When you thought the situation in Britain couldn’t get any worse – the Buffoon opens his mouth
If you are unfortunate enough to be living in Britain in 2020 – during the covid-19 pandemic – you are used to waking up hoping you had seen the worse – and then you would see, hear or read the latest cock up of the Buffoon and his gang (and pinch yourself hoping it was all some surreal nightmare).
Every time the present Government is questioned or criticised about its ‘handling’ of the pandemic the stock answer is that we should concentrate on dealing with the crisis in a united manner and that any review of what was, or was not done, will be part of an investigation at some time in the indeterminate future. Obviously the Buffoon and his Government hope that at that time people would have forgotten what a pig’s ear they had made of the situation from the very beginning – a wish that, unfortunately, will probably turn out to be true.
However, a short ‘review’ just short of three months into Britain’s response to the pandemic;
- the death toll is around 64,000 (as of the end of May) – that being the difference in the average number of deaths in the last five years in the same period and what has happened in 2020 (considered as being the most accurate estimation as many deaths, especially in the early days, were not being put down to covid-19)
- the ‘world beating’ test and trace programme is an embarrassment (see below)
- the situation in care homes continues to be dire (see below)
- most (if not all) policy decisions are taken by the Government in an ad hoc manner surprising those who have to carry out these policies (see below)
- there’s a ever growing major difference of opinion between the scientific advisors and the politicians (see below)
- there’s seemingly no strategic plan to get as many children as possible back to school as soon as possible (see below)
- the prospects for the economy in the coming years is predicted to be the worst in Europe
Fourteen day quarantine for anyone entering the United Kingdom
The plans are announced – and immediately people ask the question – why now?
Robert West, Professor Of Health Psychology, University College London, on Radio 4, World at One, 2nd June, talking about the plans to introduce a 14 day quarantine for all travellers coming into the United Kingdom from 8th June;
‘There is science behind it but of course the science is ambiguous here with regards to exactly what policy you adopt. …
It’s a cautious approach but the science would also support other chunks of measures such as those being adopted by other countries which might involve having more testing of people as they come into the country and other preventative type measures. ….
What’s puzzling a number of people is that this seems a particularly cautious approach for people coming into the country when we’re seeing a relaxing, to some degree against the scientific advice, with the approach we are adopting for the people already here.
It would be fine if the Government were to say …. there are reasons for doing so while other countries are taking a different approach.’
Q. The line ‘we owe it to victims to impose a quarantine’ [Priti Patel]. Is that how you see it?
West laughs. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. [Laughs again, then stutters looking for words to express his reply in the face of such a ludicrous statement.] That’s just a very generalised, emotive argument you could apply to anything.
We owe to the victims to apply appropriate cautious measures across the whole gamut of what we are doing and that includes getting a decent contact, testing, tracing and isolation system in place – which we should have started on a long time ago.
Talking about ‘we owe it to the victims’ is not a particularly helpful contribution.’
Universities opening in September
Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University and President of Universities UK, on what situation students will possibly face at the beginning of the academic year in September 2020, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd June;
‘There are some wonderful examples of digital eduction now, techniques like virtual reality, so I do see this as a really exciting opportunity. If I’m honest it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and I think our students will actually embrace it.’
The reason for including this quote are twofold. The first is that this use of technology, especially when coupled with the ‘bubble approach’ being discussed at the moment, will change the whole ethos of attending University. If you can do all the work at a distance (which is the case for the majority of the students not involved in hands on practical courses) then why go in the first place.
With the cost of University fees and living costs this is a very expensive way of having a party – which you won’t be able to have because of the ‘bubble approach’ and social distancing. You might as well sign on to a university, go across the world where the sun shines most of the time and living costs are cheap and just pay for a good internet connection.
The second is what follows the phrase ‘if I’m honest’. This is just one example where different organisations and businesses will use the effects of the covid-19 ‘new normal’ to bring in practices they have wanted to introduce but couldn’t due to potential opposition. They will now make it a fait accompli and push the blame on a guiltless virus. It won’t be able to say that it wasn’t its idea.
To make the experience of being a students totally miserable (as well as expensive) it is being suggested they might have to stay in ‘protective bubble’.
Already universities are nervous – especially those which are over dependent upon foreign students, even more so those which have been cultivating the very lucrative Asian, mainly, Chinese ‘market’ – education is more of a business now and education seems to be a bit of a sideline. But even domestic students are thinking about their future and deferrals are certainly being considered by many. What to do if they don’t go to University might be what swings it – a ‘gap year’ travelling, finding a job for a year might not be viable alternatives.
The Buffoon and his Government inept and incompetent? – of course not
The Buffoon at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the Houses of Parliament, 3rd June, in response to a challenge on the ineptitude and incompetence of his Government’s approach to the covid-19 pandemic;
‘I really do not see the purpose of these endless attacks on public trust and confidence. What we’re trying to do is to …. [communicate] clear messages about how to defeat this virus.
Test and trace is a vital tool in our armoury and, contrary to what he [Starmer, leader of the Labour Party] says, actually we did, by the end of May [he meant April] get up to 100,000 [although that figure is generally accepted to have been ‘massaged’] tests a day and we got to 200,00 by the beginning of this month [another figure that has been extensively challenged].
That was an astonishing achievement, not by government but by tens of thousands of people working to support government. [Interesting how here the Buffoon turns a question of the truth of what Ministers have said and claims it as an attack on people carrying out the tests and the tracing. Also how those people are doing the job ‘to support the Government’ – as if they have faith in what it is doing.]
I think he [Starmer] should pay tribute to them and what they’ve achieved. [Here the Buffoon reiterates his ‘support’ for those who are being ‘questioned’ in the validity of the figures.]’
And this is the problem (one of many) of Parliamentary so-called ‘Democracy’. These characters aren’t concerned about dealing with the issues of the day, they are more concerned with playing to the gallery of their supporters. In Britain it’s played like a Public (in Britain that means private) school debating society. It’s not what is said but how it is said in order to win support – the solution to the problem doesn’t come into it.
If you can stomach it you can see a performance what is called PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) of the 10th June.
The mandatory use of face masks on public transport
The World Health Organisation doesn’t do itself any favour when faced by the cretins such a Trump. Now, seven, eight or even nine months (depending upon who you listen to about the actual first appearance of the virus) they reverse their policy on the general population wearing masks whenever they might have close contact with others outside of their immediate circle.
Devi Lalita Sridhar, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, Radio 4, World at One, 5th June;
‘There’s emerging evidence [although no mention of what or from where] about the positive impact that mask usage can have in reducing transmissions. … it would have been nice to have had this done earlier.
I agree with the British Medical Association that the latest proposals don’t go far enough. What we need to be seeing is mandatory masks whenever distancing is not possible. This means in shops, on public transport, in work places, airports, train station. This is a first step but there’s a long way to go.’
Q. Has mask wearing worked elsewhere?
‘It’s difficult to say. A lot of countries introduced a package of measures at the same time. We also need to look at a package of measures, we need to look at the cumulative effect that they can have together, even if each alone has a weak evidence base.’
This is a matter that’s been really badly handled in Britain by both the politicians and the so-called ‘scientific experts’. Also the introduction of the mandatory use late (as is that of the 14 day quarantine for those entering the country) doesn’t help to inspire confidence.
The pros and cons as I understand it;
If someone is infected with the virus, and especially if they are not aware of it, the wearing of a mask will capture some, but not all, of the virus if they were to cough or sneeze – or even talk to someone close to them. The figure varies widely, down to below 50% by some estimates, but that would still make for a reasonable lowering of risk. And that’s it.
The wearing of a mask will not prevent the virus from infecting you if someone coughs or sneezes in the vicinity. The problem here is that most people believe it will protect them. That’s why you see people alone in vehicles wearing a mask. And the majority who wear them when they are outside, and alone, are not doing it in an effort to not spread the infection they don’t know they have on to others. It’s fear which drives this wearing of masks and creates a false sense of security, which itself can cause problems.
The biggest ‘con’ that was being ‘promoted’ weeks ago was the fact that if someone is infected and they are breathing into a mask, that mask will accumulate millions of spores of the virus. Any mask, especially in the heat of summer, will soon get sopping wet and an infected person (who doesn’t know they are infected) is supposed to take that mask off in a controlled manner, dispose of it safely (or bag it if it is to be used more than once), wash their hands with sanitiser without touching any surface at all, including their own face.
That’s not going to happen.
To actually breathe and feel comfortable people will be constantly touching the mask and – if infected – then spreading the virus on anything they touch. It is just not possible to go through any daily routine without touching anything, including the face which we touch hundreds of times a day due to evolution.
For those who are good with the sewing needle – or were brought up on Blue Peter – here’s what you should do to prepare for the 15th June.
The British Medical Association has asked for the wearing of masks to be extended beyond public transport to any potential contact between individuals – and that they should be provided free. However, although there are plenty of hints at how to make your own masks those to buy are in relatively short supply – and/or expensive. Other countries where masks wearing is mandatory supply them and have controlled the price. For example, to just less than a Euro each in Spain and they have even gone down in price in Holland, where a pack of ten was €10 but are now selling (in normal supermarkets) at less than €7.
A slightly different take on ‘mask wearing’ and as an example of the Buffoon and his Government’s inability to deal properly with those who have to implement their policies – seemingly thought of after cigars and brandy (copious amounts of) they decided that everyone that enters a NHS facility (either workers or visitors) should have to wear a mask. However, the Government ‘forgot’ to consult with the NHS trusts – those responsible for enforcing such a policy.
Schools – when or even if – they open
Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, Radio 4, World at One, 8th June;
Q. What is different about September that will allow whole schools to open?
‘The joy must really be out about whole schools being able to open in September. It all depends where we are with the coronavirus at that point; whether the R rate is down, whether the number of cases is low enough and whether we’re confident that schools can operate. If you’ve got a whole school in there’s no way you can have social distancing. There’s much that is dependent on the spread of the virus, how well it’s controlled.’
Q. Isn’t there a point when certain children are more at risk not going to school than doing so?
‘Disadvantaged children, perhaps should be the priority. I was surprised when the Prime Minister said that first year groups should go back first. My union would have said that disadvantaged children should go back first because, you’re right, they need school the most, they benefit from school the most and they suffer when they can’t go to school. [If such a policy were adopted that would make the children feel good, wouldn’t it? There’s the whole rejects from society in one place at the same time. In a culture where bullying is rife surely such stigmatisation is the last thing that’s needed?]
We do know that in secondary schools there is a focus on disadvantaged children and vulnerable children being in school but the problem we’re got is that many of the families are extremely concerned. [For example] many Bangladeshi families won’t send their children back to school as they live in multi-generational households and they’re afraid they’ll bring the virus home.’
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, on the debacle and confusion around if/when/who on schools re-opening in 2020, on 9th June;
She accused ministers of ‘failing to prioritise schools and lacking the necessary will and ingenuity to overcome the difficulties that are involved in social distancing’. She also found the ‘delayed return deeply worrying’ and it was ‘a disruption not seen since World War Two’. Further that ‘a decade of catching up on the education gap may well be lost’.
Andrew Snape, Professor in General Paediatrics and Vaccinology, Radio 4, World at One, 9th June;
Q. Children don’t seem to be badly effected by the virus. Is that correct?
‘That’s right, as a paediatrician that’s really important. Children don’t seem to get sick from covid-19. There is a small number of cases of post-covid inflammatory syndrome but in the overall picture the risk to individual children is very small.’
Q. Do they spread it to adult?
‘Although children can carry the virus ….. perhaps 1 in 200 children, but they seem not to be the super-spreaders that they are for influenza. Children are fantastic at spreading influenza … but that’s not the case for covid-19. … It’s much more common that adults bring the virus into the household.’
Q. Are you confident to send your children back to school?
‘Yes, I’m confident of sending my children back to school. The risk as an individual would be very low. The bigger question is ‘does my children’s school re-opening increase the spread through the community?’ because it’s not just the children at school. It’s the teachers who are mixing in the staff room, it’s the parents mixing at the school gate and bringing their children to school. So there’s all the other elements that need to be very carefully looked at and managed to avoid the actual opening of the school creating a spread of the virus through the community.’
Q. How important is mitigation?
‘It’s really important. There’s not a lot of evidence that children are spreading it. … A lot of effort would need to go into ensuring there’s not a lot of mixing of parents and the teachers, to try and minimise their social interactions might even be more important in reducing the spread.’
David Blunkett, former Education Secretary in a Labour Government, Radio 4, World at One, 9th June;
Q. What’s the problem about schools not going back as was previously announced?
‘To be honest I think it’s a lack of will, it’s a lack of ‘can do’, it’s a failure to do what we’ve already done with the health service and the economy, which is to say ‘there are challenges, there are real problems but we are going, as a nation, to actually seek to overcome them’. It’s easier for Scotland, they go back much earlier in the summer anyway but for England and Wales it’s a different matter.
Why is it that other countries, not just in Europe but across the world, can have the ambition to get their children, in all kinds of creative ways, back into school and we can’t?
I can only conclude that the Government are losing the plot.’
Q. You are saying it’s a lack of will on the part of the Government, not that it’s the parents taking a precautionary approach?
‘Well, it’s a Catch 22. the less confident the Government is, the less clear they are about what steps they’ll take themselves to help those local authorities and education trusts to manage this transition, the more parents get worried,
This is an endeavour for all of us to work together. We have 600,000 people taken on as volunteers nationally to help with vulnerable people at home. We’ve got supply teachers who are not being paid anything. We’ve got excellent teachers doing their utmost to work with children at home.
We can take up the suggestion … of using other buildings, we can do what the Americans do … which is to close roads around schools to make space available. All of this could be done with a bit of thinking creatively and everyone working together.
Q. However much space you give them aren’t children going to break the 2m or 1m rules? And it’s six months, it’s not the end of the world. What price do you think will come with this?
‘If it’s not the end of the world why do we have the education systems we have here and in the rest of the world?
I spoke to someone who said her nephew, who is in his mid-teens, spends everyday until 12.30 in bed. That won’t be because teachers aren’t trying or parents aren’t actually encouraging it will be because a kind of lethargy comes out in teenagers if they don’t have a structure and they don’t have encouragement. … I just know that we’ve got to do this.
If we can set up the Nightingale hospitals in the time we did why on earth can’t we invest in the future of out children?
Q. Where does the initiative need to come from?
‘The Government should say to local authorities and education trusts – get together, come up with a plan which includes mentoring and recovery programmes in certain schools as well as staggered hours and new premises. Come up with that plan and we, as a nation, will fund it. The funding from the middle of June through into August, we’ll pick it up again in September if the scientific advice is that we can’t actually go back to complete normality. We’ll reduce the distancing for schools to a metre – which is being done across the rest of Europe and is the advice of the WHO – and above all we’ll say to people at local level use your initiative, have confidence to develop programmes locally.
Of course, take the advice of the directors of public health at local level but try and do it in a very positive way so that you can deal with any spikes, you can be confident there’s no infections at the present time … and then we can ensure that we not only give the confidence to parents and to teachers and children but we also allow those parents to go back to their jobs where they will be contributing to the recovery of our economy.’
Was the lock down worth it – and effective?
Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, Radio 4, World at One, 9th June;
Q. Would you have argued for ‘herd immunity’ all along?
‘Yes, I would have said that but with the proviso that we put as much money as possible – and to make up for what hasn’t happened over the last 30 years – to support the vulnerable sectors of the population.
I think at that point we had enough information to know that there were certain sectors of the population that were particularly vulnerable and that we needed to protect them – and the word ‘protect’ carries with it all sorts of implications – but essentially it seemed to be that there was a real gap in the resources available to achieve that.
Let’s now try and divert as many of these resources as possible to protect the vulnerable population and to reduce their risk. And the way to reduce this risk to the vulnerable population – as we have done unwittingly in many cases with the pathogens that do kill us … is by having enough immunity ourselves such that the risk posed to the vulnerable population is low.’
Q. So the majority of the population carry on as normal and catch the virus and build up ‘herd immunity’?
‘That’s how we have traditionally dealt with the pathogens that do at the moment kill the elderly and the vulnerable.
It’s a terrible thing that that happens but it happens.
I guess we’ve made the decision that we need to balance out that problem against the problem of completely shutting down the economy or compromising out social interactions to the point of farce.’
Q. Has the lock down been a farce?
‘We are trying to wriggle out of this situation in a way that is quite farcical. We come up with rules that are arbitrary, to my mind.’
Q. The idea would be to change the strategy with the vulnerable staying indoors?
First of all we need to go out there and make a proper map of what their risk is. The risk to the elderly and frail is not just contingent upon how elderly or frail they are but how immune the rest of the population surrounding them is. We need to go out and test, to the best of out abilities, knowing now that some people are not going to register positive on these tests simply because they happen to be entirely resistant to the disease.
We need some clever statisticians and people who are disinterested in promoting any kind of sense of what they think is going on, to make proper, clear, best assessments about what the risks are to the vulnerable in every part of the country.
Just in the UK there is a huge variation in who has been exposed given the locality. There’s enormous heterogeneity and homogenising this data just to fit certain precepts or preconceptions is not helpful.
What we need to do is go out there, look at who’s been exposed in different regions and come up with a strategy, put public money into supporting the people who are vulnerable given the risks that they face. … We need to make sensible decisions about how to protect people.’
Q. Should we be relaxed about the R number, lift the lock down quickly and not be phased by the idea of a second wave?
‘There will be a resurgence of this like any other respiratory pathogen in the winter and we need to prepare for that.’
Q. We hear there’s some regret in Sweden due to the death toll. Would that not have happened here if we didn’t have lock down?
‘I think it’s unfortunate that people are focussing on that point. … What was said was that they could have done better to protect the care homes and indeed that’s what we should have done.
It’s unfortunate people are jumping on that [failing in Sweden] to say they should have had a lock down earlier.
What I don’t understand about the lock down is what is the exit strategy from it anyway?’
Q. Would you lift it as quickly as possible?
‘Yes, right now, absolutely.’
Q. Do you think the disease arose earlier in China than was suggested?
Q. When did you think it appeared?
‘… In any normal system by the time it takes for deaths from the disease [to be recorded] it’s been around for at least a month.’
Q. So October rather than November?
‘Yes, something like that.’
Related to this idea is the uncertainty of how many people might, for whatever reason, already be (or have always been) resistant to covid-19.
This issue will run and run. This sector was in a dire state prior to covid-19 and the political philosophy and attitude of the Tories – which is to step back from any social welfare that benefits the general population – won’t just evaporate. And even when they make a big splash about giving to the sector it’s more giving with one hand and taking with the other.
More than 25,000 patients discharged to care homes in crucial 30 days before routine testing.
Even thought he care homes have become the epicentre of the disease in Britain they are still not getting the priority they need. And the stupidity of the Government is demonstrated by the fact that they are seemingly incapable of avoiding criticism by making sure care homes are at the top of the list for any developments in the battle against the virus. Instead of giving the impression they see that mistakes were made in the past (and will do their best to do better in the future) they continue to try to score political points – even when the facts stand in opposition. This was the case about testing kits – and the difference between being delivered and used. (Note how Hancock gets testy when challenged in the video clip.)
Another view on Hancock and numbers.
Test, track, trace – and isolate
Only 4 in 10 Covid-19 patients contacted at start of government’s ‘test and trace’ scheme.
The people of Britain were promised a ‘world beating’ test and tracing system. However, in the first days of June there was nothing for many of the staff employed to do this had a great deal to do.
Matt Hancock under fire over incomprehensible testing targets.
Sir David Norgrove, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, sent a letter to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, on 2nd June where he stated that the figures being presented were ‘still far from complete and comprehensible’ and that many of the ‘key numbers make little sense’. This was partly in response to the Government’s ‘massaging’ of their testing ‘target’ numbers, mainly the 100,000 by the end of April and the 200,000 by the end of May – both of which were ‘met’ but with dubious counting.
But the ‘world beating’ system is not going to be with us soon. The autumn might be more likely.
The privacy issue also keeps on running.
Open Rights Group to challenge UK over test and trace data retention.
This might be academic. We still don’t know exactly when the magic app will be in general use.
And which app? There’s now the possibility that the NHSX will ditch their own, centralised app and revert to the ‘off the shelf’ system developed by Apple and Google and which is being used in other countries.
Watch this space.
For an interesting view on the ‘complications’ surrounding tests and how the figures we are told about and reality are not always in line listen to the first 15 minutes or so of the BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘More or Less‘ on Friday, 5th June.
The obscenity gets even worse.
Two metres – or less
This has now become part of the debate.
Two-metre rule halves chances of catching coronavirus.
Although there is a push to reduce the social distancing rules – especially as in Britain the 2 metre rule is out of kilter with many other countries.
How did covid-19 land on the sceptred isle?
Through the ability of scientists to break down the genetic sequence of the virus – and with the sharing of information between countries of their particular outbreaks – it’s possible for scientists to identify from which part of the world those in Britain contracted the disease – normally by close contact from someone infected from those countries. And that happened on more than 1,300 occasions.
That puts the idea of instituting a quarantine for visitors to the UK from 8th June into context – stable doors and bolting horses come to mind.
And for the xenophobes the majority of those cases came from two countries – France and Spain. That shouldn’t come as any surprise as with the explosion in recent years of air travel with the budget airlines those are the two most popular countries for British travellers – and the UK for the French and Spanish
Asymptomatic spread of coronavirus
It has long been argued that it’s the asymptomatic individuals that were the biggest spreaders of the coronavirus – not out of Mary Mallon fear and ignorance – but because they don’t know they are infected. That seemed to be challenged somewhat by a statement from Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19. However, there was later some ‘clarification’ that she was arguing for emphasis to be placed on tracing contacts with anyone who was proven to have had the disease. But I still slightly confused.
Has the Dominic Cummins affair gone away?
Perhaps not. Reminiscent of Al Capone being imprisoned for tax evasion (and not the countless murders for which he was certainly responsible) Cummins – or his family – might have broken local government planning regulations when a farm building was converted for residential use. Haven’t heard any more of this so don’t know if it is just bubbling under the surface.
And as neither Cummins not the Buffoon are prepared to do the ‘right thing’ it is being left to private individuals to make the rich and powerful abide by the same rules that the majority of the population are expected to do with a private legal case being progressed to get the prosecution service to take the matter seriously.
Risk of getting severe case of covid-19
To the conditions that have become recognised as presenting a higher risk in the present pandemic (older than 70, being male, from a BAME community, suffering from ‘underlying health conditions’, diabetes, dementia/Alzheimer’s) can now be added another – baldness.
What we might learn to face the next pandemic more efficiently
The virus has been around long enough now – with hundreds of thousands of scientists trying to learn as much as possible about all of its hidden characteristics – for a fuller picture to be constructed which might make the next pandemic less traumatic.
Should the lock down had happened earlier?
Forgetting for the moment whether the lock down should have happened at all (see the section above arguing it wasn’t the right tactic if other provisions had been in place) there are scientists who are now arguing it was imposed too late – by about a week.
On Sunday 7th June, Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, told the BBC ‘We should have gone into lock down earlier’ and that by not doing so it ‘has cost a lot of lives’.
The response from Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary was ‘There’s a broad range on Sage of scientific opinion and we were guided by the science, which means guided by the balance of that opinion’.
I suppose we would have a better idea of what the ‘scientific advice’ was if the Government were to publish any of their reports in a timely fashion. Even though calls for the publication of, at least, summaries to these reports being published more or less at the same time as the decisions upon which they are ‘based’ have been made for months we seem to be no closer to a situation of openness.
On the 10th June, Neil Ferguson (remember him? He was one of the ‘naughty’ boys and girls who broke their own rules but at least had the good grace to fall on their own swords – unlike Dominic Cummins) weighed into the ‘controversy’.
At a meeting (virtual) of the Commons Science and Technology Committee he said ‘We knew the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lock down interventions were introduced. … ‘So had we introduced lock down measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.’
Whilst not openly agreeing with this one of the other top scientific advisers, Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said he had a long list of regrets – the most important being the stopping of the testing regime.
The Buffoon, on the other hand, whipped out a straw boater and cane and gave a rendition of Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’.