Covid-19 in Britain as the country enters ‘Stage 2’

London during the Great Plague 1665

London during the Great Plague 1665

More on covid pandemic 2020

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.

Testing

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. …..

[This morning]

‘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.

Recommended reading

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?

Other versions can be found on the Project Gutenberg website.

Hypocrisy grows as the virus diminishes

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.

For the idea to be effective a huge number of people would have to voluntarily sign up – in the region of 80% of all Smartphone users.

Then a report suggested that the UK was too technologically backward for the scheme to be reliable.

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.

Exit Strategy

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.

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