Britain staggers from one ‘lock down’ to another – but still no clear exit

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain staggers from one ‘lock down’ to another – but still no clear exit

The Buffoon making another statement on a Monday afternoon (the 23rd November), preceded by speculation and false analysis. No wonder the 16-year old girl went on a killing spree in 1979 which led to the song ‘I don’t like Mondays’

Liverpool no-symptom, city wide mass testing ‘pilot’

This ‘pilot’ had picked up 700 cases with no symptoms in the first 10 days.

It was also claimed the mass-testing project in Liverpool offered hope for the whole of England.

However …

Evaluation after two weeks of the pilot

Quite a long analysis of the early stages (the first three days) of this project was published on 9th November. With that as a base what was the situation two weeks into the pilot?

(This is based upon personal experience at one location in the south of the city, with a visit on the very first day of the pilot and a second exactly two weeks later.)

The queues have disappeared. On the 6th November it took an hour and a quarter to go through the process, on the 20th just over five minutes.

There was no booking necessary at the time of the second visit. This requirement to book was dropped after about five days. There was no explanation of why.

Test results came back much quicker – about fifteen minutes the second visit. That was almost certainly down to such few numbers going through the centre rather than an increase in the efficiency of the testing process.

So what does this tell us and is all the news good?

Yes – and no.

The statistics from the Council webpage;

Liverpool mass testing update – 1pm 20th November 2020

  • 90,429 Liverpool residents tested using lateral flow
  • 59,326 Liverpool residents tested using PCR
  • In addition, 19,585 people from neighbouring areas have been tested using lateral flow
  • There have been 788 positive lateral flow tests – 580 of which have been Liverpool residents

These are bare statistics and don’t answer possible questions such as how many individuals appear twice in these numbers. But if we take the best case scenario as being 150,000, more or less, separate people that equates to roughly 30% of the population of the City.

When I visited the centre the second time, when there was only one person in front of me and no one behind, I was told it had been getting quieter day by day. That would seem to indicate that ‘first timers’ would have been few and far between and that most people attending in the second half of the programme would have been returnees. That would mean the percentage of individual people tested would not increase significantly the longer the scheme went on.

Is that considered to be a good percentage? I don’t know as no information has been given as to the hopes of those (in both local and national government).

On the 6th November there were only six centres in the whole of the city. Over the following days that increased into the teens, after a week into the twenties and the final figure of all the centres eventually opened was 37. Some of those last centres were opened just a matter of a few days before the ‘pilot’ was due to end – after 10-14 days in the original plan.

Why weren’t all the centres opened at the very beginning? Wouldn’t that, with the hype of publicity that accompanied the opening of the project have possible encouraged more people to attend as the testing would have been taking place much more locally?

After the first weekend the Council website was much more user friendly and gave a great deal of background information – as well as updating the numbers. The page with information and location of the centres also stated whether a particular testing site was busy or not. Also all the sites were open from 07.00-19.00, seven days a week. That should have been the case before the first person walked through the door.

Why was the system of booking changed to one of just turning up on spec? If it was to encourage more people to attend then that decision should have been made, again, before the first test took place. Was this is clash between national and local government – as the booking was made through the gov.uk website?

One of the problems with details having to be entered at the test centre is that those without Smartphones have to publicly give their personal details in order to register. So a potential privacy and data protection issue there.

But there are a number of the problems of this ‘pilot’ that were evident from the start. One of those was the doubt about exactly how long the pilot would last. There were conflicting messages about this. It was supposed to be for 10 to 14 days – itself vague. And even into the third week the pilot the website is only saying ‘the end of November’. But what day exactly? So a level of uncertainty and, as with the ‘leadership’ displayed at national level this lack of clarity doesn’t help instil confidence.

At the same time it was not made clear whether people should re-test or not. I personally thought the recommendation was every couple of weeks which would have been nye impossible for most people if the pilot had lasted the short time it was originally proposed. Even every five days (as suggested on the website at the moment) that would still have been pushing it for some people.

And the lack of information/propaganda is also missing. At the moment the centres are very quiet. This is a wasted opportunity. Instead of just making squadies bored stiff with having to process a handful of people each day why hasn’t there been/isn’t there now a campaign to get people who have already tested to go again? This is just a waste of capacity, a waste of resources and a potential loss of valuable information/data.

The Council could have been much more proactive in this matter, using the resources already accessible to the Council, e.g., email addresses from the paperless Council Tax procedure, as well as getting other social organisations throughout the city, e.g., housing associations, to use their database to inform and encourage as many people as possible to make use of the opportunity that has ben presented.

At the end of this pilot there will be a number of people who, when asked if they went to be tested, will reply ‘What test?’.

And will the results of the monitoring of this pilot be widely distributed? There is talk about he planning for multiple sites for a potential mass vaccination programme – surely there should be lessons from the testing pilot in Liverpool to make such an exercise as smooth as possible?

Even though Liverpool was supposed to be a ‘pilot’ the project had only been going for three days before the Buffoonette Matt Hancock announced that it would be established in other areas of England – and it seems the Welsh also wanted to get in on the idea with testing being opened up in Merthyr Tydfil, among other places, on 20th November.

What lessons, both positive and negative could have been learnt in such a short period of time (especially when the so-called ‘devolved nations’ don’t want to learn anything from what might have happened in England)?

Just from the picture at the head of the BBC article the indication is the Welsh have decided on a different approach, someone administering the test rather than it being self tested as in Liverpool. Was there a reason for this different approach – or was it just one group of politicians and scientists deciding on a method just because it wasn’t what had been used elsewhere?

More on ‘collateral damage’

NHS ‘workforce disaster’ threatens a million operations and could cost lives.

NHS patients at risk as Intensive Care Units (ICUs) routinely understaffed

Immunity?

Quarter of people may already be immune to coronavirus – even though many have never been infected.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

This is a strange one. Shops warn of Christmas stock shortages as PPE shipments clog key UK port.

Government paying £1million a day to store mountain of PPE – but NHS staff still short on supplies.

How have other parts of the world managed the pandemic?

Lessons from around the world on fighting the covid ‘second wave’.

A celebrity obsessed society

Dolly Parton ‘honoured and proud’ to help covid-19 battle. As she said when interviewed, ‘I’m sure many millions of dollars from many people went into that’ – ‘that’ being a vaccine trial. So why does she get such exposure for donating three quarters of a million dollars?

She has a reputation for donating to ‘good causes’ so isn’t a tight arse – but she still has an estimated personal fortune of around $600 million so hardly having to make visits to the local food bank.

Big Brother is definitely watching you

Experts working inside Cabinet Office to sift through data that can inform policy-making. That’s your data, mainly knowing where you have been and are at any set time, through mobile phones. I’ll never understand why people are so keen to carry around their own personal tracking devices but would baulk at any of the wild conspiracy theories suggesting such devices would be secretly implanted into their bodies via any future vaccination programme.

And why is the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – basically a spy and listening organisation – considered to be so benign in Britain when it openly spies on its own citizens?

Test-track-trace

How the ‘world beater’ went wrong.

A covid ‘freedom pass’

It was first called a ‘passport’ now a ‘freedom pass’ – basically some form of certificate that you are covid free and therefore not a risk to anyone in order to return to some level of normality. The latest iteration is the new (i.e., not mentioned before) ‘two tests per week’ model. But, as with all these issues, it would only be available to those with a not inconsiderable amount of free cash as I can’t see such tests being provided to the mass of the population. Such perks will only be available to the rich – especially those who have made a fortune out of the lack of proper regulation and apportioning of lucrative covid related contracts.

Poverty in the United Kingdom

At the beginning of November a report was published on the extent of poverty in Wales.

60,000 Scots face poverty as result of Universal credit cuts – the figures will be much larger in the whole of the UK as Scotland only accounts for around a tenth of the total population.

Education of poorest pupils in England and Wales ‘suffers most during Covid isolation’.

The £20 weekly uplift must be extended to legacy benefits.

Disabled people left without ‘financial lifeline’ as 119,000 call for change.

2.5 million households worried about paying rent over winter, with 700,000 already in arrears and 350,000 at risk of eviction.

Anti lock down protests

One of the most disturbing things about how this present pandemic has worked out in Britain is not;

the total lack of strategy from the start (and even eight months in we are no closer to one);

the fact that the different devolved governments have, from the very start and keep on doing so to date, followed their own agenda to make a political point rather than to work in concert, to come to a consensus and help to speed the island through the problem at hand;

the fact that every thing has been ‘led by the science’ and then ‘not led by the science’ when it suits; the number of U-turns the Buffoon and his Government have made that make the rest of society dizzy;

the hypocrisy that has pervaded the whole issue from the beginning with their being ‘one rule for us and one for them’;

the level of corruption that has followed the awarding of contacts, the appointment of individuals or the loss to the public purse due to the lack of any monitoring which has allowed gangsters to feed at the trough normally reserved to the ‘elite’;

the level of fear that has been created in the country to cower people into submission;

the use of the statistics to, at first, prove one thing and then, later, to prove another;

or the fact that scientists seem to follow their own personal agenda rather than looking for a way out and hence doing perpetual damage to the reputation of what are amusingly called ‘experts’ for many years to come.

No! It’s the way that the vast majority of the British population seem to have accepted all this from a State and ‘political class’ that has proven, time and time again, to be untrustworthy, incompetent and not knowing the truth if it hit them in the face.

This unquestioning acceptance, pusillanimity and basically bovine response has permitted the ‘anti-vaxxers’, conspiracy theorists and the fascist right to dominate the anti-government reaction to the policies which restrict the free movement of people in a so-called ‘democratic state’.

Britain, in relation to it’s population, has one of the highest mortality rates in the world due to the covid virus. Lock downs (under whatever guise) and restrictions that have been introduced have not achieved their stated aim and any policies introduced are more of a knee jerk reaction to events that a considered, intelligent and reasoned approach to the problem.

The solution to the initial problem is now becoming an even greater threat to society than the pandemic itself.

The social-democratic, pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist left – as represented by the British Labour Party – has adopted the mantra of ‘too little, too late’. They want more restrictions on the workers yesterday. No wonder their being in power has often preceded fascist dictatorships – they basically prepare the ground for the more aggressive right.

Trade Unions have been no better and instead of fighting for the maintenance of jobs they aregue that billions of pounds from the people should be used to prop up failing capitalists businesses so they can continue to exploit workers.

The odious Thatcher (in the 1980s) said the government shouldn’t support ‘lame ducks’ in her attack upon nationalised industries yet organised labour seems to be hell bent on supporting any employer/company just to maintain the ‘right’ of the worker to be exploited. They are reminiscent of Crass, from the book ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’ who thought that work was the most important thing, regardless of the pay and conditions that went with it.

In such a time of crisis as now the revolutionary left should be highlighting the issues that are a direct consequence of the capitalist system (exploitation of the world’s resources, whatever the adverse consequences; the thirst for ever greater rates of profit which involves the cutting of corners on regulation and safety; the movement of goods and people which is promoted for no other reason than to maximise those profits; the attacks on public health systems than makes them vulnerable to a crisis as they cannot adequately deal with everyday issues; or the institutions of government that are not prepared, either materially, philosophically or ideologically to respond to crises which effect the vast majority of the population) and taking the position of leadership which is not being given by the traditional ruling class.

Instead it seems to be hiding away, allowing capitalism to make a cats arse out of the situation and creating an opening for the populist, fascist right to take up the gauntlet.

Some information about protests in one city (Liverpool) in the last few weeks;

Anti-lockdown protesters clash with police as dozens arrested.

Police arrest 27 at anti-lockdown protest in Liverpool.

Thirteen arrests at Liverpool anti-lockdown demo.

There are a few points that come out of these demonstrations;

before the demonstration on 14th November the police declared tthey would be out in force and on the day the centre of the city was swamped with Police vehicles and officers – attempting to create a threatening atmosphere and climate of fear;

the police are openly saying they are using body cameras to identify, through facial recognition technology, those people out on the streets (also see GCHQ above); and

are already using Anti-Social Behaviour legislation to try to disperse the protestors (with more information of how it can be used).

Such tactics should concern those who believe in the right to protest.

Vaccines – the yellow brick road out of the chaos

The news of the last couple of weeks has been dominated by a number of potentially successful vaccine trials – that’s when there’s no speculation of how people will be able to survive Christmas in the ‘new normal’.

That has led to the NHS preparing dozens of covid mass vaccination centres around England. It is hoped that some information about the sorts of locations chosen will have been made from the experience of the Liverpool pilot mass non-symptomatic testing that took place in November. However, experience in Liverpool (see above) seems to have been replaced with hype and unless the number of sites isn’t increased hundreds of fold before the start of any mass vaccination programme it will mean that only those with their own private transport will be able to take advantage of the ‘miracle’ vaccines. Such a programme needs careful consideration before implementation but, I fear, playing to the crowd will be considered much more politically expedient.

One of the added problems is that one of the (potentially) first vaccines to be available needs to be stored in dry ice at temperatures of -75C therefore making it impractical in many scenarios – at local surgeries but more importantly in the poorer parts of the world.

Those who gain from a crisis

There’s been a lot of information coming out in recent days about the levels of corruption, toadyism and ‘old boy networks’ that have siphoned off huge sums from public finances.

Go-between paid £21m in taxpayer funds for NHS Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – and this came out due to a court case where various players were arguing that they should have been paid more. In this case the Government of the Buffoon insists ‘proper due diligence’ was followed.

Various points of view on this matter.

Watchdog urges government to ‘come clean’ over deals.

Hundreds of firms fast-tracked for lucrative covid contracts after tips from ministers and MPs.

PPE suppliers with political ties given ‘high-priority’ status

This corruption extended to the appointment of those to lead some of the top tasks used in the fight against the pandemic – this time bringing the Buffoon himself into the frame. And it wasn’t that we got the best – their track records being lamentable.

After the pandemic – what?

As there is supposedly ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – but not yet – due to the announcements of the high success rates of (at the time of writing) three vaccines some are turning to how we should live AFTER the pandemic. Even in these early days there are attempts to change people’s behaviour based upon nothing but fear and the idea that ‘everyone’ has to protected and made invulnerable.

But it isn’t everyone.

Breathalyser-style covid tests and face masks should remain post-pandemic, says leading scientist.

Even before the first needle with a regulatory sanctioned vaccine in a phial behind it has punctured the skin of anyone (who will obviously be a citizen of the so-called ‘west’ let alone one of those billions who live in misery and poverty, mainly in the southern hemisphere) some scientist – who is either a direct employee of a major pharmaceutical company or who has, at some time in the past, received funding from such a company – comes out with the novel idea that society in the ‘rich’ northern hemisphere should accustom itself to using, on a regular basis, the expensive testing kits (whether they be effective or not) to counteract the possible consequences of covid-19 – although it will be given a much more attractive name in the post pandemic era.

Society (and homo sapiens) has lived with viruses and disease for millions of years and has suffered epidemics and pandemics innumerable times during those years. Many have died, most have survived. However, that was before the time of the monetisation of any crisis. Developing upon the fear that has been created – worldwide – by cretinous and inefficient capitalist governments to counter the pandemic pharmaceutical companies – and their tame, greedy, unprincipled ‘experts’ – are already looking to make money out of those fears and anxieties.

These proposals might be advertised as being ‘appropriate’ in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic but such ideas will be promoted well into the future – once we have returned to normality.

What a society we have allowed to exist?

This just panders to the idea, which is quite extensive in the supposed richer countries of the world, that we have the right to live forever, whatever the cost to society in general. We should, perhaps, accept that the right of some to exist forever will inevitably mean that many more will die prematurely.

More on covid pandemic 2020

The second lock down and the Liverpool pilot

More on covid pandemic 2020

The second lock down and the Liverpool pilot

It seems that the Government of the Buffoon is innately stupid. Even when they decide to do; something intelligent; something which others had been calling for for months; something which has strategic merit; and something which is a different approach to the tried and proven to be unsuccessful tactics of the past eight months they still manage to cock it up.

I’m talking, of course, of the pilot of the city wide non-symptomatic testing of as many people as possible in the city of Liverpool which began at midday on Friday 6th November (see below). (Arrangements have changed in the last week and it’s no longer necessary to book, you just turn up at any of these centres.)

But one of the most important things about this pilot is the word ‘pilot’ and what it signifies. My dictionary definition of this version of pilot states; ‘used in or serving as a test or a trial’, ‘serving as a guide’.

That implies that you run the scheme for a certain period of time, evaluate how it has gone – in both practical terms and in the results that were obtained, and then decide on the success (or otherwise) of the scheme and then introduce it (or not) in other areas.

But not the idiots who run Britain.

On the evening of Monday 9th November (three and a half days into the ‘pilot’) the office of the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock – one the of the Three Bellends (see below) – contacts 67 different local authorities (mainly in the North of England) stating that they would also be provided with resources for introducing such city wide testing.

Now I’m all in favour of such testing, have argued that it should have been introduced (or, perhaps, more importantly, ‘piloted’) many months ago and then, after proper evaluation introduced throughout the whole of the island of Britain. But you need information to anticipate any possible problems (as well as highlighting the positives) of such a scheme. This has never been done before on such a scale and teething problems are inevitable but what you get if 68 towns/cities are doing their own thing is 68 versions of chaos – and no lessons for the introduction in rest of the country that will inevitably follow in its wake.

I attended the first day of the test in Liverpool and wrote about the experience on this blog earlier in the week. The of the points made about that visit was that there was no obvious monitoring of the scheme and that those young soldiers inside the building were merely processing people and not noting down any problems or other issues which might have a bearing on the efficient extension of this scheme to other parts of the country. In fact, that blog post is the only thing I am aware of approximating an evaluation of the ‘Liverpool pilot’.

Being a good, responsible and caring citizen of the city of Liverpool I sent a link of my ‘findings’ to the City Council. I never even received an acknowledgement that my notes had been received. As there was no ‘feedback’ requested from participants and as there seemed to be no one monitoring what was happening in the (now) 17 centres throughout Liverpool I doubt whether the Labourites in charge if the city have a better understanding of the word ‘pilot’ (in this context) than the Buffoon down in London.

Politicians of all colours (being at foundation guardians of the capitalist system) follow the same trajectory in a crisis such as this present pandemic. Their principal aim is to come out of the situation making sure that any blame is placed somewhere else, anywhere apart form their own door steps. The consequences that such actions have on the majority of the population is irrelevant.

And don’t get me on the introduction of the ‘second lock down’ in England with its leaks, in-fighting, half truths, selective statistics, muddle guidance, uncertain longevity and possible end.

Was the country prepared for such a pandemic?

Not according to a former chief medical officer.

The present (and second of how many) lock down

To justify another lock down the Buffoon quotes frightening ‘statistics’ which predict virus deaths ‘twice as bad’ as spring.

And continues to stick to the fear factor when those ‘statistics’ are challenged. If you can’t keep them safe then keep them afraid.

Other figures suggest that the ‘second peak might have passed’. But the lock down stays.

Lock downs have been seen by many as just digging a hole from which it is almost impossible to escape. One suggestion is by dividing the population into two – with your house number determining your future.

Nationalism

I don’t understand the nationalists within Britain. For eight months the so-called ‘devolved administrations’, especially in Scotland and Wales, have made an effort to be different from what has been proposed in England. In some ways I can see their point, the Buffoon has never given the impression that he knows what he’s doing and his Government has made so many U-turns most people have lost count.

However, the reasons the nationalist have chosen different paths was merely to demonstrate, however illogically, that they were in control in their little patches of land. In the strategy documents produced in readiness for such as this present pandemic it was stated that the hope was all the 4 separate administrations would work in concert. That hasn’t happened yet.

But, all of a sudden, the Welsh first minister states that all the UK nations should work together in the weeks coming up to Christmas. I don’t really see, apart from a little bit of populist posturing, why Christmas should be any different from the rest of the year.

Then the following day the same Welsh first minister declares that GCSE and A-levels in Wales will be cancelled for 2021. Which is not the same in the rest of the UK and which will cause all kinds of problems and conflicts, if not treated very carefully, when it comes to University application time.

A report by the Institute of Government highlights how the childish squabbling of the Nationalists have not served the people throughout Britain at all well.

The spread of the virus

How the news was reported in the days before the second lock down.

Nearly 100,000 catching virus every day.

‘Second wave’ could last until April in ‘worst-case scenario’.

Understanding ‘aerosol transmission’ could be key to controlling coronavirus.

Coronavirus rules in England aren’t working, scientists say.

Does coronavirus spread more easily in cold temperatures?

Face masks

This was talked about at the very beginning of the pandemic, i.e., that face coverings cease to become effective if basic hygiene practices are not followed. But how many really people follow good practice? Face masks should be washed and tumble dried each day.

The poor suffering the most

Again one of those issues that have been reported on a number of occasions – but still worth noting. Despite protestations and false concern expressed by the Buffoon the pandemic still leaves poorer families £170 a month worse off.

But, it seems, more people have recovered their concern for the poorest in society. There was a ‘dramatic softening in attitudes’ even before the covid pandemic after years of Thatcherite sponsored selfishness and lack of concern for others. Also there’s a consequent increase in the desire to tackle the tax avoidance practised by the rich to pay for higher benefits.

Unemployment, yet to reach its peak, will also effect the young and those from ethnic minorities the most.

Another U-turn (this time on free school meals) which benefits many in the short term but which shys away from the main issue.

Redundancies at record level as pandemic takes further toll.

Food banks

Way back in 2012 a post on this blog considered that the aim of the Trussel Trust (the biggest charity operator of food banks in the United Kingdom) ‘to have a food bank in every town and city’ was a shameful goal for any organisation to have in one of the top five richest countries in the world. Such an aim is merely putting a sticking plaster over what is a suppurating wound of hunger for a significant proportion of the population. The fact that eight years on the demand for their services has increased many fold just goes to show that food banks are, in many senses, part of the problem and not the solution.

As with many consequences of poverty in Britain the covid-19 pandemic has not caused the problem – exacerbated it yes, but what it has mainly achieved is the uncovering of the full extent of poverty throughout the country. A recent report from the Trust observed that 2,600 food parcels provided for children every day in first six months of the pandemic.

Food banks are getting visits from the so-called ‘newly hungry’.

Increased control by the State

As has been stated here a number of times capitalist states will use any crisis to increase their control of the population. Measures might be introduced under benign circumstances but the problem is these measures, or more especially the laws that allow them, tend to stay for long after the initial cause is just a bad memory.

Such an example is Manchester University installing fencing around student accommodation – and in the process handing out public resources to private business – which sees the rightful and legitimate opposition from the students.

The university initially insisted it had written to students informing them about the construction, but has since acknowledged work began “ahead of the message being seen”.

What a bunch of wankers!

The privatisation of the pandemic and corruption runs rife

Over the last seven months unimaginable amounts of money have been thrown at the ‘private sector’ – whether to keep companies in business or the more important task of transferring monies from the public to the private purse. But the ‘private sector’ will never be up to dealing with such as a pandemic as the over-riding principle is always the maximisation of profit – which will always go against the public good. Even though the ‘private sector’ has shown itself wanting since the pandemic broke they will still be brought it to cover any cuts in the public sector which successive governments (of whatever colour) had introduced in the name of ‘efficiency’.

Whitehall scrambles private sector to avoid second wave disaster.

Not satisfied with taking the money being offered the gangsters of capitalism still believe they have to resort to fraud. £45m deal for NHS masks collapses amid fraud claims. The contract was still awarded even though the Government was warned, in June, that things were dodgy.

Labour demands answers from vaccine head over PR bill.

Although not directly a matter to do with the pandemic but a situation which prepared the country for getting itself robbed stupid once money really started to slosh around. This is a matter of Tory ministers directing monies to their patches so they can claim the credit for ‘improving’ their own area – whether that was a priority or not.

More on ‘collateral damage’

Mentioned in virtually all postings after we had been living under the pandemic for a few months it’s still worth re-iterating that the world still goes around even with the virus. The lack of a proper strategy generally, in all countries worldwide, means that the so-called ‘collateral damage’ keeps increasing.

50,000 cases of cancer left undiagnosed due to Covid disruption. And that could double within in year if the same approach is followed.

Some of these problems have been put down to the too simple message of ‘Protect the NHS’.

And with such situations comes the recriminations.

Another study has shown that a four-week cancer treatment delay raises death risk by 10%.

And a study from the United States indicates that a significant number of people who contract the virus also suffer mental health conditions in the aftermath.

Almost 140,000 patients waiting longer than a year for NHS treatment.

One rule for us – another for them

A crisis is an opportunity for the rich – even the most talentless.

While the rest of us are worrying about seeing relatives and job security, the super-rich are flying to party islands on private jets.

Cummins has got away with it for a while – will that continue (probably).

Test-trace-track

THE hot potato of the pandemic continues to be thrown up in the air.

England’s contact-tracing system needs better data handling to beat covid-19.

Prior to the announcement of the pilot in Liverpool (see below) it was stated that 10% of England’s population could be tested for covid-19 every week. To really get on top of the spread of infections in the UK many more people nationwide will need to be tested on a regular basis. But again the question has to be asked – What about the poorer parts of the world?

We were told suitably qualified personnel would staff the call centres. That doesn’t seem to be the case as teenagers ended up operating crucial parts of England’s test and trace system.

The NHS app evolves, this time sending more people into self-isolation. There are always problems when more people are told to do something which doesn’t make sense to them – and which might seriously effect their general well being. Perhaps a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

The debate about what happens to information gained by the app and how secure it is continues to run

And then sometimes it doesn’t work.

More than 7,000 of the app’s users were given the wrong self-isolation information due to a faulty update

City wide testing – the Liverpool ‘pilot’

This is one of the few good ideas that have come out of the ‘battle’ against covid-19. And Liverpool is a good choice as a pilot it being a medium sized city, a diverse population (in terms of age, ethnic variety and wealth). It could bode well as a way to deal with the virus – if it works.

The Army are supposed to be in charge of this (which started on 6th November) and everything will depend upon whether there has been local input to the locations of the testing centres or whether an outside organisation thinks it knows best. If it has been properly planned (and it is hoped that the planning for this began some weeks ago and not the day after it was announced) then it could be a way out of the total mess and chaos that has characterised the so-called war against this tiny virus. Obviously only time will tell. With the second national lock down having started on 5th November (so not much burning of the failed Catholic regicide in effigy this year) and due to last for a month – which coincides with the Liverpool pilot – then if positive results have not been achieved by the end of the 28 days then we are really snookered.

Some various news reports of what might be the most significant positive development for months.

Liverpool to pilot city-wide coronavirus testing.

New procedure offers results in just an hour, rather than the more usual 24 – 48 hours.

Up to 500,000 people in city will be tested in bid to measure feasibility of mass population screening.

Liverpool Covid tests will ‘open door to more routine way of life’.

But those frightened ‘scientists’ who can come up with nothing new – even though the old tactics have not shown themselves to be effective – try to pore cold water on the initiative.

Vaccine and immunity

A vaccine might be on the way – but don’t get too optimistic.

But another look at immunity might be more positive.

The big issue of recent days is the announcement of a ‘90% success rate vaccine’. Matt Hancock, who has been mercifully quiet recently, claims the credit and states that the NHS ‘is ready’ to introduce a mass vaccination programme when it is already pushed to the limit due to decades of cuts and financial neglect.

But after the euphoria of the announcement comes the cooler analysis. Good news yes, but …

‘Back to normal by spring’ – are we expecting too much from the first COVID-19 vaccines?

The ever expanding effects of covid-19

Look at your feet if you think you may have contracted the virus – for covid toes.

Reactions to Government policy

Pub renames itself The Three Bellends with dig at Johnson, Hancock and Cummings.

Not much fun being a mink in 2020

Denmark announces cull of 15 million mink over covid mutation fears.

And the Dutch mink don’t fare any better.

Fears over mutated covid virus from mink lead to Denmark travel ban.

No one, yet, has made any comment of whether the new vaccine which has been so trumpeted in the last couple of days, will be able to cope with the little present the mink have given the world.

Finally:

How the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’s care about it’s subjects

William Saxe-Coburg and Gotha – the heir to the oppressive monarchy of Britain – contracted the virus earlier in the year but kept it quiet as ‘he didn’t want to worry the population of the country’. It’s good to know that some rich boy is really concerned about our well being.

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Early lessons from the Liverpool, city wide, covid testing pilot

More on covid pandemic 2020

Early lessons from the Liverpool, city wide, covid testing pilot

Friday 6th November 2020 was the first day of the all city wide, no symptoms testing pilot (as of the eveing of 13th November – there’s now no need to book a test – which makes some of the comments below redundant but asks the question why this way of testing was changed) in the chosen city of Liverpool. As the country enters the eighth month of so-called ‘pandemic measures’ this is the first time in the country something has been introduced that displays a modicum of imagination and approximates what might be considered a strategic approach to dealing with the virus. Everything tried so far has merely been a reaction to events, often resembling a panic, or just a plain and simple knee jerk, reaction to events or various pressures.

This Liverpool testing pilot might lead to a way out of what is becoming a cycle of lock downs (of various intensity) with the same tactics – and slogans – being used in November as were used in March. Society, not just in Britain, hasn’t learnt a great deal from historic plagues of the past 700 years and it was probably asking too much for anything to have been learnt in the last seven months.

But will this new approach make any difference? Obviously it’s too soon to say but at least it is different and has the feel of attacking the virus rather than just running from it in the hope a miracle vaccine will arrive in the not too distant future.

For that reason – and as this is supposed to be a pilot where lessons, both positive and negative are learnt – I thought it would be useful to document the experience surrounding a test taken on the first day to see how it did work, with both a few pluses as well as a number of negatives. How those lessons are evaluated by those concerned for running the test in the early days will be even more crucial than the testing itself, especially as success in Liverpool could entail such an approach being applied throughout the country.

Accessing the Government’s test booking site the day before the test was due to begin didn’t bode too well when there was a line saying that test slots ‘would be available soon’. With the memory of failed testing ‘experiments’ in the last seven months (whether they be the actual testing itself or the use of the test-trace-track mobile phone app) not to be able to book a test less than 24 hours before the programme was due to begin didn’t inspire confidence. That was a bad thing.

Although an earlier visit to that website showed the test centres opening between 09.00 and 19.00 on the Friday 6th November by late on the 5th the opening time had been shifted to 12.00. This seemed to indicate that the announcement had been made before the actual logistics had been fully worked out. This was reminiscent of the wild and woolly promises by the Buffoon earlier in the year about the numbers of tests that would take place each day as well as the speed of the return of the results. So that was another bad thing.

However, by 09.30 on the morning of the 6th November (when I again went online) it was possible to book a slot for the same day. I thought the official site was overly complicated. There was a lot of personal information that had to be entered before there was any chance of choosing an actual time slot. Wouldn’t it be better for people to first pick the test centre and time slot best for them and only then enter the information needed to be able to process the test results?

This is not least because the system considers you are applying for a same day appointment but if you are late in the day, when appointments are starting to run out, then you are possibly offered a test in another, more distant centre, or the option of a test sent to your home. If that’s not what you want to do you have to start from the beginning. There may be a logic in the way the questions are ordered but I can’t quite see it.

(Here I’m describing the booking of a walk in test – those with vehicles are probably slightly different and the request for a home test would, obviously, follow another route.)

So you have to put in quite a bit of information about yourself, some of it quite personal – such as an NHS Number – and this should be ringing some alarm bells for those in authority as hackers would love to get hold of such information and the NHS doesn’t have a great record in being able to defend itself against outside attacks.

You don’t get a designated time, as I expected, but a 30 minutes time slot when you should arrive at the centre. Whether this will change is another matter. On the first day there would have been some question as to how many people would arrive and as we are dealing with a whole city (of about 500,000 people) a certain amount of flexibility would be necessary, at least at the beginning. This made sense on thinking about it but didn’t when you consider how the process played out.

There is a logic of having a more exact time for arrival. The naysayers are already complaining that the process means many people are standing together for a longer time than is desirable. That might be true but the answer to that is not to ditch the pilot but to speed people through the process so that they are together for as short a time as possible. As a recent example of how a more specific time slot works an appointment for the annual flu jab at a nearby general practice a couple of weeks ago meant that no big queues developed whereas a 30 minutes slot means that everyone in that section of time arrives at the beginning of the slot.

After going through the process of entering all the personal information you are sent (depending upon what information you had supplied) a confirmation via text to a mobile and/or an email. You were asked to show the text message (or printout) as proof you had made a booking and would be able to present the QR code on arrival. I was able to print out the email but when I tried to go to the Print page on the Government’s website (at the end of entering all the information) the page didn’t have the necessary link – just an empty page with an official heading. That issue should be addressed – why have a website with broken links – especially in such circumstances as a pandemic? But then again, this is a pilot so, hopefully, these matters will be continually monitored to see what is working and what is not.

On the print out it asked that you arrive at the test centre with a face mask and also a photo ID, such as a passport.

So I’m down for the first time slot of the first day (12.00-12.30). I arrive at the centre (the sports centre in Liverpool 8) exactly at 12.00. But I’m far from being the first in the queue. There are a lot of people (which is a good thing) but it seemed that some had booked but others had not as there were two queues, one inside the perimeter and one outside, those with a booking being allowed through the gate first. However, those standing outside started to get somewhat annoyed seeing those people ‘jump the queue’ – or so they thought – and soon the two queues became one.

But it must have been about 30 minutes before there was any movement at all with people entering the building. The delayed start from 09.00 to 12.00 therefore seemed to have a reason – and that seems to have been because they were not fully prepared, which is a bad thing.

Now an aside, but possibly an important one. The 6th November in Liverpool was a bright and sunny, but cool, autumn day. The rest of the days of this pilot are unlikely to be be the same pleasant experience as people wait out in a queue that isn’t moving. To help make this pilot a success there will need to be shelter from the elements provided, especially the rain, if the number of covid deaths are not replaced by pneumonia caused by standing and getting soaked and frozen. Just putting some temporary protection in place to make it as ‘inviting’ as possible is all that’s needed, especially if the aim is to get people making regular visits to a test centre as we go through the winter. If the process gets speeded up (which it should do) then there will be less need for this temporary shelter but the pilot could fail if people are asked to stand for an hour subject to the elements.

At about 12.55 I reach the entrance, staffed by a young soldier in uniform. This is where the system started to fall down. There was no request for the form with the QR code you are told to bring and which connects you to the information already entered on the Government’s website when making the appointment. Neither was I asked for any photo identification. So why were we told to bring photo ID?

Instead every one was given a card with it’s own QR code – plus 4 bar codes stickers with an identical number. This small card is professionally produced and it is hoped that they exist (under normal circumstances) for those occasions when people don’t bring what they have been told to bring. There was not a sign of a QR reader on site at the test centre – was that the reason for the issuing of yet another QR code?

Everyone was told that they should scan the QR code on the card with their Smartphones and then fill in the details asked for – which were the very same details that were asked for and which took some time to enter in the comfort of your own home. Now if you don’t have a Smartphone you are snookered. The young soldier at the entrance, when informed of this, stated that someone at the end of the corridor (just before going into the room where the tests actually take place) would have an iPad and the necessary information could be entered there.

That turned out not to be the case. At the end of the corridor was another young squadie who wasn’t expecting this sort of request and certainly didn’t have an issued iPad to hand. The ubiquity of Smartphones meant it took some time for the first people without one to arrive. So a lack of communication here between the soldiers staffing the centre, a lack of initiative from their officers or City Council in not foreseeing such a situation and a lack of provision of the hardware necessary to deal with such a circumstance.

This young squadie then used his own Smartphone to take a picture of both the QR and the bar code followed by entering all personal details – as I said, the very ones that were already in the system. So the whole process that everyone had to go through to book a slot was just a waste of time – and when you want to get people on board with something like the Liverpool pilot you don’t want that. And it should not be for some young soldier whose task is just to process people through the system, to have to use his own personal phone for something that should have been foreseen once it was decided that the registration cards were to be given to everyone entering the centre.

So something that should be looked at there. It would obviously be better to be accessing this information which is already on the system by providing those at the entrance with a QR reader. Was this one of the things that were not in place on the 6th November in L8 and the card was a fall back? This is something that should be rectified soon (if it has not already been so). Apart from anything else a reader would speed up the processing of people.

Then it was in to a room (one of the gyms) where a number of temporary booths had been constructed – about 12, I think, although not all being used. Again why? Was it because there was a doubt of the ability to process more people? Was it just getting into the swing of things? Shouldn’t the process have been tested somewhere, at some time before the centres were even opened? All questions which should now, into the fourth day of the pilot, have been answered with a positive resolution.

At the entrance to the gym you are given a long, thin swab in a sealed bag and directed to one of the booths where you carry out the test yourself. There’s an instruction leaflet attached to the wall. You carry out the test and then poke your head and hand through a cut out window into the centre of the room and a soldier will take the swab – and one of the bar codes – and that’s it.

The card is not taken off you – it’s yours as a souvenir, together with two of the bar code strips – so why give out four? Then its out through the back door.

The test itself took just three or four minutes but I had been on site for one hour and a quarter, leaving the building at 13.15.

Given that the 6th was the first day then a little bit of leeway can be allowed. I would hope, however, that the system in the next few days gets more streamlined and processes people much quicker. For the length of the time it took to take the test the people should have been going through that centre much quicker.

So what about the result? A number of times 40-45 minutes was mentioned as the time that would lapse before receiving a text message on the mobile phone (an email is also sent at the same time if supplied) However, my result didn’t arrive until 15.23. Much quicker than we have heard about with tests taking place in the last few months but still a lot longer than the 40 minutes ‘promised’. If we have learnt nothing from the Buffoon in the last eight months is that you don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

So some minor problems on the first day. Not perfect – and not really needing much to make it so. Just connecting together the information already entered and the individual – and perhaps making the process faster and providing some sort of shelter if the queues are going tp develop outside in the bad weather.

Just a few more thoughts.

I wasn’t aware of anyone, either from the Army or the Council, who seemed to be monitoring what was going on or how easy matters were processed. All the people in the centre seemed to be there to move people through the system and not looking to see what could be improved.

There is no method where (as far as I can see) those attending the test centres can give ‘feedback’. It’s possible to make a comment about the gov.uk site but not the experience of the individual test centres. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to understand if some centres are managing better than others. After all they are all very distinctly different buildings and will have their own peculiarities.

There’s no information about the process of a repeat test. When the Liverpool pilot was first announced it was suggested that people would go for a retest after a period to make sure they hadn’t been infected in the meantime. Is that the case? Will people be called back as a matter of course. After all, the system now has the contact details (mobile number and/or email address) of an increasing proportion of the city’s population. Would it also be an idea for the Council to use the paperless system that is related to Council tax to send out a general email to encourage those who have not taken the test to do so?

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