Eight weeks after the first covid-19 death in Britain
My intention in publishing these post on the events taking place in Britain surrounding the covid-19 outbreak of 2020 is two fold; 1) to remind me of what was taking place and 2) to make the ‘case for the prosecution’ when (and if) there’s a return to ‘normality’. Peoples’ memories tend to be short and after the months of disruption the last thing many people will want to hear, see and read about is a post mortem of what had, or hadn’t, been taking place over those months.
The original intention was to make the posts as current as possible – and I think I’ve succeeded at times to do that. However, some things seem to slip through the net and this post (and probably the next couple) will aim to bring some matters up to date as well as commenting upon the events happening at the time.
It’s very unlikely that this heading will be omitted from any of the posts on covid-19.
I don’t know. Am I missing something here? On 28th April the Government open up testing to ‘millions more people in England‘. That’s all very well and good but what is the aim of this testing?
Is it just to get people back to work in the ‘key services’ if they suspect they might have contracted the virus or is it part of a longer term strategy? It would seem the former as I have not heard of any follow-up ‘tracking and tracing’ which would make this testing fit into the plan to suppress the outbreak at the earliest opportunity.
And why do people have to travel so far to ‘drive-in’ testing centres? When the subject of testing has been discussed in the recent past there has been a growing emphasis upon the local/community aspect of the testing but now we have people getting into their cars to be able to get to out of the way places. And then other commentators complain that there are more cars on the road and thus indicating a breach of lock down regulations.
And what facilities are there for people who don’t have their own transport or may be too unwell, although not in a critical stage, to travel any distance from home? The home testing kits are ‘sold out’ quicker even than the slots to visit a testing centre.
Is this just an attempt by the Tories to be able to say they reached their 100,000 tests per day target by the end of the month, i.e., by tomorrow, (although only 43,000 tests were carried out on the 27th April) but which will have no effect on the controlling of the virus.
And why are staff that do the testing in these drive in centres so badly equipped when it comes to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)? In pictures I’ve seen they are no better equipped than someone who assists at a minor injury clinic or an assistant in a dentist. Yet they are encountering hundreds of people all the time, with them putting their heads through car windows.
And, finally, why they should be opening the tests up to more people when the system has not been able to cope with the demand from NHS and Care Workers seems to be strange, especially as it’s a ‘first come, first served’ system and not always do the people society really wants to be tested can get a slot or- even more unlikely – a test sent to their homes.
Counting the dead
It’s only on the 29th April (just a day short of eight weeks since the first death due to covid-19 was recorded in the UK) that deaths in care homes are being officially reported. Eight weeks!
From the very early days it was known that this particular virus had a high fatality rate for older people (especially 70+) and/or those with ‘underlying medical conditions’. And where do you find a concentration of such people in most industrialised countries? In care homes. Which institutions were the last to see the necessary quantities of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (a situation which still doesn’t seem to have been resolved to date)? Care homes. And which deaths are not being included in the daily announcement of fatalities? Those that take place in care homes.
And it’s been weeks since people started to argue that the deaths in care homes and the general community should be counted – to not do so is to distort the extent of the problem and will give a false impression of the progress of the pandemic in the country.
But it’s only today that those deaths will be made public in a formal manner – although it’s almost certain a great number will still end up being classified officially as ‘other causes’.
Yes, it’s more than likely there’s a similar situation in other countries in Europe, who have been equally malicious in massaging the figures. But that doesn’t excuse the failings in Britain.
Not surprisingly the police were given great powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020, passed in the British Parliament at the end of March. Also not surprisingly it’s not that easy to understand exactly what those powers are as the act merely makes reference to other acts which are already on the statute books – especially various anti-terrorism acts which allow the police to virtually do what they like.
For reasons I don’t fully understand this includes an extension to the time limits for the retention of fingerprints and DNA profiles. This section (24, pp17-18) makes repeated reference Terrorism Acts so, if I understand it correctly, you could be classified as a terrorist for sunbathing in the local park.
Matters have gone a bit quiet on this front in recent weeks after there were all kinds of stories of PC Plod even going outside of the very wide boundaries of the Act. On 10th April there was more clarity on the powers the police have. However, it should always be remembered that once such emergency legislation is introduced you have to be a miner to get to the depths of what is in reserve.
At the beginning of April there were stories of coppers going to the extent of looking into shoppers’ trolleys to make sure they were only buying ‘essential items’. This was some time after it had been ‘clarified’ by the Government that a shop could continue to sell what it did before the lock down if they were allowed to stay open for the sale of those goods classified as ‘essential’. Therefore, for example, you could buy a birthday card (not essential) if the little corner shop also sold milk (essential). However, it seems that there is never a situation in the police force where someone thinks to get clarification on the restrictions and to then pass it down the line – is that really such a difficult task?
Often I think those at the top of the hierarchy allow such ignorance to persist at street level so that they can test the water to see if tightening those restrictions will meet with opposition.
Whatever powers the police have they are always seeking for more and on the 14th April it was reported they were after authority to break up parties in private houses. I must admit I haven’t heard anything more about this since. But it indicates they way they are thinking, using what might be general public support for such powers but many people not thinking the matter through – and certainly not asking for how long such powers will remain in force.
Long before the first patent was diagnosed with covid-19 in Britain there were images from China of workers building emergency hospitals and of them being completed in the first few days of February. As soon as it was recognised that the virus was likely to spread outside of China, and that it was particularly pathogenic, that was the time to start the planning for extra facilities in order that the permanent NHS infrastructure wasn’t overwhelmed. Yet the first of the so-called ‘Nightingale Hospital’ wasn’t opened until 3rd April – two months later.
Plans for the hospital were announced on the 24th March when work began and took ten days from start to finish. The question is; why was nothing done in the previous eight weeks?
And what really is the role of the, now, seven Nightingale Hospitals throughout the UK?
So they were late in being planned, constructed and opened – that’s not a surprise taking into account the useless pricks we choose to allow to rule over us. But once they are in existence why aren’t they being used?
Surely when ready to take patients they should have taken ALL patients with, or suspected to have, the virus from day one from the planned catchment area. That would have meant that, eventually, all covid patients in those major urban centres would have been treated at the same location, in the process freeing up beds in the hospitals that were still dealing with patients with other medical conditions and those who might come in during emergencies. This would have reduced the danger of cross-contamination, reduced the fears that some people have of entering a hospital where there are covid patients and would have reduced the fear and pressure on hospital staff who are not involved directly with the care for pandemic victims.
Yes, it would have been creating what were called in London in 1665 ‘pest hospitals’ but we’re not talking about stigma here but of a more efficient manner in which to treat those who are sick in a modern and technologically adept society.
I’ve not heard the question asked – perhaps I’ve missed it. But doesn’t a concentration of resources make sense?
And another question that’s not being asked is; how long will these temporary hospitals exist? There’s talk of a potential second spike. There’s talk that it might come around to bite us next winter – this time slightly genetically modified. There’s talk that we will have to live with this virus for a number of years – until an effective vaccine is produced – if, indeed, such a vaccine will be up to the task.
The London Nightingale site is owned by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC). They, as is their public spirited wont, tried to charge costs to the NHS – until the request was made public and they backed down. But they will be more aggressive when the lock down restrictions are relaxed and they will be seeking to use the centre as the highly lucrative exhibition space it is. If the virus comes back with a bang will we have to be building yet other temporary hospitals so that the NHS won’t be overwhelmed?
So many questions, so few answers.
As always the poor carry the brunt of the outbreak
Whatever tragedies are inflicted upon a society it will always be the poor who will take the brunt of the suffering. That’s even in those societies where ‘we are all in this together’.
If it’s bad here, in one of the ten most prosperous countries in the world, then what’s it like in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America who have had their riches stolen from them over the centuries by the European Imperialist and are no better since so-called independence left many of them worse off due to the manner of the de-colonisation.
When it comes to the matter of housing the policies of past governments, the emphasis on home ownership and the attack upon social housing and the desire to place billions of pounds into the bank accounts (or off-shore accounts) of private landlords has made the situation even worse for private renters.
Covid-19 in Britain as the country enters ‘Stage 2’
Give the State an inch and it will take a mile
There’s probably never been an event such as this present covid-19 pandemic that keeps on giving when it comes to the failings of the government – and the general capitalist system. The structure of society is just not geared up to deal with such emergencies – even when this emergency was flagged up a couple of months before it landed on the shores of the sceptred isle.
The government is stuck in its neo-liberal, laissez faire ideology which has convinced them that state intervention should be reduced to a minimum – that is, unless it helps to bail out the financial structure upon which it all depends, as followed the debt-created crisis of 2008. Capitalism itself has the in-built desire to make money out of any opportunity – and something like a pandemic offers huge opportunities to benefit from the suffering of others.
Although the Government still doesn’t have an ‘exit strategy’ to the present lock down in the UK there is a conversation starting about what will happen when such a lowering of the restrictions begin. However, there are some very concerning aspects to some of these ideas which – I fear – will be allowed to be introduced just because people are so fed up with their lives being disrupted in all cases – almost destroyed in others. This is fertile ground for a disreputable and manipulative government and security services to introduce measures which would never have been allowed in ‘normal’ circumstances.
My concerns increase in this field when these ideas seem to be introduced and ‘discussed’ for a short period of time but then seem to fall into the background as the noise of other events takes front stage. But lack of a high profile for these serious matters doesn’t mean they have gone away and there are probably more people working on these topics than on the infrastructure and method for the introduction of mass testing, for example.
Not the time to apportion blame
This is the refrain from the Government on an ever more regular basis now. As their errors and lack of any structure in their response to the pandemic increases every day those who speak for the government (either those in positions to do something or their pet hangers on) are trying to fend of criticism by saying the review of what has (and has not) happened during this crisis should be put off to some indeterminate time on the future.
This is the cry of all incompetents – whether they be in government or business. In this way they hope to make those who criticise the actual guilty ones as they bring up matters which prevent the government ‘concentrating on matters in hand’.
Its the same that’s happening in business and the wider society. Companies and organisations are not processing matters they should in a timely manner because of the virus – with the hope that when there’s a return to ‘normality’ all will be forgotten.
If, in truth, that does happen then the people of this country have only themselves to blame for what happens (or doesn’t happen) next time around.
As always the matter of testing, or more exactly not-testing, is still not being addressed in an appropriate manner – even when predictions of the final death toll are predicated on the failure of testing in the past.
In a previous post I criticised an ‘expert’ who stated that 40,000 dead would not be a surprise, long before the fatalities had hit half that amount. But just over a week ago more detail was added to the stark figure – which I thought that just stating it would only increase fear and panic among a sizeable proportion of the population. (I’ve never understood why we allow news to be drip fed or released before official statements were made. These people are just treating everything like a game.)
Anthony Costello, (University College London UCL), to the Health and Social care Select Committee, 17th April;
The UK will have
‘… probably the highest death rate in Europe. We have to face the reality of that, we were too slow in a number of things,’ speculating the fatalities could reach 40,000 before things are totally under control.
We are going to face further waves and so we need to make sure we have a system in place that cannot just do a certain number of tests in the laboratory but has a system at district and community level. …. transformations are going on now with General Practice, with the public health Local Authority outbreak teams and it will fall on them to put into place a system that enable you to test people rapidly in the community, in care homes and to make sure the results are got back to them very quickly. And we also maintain social-distancing, of a kind, after we’ve left the national lock down.
… As the WHO (World Health Organisation) has said all along you need to find cases, you need to test those you can. You trace their contacts, you isolate them, you do social-distancing but most important of all you do it all at speed.’
Since then we’ve learnt that the overwhelming number of those who had died in care homes were not part of the figures given out every afternoon. Now that statement is accompanied by the phrase ‘in hospital’ and as the 20,000 figure was passed over the weekend the 40,000 might well be surpassed.
But the questions that have to be asked if Costello’s predictions are proven to be correct are;
why was the UK so ill-equipped to deal with the arrival of the virus when it had longer time to prepare than the rest of Europe?
why did the Government lie so blatantly that they were prepared for the arrival of a pandemic through previous role playing exercises and knowing that they weren’t why didn’t they immediately start to mitigate the effects of their lack of preparation?
why did they just stand there like rabbits mesmerised by car headlights?
why is it, 11 days after Costello’s interview on the 17th April, has the government not taken into account the very last words of his contribution on the radio that all testing and tracing has to be done ‘at speed’?
This was the response of Jeremy Hunt, the Chair of the Committee, on World at One, Radio 4, 17th April;
‘Now is not the tight moment to look back, I’m sure we’ll do that exhaustively. …..
‘we heard more from the Health Secretary than we’ve ever heard before about the importance of mass community testing because if you look at Germany (25% more people, death rate 33% of that of the UK), or [South] Korea with no more than 9 deaths in any single day. They’ve done it through testing in the community. And what needs to happen now, if we’re going to emulate the best practice globally, is a massive ramp-up, not just in the testing but in the tracing of everyone who’s been in contact with someone who has the virus, the quarantining, and that is a very manpower intensive process. And if we’re going to be in a position where we can actually track and trace every single person who has had covid or might have had covid in three weeks time [when the lock down next gets reviewed]. …
That is a huge logistical undertaking and it’s clear none of the big decisions have been taken on that. We don’t know yet how much will be done by local government, how much will be done centrally, how much can be done by an app. But if we’re going to copy the best in the world then that’s what we need to do.’
When asked if this meant that the country was just flailing around looking for a testing strategy let alone in the ability to institute such a regime Hunt said;
‘I’ve been one of the people who’s been saying we need to move much faster to testing alongside the very best in the world. We now have this 100,000 to ramp-up. …
… a test is not a cure, a test helps you if you can isolate who has the virus and who they’ve been in contact with and isolate them as well. And we now need to see some very rapid decisions. One of the reasons the testing took too long to ramp-up was that it was all done centrally by Public Health England. Now the Health Secretary today said that he hadn’t decided whether it was going to be done centrally or with local government and I think one of the lessons we can reasonably draw from the slowness of ramping things up centrally on the testing is that this is something we should trust local government to help us with when we move out of the lock-down.’
When asked why the Government had still not decided on that Hunt said;
‘That’s true but they also said they recognise that this was part of the solution, and I haven’t heard it that explicit before. So I think that as with testing, I think they have got the right intentions but we need to work very fast. …. last week in the Committee meeting the Doctor from Korea said they had 1,000 people doing contact tracing, in central and local government. And Neil Ferguson was talking yesterday on the radio about the huge national effort. And this could be tested out in places like Yorkshire or Cornwall today because those are parts of the country that we’ve got relatively few covid cases. And so we could start seeing whether it is possible to lift the lock down by replacing it with the testing and contract tracing. That really has to be the next stage.’
When asked whether he was requesting, suggesting or demanding this from the Government as the issue of testing had been talked about week after week and all that is announced are targets Hunt said;
‘All I would say is in the situation we’ve just got to look at what works best around the world and it’s very clear the stand out country in Europe is Germany, the stand out country in the world is [South] Korea, also Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, so we were behind on testing but now there’s been some good progress made on testing, we’re up to 18,000 tests yesterday, which was a whole lot better than a week ago. The next bit is not just to test but to actually put in place in the community a system so that as we had in first begun a couple of months ago that was stopped on 12th May [he meant March], a system where anyone who thinks they got covid symptoms can call 111, they get a test immediately and then once they’ve had the test we then talk to them about who they’ve been in contact with, test them and isolate them, and that’s what international best practice is.’
Hunt basically said nothing during this interview – not a surprise but it’s useful to remember that even in situations as serious as the present pandemic politicians still follow the same tactics when it comes to answering questions. They have obviously learnt from Peter Sellers who gave this ‘Party Political Speech’ way back in 1958.
In this interview you could sense the bewilderment of the journalist who had the unfortunate job of interviewing such an idiot. Hunt was quoting best practice in countries (mainly in Asia but also in Germany) but didn’t seem to accept that the UK should have been emulating that ‘best practice’ for weeks and was still talking about it happening at some indeterminate time in the future.
Another question that arises from Hunt’s statement is if testing (and presumably tracing) was taking place up the 12th March why was it stopped?
He seems to recognise that a more community based testing process had to be developed, using all available resources at both national and local level but now, more than two weeks later, the testing process is fraught with problems; tests have to be booked online and there aren’t enough ‘slots’ for those requesting a test with them all going in the first hour of each day; there aren’t enough testing centres close to where the people who want the tests are situated; only now is the army being brought in to assist in the process; and just three days from the end of the month when we were promised that the daily figure of those being tested would be 100,000 (still a ludicrously low number) there are barely more than 30,000 tests being carried out on a daily basis five weeks in to the lock down.
And these tests are still being done without a process of contact tracing in place and there doesn’t seem to be any time scale when such follow-up will take place.
As we are in the middle of a pandemic I decided to re-read Daniel Defoe’s ‘A journal of the plague year’, the year in question being 1665, the place London, the plague the bubonic. It’s fiction but Defoe did a lot of research (he didn’t remember much of the outbreak himself, being only 5 at the time) and he mingles fact with fiction in a way at times you are not sure which is which.
In a previous post I said it seems society hadn’t learnt from the ‘Black Death’ of 1348 (in Britain) as the modern tactic to deal with it was to hide away and hope the Angel of Death would pass over. In 2020 I had expected that the response would have been more aggressive, ‘challenging’ the virus and using our technology and highly developed medical skills to weather the pandemic in a different manner – as we now all know that hasn’t been the case.
In 1665 Londoners (who were most heavily affected by the plague – although it did huge damage in various parts of the country as well) either ran away, stayed at home or died. They hadn’t learnt from the 1348 outbreak (most probably didn’t know there had been a similar situation three hundred years earlier) which isn’t surprising as they thought – wrongly – that transmission was by human contact not understanding that it was carried on the fleas from rats.
The present pandemic is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person and its quite interesting to see the parallels with what happened in 1665 and what is happening now. The changing of a few details and you could be reading a contemporary report of the plague in London today – which is now, as it was 360 years or so ago, the epicentre of the outbreak in Britain.
To give a couple of examples of similarities.
Certain doctors and scientists believed that fires, both in the streets and in the homes, would ‘purify’ the air and thereby make it safer to move around. But there wasn’t agreement on what should be burnt. Some argued for wood fires, with a sub-group arguing for very specific wood. Others believed that coal fires (with all the toxic gases that were released from the coal that came from the north east – there was a huge trade in coal during the outbreak) did the trick. I don’t know if the two sides ever arrived at a consensus – I assume not. But today we have the debate between those arguing for the use of masks and those who think not. Whether that will ever be resolved we will have to wait and see – but I won’t be putting any money on it.
Defoe also related the story of a certain individual who had a leg wound which reacted in specific ways when in the presence of those who looked healthy but were in fact infected and carriers of the disease. Who needs Apple, Google and the NHSX app?
The hypocrisy of the odious Tories knows no bounds. At 11.00 on Tuesday 28th April there was a minutes silence for those ‘key workers’ who had died in the last few weeks with symptoms of the covid-19. Also, the day before, the Government announced that the families of those who had died in the NHS would receive a cash handout – and it could be extended to others, presumably to the likes of transport workers as they are the only other ones that I am aware have suffered fatalities in the last month or so.
As mentioned before the Tories are the very people who have been attempting to destroy the established principles of the NHS and have been making every effort in putting the money making aspects of the service into private hands. Being so gutless they don’t propose open privatisation – they prefer the stealth variety in the hope people won’t notice the service being produced for profit. They have constantly lied when challenged about funding and massage the figures so they can justify to themselves that they are maintaining the same level of service. However, the unions, the workers, those who make use of the services and even the management know that the NHS has been starved of cash for decades.
Like the money minded capitalist they are the Tories think they can buy their way out of the problems they themselves have created – lack of preparedness for the pandemic when it arrived; muddled action when the virus was in the country; lack of Personal Protective Equipment (which continues even more than five weeks into the lock down and more than six weeks after the first virus related death); no clear strategy of how to go forward.
Wouldn’t the families of those who have died rather have had those problems resolved than the cash payout? This is just blood money from the Tories.
And the best thing of all it’s not their money. They will take the credit for providing this ‘insurance’ but it’s future generations that will have to pick up the bill.
The app that does everything
… apart from know exactly where you are – according to the Government.
The saga of this miracle app that will help in the battle to defeat the coronavirus looks like it’s a story that will go on running for some time.
The idea of this use of technology came up even before the lock down was introduced in Britain but took a long time to become what could be called ‘government policy’. And as soon as it was first mooted concerns started to be expressed – both for privacy reasons and also whether it would be able to do what it was claimed.
To try and unpick this, starting with the practicalities.
Matters seemed to be moving on this at the beginning of April when it was announced that Apple and Google were working together on an app which would be compatible with the majority of the Smartphones out there. However, one of the important aspects of this app was that it used a decentralised system of passing data around (under pressure from human rights groups internationally).
On 12th April news came out that the NHS was going to use such an app – but it wasn’t stated clearly at that time whether it would be the same one on which the big companies were working.
But it seems the announcement was made before all the practicalities had been thought through.
Another report suggested that too many Smartphones don’t have Bluetooth capability – the system that would be used for phones to ‘talk to each other. This would make the aim of 80% users signed up extremely difficult to achieve. (The article cited takes an anti-China stance initially – the important stuff comes a few paragraphs in.)
Other issues that came up in discussion were;
how accurate is the Bluetooth?
would people be prepared to have their phones constantly connected to Bluetooth?
what people will do when confronted when actually confronted with the app?
will be honest about the symptoms?
will some people will be tempted to troll – effectively by telling the app false information
And then, on 27th April, the NHS (i.e., the Government) decides they are not going to use the Apple-Google system after all as they want all information going to a centralised data base. They argue to better be able to use such data for research purposes but which means collecting more information than was first suggested. This argument has some validity, if you don’t know exactly who is involved how will you be able to build up a picture of how the virus has been and is spreading and where? The problem is the people in control of that data – do you trust the present Government?
This announcement came two weeks after Hancock’s big announcement, demonstrating yet again the Government doesn’t know what it’s doing.
On the matter of privacy.
In an effort to ally fears and criticism of breaches of privacy Apple and Google stated they would shut down the app once the need for it was passed.
On the 7th April there was a call for a pan-European tracking app – with the proviso that it had strong data protection built-in.
To give an idea of how the British Security Establishment sees such tracking and tracing it will be useful to read the words of Lord Evans, former head of MI5, on World at One, 13th April;
‘It’s a very intrusive set of proposals as far as we are aware. Obviously they have not yet been implemented.’
… There’s a social and health reason why this needs to happen. People are currently suffering real problems by being contained in their houses. And if the trade off for this is greater intrusion the people will probably want to do that.’
… The Government might say there is a trade off here. Obviously if you can’t accept that level of intrusion then there will have to be constraints on individual movements and who they are associating with. But I think the critical thing here is that this needs to be properly debated, it needs to be open in the way it is debated. There need to be rules and there needs to be redress if something goes wrong. We’re only going to get public support if we have these criteria met.
… We have to learn from our experience of using intrusive anti-terrorist powers that work better if there’s public consent, … if it is proportionate …. with accountability and oversight.’
In times of crisis the capitalist state always seeks to take advantage of people’s fears and introduce measures which would not be countenanced in normal conditions and there’s the distinct possibility the government would maintain this app long after the altruistic reasons for its initial implementation had passed – in the same way that identity cards were retained after WWII.
Some questions that arise from the very idea of this app;
at the moment everything is voluntary – but will people be pressurised in some way?
would people be denied access to certain geographical areas or even services if they don’t use the app?
would the government look at incentives to download and use the app – perhaps an earlier end to restriction?
what about people who don’t have a Smartphone?
is this just a cheap alternative to proper testing and tracing?
Quote of the last couple of weeks
On 23rd April Donald Trump, the American President suggested;
‘ …I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? So it’d be interesting to check that.’
Perhaps a field trial could be organised, with Trump surrounded by his admirers, à la Jonestown 1978.
For England there still isn’t one – although due to the fact that countries in Europe are looking for various ways to move on from the strict lock down the Tories in Britain are having to show at least some sign that they are considering what to do in the future.
Both the Welsh and Scottish governments came up with some sort of strategy a few days ago. But especially in Scotland the First Minister there, Nicola Sturgeon, wasn’t able to miss the opportunity to play the Nationalist card and would go it alone if she thought fit – suggesting there would possible be border controls in the north of England. When she expanded upon this on the 27th April I heard a lot of ‘I’s’, as if she, and she alone, would make the decision. If there isn’t a ‘presidential’ style of Government in Westminster it’s looking very much that it has already been well established in Scotland.
Just goes to prove that Nationalism + Capitalism = Fascism
…. but matters will soon be brought under control
The Buffoon returned to London – and took up ‘the reigns of power’ – on Monday 27th April.
The BBC Radio 4 programme, Inside Science, on 9th April reported on a test that a team from Oxford University were starting to carry out (just in the Oxford area at the moment) to try to discover what proportion of a given population have, or have had, covid-19 using a new diagnostic tool called ‘nano 4 sequencing’.
Using home testing kits they hope to build up a picture of how the virus has spread and it is hoped it will be able to inform a realistic exit strategy as well as testing a diagnostic tool which could be used at the early stage of the any future pandemic when (and not if) it arises in the future. More information at the Covid-19 in the UK Community.
At the time of writing only 18,000 tests are taking place daily. The Government still argues it is ‘on track’ for the 100,000 tests per day in just over two weeks’ time.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks
The Buffoon has survived his stay in Intensive Care – some prayers have been answered, others not.
However, I find his gushing conversion to the merits of the NHS and the staff who work there just a little too much to believe. In a previous post I attempted to highlight Johnson’s attitude to the NHS in the past and I’m sure he will be returning to such a stance when the euphoria of his survival subsides.
He didn’t seem to accept the irony that the two nurses he named on his departure from hospital, thanking them for their care, were not from the UK – one from New Zealand and the other from Portugal. But then his anti-Europe stance wasn’t based upon conviction, merely political opportunism.
In a video on Twitter he said; ‘We will win as the NHS is the beating heart of this country. It is the best of the country, it is unconquerable, it is powered by love.’
Well, it hasn’t survived over recent years with cash support from any of the governments the Buffoon has either supported or of which he has been a member – so being powered by love is all there is.
Insincerity seems to be catching as Carrie Symons wrote on Twitter that ‘she would never, ever, be able to repay the magnificent NHS’ in returning the Buffoon to her.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
For a few days this went out of the news as concerning the NHS – although has been a constant issue with care homes. However, it became a major issue (related to the NHS) on the evening of 10th April when Matt Hancock, the Health Minster, suggested that there wasn’t really a shortage of PPE. Millions of pieces had been delivered (742 million) but if there was a shortage it was due to NHS staff using too much of it and there wouldn’t be a shortage of PPE ‘if used correctly’.
This story developed over the next couple of days with virtually all organisations of health workers coming out calling such a statement an insult to NHS staff – but with Hancock never retracting his earlier assertion.
Why such a privileged rich boy, who would never knowingly be seen within a mile of someone who had contracted the virus, thinks he can make a judgement on whether PPE is considered necessary by a health professional is a mystery to me. In such circumstances people might be over-cautious but that’s better than being blasé, especially when the people of the UK are constantly being told we must be careful in all our personal interactions.
On the Andrew Marr Show, on BBC 1 on 12th April, Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, made an intervention on the matter of PPE but, I believe, condemned his own Government in the words he used. After saying he was ‘incredibly sorry’ that NHS staff were upset about being branded ‘wasteful’ when it came to PPE he added;
‘.. that’s why we’ve set up a 24/7 hotline so people within the NHS and social care sector can phone and get that equipment. We’ve also said that we’ll be setting up a portal, in the next few weeks, [my emphasis] to make sure that people can directly key in their demands for PPE and we can then monitor that and get that out to them.’
The most relevant words above are those highlighted in bold. More than five weeks after the first covid-19 related death was reported in the UK (on 5th March) the Government is still saying that any monitoring of PPE requirements will not be in place until some unspecified time in the future.
I’m not a supporter of small businesses but they seem to have be shafted by the Government – which constantly says it is the prime supporter of the entrepreneur. It seems that four weeks ago a call went out for all those companies who produce equipment that falls into the PPE category to make themselves known. However, since then most of these 100 or so companies had heard nothing and, according to Kate Hills, the founder of the Make it British Group, this is one of the reasons equipment is in such short supply.
This just seems to indicate that there is nothing in the Government structure that is flexible enough to deal with exceptional circumstances. Presumably the bureaucracy that accompanies the buying of such equipment is such that it cannot adapt to smaller volumes even though, in the present circumstances, that would seem to be the quickest way out of the present impasse.
As it is, we now have volunteer groups throughout the country making PPE for the NHS. Although this might show a positive spirit in the face of adversity it also goes to further demonstrate that the present government structure is ‘not fit for purpose’ – to use an awful cliché.
The Tories show their true colours when it comes to the NHS
The very fact that Hancock has made no attempt to respond to the condemnation of his statements that NHS staff were being wasteful in their use of PPE only goes to show the true colours of the Tories. For all their fancy words they have no respect for the principles of the NHS and if workers (who have been called almost super-heroes in the last few weeks) become responsible for the break down in the service if they dare to challenge the diktats of those in power.
As a Government they merely react to events, had no strategy to deal with a pandemic and certainly have no exit strategy, but if there is criticism of their actions they throw the responsibility back on to the people – or any other scapegoat.
On 10th April it was announced that two more of these temporary hospitals would be opened, one in Sunderland and the other in Exeter, in the next couple of weeks. Presumably neither of these will be as big as the one opened last week in London so why does it take so long? The one in London was completed in 9 days. But the main issue here is – if it is necessary to have these hospitals why weren’t they planned and construction started at the same time as those in London, Edinburgh and Manchester? There’s no shortage of money – the government is handing out cash in sackfuls.
In a piece about the opening of the ExCel Nightingale it was mentioned that there are kilometres of copper piping throughout the complex – which is needed to provide oxygen to all beds. There won’t be a shortage of firms fighting to get the contract to de-construct these temporary hospitals – assuming that does happen sometime later in the year. Weighing in all that copper is a demolition company’s wet dream.
Covid-19 throughout the world
David Milliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, stated on 9th April the pandemic would cause ‘real carnage in the poorest countries of the world’ both in the health and economic sphere. The poor always suffer the most in these circumstances.
Consequences of the pandemic
On 9th April Kristalina Georgieva, Chair and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that one of the results of the pandemic would be the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Shortage of ventilators
Why there was no order placed for more ventilators when the pandemic first started to spread west from China will be answered in the post-pandemic post-mortem and enquiry – not. In the meantime the UK Government has been going cap in hand to all countries in the world and as a result Britain is to get 60 portable ventilators from the German Army. I would have thought there were other more deserving countries in the world for such rare items of equipment but not in the Euro-centric world in which we live.
Does the virus have a preference for non-white victims?
This was a new development – although the trend must have been noticed before – that became public in Britain at the end of last week, the third of the lock down. But it seems it only became an issue in the UK after it was initially identified in New York. At that time the US Surgeon General, Dr Jerome Adams, reported that the virus was disproportionately effecting Black, Latino and other minority communities as, he suggested, ‘because they have a greater burden of cronic health conditions’.
I initially thought that the figures in New York merely reflected the level of deprivation that exists in a city where some of the richest in the US share the pavements with some of the poorest. But matters may not be that simple – although poverty will almost certainly have a lot to say in the mortality rates.
There was a call in Britain on 11th April that a study should be made of the disproportionality of deaths amongst Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people during this pandemic. Being 14% of the population they were 34% of the cases in critical care units. These are early days and it will take some time for any realistic conclusions to be made about this, not least as there was no information if there was one particular group who might have been effected over any other of the ethnic groups.
The reason I say this is that a look at the health workers who have died of the virus in Britain (up to 11th April) the majority came from backgrounds in the Indian sub-continent – which is different from the results from the US, more particularly New York, where those with an Asian background would have be well outnumbered by those from an African or Latino background.
British NHS statistics would seem to suggest that infection and death rates in India, for example, should be racing away – but they don’t seem to be doing so. Poverty in the country is almost certainly killing many more people every day than the covid-19 pandemic.
This is yet another of the issues that must be looked at carefully to see if any patterns can be established. The results of any such studies will probably have little impact upon the present pandemic but as the world seems to have accepted that a pandemic can happen at any time such studies might be able to inform the next pandemic – which could arrive at any time, the next decade or next year.
Those wanting a Government bail out
On 9th April John Witherow, Editor of The Times, asked for the government to step in to stop newspapers going out of business. As newspapers have seen circulation drop dramatically over recent years this might just be throwing good money after bad as they might have failed even if the pandemic hadn’t influenced people’s newspaper buying habits.
As we are now in the middle of the Easter holiday – the usual formal beginning of the holiday season – seaside towns have seen any income drop to nil. They are also asking for support due to the lock down.
Nationalist children continue to behave badly
I’m no fan of any politician in the Westminster Government (in fact no respect for politicians full stop) but as this pandemic continues I have an even more rapidly developing contempt for so-called ‘Nationalists’. With the Buffoon out of the game the ‘leaders’ in Scotland and Wales talk for the sake of talking to fill the gap in the TV slots.
One example of this was uttered by the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, who, on 10th April said we (the Welsh) ‘won’t be bound by decisions made in Westminster and would only relax self-distancing measures when it’s safe to do so.’
Unless the Scottish and Welsh governments are prepared to put in border controls between the periphery of the UK and England then the whole island must follow the same procedures at the same time. Petty-mindedness (the principle aspect of capitalist nationalism) is the last thing that we need currently if we are to leave the chaos of the pandemic behind.
Who needs a vaccine? – a town in Germany has the answer
In 1623, as the Bubonic Plague was cutting down people in Europe like a scythe harvesting corn, the people of the town of Oberammergau (population now 5,474) promised ‘God’ that they would put on a passion play every ten years if the plague was to pass over without the Grim Reaper adding to his tally. It ‘worked’ and no one in the town died. The Oberammergau Passion Play has taken place every ten years since (with only a couple of interruptions).
There have been no cases of covid-19 in the town in 2020 – so far.
There are a few points to be made here.
the promise of the Passion Play seems to be a somewhat complicated promise to make in any deal with ‘God’ – he could have got more I’m sure
there were probably many thousands of small towns and villages that were plague death free in 1623 – they just didn’t have an up and running PR team to broadcast it to the rest of the world, they just thought themselves lucky
there are still probably many hundreds of thousands of towns throughout the world in 2020 which have lost no victims to covid-19
but if those victimless towns now who want to remain so they know what to do – nothing to do with social-distancing, testing and tracing. They just have to promise whichever ‘God’ they recognise something really weird and outlandish
will Oberammergau announce to the world if someone were to die in the town due to covid-19?
One law for the rich – and one for the rest of us
Although the Scottish Chief Medical Officer was forced to resign after it emerged she had travelled to a second home on two occasions the same rules weren’t enforced when it came to Robert Jenrick, the Housing Minister, for doing virtually the same – that is two journeys which were not really considered ‘essential’. But because Jenrick was more deeply embedded in the establishment excuses were found to mean that he got away with it. There was an argument posited in his defence that he had only travelled no more than 40 miles – which is allowed in the Coronavirus Act, 2020. If it’s there I haven’t been able to find it yet.
On the 10th April it was reported that a private jet, with 10 passengers from the UK, was forced to return to Britain by the authorities in Marseilles. It also seems that three helicopters were waiting to take the group to a luxury villa for a holiday.
Now, as far as I know, a plane cannot take off from any airport in UK without providing full information to the relevant authorities. So why was the plane even allowed to leave the ground when all the population is supposed to be ‘in this together’?
The police are starting to issue fines to people for sitting in public parks in the sunshine and there was a widely publicised account of a family being fined for travelling 200 miles to Devon ‘to go fishing’, on 12th April. Will there be any consequences for this group who, by their actions, have shown their contempt for the rest of the population? The answer to that question is obviously no – or if so with a fine that will merely be offset against tax.
Is it sometimes best to say nothing?
On 12th April Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Welcome Trust, and a member of SAGE (an unfortunate acronym) which advises the present government. For some reason he felt it necessary to make the following statement on national television (the Andrew Marr Show on BBC 1);
‘The number [of deaths] in the UK have continued to go up. I do hope that we’re coming close to the number of infections reducing and in a week or two the numbers of people needing hospital reducing and, tragically, in a couple of weeks’ time the number of deaths plateauing and then starting to come down. But yes, the UK is likely to certainly be one of the worst, if not the worst effected country in Europe.’
Why that last sentence? What good is it? It is merely speculation – without any associated evidence. Some ‘experts’ (as well as some politicians) seem to think they must say something to shock and get themselves extensively quoted. These ideas were repeated throughout the day. Why say something which only has the effect of making those who are worrying to be even more fearful?
The first Tory to scapegoat during the UK pandemic
When Jeremy Farrar made his ‘apocalypse UK’ statement on 12th April the response of Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, wasn’t to reassure people that this wouldn’t happen as the government was fully on top of the pandemic, no, he chose to say ‘we have followed scientific and medical advice’. Meaning, it’s not our (the Government’s, the Tory’s) fault but that of the experts.
As stated at the beginning of this series of posts the experts were only brought in for the regular press briefings so that, when anything hit the fan there were ready scapegoats upon which to rest all the blame. Sharma was the first to do so – perhaps earlier than I expected.
Quote of the last few days
The first time anyone, although not a Government voice, has publicly mentioned a possible exit strategy in the UK;
On 10th April Neil Ferguson, one of the government’s ‘experts’ said;
‘.. restrictions would have to remain in place for several more weeks but could then be lifted in stages taking into consideration age and geography but there would have to be introduce much larger levels of testing at a community level, really isolate cases and more effectively identify how transmission is happening.’
But he added that this was only in his view and he was at pains to stress it was not the official view of the government.
It’s good to hear the words being uttered. It is only hoped (probably in vain) that if this is the thinking that there should be a group, with a high level or responsibility, which is working on the manner of how such a strategy will be implemented. It needs planning and investigation so that such moves can be implemented at the first opportunity. However, I fear that we will be hearing the oft used phrase ‘in coming weeks’ when (or if) this is first uttered as Government policy.