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Peter Rhodes on spider-killers, street wardens and two rival theories about the pandemic

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Friendly advice?

Once upon a time in an office far away and long ago, there was a fire drill. We hacks greeted it with weary resignation, grabbing our coats and arranging to meet in the pub until it was all over. “You will not go to the pub!” thundered a familiar voice. “You will form up at the designated assembly point!” He was not joking. This old colleague, a good friend, had suddenly switched into his fire-monitor mode and was taking it all very seriously.

And why not? Society has always included some individuals eager to order their fellow citizens about. When the first group of Covid-spacing marshals appeared on streets in Cornwall a few days ago, an official said their job was to “give friendly help and guidance.” I bet that's how Warden Hodges got started.

When new cases of Covid-19 are counted in the thousands, why is the daily death toll only about a dozen? This is the key question in the pandemic and there's a very simple answer: Nobody knows.

All we have is a couple of opposing theories. The first is that Covid-19 is beaten. It's ripped like wildfire through the UK's most vulnerable victims, killing more than 40,000. But now that it's infecting younger, fitter people with no pre-existing medical conditions, it's no more dangerous than flu and will fade away. And anyway, there's the vaccine just around the corner, right? This is the Optimists' Theory.

The other theory is that a second wave has begun and is spreading at first among younger people who are not seriously affected. But in time it will find its way into the care homes and crowded, inner-city houses. The dead will once again be numbered in thousands and the vaccines will be largely ineffective, delivering an immunity which will last only a few months. This is the Pessimists' Theory.

We hacks, like the rest of the population, can do no more than choose our preferred theory and hope for the best. The difference between us is that while the optimists are desperately praying that time will prove them right, we pessimists are praying, just as fervently, that time will prove us wrong.

If by the end of this month new cases are over 3,000 a day but daily deaths are below 20, I may sign up to the Optimists' Theory. But my hunch is that far from being at the end of this pandemic, we are still at the beginning.

Behold, the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and hordes of harvestmen, those super-spindly creatures that make ordinary house spiders look portly. You'd imagine a spider would eat a harvestman in a nano-second. Far from it. Although most sources tell us that harvestmen prey on smaller creatures, the colony in Chateau Rhodes stalk, snare and devour big, hairy spiders with ruthless efficiency. Harvestmen: nature's alternative to the carpet slipper.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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