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Member's blog - Other
ASPHER July 2020 Newsletter: Message from the President
Author: John Middleton
Many European countries are enjoying a tentative truce with COVID-19. I hear in Vienna cultural life is returning. The audiences are socially spaced, but the orchestras can’t – no problem, we’ll just test them before each performance. A standard not yet afforded to British nursing homes. Countries which acted swiftly and decisively, lockdown, tracked and traced, quarantined the sick, put on public face masks can enjoy their respite. I am taking the unusual step of presenting a separate personal blog piece about the United Kingdom experience. Look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair!
But for all of us, our time for regrouping, recovery, relaxation is short. New cases of the coronavirus rose in Europe last week, for the first time in months. There were notable increases in cases in Sweden, Armenia, Republic of Moldova, North Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Kosovo. There have also been outbreaks in Poland, Germany, Spain and Israel in schools, coal mines and food production settings. Germany saw new daily cases rise from around 300 to over 600 last week, after an outbreak in a slaughterhouse. In response, the Guetersloh area reimposed lockdown conditions. Hans Kluge, Director General of the World Health Organisation in Europe exhorts our governments to use this period for preparation, not celebration. Indeed we must plan for the worst, while hoping for the best. There has been a narrow nationalism in our approaches to this pandemic – we have to reach out internationally. The human social and economic catastrophe is still unfolding. We must recognise that the pandemic is expanding in the Americas and Africa particularly. According to Chris Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, there will be a second wave from September in northern hemisphere countries. This is based on the statistical significance observed between pneumonia admissions, seasonality and COVID-19 deaths, along with increasing population mobility through the summer.
The ASPHER COVID-19 task force will shortly be publishing a statement on what we believe our schools and governments should be planning for this winter. There is a perfect storm awaiting – second wave COVID-19 on the back of colder temperatures and crowding indoors, a flu season we should expect to be more severe, a pandemic of backlog untreated or poorly controlled mental and physical illness and new lockdown induced illness and economic collapse especially severe for creative industries, tourism and everyone affected by a crash-out Brexit. Oh, and layer on crop failure and food shortages and civil unrest. The UK pandemic response has been a catalogue of error, incompetence and negligence. ASPHER task force member Ralf Reintjes elegantly highlights the difference in track and trace between Germany and UK. There have been wilful failures to take up EU offers to share and partner on everything from ventilators to vaccines. The biggest threat to public health though is the impending economic catastrophe, with the UK government committed, by accident or design, to a crash out Brexit. This will be catastrophically damaging to Britain and a threat to prosperity and health for most EU countries and beyond.
The ASPHER COVID-19 task force is also about to embark on a survey of our member schools about what your plans are for the autumn semester – will you be returning, physically distanced? Will you be maintaining your new found online lecturing? Or converting to more online? Please answer this survey. It will be short, and it will have a short turn around – please help us to help you.
Our members and we in ASPHER are massively over-committed on the COVID-19 front. However, it is vital that we create breathing space to focus on our own vision for the future. ASPHER is still consulting on our strategy for 2020-2025. This will finally be agreed at the General Assembly in September. Three major elements are how we as schools address climate breakdown, inequality, discrimination and all forms of racism, and how we behave in our communities as corporate citizens. All of these are being discussed this week in our strategy consultation – with presentations from Maastricht, Bielefeld and Beersheba. A cross cutting theme of the strategy will be our commitment to involving young professionals. I am particularly grateful to Naomi Nathan, Ranjeet Dhonkal and Rana Orhan for their tireless work on our behalf.
Since my last blog, the BLACKLIVESMATTER campaign has exploded. ASPHER’s commitment to anti-racism was always going to be part of our new strategy, but we have brought forward our statement, and this will be published in the International Journal of Public Health and on the ASPHER site, where you will be able to add your signatures. We believe anti-racism is not just about what we teach students – it is about our behaviours as schools, in our recruitment of staff and students, in our recognition and celebration of ethnic diversity and recognition of black scholarship. As someone said to me in the most excellent Andrija Stampar School conference ‘Better Future for Healthy Ageing’ earlier this month, ‘the UK is racially rich’. That is absolutely how we should see diversity – a richness, an asset, our cultural wealth.
Enjoy your summer,
Professor John Middleton