Nova Scotia non-profit, Family SOS, calls upon public: ‘Bringing in food is our main challenge’

We are all in this together: Global News will feature our local community partners to highlight how they are handling day-to-day operations during the COVID-19 pandemic and how you can help.

We are all navigating the ups and downs of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, but what if your self-isolation included empty cupboards, no internet and no one to look after your kids?

All across the Maritimes, thousands of organizations are modifying the way they do business, and it includes more than just restaurants offering delivery and grocery stores taping arrows to their floors.

Charitable organizations have had to pivot their day-to-day operations as well, acting quickly to accommodate the thousands of Maritimers that rely on them for daily meals, shelter and childcare who may have also added job loss to their self-isolation ups and downs.

Family SOS has been serving the Greystone, N.S. community for more than 42 years. The local non-profit knows the importance of pivoting their day-to-day operations in these challenging times.

With hundreds of families relying on them for after-school programs, meals and parenting support, it can be challenging to ensure things run as smoothly as possible while we’re forced to stay the blazes home, as Premier Stephen McNeil urged last week.

“Bringing in food is our main challenge right now because it’s such a big need: people need food and they just don’t have it,” says Victoria Law, Communications and Development Officer at Family SOS.

“Our main priority right now is getting the food out.”

Food insecurity is a problem in the Greystone community, where more than 80 families are in desperate need of food resources. Now, families, whose kids would normally be fed breakfast and lunch through Family SOS after-school programs, have to go from providing only one meal a day to all three with little to no funds to do so.

The child-centered organization works to build strong and positive families, offering free programs like in-home parenting support, teen mentoring and helping new Canadians navigate their new home.

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Their goal is to empower families to gain confidence, improve health and well-being and self-sustainability, but in these uncertain times, being able to stay connected with the families that rely on Family SOS has proven to be a challenge.

Family SOS has used social media to their advantage, offering comfort from a distance to their followers and raise much-needed funds.

Although they’ve been receiving financial support and food donations from the United Way, Salvation Army and Feed Nova Scotia, they’re goal is to raise more money to alleviate some recent, unexpected costs associated with the pandemic.

That’s when they came up with the Front Steps Project: professional, non-contact mini photo sessions from your front door.  Proceeds from every session will go directly to buying food for families supported by Family SOS.  Sessions can be booked by calling 902-455-5515 or emailing [email protected]

Family SOS has also created 600 ballots for the Greystone neighbourhood, asking multiple choice questions to get an idea of what the community needs the most right now (food support, prescription pick-up, activities for kids or just a friendly phone call.)

“We don’t want to tell people what they need, we want them to tell us what they need,” Law says.

The ballots were printed in both English and Arabic.

Victoria says cash donations are needed the most lately. “We need funds to buy food and supplies but people can also donate food, gift certificates or craft supplies to our Greystone location (4 Cranberry Court in Spryfield),” she said.

“It’s open every day although hours have been reduced. We can also pick up your donations if you can’t leave home.”

To donate to Family SOS, visit their website at



Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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COMMENTARY: Coronavirus reshapes fame as doctors upstage celebrities

It feels like a movie: COVID-19 is the Titanic and we are stuck on the ship. We have all been asked to do our part in the fight against COVID-19, from social distancing and self-isolation to shutting down businesses for many.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for all of us, but it seems some celebrities are having a particularly difficult time as they come to the realization they aren’t quite as important as they once believed. They are being upstaged by a headline-hogging global pandemic. Suddenly, what they’re wearing, who they’re dating and even what they’re saying matters less.

The new coronavirus has disrupted the cult of celebrity. Ironically, while we are feeling less like stars than ever before, they seem to feel more like us — or, at least, what they imagine it must feel like to be “in this together.”

Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, said those very words before launching into a star-studded performance of John Lennon’s Imagine on Instagram. But her tone-deaf rendition featuring her celebrity friends was difficult to digest.

As we see who gets the proverbial life-jackets and lifeboats as the ship sinks, the public response to the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” has been met with a newfound contempt.

Vanessa Hudgens‘ dismissive remarks in an Instagram Live stream, bemoaning “lockdown” after just a few days of social distancing, did not sit well with her followers. Celebrities seeking to connect or simply seeking attention are hitting rough waters with usually fond followers. We’ve endured endless updates from Ellen Degeneres lounging on her sofa, going “stir-crazy” in her mansion with nothing to do, calling on her celebrity friends to keep her sane from the boredom.

“Do your part” PSAs from the likes of Pharrell Williams have taken heat from some critics.

And billionaire David Geffen, self-isolating on his $590-million superyacht, is sending us well wishes — “hope everyone is staying safe.” Geffen has since deleted Instagram after the angry response.

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Then there is Madonna, in a league of her own with the most outlandish antics. The 61-year-old has been preaching about the pandemic in a series of oddly orchestrated Instagram posts. She shared her latest message from her rose-petal-filled bathtub. The songstress explained that COVID-19 “doesn’t care about how rich you are,” claiming “it’s the great equalizer.”

She continued: “What’s terrible about it is it’s made us all equal in many ways, and what’s wonderful about it is it’s made us all equal in many ways.”

That said, I do think there is a role for celebrities in this crisis, and that’s to do their job as entertainers, musicians and comedians. It is not easy in times like this, but neither is working long-haul shifts at the hospital, risking your own health and that of your children for the sake of your community, but our front-line workers are doing it.

So, yes please, give me DJ D-Nice spinning a #ClubQuarantine set from his living room. Give me some low-res Jimmy Fallon providing comedic relief every night. Give me Neil Diamond with that new rendition of Sweet Caroline. Heck, even give me Anthony Hopkins playing the piano for his purring kitty.

Just don’t give me false pretences. Don’t tell me “we’re all in this together” when it’s quite obvious that we’re not, at least not in the same way.

It’s the delivery truck drivers, supermarket shelf stockers and janitors who are keeping the world running right now while the rest of us stay hunkered down in the safety of our homes.

When we come out of this, I hope all those celebrities who speak passionately about social imbalances and who desire change will actually do something to be part of that change. When all those Oscars and Golden Globes are handed out for the slew of COVID-19-inspired films, I hope the actors and directors will remember the real-life heroes and donate sizeable sums of their profits to the organizations that supported the front line.

In her bathtub musings, Madonna said: “Like I used to say every night, ‘We’re all in the same boat and if the ship goes down, we’re all going down together.’” But we know what happened to the Titanic. Everyone didn’t go down together.

So let’s pray this ship stays afloat.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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School closures during coronavirus outbreak: Not now, but not never

Yesterday, over 200,000 primary school pupils stayed home for e-learning, as their teachers took them through a combination of e-lessons, worksheets and other forms of homework.

Today, it will be the turn of some 150,000 secondary school students to do four to five hours of home-based learning, and tomorrow, students in junior colleges and centralised institutes will follow suit.

But even as teachers, their young charges and parents try out home-based learning on a mass scale, many are asking why the Government has not closed down schools as part of the efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak here.

After all, such steps have been taken in several countries, including Japan and New Zealand, to contain the spread of the virus.

One mother of two primary school-going children echoed the views of many other parents when she said: “We have put in place several measures to combat the outbreak, including social distancing. No more CCAs (co-curricular activities) and tuition at private centres.

“Surely it makes sense for schools to close. After all, it’s quite difficult for young children to practise social distancing. And what about all those kids going to and from school in school and public buses and the MRT?”

While such views resonate with some parents, one needs to look at the data and consider if closing schools will make a difference to infection rates. The benefits need to be weighed against costs, including the social and economic ones.


But are schools infection hot spots in the first place?

While there are still many unknowns about the disease, the data gathered so far gives useful insights. Official data shows that as of Monday, 51 students have come down with Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Of these, five are children in pre-schools, four in secondary schools, and 42 in polytechnics, universities and the Institute of Technical Education.

But none was infected in his or her pre-school , school, or in institutes of higher learning (IHLs).

Most of the younger students were infected by adults they had come into contact with at home, including parents. The majority of the 42 in the IHLs, including universities, caught the virus overseas.

The low number of children among the infected is consistent with the insights given by experts such as Professor Dale Fisher, chair of the World Health Organisation’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

Researchers who studied 45,000 confirmed cases in China found that less than 1 per cent were children aged nine and under, while around 1.2 per cent were children and teens, aged between 10 and 19 years old.

Based on the data, researchers said children appeared to be less hard hit by the disease. The data, published in late February in the Journal of the American Medical Association, stated that none of the children under nine died, and only one of the older children died.

Several experts have surmised from China’s experience that children do not experience severe illness from or contribute much to the spread of Covid-19.

Locally, anxious parents will bring up the PCF Sparkletots cluster as evidence of school spread. But of the 26 confirmed cases in the cluster, 16 are staff, while 10 are family members of some of the infected staff, including four children who contracted the virus from infected adults at home.

While schools must take precautions to keep premises clean and infection-free, the fact is there are no cases of Covid-19 being spread among students in schools as yet.

So no, schools are not infection hot spots, and students are not a high-risk group in this pandemic.


There are also downsides to closing schools.

For one thing, students freed from school may end up going out to mingle with a lot more people, exposing themselves to the risk of infection. As Education Minister Ong Ye Kung reasoned, it may not be a bad idea for children to spend the bulk of their day in school, where lessons and activities are arranged such that they mingle only with their classmates, who are less susceptible to the virus than adults.

This is supported by a recently released study done in Singapore that shows that workplace and social distancing may be more effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19 than school closures. Researchers writing in The Lancet noted that a “continually high” percentage of infections occurred in the workplace, in part because people still went to work when unwell. Adults spread the virus to co-workers, who then bring it home. Hence, quarantine, working from home and social distancing should be the focus over school closures.

Schools, on the other hand, have been quick to impose stringent measures such as temperature-taking and made their staff and students practise social distancing. For one thing, pupils in Primary 3 now have “fixed exam-style seating” where they sit farther apart and in assigned seats and not move around, while Primary 1 and 2 pupils, as well as kindergarten children, will have fixed group cluster seating.

The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a leading authority on infectious diseases, also leans towards keeping schools open, especially when there is no widespread community transmission. The CDC’s advice is that if there are school-based cases of Covid-19, schools must close for decontamination and contact tracing.

Beyond such targeted closures, the CDC’s view is that many of the two-to six-week closures announced by hundreds of school districts in the US would not curb the virus. Longer closures of eight to 20 weeks might help curb transmission – but possibly only as much as regular hand washing by students, it said.

But science-based evidence aside, policymakers and educators have another important consideration – the huge societal costs of closing schools, particularly if students continue to go out, or are cared for by grandparents and others who are vulnerable.

Policymakers have to consider how closing schools will cause disruptions for families who have to make alternative childcare arrangements – take leave, work from home or work part-time – and the impact that will have on the economy. One also needs to consider parents in essential service jobs, such as healthcare and transport.

One study done by Colorado State and Yale researchers, released recently, estimated that in the US, 15 per cent of healthcare providers have children but do not have another family member in their household to provide childcare when schools close. If schools close, this group may have to stop work. A shortage of healthcare workers compromises the care given to patients, and may lead to more deaths than school closures can prevent.

“School closures come with many trade-offs,” wrote the researchers, Dr Jude Bayham and Dr Eli Fenichel. “The results suggest that it is unclear if the potential contagion prevention from school closures justifies the potential loss of healthcare workers.”

Just as important is the long-term impact of school closures on disadvantaged children.

Parents who have flexible work schedules, employ domestic helpers, are digitally connected and can afford private tutors for their children may think closing schools is the less costly and less risky option. They may thus see keeping schools open as an indefensible gamble.

But thousands of other parents worry about finding alternative childcare arrangements and having to ask their employers to rearrange their work schedules. They are parents in service jobs, or those who are daily rated or paid by the hour. Some have just 10 days of annual leave. They worry if asking for more leave will lead to them losing their jobs. The financial hit can be devastating.

And then there are students who lack a conducive home environment for e-learning. A staff member from a student care centre was deeply concerned about the many students in her centre who depend on the centre for meals and guidance to do their homework as their parents work shifts and are unable to help them with their homework.

Figures show that currently, 27,000 primary school pupils are enrolled in school-based student care centres. These centres serve students from all backgrounds, with priority given to those without after-school care arrangements at home. About one-fifth of students (more than 5,000) enrolled are under MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme.

In any case, online learning is not optimal compared with the learning that happens in a classroom. Studies show that students, especially those with weaker academic backgrounds, fare less well when they work online.


While closing down schools will cause inconvenience across society, it is an option that has not been ruled out totally.

Singapore’s multi-ministerial task force to combat the virus has put in place stricter measures over the last few weeks, and said tougher action will be introduced when needed, including shuttering schools.

The last time this happened was from March 27 to April 6, 2003, soon after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) left two men dead on March 26 in Singapore. The unprecedented move for schools to shut was to calm parents. The Education and Health ministries, though, said: “On purely medical grounds, there are currently no strong reasons for closing all schools.” To make up for the loss of curriculum time then, schools had to compensate by having a shorter June mid-year break.

Should it become necessary this time, school closures would likely take place alongside workplace closures, as many parents would have to look after their children.

Covid-19 is a new disease and governments worldwide are trying to find ways to control its spread while ensuring the economy does not come to a standstill.

The measures that Singapore has taken to fight the virus are carefully considered and calibrated responses to an evolving situation.

Singapore has not adopted the more drastic options of ordering a shutdown of all except essential businesses, or ordering a lockdown to keep people indoors except for trips to get food and medicine. In similar fashion, it has not shut schools.

Instead, it has curbed infection spread upstream by ring-fencing those diagnosed through rigorous tracing of their contacts and quarantining those contacts. This has kept community transmission in check.

But in the last week or so, the number of local infections not linked to existing clusters has risen sharply.

From March 19 to 31, the total number of unlinked cases surged from 23 to 103. There were 1,000 infection cases as of yesterday. The figures suggest rising community transmission.

So while schools remain open for now, there is no saying if they may be closed in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, what is needed now is for parents and the public to understand that closing schools entails costs to society and students, and is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Have a question on the coronavirus outbreak? E-mail us at [email protected]

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Opinion | The Coronavirus and the Conservative Mind

The pandemic has put psychological theories of politics to a very interesting test.

By Ross Douthat

Opinion Columnist

Over the past two decades, as conservatives and liberals have drifted ever farther from each other, an influential body of literature has attempted to psychologize the partisan divide — to identify conservative and liberal personality types, right-wing or left-wing minds or brains, and to vindicate the claim of the noted political scientists Gilbert and Sullivan, That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive. / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative.

In its crudest form this literature just amounts to liberal self-congratulation, with survey questions and regression analyses deployed to “prove” with “science” that liberals are broad-minded freethinkers and conservatives are cramped authoritarians. But there have been more sophisticated and sympathetic efforts, too, like the influential work of New York University’s Jonathan Haidt on the “moral foundations” of politics: Haidt argues that conservatives actually have more diverse moral intuitions than liberals, encompassing categories like purity and loyalty as well as care and fairness, and that the right-wing mind therefore sometimes understands the left-wing mind better than vice versa.

Both the crude and sophisticated efforts tended to agree, though, that the supposed conservative mind is more attuned to external threat and internal contamination, more inclined to support authority and hierarchy, and fear subversion and dissent. And so the political responses to the pandemic have put these psychological theories to a very interesting test.

In the coronavirus, America confronts a contaminating force (a deadly disease) that originated in our leading geopolitical rival (an external threat) and that plainly requires a strong, even authoritarian government response. If there was ever a crisis tailored to the conservative mind-set, surely it would be this one, with the main peril being that conservatives would wildly overreact to such a trigger.

So what has happened? Well, several different things. From the Wuhan outbreak through somewhere in mid-February, the responses to the coronavirus did seem to correspond — very roughly — to theories of conservative and liberal psychology. Along with infectious-disease specialists, the people who seemed most alarmed by the virus included the inhabitants of Weird Right-Wing Twitter (a collection of mordant, mostly anonymous accounts interested in civilizational decline), various Silicon Valley eccentrics, plus original-MAGA figures like Mike Cernovich and Steve Bannon. (The radio host Michael Savage, often considered the most extreme of the right’s talkers, was also an early alarmist.)

Meanwhile, liberal officialdom and its media appendages were more likely to play down the threat, out of fear of giving aid and comfort to sinophobia or populism. This period was the high-water mark of “it’s just the flu” reassurances in liberal outlets, of pious critiques of Donald Trump’s travel restrictions, of deceptive public-health propaganda about how masks don’t work, of lectures from the head of the World Health Organization about how “the greatest enemy we face is not the virus itself; it’s the stigma that turns us against each other.”

But then, somewhere in February, the dynamic shifted. As the disease spread and the debate went mainstream, liberal opinion mostly abandoned its anti-quarantine posture and swung toward a reasonable panic, while conservative opinion divided, with a large portion of the right following the lead of Trump himself, who spent crucial weeks trying to wish the crisis away. Where figures like Bannon and Cernovich manifested a conservatism attuned to external perils, figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity manifested a conservatism of tribal denial, owning the libs by minimizing the coronavirus threat.

Now we are in a third phase, where Trump is (more or less, depending on the day) on board with a robust response and most conservatives have joined most liberals in alarm. Polls show a minimal partisan divide in support for social distancing and lockdowns, and some of that minimal divide is explained by the fact that rural areas are thus far less likely to face outbreaks. (You don’t need a complicated theory of the ideological mind to explain why New Yorkers are more freaked out than Nebraskans.)

But even now, there remains a current of conservative opinion that wants to believe that all of this is overblown, that the experts are wrong about the likely death toll, that Trump should reopen everything as soon as possible, that the liberal media just wants to crash the American economy to take his presidency down.

Where does this leave the theories of conservative and liberal minds? It’s too much to say that they don’t describe anything real. A certain kind of conservative personality (a kind that includes more than a few of my own friends) really did seem particularly well attuned to this crisis and ended up out ahead of the conventional wisdom in exactly the way that you would expect a mind-set attuned to risk and danger, shot through with pessimism and inclined to in-group loyalty to be.

At the same time, the behavior of what you might call “normie” Republicans — not Very Online right-wingers or MAGA populists but longtime Fox News and talk-radio consumers — suggests that any such conservative mind-set is easily confounded by other factors, partisanship chief among them. The fact that the virus seemed poised to help Democrats and hurt the Trump administration, the fact that it was being hyped by CNN and played down by Hannity, the fact that Trump himself declined to take it seriously — all of this mattered more to many Republicans than the fear of foreign contamination that the virus theoretically should have activated or the ways in which its progress seemed to confirm certain right-wing priors.

So one might say that the pandemic illustrates the power of partisan mood affiliation over any kind of deeper ideological mind-set. Or relatedly, it illustrates the ways in which under the right circumstances, people can easily swing between different moral intuitions. (This holds for liberals as well as conservatives: A good liberal will be as deferential to authority as any conservative when the authority has the right academic degrees, and as zealous about purity and contamination when it’s their own neighborhood that’s threatened.)

But the right’s varying responses to the pandemic also illustrate two further points. The first point is that what we call “American conservatism” is probably more ideologically and psychologically heterogeneous than the conservative mind-set that social scientists aspire to measure and pin down. In particular, it includes an incredibly powerful streak of what you might call folk libertarianism — which comes in both highbrow and middlebrow forms, encompassing both famous legal scholars predicting minimal fatalities from their armchairs and “you can’t stop the American economy … for anything” tough guys attacking social distancing on Twitter.

This mentality, with its reflexive Ayn Randism and its Panglossian hyper-individualism, is definitely essential to understanding part of the American right. But it’s very much an American thing unto itself, and I’m doubtful that it corresponds to any universal set of psychological tendencies that we could reasonably call conservative.

The second point is that on the fringes of the right, among QAnon devotees and believers in the satanic depravity of liberalism, the only psychology that matters is paranoia, not conservatism. And their minimizing response to the coronavirus illustrates the unwillingness of the conspiratorial mind to ever take yes for an answer — meaning that even true events that seem to vindicate a somewhat paranoid worldview will be dismissed as not true enough, not the deepest truth, not the Grandest of All Grand Conspiracies that will someday (someday) be unraveled.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

In his novel “Foucault’s Pendulum,” a sendup of crackpot esotericism that anticipated “The Da Vinci Code” years before its publication, Umberto Eco captured this spirit by describing the way that self-conscious seekers after hermetic wisdom and gnostic mysteries approached the rise of Christianity:

… someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And he promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbor. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right words at the right time could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of wine into the body and blood of the Son of God, and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle?

… And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp — do-it-yourself salvation — turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite. And they kept on scouring the Mediterranean in their boats, looking for a lost knowledge of which those thirty-denarii dogmas were but the superficial veil, the parable for the poor in spirit, the allusive hieroglyph, the wink of the eye at the pneumatics. The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple: there had to be more to it.

This is where the pandemic-minimizing sort of conservative has ended up. They are confronted with a world crisis tailor-made for an anti-globalization, anti-deep-state worldview — a crisis in which China lit the fuse, the World Health Organization ran interference for Beijing, the American public health bureaucracy botched its one essential job, pious anti-racism inhibited an early public-health response, and outsourcing and offshoring left our economy exposed.

And their response? Too simple: Just a feint, a false flag, another deep state plot or power grab, another hoax to take down Trump. It can’t be real unless Hillary Clinton is somehow at the bottom of it.

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Opinion | No, Getting Tested for Coronavirus Is Not Always Free

Hidden costs for E.R. visits and other fees could cost people thousands of dollars.

By Elisabeth Rosenthal and Emmarie Huetteman

Ms. Rosenthal is editor in chief of Kaiser Health News, where Ms. Huetteman is a correspondent.

By March 5, Andrew Cencini, a computer science professor at Bennington College, had been having bouts of fever, malaise and a bit of difficulty breathing for a couple of weeks. Just before falling ill, he had traveled to New York City, helped with computers in a local prison and gone out on multiple calls as a volunteer firefighter.

So with Covid-19 cases rising across the country, he called his doctor for direction. He was advised to come to the doctor’s group practice, where staff took swabs for flu and other viruses as he sat in his truck. They came back negative.

By Monday, March 9, he reported to his doctor that he was feeling better but still had some cough and low-grade fever. Within minutes, he got a call from the heads of a hospital emergency room and infectious-disease department where he lives in upstate New York: He should come right away to the E.R. for newly available coronavirus testing. Though they offered to send an ambulance, he felt fine and drove the hour.

In an isolation room, the doctors put him on an IV drip, did a chest X-ray and took the swabs.

Now back at work remotely, he faces a mounting array of bills. His patient responsibility, according to his insurer, is now close to $2,000, and he fears there may be more bills to come.

“I was under the assumption that all that would be covered,” said Mr. Cencini, who makes $54,000 a year. “I could have chosen not to do all this, and put countless others at risk,” he added. “But I was trying to do the right thing.”

The new $2 trillion coronavirus aid package allocates well over $100 billion to what Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called “a Marshall Plan” for hospitals and medical needs.

But no one is doing much to similarly rescue patients from the related financial stress. And they desperately need protection from the kind of bills that patients like Mr. Cencini are likely to incur in a system that charges expansively for every bit of care it dispenses.

On March 18, President Trump signed a law intended to ensure that Americans could be tested for the coronavirus free, whether they have insurance or not. (He had also announced that health insurers have agreed to waive patient co-payments for treatment of the disease.) But their published policies vary widely and leave countless ways for patients to get stuck.

While insurers had indeed agreed to cover the full cost of diagnostic coronavirus tests, that may well prove illusory: Mr. Cencini’s test was free but his visit to the E.R. to get it was not.

As might be expected in a country where the price of a knee X-ray can vary by a factor of well over 10, labs so far are charging between $51 (the Medicare reimbursement rate) to more than $100 for the test. How much will insurers cover?

Those testing laboratories want to be paid — and now. Last week the American Clinical Laboratory Association, an industry group, complained that they were being overlooked in the coronavirus package.

“Collectively, these labs have completed over 234,000 tests to date, and nearly quadrupled our daily test capacity over the past week,” Julie Khani, president of A.C.L.A., said in a statement. “They are still waiting for reimbursement for tests performed. In many cases, labs are receiving specimens with incomplete or no insurance information, and are burdened with absorbing the cost.”

There are few provisions in the relief packages to ensure that patients will be protected from large medical bills related to testing, evaluation or treatment — especially since so much of it is taking place in a financial high-risk setting for patients: the emergency room.

In a study last year, about one in six visits to an emergency room or stays in a hospital had at least one out-of-network charge, increasing the risk of patients’ receiving surprise medical bills, many demanding patient payment.

That is in large part because many in-network emergency rooms are staffed by doctors who work for private companies, which are not in the same networks. In a Texas study, more than 30 percent of E.R. physician services were out-of-network — and most of those services were delivered at in-network hospitals.

The doctor who saw Mr. Cencini is works with Emergency Care Services of New York, which provides physicians on contract to hospitals and works with some but not all insurers. It is affiliated with TeamHealth, which is a medical staffing business owned by the private equity firm Blackstone and has come under fire for generating surprise bills.

Some senators had wanted to put a provision in the coronavirus bill to protect patients from surprise out-of-network billing — either a broad clause or one related specifically related to coronavirus care. Lobbyists for hospitals, physician staffing firms and air ambulances apparently helped ensure it stayed out of the final version. They played what a person familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called “the Covid card”: “How could you possibly ask us to deal with surprise billing when we’re trying to battle this pandemic?”

Even without an E.R. visit, there are perilous billing risks. Not all hospitals and labs are capable of performing the test. And what if my in-network doctor sends my coronavirus test to an out-of-network lab? Before the pandemic, the Kaiser Health News-NPR Bill of the Month Project produced a feature about Alexa Kasdan, a New Yorker with a head cold, whose throat swab was sent to an out-of-network lab that billed more than $28,000 for testing.

Even patients who do not contract the coronavirus are at a higher risk of incurring a surprise medical bill during the current crisis, when an unrelated health emergency could land you in an unfamiliar, out-of-network hospital because your hospital is too full with Covid-19 patients.

The coronavirus bills passed so far — and those on the table — offer inadequate protection from a system primed to bill patients for all kinds of costs. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed this month, says that the test and its related charges will be covered with no patient charge only to the extent that they are related to administering the test or evaluating whether a patient needs it.

That leaves hospital billers and coders wide berth. Mr. Cencini went to the E.R. to get a test, as he was instructed to do. When he called to protest his $1,622.52 for hospital charges (his insurer’s discounted rate from over $2,500 in the hospital’s billed charges), a patient representative confirmed that the E.R. visit and other services performed would be “eligible for cost-sharing” (in his case, all of it, since he’d not met his deductible).

This weekend he was notified that the physician charge from Emergency Care Services of New York was $1,166. Though “covered” by his insurance, he owes another $321 for that, bringing his out-of-pocket costs to nearly $2,000.

By the way, his test came back negative.

When he got off the phone with his insurer, his blood was “at the boiling point,” he told us. “My retirement account is tanking and I’m expected to pay for this?”

The coronavirus aid package provides a stimulus payment of $1,200 per person for most adults. Thanks to the billing proclivities of the American health care system, that will not offset Mr. Cencini’s medical bills.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, a former New York Times correspondent, is the editor in chief of Kaiser Health News, the author of “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back” and a contributing Opinion writer. Emmarie Huetteman is a correspondent at Kaiser Health News.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Coronavirus, Social Distancing, Sweden: Your Monday Briefing

Here’s what you need to know.

By Mike Ives and Isabella Kwai

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good morning.

We’re covering the extension of social distancing guidelines in the U.S., the end of Wuhan’s lockdown and how the pandemic is transforming our relationships.

Social distancing will continue in U.S.

President Trump backed down from his earlier suggestion that the U.S. could go back to work by April 12, saying on Sunday that social-distancing guidelines would now remain in place until April 30. Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

Mr. Trump spoke after Anthony Fauci — the nation’s top scientist, who is increasingly a target of far-right conspiracy theorists — warned that U.S. deaths from the outbreak could reach 200,000.

New York State, which has more than one-third of the country’s 141,000 known coronavirus infections, reported 237 new deaths, its highest one-day toll so far. And a commercial aircraft loaded with medical supplies from Shanghai landed in New York City, the first of 22 scheduled flights that White House officials say will funnel much-needed goods to the country by early April.

Looking ahead: If the New York metro area maintains its steep growth curve in new cases, it could have a more severe outbreak than the ones experienced in Wuhan, China, or the Lombardy region of Italy, a Times analysis found.

Analysis: The federal government’s failure to roll out large-scale testing of people who might have been infected has set the U.S. back a month in its battle with the coronavirus.

All our coverage: A debate over how much the American public should know about who has the virus highlights a perennial tug of war between privacy and transparency in the country.

What to know: The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage, and our Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — like all of our newsletters — is free. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.

‘Thick darkness’ as Europe’s cases swell

Italy reported on Sunday that its coronavirus cases had climbed to more than 97,000, while Spain’s reached over 78,000. The two countries also reported hundreds more deaths, bringing their combined toll to about 17,000 — almost half of the deaths worldwide.

The bleak heart of Italy’s outbreak is the wealthy area of Bergamo, where the local newspaper is now given over to death notices. And the somber mood has crept to the Vatican, where cases of infection have been found.

“For weeks now it has been evening,” Pope Francis said last week, speaking in an empty square on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities.”

But affluent city dwellers in virus hot spots across Europe are fleeing to second homes near the sea or mountains — igniting a long-simmering anger over class inequality.

In other developments:

A coronavirus lockdown is scheduled to take effect today in Moscow. The virus may foil Vladimir Putin’s plan to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the country’s World War II victory.

While much of the world is in confinement, Sweden is taking an unorthodox approach: staying largely open for business.

Fears of a wider contagion in Britain grew after Boris Johnson said he had tested positive for the virus. Those fears go as far back as 1666, when the bubonic plague came to England, an author writes in our opinion section.

Why China failed to contain the virus

Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus pandemic started, began lifting a two-month lockdown over the weekend, and a number of its malls were scheduled to reopen today.

But China’s triumphant narrative about its success so far in taming the outbreak obscures early failures to report cases — and squandered time that could have been used to prevent a pandemic.

After the SARS epidemic that began in 2002, China created an infectious-disease reporting system that was supposed to be immune from political meddling. But when the latest virus hit, Wuhan health officials initially withheld information because they were afraid to share bad news with their bosses in Beijing.

Related: Young people in China, long content to relinquish political freedoms in exchange for jobs and upward mobility, are now challenging the government’s efforts to conceal its missteps.

Another angle: Virus-related disinformation campaigns by China and Russia show how the countries are trying to undermine a shared adversary, the U.S., rather than address public criticism of their own problems.

Go deeper: Officials in Spain say that coronavirus testing kits that they bought from a Chinese company are far less accurate than advertised.

If you have 10 minutes, this is worth it

France’s forever war

France has spent seven years, and billions of dollars, battling armed Islamist groups in the Sahel, a sweep of land south of the Sahara. President Emmanuel Macron recently promised to deploy an additional 600 soldiers to join the 4,500 already there.

But the counterterrorism fight has left more than 10,000 West Africans dead, displaced a million others and left France’s military stuck in the region — just as American forces are in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Above, French troops in northeastern Mali near the border with Niger.

Here’s what else is happening

India: The confusing lockdown that Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed on the country of 1.3 billion has left hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers jobless, homeless and hungry. Many are defying the order, and courting police violence, by trying to walk home.

Middle East: The Syrian government has reported the first death from the virus in its territory, as officials in neighboring Iraq ask for donations to help the country weather the pandemic.

North Korea: The country, which has curbed its trafficking of coal and other goods amid fears of the virus, conducted its fourth weapons test of the month.

Snapshot: Above, Luba el-Helw, a lion tamer in Gamasa, Egypt, showering a lion named Kiara with love. The struggle for women’s equality lags badly in Egypt — but in her field, women are dominant.

In memoriam: Krzysztof Penderecki, an avant-garde Polish composer and conductor whose versatile compositions appeared in concert halls and in films like “The Exorcist,” died on Sunday at 86.

‘Covidivorces’ and ‘Coronababies’: Our reporters looked at how the coronavirus is radically transforming love, dating, sex and family relations — and making the internet a lifeline to millions of singles.

What we’re watching: The first episode of “Pluto Living” on YouTube. “I’m hooked on Pluto the dog, a Canadian terrier dispensing wisdom on toilet paper and social distancing to help the two-leggeds during a time of crisis,” says Tara Parker-Pope, the Well editor. “Laughter is still good medicine.”

Now, a break from the news

Cook: These great biscuits call for a few pantry staples, a little sour milk or yogurt and very little mixing.

Read: Parul Sehgal’s elegant review of Rob Doyle’s novel “Threshold” is a pleasure in itself. So is Gabrielle Hamilton’s essay about cooking crepes.

Listen: It’s time for some new music by the Dirty Projectors and more, brought to us by The Times’s pop-music team. And in case you missed it, here’s Taffy Brodesser-Akner talking to and about Tom Hanks, on a special episode of “The Daily.” It’s sweet.

Play: Time to bring back 20 Questions and Ghost! There’s always our crosswords and Spelling Bee.

And now for the Back Story on …

Home schooling amid the coronavirus

Francesca Donner, our Gender Initiative editor, and Corinne Purtill, a journalist based in Los Angeles, chatted about managing home schooling during the pandemic for In Her Words. Here’s an excerpt from their conversation.

FD: You started home school last week. How’s it going?

CP: Last week was a resounding … meh.

This week, we are trying a loose schedule of schoolwork in the morning and free play in the afternoon. Will it work? I have no idea. All of life is an experiment right now.

FD: In concept, I like that very much. But does schoolwork in the morning need to be overseen by you or can you leave them to it?

CP: My 9-year-old daughter and I talk the night before about which activities from the school’s suggested list she’ll want to do in each subject area. She’s old enough to be able to tackle most things on her own, and if she has any questions, I’m around. I’m around a lot these days.

At lunchtime, I look over what she’s done, mainly just to make sure she’s been doing something on the laptop besides watching people make slime on YouTube. The afternoon is free time.

FD: And what does free time actually entail?

CP: My daughter can do her own thing. Her little brother, who can’t read yet, needs more attention.

When I’ve got work, I juggle: playing cars while listening to a conference call, setting him up with a project before opening my laptop and when I need to, turning on the TV or handing him my phone without guilt. Some structure is helpful, but I try not to over-plan.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Mike and Isabella

Thank you
Sam Sifton provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected]

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is a special edition featuring a Times editor who wrote a gripping essay last week about what she learned when her husband got sick.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Coral formations (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• NYT Live invites readers to a conference call with Times Opinion’s philosophy forum, The Stone, at 9 p.m. London time today. An editor, Peter Catapano, and the philosopher Simon Critchley will discuss how mortality and hypochondria relate in our new pandemic reality. R.S.V.P. here.

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Opinion | Rational Panic, but Also Rational Hope

We need to recognize any signposts leading up and out.

By Ross Douthat

Opinion Columnist

For far too long, America’s response to the coronavirus lacked what you might call rational panic. From the experts to the markets to the president and his cable-television court, an irrational calm prevailed when a general freak-out might have prepared us for the crisis.

Today, at last, we have panic in surplus — however unevenly distributed and still-insufficient in some places. But now we need something else to leaven it: Along with rational panic, we need sources of rational hope.

Rational hope is not the same as reckless optimism. It doesn’t require, for instance, quickly lifting quarantines based on outlying projections of low fatality rates, as some return-to-normalcy conservatives have been urging in the last week. Rational hope accepts that the situation is genuinely dark, but then it still looks around for signposts leading up and out. It recognizes that things are likely to get worse, but keeps itself alert to the contexts in which they seem to be getting better — or at the very least, getting worse more slowly. It doesn’t expect miracles, but it rejects a grim helplessness, a spirit of inevitable doom.

Here are three sources of rational hope, three patterns where I’m finding optimism right now.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

First, there is modest hope in data compiled by the smart-thermometer company Kinsa, which claims to be able to identify anomalous, unseasonal fever rates using data from its nationwide user base. Kinsa’s data show a clear February-and-March anomaly across the U.S., especially in areas known to be affected by the coronavirus. But it also shows that anomaly diminishing as lockdowns and social distancing began — to the point where fever rates are now below the expected trend nationally, and returning toward seasonal norms even in some Covid-19 hot spots.

The company is careful to note that this probably doesn’t reflect declining coronavirus infections alone, since many illnesses decline under social-distancing conditions. But the sharp turn suggests that general infection curves can be changed quickly even during a pandemic, and that the policies of the last two weeks might be having a real epidemiological effect.

Second, there is hope in the differing course of the pandemic so far in Greater New York versus the Pacific Coast. Both regions are urbanized, diverse and international, both were seeded with coronavirus cases around the same time, and Seattle had the first major (observed) outbreak. But Washington State bent its curve after the initial surge and California’s case rate and death rate trends are a gentle incline — nothing like the New York area’s terrifying spike.

In the most optimistic case, the spike reflects New York’s unique density and heavy reliance on mass transit — and one could hope that America as a whole, with our exurbs and sprawling cities and wide-aisled supermarkets and car-based commutes, is more like California than like Gotham.

This might be too optimistic; there is plenty of Bay Area and SoCal density, and coronavirus clusters have popped up in plenty of less-dense locales. So maybe some of the divide reflects policy — the fact that West Coast leaders acted ever-so-slightly more swiftly and with more seriousness of purpose than the feckless Bill de Blasio in New York City.

But even that is grounds for reasonable hope, since it suggests that even if you initially fail to spot an outbreak, you can still hope to imitate South Korea rather than northern Italy.

Finally, there is hope in the fact that the impressive containment achieved so far in East Asia has been accomplished with a variety of different policies, different degrees of lockdown and distancing, but one major commonality: the widespread use of masks. Fearing shortages and panic, Western experts have downplayed the effectiveness of masking. But the circumstantial evidence of Western versus Asian epidemic curves and the direct evidence of multiple studies suggest that masking works, and that its widespread adoption can change an epidemic’s course.

That path can’t be taken until American mask production outstrips shortages — although even homemade masks are reasonably effective — and I wouldn’t expect a masking norm to ever become universal in America. (During the Spanish Flu, a Bay Area mask ordinance was eventually repealed under the influence of the “Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.”) But you could see masks becoming ubiquitous in the densest areas, essentially required of air travelers and commuters, and normalized for supermarket and mall trips even in exurbia.

These three hopeful signs together hint at a path back toward quasi-normalcy. The current shutdown bends infection curves relatively quickly, outside a few major urban outbreaks. That policy response combines with America’s social-distancing sprawl and car culture and younger-than-Europe age profile to compensate for our initial incompetence and natural insubordination. And then the cheapest, lightest-weight means of slowing transmission becomes ubiquitous in U.S. cities by Memorial or Independence Day.

I’m sure it won’t be that easy. But this column also hasn’t exhausted the list of reasonable hopes. And in a dark moment we should all be looking for them.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Opinion | Germany Has Relatively Few Deaths From Coronavirus. Why?

The country is not immune to the pandemic. So what explains its current low fatality rate?

By Anna Sauerbrey

Contributing Opinion Writer

BERLIN — Europe is in crisis.

Countries across the Continent are in lockdown. Borders are closed off. Health care systems are dangerously overstretched. Economies are contracting. And people are dying, in terrifying numbers.

Here is much the same. Though not in full lockdown, schools, shops, restaurants and theaters are closed; gatherings of more than two people are banned. The economy will shrink and jobs will be lost. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel self-quarantined after learning that her doctor was infected. (She tested negative.) Germany, it seems, is not immune to the ravages of the pandemic.

Except in one way: Very few people seem to be dying. As of Saturday, of the 56,202 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, just 403 patients have died. That’s a fatality rate of 0.72 percent. By contrast, the current rate in Italy — where over 10,000 people have died — is 10.8 percent. In Spain, it’s 8 percent. Over twice as many people have died in Britain, where there are around three times fewer cases, than in Germany.

The startling numbers are something of an enigma. Some have hailed the country for breaking the spell of catastrophe; others have been far more guarded. What is going on here? And what can we learn from it?

First and foremost: Early and persistent testing helps. And so does tracking people.

Take the country’s first recorded case. On Jan. 28, a man in Bavaria who works for a car parts company that has two plants in Wuhan, China, was confirmed to have the virus. Within two days, the authorities identified the person who had infected the patient, tracked his contacts and quarantined them. The company stopped travel to China and shut down its plant in Bavaria. The outbreak — several other employees tested positive — was effectively contained. Across the country, the pattern was repeated. Local health departments and federal authorities worked together to test, track and quarantine exposed citizens.

Germany has also been better at protecting its older residents, who are at much greater risk. States banned visits to the elderly, and policymakers issued urgent warnings to limit contact with older people. Many seem to have quarantined themselves. The results are clear: Patients over the age of 80 make up around 3 percent of the infected, though they account for 7 percent of the population. The median age for those infected is estimated to be 46; in Italy, it’s 63.

And many more young people in Germany have tested positive for the virus than in other countries. In part, that’s attributable to the country’s more extensive testing. But there’s also an element of chance and culture. Germany is a skiing nation — around 14.5 million Germans go skiing every year — and the Austrian and northern Italian Alps are popular locations. This year, after vacationers traveled to one of the centers of the European outbreak, Tyrol, they seemed to bring back the virus with them — and spread it.

Closer to home, there’s carnival. One of the most substantial early outbreaks occurred at one of the centers of carnival, which involves parades and parties, popular with the young. Hundreds of cases seem to be traceable to a couple who took part in festivities in the town of Langbroich. “Both skiing and carnival may have affected the low average age of the first wave of confirmed cases,” said Karl Lauterbach, a physician and a member of the Bundestag.

Both early testing and incubation of the virus among the young go part of the way in explaining why the country’s fatality rate is so comparatively low. “It’s how much and whom we test,” Martin Stürmer, a virologist who is the director of a lab that is running coronavirus testing in Frankfurt, told me. In general, countries that test less and reserve it for those already very ill, like Italy, have higher fatality rates.

But we should be wary of reading too much into the statistics at all, particularly at this early stage. Though Germany’s health care system is overall in good shape — recently modernized, well staffed and funded, with the highest number of intensive-care beds per 100,000 patients in Europe — it hasn’t really been tested yet. Patients have only recently entered hospitals. On average, a severely ill Covid-19 patient dies 30 days after being infected. “We are only at the beginning of the epidemic,” Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, said on Wednesday. “How it is going to develop is an open question.”

It’s quite possible that Germany is just behind the curve. Opinions vary on how hard the strain on the system will be in the next weeks. “I think we are unlikely to experience a situation like in Italy,” Stefan Willich, the director of the Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics at Charité University Hospital in Berlin, said. Others are more pessimistic. Dr. Lauterbach, for example, warned that Germany’s fatality rate may yet rise. Indeed, in the past few days it has climbed from 0.48 percent to 0.72 percent.

And there have been signals that the health care system could soon be overwhelmed. More hospitals and doctors are reporting shortages of vital materials such as masks and other protective gear. A paper published by several medical associations on Wednesday predicted that it is likely that within “a short period of time, there won’t be sufficient intensive care resources in Germany to treat all patients, despite recent capacity-building.” The worst may be to come.

So there is perhaps one lesson we can draw from Germany’s experience. Don’t count your blessings — or your data — too soon.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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U.S. grocery retailer Albertsons eyes IPO again

(Reuters) – U.S. grocery retailer Albertsons Cos Inc filed paperwork for an initial public offering on Friday, years after poor market conditions derailed its earlier attempt at going public.

Albertsons’ IPO could value the company around $19 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported in January. The company did not indicate the size of the offering or the price range at which it would market it.

The company, which owns U.S. supermarket chain Safeway, launched an IPO in 2015, but shelved it as market volatility slammed stocks of grocery retailers. (

The Boise, Idaho-based retailer recorded $59.71 billion in annual retail sales in 2018, a figure bettered only by nine other companies, according to a list compiled by market research firm Kantar on the National Retail Federation’s website.

While the number pales in comparison to Walmart Inc’s (WMT.N) $387.66 billion, it is more than twice that of Macy’s Inc (M.N) and Kohls Corp (KSS.N).

Albertsons is backed by Cerberus Capital Management LP, a buyout firm controlled by billionaire Stephen Feinberg. The listing would pave the road for Cerberus to exit the company.

The grocery retailer is not selling any shares in the offering and will not receive any proceeds. Albertsons said it would list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “ACI”.

BofA Securities, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Citigroup are the lead underwriters to the offering.

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Commentary: No, Brexit Britain doesn’t want its empire back

Britain is moving towards an exit from the European Union on March 29, possibly with no agreement, and thus courting – according to the Bank of England – an 8 percent drop in GDP and a 7.5 percent rise in unemployment. A drear prospect, attended by matching drear commentaries on the stupidity of the 52 percent of the British electorate who voted for Brexit in 2016.

Some observers have seen the vote as evidence that imperial urges still dominate. In March 2017 Washington Post foreign affairs reporter Ishaan Tharoor wrote of Brits “harboring delusions of empire (while)…the fantasy of Britain’s past collides almost farcically against Britain’s present.” As this year began, he returned to the imperial theme, solemnly warning that, for Brits “the old colonial hubris” is omnipresent, but “along with imperial nostalgia comes a fair amount of delusion.” 

It’s one of the most common fantasies presently peddled about the mindset of the UK – that it is mired, hopelessly, in a mourning of greatness gone, and a dream to regain it. The British journalist Paul Mason writes of “the self-deluded narrative that has guided the whole Brexit strategy: the idea that ‘our’ former colonies will want to form a new, white, English-speaking trading area – nicknamed Empire 2.0 – to replace the EU.” The Irish writer Fintan O’Toole, believes that the English think that if “England is not an imperial power, it must be the only other thing it can be: a colony,” seeing himself, with nostalgic shivers, threatened once more by a resurgent Germany.

Yet no body of opinion, no organization, no individual capable of thought wants an empire. Government ministers, charged with carrying out the will of the electorate, talk up – probably over-optimistically – the chances of a network of trade agreements, many with former colonies such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States itself. One of the biggest boosters is UK Business Secretary Greg Clark, who invokes “fantastic opportunities for the future” for “a country that is superbly well-positioned in most of the big transformations that are taking place across the world today.” He’s routinely mocked as a fantasist, but he’s doing what any politician who believes in a course of action does – he’s talking it up. His rhetoric isn’t a sign that he believes Britannia can again rule the waves, or the continents.

The charge of imperial nostalgia which Brexiteers are supposed to nurse is often accompanied by grim reports of a country tearing itself apart. The Spectator commentator Stephen Daisley laments that “the House of Commons, once respected around the world as the gold standard of political debate, has become a source of national embarrassment, a symbol of a fractious and directionless nation.”

Parliament, to be sure, has been in several uproars this past week – both inside the chamber, where the Speaker was accused of abusing his neutrality by breaking a rule to favor those who want to remain in the EU, and outside, where a mob of largely young, male pro-Brexiteers screamed “Nazi!” and “Fascist” at Remainers.

This is what is called democracy and political debate – if not the gold standard, certainly an upsetting, but always vivid, exchange of views. Journalism, which lamented the blandness of politics, now has its wish for passion – and appears to hate it. These deeply consequential arguments, in both the UK and the U.S., appear to have remained – just about – within a non-violent frame. They have not in France, where at least nine have died as protests spread across the country. This is not bloody revolution – the violence, frightening as it is, has been largely confined to buildings and cars. Rather, what comes to the surface are elemental issues of politics: unemployment, inequality, marginalization, fear of the future. These are issues which authoritarian states suppress with beatings, shootings and incarceration (see Venezuela for a hideous example). In democracies they must be heard and seen.

Brexit is not likely to have been a trigger for a wave of racism and extreme nationalism sweeping over the UK. It’s a popular, though not a universal, trope with radicals in the universities. – as, for example, David Gillborn of Birmingham University, who believes that the Leave campaign was “comparable to Nazi propaganda and just straightforwardly racist.” The UN special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, Tendayi Achiume, did a 12-day tour of the UK and concluded that the pre- and post-Brexit environment has made “racial and ethnic minorities more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance.”

A detailed report by the Civitas think tank made shortly after the 2016 referendum, however, cast some doubt on that. Acknowledging that there had been an apparent rise in harassment, the report noted a climate where many crimes were assumed as hate or Brexit-linked, “even when there is no evidence to suggest that they are.”

Tensions and racism are not absent in a country where the (Labour) mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is the son of a Pakistani immigrant family, as is the (Conservative) Home Secretary Sajid Javid; where every manager of the top five Premier League football teams is non-British, as are between a third and half of the players; where all political parties of any size condemn racism and seek to attract citizens of color as members; where the white British are a minority in London and will be a minority in Birmingham by the next census in 2021. But they did not define British society before Brexit, and do not now.

The UK presently undergoes a wrenching convulsion which is likely to make it, at least for a while, poorer than it might otherwise have been. It is doing so because of a vote of its citizens. The imperative is to recognize that large, democratic fact, and – as the now famed British government 1939 poster addressed to a population fearful of an air bombardment: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

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