Autumn bites
FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2020 - 12:00am

September in this part of the world is all about going back to school and work after the long summer holidays. Kids in school uniforms are back on the streets, bringing their excitement and energy with them, laughing and shouting at each other. Their return is even more noticeable this year because they’ve been indoors and elsewhere for so long while people have been following restrictions. People have places to go again, now that the government is encouraging people to go back to their workplaces too.

Underfoot, fallen leaves and shiny brown chestnuts crunch and roll along the pavements as the pace of the crowd picks up. Evenings are noticeably longer and there is a point, an hour or less before dark, when a new chill in the air rebukes you. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” wrote the Londoner and Romantic poet John Keats in his celebration of this time of year.

Another sign of the changing seasons here is the start of the football season and the world-famous English Premier League’s teams are back in action. My family’s team has been the Gunners, aka Arsenal Football Club, since my brother decided it would be. He even named his son after the team’s legendary captain, Tony Adams. Before heading back to university in the Midlands, my own son decided it was time to pay homage to “the home of football” so off we went to the team’s Emirates Stadium in north London.

The fans aren’t being allowed back into stadiums this year because of the coronavirus pandemic but their enthusiasm is unabated. It’s difficult to describe and explain the fervent devotion to football for those who follow a particular club, though there are plenty that have tried.

My personal favorite is the novel “Pitch Fever,” not just because it’s about an  Arsenal fan but because it partly succeeds. “...So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller and contains less potential for unexpected delirium,” writes Nick Hornby in sentences that help describe the euphoria when we’re winning.

Factual accounts are even more powerful in the case of Amy Lawrence’s “The Invincibles,” a book that describes in glorious detail the marvel that was Arsenal in the 2003-4 season. Managed by Arsène Wenger, the team won the Premier League without a single defeat.

Following football can even help explain the world. “Soccer Wars” is a book by Polish reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski that includes his account of the war that erupted between Honduras and El Salvador in the 70s partly because of a football game – or maybe it was the other way round.

But this year, autumn is different. That’s fake crowd noise you’re hearing when you watch the teams battle it out on television. Stadiums are empty while fans chafe at having to wave their flags and scarves on their sofas at home, screaming at their flat screens.

Nevertheless, everyone is once again crowding together more than they have for months: at schools, workplaces and on public transport, they are in closer contact and there are consequences. First, there was news that people are confused about the various measures to reduce COVID-19 infections; then that the government’s testing and tracing system is coming under so much pressure from increased demand that it’s collapsed. Across the country, the rate of infections has risen so high that already in the northeast of the country, restrictions have again tightened for millions of people. Reports are coming in that it’s now only a matter of time before the government will declare similar restrictions England-wide. New England-wide measures which could see hospitality businesses forced to shut are being considered by the UK government to try to slow a second surge of coronavirus cases.

At a meeting on Wednesday night, the government’s chief scientific adviser and medical officer predicted another serious outbreak of the disease.

They forecast that there would be a significant number of deaths by the end of October if there were no further interventions.

A short period of national rules – a “circuit break” of a few weeks – could be announced in the next week, a BBC journalist has reported. Schools and most workplaces would be kept open during those weeks, but no final decisions have yet been reached on the next course of action.

England would be following the trajectory in other countries. The Philippines is weeks ahead with the reimposition of tighter quarantine measures. Infection rates are soaring in France too, and Israel re-imposed its own measures on Friday.

If (or should I say when?) it happens here, it will be immensely jarring to the natural rhythm of the year. Already you can hear the frustration boiling in the tone of conversations overheard in supermarkets and bus queues here. It’s the uncertainty of the dire economic situation that has everyone in its grip, while a cold wind bites at the heels.

KIDS
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