Sturgeon and merchantsfight back COVID-19

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NAVEED AMAN KHAN

DURING last one month, the United Kingdom has transformed beyond recognition. Most of us haven’t had time to stop and take stock.When the UK was another country, a chalkboard leaned against the outside wall of a country pub.Amessage had been written in neat,thin capitalletters. “Unfortunately a customer who visited us has tested positive for the Coron Avirus, so as a precautionarymeasurewe are closing for a full deep clean.” Thelandlord ofthe pub, apologised fortheinconvenience. The patient who had gone there lived somewhere in the county. Unlike previous British cases detected up to that point he hadn’t been abroad recently. As far as any one knew he was the first to catch the virus inside the UK. On the same day a British, who’d been infected on the Diamond Princess cruiseship, became the first UK citizen to die in Japan, from Covid-19. That afternoon, children were still in classrooms and adults at work. People shook hands, hugged and kissed. In the evening, went to the pubs and restaurants. Some went on dates and others visited elderly relatives. They assembled in groups and mingled with residents of other households.Astheweekendwent on, football fans crammed into stadiums. Worshippers gathered in churches, mosques, temples, gurdawaras and synagogues. You could go outside far as long as you liked, if you didn’t mind the rain. On supermarket shelves, toilet paper and paracetamol were plentiful. Recent storms had left large swathes ofthe country flooded, but formostBritish people, life went on as it always had and seemingly always would. The UK’s sense of what was normal shifted in sudden movements, as though a ratchet was being yanked. The people in the UK were already taking notice of the fatal outbreak. It would have been difficult to ignore entirely about what was happening in China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Spain. The first confirmed cases among travellers returning to the UK had come as early as January, but it still seemed possible to regard this as something happening, for the most part, a long way away. People weren’t yet panicking, but a generalised sense oflow-level anxiety went everywhere. The virus had reached the four corners of the United Kingdom, cases had been detected in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland andWales. PrimeMinisterBoris Johnson stood behind a lectern and launched the government’s CoronAvirusAction Plan. The outbreak was declared a level four incident. Up to a fifth of the work force might be off sick at its peak, the Premier warned. Schools are closed andlarge-scale gathering reduced. However, seriously anyone took the warning, it was still difficult to visualise. The following day, a woman in her 70s with an underlying condition those last four words soon became grimly familiar to anyone became the first person to die inside the UK after testing positive for the virus. Hand sanitisers, toilet rolls, bath soaps, and eatables selling out in supermarkets were out of stock. During lockdown food availability and supply was a big challenge for Nicola Sturgeon but she wonderfully managed it with the coordination of leading Pakistani businessmen basedin ScotlandlikeMuhammad FaheemRajaCEO, Malik International, Chaudhry Azam Asad CEO, Azam International, Muhammad Amir CEO, ICU International and President PML-N Scotland Mirza Muhammad Amin CEO, Nisa—Way Grocers. Undoubtedlythese proud businessmen have served the humanity at the moment when it really seemed difficult. Nicola Sturgeon and the worthy merchants made the challenging task easier. Each day the number of confirmed cases continued creeping up. The day that the WHO declared a pandemic, Liverpool FC hosted Atletico Madrid who were already playingtheir home games behind closed doors. Crazy football supporters wearing masks were seen elsewhere. Anyone planed to fly out of the UK could not.Another twist of the ratchet was imminent. The following day, the government’s Sage Committee of scientific experts was shown revised modelling of the likely death toll. The figures were shattering. If nothing was done, there would be five hundred thousand deaths. Under the existing mitigation strategy to shield the most vulnerable while letting everyone go about their business mostly as normal there would be a quarter of a million. The Premier Boris Johnson asked anyone with a continuous cough or a fever to selfisolate. Hisinstruction came with a warningthatmanymore families are going to lose loved ones before their time. The bluntness was shocking. Some asked why, in that case, more wasn’t being done. The London Marathon, the Premier League, English Football League and May’s local elections were all postponed. Scotland had received its increasing Corona Virus -related deaths.You couldn’t watch League football.Many could not go to the pub. Hand sanitiser wasn’t to be found on any supermarket shelves, but you couldtell your friends about your plans to practise social distancing if you met them on the street. Around the country, people looked at Italy, France and Spain, which had already gone into lockdown, and wondered if the UK was next. Volunteers began forming mutual aid groups to deliver food and medicine to vulnerable people who were self-isolating. In person and on WhatsApp, families and groups of friends argued about what it all meant. The more anxious wondered why the British government was moving more cautiouslythanits counterparts onthe continent.The more blasé complained about why they were going to all this bother. Wasn’t it just a bit of flu? The latter sentiment was exactly the kind of thing the government’s advisers were most worried about. Non-essential travel, urged people to avoid pubs, clubs and work from home. Acrossthe country, kitchentables were cleared to make way for laptops. Thanks to Skype and the virtual meetings app, Zoom, white-collar workers started getting a glimpse of their colleagues’ interior decor. Those who couldn’t do their jobs like this wondered how on Earth they were supposed to earn money and stay safe. Just six days after presenting his budget, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced £300bn in loan guarantees – a huge expansion of state intervention in the economy by a Conservative government. There were still calls for more to be done to stop Britons infecting each other. The following day, most school pupils – those whose parents weren’t designated key workers – were told they wouldn’t go back to their classes until further notice. Exams, proms, farewells to classmates and teachers would not happen closely. But although the Scottish had been advised not to go to restaurants, cafes and pubs, many restaurants, cafes and pubs stayed open.They were quieter. Nicola Sturgeon had steadfastly demonstrated libertarian instincts – ordered restaurants, cafes and pubs to close, a measure that even in the darkest moments of World War Two would have been unthinkable. Under the leadership of dynamic Iron lady of Scotland Nicola life seems to move towards normalcy. —Thewriterisbookambassador,columnist,politicalanalyst and author of several books, temporarily based in London