June 2020 – Britain still with covid-19 – and Cummins

Make the rich pay for covid-19

Make the rich pay for covid-19

More on covid pandemic 2020

June 2020 – Britain still with covid-19 – and Cummins

Britain stuck with the pandemic – the Buffoon and Cummins – and still with covid-19. But at least the sun’s shining.

The Dominic Cummins affair

The most important lesson learnt from the ‘Dominic Cummins affair’ is not the fact that he broke the rules that the rest of us were expected to follow (he might not have done so if there’s an interpretation of the letter of the law but it certainly was against its spirit) it’s the contempt that the Tories have for the people of Britain.

When the Buffoon came out of hospital in the middle of April I said then that his ‘humbleness’, if it actually was heartfelt and not just an example of his hypocrisy, wouldn’t last for long. We now know that it’s sell by date was definitely no more than six weeks.

The Buffoon’s defence of Cummins in the last week was not based on any sense of friendship or loyalty to someone who might have been accused falsely. No, it was based upon self-interest, slavish support of someone who he needs due to his own weakness or, perhaps just fear that whatever Cummins has on him can’t be allowed to come out.

In the process he, and all the other Buffoon clones in government, demonstrated exactly what they think of the people of Britain – even those within his own party (both in and out of Parliament) who thought that Cummins had crossed a line which was not acceptable.

In the last week the Buffoon has clutched at any straw in an attempt to ‘draw a line under the matter’. Matters about how to go on from the lock down are (and had to sooner or later) changing and the argument given that we should leave this affair behind us to deal with the uncertainties of the future is what he is hoping (and it might even work out in his favour) will lead to people forgetting that even when we are all supposed to be in this together, there’s always a rule for the rich, powerful and privileged and a rule for the rest of us.

Since the pandemic hit Britain the Government of this country has shown that it is at best incompetent at worse criminal in its handling of the ‘unprecedented’ event. Their lies and interpretation of events and numbers were added to their hypocrisy over the defence of the the NHS.

Last week a number of commentators wondered why the Buffoon was putting his reputation and ‘popularity’ on the line when so many were incensed at the sheer brazenness of Cummins at his press conference (arriving late, treating it all as a game, lack of apology that he might have done anything at all untoward, etc.). Perhaps the answer to that was given by the look on the face of the Buffoon at the daily briefing where he refused to allow the ‘independent’ scientists to make any comment on the affair.

The Buffoon knew the questions he would have to face and knew his reply – long before he stood in front of Britain’s ‘free press’. But is was his smirk that said it all – not his words. The idiots of this country put his Government in power at the end of 2019, he has a huge majority, no Tory MP – however ‘incensed’ and/or deluged with complaints from constituents – is going to risk not being on the gravy train for the best part of five years over a ‘principle’.

So far anger from the populace has been limited to a few stunts. Will it have a shelf life after the virus is under control (if it ever is – the State would love to maintain this control of the population for ever, even if a vaccine were to be developed).

‘I am Dominic Cummings!’

Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, on Radio 4, Today programme, 27th May, on the ‘Cummings affair’;

‘If there are no other options, if you don’t have ready access to child care then you can do as Dominic Cummings chose to do. The guidelines say that you must do your best, but they appreciate that family life poses particular challenges and in order to protect children you are able to exercise a degree of personal judgement.

‘I think that’s a reasonable way forward because everyone’s slightly different and it’s not for me to judge individual circumstances and decisions that they take’

The problem is that is what the Government has ben doing in the last ten weeks (although with an incredible level of incompetence) and that is tell people what they should do, and made laws to enforce the rules they laid out in the Coronavirus Act. People have been fined for doing exactly what Cummins is being excused for doing – exercising ‘a degree of personal judgement’.

As to Cummins’s ‘excuse’ for driving sixty miles ‘to test his eyesight’ – long term detriment to eyesight has never been suggested as a consequence of being infected with covid-19. Perhaps he was just suffering from over indulgence from the night before.

David Jamieson, Police and Crime Commissioner, West Midlands, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

Q. Is the row about Dominic Cummins making things difficult for police on the ground?

‘I’ve received intelligence reports from senior officers who are now saying that officers on the ground are reporting things like ‘If it’s all right for Cummins, it’s OK for us,’ and ‘It looks like there’s a rule for us and another rule for the people in No 10 Downing Street [The Prime Minister’s office].

If the rules are flexible and the people who who seem to have been interpreting them, whio are at the heart of Government, then it’s almost impossible for police officers to be able to carry out their job effectively. …

What he [Cummins] has done is squander the trust of Government and the Prime Minister, we’re squandering the trust in the police services and all the people in this country who have made sacrifices … are now being told that somebody in government can make the rules up for themselves.’

Q. How do you police the lifting of the lock down?

‘This is difficult. When you get Matt Hancock saying they may reviews the fines, that’s difficult. What we are doing is being sensible and proportionate. I’m concerned that unless the rules are really clear and everybody, everybody, is seen to be sticking by those rules – and that includes people in No 10 – then we won’t be able to police them. …

Policing in this country is largely by consent, if people feel the rules and laws apply to everybody – and everybody is being treated equally – then people will comply. But if certain people are seen to be able to wheedle their way out of the rules and the laws then that undermines the whole of the people’s confidence in those laws.’

When people are questioned by the police for their actions and asked for their details they should give the name ‘Dominic Cummins’ and get a free pass. Although it didn’t work for the slaves in rebellion against the Romans.

Testing capacity

It will come as no surprise that on 31st May testing capacity exceeded the 200,000 promised by the Buffoon at the beginning of the month – in exactly the same way they reached 100,00 by the end of April, that is, by the skin of their teeth. But then it took days (if not weeks) to reach the magic number again – and to be consistent.

However it wasn’t long before questions were raised about the veracity of the numbers. Just as reaching the goal at the end of April was achieved by introducing tests that weren’t part of the general understanding of the target, so antigen tests were used to boost the latest figure.

Earlier there was a report that the Government (because ultimately ‘the buck stops there’) can’t even get the equipment right. The swabs were too long for the containers.

Yet again the Government is just playing with numbers – and the public. The Cummins affair has shown they can spout any rubbish and get away with it. And they will continue to do so until they are held to account.

Nationalists

You say six (England), we raise you eight (Scotland). But in Wales – ‘there will be no limit on numbers’.

Test, track and trace

In England this was set to start on 30th May.

Devi Sridhar, Director of Public Health, Edinburgh University, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘We don’t need a ‘world beating system’ [as boasted about by the Buffoon earlier in the week]. We need a system that works and many countries have proven that you can do it. Is it possible in the time frame of June 1st? It’s a gamble – there’s a lot to happen in that time. You don’t want to have it coming on, tracers needing training, getting it up to speed, the testing happening and then all of a sudden a whole new set of cases occur because schools are opening. So it will be a challenge. …

It’s traditional epidemiology that you do this, to test at the start, track and trace clusters. Other countries trace right through their outbreaks; South Korea, Hong Kong, Denmark, Norway, Germany. Here we’re a little bit alone in trying to resume contact tracing and testing at a different part of out outbreak as the numbers are falling down. …. You can’t do contact tracing when you have hundreds of thousands of cases. …

Time is a currency and urgency is needed because this is a virus where you can have an exponential growth if you are not doing anything. I do think the countries that acted very quickly; Vietnam, Thailand, Senegal, Rwanda are in a better position that the UK.’

Professor Tobias Welte, Head of Medicine, Hanover University. Member of Germany’s Covid taskforce, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘Germany has a different system compared to the UK. Cases are reported to the local health care authorities and the local administration is responsible for the tracking. This bottom up approach works much better. The German Government promised to have an app in place in May but it did not happen. There’s a lot of controversial debate about data safety rules so we do it on a personal basis. Contact apps are the future and will be in place in the next month but nothing is available at the moment.’

Bing Jones, retired doctor in Sheffield, part of a team that set up contact tracing in April, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘We were dumbfounded that no one was doing contact tracing which is an essential part of public health medicine. There seemed to be an intellectual paralysis. Nobody was standing up and saying anything about it. …

The Government shouldn’t have much difficulty [in getting the process up and running] but they are proposing a very centralised system with people working in call centres. Unless we can be local and nimble and jump on every new cluster of infection then we are not going to get out of the unique and excruciating situation we are in. ….

The fact is health and social care staff are unwitting vectors of the disease. There’s just no system for contact tracing within the NHS or social care and there’s no consistent culture either of social isolation at work. They don’t have the money and they don’t have enough staff. This is a major challenge for the Government.’

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health Sheffield, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘My sense is that not all the elements will be 100% in place by 1st June. The Government is going to have to consider a go, no go, scenario because what we are doing in Sheffield has to fit into the bigger picture. What we can’t do is do this alone. It’s too big and too complex and actually too high a risk.

We will have our bit of the system ready to go by the end of the month [May] but that will have to fit into the national system as well. …

The implementation of track and trace is fundamental to keeping transmission low and particualrly in closed settings, as and when they occur. Far less of us have been infected than was initially feared – which is obviously a good thing – but that means there is a potential for a second and/or subsequent waves. So we do need to have contact tracing working really well before we start getting into re-opening society in a big way. …

We hope the app will be ready soon and hope it does what it was built to do. I’m not building my hopes and aspirations about this app being there to save us, I’m building my hopes and aspirations by having skilled humans. The local staff is about enhancing the heavy lifting work of contact tracing which will be done by Public Health England (PHE). …

What PHE won’t know is how to make some of the action stick if the scansion at hand is an outbreak in a care home locally. We will go and visit that care home and actually help them, to manage that outbreak which the PHE [call] centre just won’t be able to do, they won’t have the capacity to do it.’

Cliff Neal, Clinical Director Public Health England, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘People are being very critical of it [Test, track and trace] before it’s even started. I don’t think it matters how much is done but how much is actually achieved because the more cases we contact and trace the better. We’re never going to actually get to all the cases because some people are asymptomatic, some won’t be contactable but the more chains of transmission we can intercept and interrupt the better.’

Chris Hopson, Chief Executive NHS Providers, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

Q. What would you like to hear from the Buffoon this afternoon?

‘We’d like four dots to be joined up.

The first is that we are about to enter a dangerous phase as we come out of lock down and we’ll potentially need to go through easing and tightening in local areas and it’s vital that that process works effectively.

The second is that we are not going to have comprehensive test, track, trace and isolate facilities available from 1st June.

The third dot is effectively what has happened ove the last four days [the Cummins affair] when we now have opinion polls saying that 65% of people believe that what’s happened will make it less likely for people to follow lock down rules and 25% of people saying they would be less likely to self isolate.

The fourth dot is that we are probably going to see many spikes of coronavirus breaking out. …

We are about to enter a dangerous phase but if we haven’t got the test, track and isolate infrastructure in place and if we’re got confidence and trust in the guidelines starting to reduce that’s quite a dangerous position. ….

We need to build local track and trace capacity and that’s not going to be in place. If you go back to a Government press release of 22nd May it says that £300 million will be provided to local authorities to develop their own tailored outbreak control plans and work on those plans will start immediately. That was five days ago. People are working very, very fast on this because we think this is absolutely the right thing to do but the reality is these plans aren’t going to be in place by 1st June.

It’s really, really important that the Government should be very clear about what will be in place from 1st June and therefore how they are going to ease the lock down rules to effectively match the capacity that being built in.

It’s really not helpful to argue that there will be ‘world class’ test, track and trace facilities by 1st June when local authorities only got started working on their plans five days ago. ….

It would be really helpful if the Prime Minister was to acknowledge the fact that there is a risk that public trust and confidence has been dented and if he was to set out really clearly what the Government is going to do to restore that lost trust and confidence. …

What [NHS] trusts are really nervous about is that over the last four days those guidelines, the credibility of those guidelines, the trust and the confidence in them seems to have been significantly dented which is now confirmed by this opinion poll today.’

Jeremy Hunt, Chair Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee, Radio 4, World at One, 28th May;

Q. Why is the getting of results from tests quickly so important to tracing?

‘It is taking too long, too often. In this system it’s particularly important because you are going to be asking anyone who has been close to someone who has tested positive to covid to self isolate. If you get that test result back in 48 hours, or longer, then those people will have longer to infect other people before they are traced and asked to self-isolate.

So squeezing the testing turn around to 24 hours is really, really important. The big picture is that we are now implementing the system that is the best in the world – it’s been proven to be not just to reduce death rates but also help economies to function more normally. Within that the tightening of these tests is actually critical. ….

The ‘system’ [a system that has a mind of its own and independent of those who programme the computer, it appears] thinks the goal is 48 hours – most of the time that is happening – but too often even that doesn’t happen. …

What the Buffoon said yesterday is that he’s asked them [or the ‘system’] to do it in 24 hours. Which is excellent news but we’ve got to make it happen.’

Q. This whole structure relies on voluntary compliance. Has this been undermined by the Cummins Affair?

‘Well, of course, it’s not going to help. But we’ve got to see the big picture [seems the present buzz phrase] here. The big picture is that today [28th May] the Government has launched a ‘system’ which is international best practice. This is what has been proven to work all over the world.

So however angry people might feel about the Dominic Cummins issue we do now have to move on, we have to make this system work, we have to comply with the advice we are given.’

Security of information from test, track and trace

The debate about what happens to the information collected during the tracing of new ly infected people continues.

In living there’s a risk of dying

Yes, there’s a pandemic and the covid-19 is a nasty one as no one knows how exactly to deal with it and it is particularly virulent – especially for certain sections of the population. However, life was, is and (even after covid-19 is a bad memory) will be risky.

It’s worthwhile reminding people of that. If you concentrate all your fear on covid-19 you risk ignoring all the other aspects of life which can bring it to an abrupt end.

And this becomes important as society attempts to get back to a situation that is similar to what we had before the lock down was declared in Britain towards the end of March. As capitalist governments can’t rely on argument in such circumstances they resorted to fear. Even to the extent that those less likely to be either serious effected or die of the disease (that is, young children under the age of 15) have become the subject of the long drawn out and ludicrous debate about the reopening of schools.

But various articles and discussions have started to lessen these fears. Because of the virus some people seem to think they can live in a society that is totally risk free – not realising that, certainly when it comes to accidents, peoples’ homes are the most dangerous and they will have been a huge ‘spike’ in the number of such accidents in the last 10 weeks or so.

As we return to ‘everyday life’ people will have to re-adapt to the risks they were used to encountering – without fear – long before covid-19 was the one on everyone’s lips.

There’s also issues about how frightened people should be of the actual virus itself. As time has gone on (we must remember that covid-19 has been known about for almost six months now) the numbers have started to reveal how dangerous it is and to whom. The more susceptible groups are becoming more clearly defined – as are the less (who tend to be in the majority). If governments had an ounze of sense they would be adapting their strategies to protect those most at risk whilst allowing the rest of society to carry on in the (an adapted) old way. But that would need thought and planning – both of which have been singularly lacking in most countries since December 2019.

Migrant labour and agricultural work

Agriculture in Britain, especially at harvest time when it comes to fruit and vegetables, has become dependent upon low paid labour for a couple of decades now. This really took off when the European Union (EU) expanded to the east and included those erstwhile socialist countries whose economies had collapsed in the 1990s.

This provided a vast and potentially cheap labour force and capitalism, especially in the more wealthy countries of the EU, jumped at the chance to lower wages in general and, in the process, increase their profits.

The growing ‘labour market’ brought with it many issues – most of which are not really being dealt with in the way they should. Some of those who came to do these jobs were ‘legal’ (being citizens of EU countries which allows for the ‘free movement of labour’) but many weren’t. The chaos that imperialism has caused through its wars of aggression in the 21st century has created a huge refugee problem and many (conned by the propaganda that Britain has been spewing out for centuries) have attempted – and still do – to get to Britain as they see the country as some sort of paradise on earth (the reality, if they get here, is often very different).

This situation has led to the growth of ‘gang masters’ and the general idea of ‘modern day slavery’. Those lefty-ish liberals who laud the EU and look down on those of us who have always opposed the UK’s membership of the capitalist cartel seem to forget some of the changes to working practices that membership of the organisation brought with it. And this had the effect of generally driving down wages even further in a sector that was already notorious for low pay.

The issue of ‘modern day slavery’ and ‘people traffickers is to big to be discussed here so all I’ll do is look at the ‘legal’ workers’ and the reasons they are prepared to work long hours, in fairly miserable conditions and for not particularly high wages.

The cost of living in eastern Europe is much lower than that in the west – and certainly much less than it is in Britain. For a relatively young person from eastern Europe to come to Britain and work in the fields for the 6 months of so (from April/May to September/October) makes sense when they can earn in those months enough to survive on not working – or at least not needing to work – in their home countries for the rest of the year.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused problems but these problems had been developing for a couple of years. A couple of months after the 2016 EU Referendum in Britain the value of the pound sterling fell in value (by about 20%) in relation to the Euro. This wasn’t because of the result of the referendum, it was as a consequence of the over valuing of the pound in relation to the Euro for years. (During the so-called ‘Euro crisis’ which followed the financial crash of 2008, in theory, the pound sterling should have risen in value vis a vis the Euro but this didn’t happen as it was already over-valued and any readjustment at that time would have only compounded the general European disaster.)

One of the consequences of this was a shortage of foreign agricultural workers in the autumn of 2016 – working hard in the heat of the poly-tunnels or the mud of a British autumn lost 20% of its attraction. So 2020 began with a problem for growers anyway, covid-19 only compounded that problem.

And the solution to this? Pick for Britain. A dismal failure. British workers might accept such conditions on minimum wages for a short time but not the months the growers need and most importantly even if they did work for the ‘season’ the money earnt would have lasted weeks and not months as it does for the eastern European workers. If growers want British workers to work in their fields in the future then they are going to have to pay better wages and improve the working conditions. They have had it easy for too long. If they go out of business then that the way it goes. They live by the capitalist ethic then they can die with it as well.

Consequences of a late lock down in Britain

I have argued a number of times that the sort of closing down of societies that has been the general approach to deal with the pandemic is not what we should be doing in the technological age in which we live. To carry on as normal as possible, however, needed a carefully thought out strategy (which had been considered and planned for in advance) as well as providing the right resources in the right places.

But we had none of that in Britain in March 2020 and the government of the Buffoon went from panic measure to panic measure – all the time trying to place ultimate responsibility on others (that is, the scientists) if any thing should go wrong.

As the figures have started to show patterns there has now been a look at few mass sporting events that occurred in the week before the official lock down on 23rd March. There was also a more detailed look on Radio 4, 26th May, Game Changer.

We could be heroes

There was always a problem associated with lionising those who work in various health services throughout the world and having to cope with the covid-19 outbreak – often (if not always) without adequate preparation, enough protective equipment, without enough capacity in terms of intensive care beds, without enough staff to cope with normal demands let alone a pandemic.

It allowed the politicians to praise all the work and effort of the health professionals (as did the Buffoon when he came out of hospital on 12th April) and thereby divert attention away from their (that is, the politicians’) incompetence and inability to cope in a crisis). So the people who, in many countries towards the end of 2019 felt forced to take industrial action to defend their respective health services where, all of a sudden, turned into super-humans.

The answer to the question; how long will that last? has already been answered in Italy, one of the first countries in western Europe to attempt a return to normality.

Turning ordinary people into something they are not also tends to undermine the professionalism which has been the result of years of study and practice. This was put by Dr Michael FitzPatrick, a gastroenterologist in Oxford and Co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians Trainees Committee, at the very end of the Radio 4, Inside Health broadcast on 26th May.

What have health workers learnt from covid-19?

What those in ‘the front line’ have learnt dealing with the pandemic – with a virus that acts so differently from what they are used to. This knowledge will be invaluable in preparation for the next pandemic.

Are we learning from this pandemic?

The last pandemic on the scale of covid-19 was just over a hundred years ago, the so-called ‘Spanish’ Flu pandemic of 1918-19. At that time medical and technical knowledge was much less than now, there was nothing like international co-operation and a sharing of knowledge (which might not be perfect in 2020 but, at least, exists at some level) and it came at the end of the most destructive war (to date) to have afflicted so many countries – especially in Europe. So there were fewer opportunities to actually learn a great deal from that pandemic.

Covid-19 could (and should) have been different. But that, unfortunately, has not been the case.

Renters suffering more than those with a mortgage

Lindsay Judge, Principal Research and Policy Analyst, Resolution Foundation, 30th May, when speaking about her report ‘Coping with housing costs during the coronavirus crisis’;

‘It [the Government] should be thinking about guidance to landlords and tenants about how to negotiate these rent arrears. We don’t want to see evictions and I’m sure landlords, on the whole, don’t want to see evictions but there’s got to be some sort of mechanism to help people roll over arrears, for example, or perhaps begin rent holidays during this crisis time.’

This followed an extension of mortgage relief (but with a sting in its tail).

Should those ‘most vulnerable’ be permitted to leave home?

At the end of March two million people who are considered to be those, within the community, most at risk of having serious complications if they were to be infected by covid-19 were sent messages telling them to stay indoors and not meet up with anyone at all. This wasn’t an instruction but a recommendation but most seem to have stuck with it. They were originally told to stay at home for twelve weeks but, at the beginning of the eleventh they were told it was OK to go out – as long as they were careful. However, fear makes some of them anxious even to leave their front doors.

Professor Sian Griffiths, Staffordshire University, 30th May;

‘There’s a huge amount of stress and strain with you not being able to see friends or family. Being able to see them, although at a distance, may actually help peoples’ mental health and may help them live with lock down a bit better. It might help them comply better.’

The poor taking the brunt of the consequences – yet again!

Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that lower paid workers are disproportionately effected by redundancies at this time, with 64% of job losses hitting those earning between £15,000 and £24,299.

Kylie Jenner (who she?) dropped from Forbes billionaire list

Demonstrating how totally f****d up present day capitalist society is there was a report that some insignificant ‘influencer’ had been dropped from a rich list. And notice not ‘millionaire’ but ‘billionaire’. Capitalism has no values – even less those in the population who consider these ‘celebrities’ as anything less than a parasite on society.

Is a lock down an effective approach to a pandemic?

This will go on for a long time and I have made my views known about how the pandemic could have been managed in a different way. Perhaps one for the conspiracy theorists.

3.4 million key workers are 50 or over

This is an interesting one – and another from Office of National Statistics (ONS) data. If this is the case then when (and not if) the next pandemic hits there won’t be anyone working to applaud on the Thursday night.

Lack of proper research

The covid-19 pandemic is the first in the modern age which has caused so much disruption – if death rates from other causes of capitalism don’t knock covid deaths into a cocked hat. Therefore it was an ideal opportunity to learn as much as possible about this disease as it developed. But that hasn’t been the case.

The statisticians seem to be on top of matters (but then there are lies, damn lies and statistics) but few clinicians. Many deaths that have occurred during the pandemic have not been even ascribed to covid let alone proven to be so. And what should have happened was that postmortems should have been ‘ramped-up’ (to use one of the terms that you hear all the time now but which I had never heard before in common usage) – but only a handful have been carried out. A huge opportunity squandered.

The Swedish ‘experiment’

This is another of those aspects of the pandemic which will be a subject for debate for a long time. Figures for a week aren’t really reliable but might be of interest.

A further argument for ‘fever hospitals’?

As it is becoming generally accepted that pandemics could well be the norm and not the exception a general plan about how to deal with it, and keep as much of society as possible functioning ‘normally’, especially in the health sector, would require a separation of the treatment for pandemic sufferers and the rest of the population.

Coronavirus does not spread easily on surfaces?

I don’t know how widely this theory is accepted – it originally came from the US of Trump so might, therefore, be suspect. It would also mean that a great deal of what we have been told about the spread of the virus was inaccurate – and would have saved millions of tons of heavy duty chemicals being released into the environment.

Quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK

I don’t really understand why this has been introduced at the time it has. Starting next Monday, 8th June, ‘everyone’ landing on British soil, in whatever form of transport, will have to self-isolate for 14 days – there will be spot checks and fines for transgression.

However, as this is a policy of the Buffoon’s Government it is being questioned (even by the people proposing it) before it is even enacted.

There will be exceptions – and there are calls that the list be extended. But isn’t this a bit like the Cummins affair – one rule for some but not for all? And, I am sure will be treated by many people in the same way that they have responded to Cummins’ two fingers to the population.

Such a policy is also showing up the petty mindedness of different countries. France will introduce a tit-for-tat quarantine to UK visitors. Greece will open up soon – but not for visitors from the UK, France and Spain.

However, Iceland, in a wish to get visitors (and their money) back on the island are offering free tests on arrival (from 15th June) and no quarantine if they come back negative. Hong Kong is also doing this. It might mean an eight hour wait in the airport but, as it has been said by others, that’s better than 14 days.

‘Spanish’ flue pandemic of 1918

As the most serious and widespread pandemic in recent history the so-called Spanish Flu (which might actually have started in the United States) outbreak of 1918 is being constantly referenced. I think there are many differences and am wary of there being any lessons to be learnt from what happened just over a hundred years ago.

However, there has been an interesting, three part radio series (which began on 15th May and for the next two Fridays) on this outbreak – not known about by many people until relatively recently (it was never taught as part of the history of the First World War when I was at school) and for most the first they heard about it was when the 2020 covid pandemic was taking hold.

And to end?

Although not really news, there are a number of coronaviruses we have been ‘living with’ for centuries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, yet again, that covid-19 may never go away – even more need to find of how to live with it.

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

The same issues keep on coming up and the Government of the Buffoon (but with the Buffoon himself stating out of the limelight) still makes policy decisions which most find mind-boggling. Welcome to Britain – but if you come after 8th June be prepared to put yourself in a 14 day quarantine.

Testing

The much vaunted figure of 100,000 tests per day was, surprise, surprise, attained on 31st April – but not on too many days since. And in place of an investigation into why numbers are not going up we are merely given another number and another target date.

But some doubts have been cast on whether the information is even accurate, with the possibility that some tests are being counted twice. That might be a valid approach if that was the way they have been counted in the past – but shouldn’t have people been informed of that? I’m sure than most people would have thought that the number of tests carried out was, in fact, the same as the number of people tested.

I might be missing something but is the Government still declaring how many tests are carried out each day? It seems those numbers were bandied about when it suited but things have gone quiet as the targets are difficult to attain. And now all the news is about the new antigen test. So two different tests which will cause even greater confusion and make it almost impossible to know what is going on.

Test – Track – Isolate

Adam Kucharski, working on the mathematical analysis of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Radio 4, World at One, 21st May;

Q. Is the NHS Confederation correct that there should be no lifting of lock down until a plan for contact tracing is in place?

‘Countries have to be very careful about lifting restrictions without having something to replace them that can ensure a reduction in transmission. Over time we can have more targetted measures, such as track and trace, when we don’t need the more blanket measures. We are still seeing infections appear so we have to be cautious in how we lift those measures.’

Q. Are other European countries lifting lock down measures without track and trace in place?

‘It’s not entirely clear what the long term strategy is in some of the countries. If you lift restrictions then outbreaks can occur and be spread fairly easily so unless there’s something to replace restrictions you may well see other outbreaks occur.’

Q. How easy is it to have personnel doing the contact tracing and is the app necessary?

‘We probably need both these things to work in tandem. Manual contact tracing is labour intensive and if you look at countries who have done this, like S Korea, they have access to a lot more data, such as credit card transactions, phone location data. Even with that level of oversight very quickly the manual effort can increase. The app can particularly pick up contacts that are very difficult to trace. To identify someone in your own house is very easy, identifying some one you sat two tables away from in a restaurant would be much harder. Here apps could potentially add a lot more value.’

Q. Do apps need to be closely integrated to those doing the manual work?

‘From a public health point of view these things are always more effective if you integrate them because then you don’t have them overlapping in effort and wasting resources. Also we need to be thinking about social distancing measures that remain in place alongside these. Other countries that have used contact tracing have still kept infection control and physical distancing. Ideally we can do that in some more moderate way but we need to think of this as a sequence of tools and find the best possible way of combining them.’

Q. We hear of issues of those employed to do the tracing not knowing exactly what to do. Can you see contact tracing all happening by the beginning of next week?

‘To make sure of identifying contacts and to be confident, especially of lifting measures, we do need to ensure that we are capturing quite a large proportion of transmissions. Our modelling shows as soon as you get delays in identifying contacts this will lead to more transmissions. We want the system to be as effective as possible.’

On 20th May the Buffoon made a big thing about a ‘world-class’ contract tracing system being up and running by 1st June. Only a day later that was changed to ‘early next month (June)’ but now without the much vaunted NHSX Smartphone app.

The NHS Confederation was still cautious about any major changes in the lock down before effective contact tracing was in place. Niall Dickson, chief executive of the confederation, said on 21st May;

‘We are absolutely clear that contact tracing is the right thing to do, it is absolutely critical, it has got to be in place to prevent any notion of a second surge if the lock down is being further released.’

Testing – or not

Although already mentioned it doesn’t do any harm to remind people about the report that surfaced on Tuesday which criticised the decision to stop community testing on March 12th.

Antibody tests

These are likely to be the next ‘best thing’, theoretically providing proof of whether someone has already contracted the infection, recovered and possibly immune to any re-infection. Their efficiacy still hasn’t been proven (but even so the Government has a contract with the pharmceutical giant Roche to provide millions of such tests) but already major companies are playing on peoples’ fears, and hopes of immunity, and are selling them online.

The high street chain Superdrug was one of the first. On sale 21st May, sold out on 22nd – at £69.00 a pop.

14 day quarantine on international arrivals

Loath as I am to have to say so but I agree with one of the most unpleasant present day representatives of the free market economy, Michael O’Leary, the Chief Executive of the budget airline Ryanair, that the introduction of a 14 day quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK is a crass and irrational response to any fear of the virus coming into the country. Millions of people have arrived in the UK since the lock down was declared on 23rd March and any measures to protect the country so late in the day borders on the farcical. After a lock down the last thing you need is a further restriction on movement – especially one that doesn’t make any sense at all.

More details were unveiled on the afternoon of 22nd May. For some reason this will not come into force until 8th June. There will be exemptions – but what’s the point of a rule if there are exemptions which will basically undermine the rule?

The role of unions in the covid-19 pandemic

When we live in a time ‘ruled’ by a bunch of useless public schoolboys (and girls) – who most of the time of the covid-19 pandemic in Britain seem to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off – it’s an opportunity to those organisations of the workers to show some ability, insight and forward thinking and take on a role of leadership. In light of the fact there is no revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Party to take up that banner it has been left to the Trade Unions. However, with few exceptions, they have shown themselves lacking.

In the early days of the lock down there were a number of wildcat strikes where workers were taking immediate action to safeguard their safety – decided upon and organised at a local level, without recourse to the national leadership and certainly with no concern of so-called ‘cooling off periods’ and the only ballot being a showing of hands.

Most of the time we hear of trade unions in the present situation it’s when the union leadership reacts to an event, this is from both individual trade union leaders and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which should be presenting a unified approach of organised labour to the ‘unprecedented’ crisis that covid-19 has brought to the fore.

At the moment it’s the education trade unions that are not covering themselves in glory. At best they are merely frightened at worse they display a total inability to analyse and respond to an unknown situation. Instead of looking for ways out of the problem they seem to look for reasons NOT to do something, being obstructive in the face of the (admittedly half-baked and muddled) plans of the Buffoon and his government to get education moving again.

One of the education union leaders, Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union (NEU), seemed to treat the whole thing as a game and a poll carried out by the NASUWT, one of the other education unions, found that only 5% of its 30,000 members believed it was safe for children to return to education on 1st June – going against the vast majority of the scientific evidence that such a move was neither prejudicial to the children nor the teachers themselves. And these are the people entrusted with the education of future generations.

We can all criticise how this pandemic is being managed (and that’s all I’m doing on these posts) but there comes a time when to move forward others have to take the reins of leadership. The British Labour Party is incapable of doing so and that leaves the task to the workers organised in their unions – but that won’t be the case if all the unions do is cower in a corner and hope the the pandemic will just go away. They are acting just the same as the Government.

Problems don’t solve themselves and it’s for organised labour to face up to the problems now or they will have no chance of having any positive impact upon society when we return to the ‘new normality’ – a normality which will have many more hundreds of thousands of workers in unemployment on top of the abysmal situation we have allowed workers conditions to fall into in the years before anyone ever heard of covid-19.

Nationalists

The nationalist parties in the UK, especially the Scottish, have loved playing their own game in the last two months of the all Britain lock down. The fact that areas such as health were devolved as part of the capitulation to the nationalists means that here is an area where the devolved governments have a great deal of autonomy. And the Nationalists have used it to their utmost, perceived, advantage. But they don’t like it when it’s pointed out.

Profiteering during the pandemic

Although there may be positive changes in attitude by many during this pandemic, which makes the society more cohesive, there will always be those who seek to profit from the misery of others. There’s constant mention in Britain (when isn’t it when it comes to any crisis?) of the Blitz (the aerial bombing of London and other major cities in Britain by the Nazi air force in the Second World War) and the Dunkirk Spirit (when retreating British armed forces escaped from western France in 1940) and how the country came together. But they conveniently forget the looting of bombed properties, the ‘Black Market’, the ‘spivs’ (small time conmen), break-ins and burglaries, rapes and murders that went on in the black-outs as well as all-round profiteering when companies knew they could charge the Government what they liked for their goods or services.

Obviously not on anything like the same scale (although we don’t now all that’s been going on in the last couple of months) profiteers have already had a field day and are filling their boots when they can. Although the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is a part of Government nothing will happen about these abuses. The response of the Government to this sanctioned theft? The Department for Business maintained ‘the vast majority’ of firms were acting responsibly.

How is knowledge growing about covid-19?

After infections and deaths over a period a little under three months since the first death on 5th March the statistics of the infections and deaths in the intervening period have started to paint an interesting picture of the pandemic – as it has worked its way through the UK but whilst also filling in the international picture.

Taking the statistics up to the week ending 8th May it’s possible to say (according to David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University);

  • ‘pattern of covid deaths is changing
  • ‘around half the deaths from covid were in the community – and therefore only half in hospitals’
  • ‘the median age of deaths for women was 87, for men 82’
  • ‘this shows the penetration into care homes’
  • ‘epidemic in the community seems to be largely under control’
  • ‘in care homes and even hospitals there’s a bigger risk of infection’
  • ‘1 in 1600 of the population have died of covid’
  • ‘for those over 90 ‘1 in 70’
  • ‘for kids between 5 and 14 there’s only been one registered death, in a population of 7 million – although there will probably be more’

Other information from the statistics available at this moment, 22nd May;

  • 90% of those who had died in March and April had ‘underlying health conditions’
  • in 25% of all deaths the persons had diabetes (although it is not specified whether that is Type 1 or 2) – that came out as 5,800 out of 22,000 deaths in hospital
  • those with dementia and Alzheimer are highly at risk
  • at any one time (according to statistics released for the first two full weeks of May) 1 in 400 people in the UK are infected. That means the chances of meeting one by chance is very low – the problem with covid-19, however, is because an infected person can be asymptomatic and be infectious you don’t know who that one person might be.

How is the virus spread?

By a small percentage of the population normally. This has been the pattern with previous recent outbreaks such as HIV, SARS and Ebola – and now covid-19 it has been proposed. This report suggests that events where there are a lot of people, in very close proximity and where there might be a lot of vigorous activity, such as fitness centres or night clubs, could be classified as ‘super-spreader events’. Nothing is certain here as the spread of any infectious disease can be complex, but such studies start to suggest that certain activities and locations could be pin pointed as potential infectious hot spots which could then be approached in a considered manner.

Such an approach is needed to get away from the blanket approach which, honestly, only displays fear and ignorance – the approach that has characterised virtually all countries response to the pandemic.

Universities in Britain – all Open University now

The Open University was established in 1969 with the aim of providing part time, distance learning degree opportunities for those who (for various reasons) couldn’t commit to a full time university course. And it did – and is still doing – its job very well, the invention of the internet making distance learning more proactive and with occasional meet ups with fellow course members at various times of the year. But this was the exception – not the rule.

When the lock down was declared in March all universities eventually closed down, sent their students and staff home and any teaching went on line. This time of year is exam time and so even exams are taking place online – although I don’t know exactly how they are doing that. This made sense in the initial stages when knowledge of the virus was in its early stages.

But what normally also happens at this time of year is that the new intake of, mainly, 18 year olds decide at which university they want to study. At least one, Manchester University, stated they would only have lectures online for the first term of the 2020-2021 academic year – others are expected to follow suit.

However, on 19th May Cambridge University declared that all lectures would be online for the whole of the academic year.

If this matter becomes more general I can’t see why anyone would want to go to university in the academic year 2020-2021 – especially first year students. Going away to university in Britain isn’t just about education. For first year students it’s the first time any of them have been in any way independent in their lives. It’s the moving away from the parental home (although that trend has reversed with the costs of living expenses in the last few years) that makes staying in further education more attractive – as is the so-called ‘campus experience’. And those foundations get laid down in the first year – subsequent years work and study (theoretically) take precedence.

Universities have already stated (as has been the case since the lock down in March) that even if teaching goes online students would still be expected to pay full fees. Even if students do enrol in universities and the ‘social distancing ‘ rules remain the same there’s absolutely no incentive to leave home and pay the huge expense rent and other living expenses in often substandard accommodation and perhaps with people with whom you would rather not spend too much time.

The wider community would also suffer if the thousands of expected students stayed away for a year. Education has become so much of a business in the last 20 years or so that students and what they spend can be as important to a city as is foreign tourism – be that national or international. This is, yet again, a decision which seems to have been taken without taking into account the fall out.

And who is this really protecting? Students in their late teens or early twenties are among the least likely to suffer serious consequences from covid-19 and wouldn’t be at any greater risk than if they stay at home.

I just don’t understand this decision, another example of how risk averse (based upon no evidence) Britain has become.

The old may be dying but it’s the young who will pay the long term price

A report by the Resolution Foundation reports that it’s the young who are going to carry the long term consequences of the pandemic.

It found that;

  • young employees are most likely to have lost work due to furloughing, jobs losses and hours reductions
  • compared to prime-age adults, a smaller proportion of young employees had the same pay in May as before the coronavirus crisis hit
  • young (and old) employees are the least able to weather the crisis by working from home

On top of this the number of new job vacancies has also fallen sharply – 170,000 fall from February to April, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

And all the debt that’s being accumulated in the last couple of months will be expected to be paid by someone – hands up the young.

The poor you will always have with you (Mark 14:7)

It’s amazing how the poor are also thought about in times of crisis – but totally ignored in the ‘good times’. There have been many declarations of concern for the poor in the last two months of the lock down such as the homeless and children who need to claim free school dinners (who are always, insultingly, described as coming from ‘deprived backgrounds’).

In the debate about whether or not schools should restart (or at least part of them) on 1st June, Andy Preston, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, argued that it was important to open the schools as soon as possible as this was imperative for the ‘deprived’ children as they need education to get them out of their ‘deprivation’.

This is merely an example of the crassness of British society. There’s the concept, constantly being promoted by those who have the wealth and the power that it only needs an extra push for the poor to drag themselves out of the mire in which they find themselves – this is the so-called ‘social mobility’ lie.

Such arguments are loved by those in power as it places all the responsibility of their poverty on the poor themselves – all they need is to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. This idea was pushed in the 19th century and it’s still with us now in the 21st. Those 200 years have not eradicated poverty and neither will the next 200 if things remain the same.

The sanctimonious Victorians made such trite statements and those who continue in the same vein maintain that ‘improvements’ in poverty can be made without any substantial changes to society. They don’t realise, or accept, that poverty is a pre-condition for the existence of capitalism.

Activities which result in large donations to charities are applauded, the very existence of food banks in every town is considered an ‘advance’, but if people are really serious about eradicating poverty, in this country or any other part of the world, a much more systemic change is necessary.

Putting matters into perspective

Amphan is the name of the cyclone that has been battering India and Bangladesh in the last few days, made landfall early on 21st May and then headed north. Events like this should make people living in the privileged ‘industrialised’ countries put the covid-19 pandemic into perspective. Before this cyclone moves away hundreds, if not thousands, of people are likely to lose their lives.

Bangladesh is one of the countries which is particularly susceptible to climate change as the vast majority of the country is only a few metres above sea level. The winds that are moving inland will no longer be causing damage but the amount of water in the rainfall when the storm hits the high mountains will eventually arrive at the Bay of Bengal, flooding the huge low lying delta on its way.

And those in different parts of the world whose lives were precarious before the arrival of covid-19 will now be in even more danger of the ravages of poverty. The 60 million (surely only a wild guestimate) of these people identified by the World Bank certainly puts the numbers of deaths in Europe, so far due to the pandemic, into some sort of perspective.

Changes to laws under the radar

The various British governments (of whatever colour) have built up a reputation of releasing contentious reports or trying to introduce changes to legislation on ‘quite news days’. They are also not averse to slipping in such law changes when everyday is a big news day and covid-19 drowns out everything else.

That’s what is happening to changes in the already draconian anti-terrorism laws. You wouldn’t have thought there was any need to restrict even more any legal rights for a suspected (but not convicted) ‘terrorist’ – but not the British Government. When someone can be arrested and held just on the say so of the security services already the Tories (no doubt with the implicit support of all the other political parties in Parliament) now want to increase unlawful detention indefinitely.

Whenever ‘terrorist’ legislation is discussed in Britain the argument is always presented, by the State, that if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. However, everyone should be aware that the definition of a ‘terrorist’ is growing all the time and can theoretically include any anti-State activity.

We shouldn’t let the dominance of one problem in society blind us to what is going on around us, hidden and without our permission.

More on covid pandemic 2020

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.’

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