Early April, 2020. The sun was beating down and the empty streets were filled with the smell of baked banana bread.
Each breaking news alert came with a bolt of anxiety. The world held it’s breath as Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought for his life in a London hospital. The ping of a news alert confirmed another leader, of sorts, had succumbed to the virus. Football legend Sir Kenny Dalgliesh had tested positive while in hospital in Liverpool.
Sir Kenny was part of a raft of high profile cases that drove home the seriousness of what was unfolding.
Tomorrow, Saturday 10th April, marks a year since Sir Kenny tested positive. It was an uncertain time for him and his family, as the world of football willed him on to get better. Thankfully, the parallels with the Prime Minister’s case are limited. Sir Kenny didn’t need the same intense treatment and managed to return home from hospital and recover quickly.
This weekend, Kenny tells his story; his anxious wait for symptoms to develop and how he saw the best of the NHS at a time of deep crisis. We’ll touch on football, too. How the game has been impacted, what it’s future holds and why he thinks a COVID passport is the best way to get fans back into stadiums.
The physical stillness of those first few months of spring 2020 were matched by the noise of an onslaught of information. It became hard to decipher what was real and what wasn’t. Scientists – and politicians, pundits, experts and journalists – were using best guesses to navigate the uncertainty. Data and evidence was emerging by the hour and scientific opinion shifting just as fast. It’s a pace of change we are still learning to cope with.
This week, new data hinted that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was causing rare blood-clots in some younger takers. An earnest press conference, lead by everybody’s favourite analogy king Jonathan Van Tam, outlined what the regulators had found.
Blood-clots remain extremely rare, but the evidence they are a consequence of the vaccine, said Van Tam, was becoming firmer. The response has been to offer those under 30 the option of a different brand of jab, timed perfectly with the roll out of the Moderna vaccine.
As ever, there are more questions than answers. Chief amongst them: were European leaders right? Macron and Merkel casted some doubt on the Oxford-AstraZeneca several weeks ago – and France has limited it’s use to over 55s. They were hammered by the British press and accused of playing post-Brexit politics. Did they see something we didn’t, or did they jump the gun and fluke the right call? It also begs the question as to why we have limited it’s use in under 30s, and other countries have chosen a much higher threshold.
More importantly, what does it mean for the vaccine roll out and how do we, as individuals, calculate our risk? One pithy journalist pointed out on Twitter that you have more chance of dying on a drive to Barnard Castle than you do from taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab. And that’s what it seems to come down to… risk and reward.
This weekend, we’ll get some answers to those lingering questions. One of our favourite virologists, George Lomonossoff joins us to hold our hand through the details.
Meanwhile, across the pond, another political storm is in full brew.
A controversial new election law in the key state of Georgia has put politicians and big companies at loggerheads. Coca-cola, Delta, Major League Baseball and The Masters golf tournament are just a handful of the organisations that have, in some cases, taken action as drastic as moving themselves out of the state.
Critics say the law opens the door to closing polling stations at 5pm, just as people clock off work. It reduces the number of voting drop boxes. It bans food and water being handed out to large voting queues – most commonly found in black communities. It narrows the window for requesting a postal vote. Voters will be required to use a form of ID, again affecting black communities who are less likely than other voters to have the forms of ID required.
It is hard to deny that this law – in some cases subtly – makes it harder for people in Georgia to vote. If that were to happen in another part of the world – China, Russia, Brazil, where lawmakers brought in a law that makes it harder for some of it’s people to vote – would you be surprised, heck, supportive if global companies turned their back on that region?
Of course, it can also be argued that a company moving in protest – taking with it jobs, wealth and opportunities – is a funny way of showing it cares about the people of the area.
Companies being politically active is not a new phenomena. Since the dawn of time, they have donated to political parties, lobbied politicians for favourable treatment and make commitments to staff, customers and shareholders to be socially responsible. Deliveroo have felt the sharp end of being on the wrong side of workers rights, with potential investors turning their back. But its hard to ignore the growing trend of big companies taking an outright public stance on a policy or issue. And, increasingly, taking action.
This weekend, we’ll get to the bottom of what is going on in the US – and ask if companies engaging in political activity is, like it or loath it, inevitable.
And if we’re going to cover political unrest – you can look a little closer to home. Northern Ireland, specifically Belfast, has been hit by a week of violence.
Some have pointed to Brexit as a catalyst, direct or otherwise. The rioters have been predominantly young, so it’s unlikely that they are revolting against the Northern Ireland Protocol, but with the balance so delicate in Northern Ireland, the disturbance from Brexit was always destined to stoke tensions and motivate those manipulating forces.
So how does a generation that has grown up in relative peace come to such violence? Who are those manipulative forces? Is this a blip in the road, or a more significant return to a dark period of history?
There have been accusations that the press haven’t covered the story enough. It’s a well made claim, on almost every subject, and while it may be an inconvenience for some Brexit supporting newspapers to confront, I am always skeptical of a mass media conspiracy. Sometimes, the rhythm of the news agenda means certain things don’t get the attention you feel they deserve.
One thing is undeniable, though: there are not enough people from Northern Ireland in national newsrooms. It’s so often less to do with a conspiracy, and more to do with under-representation. The whole point of having a diverse newsroom is for a journalist to be able to walk into the morning meeting and say ‘hey, this thing here is really important’ in a way that somebody who is unfamiliar with the setting of the story may not.
There are few stories where the setting – the history, the context, the local knowledge and mood – is as important as unrest in Northern Ireland. I, for example, don’t know enough about the complexities and significance of this story. I just… don’t. And if newsrooms are filled with people like me, who don’t get it, the story risks slipping down the agenda.
This weekend, we’ll hand some time over to an Irish journalist. Connor Phillips will fill in the gaps.
See you in the morning.April 09, 2021 | No Comments