Britain teetering on the brink?
… as children go back to school and more return to work.
As Britain comes towards the end of its fifth month of dealing with the covid-19 pandemic (forgetting, for the time being, that it should be the end of the eighth month since preparations for the pandemic should have started as soon as the news from China indicated a serious situation in development) it has already; had a peak of both infections and deaths; had more excess deaths per 100,000 than any other country in Europe; realised that the country’s health service could deal with what was feared would overwhelm it (no thanks to the governments of this country that the people have foolishly elected in the last 40 years); frightened a significant number of the ‘vulnerable’ population to stay at home for such a long time they have panic attacks at the mere thought of going over their threshold; kept millions of children and young adults from their education for a sizeable chunk of the school year and at a crucial time in a country where end of term exams can determine a future; made a pig’s ear of working out how to process children from one level to another without exam results; effectively destroyed huge chunks of the economy (why are capitalists allowed to manage capitalism, they never know what they are doing and are always on a wing and a prayer?); frightened the population in general to such an extent that their fears are now becoming irrational when it concerns the least likely to contract the infection and the least vulnerable to long term effects if they do, i.e., children and young people; created a national debt that is so big it’s impossible to imagine the number in any way that relates to everyday reality; made so many U-turns that even Janus would be confused; and still not been presented with a clear and structured strategy for the future.
Ignoring the lack of leadership provided by the Buffoon and his so-called ‘government’ and the confusion which exists in virtually all fields of life due to the inability of Ministers to give clear guidance in a timely manner (rather than publishing guidelines – and sometimes withdrawing them – within hours of their implementation) the month of August should have been a time for reflection on what had gone wrong in the past (there’s little of what has gone right) in preparation for the unknown of the future.
Instead for the last three weeks and for the next two, at least, the whole debate and emphasis of society has been on education related matters. Not that education isn’t important (both for those involved and for society in general) it’s just that all of the planning for the return of the schools, colleges and universities in August/September should have been taking place, quietly behind closed doors, involving all those concerned, in those months when so much of the society was closed down.
The enforced (and not necessarily needed full lock down) should not have meant that matters not directly related to dealing with the infection and its immediate consequences should have been put on hold. But that seems to be exactly what has happened. At least in education. I haven’t been a big fan of the education unions for some of the things they have been suggesting in the past but they have, at least, been arguing that matters had to be properly planned for the return in the autumn. They were saying that months ago but discussions on the basics are still taking place days before millions of people (staff, ancillary staff, pupils and students) go back into the classroom.
That doesn’t bode too well for when the problems of the economy come to the fore in the coming weeks. Already the predicted levels of unemployment will cause a huge amount of suffering and distress, in the overwhelming number of cases, to those who are the poorest in society and from past performance they have no reason to believe that those in control will do anything to mitigate the long term problems that will spring from such a change in the employment levels.
What does ‘following the science’ really mean?
A recent BBC Radio 4 programme took a look at how science has been used (and abused?) in the last almost five months in the covid-19 pandemic of 2020. ‘Led by the science’ (full audio of the programme) was broadcast on 11th August.
Some of the questions/points raised;
- Since scientists had been predicting some such pandemic why was there no real preparation?
- Why was there not, and still isn’t, any coordinated and co-operative approach between countries to tackle an issue which effects all?
- The ‘fluidity’ (not having full time members, only bringing experts in when needed) is both its strength and its weakness of SAGE.
- Where does accountability lie?
- The limitations of science – it’s tentative and things will change and can’t provide the certainties which some crave.
- Did some scientists get seduced by being placed centre stage during the first part of the pandemic?
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for all countries to prepare for the pandemic BEFORE it arrived but most countries were merely re-active.
- Testing was considered a key at the very beginning but still nowhere has a ‘world beating’ system – let alone England.
- The timing of the lock down.
- What is ‘lock down fatigue’ and does it really exist – scientifically.
- The introduction of the lock down in England one week earlier would have saved 50% of all fatalities so far.
- Did independent medical and scietific advice die – or was it killed by the ‘Cummins Affair’.
- The importance of public trust.
- What of the future?
Public Health England – or not
As with most matters in the current pandemic decisions are advertised well in advance, speculation is them allowed to take hold and finally the rumours are confirmed. Seems like a crazy way to do things to me but it’s become the norm and people seem to accept it as the way a modern country should be run. But as with all decisions made by the Buffoon and his government since March of this year there are many who remain bemused when the arguments are made.
This concerns the abolition of ‘failing’ Public Health England.
There are a number of concerns about this change in the structure that is integral in dealing with the pandemic. Not least is the appointment of the person who will lead the new organisation. This will be the Conservative peer (someone from the unelected House of Lords) Dido Harding who has been in charge, for the last few months, of England’s ‘world beating’ [sic] test, track and trace system.
It seems that the only ones in favour of the abolition and creation of an even bigger, centralised organisation (when many of the criticisms of PHE have revolved around the very fact of its centralisation) is the Government itself. There was a recognition that PHE might well have been flawed but that doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bath water.
And, as mentioned here a few weeks ago when the idea of changes was first mooted, is it wise to bring in radical changes to a major player in the fight against the virus when you are still in the middle of the battle – especially with the track record of this Tory Government in the last few months with it’s (almost) once a week U-turn? Might they change their minds about this new organisation when it proves itself not up to the mark?
Professor John Ashton, former Director of Public Health for the North West England Region;
‘You don’t deal with the problem of an over-centralised, dysfunctional organisation by erecting another over-centralised organisation which is what is being proposed.
The real problem over the last few months has been the weakness of local public health, the way in which Public Health England has centralised that.’
The ‘Cummins Affair’ – and the contempt the ‘powerful’ have for the rest
The Government hopes that it has got away with the hypocrisy of a senior advisor (read de facto leader of the country) being able to break lock down rules which are forced upon the rest of us but it seems Cummins wasn’t clever enough to cover his tracks (or he didn’t care as he knew he wouldn’t be held to account) as there are reports he might have driven a couple of hundred miles to test his eyesight on more than the one occasion.
There have been a number of cases where those in positions of power or responsibility have said one thing and done the other – Cummings isn’t the only arrogant prick. It’s not what they do that’s the real issue, for me, it’s their idea of entitlement that’s worse. Because they are who they are they don’t need to follow the rules. They make the, expect us to follow them rigidly, but play fast and loose with the same rules when it suits them. This has been repeated with so-called ‘GolfGate’ in the Republic of Ireland.
Housing, renters, evictions and homelessness
The end of the ‘eviction ban’ was due to occur this past weekend but, in yet another U-turn, the Government has decided to extend it for another month. Few people who are working in the housing sector think this is enough, especially if the time is not used to look for a more long term solution to the fractured housing system in England.
There has been a disproportionate amount of assistance given to home owners (which is presently being exploited by investors and those who have helped to cause the housing problem by speculating on property) since the lock down in March and postponing legal action does nothing to take away the anxiety that many hundreds of thousands of people live under, all coming to a head now as the furlough system that has ‘protected’ many jobs will be ending in the next few weeks.
Organised labour through the unions in England and Wales don’t seem to be taking this matter seriously – not a surprise as they haven’t really shown themselves worthy of the task of protecting peoples’ jobs. North of the border the Scottish Trade Union Congress has called upon the Scottish Government to introduce a Fair Rents Bill to help mitigate the issue. However, the sanctity of property rights is at the heart of capitalism and the solution to the housing crisis in these islands is systemic and won’t be solved by passing a toothless law – and anyway it seems to ask for support to landlords more than tenants.
As an indication of the lack of support for renters (in the private sector) in Britain it’s a disgrace that what might see some longer term introduction of measures to help those with the threat of eviction hanging over them like a Sword of Damocles is fear. A report came out suggesting that throwing thousands of people out on to the streets because they can’t pay their rents for no fault of their own might turn them into ‘super-spreaders’.
THE tactic which is universally recognised as being key to the success of defeating covid-19 is testing. It has been since the start of the year but you wouldn’t think so in the way the issue has stumbled along in Britain (with few countries worldwide having a system which is completely up to the task).
Hospital chiefs lack confidence in UK testing strategy.
There’s no real solution in any long awaited app, even though the centralised version (trumpeted as the solution to all our problems a few months ago and produced in-house by NHSX) has been ditched in favour of the one bought off the shelf by Apple-Google.
This beggars belief. Flaws in Test and Trace online booking sends symptomatic people on 350-mile drives,
An indication of the lack of strategy when it comes to testing is the way that passengers arriving in the country (whether they be foreign visitors or returning nationals) are being treated. The forced 14 days quarantine was introduced at a time which didn’t make sense and when there were other suggestions that would be both more productive in identifying potentially infected individuals and also more likely to be adhered to by a greater number of people. Now,weeks later, Ministers ‘are due to consider a range of options’.
I don’t know why this item is really ‘news’. It should be part of the overall strategy (which Britain still lacks and will probably never have) to combat the pandemic. The monitoring of the population is to be ‘ramped up’ (a term I’m sure wasn’t really used that often pre-March 2020) to determine the spread throughout the country.
‘Failings’ of public institutions (such as the situation with the non-future of Public health England mentioned above) are broadcast far and wide. However, failings in the private sector are talked about in a much more softer voice.
The so-called ‘rapid tests’ have not be that quick in arriving. This has had a particularly adverse effect on care homes who need regular and rapid testing in order to function in any way that doesn’t place residents, staff or visitors at risk. This was highlighted on Radio Four’s You and Yours (audio of the discussion) programme on 13th August.
The Government failed in not looking after the most vulnerable in society (who are concentrated in care homes) at the beginning of the pandemic and despite promises they are still not doing so and this will only guarantee more deaths in that sector if a ‘second wave’ comes along later in the year.
Herd immunity – or how many have caught the virus
Whether this will be possible with this virus is still a matter of debate but the collecting of information about the spread of the virus in asymptomatic individuals and the chances of antibodies being able to protect them from a future infection is needed to eventually provide a definitaive answer.
Nearly 6% of people in England may have had COVID-19.
And there has been some examples where antibodies have been shown to protect people.
However, on 24th August it was reported from Hong Kong that ONE person had been reinfected by the virus four months after first contracting the disease. But, as the WHO (World Health Organisation) said, it would be foolish to jump to any conclusions based upon one case study. Isn’t it possible for people to get reinfected with other viruses or is covid-19 a unique case in this as well?
Speculation on the ‘uniqueness’, the ‘resilience’ of the virus seems geared more to create a climate of fear and to increase anxiety rather than informing the population of the facts. And then there is surprise and wonder when people have doubts of returning to something akin to normal, even the ‘new normal’.
Consequences of Covid
Covid-19 is constantly being referenced to the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918-19. This is even though, until the lock down in Britain in March 2020, I would suggest that the overwhelming majority of the population had no idea whatsoever of that previous pandemic. It wasn’t taught in schools and even during the commemorations of the end of the 1914-1918/19 World War just a matter of months ago there was no mention of the disease that killed more people than the four years of armed conflict. People in Britain would have been more aware of the Black Death of 1347-51 or the Great Plague of London of 1665 than what occurred just over a century ago.
But I digress. The Spanish Flu pandemic was the last recognised disease to effect all of the planet (this is not taking into account the pandemic of capitalism which has killed and maimed by a factor of hundreds many more people than any natural disease) with only 10 small pacific islands being free of any infection whatsoever. But it was much more pathogenic than covid and although scientific progress and improvements in technology in the last hundred years should have meant the world was more able to deal with such an event we have seen that capitalism is incapable of preventing such incidents and really has little or no concern in the damage it can do, to both the well being of the people or the economy. After all, to date capitalism has (or at least parts of it) come out of any crisis stronger than it went in. What tends to result in such situations is the concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands and there’s no reason to assume the same won’t happen in 2020 – unless the people worldwide are prepared to get off their knees and change society fundamentally.
In place of preparing to deal with such pandemics capitalism has created situations throughout the world where it’s very policies pursued in the last 40 years or so have meant that countries and their populations were less able than they should have been to confront the disease. This involves all aspects of life such as working and living conditions, general health levels, diet, the environment and social welfare. That’s in a ‘prosperous’ country such as Britain, the situation is obviously even more dire for the vast majority of the planet’s population.
So the list of the vulnerable (and some quirky consequences) gets added to week by week.
Wales’ dementia sufferers’ death rate ‘horrifying’.
Hair loss emerges as latest long-term Covid-19 symptom.
Risk five times higher for young vapers.
Covid-19 could cause Type One diabetes in children.
Deaths of hundreds of front line NHS and care workers to be investigated.
Blood cancer patients at higher risk of dying from coronavirus.
Coronavirus could travel five metres through air.
This one, at first glance, appears quite serious (and it should be studied to make sure it doesn’t happen in any future second wave’) but it is considered a positive as, being in hospital, cases were picked up quickly and this led to more positive outcomes. One in eight hospital cases were ‘caught on-site’.
Winter resurgence of Covid-19 predicted.
Coronavirus patients still suffering from complications three months later.
Coronavirus may stick to young people ‘like a tornado with a long tail’.
UK’s cheap food could fuel Covid-19 spread.
Exposure to air pollution may increase risk of Covid death.
New Zealand investigating freight as possible source of Covid-19 outbreak.
Covid-19 can survive on frozen meat and fish for up to three weeks.
And, finally in this section, a new take on class war;
‘The plans are preventing affluent people polluting working class communities’
Problems of lock downs badly planned and/or executed
Why didn’t the Government wait a couple of days? UK ministers were warned local lock downs could fuel racial tensions.
The end of the rule of law? Risk of vigilante attacks rising as victims wait for justice.
Privacy – and control of data
Open Rights Group says there is ‘something rotten at the heart of the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office)’ for not acting on the government’s ‘unlawful behaviour’.
‘Over in two years’?
Coronavirus pandemic could be over within two years.
… or with us forever?
Coronavirus will be with us forever.
This issue will only get even messier now that there is conflicting ‘advice’ about older school children wearing masks in certain circumstances in schools. But the issue is also out in the community.
Face masks deter supermarket shoppers.
Whitley Bay mask-exempt woman urges ‘more understanding’.
Man knocked unconscious after row over face masks at London train station.
You may not be able to use your mobile phone. Face masks give facial recognition software an identity crisis.
Children aged 12 and over should wear masks, says the World Health Organisation.
Scottish high schools to introduce new face covering rules.
But it’s a different situation in England. [At the time of posting the Buffoon was sticking to his guns about not making face coverings mandatory in English schools. He said he would ‘follow the medical advice’. You won’t get very good odds on there not being a U-turn on this issue in the next 24 hours.]
With all the fuss about face coverings those questions and potential negative consequences of their use have been forgotten or ignored in recent weeks.
Professor Russell Viner, a member of SAGE, on BBC2’s Newsnight, 24th August;
‘The evidence on masks is very unclear. And, actually, I think that’s in one sense, potentially going beyond the evidence we have. There are lots of concerns about mask wearing for children, particularly younger children. Because they touch their face, they are constantly worried about the mask, it actually could, potentially. spread the virus more’.
Haven’t any of these experts observed how the majority of people, of all ages and in all circumstances, deal with the wearing of face coverings? The doubts expressed in Viner’s last sentence above apply equally in the community at large. And, in reality, if these doubts are valid isn’t it even more problematic to have extensive face coverings mandatory in the wider community than in the enclosed environment of a school? In a school there are hand washing facilities and hand sanitizer will be everywhere available. But not in the outside world.
Sweden continues to follow a different strategy.
The issue of digital ‘passports’ resurfaces.
This should be a surprise to no one. Social care at breaking point in England.
Recovering from the economic impact
Some parts of the country could find it harder to recover, once the pandemic is over.
Arrested for following Trump’s lead.