HAMNET Report 5th April 2020

I guess there is really no other disaster or event news to talk about this week except the confounded SARS CoV-2 virus. Our lives, our society, our sport, our economy and our work have all been superseded by the effects of a piece of protein one millionth of a millimeter in diameter! EXCEPT, of course, for Amateur Radio!

Amateur Radio works when all other lines of communication fail, and even works when people are too scared to talk to each other, for fear of contracting the virus! Viruses are not carried by electromagnetic waves, and the only person who is going to breathe in any germs of any sort in your breath when you speak into a microphone, is yourself. And, in the face of the majority of us being forced to remain at home for about 95% of each day, we, the radio amateurs of the world have fallen with our collective bums in the butter.

Now is the time not only to be caring for our loved ones, providing the essential foods and medicines we all might need, but also to be testing those airwaves we have been so lazy to use. So far, not many authorities have needed our services to aid in the testing of the nations, or to identify and trace contacts, but that is no reason not to switch on the radio. Do you hear anything? Of course not – everybody else thinks the bands are dead! They’re only dead because you are not calling CQ. Put out a call at the appropriate time of day for the band your antenna is most resonant on, and see who answers you. There’s plenty of time to cruise around the airwaves looking for promising frequencies, and old friends calling.

And there is no law which says you may not be on your roof, trimming that antenna or trying another one, to get the best out of the poor propagation. Of course, there is also no reason why you can’t engage in local comms on your 2 metre or 70cm frequencies with your closest ham friend. Asking your Elmer for an opinion as to the quality of your audio, getting used to a new distance from your mike to prevent over-modulation, over-deviation, or popping as you speak, trying SSB or even AM contacts on VHF or UHF if you have a multimode rig, or checking whether you can put your mobile rig in your car into cross-band repeat in an instant, if required by the emergency situation – these are all upgrading possibilities you can experiment with while at home.

Of course, quite a lot of you are working from home, and I certainly go on record now as saying that one good thing, that might come out of this pandemic, might be the realization by bosses that staff can be trusted to work from home. Imagine if there was half the traffic on the roads at so-called “rush-hour”, mornings and evenings. Those at home wouldn’t have wasted petrol and time driving at all, and those at work wouldn’t have wasted as much petrol and time driving to work and back. And if you had an extra hour to yourself each day, because you drove less, or not at all, wouldn’t you be more enthusiastic to turn on the radio, and see who’s there? There might be a mixed blessing in this pandemic business after all!

I’m not saying that a lot of medical work doesn’t need still to be done. The poor hospital staff around the world and in our country is going to be worked off its feet as the epidemic takes hold here. I can assure you, that is still going to happen. How badly it affects us depends on the degree to which we take our President and the Department of Health’s instructions to heart. There is NO OTHER WAY to prevent our statistics from getting as bad as Italy, Spain or America, than to isolate ourselves. Is three weeks going to be enough? I very much doubt it. Three weeks might be half the amount of time we need to stretch the number of people sick at the same time out, for our health facilities to be able to keep up.

In India, about 280 radio amateurs are assisting authorities by reporting on illegal gatherings of groups which would increase the danger of spread of the disease. In other parts of the world, safety messages and requests for medical assistance are being transmitted, but these cases are in the minority.

The principle of lockdown has as a result, a delay in the onset of the disease in many people, but doesn’t entirely stop the serious cases from developing – it merely delays them. The appearance of serious cases and deaths lag behind the start of the lockdown by a couple of weeks, and the successful effects of the lockdown lag behind that, so we are only going to see a slowing in the number of new cases some weeks after the lockdown starts. That is why I do not expect enough improvement in the situation within 3 weeks to be apparent, and, therefore, why I think the lockdown will have to be extended. Whether our poor economy, and our even poorer communities, will survive this disaster remains to be seen. It is cold comfort that the rest of the world is in a similar position. Many, many businesses have gone and will continue to go under, and many countries will feel the effect of this pandemic for decades to come. Who would have thought that 2020 would start out like this, and that a lowly virus, so tiny that you can’t see it under an ordinary microscope, would bring the world to its knees!

However, none of this needs to impact on our ability to communicate, and communicating with other people is what prevents a feeling of isolation and despair. So, if you have no-one at home to speak to, you do have that guy or gal talking to you out of that loudspeaker in front of you, and allowing you to voice your opinion over matters electronic or of an Emcomms nature, and perhaps inspiring you to try that one more thing that will turn your good station into a brilliant station.

So please don’t sit mindlessly flipping through channels on the goggle-box all day. Get radio-active and take advantage of the good opportunity if you can!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.