Covid-19 over the Easter 2020 weekend in Britain 

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Covid-19 over the Easter 2020 weekend in Britain 

 Testing 

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. 

Time will tell if he is just a total hypocrite or whether his time in hospital had brought with it a Damascene conversion

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.  

Nightingale Hospitals 

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. 

  1. 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 
  2. 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 
  3. there are still probably many hundreds of thousands of towns throughout the world in 2020 which have lost no victims to covid-19 
  4. 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 
  5. 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.  

Exit strategy 

(this is an empty space – as always!) 

More on covid pandemic 2020

2 thoughts on “Covid-19 over the Easter 2020 weekend in Britain 

  1. Thank you, Michael, for all this information. I think many comments, you make about UK, apply also to Spain and Catalonia… unfortunately.

    • Hello Francesc

      It’s not possible to closely follow events in all countries that are going through the pandemic at the moment. At the same time it’s not a surprise that you can see many parallels between events, statements, inactivity, errors and crass incompetence in Catalonia and Spain as I have seen in the UK. They all follow the profit agenda and not one that cares for people or the long term well being of an economy which isn’t ruled by short term gain.

      It will be interesting to see if the people will allow the same selfish capitalist system to carry on doing what it has been doing for centuries – a system which constantly creates crises, whether they be financial and economic or, as at the moment, a health pandemic.

      Take care

      Michael

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