Getting closer to it – but still no real strategy in the UK covid-19 pandemic

More on covid pandemic 2020

Getting closer to it – but still no real strategy in the UK covid-19 pandemic

A review of what has been said in the last few days about the coronavirus pandemic in the UK.

Testing

When testing should have take place

In March the World Health Organisation (WHO) was saying ‘test, test, test’. But on 12th March the UK stopped testing in the community and focussed the limited testing capacity on hospital patients.

Boris Johnson’s government failed to impose mass coronavirus testing after being told that COVID-19 was only a ‘moderate’ risk to the UK (1st April).

Senior advisers admit lack of investment in mass testing ‘may have been a mistake’ as they believed influenza was a bigger threat (2nd April).

At the House of Commons Health Select Committee meeting on 5th May, Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, said he ‘would have liked testing ramped-up sooner’. [Ramped-up is one of the a new words we have come to recognise.]

Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, at the same meeting, said the changes to the policy in early March was because of ‘ insufficient capacity’.

Mass testing earlier ‘would have been beneficial’ (5th May).

How often should care workers be tested?

Sam Monaghan, manager of a group of care homes, arguing for weekly tests on care home staff and resident, on 2nd May;

‘A member of the resident group was diagnosed with the virus and we know that the highest probability how that came into the home was through one of our members of staff. The difficulty is that none of the staff are showing any symptoms at all so it’s a bit like ‘Where’s Wally’ – but Wally’s taken his jumper off and so the manger’s looking across her staff group asking where has this thing come from?’

The numbers game and the current situation

Stephen Powis, NHS England National Director, 4th May;

‘Testing .. has ramped-up very quickly over the last week or so and we are now at a very high level of testing with over 100,00, a little bit of a dip at the weekend but we anticipate that that testing ability will continue to increase.’

On 6th May the Buffoon was saying the aim now was to get testing up to 200,000 per day by the end of May. But it’s probably as useful in defeating the virusas Hancock’s promise of 100,000 by the end of April – which, for some miraculous reason, has only been achieved on 30th April, numbers dropping into 70-80,000 since. But all the classic questions, Who, What, Where, When, Why, remain.

Who will be tested, just those who show symptoms or a wider, random, cross section of the population?

What will the tests be looking for, just if people are infected or as part of an overall strategy of tracking and tracing?

Where will the tests take place, taking the tests to the people or the people to the tests?

When will the testing be part of a strategy?

Why is nothing forward – not even the numbers. 200,000 by the end of May is too low and too long a period for such a minimal increase in testing in relation to the population in general?

A different type of testing

Professor John Newton, the Government’s testing co-ordinator, on 4th May;

‘There are at least two large commercial organisation who have good lab based tests we are currently evaluating. But also people are looking at ways of doing anti-body tests close to the person, the patient. There are a number of options there including a saliva test. And all of the options are looking quite promising and being evaluated.’

Where is testing going – and when?

Jeremy Hunt, Chair, House of Commons Health Select Committee, on Radio 4, World at One, 5th May

‘Everyone accepts that Germany and South Korea have really done a pretty good job. Korea didn’t report more than 9 deaths on any day during the whole course of the coronavirus crisis and are now saying that are getting no new domestic infections. I think the important thing for us is; have we learnt from what is happening in Korea and do we have the Korean strategy in place? I think what we heard this morning from Sir Patrick Vallance and Dr Harries is that that now really is our strategy and that’s the most important thing.’

[Best practice was known about weeks ago. Why, in Britain, is this still going to happen at some indeterminate time in the future?]

Q. To mimic South Korean strategy?

‘Yes, I mean they are are the ones who did this test, track and trace process, very tech centred, very innovative use of apps, backed up with contact tracing on the ground. And remember they had a worse challenge that we had, they’re closer to China, they had less notice than we had, they had a super-spreader who was part of a religious cult. So they had a real challenge to deal with but they did manage to contain the virus. This is what we are now planning to do starting with the Isle of Wight.’

[South Korea and China are amongst those countries that have embraced technology in a big way, much more than in Britain. Many people don’t have Smartphones, many of the Smartphones don’t have Bluetooth and in those countries where technology was used in this way it was followed by extensive testing on a one to one basis. No plans for that have been presented here in the UK.]

Q. Are we past the peak?

‘That’s what the government is saying and I’m sure that’s what their scientific advice is saying. And there’s a lot of gloom about the death figures and to have 11.500 more deaths than you would expect in one week in April is pretty depressing. But the very last question in the Select Committee Hearing to Sir Patrick Vallance, I thought, was, in a way, the most encouraging because I said to him that if we do the test, track and trace, if we observe the social distancing rules, on balance, do you think we can avoid a second wave, and that’s the thing all over the world people are worrying about, and he basically said, Yes. He was an optimist, he said he thought we could. So I think that they are confident we’re not just past the peak but if we implement all the policies that are now in train, we could avoid a second peak.’

Q. When do we get to the point of being able to ease the lock down? When can that system take over?

‘Well, I think we’re going to hear about that on Sunday. And we tried to shed some light on that today. What it appears is that the absolute rule is that the R, the reproductive – rate mustn’t go above 1. They still think we are between 0.6 and 0.9. But within that there’s a lot of variation. So Sir Patrick Vallance was saying that in the community the R rate is probably a lot lower, towards the lower end of the scale, but in hospitals and care homes it is still running higher. So that’s where the risk is that you can perhaps get community transmission down, because people are staying at home, but you have a re-introduction of the virus through an outbreak in care homes, for example. So that’s why I think it’s a very finely balanced judgement.’

Q. That’s where the app may become critical and as well as that human contract tracers will be important. As far as the app is concerned will you be downloading it?

‘Absolutely. I think all of us who have Smartphones should, when we’re asked to do so and I think it can play a very, very important role. But I don’t think they work for everyone. I think 40% of the population don’t have a Smartphone so there will need to be more traditional methods of contact tracing with them. But I do think it has a very important role to play.’

[The British Government recognises that technology will not solve all the problems but doesn’t have an infrastructure in place to deal with those shortcomings.]

Q. Have we been too slow? The SAGE documents were released this morning, under pressure, and the Government is becoming more transparent, except a lot of those documents have been redacted, some to the point of being useless. Were you surprised by the extent to which they had been redacted?

‘Well, there’s a tradition, obviously I was in the cabinet for nine years, and advice to ministers is kept confidential and that is very, very important because you need advice to be completely frank and people giving the advice need to be able to say exactly that they want to say without having an eye over the shoulder to what happens if the advice gets published. But there is something different when you have a crisis like a pandemic and the Governments says that at every stage ‘we are following the scientific advice’.

If they say ‘we’re following the scientific advice’ but they don’t publish the scientific advice then it’s very difficult for MP’s to hold them to account. That was one of the things I asked Sir Patrick Vallance about and I asked Matt Hancock to day in Health Questions, to whether he would consider publishing the SAGE advice that he’s receiving at the same time as he makes his decisions, so that we all have access to the scientific advice that the Government says it’s following.’

[But when will this ‘transparency’ show itself?]

Q. So it’s too slow and it’s too late?

‘Transparency is very important because that ‘s the way you keep the trust of the public. Also, it’s important because there is a lot of uncertainty in these recommendations because it’s a novel virus and I think it helps if the public understand that some recommendations are clear cut but other’s are finely balanced and it’s helpful for us to understand that as well.’

Experts and transparency

Some members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), are arguing for more transparency.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, formerly Director of the Welcome Trust and a member of SAGE, on 4th May;

‘Personally I would make the minutes transparently available after a certain time. I think transparency helps people to understand the uncertainty, the difficulty, the fact that actually science does have to change as the facts change. That is certainly sensible and logical. What we know today is very different to what we knew in February and March.’

Breaking the lock down

On news that Neil Ferguson, the senior advisor to the Government had broken the lock down by having his married lover coming around to his house – apart from the issue of breaking the lock down he obviously had no idea of the gutter press in this country who will be looking for any opportunity to undermine anyone if it helps to sell the paper – or get the name of the paper broadcast on other news media (it’s all about advertising).

Jo Hemmings, Behavioural Psychologist, 6th May;

‘What people are now doing, perfectly understandably, is creating their own version of what they believe to be acceptable. You also have people that were behaving in a pretty sensible way for a while, say when we weren’t going out having obvious public group gatherings. Now the situation is so muddled about what is going on a lot of people have been doing for the last few weeks, and will continue to do is ‘the it’s just me thing’.’

Danger of a second wave

On the chances of a ‘second wave’, Robert West, Health Psychologist at University College London, on 3rd May;

‘With the figure that we have at the moment it looks like, probably, around somewhere between 5% and 10% of the population have been infected. That leaves between 90% and 95% who have still not been infected. So the death rate we’ve got at the moment is with that 5% figure, so we have to be very, very cautious and very careful about how we view the lock down.’

Maria Van Kerkhove, World Health Organisation (WHO), on a second wave, on 4th May;

‘What we’re seeing in countries like Singapore is almost like a second wave. Essentially what it is actually outbreaks that are happening in shared dormitories. So the virus has found a place where it can take hold and can resurge again. So all countries must remain on alert for the possibility of additional transmissions.’

The app that will solve all our problems – or not?

There are a number of issues with the Smartphone app – produced by NHSX (together with an unspecified private company) – that will be tested on the Isle of Wight from 5th May;

the test itself,

  • the Isle of Wight has fewer Smartphones than is the avaerage in the UK (older population)
  • there has been a low incidence of infection to date
  • the island is still on lock down so people won’t be going out of their homes much
  • how effective will the test be?
  • even if the results are ‘positive’ the app won’t be used throughout the UK until towards the end of March

the aspects of the app,

  • still not sure if it will work if the app is not showing on the screen
  • there’s the possibility of the app running the battery down
  • still many people have questions and doubts of the reassurances about privacy

This is on top of the issues discussed in a previous post.

Dame Wendy Hall, Southampton University, Government advisor on technology, on 3rd May;

‘It won’t be storing huge amounts of data about us in central servers, that’s not the case. Almost all of it stays on the phone, it’s all encrypted and what they store is anonymous. There’s no absolute right answer to this but I’m pretty convinced the way the UK is going, for the moment, is the right thing to do.’

Professor Susan Michie, Director of the Centre of Behavioural Change at the University College London who is also on the government’s Behavioural Science Committee for Covid-19, on 5th May;

‘I’m slightly concerned that there hasn’t been enough consultation with the public and a lot of concerns have been raised by the public about the governance of it, the security and privacy of it, the private company that’s owning it and so whether or not the public will take the app in the number that’s needed is a question mark. I do hope the Government quickly gets the trust that’s absolutely needed.’

Robert Hannigan, former National Security Advisor and Director at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Radio 4 World at One, 5th May;

‘It’s very good that they have said so much about it, there has been a great deal of technical policy detail published by NHSX [the NHS digital section] in the last week about how they’re doing this and I think that’s a very sensible approach and it’s reassuring to anyone who’s concerned about the technical aspects and the privacy aspects. I think they’re doing really well. This is attempting something which has never really been tried before, to use the Bluetooth technology, on this scale right across the country. It’s unprecedented so fair play to them for moving at such speed and trying to get it up and running. I’m sure there will be lots of things that go wrong and they will be putting right but that’s always true with new technology.’

Q. Is it the right decision to go down their own centralised route and not the Apple/Google decentralised route is correct?

‘It’s a balance but I think the downside of the Apple/Google localised route is that it leaves Public Health England and the NHS with no information about the overall spread of the virus and where it is spreading and all things they need to make really important decisions about public health and about how we may be released from the lock down, which is, after all, the major point in this.

The privacy aspect, I don’t think there’s a huge difference. I think given the steps that the NHS have taken to protect privacy and the involvement of the Information Commissioner in all of this it’s sufficiently anonymous not to be a threat to individuals. All the app records is the first part of a postcode and the make of the phone and, of course, this is co-operating with Apple and Google in a sense that it’s using those two operating systems, albeit not with the model they preferred. But having said all that, of course, there will be a good debate about privacy. My own feeling is that this should be time limited, so at the end of the pandemic we need to pause this experiment and have a proper public debate and parliamentary debate about the use of these apps in the future.’

Q. Are you reassured on the security of the data?

‘Yes, obviously the question of a centralise model, for which we are going down, is that the data has to be kept in one place and then it’s a question of who has access to it and for what reason. They have been very clear that it will only be public health authorities or public health reasons, that it will not be linked to other data about people in their health system. There is a question about how this data is kept and when it is destroyed. It will be useful to academics in the future to tackle future pandemics so we shouldn’t suddenly chuck it out, but equally I think we should bring this experiment to a clear close at the end of the pandemic and review it and have a proper debate about it. The key is that it should not be made available to the private sector, to companies to advertise and everybody agrees that this must be severely limited to public health experts and local authorities.’

Q. Do you think that in the way it has been set up it will be impossible for external users to get to this date?

‘Yes I do because I’ve read a lot of detail about how they’re been doing it in the last few days. You can always construct some edge case for how somebody could subvert this and that’s true of any system you build but frankly the conspiracy theories that I’ve seen put out there are pretty far fetched and would require so much effort and would be almost impossible to scale up.’

Q. You will be very happily downloading it?

‘I will and I think it’s important that it shouldn’t be compulsory to downloaded but it is going to help all of us stop the spread of this virus which is affecting all of our families and help all of us to get out of the lock down. So it’s in our interests to download this. It will not keep any personal data about you and I’m satisfied that the very limited data it does have will be properly protected.’

Q. You say is shouldn’t be compulsory but you sound if it’s everyone’s duty to download this app?

‘It’s in everyone’s interest and so far everybody I know, who I meet, wants to stop the spread of this virus, wants to protect the NHS and wants to get out of lock down as quickly as possible and are really desperate for that. And this is a really helpful way of doing it. It isn’t a major solution, it’s only part of a system that really depends on testing and proper tracing. It won’t be perfect, there will be problems, there will be false positives but it’s definitely worth a try.’

If someone who is (or was) a part of the British intelligence ‘community’ likes the idea then that alone is reason to be suspicious. And why is there a former (and not a present) Director giving this interview. That’s a way for the State to distance itself from any comeback.

Contact tracing and the lock down

David Nabarro, World Health Organisation (WHO) Special Envoy for Covid-19, on getting contact tracing up and running, 1st May;

‘This is something that every government is having to make a choice and I understand that the contact tracing process is now well advanced. You don’t need to have 100% tracing in order to get the R number down. You certainly can release the lock down while you’re building up the case finding and contact tracing capacity. That’s what most other countries are doing. They don’t wait until things are absolutely ready.’

Professor Susan Michie, Director of the Centere of Behavioural Change at the University College London who is also on the government’s Behavioural Science Committee for Covid-19, on 3rd May;

‘The Government message has become a lot more complicated, partly because this will need to be a different message for different people. Some people will be asked to go back to work when they are not happy doing that, concerned that there won’t be enough social distancing, giving risks of bringing back infections to the household whilst others, who are wanting to get out of their houses, won’t be able to.’

Chances of dying from the covid-19

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, on Radio 4, the Today Programme, 1st May;

‘If you’ve got the virus your chance of dying is roughly about the same as you would have had this year anyway. And if you’re worried about dying this year you shouldn’t be so worried at getting the virus. But I think we do need to have some sort of campaign to encourage people who are at very low risk to actually get out and start living again, when we’re able to.’

Ending the lock down

Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology, University College London, on how we should get to the easing of the lock down on Radio 4, World at One, 1st May;

‘It’s going to be a very odd moment and people will react to it very differently. Some people will say, ‘well actually I don’t really want to because I feel frightened and others will be champing at the bit and perhaps take it too far. I think it’s really important to say that it won’t be juts an all or nothing, it will be a very graded thing and this is going to present some quite significant challenges, in the sense of how you communicate that.’

Q. What sort of challenges does the nuance present?

‘It’s hard enough to get the message across when you are saying thinks that are black and white like ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, Save lives’. Even there you get exceptions with people saying, ‘well, actually, I realise one should do that but in my case it differs’. When you make a more nuanced message which is that you can go out more, there are certain things you can now do that you weren’t able to to do before you can imagine the problems that you’ve got with people interpreting that is all sorts of different ways. Ad that means that the politicians who are giving the messages are going to have to chose their wording very carefully because a single throwaway remark could be misinterpreted and cause all sorts of critical problems.’

Q. How do you solve that because you have to come down on one side or the other?

‘Yes, the way you handle it is that you, whatever message you put across, you make it very clear who it applies to, what the situations are and give specifics about the situations you are referring to and, as always, you give very clear reasons as to why that is the case and a very important part of that is that if you’ve got an easing of the lock down which applies to some group in society more than it does to others you can imagine that it’s going to start to create problems with a resentment in some cases and people saying, ‘well, why should they be allowed to do this and I can’t’.

Q. The Government says even talking about that is dangerous, do they have a point?

‘They have no choice. They have to talk about it because what people can very clearly see is movement in other countries and that when this Government is already saying, ‘well, we have turned the corner on this one’, they can’t just pretend that it’s business as usual. So they have no choice. They have to talk about it. So then we come to how do you talk about it. The key thing is to help people to realise that this is a very risky time, tight now. This is probably as risky as it has been on any part of this crisis. If we get this wrong then we will be back where we started, possibly even worse. So people have to know that whatever the easing of restrictions, they don’t go beyond it.’

More on covid pandemic 2020

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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Britain – start of week 3 of the pandemic lock down

nightingale

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain – start of week 3 of the pandemic lock down

A few things that have happened in the UK in the last few days – and some important things that haven’t.

Testing

There may not be much testing for the covid-19 virus going on in Britain at the moment but it is certainly testing having to listen to, or read about, the pathetic attempts of various Tory Government ministers trying to give the impression they know what they are doing.

From a miserable less than 10,000 a day that will rise to 100,000 a day by the end of April – that was the promise made on the afternoon of the 2nd and reiterated throughout the day of the 3rd. But – things changed.

First the promise was for both types of test – the one to test for presence of the virus and the other for acquired immunity. Then we were told the second type isn’t reliable enough, even though reference had earlier been made about the test that is already being used in Germany which appears to be quite accurate. Then doubts started to creep in if it was doable at all. The idea of shortage of chemicals was again raised – why no news of solution to the problem? – then there appeared to be a shortage of swabs. And behind everything there was the idea that there weren’t enough people or laboratories in the UK that could deal with such a demand.

To every problem there’s a solution and this one is easy. There is a war on, a war against a virus. It’s unseen and we need to see it – where it is now and where it has been. Means are available to do that. The UK is one of the top ten economies of the world. It has a long history of science and technology and despite the efforts of successive governments to de-industrialise the country in recent years there is still a huge capacity in terms of locations and personnel to carry out these tests on a nationwide scale. All that needs to be done is for the government to TELL the companies with facilities and personnel to carry out the tests. I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of the people who work in these businesses would be more than happy to do so but if there was opposition then I see no reason why the government shouldn’t use an element of coercion to achieve the desired aim.

So what’s the problem? The myopic and self-centred individuals we have allowed to call themselves our leaders are sticking to their neo-liberal, free market private enterprise philosophy when it has patently shown to be totally incapable of dealing with the issue at hand. We get confirmation of that approach when the companies that will be involved in the testing procedure are reffered to as ‘partners’ and Hancock, the Health Minister, says that ‘money is no object’. So – as is always the case – major players in the chemical industry will make a killing out of doing something that is necessary for the country to come out of this capitalist created crisis as soon as possible.

And still any questions about mass testing are conveniently avoided or ignored.

As days go by this matter gets worse, rather than better. On 5th April Professor Neil Ferguson, a government ‘advisor’, said that he hoped ‘rapid access to testing and contact tracing [could be in place] by the end of May’. That’s right, May. Eight weeks away!

‘Immunity Passport’

During the announcement about the increase of testing to 100,000 a day by the end of April there was one statement which brings up some potentially serious issues. Hancock stated that if the test to check on immunity was able to identify those who might have developed a natural resistance to the virus those people could be issued with an ‘immunity passport’ and could therefore return to ‘normal’ life.

These are early stages yet but this whole issue has to be monitored very carefully. This would be introducing something akin to a national identity card system through the back door and is what tends to happen in societies in such situations – the State introduces something which people might consider reasonable at first but which can have serious consequences later on. This was broached in my post on 1st April.

Such a situation would also divide British society into two halves. Those with the passport and therefore able to live a ‘normal’ life and those without who would be in perpetual lock down and restricted in their movements until a valid vaccine had firstly, been invented and proven to be effective and, secondly, provided to everyone in the country.

And it’ll also provide a field day for forgers. And the potential dangers of the virus sprouting up in unknown and untraceable circumstances.

This is an example of how China has reacted in this situation:

‘For a country where having a smartphone is an indispensable part of daily life, it wasn’t difficult to introduce creative systems, and technology has been deployed in full force. I have a digital health passport on my phone, a green QR code that gives me access to my favourite restaurants and bars – should it turn yellow or red, I would be required to self-isolate again. Some establishments ask people to scan a QR code that displays their GPS locations for the past two weeks to make sure they haven’t left quarantine early. Contactless temperature checking is everywhere: entering the metro, a noodle shop, my gym or even a late-night speakeasy, I’m temperature-checked several times a day and should it ever go above 37.3 degrees, I’d be in trouble.’

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

Like testing this is an issue which doesn’t seem to get any closer to a resolution. And again shows how the Tory government makes declarations without having the infrastructure in place to carry such matters through. This was the regulation that all health workers (in hospitals, care homes or in General Practices) should wear PPE – but, as the majority of GP’s are saying, they just don’t have access to such equipment and have no idea when it might be readily available. What do they do, stop seeing patients who need assistance on matters which has nothing to do the covid-19?

And throughout the NHS there are a growing number of complaints that the equipment that is supplied is of an inferior quality. It’s well known that in war situations shoddy equipment gets sent to the ‘front line’ as unscrupulous companies seek to milk the situation for as much as it can get. It seems that those working on the present ‘front line’ speculators are doing the same.

As with the government – will such producers be held to account when ‘normality returns?

At the end of the second week of the lock down there was a mention of re-opening ‘moth-balled factories’ in order to produce the necessary equipment. That suggestion soon hits a number of buffers; I wasn’t aware the country had any ‘moth-balled factories’, presumably meaning places that have been shut down but have all the previous equipment in place and in working order; machines can’t just be made to produce whatever a politician would like – a machine that was making a car can’t be readily adapted to make a plastic face mask; and where would you get the people to work in these reopened factories with the necessary skills – the de-industrialisation of the country over the last 30 to 40 years hasn’t created a situation where there’s an infinitely flexible work-force able to turn their hand at anything.

In lieu of the Government getting a grip on this situation there are groups, and sometimes individuals, throughout the country who are making masks in an artisan manner. Although this is admirable and displays a fine community spirit what it ultimately does is get the government off the hook.

But it’s more than likely these community efforts won’t be enough as all groups of workers that should have PPE are not getting what they require. On 5th April 400 companies that provide care for people in their own homes stated that if they are not supplied with adequate equipment they will not be able to provide the daily care that thousands of people need to survive. This is a service which has been cut to the bone every year of so-called ‘austerity’ and the care provision is already at its lowest level possible. It wouldn’t take much to push those people dependent upon such daily visits into total despair.

Who’s watching you?

Google have produced location data to show the effectiveness of the lock down in various countries throughout the world based on data from mobile phones. They say that there is no personal data being collected here – and that might be true, at the moment. But surely if the computer knows where you are (anonymously) it can’t take more than a few keys strokes to put names and faces to that location. Or am I being paranoid?

But perhaps it’s not necessary for Google to tweak a few lines of a programme. As reported earlier the Government (through the NHS) has released an app that will inform mobile users if they are in close contact with someone who eventually develops signs of the virus. This will be ‘sold’ as a health and safety aid and almost certainly with the promise the information will not be used for any other nefarious purpose. Well that’s OK then, we know we can trust the Buffoon and his government. As of 3rd April 1.9 million people had put their information into this app. The argument goes that this will help to reduce restrictions on people’s mobility and speed the end of the lock down but people should be aware that once you’ve given permission for such tracing it’s much more difficult to get back control.

We now have more faith in experts – or do we?

It was Michael Gove, who said (to support his arguments following the vote of whether to stay in or leave the EU Referendum in 2016) ‘people in this country have had enough of experts‘. But now experts are in fashion again – even for Gove who, in recent days, has been standing beside ‘experts’ when giving Government briefings.

But for how long? Up to now there has been a general consensus amongst scientists but that is starting to change and the catalyst is the wearing of face masks. On the 2nd April a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) was released which suggested that there was an argument for everyone to wear masks and another ‘expert’, Dr Elaine Shuo Feng of the Oxford Vaccine Group used similar arguments on the 3rd. However, all masks are not equal and I cannot see how, in the society in which we are living where a knee jerk reaction is the more common response, that any real effective use of appropriate masks will be happening before this pandemic runs its course.

In an age of constant news the media is always looking for someone to say something other than repeat the official statements. Unfortunately, sometimes that can cause more confusion rather than make people more aware of the issues.

On 3rd April, the same day the Tories said they were ‘working in partnership’ with the likes of Amazon (why Amazon?) and Boots to increase the number of tests for the virus another ‘expert’ was throwing a cat among the pigeons. Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia said; ‘these are tests that can’t generally be just done by anybody. They do need people with expertise in the NHS. These tests are done by bio-medical scientists who have several years training.’ Reading the results might need expertise, but not surely the actual tests themselves?

What’s happening indifferent parts of the world

US buys 60 tons of medical supplies from Russia to fight coronavirus

No comment.

A cold storage facility in Paris to be converted into a temporary morgue

And plans are in place for something similar in East London – though that seems to have been kept relatively quiet.

Peru to enforce a gender based curfew

I don’t really follow the logic of this decision. Perhaps like politicians throughout the world doing something (anything, no matter how ludicrous) is seen as better than doing nothing. Panama has also come up with this novel solution to the pandemic

US Captain fired for raising alarm about virus on ship

No comment.

Getting a deeper understanding of the virus

People are now dying in large numbers, in the UK and in other countries as well, who didn’t have ‘any known underlying health problems’ – and young people are also being effected. The most important word here is ‘known’. Presumably there are no post-mortems on these people so a deeper understanding of why they died – ‘out of the norm’ – will not be added to the sum total of the world’s knowledge of the virus.

On the 4th April it was reported that 13 residents of a care home (Burlington Court Care Home), to the west of Glasgow City Centre, had died during the course of seven days. As they died in the home and not in hospital they were not tested but it is assumed they had contracted the virus. In the same way as ‘unexpected’ deaths are not really investigated and hence information is lost (or more exactly not collected) this is yet another reason to bring in a much more extensive testing regime as soon as possible.

The new ‘Nightingale’ hospitals

A big thing was made towards the end of last week of the Excel London Exhibition Centre being converted into an up and running hospital in 9 days. The question that should be asked is; why wasn’t that location ‘up and running’ at the end of February? The answer is obviously finance, no one wanted to spend money when a temporary hospital might not have been needed. This is the result of the wishful thinking of capitalist governments – they hope disasters won’t happen even when history is periodically telling them otherwise and they don’t want to be accused of ‘wasting’ money.

I thought it was a nice British tradition in the official opening of the building as a hospital by Charles Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. I didn’t see it but did he cut a virtual ribbon?

Care home residents allowed to die

Letters emerged, sent to a number of care homes in the south of England, which stated that residents, over 75, of care homes who show symptoms of the virus would be refused entry to hospital. Care homes were also asked to update their ‘do not resuscitate’ records.

This was later dismissed as being a mistake but fitted in with what most people believe – there will, if the situation gets out of hand and the demands on intensive care becomes so great that the system is close to breaking – that some people will be allowed to die (and not based on medical evidence but merely on age).

Conspiracy Theories

Perhaps the first example of a conspiracy theory leading to direct action is the destruction of two mobile masts, one in Sparkbrooke, Birmingham and the other in Melling on Merseyside. The ‘theory’ is that radiation from the 5G transmitters has caused the virus – Wuhan being a centre in China where 5G roll out has been most prominent.

How is the lock down faring?

On 3rd April the Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Westminster, Iain Blackford, said; ‘It is important that people have some idea when the restrictions will be lifted’. Loath as I am to agree with any Nationalist this is, indeed, an important aspect of determining how people in the UK react to the loss of mobility as a consequence of the lock down. Not that people necessarily want a definite time and date. What they want is to be told the truth and not to be constantly being, potentially, blamed for any extension of the lock down.

The government has been reactive since the very beginning, they have never given the idea that they knew what they were doing and turned it all into a political game when they did do something.

The only ‘strategy’ is to close the country down – no advance on what was done during the ‘Black Death’ of the 14th century. The ‘hope’, and it’s only a hope, of the government is that the present day plague will advance slowly enough that the dead don’t pile up in hospital corridors. The lack of testing, the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the sometimes confusing (and contradictory) messages coming from the official press conferences don’t inspire a great deal of trust.

Football players

On 3rd April it was announced that the football Premier League top players ‘may defer wages’ – for how long wasn’t stated. This followed the news that some of the richest clubs in the country (indeed in the world) were putting ‘on furlough’ their minimum wage staff and claiming the 80% of their wages from the government’s ‘give oodles of cash to private business’ fund. As some of these top players receive more in a week than many people earn in a year it was considered that they should make a gesture.

Then the flood gates of concern opened up to protect this previously unrecognised ‘vulnerable’ group in society.

Gary Lineker – himself a multi-millionaire – declared that we should give these players time to ‘do the right thing’. He added the question ‘Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?’ Wayne Rooney (himself another multi-millionaire, even richer than Lineker) asked ‘Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?’

They both ask why bankers, CEOs of major companies and other extremely rich people are not being targetted – and they have a point on that. Those who have become even more wealthy in the last 12 years or so should be put in the spotlight. As it was stated after the crash of 2008 ‘we are all supposed to be in this together’ but some are effected more than others.

The disparities of wealth need to be challenged, not just in the context of covid-19, and it would have to include the all those who get a disproportionate amount of a society’s resources – which would include the likes of football players. People are making lists of those who are ‘key workers’ at the moment, upon which the majority of society now rely. I’ve never heard sportsmen and women, so-called celebrities nor any banker, CEO or any billionaire mentioned in that context. The population of this country and throughout the world should not forget that lesson once the present catastrophe has passed.

But not only would the players suffer so would the NHS – this from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) – the players union. The reasoning was that if the wage bill was reduced by £500 million (the estimated figure of their collective wage cut – a figure itself being obscene as it concerns such few people and for such a short period) then the Exchequer would lose out to the tune of £200 million in tax. That seems wrong on so many levels. Not least they would be paying a fortune to accountants to come up with the most imaginative ways of tax avoidance and if that £500 million existed and wasn’t being paid to the players why isn’t it sent directly to the NHS?

Things that go by the wayside

Important issues get ‘forgotten’ in times of crisis. One is a recent report which highlighted the increase in modern slavery. This is something that’s been developing in the UK for some time with little effort being made to stamp it, and the perpetrators, out. With attention being concentrated elsewhere the present situation will be ideal for such scumbags to exploit vulnerable people, both citizens of Britain and any other country.

A nonagenarian speaks to the nation

If there are problems about how the ‘crisis’ is being managed we in Britain can relax. Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha spoke to the nation at 20.00 on 5th April. People didn’t really need to watch/listen as all details were being broadcast up to 24 hours before the Sunday night transmission.

Was there a medicine that would have helped?

Mention was made on the Radio 4 ‘The World Tonight’ on 2nd April, of a ‘ potential life-saving medicine which should have been weeks ago but wasn’t allowed by the government’. I never heard mention of it again.

How is capitalism reacting to the crisis?

Aintree offers 10,000 free tickets at next Grand National Meet 2021

But not on Grand National Saturday – on the much quieter Thursday of the meet, when they struggle to get people there. That Thursday will be renamed ‘NHS Day’. Anyone visiting Aintree will probably spend much more by being there than they would if they stayed at home, betting and food/drink etc.

Wimbledon souvenirs as if it took place

A company attempted to sell off the souvenirs people would have bought when visiting SW19 for the tennis.

Double punishment

The government announced that a number of prisoners, close to their release date, would get out of gaol early in an effort to restrict the spread of the infection behind bars. When this was announced by the Tories (which sticks in their craw as it goes against their creed of flog ’em and lock them up and throw away the key mentality) they made reference to the ‘brave’ prison officers and the need to ‘protect the NHS’. However, they made no reference to the well being of the prisoners themselves. For the Tories it’s OK for every prison sentence to be also a potential death sentence.

Yes there are some pretty unpleasant people in prisons but most are just ordinary people caught up in a downward spiral. The most dangerous and those most deserving of a prison sentence are very often those in positions of power or protected by those very persons. The vast majority of the prison population are made up of people from working class backgrounds.

Unintended consequences

I don’t live too far from a major river in the UK but I have never seen, before the afternoon of 5th April, a sizeable flock of seagulls searching for food. One of my neighbours (for some bizarre reason) puts out stale bread for the pigeons. But that Sunday afternoon they had little chance as the battleships which are the seagulls pounced on the crumbs. Due to ‘social distancing’ there will be few people on the river front and therefore won’t be leaving scraps of fast food upon which the seagulls have gotten used to for survival. So they have to come further inland.

Will we see an increase in seagull attacks in places which are normally safe?

Capitalism always seeks to make money out of a crisis

Over the weekend it was revealed that the company which owns the ExCel building in London which has been turned into the temporary ‘Nightingale’ Hospital were originally asking for fixed costs to be borne by the NHS. Once the news got out they backed down fairly quickly but they did try it on in the hope of getting away with it. However dire the situation becomes there will always be those who seek to benefit financially from other peoples’ suffering. The richer the company the bigger the amount they expect to get.

Such is situation is encouraged by this Tory government as they see everything as a financial opportunity, it’s in their DNA. The Coronavirus Act agreed by all Political Parties just over a week ago has many stipulations on what the people can (and more importantly can’t) do in the present situation. However, there’s no threat to private capitalist interests at all in the document, they will not be expected to pay their share of the costs of the pandemic. Considering it was supposed to be a blueprint of how to fight the war against covid-19 the word ‘requisition’ doesn’t appear once in all its 300 pages.

Quote of the Week

Matt Hancock, Secretary of Health and Social Care, 5th April, 2020;

‘… the date of a return to normality is entirely [my emphasis, his meaning] dependent on how people follow the rules on social-distancing.’

So nothing at all to do with the failure of the government to get to grips with testing and provision of PPE!

He added that this was ‘mission critical’. I think I know what it means but why do they continue to introduce these bizarre terms and phrases.

Exit Strategy

Still nothing to add here.

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