The start of a second lockdown – or measures to prevent one?

More on covid pandemic 2020

The start of a second lockdown – or measures to prevent one?

The recent introduction of restrictions on the numbers of people who can meet others, not from their own household, is a step backwards in the fight against the coronavirus – and offers a potential get out for the Government of the Buffoon when it comes to answering the question of who might have been responsible for the chaos and deaths that have enveloped the country in the last six months.

It was presaged by with an attack upon young people and the crass and ignorant attempt to make them feel responsible if infections, hospitalisations and deaths of their older relatives was a consequence of them meeting up with their friends and partying. Even the Government realised they had gone too far with the slogan that implied young people would be responsible for the deaths of their grandparents.

And now that the so-called ‘Rule of Six’ (how pathetic are the spin doctors who come up with these slogans etc., probably Cummins in No 10) has been introduced the State is attempting to pitch neighbour against neighbour with the Justice (or really no-Justice) Minister calling upon people to report any infringements of the six maximum regulation to the police. This is after the police had asked the question ‘where do you want out priorities to lie?’ when it came to more serious offences.

So the return to a partial lock down is a return to the tactics of March. Nothing has been learnt, nothing has been developed to deal with a pandemic , nothing other than a repeat of how populations dealt with epidemics hundreds of years ago.

But that shouldn’t be surprising.

From the very beginning the idea that testing would lie at the centre of any strategy has been known but, at least in the UK, not actively implemented in any manner that could lead to success against the virus. Promises are made, figures are thrown around like confetti and criticisms are brushed aside by the Buffoon himself as an attack on the ‘hard working NHS workers’ (a phrase that has been brought out a number of times since March), a denial he probably believes himself, in his own Trumpian manner, but which ring hollow to any sentient being.

In six months, even if starting from absolute zero, the country should have been able to set up a functioning testing system that would deal with many thousands of tests per day. In such a serious situation the State should not be asking and paying huge sums to private companies to provide an inadequate service, it should be telling companies what their priorities are and requisitioning whatever is needed to carry out the task that will allow the country to get on top of the disease.

But then capitalism is dominated by its anarchic constitution and has no interest in anything other than the profit motive. If lives are saved in the process that is merely a side product.

The recent votes in Parliament over the break with the European Union show that the present Tory Government thinks it is invulnerable, that it can do whatever it likes. The self serving cretins of the 650 will not do anything to rock the boat and risk losing their privileges.

By pitching the people against each other and stimulating a climate of fear and blame (directed as far away from the Government as possible) they hope to retain their positions of power.

And the virus? Who cares?

Latest restrictions

The 14th September saw the introduction of nationwide restrictions which are supposed to address the issue of the increase of infections in the last couple of weeks. As is always the case with any introduction of a new tactic to combat the coronavirus this introduction was accompanied by confusion – as all the four constituent parts of the UK have adopted a similar but not the same approach.

Although this was touted as a national response to a national issue there were suggestions that they were merely copying some of the approaches used by Belgium, especially as there are rumblings of a nationwide curfew being imposed on pubs and restaurants.

But is this further restriction on the movements in the UK necessary anyway? Yes, the numbers of infections are going up but there are reasons for that which might not indicate a disaster waiting to happen. A break down of the numbers gives a slightly different impression.

Although the Buffoon is always ‘following the science’ not all scientists are in agreement with the new restrictions.

It’s not the Government’s fault – it’s ours

The Buffoon and his Government have always covered themselves since the pandemic hit the UK in March of this year, first by ‘hiding’ behind ‘the scientific advice’ and now by putting all the blame on the people of the country – at the moment specifically the young – for the increase in infections and the threat of a ‘second wave’.

The Buffoonette (Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary) even coming up with the crass sound bite of ‘Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.’ Obviously he has already forgotten that tens of thousands of ‘grans’ died as a result of the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in care homes, together with the lack of any testing capability in those homes, a situation which was exacerbated by the hospitals being instructed to transfer older patients to care homes without adequate safeguards being in place. There’s also no guarantee that this situation won’t arise again if infections get into care homes in the coming months.

Considering that there were so many deaths in care homes during the height of the pandemic in the UK it’s shouldn’t be surprising that there is concern as we go into winter. The Government has written to care home providers warning them of the situation – but they were perfectly aware of the situation and needed no reminder. What do do need is provision of PPE and a reliable testing regime to avoid the spread of the disease if there is a second outbreak. However, unless there’s a change in the approach from Government things don’t look so good in coming months.

The NHS – after the heroes

Once they were ‘heroes’ – but not any more. Now they are just workers who have to do what they are told.

And the general organisation of the NHS doesn’t seem to be getting to grips with resolving the possibilities of ‘collateral damage’ caused by the emphasis, in the past and to some extent still, on the pandemic and its consequences.

The ‘R’ number – what is it?

The ‘R’ Number is being touted all the time now to justify the latest restrictions – after a few months when it was consigned to oblivion. But what exactly is the ‘R’ number? I was led to believe that it was a notional figure that really doesn’t have much use during events such as the present pandemic and can only be really gauged in hind sight and therefore useful in understanding the development of the event but of little use when you are in the middle of it.

Whatever the case a couple of articles which might be able to shed some light on the matter – from the ‘experts’.

What is the R number?

And is it any use when we are talking about ‘herd immunity’?

Testing

A new feature – a quiz. Question: By what date did the Buffoon say that the UK would have a ‘world beating’ track and trace system up and running? Answer: 1st June 2020. This was in a statement in the British House of Commons on 20th May, 2020. (Watch the video if you can stomach listening to his ramblings.) Question: When will Britain have a ‘world beating’ track and trace system in place in the UK? Answer: Either when the pandemic is a distant memory or when Hell freezes over, whichever is the sooner.

Having been out of the headlines for a while (kicked out by the issues surrounding the return of schools and education in particular) testing has come back with a vengeance in the last week or so.

This one has been around for a while, since testing went out into the community. People sent long distances for Covid tests. This ‘apology’ was made 11 days ago – however the situation is no better (and might even be worse now than then). Matt Hancock has insisted problems with the testing system will be ‘sorted in the short term’ – so no need, really, to be concerned.

If you want to get tested (in the country with the ‘world beating’ testing system) then be prepared to see a great deal more of that country than you would really wish to if you were ill. The last I heard (just over a week after this report) the record for the distance someone was told to go to get a test was 618 miles – from Plymouth to Aberdeen, and back again.

And once you’ve travelled more than a thousand miles it’s not certain that the test was worth it in the first place. Some research has shown that the tests might be picking up old and dead bits of the virus – so the person told to self isolate might not really have to do so.

The airline and tourist industries are clutching at straws and are, and have been, arguing for some system of testing at airports to allow (and encourage) more people to travel. They argue this has been proven to be a success in a number of countries. A few days later it was reported that a test to meet all the requirements would be ready by the end of the month.

From the very beginning of this pandemic there have been many calls for testing not just for those who think they might have the infection but also as a means of monitoring the population in general to aid in the society getting back to something approaching normality. It was, therefore, good to hear that mass testing was going to be trialled in the UK – with plans to ‘roll it out’ across the nation towards the end of the year. It was even better to hear that such tests could provide a result within 20 minutes.

Then I woke up from my dream and realised this was just another propaganda exercise by the Buffoon and his minions to give the impression they are doing something meaningful. Dates will slip, numbers of tests will reduce but what will certainly be achieved is another shovelling of millions of £s into the off shore bank accounts of more (sometimes the same) Tory industry supporters.

This developed into the bizarrely named ‘Moonshot’ programme a week later. Although, in principle, a good idea this Government (and the private infrastructure they have contracted to carry out the testing so far) has not shown a shred of evidence that it is capable of getting anyway near the target. In fact, Britain getting a rocket to the real Moon before the end of civilisation is more likely than this testing target. One of the (slight) stumbling blocks being that the technology to make it happen doesn’t yet exist.

A few days ago Matt Hancock was able to identify the reason for the delays in the testing regime – it was the fact that too many people were asking for tests. And these people weren’t genuine in their request, they were not suffering any of the symptoms they just wanted to know if they could go away on holiday with a piece of paper saying they were clear. So nothing to do with the incompetence of the Government or their privatised testing system.

The more the Government says there’s no problem the more the evidence shows that the testing system (let alone the track and trace that’s supposed to go with it) is getting worse not better.

People in England’s 10 worst-hit Covid-19 hotspots unable to get tests.

Even hospitals can’t return to any sort of normality as the testing crisis is even hitting medical staff.

For an up to date review of the testing system, how it’s working (or not) and the problems people have in accessing a test locally here’s a item that was discussed on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on 14th September.

Corruption in Britain – surely not?

If you think the UK isn’t corrupt you haven’t looked hard enough.

Data

A huge amount of personal data is being collected in all countries – mobile phones are ubiquitous even in poor countries – and there have for long been questions about the breaches in privacy that this means to the population. Regulations about privacy have been discussed and adopted in many countries but the British Government seems to be aiming to crash through all that by using the desire to boost economic recovery after the damage done by the pandemic. As in many spheres of life post-pandemic governments worldwide will be pushing through measures which the populations might have fought against in normal times. They will use the already common phrase of ‘pandemic fatigue’ to get their way. If we let them.

And Hancock has already made statements which mean that any privacy in relation to the data collected by the NHS will be a thing of the past saying ‘We are absolutely rigorous about the needs of privacy, but we must not let that get in the way of innovation that can improve people’s lives.’

Do you know what happens to your data when you scan the pub’s QR code with your Smartphone? Perhaps you should start asking?

The long awaited contact-tracing app

It was promised months ago. It was tested on the Isle of Wight to great fanfare. It was considered a success. Then it wasn’t. Then the home grown app was ditched and an ‘off the shelf’ version by Google/Apple was chosen instead. But it seems the new app is NHSX mark 2 but all details about privacy that were so important a few months ago seem to have been pushed into the background. It’s due to be launched, in England and Wales, on 24th September. We shall see.

And the idea of a ‘passport’, associated with the use of this app, starts to get more attention

Mortality from covid – or something else

Information on the ‘collateral damage’ due to the closure of the NHS for everything that wasn’t covid related continue to emerge. Some statistics indicate that non-virus deaths at home might have been behind surge in excess fatalities. The separation of these statistics in the future will be crucial to get an understanding of the development of the 2020 pandemic to ensure the world is better prepared for the next one.

Considering that the shortage of ventilators was being touted as a problem of the high mortality in the early days (and now there’s probably a glut of un-used – and never to be used – ventilators in hospital store rooms) they might have been the problem and not the solution.

Sweden

Sweden is a conundrum for most governments of the world. Whereas the overwhelming number of countries adopted a response no more sophisticated than that used in the 1340s (with the ‘Black Death’ in Europe) and 1665 (with ‘The Great Plague of London’), which was to introduce a ‘lock down’, the Swedish people decided to do something a bit more measured. Figures sometimes show that it might not been the best tactic – then other statistics come out showing it might well have been the best approach.

Vaccine

The search for a vaccine against the present pandemic has many reasons. Fame, money and recognition are the principle ones. Finding a vaccine that will turn covid into something manageable might also be in the frame. However, whatever the reasons politics will also be involved. The claim (as yet unsubstantiated) that the Russians have developed a vaccine will always be attacked. Capitalist countries invaded the Soviet Union in the first days of the Revolution in 1917 and they cannot tolerate the fact that Russia (even though now a capitalist country) might beat them to the goal. Therefore it must pain them to learn that there are some positive results arising from the vaccine now been tested and developed in the country.

To get an idea of exactly what a vaccine does – and how they are developed – there was a useful introduction on the BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science programme of Thursday 19th September.

The closer the country/world gets to a viable and tested vaccine the more the question of who will get the vaccine first will become more of an issue. For months now the richer countries of the world (even though within those countries there are huge variables in wealth distribution) have been pre-ordering vaccines which might not even prove to work – so ‘vaccine nationalism’ (where a particular country grabs as much as possible for its own population) already exists. There has been talk (probably based more on optimism than reality) since the outbreak that the world would be a more caring and better place after the pandemic. Where an effective vaccine (when/if it ever gets produced) goes in the early days will test the truth of that optimism.

A further update on the progress towards a vaccine in the UK, including some of the caveats, were part of an interview on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on 14th September.

How the virus is prospering in certain communities

Covid-19 might be demonstrating some unique aspects but it is no different when it comes to attacking the poorest within various societies. It could be around and causing problems in some of the most ‘deprived’ areas of the UK for the simple reason of poverty.

Covid in the world

A pandemic is by definition a worldwide phenomenon but apart from numbers, which are usually published in an attempt to show that other countries are dealing with the problem in an even worse manner than in the UK, we get little information about the consequences of the disease on the very poorest of the world’s population. Immigrant workers in the obscenely oil rich Arabian countries has long been an issue. The treatment of African migrant workers in Saudi Arabia demonstrates the need for a truly radical change of that society.

The future – or not – of the NHS

The whole of the Buffoon’s approach to dealing with covid as we enter winter is to place the burden on the NHS (National Health Service) and then blame it if all goes wrong. Due to the inept dealing with the crisis in the early part of this year the faith that many working in the NHS have in the government is leading many of them to consider leaving the profession – at least in this country or the nationalised sector. Why work in an under funded NHS, with poor provision of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and when you are only considered ‘heroes’ when it suits Government propaganda? A recent survey shows many have doubts of their futures in the NHS.

Covid used to justify anything

It’s already been suggested here, on a number of occasions, that various organisation and businesses will use the pandemic as an excuse to do what they were planning to do before the pandemic but blame it on the worldwide disease. The latest, in a social context, is the barring of the Grenfell bereaved from attending the too long drawn out and almost certainly inconclusive public enquiry.

Food banks

There’s no surprise that the present situation will lead to an increase in the demand for the services of the food banks, especially by those who have never used them before – which should be seen as a cause for shame rather than pride.

The return of mass events?

It’s easy to get lost in the miasma surrounding testing. There are too many claims and too many promises to be sure of what is happening. But a bit of innovation in the use of testing might be a step forward in attacking the effects of the virus rather than just responding to so-called ‘spikes’, or even ‘second waves’. The trouble is that this comes from Hancock – who has spouted so much gibberish in the past months – who suggests that there could be a ‘covid pass’ to allow people to attend theatre performances as well as mass sporting events.

Herd immunity

Does it exist or doesn’t it. The issue of ‘herd immunity’ will be an ongoing one until covid-19 is constrained to the past. At the same time the longer the pandemic continues the more information will be collected which will, perhaps, clarify the situation. Studies of the figures for the period ending in April suggest levels of those infected might have well been much higher than was thought at the time.

And finally …

Face coverings

Face masks could be giving people Covid-19 immunity.

More on covid pandemic 2020

Will it be Armageddon? Britain returns to school and work

More on covid pandemic 2020

Will it be Armageddon? Britain returns to school and work

It’s officially the end of summer in Britain – which is normally marked by the return of schools, colleges and universities, the return to work after the summer holidays and some half decent weather after a disappointing July and August. 2020 is no different in that respect. What is different is that the country is now six months into a pandemic.

All those events happening at the beginning of September do not come as a surprise. They are scheduled years in advance and that being the case the population of Britain should have been approaching this milestone with the confidence that everything had been planned to make sure that with an increased movement of people, on a daily basis, everything was in place to mitigate any resurgence of the covid-19 virus.

But that’s forgetting we are in Britain. A country which decided that the best leaders to take us into the third decade of the 21st century should be a bunch on chinless, public school educated, self-centred, capitalist (and imperialist) orientated self-servers. At the head of this gang of no-marks is a Buffoon of the greatest order who’s ‘gift’ is to sound erudite and intelligent but when you examine his words they turn out to be as substantial as the Emperor’s new clothes.

So we enter the autumn without a Plan A – let alone a Plan B which some people are calling for.

If inaction and confusion could be excused when they were faced with an ‘unprecedented and challenging’ (words that should be banned from the English language once the virus is put in its place) event such as the pandemic there is no excuse whatsoever six months down the line.

At this time preparations should be being made for the colder weather when people would be likely to be in closer contact with strangers. Instead various interest groups will be bickering about the how, why and what of the present situation in education and the workplace.

If it doesn’t turn into Armageddon it will be a matter of luck not circumstance.

Covid rules – and our understanding of the virus

When everything that has been decided by the government of the Buffoon since the beginning of the pandemic has been ‘led by the science’ it’s slightly bemusing if the science being used is out of date when it comes to the so-called ‘2 metre rule’.

How long has the virus been in the UK? Since the 21st February it seems. Only important in hindsight but it does indicate that being able to spot something new and also the ability of receiving quick results from any tests will be crucial when the next pandemic hits.

Face coverings

The Buffoon ‘explained’ his most recent U-turn (to date) on 28th August;

‘What you’ve got is the WHO saying the face coverings should be used by over 12’s and what we’re saying is if a school is within a hot spot … then it probably does make sense, in confined areas outside the classroom, to use a face covering in the corridor and also, as they discovered in Scotland, where they have had the kids in for at least a couple of weeks now, was that it was raining outside and people were coming in and they were congregating in the corridors and the move to face coverings, they thought, was. So what we’re doing, following what the WHO have said, then if you’re in a hot spot area where there is risk of, a higher risk of transmission, then face coverings in those types of areas. But not in the classroom, because that’s clearly nonsensical, you can’t teach with face coverings and you can’t expect people to learn with facings and the most important thing is just washes.’

Katharine Birbalsingh, the founder and head mistress of the Michaela Community School in Brent, in North London;

You need to take into account children’s group behavior in a school before you can then say they’re safer with mask. What about the children who turn up to school with uniforms that aren’t washed, but they don’t necessarily wash themselves. They come to school, they’d be wearing reused, dirty masks. They’ll swap them, joke and wear them incorrectly, they’ll lose them.

When half of your children show up to school not wearing masks, what do you do? Do you exclude them? The girls will be in the loos, checking them to make sure they look nice. They’ll be touching their faces all the more. We need to account children’s behavior when considering whether or not masks are safer. I would actually argue that they make them less safe.’

Is the second wave coming?

Not if we follow the WHO’s (World Health Organisation) ‘Disease X’ preparedness advice – even though there are likely to be more outbreaks throughout Europe come the winter.

Sergio Brusin, principle expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said the scenario of hospitals being overwhelmed, as they were during March and April, was unlikely to reoccur due to the experience gained in the last six months and the fact that health services throughout Europe were more prepared to face what might develop in coming months.

‘The resurgence in cases will go for quite a few months. [But] it will probably never get to the same level as the first big wave in Spring, … Although we’ve seen hospitalisations going up in some countries it is not anywhere near to the situation in March and April. The ICUs are not clogged and our health services now have much better planning and response times. So, I am optimistic we will not see the big horrible scenes we saw in March and April, but we will see a lot more cases’, he said.

Although the same day the same newspaper (The Daily Telegraph) seemed to contradict itself when reporting on the increase in the number of infections.

The search for a vaccine

The race in the search for a vaccine continues. However it’s difficult to determine if the principal aim is to save lives or the kudos of being the first (and the ability to make a lot of money – just coincidentally – in the process). In supporting the home team the UK government has increased funding for the team at Cambridge University.

What’s also interesting in this article is the use of a new name for the virus that is presently creating chaos throughout the world. The term we’ve been using, covid-19, doesn’t seem to fit in with the concepts of the scientific community and they want a name which more accurately reflects the nature of the virus. So the name to remember is SARS-CoV-2. But that can’t be so easily turned into ‘covidiot’ to blanket condemn anyone who might be critical of the rules and regulations that are being forced upon us by the Buffoon and his crew.

As an aside. As people talk about a new, more caring world after this pandemic passes by will it mean that governments worldwide will be throwing limitless amounts of money at a vaccine or other effective measures to combat malaria? That disease has been killing millions of people in the poorer parts of the planet for decades (if not centuries) but we don’t seem to be that much closer to a resolution of this killer of the poor. But then, so far (but perhaps not for much longer with the climate emergency which is seeing the spread of the malaria mosquitoes into more northerly latitudes) malaria isn’t such a killer in the richer, northern countries.

There may not (yet) exist a vaccine against covid-19 but there is (and has been for a long time now) an effective vaccine to combat flu – or perhaps there isn’t. The Buffoon and his Government have stated a number of times that they want to help mitigate any outbreak of covid by stamping down (as much as is possible) on any possible influenza outbreak. But those vaccinations may not be available until December.

Consequences and vulnerabilities of the virus

The risks to those who are classified as clinically obese has been around for a while. Another report seems to confirm that, increasing the chances of death by 48%.

On the up side women may have a stronger immune response to the virus.

It’s also been known since very soon after the outbreak that children are less likely to die from contracting the disease. Considering the time of year, with schools already re-starting or about to do so in the next few days, that the Government should bring out a report that concludes that no healthy child has died as a result of contracting the disease isn’t surprising. It was released in an effort to boost the confidence of parents to encourage them to send their children back to full time education.

However, what the Buffoon and his government don’t seem to realise is that by upping the fear factor to ‘fever pitch’ earlier in the year in an effort to get the population to abide by their restrictions in movement they have created an element of paranoia that won’t be brushed away with any report. Neither have it’s confusing statements and notorious U-turns helped in creating a situation where the population has any confidence in what the Government says.

More cases are being reported but they are not accompanied by any significant increase in deaths. Why is this?

More funding has been provided for scientists who are looking into the issue of immunity, especially in how long such immunity might last and why there’s such a variety in the severity the virus has on different individuals.

Poverty in Britain

One of the many issues highlighted in the last six months is the extent and depth of poverty in Britain, one of the top ten wealthiest countries in the world. Although not a surprise (after all poverty is a natural consequence of capitalism and will exist as long as capitalism exists) the way that poverty manifests itself has been swept away, forgotten or ignored for years. Now the poor have become more visible – to the extent that some people might be considering that the existence of food banks and homelessness is a national shame and should be addressed in the near future. I have my doubts about that unless more people start to look at the world in which we live in a different manner – and are prepared to change it. In the meantime more than 80% of those who were in a bad shape before March consider they are worse off six months later, having to sell what little they have to keep themselves afloat.

The way that poverty has been approached in Britain, ever since those in positions of power and wealth started to get a guilty conscience on seeing the poor all around them, has been to mitigate the situation without dealing with the root causes. Hence the welfare state and more recently the proliferation of food banks in all parts of the country. The problem with this approach is that it accepts that ‘the poor will always be with us’ and obstructs any activity which seeks to do away with poverty all together.

We need a change in policy from the ‘Can I have some more’ approach of Oliver, of accepting the crumbs that fall from the table to demanding the total control of the bakery.

But as the pandemic has highlighted many other aspects of poverty it is also showing up these amelioration schemes for what they are, mere shams which try to give the impression that something is being done to help some of the most vulnerable in society. In Scotland funds that could have helped many people in the last six months weren’t used because the poor weren’t told that ‘help’ was available.

The return to school is also providing an opportunity of an overpaid footballer to demonstrate he hasn’t forgotten his background, his roots. This sort of help fits in with the argument above but it also asks the question why such non-governmental approach is even needed when billions of pounds have been thrown at the business community is if money was going out of style.

Education – and the return of schools, colleges and universities

Education has dominated matters in the UK for the last month and will continue to do so for at least another month as more schools, colleges and universities attempt to restart after what should have been the summer break but has now been a period of almost six months. Knowing that this was about to happen on set dates it’s totally ‘reprehensible’ (according to various teaching trade unions) that advice on re-opening should be published just days before the majority of primary and secondary schools are due to return (and even after some have returned in a few parts of the country).

In the country with the largest land mass in the world (Russia) and the country with the largest population (China) the schools and colleges all go back at the same time. In Britain it varies not just between the constituent ‘countries’ of the island but also between neighbouring education authorities. Although quite ludicrous in normal circumstances that difference could have been used to the advantage of managing the virus as those parts of the UK with the greatest number of pupils/students could have learnt from those with smaller populations but who had returned three or four weeks ago – as was the case of Scotland.

That opportunity seems to have been wasted but here is what Devi Sridhar, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, has to say about the Scottish experience (28th August).

In the days that see the return of children to school in the greater part of the UK a report is released showing that the gap between the rich and the poor children has grown 46% in a year. Why is there this constant reinforcement of the so-called ‘disadvantage’ of many young people from poor families instead of doing away with poverty? There’s no need (and never has been) for a report to let a society know that poverty exists. What is needed is action to end it forever.

Testing

Although lower down the page on this post it is universally accepted that the testing regime will be the lynch pin in any strategy (which still doesn’t exist in the UK) to defeat the virus. Last week Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, became all enthusiastic about mass testing. It will be interesting if a) the government achieves its goal and b) how long it will be able to maintain the numbers.

Not only the numbers tested is important but the speed at which the results are returned. In general the time lag seems to be getting worse not better. But both Scotland and Wales think the answer is in the technology.

Speedy tests are also seen as the answer to ‘unlock travel’ in a new test being trialled at Heathrow (London) airport.

Housing

I don’t even pretend to understand the situation over evictions at the moment – other than that the ban on evictions has been extended for a few more months but without a long term solution even being discussed. A pro-tenant housing lawyer tries to fight through the ‘rules’.

Anyone who is facing eviction (or knows of someone in that situation) should contact Acorn (in England) and Living Rent (in Scotland).

Care Homes

It was in care homes where the majority of deaths occurred during this pandemic so far (that is, in the first wave – if we are to have a second). Many of the problems that were the cause of that death rate have not been resolved and it will be a hard time for both the staff and residents if matters get out of hand later in the year.

But rather than attempt to plan for the future information is being suppressed ‘to protect commercial interests’.

Life in Covid Britain

Although not as a consequence of the pandemic (but the situation wouldn’t have been helped by the cock-up on the releasing of exam results and the confusion and uncertainty about schools, colleges and universities returning at the moment) the Good Childhood report has revealed that British children (15 year-olds) have the lowest happiness levels in Europe – mainly caused by a ‘fear of failure’.

‘Collateral damage’ of the pandemic in the UK

In the background over the last few weeks has been the so-called ‘collateral damage’ caused by the emphasis of the NHS on dealing with the pandemic since March this year. Unfortunately, the more information that comes out the bleaker the situation seems to become. If the matter isn’t addressed the numbers of deaths from other causes will start to compete with the fatalities due to covid-19 – even in the country with the highest death rate per head of population in Europe.

Radio 4’s World at One looked at a case study on 26th August.

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain teetering on the brink?

More on covid pandemic 2020

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’.

If people are faced with the threat of eviction (or know of people who might be under such a threat) they should contact Acorn (in England and Wales) or Living Rent (in Scotland).

Testing

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.

Face coverings

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.

Digital ‘Passports’

The issue of digital ‘passports’ resurfaces.

Social care

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.

Miracle cures

Arrested for following Trump’s lead.

More on covid pandemic 2020