Narrating the pandemic: COVID-19 as a feature of Turkey’s political landscape

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 2018 presidential election victory appeared to seal his party’s domination over Turkey’s politics until the end of his term in 2023, or even 2028. Since this victory however, he has presided over an ailing economy. The Turkish lira has plummeted, foreign reserves have shrunk as the Central bank intervened to stabilise the currency, and external debt mounted until Qatar, in May 2020 gave the country’s economy a temporary reprieve.

Concurrently, a number of “rising stars” are waiting in the wings. These include the, 2019 İstanbul mayoral election winner, Ekrem İmamoğlu, and former Erdoğan ally Ali Babacan .  They are both preparing for the post-Erdoğan era by cultivating their charisma and political capital, causing concerns over Erdoğan’s re-election chances.

Erdoğan sought to deflect attention from the country’s woes through a controversial hard power projection exercise. Turkey’s involvement in Syria where it is responsible for the administration of territories it has occupied, its military presence in Libya, and Iraqi Kurdistan,  and its Blue Homeland maritime doctrine have all been presented within the country as evidence of Turkey’s regional strength.

It was against this backdrop that the COVID-19 pandemic reached Turkey. From the outset, the government sought to take narrative control of the spread of the virus in order to mitigate the potential cost and to deflect criticisms that might give an advantage to its opponents.

Erdoğan, reluctant to introduce a full lockdown, called for businesses to stay open and keep the economy’s “wheels turning“, and the government was slow in implementing measures that would hurt the fragile economy, and its own survival.

As unions accused it of disregarding the risk to workers, and Turkey’s reporting of COVID-19 cases was scrutinized by experts who suggested that cases and fatalities were underreported, the government took punitive measures to control criticism.

Medical personnel were reprimanded for speaking out on social media. 410 people were detained for “provocative and abusive” posts, including seven journalists, and TV channels were fined for their coverage, including Habertürk, whose medical expert insinuated that there were many undiagnosed cases, far exceeding confirmed case figures.

Such measures, combined with the government’s control of Turkey’s main media allowed Erdoğan to project an image of strong leadership and claim global recognition for Turkey’s contribution in combatting the pandemic. Erdoğan launched a donation campaign to support the needy, while he blocked a similar drive by his rival Ekrem İmamoğlu, to starve him of public attention.

Pro-government media praised Turkey’s pandemic management, benefits and social support measures, the construction of two pandemic hospitals “within 45 days”, and the government’s “Economic Stability Shield” programme.  Focus was also placed on the government’s preferred power projection narrative of Turkey as a global actor, highlighting Turkey’s sending of medical supplies, personal protective equipment, medicines and ventilators to hard-pressed countries, and their expressions of gratitude.

Erdoğan’s control of the pandemic narrative seems to be paying dividends, with his approval rating recovering from February’s 41.1 percent to 55.8 percent in March with his “strong leadership” projection appealing to supporters from the opposition parties.

COVID-19 has revealed that Turkish voters might be attracted to “strong leadership” more than “democratic promise” and has, perhaps, dismissed rumours of the demise of populism as no more than wishful thinking.

Spyros A. Sofos is a Research Coordinator in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University.


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Art, Music and Death Amidst the COVID 19 Pandemic:

Musings on Julio Nakpil’s “Deus Omnipotens et Misericors (Requiescat et pace), Marcha Funebre” (1943)

The Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, was in the middle of retrieving and publishing the works of the Filipino composer Julio Nakpil (1867-1960) when we were locked down by the pandemic.

Manila was put on Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) starting March 15, 2020.  Mobility was restricted.  Schools and offices closed down. Theatre productions and music concerts were cancelled, and streets emptied as people stayed in the safety of their homes.

As I worked on the Nakpil project during the lockdown, I was reminded of his composition “Deus omnipotens et misericors” (Requiescat in pace), a funeral march that he composed in 1943 against the backdrop of world war 2. This symphonic ode was dedicated “to the memory of those who have fallen during the night…” (“a la memoria de los que han caido durante la noche.”), especially to his dead comrades who fought with him in the battle for freedom.

Music as a symbolic representation of grief over the experience of death, is embedded in this composition by Nakpil. With little education and with very little training in music, he was a witness to the Japanese Occupation of Manila during WWII in 1943.  He composed this funeral march to help him come to terms with his experience, to be able to endure the pain and possibly to escape from the vicious reality of those times.

The Deus Omnipotens et Misericors, commences with a hollow deathly sound in the bass accompanied by a foreboding low lying melody. He brings in sporadic notes of the flute in the high register to bring tension against the foreboding and lugubrious reality.  Interspersed with the pathetic low registered sound are lovely harmonic melodies that reminisce of a beautiful past, or of the prospect of a bright future that is yet to be known.

Nakpil’s funeral march is a lament of an artist struggling to understand and find solution to the terror and despair brought by destruction to humanity. It is in the arts that he found solace and a glimmer of hope to continue on in his fight.

Today, as the world experiences another unprecedented situation with the “ghost enemy” of the COVID-19 virus, humanity is again under attack. With the economy shut down and people dependent only on the government for support, a funeral march like Deus Omnipotens et Misericors is an apt expression about what is happening, most especially to the arts. It is my hope that the Arts it will not be among those fallen in the night and the subject of other funeral marches in ages to come. 

Maria Alexandra Iñigo Chua, PhD is the Director of the Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines.


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Caught in the middle? Italy and China after COVID-19

If we look only at trade figures, Sino-Italian relations might not be considered worth our attention. In fact, they are very lop-sided. For Italy, China is not a significant partner, accounting for 3.4% of exports and 7.2% of imports. For China, Italy is even less important, representing less than 1% of both imports and exports. So why should we bother?

There are at least two reasons to be interested in Sino-Italian relations.

The first is that bilateral trade explains only a part of the economic interconnections, since China and Italy are linked through complex global supply chains that involve other countries. For example, automotive components produced in Italy that are exported to Germany, end up in China in the export of German cars.

The second reason has to do with the global implications of the political economy of bilateral relations, before and after COVID-19.

Italy is a highly-indebted country with a public debt/GDP ratio that was already one of the highest in the West and is expected to grow further. In addition, the Italian manufacturing structure – based on small and  medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – is often undercapitalized. This indebtedness will be put under further pressure, due to lack of demand and liquidity constraints arising from the pandemic.

The stronger presence of Chinese investors in Italy is considered a serious concern both in Europe and in the US; as Italy is seen as a possible Trojan horse for Chinese interests in the EU – especially after Italy signed in 2019 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The decoupling of the US economy from China may also influence Sino-Italian relations, as trade and investment in technology could be limited by eventual American sanctions. Italy’s room to manoeuvre will depend then on how the US-China relations will evolve.

In the medium term, Italy needs to develop its own Chinese strategy, defined within the EU framework. Only an EU-wide common strategy will open some space for Rome to shape a more tailored approach to Italy’s specific needs and interests, but at the same time coherent with the Italian Republic’s long-term foreign policy pillars; Europeanism and Atlantism.

In the longer term, Italy must avoid being caught in the middle of rising Sino-American competition over its economic spoils.

This post is an excerpt from “Italy After COVID-19”, a forthcoming book edited by Andrea Goldstein and Giorgio Bellettini (Bononia University Press).

Giuseppe Gabusi is Assistant Professor of International Political Economy and Political Economy of East Asia at the University of Turin.

Giorgio Prodi is Associate Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Ferrara.


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Covid-19 and Nigeria

Nigeria confirmed their first COVID-19 case on 27th February and since then Nigeria’s centre for disease control has been the leading institution for reporting and tackling the pandemic.

By June 2020, there were 22,020 cases and 542 deaths recorded.

Nigerians have to adapt to a new reality, after initially only hearing the news via media platforms regarding the effect of the virus. COVID-19 has been with us for four months and has already had a dramatic effect on daily lives in Nigeria.

Firstly, it has affected the economy, as the government was forced to review its economic policy and diversify away from an over-reliance on crude oil. The price of crude oil crashed, from $60 in 2019 to $20 per barrel in March 2020, as globally people are travelling much less. As a result, the economy is rapidly declining and without care, the country may enter into recession.

The spread of COVID-19 led to lockdown in several states, including the economic centre of Lagos State; there were very few economic activities during the lockdown. The temporary halt in economics has affected many small-scale businesses and some are already folding. Several companies have to lay off workers and it is projected that almost 40 million Nigerians (more than the entire population of Poland), may lose their job as a result of the pandemic.

Lockdown has also been extremely challenging for Nigerian people, particularly those living in overcrowded areas. People were expected to stay at home 24 hours per day; yet in March and April temperatures often average 45 degrees centigrade, and there were frequent power cuts.

Moreover, there were widespread reports of police brutality and the UN estimates that at least 18 people have been killed by the police enforcing lock down restrictions.

COVID-19 has also increased food insecurity and many Nigerians are at risk of hunger.

Even before the pandemic, there were food shortages reported in Nigeria. In 2018, The World Health Organization reported that Nigeria was overburdened by three main malnutrition indicators: anemia, overweight, and stunting.

The educational system is also grounded as virtual classes are limited, as many families and schools do not have access to the resources needed to facilitate this.

However, there are some positive effects. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the state of health care system in Nigeria and this forced the government to declare a state of emergency in the health sector. The health sector has gradually improved to tackle the pandemic. One such improvement has been the Ogun state government announcing the first modern molecular laboratory in the state.

This pandemic also promotes goodwill among Nigerians; it has brought people together to support community members, providing aid for the most vulnerable.

Finally, COVID-19 has brought out the creativity in Nigerians – people made face masks from local materials, mobile apps were developed and some tertiary institutions developed ventilators. There are also breakthroughs in the development of vaccines reported.

COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for Nigeria but there is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Olayemi Michael Godwin, is a BSc. Nutrition and Dietetics student at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Nigeria. He lives in Ogun State Nigeria.

Dr Julie Abayomi is an Associate Head of Applied Health & Social Care at EHU, and a Reader in Dietetics.


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A New Cold War? Can we maintain good academic relationships with China post Covid-19?

As a social scientist working in the field of Chinese politics, I note with interest the speed with which perceptions of China changed these last months. A Cold War mentality is detectable.

We hear from many parts of the world that China’s rise as a superpower is a challenge to the status quo. Politicians and media often label China’s Party-state as an illiberal regime. Nobody should trust it to play a positive role globally, not even in science.

Such criticisms have accelerated and turned into a movement-like wave, especially so under the Trump presidency. In the US, it has reached the level of a shrill crescendo during the Corona crisis.

Shrill as the criticisms may seem, China’s claims to innocence are no less high-pitched. China’s authoritarian Party-state has little tolerance with critics, neither abroad nor at home. This is especially true under Xi Jinping’s leadership, and more so during the Corona crisis. China’s leadership is not shy about admitting it.

While the Communist Party pursues an active and engaging science diplomacy internationally, it has strengthened its control with the organization of the country’s research environments; it demands political loyalty from the field and openly criticizes Chinese researchers with liberal inclinations or international connections.

At the same time, some governments, think tanks and media across the world accuse Chinese researchers of seeking to influence foreign research environments or to exploit them for illicit purposes, with the backing of the Chinese Party-state. Chinese entities of different hues have also come under critical scrutiny in the US and the EU. They are handled with suspicion; they may be sanctioned or even barred from entry or further operation.

At home, I was quite surprised to learn that after 10 years of collaboration, that my university one-sidedly scrapped the ongoing collaboration with Fudan University without discussion.

Navigating this fast-changing landscape is not easy for us or for Chinese social scientists. Last year I wrote about concerns for academic freedom in social science in China, and the Corona crisis has been a time for reflection about the way to counteract this.

Yet, although we are under pressure to accommodate public opinion, and the Communist Party of China demands that our Chinese colleagues align with their ideas, our common enterprise must still be that of independent critical research.

China will not go away; we must find new ways to do research on China and work with our Chinese partners in responsible and transparent ways, while dealing with the changing perceptions and the escalating Cold War mentality that pervades scientific collaboration. We must insist with our trusted partners that we maintain the bridges that we spent decades to build. Tearing then down is unfortunately much easier than building them.

Jørgen Delman is Professor of China Studies at Department of Cross-cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS), University of Copenhagen


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Computer Says ‘No’: Digital Resistance and Online delivery in Tasmania

As Covid-19 spread rapidly throughout the world, the Australian university year was just beginning. Student introductions had been made, course material had been outlined, but deep learning had not been initiated.

As swiftly as Covid-19 took hold, so did the need for Australian academics to restructure their courses from on-campus to online delivery, while attempting to maintain enriching learning experiences. For too long, many Australian universities had been selective with the courses offered for online delivery. Often, courses offered online were developed as mere replications of their on-campus counterparts. For many Australian tertiary educators, online course delivery was no longer a contentious option, but an immediate requirement.

Many talented and highly regarded academics were suddenly unprepared to reframe their courses through a solely digital environment. While some accepted the challenge and capitalised on what the technology could provide teaching delivery, many others ignored the plethora of research regarding online teaching, and reverted to foregone instructional teaching and assessment practices.

During conversations with colleagues, the overpowering focus appeared to be survival: survival in one’s job, survival of entangled personal and professional responsibilities, survival in adjusting to a whole new way of existing. One way to survive was to retreat into safe teaching spaces such as teacher-led instruction, and essay-based assessment.  The student experience dimmed at double the pace, as students too grappled with their own survival; within and external to learning commitments.

For some academics, the changes were a challenge they had unintentionally been preparing for. Many courses offered to ‘traditional online students’ had well-developed asynchronous tools, and synchronous learning experiences, packaged with an overarching emphasis on student engagement. These courses utilised functions, such as timed release of content, hurdle tasks, knowledge and achievement quizzes, and contained short lecture videos to highlight key concepts. Others new and accepting of the challenge reimagined their courses through the lens of an opportunity to diversify; demonstrating the need for reimagining delivery, rather than trying to teach the same face-to-face content through a computer screen.

Courses that were restructured without reverting to comfortable instructor-led teaching and learning, positively influenced the experience of ‘forced online students.’ Student learning was guided through interactive discussion forums and tutorials, skill development occurred through various digital mediums, and learning was presented across an array of platforms.

As Australia moves out of the initial Covid-19 depth with the easing of restrictions, and semester one’s end draws ever closer, the future of university teaching and learning remains as clouded as the past few months. Some colleagues are naturally preparing for continued online delivery, while the ‘digital resisters’ continually refresh their email inbox in hope of the elusive green light to return to the ‘old normal.’

Despite this, overall there appears a deeper respect for online learning and the self-determination and intrinsic motivation students must possess to navigate this learning experience. Achieving this understanding Australian academics have the potential to propel the future of tertiary online education during the pandemic and beyond.

Samantha Vlcek (PhD Candidate) and Scott Pedersen (Senior Lecturer), University of Tasmania, School of Education.


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“In times of trouble the wise built a bridge and the fool a dam” a Nigerian proverb.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects became real in South Africa with lock down at the end of March 2020.

No one, not the most prepared, respected or skilled lecturer, could have prepared for what was to come. 

Initially, we higher education lecturers, waited patiently for the government and Minister of Higher Education to guide us. 

Initially staff development programs at South African universities tried to prepare academics for the huge shift from classrooms to E-learning. 

I attended, like a life-long learner, these attempts to guide us to the new, virtual world.  After three workshops I realized these are a little bit like sending a letter to an agony aunt.  You have something to say, but expect to get someone else’s advice.  And can they talk in these workshops!

The next wave hit. 

Our students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds and rural areas, did not have the equipment or access to the internet to make e-learning work.

In Africa, there is a local clothing store, which provides cheap, colorful clothes at reasonable price to people.  The local clothing store became the distribution point in all rural areas for students who have no access to technology and data, and have to do paper based assessment.

As for me, I am skilled with technology, but often, it is not the knowledge that you transfer, but the questions you ask. I made a prompt decision to keep my online classes formal and well balanced. The basic instructions remain the same, despite the resources or technology used.  Be blunt, to the point. Tell the students what to do, and how to do it.  Be precise, say what you want from them and give guided instructions to get to the point.  Remain accessible, but keep to mutual respect and formal academic language.  It is as plain as you can, contact me, whenever you want, by sending an email.  Ensure to include documentation you are referring to and evidence of your attempts to master the outcomes.  Plan well ahead and submit in time.        

In Africa we built a bridge, one way or another, via a clothing store, and stay away from the water and the dam.

Dr Irene Muller, Lecturer, North West University, Vanderbijlpark Campus, South Africa


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A View from Tasmania: Has the pandemic influenced health and health behaviour?

Over the past four months humankind has endured a combination of forced challenges and changes that few in history have experienced. Underlying the need for these constraints is arguably the cornerstone to our existence – health. Amongst all the uncertainty, unpredictability, panic, and novelty that has become part of a newfound daily routine for many, perhaps individuals and broader society have had time to reflect upon health and its importance. Moreover, could it be that what we have lived through in recent months might actually present an opportunity to engage with our health and consider behaviour change? 

Within the Australian context, most parts of the country have had restrictions put in place. Interestingly, these restrictions have instigated a noticeable increase in physical activity behaviours such as bike riding, rollerblading, scooting, running, walking (including dog walking). Yes, there has been substantial modification in how many people have been dedicating their time; resulting in physical activity, recreation, and leisure activities being observable in streets, parks, courts, and on tracks. There are multiple benefits to this observable zest for movement in the outdoors, such as:

  • Family engagement through physical activity; connecting, communicating, and spending time together.
  • Breaking the cycle of being at home and staying at home; physical activity has proven to be a remedy for emotional and mental health stimulation and mindset.
  • Establishing new weekly and daily routines that feature physical activity as a regular component; in some cases, providing a foundation for planning around.
  • The development of fitness and fundamental movement skills through activities such as cycling, running, skating, scooting, and play; thus, promoting lifelong physical literacy through challenging balance, coordination, reaction time, agility, decision-making, and controlled risk taking.
  • Not relying on motorised vehicles for all travel. This has been confronting for many due to habitually relying on cars, however restrictions have forced this default behaviour to be tested.

Despite the broad and far-reaching negativity that has been portrayed by popular media since February, the benefits listed above have contributed to several positive outcomes; these are:

  • A realisation that we do have time for physical activity.
  • Reports that nationally bicycle sales have increased significantly, in some cases up to 150 – 200%.
  • Environmental health – the decrease in car use has dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Social health – physical activity has provided opportunities for people to come together, interact, and maintain relationships.

As the month of June comes to an end and restrictions ease, it is visible that Australians are reverting to their old routines and previously formed behaviours. Once again, the roads are filled with cars, rush and panic accompany school and work travel, urban noise has returned, and sadly there is less human movement in the outdoors. So, in spite of the conspicuous motivation for people to value their health during the pandemic I now find myself asking “is health important to people” and “what is required to cement health behaviour change”?   

Dr Casey Mainsbridge is Director of Student Engagement and Lecturer in Health and Physical Education at the College of Arts, Law, and Education, University of Tasmania.


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Observing Different Worlds: Action Research and the Musical Learning Community

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic began five members of the Action Research Network of the Americas established a foundation. The Musical Learning Action Research Community was approved. A month later, we had a fortunate encounter with another member working from Java, Indonesia, and now this action research community is working on 16 different projects to enrich and capture the cultural perspective of the current situation across continents.

We have been documenting the personal testimonies through education processes, video recordings, interviews, public dialogue, artistic creations, observations, and documents. In so doing we have analyzed the multiple ways in which people improvise and adapt to something so all consuming, and unexpected.

Around the world, we have observed the vast disparities prompted by current social systems. In Ecuador, we have seen how private universities were able to afford the migration to virtual platforms, capacitating faculty, and helping students. Meanwhile, public universities have been defunded, faculty dismissed, and students left to protest in the streets.

In North America, some schools were able to provide devices for every student to enjoy connectivity; others were not so fortunate. In South America, we observed cases where parents had to choose between risking their health by working the streets, or letting hunger be their families’ destiny. In parts of the Americas and Asia, we have seen how students had to wait for their parents to get back so they could share one phone among two or three siblings to connect with teachers.

Cultural differences between urban and rural responses to the pandemic have prompted us to reflect. In urban centers, confinement, curfews, and instilling fear in each other became the norm. Despite this in, Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, corpses laid unattended to decompose in the streets after the health and funerary systems collapsed.

In contrast, rural areas relied heavily on their community work and used togetherness as the drive to overcome hardship. On the island of Java in Indonesia, there was a revalorization – the process of resetting the value of something – of the relationship with the soil and agriculture.

Such a process led to the development of farming initiatives to provide food to those in need.

Despite the geography that tries to distant us, we keep growing close. We have relied on each other to keep advancing educational, cultural, and artistic work. Without such togetherness, it would not have been possible to share this with you.

Musical Learning Community:

Víctor Manuel Rubio Carrillo, PhD candidate, Frost School of Music, University of Miami

With assistance from

Natalie Vanessa Lopez, Fulford Elementary School

Joshua Argueta, Sweetwater Elementary School

David Fernando Echeverría Valencia, Universidad de los Hemisferios

Sebastián López Prado, Colegio de Bachillerato en Artes Luis Humberto Salgado Torres

Cristina Duque, Indonesian Art Institute of Yogyakarta


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A View from China: Will COVID-19 Change the Way We Teach?

Isolating at home has become the norm, in what feels like an ultra-long winter vacation!

The Chinese Ministry of Education has decreed that “classes will be suspended, without school suspension” and so, like the rest of the world, we have had to turn to the webcast.

Webcast teaching has a number of advantages. It provides students with a more flexible way of learning, with some watching ‘live’, whilst others can, so long as they can access the Internet, undertake their learning when it is convenient.

There are also many online live teaching platforms, our class models are live broadcast, mu class, conference room, QQ group, WeChat group and so on. Teachers and students choose what is suitable for them, according to their own needs.

Most of the live broadcast software has recording and broadcasting function, and in places where you don’t understand or didn’t pay attention (and we all lapse at times), you can go back and review.

Immersive teaching videos are also far more vivid than words. After watching the teaching video online, students can also leave messages and send e-mails to the teacher about problems they do not understand; providing that two-way interaction and feedback that we all miss when we are not face-to-face.

Of course, there are also some challenges in online teaching.

Colleges and universities all over the country launched “online teaching” all at the same time. Due to too many people online at once, there have been problems such as stutter, flicker, and the continuous spooling circle.

Students also have to download and be familiar with many platforms, and there is not enough mobile space. Some students have also reported they have been busy downloading and learning to use the major online course applications had added to the stress of being a student.

There are also some students who live in remote mountainous areas who have to find the Internet on foot every day; and so it can take a lot of trouble to attend classes.

At the same time, online teaching challenges a student’s autonomous learning ability.

Many teachers say that in the classroom, teachers have more control over students, and it is difficult for students to escape from the teacher’s gaze. Online teachers can only see on-screen comments and ‘likes’, and it is difficult to evaluate students’ learning status immediately. There are also many students reflect that the environment at home is not as good as the classroom; noisier, more interference, and so learning efficiency is not so high.

No doubt these problems are universal – and so it will be interesting to see how many of these practices we retain, and how many we give up, when teaching in physical classrooms resumes.

Su Hong is a Senior Nurse Lecturer at Harbin Medical University Daqing. She also collaborates with staff at Edge Hill University


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Coping During the Current Global Pandemic: A View from Australia

The current COVID pandemic has hit us all both professionally and personally. Personally, I am very relaxed and easy-going person who manages stress in my work and personal life easily through a combination of regular exercise, prioritizing, and controlling what I can control and not worrying about what I cannot control.

The current pandemic is one of those uncontrollables!

However, the dramatic change imposed on both my personal life and my work life, did see my stress levels initially rise before becoming aware of the need to cope better using the mechanisms above and ensuring I stay connected with colleagues at work and friends in my personal life. Sharing the ‘pain’ and uncertainty of the future openly!

Professionally, the Australian University sector has been hit hard because of the pandemic and closure of both international and state borders. The Australian tertiary education sector has a very strong reliance on international students mainly from China. Indeed, in the state of New South Wales, 32% of the combined $11.4 billion revenue is from international students.

In Australia, 46,480 international students arrived in April 2019.

In April 2020 that figure was 30!

A huge impact on enrolment numbers and thus income to both universities and the local and Australian economy.

While my own not-for-profit University has not been as strongly impacted by a downturn in student numbers, most government-funded Universities have been hit hard due to a on over-reliance on fee-paying international students over many years.

This over-reliance has recently been exaggerated by growing political tension between China and Australia who have a strong reliance and strategic defense partnership with Donald Trump’s USA. Indeed, over recent weeks the COVID-related downturn in international student numbers has been hit again by China openly discouraging students from attending Australian universities. 

The major impacts of the downturn in income from fee-paying students have seen many Australian Universities, including our leading sandstone Universities, shedding both academic and professional staff with research income-dependent staff the most at risk.

While my own University has not seen redundancies, no new positions are being advertised, sessional staff are not being utilized as much, and both academic and professional staff are being encouraged to take accumulated leave to assist budgeting. Morale is still high and the leadership open and transparent. We promote a ‘we are in this together’ approach and include students in this approach. To facilitate this dramatic change in delivery, an extra two weeks leave were added onto the between semester break. This extra time allowed our Office of Learning and Teaching to upskill teaching staff on best practice for remote delivery and to prepare students via video-updates on how to learn most effectively in remote mode. This approach appears to have worked.

Within Australia we appear have managed the pandemic better than most. We wish our colleagues in Europe and the UK well during these challenging times. We are all in this together!      

Peter Reaburn – Professor and Head, Exercise and Sport Science, Bond University, Australia.


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The Asian Century is Underway – but will Universities in the West lose out?

UK universities suffer worst-ever rankings in world league table while Asian institutions rise.

Sure, we can blame a lot on a nasty virus, but truth is we all know this has been building up for some time. If you are surprised that the Asian Century is now well and truly underway then frankly you’ve not been paying attention.

It’s 15 years since Joseph E. Stiglitz duly predicted this would be the ‘Chinese Century’ and nothing that has happened since suggests he was wrong. If you require any further evidence that The Future is Asian, then I suggest you read Parag Khanna’s book (2019) of the same title.

I am shortly to do professional development with UK Independent Schools, advising them on how to combat this emergent paradigm in their marketing to potential Asian students; a market suddenly in decline. And yes, there are solutions, but none will come easy.

Western universities don’t yet know just how big a drop there will be in international student enrolment, but it will be severe.

In the UK alone, the number of Chinese applicants for a Tier 1 visa (a common route for wealthy students to study in the UK) is down 72% in the first three months of this year. While Asian-based student recruitment agencies report a 90% drop in interest in UK education destinations and a staggering 95% drop for USA, Australian, French and German schools and universities.

Covid-19 is most definitely contributing to the problem, but that alone doesn’t explain why WeChat groups across China are currently flooded with comments such as these:

“Many of us are very surprised at how poorly some advanced countries in Western Europe have handled the pandemic. We always thought that both the quality of life and health in Western societies were far better than in China, but now our views have changed.”

(Alice Tan, business owner based in Guangzhou)

Sure, you can blame individual politicians but perhaps the cause is deeper rooted than simply the failings of two blustering, inadequate political leaders.

The Chinese government has many problems, but the pandemic makes me feel that foreign countries’ governments have even bigger ones. We (Chinese) will all have second thoughts [about the attractions of the West] from now on.”

(Richard Shen, a white-collar worker for a foreign firm in Shanghai, whose family run two chain restaurants in the city)

These comments provide stark evidence of a turn away from the West, with urban rich Asians critically reappraising any assumptions they once held that the West, especially its culture and politics, is the model for Asians to follow.

Consequently, in the near future an existential line will be crossed – we may be crossing it now – and that line will be when Western is no longer seen as the default orientation for ambitious Asian global citizens blessed with material and cultural capital.

Dr Stephen Whitehead lives in Thailand, where he works as a consultant for international schools and as Lead Writer for Educational Digest International.


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Tip of the iceberg: COVID-19 and the welfare state in Israel

It is probably known to most readers of this column that Israel is home to an existential conflict between national-ethnic groups. This conflict is often manifest in clashes between narratives on how Israel was established, and the history of the very land upon which it sits. Yet, few realize how polarized the discourse among Israelis concerning their country’s future is; specifically regarding the best ways to maintain its achievements and sustain social and economic growth.

The Israeli welfare state, as a departure point or conceptual framework for this discourse, is difficult to describe definitively. Today it is commonly outlined as a hybrid welfare state, joining Western liberal elements with Middle Eastern, collectivist, traditional characteristics. In the past decade, Israel’s GDP has increased at a higher rate than the OECD average. On the other hand, Israel’s poverty rate is one of the highest in the West. Israelis also report low trust in their state’s institutions, yet high levels of satisfaction with their lives in general.

Against the backdrop of these inconsistencies, various voices over the years have increased in volume, cautioning that our economic growth, high quality of life, and stable labor market are enjoyed by only a specific segment of Israeli society, and that social distress on a huge scale crouches, poised to pounce, behind these “blue-ribbon” numbers, in both social strata that struggle with poverty and sidelining, as well as in the middle class, which is an “endangered species”.

COVID-19 landed meteor-like onto this complex reality, and has generated multi-level effects.

Take for example the trajectory of Israel’s unemployment rate in the past two months: In February, unemployment was 3.2%. In April, the number of unemployed surpassed one million Israelis for the first time (representing a 25% rate of unemployment). Interestingly, in Hebrew, the word for an unemployed individual is muvtál, which contains an element of disparagement hinting that the person is a malingerer. Pre-corona, when few Israelis were unemployed, the media referred to them as muvtalìm [pl. form of muvtál] as a matter of course. In mid-March, when the number of unemployed Israelis stood at 600,000, the media began referring to them as chasrèi avodá, or “[those] without employment”. When the number of unemployed climbed to a million and counting, coverage of them mainly referred to dorshèi avodá or “job seekers”. These apparently semantic differences may represent a window of opportunity to press forward with asking more probing questions about the social and economic vulnerability and sustainability of many Israelis.

Now what? Several Israeli civil society organizations, as well as academics, are identifying a shift in Israel’s social discourse, and are engaged in raising awareness of all of those forms of distress that plague Israeli society and still lie beneath the tip of the iceberg exposed by COVID-19. Should these efforts materialize in more just, inclusive and effective policies, Israel’s social preparedness for any future crisis that comes our way, will certainly improve.

Lia Levin, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at the Bob Shapell School of Social Work, Tel Aviv University, Israel, and is the Head of Tel Aviv University’s Policy Practice Clinic.


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Seeking International Perspectives on a Global Pandemic

Over the last few months, ISR has attempted to capture the EHU view of the pandemic. This proved to be wide-ranging, thought provoking and at times, challenging.

Yet a pandemic is by its very nature a global, or at a least trans-boundary phenomenon. We have seen many countries attempt to deal with the pandemic in different ways; from virtual house arrest in Spain and India, to Brazil and Sweden where lockdown approaches were rejected. There are even some countries that claim to be coronavirus free, though this list includes North Korea, and so its efficacy is questionable.

It of course remains to be seen which approach to the virus will have been the most successful. Likely it will take years, not months to assess, not only the absolute number of Covid-19 related deaths, but also the economic and social damage done by lockdowns of various types.

Of course, approaches to, and compliance with pandemic restrictions, are also culturally contextualised.

Previously the ISR blog looked at approaches to controlling the population in the Russian Federation and other former Eastern Bloc countries, where the legacy of accepting curtailment of individual freedom is still present; and thus have more readily accepted lockdown restrictions. Yet, without this legacy, the UK population has also demonstrated surprisingly high levels of compliance with the restrictions, attributed to our collective emotional commitment to the NHS. Conversely, in the USA there have been protests against lockdown measures and restrictions on individual liberties – an outcome that perhaps could have been predicted in ‘the land of the free’.

Responses to the management of the disease also appear to both conform and counter national stereo-types. The Germans, with their renowned efficiency have managed to carry out more daily testing than any other European country. Yet in Iran, lockdown measures, particularly under the threat of a second wave, have not been as draconian as we might expect.

Thus starting on June 15th, the next phase of the ISR Covid-19 blog will explore international perspectives on the pandemic. How have the different approaches to the virus been interpreted by our academic partners overseas? What are the key debates in their field of enquiry? How has it impacted their institutions? How has it impacted them individually?

To date, we have invited contributions from overseas academics with working relationships with EHU that are known to the core ISR team. However, we would like to invite all EHU staff to approach overseas contacts to seek their views. As with the blog in its previous form, we are looking for apolitical yet provocative contributions of approximately 500 words. Please send contributions via ISR@edgehill.ac.uk

Prof Jo Crotty is Director of the Institute for Social Responsibility at Edge Hill University.


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To the Moon and Back: Summing up the ISR/EHU Covid-19 Blog

When we had the idea to ISR blog in the week after lockdown in late March, we could not have imagined that it would have such resonance. Since the start of April we have had nearly 50 posts, charting our immediate response as an academic community to a once in a 100-year event.

In receiving, reviewing and editing the posts each day – I have oscillated between hope and despair; and somewhere in between. Fear that we may have permanently given up our way of life to fight this disease, but then hope that perhaps we can reimagine part of it for the better in its aftermath. Moreover, some of the historical entries have prompted me to wondered if the ordinary people felt the same during the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago? Likely at times they did feel hopeless, not least the populations of Europe, the USA and the Empire had just endured 4 years of war. Yet as a species we did bounce back from Spanish flu – and made it all the way to the moon! So I have no doubt that we will do so again.

And so, in setting out to summarise what is already an historical document, the blog falls into four broad categories;

  1. The pandemic has the potential to permanently alter the way in which we organise our lives. Many of us have become more creative and learnt new skills. It has been a journey of discovery, individually, institutionally, economically, and as a society, and may even solve the EHU car parking problem, and we have all got used to working remotely.
  2. Vigilance is needed when loaning out our ‘civil liberties’ for the perceived ‘greater good’; what surveillance and other genies have we let out of the bottle during this period – and can we put them back? Relatedly, how do we do ‘politics’ in times of crisis and how to we critique constructively?
  3. In the longer term, the ‘cure’ for Covid-19 may end up being more harmful than the disease. Many posts illustrate just how hard it is in our complex and integrated world, to take difficult decisions in the absence of full or good information.
  4. History repeats – or at least rhymes. Thankfully, the red X was not put on our front doors this time, but other aspects of the accounts of pandemics passed, were eerily familiar; including the both the mythology and inequalities arising therefrom.

As the blog entered its final week, it also reflected on ‘what’s next?’. As we emerge from ‘lockdown’ will society be kinder, or will we miss the opportunity to make permanent changes as we flock back to the shops, and queue for ‘drive through’ take away? Perhaps some of the philosophical perspectives also expressed in the blog will help us we take away the good, leave behind at least some of the bad, and make it back to the moon?

In the next few weeks we will be compiling all the blog entries into a pdf document. This will be available to download from the ISR website. We also intend to host an anniversary event in March 2021 where we will ask some of the bloggers to reflect on their posts; what happened next, did they get their predictions right – and what do they think now? More information on this event will also follow.

Finally I would like to thank all the contributors and readers of the blog. You all made it a huge success; and I look forward to seeing you all on campus one day very soon!

Prof Jo Crotty,  Director: Institute for Social Responsibility, Edge Hill University


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Staging Apocalypse: Endgame, by Samuel Beckett

HAMM: This is not much fun. But that’s always the way at the end of the day, isn’t it, Clov?

CLOV: Always.

HAMM: It’s the end of the day like any other day, isn’t it, Clov?

CLOV: Looks like it.

HAMM (anguished): What’s happening, what’s happening?

CLOV: Something is taking its course.

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame

On Monday 16 March 2020, the Old Vic theatre cancelled its production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, with Daniel Radcliffe as Clov, Alan Cummings as Hamm, Karl Johnson as Nagg, and Jane Horrocks as Nell. Beckett’s drama, set in a sealed room in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, had been terminated as London itself became an urban desert, menaced by a rampant virus, with – many fear – apocalyptic potential.

Clov, manservant to Hamm, spends most of his time in his kitchen, ‘ten feet by ten feet by ten feet […] nice dimensions, nice proportions’. There, he will ‘lean on the table, and look at the wall, and wait for him to whistle me’.

Hamm, whose parents, Nell and Nagg, occupy dustbins to his right, sits centre stage in an armchair. He is literally blind; metaphorically, even moreso,

HAMM: Can there be misery, loftier than mine? […] My father? My mother? My … dog? [Pause] Oh, I am willing to believe they suffer as much as such creatures can suffer. But does that mean their sufferings equal mine?

Hamm’s register is empty bombast, the signature of the ham actor, one of a number of referents on which his name plays. He is cruelly capricious, commanding Clov’s every move, summoning and dismissing his parents, who eventually cease to be.

Recent scholarship has recuperated Samuel Beckett’s dramas from the critical cul de sac known as ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ – a classification ultimately disowned by Martin Esslin, who coined the phrase. He was dismayed as it came to function as a shorthand that denied the ethical force of what playwrights as diverse as Jarry, Artaud, Pirandello, Ionesco, Beckett, and Pinter brought to the stage.

Beckett’s intimate involvement in apocalyptic events in twentieth-century Europe has all too often been marginalised as a context for reading his stage aesthetics. This has impoverished critical understanding, both of the works themselves, and his approach to an artist’s public role. His unrelenting focus on the limits of human civilisation is nothing like an absurd position, when set in the context of his active resistance to Nazi occupation in France, and his engagement with liberal political economy’s awful nineteenth-century crime – the response to, and not the fact of – the failure of the staple potato crop in Ireland.

Plays always speak from and to the times from which they emerge, and, as Peter Brook and Jonathan Miller demonstrated, speak also to future, unforeseeable, circumstances. Endgame stages a world in which old people expire in dustbins, a worker incarcerated at home reels under the weight of contradictory imperatives, while a self-regarding overseer, obsessively gives, and reviews his own performance. Beckett left us a play for our times.

Victor Merriman is Professor of Critical Studies in Drama at Edge Hill University.


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Returning to ‘normal’: Better or Worse for those with special need and/or disabilities?

In uncertain times, it is unsurprising that evoking the idea of ‘normal’ provides a source of comfort. ‘Normal’ implies a predictability and coherence that many of us crave. Both a return to the ‘old’ normal and a re-imagining of a ‘new’ normal are presented as potential reassurances of a more familiar and comprehensible future. It seems that the word ‘normal’ is more present in our communications than ever before. However, our craving for normality is not without issues.

I want to explore my own discomfort with the idolisation of normality, from the perspective of education. The school closure experiences and insights of children and young people who attract the term ‘special educational needs and/or disabilities’ (SEND) can offer some insight into our relationship with ideas about ‘normal’.

The very fact that the term ‘SEND’ includes the word ‘special’ indicates an interesting relationship with normality. For example, disabled advocates have long campaigned for the use of remote meetings as a way to make education, workplaces, and social opportunities more accessible. Their need for these provisions has been deemed special, and thus extra or other.

In our present situation, the use of remote meetings has become normal, and large numbers of people are educated, carry out their paid work, and engage in social activity online. Substantial efforts are made to ensure that all of this is possible. The change in the status of remote education – from special to normal – highlights significant issues in the way that we can equitably approach education, and the problematic nature of our yearning for normality.

If we consider Lennard Davis’ (2010) analysis of the construction of normalcy, which appears in history shortly after industrialisation and follows a eugenicist path, we see that ‘normal’ can be thought of as the idealisation of the statistically average, a notion tied closely to efficiency and economy. These statistical averages allow us to universally orient our practices toward the productivity of the statistically average human, and to measure ourselves in terms of deviations from that ‘ideal’. Our practices, then, might be considered to be a good fit for the extremely few people who fit in precisely the middle of all given measures. When we organise ourselves according to the average, variations are applied as extra or other.

The current yearning for normality provides an opportunity for the further idealisation of the normal. As schools reopen, will those practices which have become normal become special once again? I wonder what other barriers we could overcome if we were to deem difference as normal rather than special? If we orient ourselves toward a new version of normal that is accommodating only toward the average, are we reconstituting the same old disadvantages?

Michelle Dunne is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

Reference:

Davis, L. J. (2010) ‘Constructing Normalcy: The Bell Curve, the Novel, and the Invention of the Disabled Body in the Nineteenth Century’, in Davis, L. J. (ed.) The Disability Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 3–16.


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Covid-19: Liberation from the Clock (for some)

The development of electronic communications over the past few years has made home working a possibility for many of us, the current Covid-19 pandemic has made it compulsory for even more of us. If we set aside the pressures of social isolation, this is a development that could have many benefits.

In the early days of the Industrial Revolution much of Britain’s industry was conducted in people’s homes. In the leading industry of that time, cotton textiles, many workers, such as weavers were home-based. There were many perceived advantages to this arrangement. It meant, among other things that such workers had control over their work routine. It was not uncommon for them to work very long hours over 3 to 4 days to secure enough income for that week, and then devote the rest of their time to other activities, such as gardening or sports, or making cheese and butter if they kept a cow on the local common. At the time people talked about ‘St. Monday, Indicating that they did not work on the first day of the week. To use the cliché: they worked to live, rather than living to work.

This pattern of work had other positive features too. Skilled artisans could control entry to their trade through the apprenticeship system, which was a way of maintaining level of income. Such artisans, like stocking knitters (stockings at this time were long socks, worn by both sexes) took pride in producing good quality fully-fashioned items.

In the first decades of the 19th century increasing demand led merchants supplying raw materials, to attempt to undermine this skilled status and control of entry to the trade of stocking knitter to speed-up production and reduce costs. It was this erosion of status that led to the Luddite Uprising in 1812.

After 1815 factory production increased and, in the process reduced many workers to machine minders unable to take pride in a well-made item, and bound them to the regular hours, 6 days a week, of the industrial workplace. Charles Dickens noted this de-humanising process in his 1854 novel, Hard Times, set in a fictionalised version of Preston, Coketown. There he noted that factory workers were referred to as ‘Hands’, devoid of personality and mere appendages of the machines they tended. Karl Marx coined the term ‘Alienation’ to describe this loss of control experienced by industrial workers. In the 20th Century Charlie Chaplin’s film, Modern Times give a brilliant visual representation of the reduction of the worker to a cog in a machine.

Working at home, then for many restores control over their time. Tasks have to be completed, but such work can be combined with some gardening, cooking, making cheese or butter, should you have access to the appropriate livestock, thinking, or even, if you are keen on ads for Funeral Insurance, watching daytime TV. It is a more humane existence, other activities are not necessarily confined to time-spaces left by work. Such arrangements are not available to all workers, but in a service economy they are available to an increasing number. If nothing else the experience of the pandemic may make people think more deeply about the nature of work and that well-worn entity: the work/life balance.

Dr Roger Spalding is Programme Leader for History at Edge Hill University.


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Listen up! Schools have always been much more than places for Education

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, schools in England have radically shifted form. After temporarily closing for the majority of children, they have remained open for some. The sector is in the midst of planning how to bring more children on site safely. Alongside this, extraordinary attempts have been made to sustain relationships with pupils who are not present in school. But what are schools like for teachers working with those children still attending? As an academic working in teacher education, I am interested in how teachers navigate this new territory that is familiar yet has become so strange.  

Recently I opened up an e-mail from a past student who is now a newly qualified teacher. A radically changed classroom is described, characterised by openness to more child-initiated approaches yet closely bound to children’s emotions. As children’s wellbeing is tuned into, what seems to be paramount is the significance of listening to children. He offers one particular observation; a 6-year-old boy is drawing and talks about his sadness and worry about his mum who works as a hospital doctor. The boy describes her long working hours, his fears that she might catch the virus and the consequences for him of less time for normal things such as playing together in their local park.

This little fragment of a listening encounter illuminates the complex emotional labour that constitutes teacher’s relationships with children. Hargreaves (2001, 2005) describes such relationships as emotional geographies.  I have used this theory in some recent research (Albin-Clark, 2020) and found that teachers use their emotions to activate changes in their pedagogical practice. In this example, we see the role that listening plays in enabling a space and time for the creative expression of complex feelings. Here the boy makes sense of his mum’s increased absence, his fear in relation to health, and how much he misses playing.

How teachers learn from these kinds of emotional encounters will not get lost as schools grapple with the practical changes that physical distancing will bring.  It is a timely reminder that the relationships that teachers and their children build is strongly driven by listening. Teachers know that children will be profoundly affected by this pandemic. As we take small steps out of lockdown, it reminds us that schools have always been so much more than places for education. Listening to children is a skill that will be vital as we navigate future classrooms, and the good news is that this is something that teachers already do exceptionally well.

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education at Edge Hill University.


Albin-Clark J (2020) ‘I felt uncomfortable because I know what it can be’: The emotional geographies and implicit activisms of reflexive practices for early childhood teachers. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 21(1), pp. 20-32.

Hargreaves A (2001) Emotional geographies of teaching. Teachers College Record 103(6):  1056–1080.

Hargreaves A (2005) Educational change takes ages: Life, career and generational factors in teachers’  emotional responses to educational change. Teaching and Teacher Education 21(8):  967–983.


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Experts at Bereavement?

Following a series of family bereavements;  including my father, mother and only brother over a 2 year period, my elder daughter responded very positively when I said she was coping very well.  ‘Dad’, she said, ‘we have become experts at bereavement!’ Notwithstanding, I required counselling having been devastated by my losses; she is now a prescribing community nurse for a Children’s hospice.

As a young curate I conducted over 25 funerals on the Crematorium duty rota in my first month in post. These were for people from all over the region; I met the grieving family at the door of the crematorium and tried to conduct a meaningful service with no prior knowledge of the deceased or their family!

Later, working in urban parishes, I experienced many deaths and funerals; babies, pupils and parents in my children’s school, those of my family, close friends and members of my church. The most traumatic experience was being asked to switch off life support for a 7 year old child with staff and family present.

Visiting London following the death of Princess Diana I was dragged unwillingly to Kensington Palace to look at the “amazing” sea of flowers outside. I found myself in tears, not at all because of the flowers but because of the young princes and the family, friends and staff left bereft behind those walls.

Dealing with the death of loved ones and the fear that brings has been cast to the forefront of our minds triggered by this dreadful virus that the whole world is facing. For well in excess of 35,000 families along with multitudes of friends and colleagues in the UK, bereavement and all of its pain has become a stark reality as it was during wartime.

What positives can be drawn from this tragedy? Hopefully the much-needed advances in  science to bring about a vaccine. For me, I have known through all of my pain, some amazing doctors, nurses, carers, friends and many broken but beautifully hospitable and grateful families who I know would rush to support me in times of trouble. I have stared death down and prayed as someone acquainted with pain and preached about a Saviour who was tortured and died but rose again still with the wounds to bring eternal hope and reassurance. Without this I would have lost hope long ago; death cannot have the last word!

Bereavement is woven into the fabric of all our lives; what is there for those of us left to cope post Covid-19? To be thankful for family or friends lost and those who cared for them. To do what they would want in remembering them and moving forward to bring hope, justice, renewal and much needed change in our world for the future. This planet is a precious resource and is being squandered and stripped of life. I may be an expert in bereavement but I hope that the premature loss of so many loved ones is a catalyst for a better world that values every human life.

Rev John Davis of ‘Together Liverpool’ and the Church Urban Fund is an ISR Visiting Fellow.


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