Groundhog Day

Yesterday evening many of us living in England sat down for the nth time to watch a live Press Conference from Number 10 about the latest COVID restrictions, with a sense of déjà vu rather than dread. We had heard it all before last and earlier this year; only this time, instead of the Delta variant being the cause, we were introduced to the weirdly sounding Omicron. A bit like coming up with names for hurricanes. We were then told about Plan B (no fancy name) and what it meant for us. I wondered what had happened to Plan A and what might Plan C be? Was there a Plan D if all went belly-up? Different letters of the alphabet for Plans and Greek letters (omicron is 15th) for variants. All very confusing.

Many of us had already been contacted by our places of work telling us ‘Omi’ was on its way and to cancel our planned Xmas parties. Rather than do this we decided on our own Plan B which was postpone it until the New Year. This way of managing meant it felt less like disappointment and more like a waiting game.  New government Plan B rules are like the ones we had in place earlier this year: Work from home if you can. Take PCR tests if you travel abroad. Wear masks in public places.

But there is a new twist to Plan B. You can still party in the pub. Round and round we go.

I looked back at my last blog entry from two months ago, where I was extolling the joys of being on a business trip again for the first time in 18 months. Such a stark contrast in emotions. I was mighty glad I had managed to get away while Delta was stabilizing and before Omicron had raised its ugly head. I even squeezed in one more trip to Finland in November to give a keynote at a workshop aimed at Gen Z. Turns out I was one of the few attendees to make it in person. Many decided not to show up to the event for fear of catching COVID, having watched on the news how the level was rising in that part of Finland.

It was a foreboding of what was to come. But during my brief visit to this neck of the woods in Finland I managed to make the most of being in a completely different place, that was remote, sparse and felt like a million miles away. I enjoyed witnessing for the first time in ages crazy minus something temperatures that made my cheeks glow and lips sting; I loved the feel of crunchy, icy snow underfoot, and the sharp contrast of warmth blasting through my lungs when entering indoors after being outside. I learnt a lot about what it was like to be part of the rise and fall of Nokia – the Finnish mobile company. I also heard about how the Finns keep themselves sane during the many dark months of winter – skiing, shooting and sitting in saunas. And I discovered a sense of humour I did not know existed. The seminar room where one of our meetings was held was called Mr Frost! One wall was completely covered in plastic ice shards! And to top it off, on my last morning, I spotted Santa on his sleigh coming from the North Pole. All very strange and delightful.

Sadly, those delights seem like a distant dream now. My planned conference talk this week – in the lovely city of Leuven, Belgium, booked months and months ago, was cancelled at the last minute. Instead, I was asked to give my talk online – again.  So I set up my imaginary row of teddy bears on a shelf just behind my laptop and gave them names as if they were my audience. Another Groundhog Day moment. At 8.30 a.m. I started talking to my laptop and zoomed into Zoom. The remote audience ‘listened’ and ‘chatted’ in Discord (the online social platform often used these days).  At 9.30 I stopped talking, pressed the leave button, walked into my kitchen and filled the kettle. Job done but no joy. Such a disconnect.  If only there had been a roomful of attentive faces smiling and laughing.

Meanwhile, many migrating wild birds returning to the UK from Russia and Europe have got Avian flu. Worryingly, it has begun to spread to other wild birds like falcons, curlews, swans, geese and gulls. You can’t tell those birds to switch to Plan B and work from home or wear masks. Instead, there is much fear about how and when the avian flu will spread from wild to ‘kept’ birds. Already, there are isolated cases being reported of farmed chickens, turkeys and ducks starting to catch it. Instead of increasing the number of vet hospitals or oxygen ventilators to help cure the poor birds they are instead brutally ‘culled’. It must be soul-destroying for the poultry farmers who discover their birds have caught it. Then it is Plan K for them: Kill all their birds. Luckily, the risk of avian flu to human health is low – but who wants to eat sneezing turkey meat?  Nut roast for Christmas dinner, anyone?

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