Covid 19, or the coronavirus if you prefer, has plunged the world into uncertainty and apprehension on a scale few of us will ever have known.
An unusually statesmanlike Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a sober tone as the extent of the crisis became evident, declaring, “I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose their loved ones before their time.”
In fact, as I write, the UK death toll is markedly lower than those of our continental neighbours, but by the time you read this, it may well have soared into the upper reaches.
Counter-measures are being put in place, tougher in some nations than in others.
Most European countries have closed their borders and imposed restrictions on social contact, while air and rail travel have halved.
Here in the UK, the authorities urged people to work from home if possible, stay away from crowded places, including pubs and restaurants, have food delivered to their home, and avoid visiting relatives in care homes.
In my case, I missed a relay of the opera Fidelio from Covent Garden and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure when the opera house and the theatre closed abruptly.
People aged over 70 and those with underlying health conditions are particularly urged to abide by the government’s directives, which, right now, are simply advisory, as opposed to legally binding, as in France. There, a person can be fined for being out of doors without good reason. In Spain, drones are being used to spot people on the streets.
Staying indoors brings its own problems, of course. As one elderly lady declared indignantly, “It’s like solitary confinement without committing a crime.”
The World Health Organization released advice on protecting mental health during the pandemic, including: avoid news that could cause distress; watch television and read books rather than use social media; but contact friends by phone so as to feel connected with the outside world.
Rosie Weatherley, spokesperson for the mental health charity Mind, said, “A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen — coronavirus is that on a macro scale.”
An unwelcome side effect of the coronavirus disaster, according to security experts, has been a sharp rise in email scams.
Cybercriminals are targeting not only individuals but a wide spread of industries, insurance and healthcare services with phishing emails written in the English, French, Italian, Japanese and Turkish languages.
The BBC tracked several. One purported to be from a mysterious doctor who claimed to know of a vaccine that the Chinese and UK governments were covering up. Clicking on an attached document took users to a spoof webpage designed to harvest login details.
Another con was devised by hackers who claimed that an attached document would show how recipients could prevent the disease’s spread. The attachment actually infected computers with malware that allowed the crooks to monitor their victims’ every move online.
David Emm of the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky said his company had detected 513 files with coronavirus in their title that contained malware. “We expect the numbers to grow as the real virus continues to spread,” he said.
Fahid Ali, 21, was not sure he would pass the theory test for a driving licence, so he smuggled a Bluetooth earpiece into the exam room hidden in his hair.
The plan was that a Moroccan man stationed outside, to whom he paid £150, would listen through the earpiece and pass him the answers. However, Ali was caught red-handed taking the hearing device connected to his phone out of his hair and putting it inside his headset.
In Northampton, he was given a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years. No trace was found of the mystery Moroccan.
Seagulls can be pretty cheeky, as anyone knows who has had his sandwich pinched out of his hand by a swooping seabird. They can also be, let’s say, careless about their toilet habits.
As Sunderland Councillor Amy Wilson noted, “When the weather is nice and people want to sit in a nice city park, it’s a pity to have it ruined by nuisance gulls.”
The Council’s solution was to hire Horatio, a Harris hawk, from a nearby falconry to patrol the city centre on four days each week. Horatio was not bred to hunt, so he does not attack the gulls, but his presence is enough to persuade them to nest elsewhere.
Wife is on the phone for half an hour. “That was quick,” snickers the husband when she rings off. “It was a wrong number,” she says.
Husband telephones: “Darling, I was in a terrible car accident after work and Sabrina took me to hospital. I have cervical dislocation, a fractured left arm, multiple facial injuries and they might have to amputate my right leg.” Wife: “Who is Sabrina?”