at the epicenter of the virus

The postman, who only knocks once at the door; the friendly and talkative Irish neighbor; the mixed couple with the one-year-old baby from the house across the street; the dentist, his assistant and the receptionist; the owner of the Turkish restaurant, closed by government orders and recycled into a grocery store; the two fishmongers; the shop assistant. Twelve people are already there, and it’s not even time to eat …

Those twelve contacts, or any others, are relevant because in East End neighborhoods such as Dagenham, Redbridge, Newham, Tower Hamlets or Barking, one in twelve individuals, according to estimates, today has the virus, and of them one in three do not they even suspect it. They lead a normal life and you can bump into them at any time. Which means that life is like a Russian roulette wheel with a pistol with a dozen cartridges in the chamber.

To those more or less direct contacts, to whom the door is opened or with whom you start a conversation for a few minutes in the open air, we must add the people in line at the supermarket checkout, who jump on you, the joggers who run gasping in the park and exhaling, and the hundreds of people you pass on the sidewalks (even though the vast majority of Londoners now turn to the opposite when someone approaches, just in case) . In Dagenham, 2,500 new cases of covid per 100,000 inhabitants are registered every day, one of the highest rates in the world. It is the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.

One of the hearts of industrial England in 1950, it now ranks among the poorest and most insane areas in the country

In part this is because it is right on the border with Essex County, another major focus of the disease, and very close to Kent, where the new strain of the disease was first found. And partly because it is one of the poorest districts in all of England, with a lot of immigration and a lot of unemployment, and large blocks of subsidized housing where families are clustered, the surest recipe for contagion. “The situation is dramatic,” says Labor MP Jon Cruddas. Hospitals can’t keep up ”. It is true. At King’s George in Ilford or Queen’s in Romsford, ambulances queue in the parking lot with covid patients inside waiting for rooms to be vacated, either due to discharges or deaths. The government’s worst nightmare is coming true. In 2020 the UK recorded the highest number of deaths above the annual average (85,000) since the end of World War II, a 14% increase over any other year.

The demographics of Dagenham and the surrounding areas have changed dramatically in the last thirty years. Of the whites, who were almost all, about half have left, taking their place Asians, Africans and Eastern Europeans. What was once one of the hearts of industrial England, with factories strategically set up on the banks of the Thames docks and its canals, has degenerated into a depressed area with high rates of crime, alcoholism and gangs fighting the drug business . The English accuse foreigners of collecting social benefits and keeping official protection floors at their expense, and anti-immigration sentiment has given wings to far-right parties such as the National Front. More than 60% voted in favor of leaving the European Union.

Dagenham had its heyday in the 1950s, when the Ford factory employed 40,000 workers who made a good living. The Detroit giant bought a twenty hectare piece of land in the middle of the Great Depression, and eleven million cars left its production chain until the closing in 2002. Where there used to be pubs and cinemas, now there are betting houses and pawn shops. And where before a spirit of worker solidarity reigned, now fear and the virus are rampant. Have you met twelve people today? If so, one of them was infected.

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