In Depth

Instant Opinion: ‘The worst thing about having coronavirus’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Thursday 19 March

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. James Kirkup in The Spectator

on catching the coronavirus

The worst thing about having coronavirus

“Be honest: when you first heard about self isolation, did you think, just for a second: ‘that sounds good’? Many of us made the same mordant jokes about how we’d watch TV, catch up on reading books, generally enjoy some quiet and peace away from the constant noise of normal life. I certainly made those jokes, usually about reading. I always wish I could read more, but the constant churn of working, writing, life, everything just seems to absorb my mental bandwidth to the point where there are some days when I manage three pages before falling asleep. I’ve been stuck in the foothills of Dan Jackson’s wonderful The Northumbrians since it arrived as a birthday present in February. So I was one of those people who made those jokes. And now the joke is on me, because I’ve got coronavirus.”

2. Jenni Russell in The Times

on how the welfare system is failing millions in the face of coronavirus

Our mean welfare system is failing to deliver

“The collapse of so many independent jobs and careers at once, as the coronavirus closes much of Britain down, is infinitely more than a series of individual disasters. We risk a depression. It threatens all of us if the economy implodes because demand has collapsed and public life is on hold while we must stay at home. It reveals how mean and punitive our welfare state has become, as I have written here before, with benefits deliberately frozen for the past five years. The self-employed and low-paid have even fewer rights to sick pay and out-of-work payments than everyone else. Radical action is needed, immediately. A benefits system cruelly structured to discourage claims and encourage work has to be re-engineered within days to give much more generous support to millions who are now forced to be inactive, whether sick or not.”

3. Martin Kettle in The Guardian

on how the pandemic shows the need for a different type of politics

Defeating the Covid-19 crisis could need a wartime coalition government

“Politics and the nation are still adjusting to a systemic shock. Johnson is not a unifying figure, though he is trying hard to be one. Nor are many of his ministers or advisers. Who trusts Priti Patel with our liberties? Trust in all politicians is low. The country has been deeply divided by austerity and Brexit. That’s why, just as in 1915 and 1940, it may eventually feel inevitable for Labour and even the SNP to be brought into a governing coalition in some way. This may be a wartime government but, as Asquith and Churchill found out and Johnson may learn, the politics that emerged from the war may be very different from the politics that preceded it.”

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4. Adair Turner, former chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority, in The Financial Times

on the economic stimulus needed to keep the economy alive

We need tax breaks and direct grants to sectors hit by pandemic

“Clearly, fiscal stimulus must involve whatever increases in health service expenditure are needed. In countries with strong welfare states, public spending will increase automatically as sick pay and unemployment claims rise. In the US, the White House has opened talks with Congress on a $1tn stimulus package that includes sending cheques directly to individual households, boosting their cash balances. Such payments should have been used more widely in 2009. Now they could help to offset economy-wide contractions in demand. But even that would be insufficient. While demand in 2008 was threatened by a collapse in consumer and business confidence, today’s quarantines and lockdowns mean that even people with plenty of spare cash cannot go out and spend. Many of those in secure jobs now working from home will accumulate cash savings as salary payments continue while spending opportunities shrink. But improved balance sheets for some households will not prevent large-scale bankruptcies and job losses in the most affected sectors.”

5. Rabbi Elliot Kukla in The New York Times

on the ableism and ageism being unleashed by Covid-19

My life is more ‘disposable’ during this pandemic

“Like many people all over the world, I am not leaving the house now. For me, though, staying home is nothing new. I am in bed as I write this, propped up by my usual heap of cushions, talking to other sick and disabled people all day on my laptop about how the hell we’re going to care for one another in the coming weeks with a gnawing feeling of dread in my belly. The news doesn’t look good: There are more people sick; less relief is coming. The ‘reassuring’ public service announcements are no better. Countless messages from my dentist, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and from my child’s playgroups tell me not to worry because it’s ‘only’ chronically ill people and elders that are at risk of severe illness or death. More than one chronically ill friend has quipped: ‘Don’t they know sick and old people can read?’”

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