The Corona forecast: storms ahead

Jessica Harris casts a worried eye on what is in store as we face The Covid 19 crisis 

The list scrolls on, enigmatic and mesmerising, with the regularity of a heartbeat:
Egypt, Estonia, Eritrea. Poland, Paraguay, Pakistan.

Courtesy of Gov.UK, this travel advice update arrives in my inbox each day. It has a pulse like the poetry of the shipping forecast, that consolation in the dark on sleepless nights.

Tyne, Dogger, Fisher: south westerly, five to seven, squally showers, moderate or good.
I see lands and populations enveloping the globe. I see cities thickly occupied, intersected by conduits for people, information and services. I see slums where human proximity inhibits the entry of daylight, and tropical forests sparsely inhabited, yet snaked by transporting waterways. I see contiguous landmasses slashed into different administrations by artificial lines.

I see things which maps conceal: people who passage across borders, faiths which flow across boundaries, cultures which connect in disregard of frontiers. I look more closely at the list on my screen. It scans a wider vista than the shipping forecast. But, as with that nightly report on UK coastal waters, the devil and the detail love to conjugate.

– Until the end of the State of Emergency, Spain is closing its land borders to those who wish to enter.

– Canadian authorities have barred entry, including its border with the US, to most foreign nationals.

– Saudi authorities have introduced quarantine measures in response to Covid 19 as well as restrictions on commercial and retail businesses and public gatherings.

As if in imitation of the shipping forecast, journalists narrate the sandbanks and rocks which threaten the UK’s health and economy: the daily death toll in hospitals, the lack of testing and protective equipment, the mis-described fatalities in care homes. Where there is mention of casualties further afield – a recent upward trend in China – it is expressed as bad news for that country alone. Our aspirations to regain normality, for travel, trade and tourism to restart, are forgotten. 

From a distance, the words of Gordon Brown reverberate, like a foghorn in the gloom:
“People don’t know when this is going to end … they don’t know what is going to happen to them and what the future holds … it’s a global health problem.”

The list in my inbox rolls on:

– Bangladesh: requirement for travellers from the UK to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

– Wearing facemasks in public spaces is now mandatory throughout Ecuador. Fines will be given to those who do not comply.

– The Philippine authorities have announced a travel ban for foreign nationals from countries reporting local transmissions of coronavirus.


We should co-ordinate production of medical supplies…’

Brown, along with 200 other political thinkers  wrote to the G20 leaders about their joint concerns:

“The economic emergency will not be resolved until the health emergency is addressed … the health emergency will not end simply by conquering the disease in one country alone but by ensuring recovery from COVID-19 in all countries.” Brown and his fellow corresponents wrote. 

“Instead of each country, or state or province within it, competing for a share of the existing capacity, with the risk of rapidly-increasing prices, we should be … coordinating the global production and procurement of medical supplies,” they added. 

I see an arc spanning the landmasses of the world. Looking closer, I see many arcs, inter-looping like the designs of a spirograph, connecting one part of the globe with another. These circles and curves are an outcome of our travel and trade, an indicator of our interdependence. They are a marker of our modern lifestyles, yet their origins go back millennia.

The words of Brown and the international group make me pause – they have reached for a compass to navigate the turbulence:

“The long term solution is a radical rethink of global public health and a refashioning – together with proper resourcing – of the entwined global health and financial architecture.”

I reflect on the future, and glimpse a time in which the list in my inbox scrolls perpetually on, in rhythmic portrayal of an external chaos beyond my door.

Spain, Syria, Senegal. Britain, Brazil, Belarus.

In the small hours, when sleep is out of reach, the forecast seems dismal: Portland, Plymouth, Biscay: north easterly seven or eight, occasionally gale nine at first, fog patches, thundery showers, occasionally very poor.

But, if we engage with the global architecture of health and finance, if we collaborate rather than compete, if we serve the needs of those with little or nothing, then maybe a better outlook is possible.

Thames, Dover, Wight: west backing south west, three or four, mainly fair, good…..