In February 2003, Sars – the first Sars – hit Toronto, carried back from Hong Kong by an elderly woman who’d been to a wedding. The outbreak was the largest and deadliest outside Asia, with 241 infections and 41 deaths over the next few months. The city wanted to move on quickly: in July, Toronto announced it was open again for business with a 500,000-capacity outdoor concert – widely known as ‘Sars-stock’ – headlined by Rush and the Rolling Stones. Sars faded from the news soon afterwards. But many patients continued to suffer from fatigue, headaches, and respiratory and cognitive difficulties, for months or years after their initial infections. 

A team at St John’s Rehab Hospital followed up with fifty patients reporting post-Sars symptoms. John Patcai, the hospital’s chief of staff, has made the comparison between long Sars and long Covid. The window he offers is small and narrow: as interest in Sars dwindled so did funding, and after a few years the group stopped their battery of physiological tests, continuing to record only the patients’ psychological state and self-reported complaints.

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1 July 2022

The Weather in Istanbul

Izzy Finkel

A tornado touching down in the Black Sea. Photo © imageBROKER/Alamy

I have watched tornados whip at the waters of the Golden Horn like a hose (which is what, in Turkish, they are called). Last summer, gloopy marine mucilage or sea snot bloomed across the Sea of Marmara, around which a third of Turkey’s economic activity and as many of its people are based. Like an oil spill, it suffocated marine life and hemmed Istanbulites in at the shoreline where normally they would go to look out.

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30 June 2022

Small Claims, Large Disputes

Frederick Wilmot-Smith

In his Commentaries on the Laws of England, William Blackstone said that there is a right ‘of applying to the courts of justice for redress of injuries’. This is necessary to ensure that individuals’ rights do not become a ‘dead letter’. Blackstone did not say that the right carried with it an entitlement that the courts would consider the parties’ claims at a hearing: that went without saying. On 1 June, people with claims alleged to be worth up to £10,000 were stripped of that right. Their entitlement to a public hearing depends on ‘judicial discretion’: if a judge decides the dispute is ‘suitable for determination without a hearing’, the parties won’t get one – even if they both want to be heard. The new procedure applies in six courts nationwide as part of a ‘pilot period’ that lasts until 2024.

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29 June 2022

Ragbag Powergrab

Sadakat Kadri

Dominic Raab’s campaign to replace the Human Rights Act began even before he entered Parliament in 2010. But he’s never explained how getting rid of it would enhance personal freedoms. He’s praised supposedly unique British liberties – above all, free speech and jury trials – but otherwise he’s mostly stressed the need to deport foreign criminals. His Bill of Rights Bill is correspondingly sneaky.

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28 June 2022

Failure to Protect

Charlotte Shane

To accuse a father of incest or other forms of abuse proved disastrous for most mothers and children. Beyond the omnipresent influence of pre-existing, internalised sexism, new family court judges were sometimes explicitly advised by more seasoned colleagues not to believe women. Mothers were faulted for appearing angry or emotional, while a father’s even temper was proof of his innocence (and his anger showed how deeply he cared). With incest seen as a family problem not fit for criminal proceedings, custody battles became the primary method of redress, and they came with the imperative to keep the father in the child’s life at almost any cost. Women who denied their exes court-ordered access to children could be fined or even jailed, as in the highly publicised case of Elizabeth Morgan, who was imprisoned for two years in the late 1980s when she refused to disclose her daughter’s whereabouts to the father she accused of sexual abuse.

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27 June 2022

In Victoria Square

Daniel Trilling

‘Foreign Exchange’ by Hew Locke. Photo © Shaun Fellows

At first sight, as you walk uphill along New Street, it looks as if a UFO has landed in Birmingham’s Victoria Square. As you get closer, it turns out to be a boat, stranded in mid air – on top of what used to be a statue of Queen Victoria, outside the city’s council buildings. Victoria stands in the middle of the boat, surrounded by four smaller replicas. The cloned queens are all looking outwards, their bodies pointing in the direction of travel. But the boat isn’t going anywhere, fixed as it is to the top of a plinth.

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24 June 2022

Mick Lynch keeps his cool

Conrad Landin

Picketing railway workers are used to being confronted by irate commuters. Outside London’s St Pancras Station six years ago, when Eurostar workers were striking for a ‘better work-life balance’, an agitated man told the RMT pickets they were ‘going about it the wrong way’. ‘You’re holding the country to ransom,’ he said. ‘You’re standing in the way of progress.’ Without a blink, the unrattled union official overseeing the dispute responded: ‘I’ve worked on the railways all my life, and I know what progress is.’ That official was Mick Lynch, who had recently been elected RMT’s assistant general secretary. Now in the union’s top job, Lynch has shot to cult hero status this week for his unblemished record of calmly facing down Conservative MPs and ill-informed news anchors.

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