Now into the third month of lock down – confusion remains in Britain

More on covid pandemic 2020

Now into the third month of lock down – confusion remains in Britain

Most people were waiting for the easing of the lock down but when it was announced it came with the confusion and questions we have become used to from the Buffoon and his gang.

Testing, track and trace

A couple of differences of the NHSX app (now being ‘piloted’ on the Isle of Wight) from that produced by Apple/Google (and which is being used in many other countries) is that in the UK version people report their symptoms BEFORE a test whilst elsewhere the reporting comes AFTER a test. Also the Apple/Google version actually helps Bluetooth (the way the Smartphones communicate with each other) work better. But the NHSX is not free of the ‘tech giants’ – it needs their permission to work at all – therefore the tech companies remain the ‘gatekeepers’ of any app.

From the beginning one of the arguments given by States to encourage use was that it was voluntary, that no one would be forced to download and activate it. That’s becoming less of a case as some app will almost certainly play a part of any movement of people between countries. This is already being used in Honk Kong for any international arrival and some version will almost certainly be obligatory in many other copy cat countries – even before it has been proven that these apps are actually any use. Just helps to keep a track on people’s movements.

The rocky road of the NHSX app

The pilot has gone very quiet in the last few days – after the fanfare of its release and the ‘overwhelming’ take up.

By now plans should have been in place to extend the pilot to other parts of Britain, although this has now been delayed – until when nobody is saying.

And needless to say we are still no closer to a resolution of the matter of privacy – presumably the Government hopes that if they say nothing for long enough people will get bored with asking the question. That’s also one of the things unlikely to happen. Security concerns continue with fears that it allows an opening to hackers.

Not only is the roll out of the unproven app been delayed so has the contact tracing. The problem, at least in England, is that there is no strategy which doesn’t rely almost entirely on the app’s information. By now this should all have been up and running – if we had listened to Government promises – but by their own admission the contact tracing won’t be up an running before some time in June. And don’t talk about the figures, or the actual people involved. That also seems to change as often as the British weather.

The latest (20th May) ‘information’ is that there will be 25,000 tracers working from 1st June (world-beating’ according to the fantasist Buffoon). I have no doubt those numbers will be reached (as did the 100,000 tests on April 30th – but few days since) and work will begin on that day but of what use is another matter. One issue that has to be resolved before this contact tracing can be effective is to increase the speed at which results are obtained. It currently takes 4/5 days to get a result – that’s far too slow to make the isolation part of the concept useful.

The ‘Norwich Experiment’ – tacking and tracing

Neil Hall, Earlham Institute, Norwich, on a project to test and monitor the whole population of Norwich; Radio 4, World at One, May 15th;

‘The major problem with this virus, and the reason it’s been so difficult to contain, is that it transmits from people who are asymptomatic, before they get ill, or in some cases, from people who don’t get badly ill at all.

That means if you are only testing for the virus from people who are presenting at a doctor’s or a hospital or even if you’re contact tracing you are always playing catch up with the virus. You’re always a step behind. The idea of mass community testing is that you identify those asymptomatic cases before they become ill or before they are identified in a chain through contact tracing.’

Q. You want Norwich to be a city in which that is done?

‘The size of Norwich is about right, 140,000 people, challenging but doable. Also Norwich has one of the highest proportion of molecular biologists per head of population with government funded institutes and a research hospital, etc., in the city.’

Q. How do you test everybody?

‘The idea we’ve been working on is people would be sent a testing kit to their house. That might involve some self-swabbing but research has shown that simple saliva tests are pretty accurate. The kit is bar coded with peoples’ details and then sent back depending upon the logistics being discussed. People would be informed if they had a positive test and would have to self-isolate.’

Q. How far is the push to make it happen? Is the Government on board?

‘There are a lot of partners involved but no funding from National Government. The national government strategy at the moment is putting its weight behind testing of individuals who are sick or in high risk environments.

Mass community testing will also provide a huge amount of information about how the virus is spreading in the community and that will inform government policy nationally. If we know, for example, how asymptomatic cases are in transmission, how important public transport is, how important work place is or households are in the replication of the virus then the government will know when it can relax restrictions and when it has to reinforce them.’

The Track-Trace-Isolate (TTI) strategy in Scotland

Jason Leitch, Clinical Director, Scotland on extension of the covid-19 symptoms (to include taste and smell) and contact tracing in Scotland, Radio 4, World at One, 18th May;

Q. Why has the list of symptoms changed?

‘Science changes all the time. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has a long list of symptoms for covid-19 none of which are, unfortunately, very specific. So you have to cast a net as wide as you can to detect covid-19 but no tos wide you capture the whole population. The evidence has increased on the loss of taste and smell so this has been now, across the four countries of the UK, been added to the list.

We’ve always wanted those with symptoms to self-isolate. We don’t do this with other infections so we have created a fear in society. We don’t want to put 60 million in isolation so we have to be balanced.’

Q. Is it important to get the contract tracing implemented before easing the lock down in Scotland?

‘It’s a kind of parallel process. The WHO says there are six measures you have to have in place before thinking about any dramatic changes to your lock down.

The first is to suppress the virus. The second is a reliable test, trace and isolate system. We [in Scotland] have added an S to our TTI, which is Support.

People underestimate the level of support some need in order to self-isolate – not everybody lives in an environment where a 14 day isolation, although annoying, won’t be that restricting. So we need to think about the support people might need to do that.’

Q. Do you have enough tracers to do that?

‘Tracing exists already across Europe for sexually transmitted diseases etc., so the public health community are very used to contact tracing. We’ve decided to organise this in Scotland around the 14 regions and we are using staff from various sectors to fulfil the need. We’re aiming for 2,000 by the end of the month.’

Q. Why no app?

‘Not no app, considering the app. A digital solution to help with contract tracing and we’re beginning to test in three of our Health Boards with an app really as a boost for the contact tracer to help them along. Contact tracers are detectives, they are used to doing that, their training is about who you were with, where were you, it’s quite an elaborate interview.

The NHSX app is still in development. We need to know about the privacy of it. When we’re reassured about those three things then we’ll happily embrace it. We don’t need it, we’ll have contract tracing without it but if we feel it adds a layer of information, a layer of data then we will, of course, use it if it is safe to do so.’

‘Easing’ the lock down – how will people respond?

Professor Robert Dingwall, School of Social Science, Nottingham Trent University, member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threat Advisory Group (NERVTAG), Radio 4, World at One, 18th May, on how people will react to the easing of the lock down;

Q. There are some people terrified of opening their front doors again. What will happen when people start to go out more?

‘The Government campaign to get us all to stay at home has probably been more effective than they would have wanted it to be in terms of raising the level of anxiety among the population. Surveys show we are easily the most anxious country in Europe about the impact of the virus. In the news coverage there’s been this relentless drum beat of death that’s rather overshadowed the fact that most people (80%) won’t need to go anywhere near a hospital and virtually all those that do will come out again in one piece.’

Q. Was that due to the Government message or the sense of community in protecting the NHS?

‘It’s probably the way the Government has gone about it. It’s also the attraction of kinds of stories for the media. Deaths are full of human interest and there are lots of opportunities for ‘intrepid reporters’. It’s a combination of things. The coronavirus has been overlayed on a number of pre-existing tensions and conflicts. We were a fairly divided society to start with. This hasn’t exactly helped.’

Q. What do you think will make a difference?

‘We might see quite a period of tension and possibly some micro-aggression between people who are more or less risk averse, for example visually impaired people who are unable to maintain social distancing rules are already being abused. Conflicts about masks, what two metres looks like and whether two metres is relevant at all. Those things are going to run for quite a while.’

Q. We were told schools had to shut. What has changed to make them safe now?

‘One thing that has certainly changed is out understanding of the science around children and the transmission of infection. With influenza children are clearly super-spreaders – although we never close schools over the winter because of this. What we now understand [with covid] is that children get a relatively mild form of the disease and they certainly don’t transmit it any more than adults. And teachers are no more at risk in school than going about everyday business in the community.’

The Blame Game

In one of the early post on covid-19 I suggested that having the scientists at the regular press conferences was to have a ready scapegoat if things went pear shaped. As the country entered the third month of the lock down – although now with certain caveats – the accusations started to fly around.

Jeremy Hunt, one time Tory Health Minister, now Chair of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, on 19th May;

‘… some of the decisions, notably on testing, represent some of the biggest failures of scientific advice to ministers in out life time.’

Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when asked why community testing was ended on 12th March, in a testy reply on 19th May;

‘If the science was wrong I’m not surprised people think we then made the wrong decision.’

The issue can be clarified very easily here. Advice does not equate to decision. The only way to know the facts is for the Government to publish all the documents at the time. The longer this takes (as they will come out at some time in the future) the more it looks like the Government has something to hide.

The Nationalists and Covid-19

I haven’t really quoted extensively from politicians in previous posts but am doing so here with a contribution from Gordon Brown, at one time Labour Prime Minister, who dislikes the Scottish Nationalists as much as I do, Radio 4, World at One, 19th May, on how the pandemic has been approached in the ‘devolved’ Scotland;

‘Half of the deaths in Scotland are in care homes. It’s tragic that even today not all care home residents and workers have been tested. It’s a great failure of public policy to have known about this problem for weeks, to have known that the one way that we could find out whether people are at risk is testing early and testing routinely and not being able to bring in a system as the capacity was simply not good enough. Less than 3% of people have been tested so if we are going to avoid a second wave we’ve got to act urgently to have not just mass testing but routine testing.

We are not talking about thousands of tests a day but hundreds of thousands per day. If we are trying to ease the lock down then we have got to give people reassurances, we’ve got to prevent a second wave, we’ve got to get the R figure down.

With testing [on the return of schools] you can guarantee to people that they can be assured that those who have got this disease are not going to be passing it on. Where are the hundreds of thousands of tests? There’re clearly not here. The contact tracing is not yet working and therefore the strategy which was supposed to be to test, to trace and isolate cannot be working in full. And that was the basis of the Government’s decision to end the lock down and to end it gradually.

In Government you’ve got to make decisions on your priorities and then you’ve got to act of them quickly. Since March 12th when it was decided to give up testing in the communities there has been an absolute failure to recognise that if we are going to end the lock down there were certain things that we had got to have put in place. If you can’t say ‘get vaccinated’ you should be saying ‘get tested’ and you should make it possible for people to get tested.

Q. Do you fear for the Union [that’s the United kingdom] when you see different nations going their own way?

‘We were bound to have differences of approach to issue like schooling when you have different systems in schooling. What the real problem is is the lack of co-operation between the different parts of the Union and the lack of common purpose. The desire to be seen as separate for the sake of being separate is the problem and over time we have got to recognise that we’ll benefit and achieve more by working together than isolating yourself and making a virtue of being apart.’

All in this together?

As with the recovery from economic crash of 2008 (caused by the reckless gambling and rush for easy money by the financial institutions) so in the battle against covid-19, we are supposed to be all in this together, a common fight against a common enemy who knows no barriers such as wealth. The words were empty in 2008 and are as worthless in the present pandemic. There’s one law for the rich and one for the poor.

On the 17th May it was reported that the author Neil Gaiman travelled all the way from New Zealand to the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

A number of issues are raised here;

  • why was he allowed to leave New Zealand in the first place? The country is making a big issue about how well it has managed the pandemic locally, why don’t they help other countries enforce their travel restrictions?
  • why was he allowed to transit the United States?
  • why wasn’t he questioned when he arrived in London? There are so few travellers now surely just so they don’t get bored Border Officials must ask the reasons for people travelling to the country – especially as there has been so much fuss recently about why a quarantine is being talked about in the future but not in the past – don’t these immigration officials have any idea what is being discussed in the country?
  • why are the rich so arrogant that they think they can boast about their activities on Twitter – even when most of the people who would read such social media messages wouldn’t be able to do what he did – another rhetorical question, the rich do what they do because they can.
  • why do the police bother to interview him when they know they are not going to do anything anyway. And even if they do take ‘action’ what’s a £100 fine to the rich?
  • this coming Bank Holiday in Britain there will probably be thousands of people who will be breaking the rules. There will be big coverage of this in the media with politicians (and a number of ‘key workers’) making moral judgements about such ‘thoughtlessness’. But why should they abide by the rules when all you need to flaunt them is money. If the State was serious about ‘we’re all in this together’ they would make an example of the prick Gaiman – but that’s not going to happen.

Travel on public transport

‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer travel guidance for passengers’ is the heading of the official guidance published by the Tory Government on 12 May 2020.

This is like something out of the 1940s where those in power regularly talked down to the vast majority of the population. They might argue that its design, and wording, is in an age of hyperlinks but it just reads as if they are addressing small children where repetition of the same phrases is the only way to get people to learn.

It’s been estimated that to maintain social-distancing on public transport it would not be able to operate at more than 15% capacity, some argue even less. That’s not sustainable for any real length of time. For the last seven or eight weeks buses nationally have been running at a much lower capacity – but this is all being heavily subsidised by the Government. If the money can be found during the covid-19 pandemic why wasn’t it there in the past when the public transport system was being run down as it ‘wasn’t financially viable’? These Tory bastards have got a lot to answer for – as are the people who accepted their lies over the years.

On 13th May, the first day of the limited return to work, the ASLEF union complained, on behalf of their drivers on the London Underground, that there were too many passengers. I don’t really understand what they are thinking about. At some time in the future (next week, next month, next year – but by then there’ll be no London Underground) the transport system has to get back to some sort of normality.

Especially in London. There are, on a normal day, 4 million Tube journeys and 6 million bus journeys. If, soon, Transport for London is not able to get the numbers back to that sort of level you might as well abandon the capital. We have heard for years about the social cleansing when it comes to housing in London. The people who keep the capital working (those in mostly poorly paid jobs with awful conditions – night work or getting up a the crack of dawn) don’t live closer than many miles from the centre. They depend totally upon public transport and a fatuous suggestion to walk or go by bike shows a total lack of understanding of how major cities, especially London, function.

Also if you consider how much London (as do many other cities in Britain) depends upon tourism then you will need the transport system up and running, with full capacity, if there is any plan to get London back to anywhere near what it was pre-March 2020.

Neither is the idea of walk, cycle or use you own car really feasible in most of the country. After years of being encouraged to leave their cars at home people are now being encouraged to drive to work. Congestion, air and noise pollution will go through the roof.

So instead of complaining that their members are at risk the union has to do, what the rest of the country has to do, and that’s come up with ways to protect people if they are perceived to be at risk, so they can do their job. The virus will not go away. We can either close down until there’s an effective vaccine or live with it.

All indications, from the very beginning, is that the virus is particularly dangerous for a certain section of society (even though, from time to time others might also get a bad, and even lethal infection). But that happens with any virus, even the common cold or the flu.

Even the Department of Transport understands you can’t have a public transport system and maintain ‘social-distancing’. Public Transport without ‘social distancing’ is called a taxi or a chauffeur driven car.

After a couple of months of trying to instil fear in the population to get them to do what they want the Government has now got to come up with a strategy to get public transport back to running as it should do – together with the virus. It has to happen some time – and sooner rather than later – so why not now?

Following complaints from transport workers and other ‘key-worker commuters’ about ‘overcrowding’ on trains, on 14th May train companies stated there would be more trains in the week beginning the 18th. Why couldn’t the train companies been informed of the policy change in sufficient time for them to arrange for those ‘more trains’ to be available when there was an increase in the number of passengers?

By allowing people to travel, basically as far as they like in private vehicles, the Government is also effectively penalising the poorer section of the population – who don’t have a car and under normal circumstances would travel on public transport. In all the decisions that have been taken since the beginning of March it’s almost impossible to see any structure or strategy at all. Decisions are made but with no thought to their consequences. If Britain is ever to restore some some of normality – for the vast majority of the population – one of the issues that needs resolving is that of public transport and than would need a complete rethink of the concept of ‘social distancing’.

Vocabulary of ‘Opposition’ Parties in a Parliamentary Democracy

‘too soon’, ‘too late’, too much’, ‘too little’, ‘not enough’, ‘more honest’.

Companies abusing the furlough scheme

By 13th May 800 companies had been reported to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for fraudulently claiming on the furlough scheme whilst having people at work.

On Money Box, Radio 4, on both 2nd May and 16th May, there was a section of various ‘anomalies’ surrounding the so-called ‘furlough’ scheme where employers get 80% of their employees wages paid for by the State. But it hadn’t been in place for more than a couple of weeks before abuses of the system were raising their ugly heads;

  • ‘furloughed’ but still being expected to work from home
  • employers cutting peoples’ wages during the lock down
  • using the fear of isolation to get away with illegal practices
  • these matters all should remind us of the importance of unions, which too many people have consigned to history. The idea that ‘most people are only one wage packet away from destitution’ is as true today as when wages actually came in packets.

Ken Clarke (Tory, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer), Radio 4, World at One, 13th May, said that there would be cases of fraud and there would be some companies that wouldn’t have survived despite the pandemic, but who have taken money from the State in furlough schemes, business grants and loans, but that it was the maintenance of the good companies that was most important.

In the past the State would hound anyone unlawfully claiming state benefits and would spend huge amounts to get a conviction – but company cheats will get a way with murder.

Being open on the ‘scientific advice’

About three weeks ago Hancock said the Government would be open about the advice it was using to arrive at the decisions they want to impose on the population. However, when reminded of this on 13th May (during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons) his response was ‘in due course’.

This issue came to the fore, once again, on 19th May. At that date of the 110 papers that were part of scientific advice to the Government only 28 had been released.

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, on Radio 4, World at One, 19th May;

Q. Does the Government need to be more transparent when it comes to the evidence upon which it is basing its policy decsions?

‘This discussion has been going on for a long time and many people have been calling for greater transparency. Apart from security reasons advice should be as open as possible. Covid is not an intelligent opponent, it’s not going to find out things.’

Q. What needs to be released now that hasn’t been?

‘Much would have been done rather rapidly and it’s not fair to the researchers who have produced it to put it out in the public domain. SAGE does come up with a summary statement and it would be helpful if that were made available.’

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Care Homes

Nadra Ahmed, Chair National Care Association, in the preference given to the NHS over care homes when it came to PPE, 14th May;

‘PPE had been requisitioned for the NHS but when it came to us it was a sort of supply/demand market which was completely out of control with providers desperate for PPE so here we were suddenly left completely abandoned.’

There have been countless stories of care homes trying to buy PPE on the ‘open market’ and finding that to get even the basics they would have to pay 2, 3 or even 4 times the normal asking price. In any sort of crisis like a pandemic (or war or natural disaster which effects the whole country) the government should take matters in hand to control the price of the necessaries, whether it be food or, as in this case, protective equipment. To do otherwise just stuffs money into the pockets of spivs and gangsters.

The advice on care homes in the early days

Jennie Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, on what they thought was the threat to residents (and staff) at care homes in the early days of the outbreak in Britain, 13th May;

‘Throughout the outbreak, and it would have been the same for any other, we look at the background of the epidemiology, they would be monitoring background diseases and so that document [scientific advice to Government] will be looking at where we knew there was a background risk of transmission. I think that, at the time, there weren’t any sustained community transmissions though we clearly had cases around.’

But surely here, from the very beginning, before the first cases were being publicised in Britain, it was accepted worldwide that those over the age of 70 with ‘underlying medical conditions’ were those most at risk. That risk rose sharply the older the person was, not least because they would be more likely to develop these ‘underlying medical conditions’ and the biggest concentration of these old people, certainly in those wealthier countries where a care home structure existed, would have been in care homes. Added to that most care homes are probably both overcrowded (in the terms of the space per resident) and understaffed – another couple to add to the recipe of disaster.

The ‘Swedish Experiment’ – an evaluation

Lena Hallegren, Swedish Health Minister, Radio 4, World at One, 13th May;

Q. Do you have any sense of the level of immunity in Sweden due to the approach you have followed? Do you know how many people have been infected?

‘Not now. In a week or so we will have an opinion about that. We probably have some immunity but we’re not sure. No figures yet. We know more people were infected in Stockholm than in other parts of Sweden. We will have numbers of infected and immunity in a week or two.’

Q. In Sweden half of all deaths have been in care homes and 25% in their own homes. How do you protect those receiving care when those looking after them are mixing in the community without lock down?

‘We are trying to figure out the changes we need to do to protect the vulnerable in a better way. I think it’s a combination of many things. It’s a fact we have to be even better with our guidelines when it comes to basic hygiene rules …. but also looking at part time workers, which means a lot of people are coming into places where there are vulnerable people. … We also have to work out how to use the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and we can do more when it comes to testing people, both the residents and the staff in care homes. ….. It’s still a problem. ….. The main issue was in Stockholm. ….. I hope we are better prepared in other parts of the country but I cannot say for sure.’

Q. Even though you don’t have the same sort of lock down it looks like you’ll have the same sort of economic pain as elsewhere?

‘We didn’t make any kind of choice between a lock down for economic reasons or not. We decided we wanted to have a better combination of the legally binding ones [measures] and the voluntary ones but the ones we felt we could stick with all the time, because this virus won’t disappear from our society, unfortunately, so we have to have measures and restrictions to keep all the time.

We also have big suffrance [sic] in our economy, a higher unemployment rate, even if we’re trying to help business, companies, the stores to keep up. But that’s difficult.’

Q. Are you expecting that Sweden will gain higher levels of ‘herd immunity’ because of your approach?

‘We don’t have a goal of ‘herd immunity’ but, of course, we’re interested in knowing about immunity. To know how many people have been infected, how many have gained immunity, what does that mean for our society.

We’re trying to save our health care system from a big amount of patients at the same time, to flatten the curve. We think that has been quite successful, if I may use that word, as we still have 20 – 30% availability in intensive care units. The health care has been able to receive and to care for the infected patients.’

Not too good an interview and she didn’t argue Sweden’s case particularly well, I didn’t think. It’s strange that Sweden hasn’t been collecting infection and death numbers on a daily, rolling basis so don’t really understand why there’s a wait of ‘a week or two’ before they are available. I was surprised to hear that care homes were ‘forgotten’ about in Sweden – as they were in Britain – and that obviously accounts for the high percentage of deaths in them (50%). It’s also interesting that they followed the measure they did, specifically to protect the health care system (as was the lock down in the UK, supposedly) and not for economic reasons – as the country’s economy is also in a bad way.

The most important point in this short interview is the recognition, in Sweden, from the very beginning, that the virus would be around for a long time and any measures taken had to be seen in a longer perspective. Presumably this would also be the type of measures other countries, such as Britain, would have to follow to regain some sort of society so Sweden’s experience could be useful internationally. If the health system was broken by this approach it places more questions on the efficacy of the British approach and also a question mark on how to move forward in a meaningful manner.

Hallegren is a little bit vague when it comes to the situation in the care homes and ‘hopes’ matters will improve rather than providing confidence that it will. On 19th May the situation in the Swedish care homes was questioned – but I’m not absolutely sure that this situation was being discussed in an effort to undermine the more relaxed approach Sweden has so far taken in relation to the pandemic.

Reasons for change

Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, 11th May;

‘Really what we’re trying to do is to take very small steps which allow us to be sure that we’re not going to end up with an increase in transmissions again. We recognise that we’re going to have to do change for a long period of time and making things sustainable is extremely important.’

Why it’s safe to be outside

Lucy Yardley, Professor of Health Psychology, who sits on the scientific advisory body, SAGE, on 10th May;

‘There’s a study, for example, in China, of 7,000 people who’d been infected with coronavirus. Only 1 of those 7,000 people had been infected outside and that was during a conversation. We don’t know if they were socially-distancing but I suspect they probably weren’t. So that gives you an idea that the risk outdoors, if you remain socially-distanced, is very,very small indeed, which I think is behind the guidelines.’

Poorer workers more vulnerable – yet again

A report from the Office of National Statistics, issued on 10th May, found that;

  • men in low skilled, low paid jobs are twice as likely to die of covid-19 but there are many caveats over the information – a lot of important facts, such as social and health background, age, ethnicity, smoker/drinker, etc., not known in this study
  • perhaps too partial and thus resulted in knee jerk reactions

The General, Municipal Boilermakers Union (the GMB – should, perhaps, think of changing its name) declared the ‘figures horrifying’.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of ‘Unite the Union’, in response said, on 11th May, it was the poorer workers who were expected to return to work, and take the most risk;

‘It’s certainly an obvious division that blue collar workers, factory workers, mainly lower paid workers are being told to go back to work while those with a higher earning scale can stay safely at home.’

How many people have been infected in Britain?

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, astounded that people still don’t know how many people have likely to have been infected, on 10th May;

‘They’re hungry for details, for facts, and yet they get fed, what I call, number theatre – which seems to be co-ordinated really much more by the No. 10 communications team rather than genuinely trying to inform people about what’s going on. I just wish that the data, which has been brought together was presented by people who really knew its strength and limitations and could treat the audience with some respect.’

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain and the Pandemic – May Day weekend 2020

To wear a mask - or not

To wear a mask – or not

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain and the Pandemic – May Day weekend 2020

Over this weekend workers worldwide should have been demonstrating and marching for May Day – the Workers’ Day. In the recent past in Britain these demonstrations have been embarrassingly small – if indeed they take place at all.

As this pandemic drags on there is more news of workers being abused in the situation of the lock down as well as major companies announcing job losses (more on that in a later post). This means that it is likely that many thousands of people will be told that they have no job to go back to whilst they are either being laid off or on ‘furlough’.

British Trade Unions have forgotten that what makes the working class different from other classes is their solidarity which enables them to face the attacks of the capitalists. It is almost certain that when the ‘new normal’ is established there will be a need for workers to take to the streets to retain or regain their jobs – and this will be in all sectors and will effect all age groups.

When we do go on the streets we should not be demanding a return to the previous period of exploitation but a change in the very structure of society. After all, billions of pounds is already being spent to prop up private businesses – both big and small. Capitalism has been fighting against state intervention since its inception – unless it means bailing them out of their self made crises, as in 2008.

If we are paying for these companies to remain in existence then it shows that capitalism has failed under its own ‘rules’. If we are paying to keep them alive then they belong to us. We should not give them back.

Although a day late Happy May Day to all! (although, of course, not to the Buffoon and his mates)

Testing

Chris Smith, a virologist at Cambridge University, said on BBC Radio 5 Live, on 17th April, when addressing the need of getting Britain moving again;

‘We need to have a strategy to getting out of lock down and part of that strategy is almost certainly going to be testing. And testing to find out who has got the virus right now but also tests to find out who has had the virus, who is immune from the virus, which bits of the country are more vulnerable to getting resurgences and which are not. And until that testing is rock solid and in place I think it’s a slightly risky then to say ‘well, let’s just take our foot off the pedal.’

Britain woke up surprised and shocked, on Thursday 30th April, to the news that the Government’s target of 100,000 coronavirus tests by the end of the month would not be achieved.

And then they were equally surprised and shocked to wake up on 1st May to hear that the Government would reach, or at least get close, to their self chosen target.

They did – or didn’t, depending upon who you belive. It all revolves around around 40,000 tests they were posted out. No doubt this will be kicked asround over the weekend of the 1st – 4th May.

The fact that this is just a numbers game will, no doubt, be forgotten in the celebrations and the noise of champagne corks popping.

Here’s part of Matt Hancock’s presentation of the ‘goal’;

‘At the beginning of last month, at this podium, I set a goal that anyone who needs to be tested should get a test and that, as a nation, we would achieve 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month. I knew that it was an audacious goal but we needed an audacious goal because testing is so important for getting Britain back on its feet.

I can announce that we have met our goal. The number of tests, yesterday, on the last day of April, was 122,347. This unprecedented expansion in British testing capability is an incredible achievement but it is not my achievement, it is a national achievement. Achieved by a huge team of people working together and I tell you this the testing capacity that we’ve built, together, will help every single person in this country.

Testing is crucial to suppress the virus. I know from personal experience, too, just how much people with symptoms want to know if they’ve got the disease. I know that I did. It helps remove the worry, it helps keep people safe and it will help us unlock the lock down. So many people have tragically died and the challenge that we still face is vast but we’re making real progress.’

At the daily press conference at 17.00, 1st May.

But that target bears nothing to the, as usual, even bigger claim by Donald Trump when it came to the USA. At a news conference on Tuesday (28th April) he claimed the US would reach 5 million daily virus tests ‘very soon’ – he’s never specific. The figure comes from some scientists who said that number of daily tests by the end of June would be needed to re-open the economy safely. Presently there are about 200,000 tests being carried out daily.

‘We need army of volunteers to track down virus’

Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University, added her voice to the call for a much wider testing programme associated with tracking and tracing which would require thousands of amateur detectives. Quite rightly she said there would be no shortage of volunteers to do this and also cast doubt upon the cheaper but less effective option of using a Smartphone app to do this. (Since the government said it wasn’t going to use the Apple/Google app this issue – like so many others in the past two months – has gone somewhat quiet.)

CYA

In the very first post in this series I mentioned the reason the Tory politicians always had an ‘expert’ at their side when making statements at the regular press conferences was so they always had someone who could be made a scapegoat in the event of everything hitting the fan.

Those experts have obviously become aware of the situation (very naïve of them if they didn’t understand that from day one – but better late than never) as can be seen in the followiung statement by Stephen Powis, Medical Director, NHS England, on the 26th April;

‘I think it’s highly likely there will be a different combination of measures, some of which are in place at the moment but others that have heard about, such as more sophisticated track and tracing. It’s the role of the scientists to look at that and to provide advice but, of course, it’s the role of Government, quite rightly, to look at these and decide which particular combination is the appropriate combination to take forward.‘ [My emphasis]

Many people have been saying what needs to happen about testing, tracking and tracing (including on this blog) but the Government is just playing the numbers game. Powis is basically saying; ‘don’t blame us [experts and scientists] if the Buffoon doesn’t act on tracking and tracing as the way to go forward.’

The poor always pay the most – surprise, surprise!

More poor than wealthy in Britain die

It always bemuses me when reports that the poor have suffered more than the rich, in such circumstances as the present pandemic, is presented as something which comes as a surprise. You don’t need to be an ‘expert’ to understand that poverty is the cause of the overwhelming amount of suffering, disease and death in the world. Why should it be any different even in a ‘properous’ country such as Britain?

On 1st May it was reported by the Office for National Statistics that those from the poorer areas of England (and it was also the case in Wales and almost certainly the same in Scotland – if not more so) were twice as likely to die from the covid-19 pandemic as those in more prosperous areas – 55 per 100,000 as opposed to 25 per 100,000.

The reasons for the higher death rate?

Professor Danny Dorling, Oxford University, 1st May;

‘People are much more crowded in the poorer parts of our cities and often in worse health overall. This has been the case for years and years but now some of the worse health inequalities in the whole of Europe. The virus moving through the country is revealing some of our weaknesses and some of our inequalities.’

Helen Barnard, Acting Director Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1st May;

‘If you are on a low income a lot of the time you’ve got constant anxiety, the stress of trying to make ends meet when you just don’t have enough money to cover the basics. You’ve often got people who are going out to low paid , insecure, hard jobs which is putting a lot of pressure on their health. And people are more likely to be living in homes that are overcrowded, damp, that aren’t healthy. So all of those things come together and mean that people are a lot more likely to have underlying health conditions.’

Will we continue to permit the existence of a system which allows such a situation?

‘Collateral damage’ in the poor southern hemisphere countries

As a result of the basic close down of the industrial societies over the last few weeks there are fewer supplies of drugs getting to the poorer parts of the souther hemisphere. Diseases which are easily controllable with vaccines, such as measles and polio – which have all but been eliminated in the northern hemisphere – are still a major problem in many poorer countries but international programmes by the likes of UNICEF have been having success in recent years.

In the past much of these consignments have arrived on commercial airlines but as international travel of any kind has ground to a halt these vaccines are no longer arriving to the places where they are needed.

Richer countries have long been myopic when it comes to problems in other parts of the world – or even other parts of the same country. There are north-south divides within countries, London-centrism, Euro-centrism, and decisions are often made without taking into account the collateral damage that might occur in other places ‘where we are not’.

The inability of capitalist governments to get to grips with the pandemic and resolve matters so that society can get back to functioning in a reasonable manner is necessary not just for those particular countries but for the populations in those countries that have been made poor at the expense of the imperialist nations of the past and the present.

Without the vaccines untold thousand, mainly children, will die.

Rough sleepers

It was reported on 29th April that 90% of rough sleepers were now off the streets, some of them in 4 star hotels which would have refused them entry little over a couple months ago. The report didn’t mention actual numbers but it will be interesting to see what happens when the hotels are permitted to have paying customers and the ‘rough sleepers’ are ‘asked’ to leave.

Care homes

On 29th April Dominic Raab suggested that the biggest threat to care homes was the amount of staff who are constantly going in and out of the buildings and they could be bringing the virus into the environment with them.

Another attempt of the Government to place the blame on anyone but themselves. For years they have been following policies which make the situation in care homes almost unsustainable but the past is forgotten in their ‘blame culture’ and don’t accept the fact that the whole service had been on the brink of collapse long before the pandemic outbreak is just conveniently forgotten.

This statement coincided with a report from Scotland which said that 39% of all deaths in the country were in care homes.

Education

Provision of laptops

On 29th April it was announced by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that 200,000 laptops are to be provided for ‘disadvantaged’ children, who might be even more effected by the closure of schools as they don’t have the facilities to study – even if they want to. Two issues here; they won’t be available until the end of May and, more importantly, why are do we still think it is acceptable that there should be any ‘disadvantaged’ children at all in such a rich country?

Vouchers for school meals

Yet another national disgrace is the fact there are close on 3 million school children who get free school meals – when at school. Even before the decision to close all schools was taken certain charities recognised that there would be a problem if some children were not going to school. When the decision to close schools was made there was a recognition of this need but it took a long time to get it up and running on a mass scale – and there are still a number of problems to date.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Tory Government decided to give this very lucrative contract to a private company. What might be a surprise to the naïve (but not to those who accept that hypocrisy is embedded in the Tory psyche) as this present government is so anti-Europe that the company chosen is a French owned one, Edenred, which has it’s headquarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux, just outside Paris.

As the Tories believe that the poor will always spend any money they get on booze, tobacco and drugs before feeding their children it was decided that in place of cash the substitute for the free school meals would be in the form of vouchers that could be used in part payment in various supermarkets and other smaller chain stores. The vouchers are worth £15 per child per week.

There have been a number of problems with this scheme:

  • it’s a completely new concept and people, teachers and parents are floundering to get to grips with the system
  • so many people are having to go on the system regularly that the site crashes (described by one frustrated parent as like playing ‘ a really bad fruit machine’.)
  • the infrastructure of the stores that can take the vouchers has still not been fully established
  • it’s a stress that has to be repeated periodically (every week, fortnight or month)
  • government guidelines were poor (e.g., about multiple submissions)
  • the site was never designed for such mass applications

On 29th April Vicky Ford (an ex-investment banker), Minister for Children, in an interview on Radio 4’s You and Yours, was boasting that £35 million was paid out in one week, which covered 2 million children. We will never advance as a society if we allow people who think that throwing crumbs at poor workers is all that is needed to make the problem go away.

Face masks

Former Chief Scientist at the Department of Health, Dr David Harper, also former special advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

He stated that the Government is giving confused and confusing messages about face covering;

‘I still think there are a lot of things we don’t know about covid-19 and the virus that causes it, bearing in mind people might be infectious and not showing symptoms and might not be able to adopt or maintain the physical distancing measures that are the front line protection. In those cases where somebody might need to be in an enclosed space, for example, using public transport to get to work because that are an essential worker, then, I personally, would ask the question; why not wear a simple face covering as a way of possibly reducing the risks to others?’

Should the Government clearly state that if you are going out and travelling then use some form of face covering?

‘It seems to make absolute sense to me to take all the precautions that might help reduce the risk. And it is about risk reduction.’

What about clarity about what happens in the weeks ahead?

I think that it would be helpful [for clarity]. I have no doubt at all that the Government have plans already developed but, of course, the people – they are grown ups, they want to hear more and more about what the Government is planning. And if the messaging is right and people are taken along with the planning process why wouldn’t Government be telling the public what they have in mind to prepare themselves for the sort of situations we are discussing now. To get that messaging right about face covering and so on and if that is going to be implemented at a later stage then why not address it now and particularly to avoid the potential, and real, confusion when parts of the UK is saying one thing and parts of the UK is saying something apparently different.’

The Government says that risks confusing the main message?

‘There’s a real risk that the message could be confused because it feels as if the messaging is confused as we sit here discussing the risks today.’

Are the government treating us like children?

‘I think that is a risk. I think the government have a strategy, that’s what they’re sticking with and they will adjust this strategy according to the changing situation. But at the moment that feels, from what people are saying just in social conversation, that there is this feeling that Government is not sharing as much as they possibly could to help the public understand better what it is that’s being done and maybe to get some reassurance and to increase that trust in what the Government is saying.’

Is the Government hiding behind the science?

‘I don’t think they are hiding behind the science. I think the scientists in this country are amongst the best in the world and the scientific processes should be set up to facilitate that input of the scientific advice. But, of course, the risk assessment, the science, the evidence base, is one part of the whole picture and what ministers, as the risk managers, are doing is take account of the science but putting it into the context of the politics, the finances, the social pressures and so on and so forth. So it’s a very complex process. I don’t think government would be hiding behind science. I think that would be a very bad thing to do.’

Why, therefore, are they not coming up with a plan?

‘It seems as though it is very much along the lines that you alluded to earlier, that the Government don’t want to distract from those key messages at the moment, which are absolutely critical; the staying at home, the physical distancing. And I think it feels as though the Government are saying; there will be time to get these other messages out in the right way but at the moment the focus is absolutely, critically, on the first line protection.’

World at One, Radio 4, 13.00, 30th April 2020.

This confusion in Government was demonstrated only a matter of hours after this interview – so Harper’s contribution didn’t have much effect upon those in Downing Street. A radio news report on 1st May reported that there’s evidence that face covering would have a weak but positive effect on reducing coronavirus transmission. On the 30th April the Buffoon had said face masks could be useful in helping people feel safe as the lock down is eased, i.e., it doesn’t really do any good but is a psychological crutch for the frightened. But still no real guidance from the government.

If there’s no consensus on what should be the policy on face masks in the UK this is repeated in Europe. As part of its relaxing of lock down in Germany anyone who enters certain shops are required to be wearing a ‘face covering’ – it seems there’s a fear that stating ‘face masks’ might cause a run on surgical masks and therefore putting pressure on health services requirements as well as creating a black market for them.

Travelling under the Channel

On 2nd May Eurostar put the following on its website;

‘From 4 May, passengers must wear a face mask or face covering at our stations and on board in line with guidelines announced by the French and Belgian governments.

Please ensure you have a mask with you when you travel. Any type of mask is suitable as long as it effectively covers your nose and mouth.

If you don’t have a mask you may be refused travel on our services. We’d like to advise you that fines may be imposed in France and Belgium if you’re not wearing a mask.’

There’s a creeping expansion of face masks use although the science still hasn’t come to a consensus about how effective they are – with some arguing there are more negatives than positives.

The Tories are afraid to make a decision on this as they know there will be a certain amount of opposition from a sizeable portion of the population and don’t want to take the flack – they would rather it creeps in with certain private organisations and businesses (e.g., Eurostar) making their own rules. That way the Tories can put their hands up and say; ‘don’t blame us’. In fact it’s their weakness that’s on display.

Spain

On 2nd May it became mandatory for all those travelling on public transport to wear masks. To make this easier for people a total of 13 million masks would be made available for free. One of the other reasons the Buffoon won’t say that it is mandatory in Britain is that they couldn’t be able to do similar. There’s still complaints about those in the NHS and care homes finding it difficult to source PPE – so there’s no chance they will be handed out for free in this country.

What’s important in society

Over the last couple of months there have been many fine words spoken about how the pandemic will change how people see the world. We can only hope that is true – we have allowed ‘our world’ (whether it be in Britain or the planet) to go to crap.

A couple of questions I have about when ‘the world’ returns to some sort of normality is how will we really think of those who are of value to society. The Thursday evening (20.00) ‘Clap for Carers’ – and other key workers – is all well and good but will we, as a society, be making sure that these workers are given the respect and recompense they deserve?

The British people have allowed their public services to be attacked and deprived of resources for decades, with the majority of them doing absolutely nothing to fight against it. On the contrary, there are millions within the British population who have been continually supporting the political parties who have been instituting such cuts in finance. The same people, and others, also seem to think that; a modern society functions better with an ever increasing number of people on short-term or zero-hours contracts; food banks in every town is considered a ‘success’; and that it is OK for the poor, in general, to get poorer and for more and more of the wealth of the country to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Their crassness in following, admiring, emulating and aspiring to be a ‘celebrity’ also adds to this distorted view of society and the shift away from what is, or at least should be, important in 21st century Britain. People who contribute nothing to the development of a society are lauded and consequently rewarded with huge amounts of money (various sports-people, ‘social influencers’, financial wheeler-dealers, etc.,) whilst those who produce and keep society functioning are looked down upon and virtually despised.

Will that change when the new ‘normality’ arrives?

Indications on some social habits don’t bode to well. The most important activity for the Danish when restrictions were relaxed there in the middle of April was a rush to the barbers and hairdressers.

In Britain, at least two weeks before any level of relaxation of restrictions would occur, there was a report that 1st May that Greggs, the fast food bakery, would be careful how they re-opened their shops in the Newcastle area – as a trial to see what is possible nationwide – when fears were expressed that customers starved of their sausage rolls would storm the shops and cause a potential virus exchanging hotspot. (Or is it just a marketing stunt à la Ryanair’s ‘proposal’ to charge for use of toilets on their planes?)

Being deprived of fast food has probably improved the health of many in the UK over the last couple of months – as did rationing during the Second World War – but how long that will last after lock down is nobody’s guess.

Who’s views are leading the fight?

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, Today Programme, Radio 4, 16th April;

‘The scientists can say what they like; the commentators can say what they like; frankly the interviewers can say what they like but WE will do what is best by dealing with the virus’

[Hancock getting a bit ratty here.]

That was in response to what Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College and one of the Government’s scientific advisors, said earlier on the same radio programme;

He had suggested that a small army of people might be needed to trace those who had come in contact with the virus. That relaxing lock down measures required a single minded emphasis on scaling up testing and putting in place the ability to track down cases. He would have liked to have seen more evidence the Government is preparing for this. There was a Government Department for ‘Brexit’, why not for covid-19?

Hancock added that he [Ferguson] was not seeing such action because he was advising the government but was not in the Government.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

Some quotes on this matter which have, so far, been missed;

David Nicholls, Doctor’s Association, 18th April;

‘In January Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that the NHS was prepared and yet yesterday he’s saying that he would love to be able to wave a magic wand to get as much PPE as needed. This hardly encourages confidence for staff, like myself, who have been working this weekend. It’s an absolute disgrace!’

Saffron Cordey, Deputy Chief Executive, NHS Providers, 18th April;

‘Following WHO guidelines has to be the way that we go. They are saying if other stocks aren’t available then this is the way to go [re-use old equipment] and it is safe to use. I think on that basis it is worrying, it is concerning and it’s deeply frustrating for those who are working so hard, but we are in a situation where these guidelines have been issued.’

Neil Dickson, Chief Executive NHS Confederation, 18th April;

‘The decision has to be at each individual level and obviously each individual or member of staff will have to make their own decision. This is emergency guidance which has not been invented by Public Health England, it is guidance that is supported by the WHO but it is meant for emergencies and that’s where we’re at, we’re in an emergency.’

Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, 20th April;

‘The UK, regardless of the position that we maybe in now, has been an international exemplar in preparedness. So the fact that there is a pandemic stockpile is considered a very high quality mark of a prepared country in international terms.’

It’s not surprising that this brown nose support for Government inadequacies was met with derision from the medical and scientific community. I don’t know if she’s been in the limelight of the daily press conference since. How the mighty have fallen.

In an interview on World at One, BBC Radio 4, 30th April, Professor Neil Mortenson, President Elect of the Royal College of Surgeons, on whether there were enough tests and (Personal Protection Equipment) PPE for front line medics;

Q. The Government are not talking about ending the lock down but easing restrictions. Will that still mean lives are lost?

‘I don’t know for sure. I mean if the restrictions are lifted safely then clearly that would be in order but what I’ve been saying is that the latest survey, where we’re again assessing how much PPE, for example, our surgeons, and especially dentists, had on the front line, we were surprised to see that two weeks later still one third of our staff didn’t have adequate PPE and that included both the gowns, the eye protection and the masks. And, of course, there is a problem with testing too because we would like to see all our staff tested on a routine basis and it looks as if that might be happening but it hasn’t happened yet.’

Q. So one of the 5 critical tests of the Government is no where being met?

‘Yes, that’s in fact what I’m saying.’

Q. You warned the Buffoon in using the NHS as an economic punchbag. What do you mean by that?

‘What I mean is that obviously if we relax the shut down and we have increasing numbers of patients coming along, a new surge if you like of covids, and that’s going to have a huge impact on the NHS and our ability to cope. There will be a halting of our planned extension of semi-urgent surgery. That will incur huge costs and obviously, although I can quite understand that everybody wants to get the economy running again, there has to be a balance of these costs and if that’s done too soon there will be huge costs on the health side too.’

Q. Should BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people] health workers be taken away from the front line in the NHS?

‘Well, I didn’t actually say that no BAME surgeon should be in the front line, it’s all about assessing risk. It’s clear that the BAME community are disproportionately effected here, we don’t know why, but we have to take this risk very seriously.

In our survey which found that about 15% of our staff were being coerced into doing procedures without adequate PPE [interjection; Coerced?]. Yes, in other words their hospital management were saying you must still go ahead and do this and they felt they didn’t have adequate PPE. I mean, if there’s a surgeon from the BAME community and they feel they’re seriously at risk then they shouldn’t put themselves at risk and be in a highly risky situation.

Obviously it’s about assessing that risk together with their age, their underlying health conditions and so forth. So it’s about assessing risk and we said to all our staff if they don’t have adequate PPE they shouldn’t put themselves in harms way.’

Q. Ultimately it comes down to having adequate PPE?

‘Absolutely. As I say, if at this moment we don’t have adequate PPE and there is, if you like, a relaxation and the numbers surge then we’ll be in even more trouble that we are already.’

But it doesn’t get any better.

On 1st May, one person attempting to purchase PPE online for the care home sector described the process ‘like the Wild West’.

On a new vaccine

Sarah Gilbert, head of the team attempting to develop a vaccine at Oxford University, 19th April, when talking about what needs to be in place when a viable vaccine is ready for production;

‘So those companies need to have new equipment, they need to have their staff trained to use the new protocols and the new quality control assessments. And all of that can happen but the companies we are going to be working with are going to need to stop doing what they normally do and make this vaccine instead. So we need support for this all to make sure that done in a fair way while trying to do something that’s very important.’

Nadine Dorries, Health Minister, on Twitter (why do all politicians think they must have a Twitter presence?);

‘There will have to be some sort of lock down until there’s a vaccine. Until then society will have to adapt to protect public health and the economy.’ 16th April.

Normally it takes decades to develop a vaccine – why are things moving so quickly now? And if it is because so many resources worldwide are being devoted to the search for a covid-19 vaccine (which might have to be adapted as the virus adapts) why can’t, after the pandemic, the worldwide science and pharmaceutical industry put as much effort into finding whatever is necessary to stop malaria killing millions each year. Or is it because it is only the people in the poor countries that die in droves from malaria?

Immunity or a vaccine the way out?

There has been a fair amount of discussion of whether there is, in fact, any real immunity to this virus by those who have contracted it in the past, whether asymptomatic or in a much more serious manner. It’s obviously an important matter as it will determine whether society will ever get back to what is now being called the ‘new normality’.

A German study at the beginning of April found that there was some evidence for this – and it might have been on this evidence (as well as other) that determined the German Government to relax certain restrictions on 20th April.

However, there have been reservations of the reliability of these tests with a warning that they won’t be able to declare if someone is risk free to others nor will it guarantee they will not contract the disease themselves.

For those, like myself, who don’t fully understand the science when it comes to anti-bodies and testing for them in the situation of a pandemic you might be interested in what I think is a well explained and informative (without being overly jargon based) piece on BBC radio 4’s Inside Science programme of 30th April.

The Buffoon’s offspring

Call me a cynic but; would Buffoon junior have been born in a NHS hospital if it weren’t for the pandemic? I haven’t heard about which hospital it was born in but I can’t imagine one of those that might have had a bad reputation due to its poor response to the cuts over the last 20+ years.

Was the confinement originally planned to be elsewhere? A more salubrious private nursing home for example? As Private Eye says: ‘I think we should be told’. But we won’t.

The Nationalists

It seems that the place of the nationalist in Britain, both those in Wales and Scotland, should appear here just before Trump – birds of a feather.

Scotland

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon ‘suggests’ the use of face masks. By not making a decision on this it opens the way for all sorts of unpleasant circumstances. All it needs is for a conflict to arise when someone doesn’t want to wear a mask is victimised by a crazy, frightened mob. Those who seek to ‘govern’ should be prepared to make the decsion that makes matters clear to all. This voluntarism just doesn’t work. As the ignorant in Scotland lead – the ignorant of England and Wales are likely to follow.

Wales

On 1st May, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales made the declaration that between 55,000 and 65,000 (depends upon how extensive the hand out will be) NHS and care home workers would receive a one off £500 bonus. Although it’s within the remit of the developed Welsh government to give this bonus they don’t have control of the tax system and will have to get the agreement of the Westminster Government to waive the tax – which he requested. I’ve heard of no developments on that matter.

What we have hear, again, is another effort of the developed administrations to separate themselves from the national government in London.

However, I don’t know how well Drakeford might have considered this bonus. The Social security system is so complex and bizarre that for some people the bonus might be a bane and not a boon. It must be remembered that many working in the care sector are some of the poorest paid in the country and many will be claiming other benefits. Some of those benefits have crazy cut-offs and £1 over a certain threshold could mean the loss of many of them – well in excess of £500.

Trumpism

This isn’t very current but I haven’t mentioned it here before – although I’m sure people will remember it being reported last month.

According to the Washington Post, Trump insisted his name be added to the $1,200 pandemic relief cheques being sent out to 70 million poor Americans – an ‘unprecedented’ decision that will reportedly ‘slow their delivery by several days’.

No doubt this was done in an effort to encourage Trump supporters to not cash the cheques and just keep them as a souvenir as they will have a personally signed cheque from their hero President.

More on covid pandemic 2020

Covid-19 over the Easter 2020 weekend in Britain 

More on covid pandemic 2020

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!) 

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