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Peter Young: Stay Calm And Carry On - But Plans May Have To Change

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Peter Young

HERE we go again. That is likely to be the tired and irritated reaction of most people in the UK in the face of new restrictions after the recent discovery in South Africa of Omicron, the name given to a new strain of COVID-19.

Until about ten days ago, Britain was still in what people have been calling post-COVID mode with a return to some limited measure of normality. This was despite a recent surge of new cases of the Delta variant in some other European countries which, according to the WHO, accounts for the vast majority of infections globally. The situation became so serious in Austria, for example, that a new lockdown was imposed.

Towards the end of November, it emerged that Omicron – a highly potent and easily transmissible variant but one which so far has caused no deaths – had not only been found in South Africa but was beginning to surge there and, reportedly, has now spread quickly to some 40 different countries. The immediate response was predictable, with many – including The Bahamas – tightening restrictions on travel, in particular from South Africa and other countries in that region.

In Britain, the government introduced a new set of measures, including mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops and communal areas and more testing, quarantine and self-isolation for all visitors entering the UK. The new strain was soon found there, and this precipitated an overreaction by a small number of members of the public bordering on hysteria and despair. But others considered the new restrictions to be hardly draconian and they judged them to be sensible and precautionary pending further study of Omicron by scientists. However, in the last few days the travel rules have been tightened further to include pre-departure testing for all visitors to the UK in an effort to stamp out this super-variant.

The Chief Scientist at the WHO has said that, although Omicron is highly transmissible, it is not yet clear whether it is milder than the Delta variant. But scientists are predicting that in a few months this new strain may account for more infections than Delta and, as it spreads rapidly, it could become the world’s dominant COVID strain. Meanwhile, the WHO has urged people to be prepared and cautious but not to panic because the situation is different from a year ago.

As for the overall UK public reaction to these latest developments, it is always said stoicism is one of the positive virtues of the British. They are reputed to stay calm and show good sense in the face of adversity. But, as one commentator put it, this most recent COVID crisis is testing the patience, forbearance and resilience of even the toughest individuals.

The new restrictive measures imposed at very short notice are playing havoc with the travel plans of many people over Christmas and the New Year. This happens to include my wife and me. We have bought air tickets to London to spend the festive period with family and friends in England. But we are now faced with quarantine or self-isolation on arrival and the danger of not being allowed to return here in January if local restrictions are tightened to include incoming flights from the UK where cases of Omicron are reported to be increasing.

Judging from what happened at the height of the crisis last year, that danger is all too real, with various people at that time unable to return home for many months because of The Bahamas’ restrictions and the cancellation of flights. Being kept away involuntarily from your home base for any length of time can be disastrous for anyone and obviously avoided, if at all possible.

All this leads one to reflect on what is happening right now here in The Bahamas. From everything I hear, even though at the beginning of the pandemic last year Dr Minnis and his colleagues moved swiftly and aggressively to limit imported cases, people generally now seem to have greater faith in the new PLP government’s handling of the ongoing COVID crisis – and that is despite what looks to have been mismanagement in handling the 20,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccines. Reportedly, they are due to expire by the end of the year and may have to be discarded – and, inevitably, this makes people wonder what is happening in this country about booster jabs.

As a clear summary of the current situation for the country, one can do no better than read what the Prime Minister said last week, as reported in The Tribune on November 30.

He explained that new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were down but the country should not become complacent when a new variant – the nature of which was still uncertain – had appeared. So imposing travel restrictions in order to “buy time” while awaiting more clarity will surely be generally recognised as the right policy.

Mr Davis’ remarks about keeping the nation headed in a positive direction by fostering and sustaining stronger economic growth will also be widely welcomed. It seems to me an indication of exactly what is needed at such a difficult time – a balanced and proportionate approach to what has become a long-term problem. But, while it must surely be right to continue to persuade as many people as possible to be vaccinated, I, for one, hope coercion in the shape of official vaccine mandates will not ultimately be used here. What is more, that may not anyway be needed since a strong incentive is likely to be the US ban on the unvaccinated entering the country – for, as everyone knows, people love to shop in Miami!

A time to remember and ask, why did Japan attack?

Today marks the 80th anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on the US Pacific Fleet which was at anchor at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In the historic words of President Roosevelt, December 7, 1941 was “A day which will live in infamy”. It precipitated America’s entry into the Second World War following its period of neutrality and isolationism during the 1930s.

 I wrote briefly about Pearl Harbour this time last year. But on today’s significant anniversary it might be interesting to look at the reasons behind the Japanese attack.

 On the morning of that fateful day – a Sunday – Japan launched its horrific attack with several hundred bombers and fighters which succeeded in crippling or destroying 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes, though fortuitously three aircraft carriers were out on manoeuvres at the time and escaped the attacks. Dry docks and airfields were also destroyed. A total of 2,403 sailors, soldiers and civilians were killed and about 1,000 people were wounded.

 This dastardly attack to knock out the US fleet was a gamble that initially succeeded but which in the long-term turned out to be a fatal mistake. Japan wanted to put the fleet out of action so that it could continue unhindered with its conquest of all of Southeast Asia. What is less well known is that simultaneously it had attacked Hong Kong, Guam, Malaya, Thailand and the Philippines and later occupied and ravaged other territories as well. This was in pursuit of its determination to build a Pacific empire while it coveted the British, French and Dutch colonial possessions in the region.

 Japan’s goal to become a major global power went back to the 1930s, but its imperial ambitions were thwarted by its lack of natural resources – in particular, oil, coal and iron. So the nation began its aggressive expansionism during the decade before the Second World War broke out in 1939. Briefly, it invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931 for its resources and to obtain a foothold on the continent of Asia. This was followed by all-out war with China that by 1939 had ended in stalemate and Japan was forced to find new resources further afield. This meant looking southwards; for example to British Malaya for rubber and the Dutch East Indies for oil.

 Historians say that Japanese leaders had hoped that following the Pearl Harbour attacks the US would negotiate for peace and allow them to retain their new conquests and solidify their Asian empire. But, of course, that was a huge miscalculation. America went immediately on to a war footing and became involved worldwide in what was to become the most destructive global conflict in human history. Defeat of Japan in the Pacific took nearly four years to achieve. During a long period of bloody fighting the Americans gradually dislodged the Japanese forces from each of the occupied islands. Working their way north, this culminated in the US bombing the Japanese mainland itself and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan’s surrender followed soon afterwards.

 Thus, Japan launched a war because of its growing nationalism and the need for natural resources to sustain its imperial ambitions. But forcing an isolationist US into the war could only lead to one outcome. Once the sleeping giant was aroused, Hitler’s and Mussolini’s fates were sealed and Japan would likewise be defeated – however long it took.

 Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, wrote later that “to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy” because he knew that, with the Americans’ political will and overwhelming military power, the Allies would, indeed, ultimately prevail.

Should we listen to the Hollywood bubble?

Last week, I spotted an interesting little gem in the UK press about the so-called groupthink of actors. The author, a well-known journalist and commentator, contended in provocative fashion that those in the arts field – particularly Hollywood actors – tended most of the time to “spout the same soggy stew of wokery”; and he wondered how much wisdom the rest of us should expect from people whose primary qualification is pretending to be what they are not while impersonating and speaking the words of others.

For me, such a cynical and overly simplistic characterisation of the acting profession created doubts about the rest of the article. But the author is surely correct about people in the arts being generally to the Left in politics, with most of them thinking and speaking alike on political issues. Nonetheless, although they may be reasonably accused of groupthink in preaching to others, they are entitled to their opinions as much as anyone else. What is more, their supporters may legitimately ask why people should give any greater credence to the opinions of journalists, who like all human beings, are also flawed in one way or another.

While everybody is fallible to a greater or lesser degree, the difference surely is that journalists have varied views on most matters and shy away from any notion of groupthink. They are supposed to be trained to exercise objective judgement while putting aside prejudice, bias, cant, dogma and their own personal beliefs. They invariably study and research an issue and delve beneath the known facts to enable them to reach an informed and reasoned conclusion. If all that sounds like a counsel of perfection, it is said to be essential to effective journalism and, at the very least, something for which to aim.

As an additional comment, thinking people live in a state of perpetual curiosity. They like to challenge the status quo or the received wisdom on an issue - when they consider such action may be justified - and, even if, by so doing, they may be in a minority. They know there are few absolute truths and that even right and wrong may have different meanings in other countries and cultures. So views and opinions vary. But being able to express them in a free society makes life interesting, and that includes actors even if they only speak with one voice - though, to quote an old cliché, it is a mark of a civilised society to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

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