.” No one saw it coming. Really?

  1. In 2012, the RAND Corporation concluded that only pandemics were “capable of destroying America’s way of life.”
  2. In 2015, Bill Gates warned in GatesNotes: “The world is simply not prepared to deal with a disease — an especially virulent flu, for example — that infects large numbers of people very quickly.”
  3. In 2017, the incoming Trump administration was provided with a simulation report that detailed how “the U.S. government should respond to a flu pandemic that halts international travel, upends global supply chains, tanks the stock market, and burdens health-care systems.”
  4. In a 2017 forum on pandemic preparedness, Dr Fauci said there is no question that “there will be a surprise disease outbreak.” (emphasis is mine)
  5. In 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the “Spanish Flu”, the National Security Council advised “the threat of pandemic flu is our number-one health security concern.” The very next day, National Security Adviser John Bolton terminated the NSC’s department for preparing and responding to pandemics.
  6. There were simulation exercises to assess the threats of a pandemic carried out by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in 2018 and 2019.
  7. The US intelligence heads have repeatedly warned since 2013 of the serious threat that a pandemic poses in their annual worldwide threat assessment. They reported in 2013: “This is not a hypothetical threat. History is replete with examples of pathogens sweeping populations that lack immunity, causing political and economic upheaval.” 

The Blame Game – The WHO lost their US funding after Trump accused them of being China-centric, delaying the pandemic response of countries, by being slow to declare it as a pandemic. Perfunctory observations support his accusation. In the case of COVID-19, the first cluster of 41 patients suffering an unknown pneumonia was reported to WHO on Dec 31 2019. The WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 71 days after the first report of a cluster, albeit of an unknown illness at the time. Compare the WHO’s response in 2009, when they took 54 days to declare a pandemic on 11 June from when the first novel 2009 H1N1 flu infections was reported to them (on April 18). In December that year, the WHO was essentially charged with fraud by 14 members of the Council of Europe. They said “pharmaceutical companies have influenced scientists and official agencies” in their haste to declare it as a pandemic. When a pandemic is declared, nations have to incur costly purchases of medical equipment and supplies. It is therefore not surprising to see a more cautious response from the WHO this time.

In Wuhan where the first outbreak was reported, there were over 64,000 people infected and 1,000 dead within the first 3 weeks. That should have served as ample warning for the rest of the world of how contagious SARS-COV-2 virus is. A good measure of how well prepared the authorities were at delaying or reducing the spread of COVID-19 or how serious they viewed its threat, in my opinion, is to look at the number of days they took to lockdown or adopt social-distancing measures from the first known case, given the warning they had from the horrifying reports out of Wuhan.

Wuhan: Dec 1 – Jan 23 = 56 days

Wuhan: Jan 8 – Jan 23 = 15 days (once ascertained it was a new coronavirus)

US: Jan 20 – Mar 17 (parts of California) = 65 days

UK: Jan 29 – Mar 20 = 52 days

Spain: Jan 31 – Mar 14 = 44 days

Italy: Jan 30 – Feb 21 = 23 days

New Zealand: Feb 28 – Mar 21 = 22 days

Taiwan: Jan 21 – Feb 2 (Return to schools deferred) = 13 days

Following Trump’s recent accusations that China did “terrible” things to the US despite praising China’s COVID-19 efforts on numerous occasions in January and February, Australia has called for an independent enquiry into the origins of COVID-19. Trump said there should be consequences if China is found to be “knowingly responsible”, for deliberately causing the outbreak that has killed over 63,000 Americans. Yesterday, he went further and said, without evidence, the virus originated in Wuhan’s virology lab – they were either too incompetent to stop it getting out or “they let it out”. No doubt, the world needs to know how the outbreak spread from Wuhan and became a pandemic, but equally important are the answers to why countries such as the US and the UK ignored horrifying warnings of a potential pandemic and instead of doing nothing which in itself would be gross criminal negligence, they knowingly imperilled their frontline capacity. The US dismantled their pandemic response unit and the UK reduced hospital bed numbers despite dire warnings from Exercise Cygnus. Is it not the most fundamental duty of a government to protect its citizens’ wellbeing and health? To protect them from harm, be it from external enemies, civil unrest or death from disease?

The Virus And Us III

The morning air is a lot sweeter now. It is 7am. No more petrol fumes for me to suck into my lungs this early in the day. The silence is broken by the chirpy cockatoos and colourful rosellas – the park in front of my house is a lot noisier than any wet market in Asia. The magpies have grown bigger and the distance we keep apart from one another is evidence of our mutual respect. I reckon those big birds can hurt me if they wanted to. Although this was the third week of me working from home, I have not been able to change my body clock to sleep the extra hour saved. I have just made a conscious decision to dress the part from next week on. The slide to anonymity has its advantages, I originally felt. Apart from The Mrs and my 96 year-old mother who has moved in with us since the early days of the SARS-CoV-2 virus making front page news, I am invisible to all others. But when The Mrs begins to treat me as the unwashed, I know the slide has reached the bottom of the barrel of self-respect. She would never bother to ask why I have stopped brushing my hair – the less hair on the floor, the more tolerant she is of me. The meter of her discontent is the frequency of her complaint about my hair. “It stinks! Why won’t you wash it nightly?” She is right, of course. At times, I have had to arrest my own breath. But, a couple of days ago, she said it the very next morning after I had washed it. It made me consider that maybe my hair odour is imagined. All the more reason for me to feel that the slide to anonymity is complete. From tomorrow, I shall climb out from the rut. The first thing to feel nice again is to dress nice. I do not remember if that was said by Dale Carnegie in his book “How to win friends & influence people”. I should read his book again. I am beginning to lose friends again. Two days ago, I used what I thought was already a very accepted word. A word that has not been derogatory for at least a century, surely. Kwailo or Gweilo. Originally deprecatory but it is a common Cantonese slang word for Westerners. As harmless, decades ago, as the Hokkien words “Ang moh kau” or “Ang moh kui” The first two words mean red hair. Kau admittedly can be offensive to some today, as they refer to our distant cousins, the monkeys. Kui or Gui means devil. Manchester United, my favourite football team, calls themselves the Red Devils, so my guess is that “kui” does not offend anymore. Dale Carnegie taught me about the secret of Socrates. We should always begin a conversation by emphasising the positives and the things we agree. But, I forgot to do that. I embarked on a litany of reasons why my Hong Kong friend who hauled me up on using the word “Kwailo” was overly sensitive. He said I am rude and racist. “Do you tell all your Hong Kong friends they are rude and racist?” I shouted. It is incorrect that the world has become so politically incorrect. Dale Carnegie rushed into my mind, and made me apologise quickly. “For those who are aggrieved by this, I say sorry.” The other big contributor to my reawakening is my son’s puppy, Murray. Pre-COVID-19 days, Murray used to share his living quarters with me. We were virtually inseparable, the best of friends. I learned a lot from the pup. He was in my office all day. I worked all day whereas he occupied his time gnawing at a goat horn, or made me play “chasey” round and round my desk with him. Whilst he enjoyed his breakfast and little snacks, I practised Intermittent Fasting. Every two hours, a staff member would take him for a walk around the neighbourhood. None of them refused. Murray is a really powerful magnet to the lovely office girls nearby. When I had my lunch, so did Murray. When I worked, he napped. You see the pattern? Murray never has to work! I could have written Dale Carnegie’s book by just observing Murray.

Principle 1 – He does not criticise, condemn or complain.

Principle 2 – He gives genuine appreciation and wags his tail with love.

Principle 3 – He arouses my affection for him. He smiles and gives me that cute look of his, without any ulterior motives.

Principle 4 – He is genuinely interested in me and is totally loyal.

Principle 5 – He makes me feel important. He gives unconditional love and attention.

Principle 6 – He is a good listener and encourages me to talk.

Principle 7 – The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Murray never argues with me.

Principle 8 – He never points out my faults. He never says I am wrong.

Principle 9 – He is quick to acknowledge when he is wrong. He will sit by my side and rest his head on my thigh.

Principle 10 – He lets me do all the talking. He lets me think all the ideas are mine.

Principle 11 – He praises (licks) me a lot and makes me feel special.

Principle 12 – He lets me know when I have made a mistake, indirectly. Once he whimpered when his water bowl was dry.

Principle 13 – He teaches me to be an effective leader with clear-cut communication skills. He knows to sit down when I point my finger at the floor.

Principle 14 – He teaches me to let the other person save face. I rebuked him once only to realise it was my fault, and he never embarrassed me about it.

Principle 15 – He teaches me to reward good behaviour generously. He gets a treat every time he responds correctly to an instruction.

It was my eldest son who told me about the idea that people dress nice to feel nice. It was a foreign concept to me. Why would anyone need material goods to make themselves feel good? How we feel and how we feel about ourselves comes from within, right? Our health is foremost and that can only come from the food we eat – the nutrition or lack of will determine everything else about us. Without our health, what does it matter about our happiness and harmony? Our health is not just our physical health of course. We need to look after our mental health and spiritual health too. When we feel good inside, we will feel good outside. Will we not radiate positivity and confidence? Will we not shine with assuredness and contentment? Will we not flash a happy smile more readily when we feel good about ourselves from within? The modern-day experts are trying to spin the opposite. Dress well to feel well. Where is my Pierre Cardin tie? Discarded decades ago, I decided a shop-keeper looks odd with a tie. Where is my Rolex watch? The one from Siem Reap when I last visited Angkor Wat. It was a fake and made me feel like a fake, so it got binned too. Where is my Hugo Boss jumper? I felt it, tried it on but never bought it. Where is my DKNY leather jacket – one of the few things I like about New York? It is probably breeding mould in the wardrobe. Dress nice to feel nice. Sounds nice that I will sound nice. My job requires me to answer the phone – a lot. One of the anomalies of an internet-based business. People still want to deal with a human being when they shop online. I man the live chats during working hours but AI takes over when I switch off. A customer who typed ever so slowly asked if I was a robot. It is the most frustrating part of my job, watching and waiting for what feels like an eternity for someone to string a few short words together. “Are you a robot?” took her more than a minute to type. Only The Mrs would say that about me, I wrongly thought. Now, I realise there is at least another woman in this world who suspects I am robotic. With COVID-19 scaring consumers away from the malls, my online business has, alas, not been affected enough by the social distancing measures being enforced in Australia. The federal government’s Jobkeeper stimulus would have entitled my business to a $120,000 rescue package provided my business revenue drops by over 30%. That’s such an arbitrary figure, don’t you agree? At one point, I was down 25% only! Life’s a bitch, as they say. Which reminds me, in some parts of Australia, life’s a beach. Many beach-goers simply ignored the social-distancing rules put in place to curb the spread of the virus, and insisted on enjoying sun-bathing together in close proximity to one another.

The bread I am making is almost ready. Nothing beats the aroma of fresh bread baking. It is enough for me to break my fast. The Mrs and I are very competitive. But, I have just announced that the breadwinner’s bread is the winner. Sorry, Dale Carnegie. I keep forgetting one of your more important rules – Don’t compare your wife’s cooking! The other smell I love is the petrichor from the first few drops of rain. It never fails to beam me back to my young teenage years in the school field playing football with friends. So long ago. So far away from COVID-19.

The Virus And Us

“Hope is the only thing left in Pandora’s box.” The doctor’s words have been repeating continuously in my mind like a broken cassette player. That doctor was Tang Xin of Wuhan Union Hospital. It felt to him like everything in Pandora’s box had been unleashed on the 11 million people of Wuhan. The landscape in Wuhan would have been one of devastation, fear, agony, illness and death. Over 68,000 of the doctor’s colleagues and other medical workers had toiled unceasingly for a month to fight the onslaught of the virus in the city now made infamous by it. Many had succumbed to it despite their protective clothing that seemed more suited for space travel. When nature unleashes all its fury and scorn at us, the least we expect is that it would be in the form of a simple organism that our eyes cannot even detect. A virus. It attacks us, maims us and kills us, indiscriminately. It teaches us we are all the same, all equally susceptible to fall ill from it. Irrespective of our belief systems – which God or Gods we pray to or not pray to. It does not matter if we are rich or poor, famous or insignificant, powerful or weak, happy or sad. It teaches us to distance ourselves from others, that ganging up together in numbers is no longer our strength and being alone isn’t really loneliness. To be separated from one another is not a weakness but our strength to weaken its spread. It teaches us basic things like how to wash our hands. I learned to be miserly with water from years of drought but the virus teaches me how to clean my hands the right way. I am 61 and am realising only now I’ve been washing my hands the wrong way all these years. Saving water now isn’t as important as saving ourselves from passing the virus via our hands. The virus teaches us that the trillions of dollars poured into propping the global economy does nothing to stop it let alone slow its advance around the world and it surely doesn’t stop the stock markets crashing either. The trillions of dollars that we spend on military weapons doesn’t keep us safe. It teaches us that we are one and the same. It really is us vs the virus. It teaches us that our money is best spent on education and improving our health and hygiene, and finding vaccines and cures.

The virus shows us the ugliness of earthlings. It has a name. The WHO named it SARS-CoV-2. Before being given this name, it was loosely called “Wuhan virus”, or “Chinese coronavirus”. The disease this virus causes is called COVID-19. Yesterday, Trump crossed out the word “Coronavirus” in his notes and replaced it with “Chinese virus”. He claimed to be in the interest of accuracy. It’s from China and therefore it should be named the Chinese virus. He’s a slow learner, so let’s forgive him. Let’s not ask him to rename the Spanish Flu the “American Flu”. We don’t even know for sure Wuhan is where the virus comes from. Not until Robert Redfield convinces us the deaths in America previously attributed to vaping and the winter flu in June to October last year were not posthumously determined to be from COVID-19. It is ugly that some of the leaders of the world use the virus to play politics and gain some little brownie points with their electorates. Likewise, I think the leadership team in China is wrong to promulgate the theory that it was some American soldiers who introduced the virus to China during the October military games in Wuhan. If that was true, one would think the athletes of other nations would have also brought it back to their own countries at about the same time. In the last 24 hours, there have been examples of urghhlings around the world showing the contempt they have for the efforts local authorities are making to try and contain the pandemic. There is the cardiologist, Dr Ong Hean Teik, who was adamant to jog in the lovely Youth Park in Penang despite the restricted movement order that’s in place in Malaysia. Or the Tablighs who travelled to Indonesia for another religious gathering despite having caused the doubling of confirmed cases in Malaysia from their recent gathering in the Petaling Mosque. Or those who sought hospital treatment and lied that they were not participants of that gathering when asked by hospital staff, infecting 15 medical workers overnight. Or the Australian woman who went out jogging in Shanghai when she was in a compulsory 14-day self-quarantine. Or the NSW government defending their stupid decision to allow 2,647 passengers to disembark from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay, despite knowing four of the passengers were infected with the virus. Which part of “Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas will be forced to self-isolate for 14 days” do they not understand? Or the Haves in Australia hoarding foodstuffs unnecessarily as most of the food on supermarket shelves are produced locally in this country. There is simply no risk of a supply problem here. Whilst the Haves hoard their excess foods in cupboards and freezers inevitably leaving some portions to perish, the charity Foodshare in Shepparton which normally receives 300kg of food a day found only 10kg turned up today, without any bread. There was also an absence of volunteers as they abandoned their usual practice to help the Have-Nots, practising social distancing instead. Or the Muslim devotees in Penang who congregated for a prayer session on a rooftop to circumvent the country’s ban on gatherings of any sort. Or those in Wakefield, England who go around the suburbs scamming vulnerable elderly people for their cash and credit cards, pretending to be authorised government workers tasked with buying food for those who self-isolate and cannot go outside. Or the idiocy of our Prime Minister who bans indoor groups of more than a hundred but insists on schools remaining open, risking the health and lives of children, their parents and teachers. A friend asked us a few days ago, what if we are the virus and nature’s immune system is getting rid of us? Urghhlings overpopulate, we destroy our habitat, we farm animals without ethics or respect for them. We persist with allowing wet markets to cruelly impose unnatural and unhealthy conditions on wild animals from different continents, caging them close together in crammed spaces. These wet and humid conditions are foreign to them, and ideal for viruses to jump to humans. We attack nature. Maybe our threat to our environment and our cruelty to animals have reached a tipping point where nature has decided to fight back? Elizabeth Farrelly wrote: We attack nature; eventually nature fights back. The fires destroyed Christmas; pandemic destroys Easter. I cannot agree more. We are Urghhlings, ugly earthlings.

Maybe the world needs this virus to reset our moral compass. As more and more countries go into lockdown and close their borders, it allows all of us a rare opportunity to slow our pace. A change that’s as refreshing as the first coffee in the morning or that first stroll in the garden as we greet the beginning of another day. Lose that hustle and bustle, discard that impersonal and inconsequential life much like that of the mouse on a treadmill. As governments and employers do their bit to soften the financial burden many will undoubtedly face as they are deprived of movement and therefore incomes, hopefully the slowdown will be temporary yet bring some respite for Mother Nature to repair the damage humans have inflicted on her. There is evidence of it as the air becomes much cleaner in China, where birds are heard in the skies of Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing again. Animals roam the empty freeways in Sichuan and weeds grow in gaps of bonnets and boots of parked cars that have not moved since January. As Julia Roberts said, we need nature, but nature doesn’t need us. Mother Nature is prepared to evolve. She has been here four and a half billion years and has fed or starved living things greater and stronger than human beings. So, maybe the virus is sending us a reminder. Look after nature or nature will wipe us out. She doesn’t care. As lockdowns become common, crowds and cars disappear and cities become alive again, not from the din people make or from the noise and fumes of unending traffic, but from fresh air and birds in full flight high up in the sky. See the pubs with beer remaining closed and the people are home with their loved ones. Look at the golfer who spends his whole weekends hitting and chasing a small white ball rediscover the joy of spending time with his Mrs. They are tending to the roses and vegetable beds together. I am home and I get the privilege to bond with my 96 year-old mum. Look at me looking at The Mrs. It is our 39th wedding anniversary today, and although we did not dine out, The Mrs and I got to celebrate it with her home-cooked Hakka “Khao Yoke”, pork belly steamed with yam. After 39 years, she still doesn’t know I dislike yam. On second thoughts, maybe she does. There is still hope in Pandora’s box. The virus and us – we will just have to show mutual respect for one another.