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My family fled Zimbabwe. But now Covid has made it feel safer than England | Michelle Kambasha

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18 January, by Michelle Kambasha[ —]

A trip to Zimbabwe felt like a luxury escape, exposing how badly our government has handled the pandemic

When I tell white British people I’m going to Zimbabwe, I’m used to seeing two emotions quickly flash across their faces. The first is excitement and the second is fear. Who can blame them? Excitement and fear are how the continent of Africa has been painted for decades – long before malnourished children with flies orbiting the crowns of their head became a staple of charity appeals.

It’s not just British people who have been taught to feel this way. The political and economic upheavals of post-colonial Africa have even coloured how the colonised feel about their lives and their futures. Africa as a “basket case” is an idea that has infiltrated even Africans’ minds. But the truth is always far more complicated than any lazy stereotype can convey – and recent events have brought that home to me in dramatic fashion.

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The weather's dismal but it shouldn’t stop us enjoying our local wildlife this lockdown | Chris Packham

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18 January, by Chris Packham[ —]

Winter is when you get the very best out of your senses. Bare trees mean that you can hear every sound and watch for birds

Do you remember the first lockdown? We were scared but for most of us it was easier than this gloomy winter shutdown. We hadn’t endured a year of the coronavirus crisis – of fears for vulnerable family members, of economic shock, mental health challenges and ruined livelihoods. It was also the sunniest spring ever. The traffic stopped, the birds sang and so many people reported positive benefits for their mental and physical wellbeing from connecting with nature.

I hoped that we would all remember those physical and mental health benefits of spending time in wild green places. But I fear it’s not happening.

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Now the vaccine is here, I feel a sudden urge to make the most of lockdown | Emma Brockes

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18 January, by Emma Brockes[ —]

It is easier to weather the first flush of a crisis than beat out time in its dying days – but some good can come of this moment

For the last week or so, a new type of text has been reliably coming in, in various states of excitement and relief, from friends – medics, teachers – sending photos of their vaccination certificates. Some received stickers after the jab, rather as one does after voting, bearing the legend: “I got my Covid-19 vaccine”. One wonders if, in the design departments of the large New York hospitals, there was a temptation to round out that statement with the exclamation mark we’re all surely feeling.

It is tremendously good news, obviously, that despite continuing problems with rollout, more than 370,000 people in New York have been vaccinated up until the end of Saturday. It also raises to the level of frank incredulity the cognitive dissonance of this bizarre period. While a tiny proportion of the population is now safe from the virus, in a single week in January, more than 3,000 people died of Covid in California alone and infection rates in the US – as in Britain – remain staggeringly high. A new president will soon be inaugurated, but the old one continues to foment trouble. Things are, assuredly, looking up. Meanwhile, members of the National Guard sleep on the floor of the Capitol.

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The Guardian view of Israel and apartheid: Prophecy or Description? | Editorial

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17 January, by Editorial[ —]

With no roadmap for peace, Israel risks being compared to the old South Africa

It was a deliberate provocation by B’Tselem, Israel’s largest human rights group, to describe the Palestinians in the Holy Land as living under an apartheid regime. Many Israelis detest the idea that their country, one they see as a democracy that rose from a genocidal pyre, could be compared to the old racist Afrikaner regime. Yet figures such as Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have done so.

There is a serious argument about injustices to be had. Palestinians – unlike Israeli Jews – live under a fragmented mosaic of laws, often discriminatory, and public authorities which seem indifferent to their plight. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It is a charge that should not be lightly made, for else it can be shrugged off. Some might agree with the use of such incendiary language, but many will recoil. The crime of apartheid has been defined as “inhumane acts committed in the context of a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups with the intention of maintaining that regime”.

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We need stronger stories to counter political lies | Letters

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17 January, by Letters[ —]

Worn down by the pandemic and Brexit, the public’s outrage is on a slow burner, writes Anna Ford, while Stuart Morris is more hopeful and has some suggestions, as does Paul Tattam

Andy Beckett is right to say that our politics are being hollowed out, but Covid-19 is just part of that process (The pandemic has hollowed out our politics – but that can’t last forever, 14 January). The sheer weariness of public outrage may be true, but what outlets remain where we can show our anger and despair at the gradual weakening of our democracy?

Demonstrations and public meetings are forbidden under Covid rules. Leading newspapers cravenly support this government, and even the BBC too frequently goes oddly soft in interviews with cabinet ministers. Time and again, serious lies are not questioned by hitherto trustworthy journalists.

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The Guardian view on women and Covid: failed by bosses and ministers | Editorial

17 January, by Editorial[ —]

Working parents, and particularly mothers, are in an impossible bind. As minister for women, Liz Truss must take a stand

The closure of schools across England, as well as a looming crisis in the early years sector, has placed working parents in an impossible situation. How to educate or care for children, while simultaneously doing their jobs, is the dilemma that millions of adults now face (there are 8 million families with dependent children in the UK). This is not to minimise the challenges for non-working parents. Without the routine provided by school, and reliant on remote learning that they may struggle to access, families of all types are having a hard time. For some of those on low incomes, or in poor housing, the situation is desperate.

But the specific pressures being placed on the working parents, particularly of young children, require attention. Confronted with research by the TUC showing that 71% of working mothers who asked to be furloughed have been refused, ministers must act. Women are struggling to juggle work and “home school”, and losing sleep and becoming stressed as a result. The difficulties facing nurseries mean things will very likely get worse, especially for new mothers, before they get better.

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My office is ‘Covid-secure’ but I don’t feel safe | Letters

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17 January, by Letters[ —]

One reader laments the lack of clear guidance on what makes a place of work safe, while another talks of NHS workers being forced into the office for admin that could be done from home

I could not agree more with Owen Jones’s analysis of the unrelenting spread of Covid-19 (Operation ‘blame the public’ wilfully ignores Covid-unsafe workplaces, 14 January). Not only does the government not enforce workplace rules or fine employers who break them, but it provides unclear guidance on safe workplaces which is open to interpretation.

While regulations will vary for each individual workplace, who has defined “Covid-secure”? How can employees be supported in raising concerns when there is no clear definition of a “safe workplace”? For example, how many people can safely work in an office of 15 sq metres for 8 hours a day, at a 2 metre distance from one another?

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Care homes can’t cope with Covid patients | Letter

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17 January, by Letters[ —]

Sylvia Andresco worries about coronavirus-positive patients being discharged into the care home where her father lives

The plan by the Department of Health and Social Care to dump Covid-19 patients into care homes has not been given adequate publicity, so the Guardian’s attention to this scheme is very welcome (Plan to discharge Covid patients to care homes in England is ‘madness’, 14 January; ‘Hot homes’ scheme to ease strain on NHS falls well short of target, 11 January).

My frail and elderly father is in a care home in Bradford which has been deemed “suitable” for providing a dedicated Covid-19 ward. There have already been two outbreaks of the virus in this home; in fact a Care Quality Commission inspection of the premises in order to judge its suitability for the scheme took place during the last outbreak. In this particular home – and I am sure this is also true of others – staffing is not adequate to confine confused patients to their rooms and they wander into all other areas.

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A transport policy made on the hoof | Brief letters

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/transportplay episode download
17 January, by Letters[ —]

Old news | Stable door | In fashion | Goal celebrations | Back to school

It can be salutary to find old copies of the Guardian (Letters, 13 January). We have one from 2 August 1999 which quotes our current prime minister commenting on his appointment as editor of the Spectator, “Someone said it’s like putting a mentally defective monkey in charge of a Ming vase”, and “feigning hurt” at this bit of hearsay. Presumably his own verdict on himself, but how prescient.
Judith Jesch
Nottingham

• I was bemused by your report that Boris Johnson has “announced a dramatic tightening of the UK’s borders” (Report, 15 January). What next? Stable boy announces dramatic tightening of stable door closing policy months after herd flees?
Antony Dowd
Nottingham

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