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The Year Everything Changed: Localcheck

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Unsplash: Shane Rounce

The coronavirus pandemic was the only thing in the news in March 2020. I wouldn't like to be in the driving seat right now and I'm not going to add further criticism of what has or hasn't been done by central government so far.

The UK will find out how bad it's looking in mid-April. The virus that causes COVID-19 is killing over 3% of those infected globally, about three times as deadly as 'normal' flu. Its sneaky incubation period can be unusually long, up to 14 days from the virus entering and 'hiding' in the body to the onset of illness. Other problems include the exponential curve of likely infections, various high-risk factors, and whether there are worse 'unknown unknowns' to follow.

The world economy has faltered and the financial fallout could be more deeply felt than the 2008 banking crisis. There's an agonising wait for state help in underpaid Britain, with half a million Britons waiting for Universal Credit. 'Lockdown' measures make it feel like World War Three and the accompanying legal changes may include some nasty surprises. With isolation, disease and rising death rates, there's fear and stress in the air.

Capitalism unchained has a back-stabbing script for these disasters. It's already squirming about sick pay, asset stripping, pushing privatisations in healthcare, seeking bailouts for cruise ships, airlines and other corporations, betting on company failures.

In a video for The Intercept, Canadian writer Naomi Klein calls it 'Coronavirus Capitalism', but she concludes optimistically that the end of this story is still unwritten. "I've learned that one thing we can count on is this: during moments of cataclysmic change, the previously unthinkable suddenly becomes reality."

This could be life-changing to the human species or we could be in remission by year-end. We simply don't know. Things will be bad for a year or two. Many of us will lose family and friends.

Coronavirus will also make us realise how much we need people

But there will be a time after coronavirus, so let's not forget the toxic storm that global industrialisation has created. We, the people of our planet, must build a new world once this is all over. Patterns of life, work and travel must change fundamentally.

These are ideas that the media criticises as 'de-growth' or 'downshifting'. The very words sound negative. Only idiots would want 'negative growth', they say, but it's got to happen. 'Regeneration' would be a better word for what's needed.

Here on the ground, we can all do something to help our own communities to recover. The government's request for an army of volunteers was met overnight. We can see hope, even as mass hospitalisation sweeps in. Everyone who is able should make an extra effort to keep in touch with others now, offer deliveries or any act of caring. The internet will help people to overcome 'stuck-in syndrome', but coronavirus will also make us realise how much we need people, exercise and time away from screens.

Another positive sign is the outbreak of common sense mutual support. Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS) held a Town Hall open session on 17 March which kicked off a chain of sharing ideas and resources, co-operation and planning for collective responses between the public, private, voluntary and faith sectors. Volunteers to assist and support elderly and vulnerable people were lined up across the city within days. Now VAS is hosting a COVID Action Map to signpost to critical responses from mutual aid groups and community hubs. Rooms have been offered to homeless people, and London taxi drivers have volunteered to drive vulnerable people to hotels. There is hope.

Over on the Alt-Sheff website we're playing our part as a resource to keep people in touch with what's alternative in our city. We've turned to building a database of information, solid advice and links during the coronavirus crisis, covering stuff that doesn't fit on official sites or gets lost in the sea of social media.

We're trying to help people get help and to help others, and we invite you to check it out. There's everything from health information to organising, mutual aid to stress-relieving humour.

Stay safe, stay in touch, and - if you can - chill out.

Hosted by Alt Sheff

Extinction Rebellion Goes Online

XR Sheffield's legendary weekly Monday Meetings are now online using the Zoom meeting system. Sadly no shared coffee and food, but you'll find a warm welcome, and instructions on joining Zoom meetings. The movement's currently looking to become more diverse and working class, and planning to return with a vengeance in the year ahead.

Festival of Debate - Back Soon

Festival of Debate 2020, with 130+ events, would've been the UK's largest politics festival. Opus are gutted about postponing; crises need shared conversation and debate. They're planning virtual events, and some rescheduling. Keep an eye open for information coming soon, and please, be 'Friends of Opus' - give them time and support.

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Unsplash: Rob Pumphrey
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