Increased restrictions in September – too few or too many?

More on covid pandemic 2020

Increased restrictions in September – too few or too many?

On 24th September new restrictions came into force in England (the other three ‘nations’ in the UK following similar but not exactly the same guidelines – only making the confused situation even more so.)

It’s difficult to understand which scientific advice the Buffoon is following. The ‘lock everything down and try to suppress the virus’ brigade, who seemed to have been in the ascendant up till now, don’t think he has gone far enough. The ‘let’s get used to having to live with the virus’ brigade, on the ‘back foot’ in recent times are happy that the restrictions aren’t as severe as they could have been.

Whatever side of the argument there is an expectation that infections will rise and with the return of Universities in England, happening as I write, that’s almost a certainty. One side will argue this is a reason for more restrictions, the other side will say that’s OK, let’s adapt and protect the most vulnerable in society as the majority of those infections will be among the younger, and more resilient portion of the population.

The problem is that as the Buffoon doesn’t have a strategy (or if he does he’s keeping it a State Secret) any future response will be more dependent on the competing forces rather than ‘following the science’.

For any lay person who wants to understand the situation we are hampered by the lack of complete and comprehensive data on these infection rate. We shouldn’t be too surprised at that. Local Councils who have been arguing for a more local based track and trace system have been complaining about lack of information for months now – and I don’t get the impression the situation even now is what they would like.

A big figure of infections will be thrown around but it doesn’t tell us much if the vast majority of those just stay at home and let the disease take its course – as they would with a mild case of the flu or a common cold. What is important to know is: the number of hospitalisations; the age and gender of those infected; where they work or study; their possible health vulnerabilities; and the number of deaths attributed to covid.

And a lot of what should determine the way forward is still not in place. Tests results take too long; some people are asked to travel so far it is impractical so they don’t test and are a potential threat to others; the track and trace system is a farce; communication of what should be done in the event of being told to self-isolate is poor and a support system for those who might live alone is still no where in place. Recent cases of infections in a couple of Scottish universities where students have been told to self-isolate come with support in terms of deliveries of food and other necessities. That’s ‘doable’ in the context of a student accommodation block – not so much countrywide.

One disturbing comment (almost throw away) that the Buffoon made on the 22nd September that should be closely monitored was his mention of the use of the Armed Forces to support the police in the monitoring and control of the population. Some dismissed this as just referring to ‘back room’ operations but if that was all it implies why was there a necessity to mention it as a raft of measures to police the restrictions on peoples’ movements and activity?

Although a Buffoon he’s too – or at least those behind him pulling the strings are – smart to mention something if it didn’t have meaning.

The lack of real response from the Labour Party also shouldn’t be a surprise. From the very beginning they’ve just followed behind what the Tories have proposed, any criticism being limited to the oft repeated phrase ‘too little, too late’. They criticise the Government for not having a strategy but I haven’t seen any sign of a strategy from them.

One issue that is also worrying, in the sense that there’s a move to make it more the norm than the exception, is the increased locations and times people will be obligated to wear a mask or face covering. This is an issue which is very likely to be considered a norm once this present pandemic has passed over (if it doesn’t kill us all in the process).

At one time the Government campaign against flu was the simple, uncomplicated request to take a responsible approach with the slogan ‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases – trap them in your handkerchief’. Simple and if not adopted by all was something that people were aware of and could act appropriately.

The obligation to wear a mask doesn’t take into account that people; don’t wash them regularly; don’t dispose of the one-use masks responsibly; re-use one-use masks multiple times; don’t wash their hands when they take them off – which is impossible once away from home as in public places all such wash room facilities have disappeared in the last 20 years; wear them around their necks when not on the face; build up the virus in the mask in between uses; touch their faces and masks before touching other hard surfaces where it could be spread to others; and generally don’t use them in a way that would possibly make the use effective.

But what do we know. The millionaire politicians and scientists know better than us.

How good is the science for the September 2020 restrictions?

The figure of 50,000 infections per days was mentioned to frighten people but how likely is it when we compare the UK situation to that which has already developed in France and Spain?

The two sides of the scientific argument – do we suppress or live with the virus?

For an understanding of the statistics the Radio 4 programme, More or Less, looked at the ‘doubling’ of infections on 23rd September, first on hospitalisations and deaths and secondly, the issue of ‘false positives’. (An interesting point in the section on hospitalisations and deaths was the fact that there are delays up to 28 days for the reporting of deaths. If these numbers are important during a pandemic – as they could have an impact upon policy decisions) shouldn’t the Government make it mandatory that these reports are sent as soon as possible?)

Living with the virus or attempting to defeat it?

This subject will probably take on more significance as time goes on and the attempts (perhaps) to suppress the virus don’t have much success. If one tactic proves to be failing then it is time to change direction. Some, including myself, think we are at that place now – the Buffoon, his Government and a sizeable section of the scientific community think not. Time will tell.

How do we live with the virus? We have to plan what to do when there are ‘circuit breaks’ or local lock downs/increased restrictions. David Nabarro, from the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave his view of what should happen in an interview on Radio 4’s World at One on 18th September.

Local ‘lock downs’ – what prompted that in the North east of England?

An item on Radio 4’s World at One on 17th September considered the background to the decision by the Buffoonette to declare the North East of England a special case.

What does ‘follow the science’ really mean?

Six months (at least in the UK) into the pandemic and divsions in the scientific community are becoming more polarised. On Monday 21st September, in expectation of something changing within days two ‘open letters’ were sent to the Chief Medical Officers of the four ‘nations’ of the United Kingdom.

One was written by Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford University, the University of Buckingham’s Professor Karol Sikora and Sam Williams, director of the consultancy firm Economic Insight – also being signed by a total of 31 prominent scientists in the field of epidemiology. This letter suggested a different strategy should be followed rather than just shutting the doors and hoping the virus would go away.

The other letter (from the Government’s toadies) can be read by following the link from an article in the online British Medical Journal.

Both these letters came to light on the same day as an ‘unprecedented’ press conference from No 10 Downing Street (the office of the British Prime Minister) by the two most senior scientists who have been ‘advising’ the Government since the very beginning.

In a country that constantly harps on about the media being ‘objective’ it was interesting to see, in two concrete circumstances, where impartiality was certainly lacking. That doesn’t surprise me, even less so bother me, it’s the crass hypocrisy that is most annoying.

The Radio 4 programme, the World at One, at 13.00 on Monday 21st September was almost totally devoted (it’s a 45 minute programme) to presenting the issue as presented by the Government’s scientific commentators earlier that day. But to show ‘impartiality’ the programme had an ‘interview’ with Karol Sikora (one of the authors of the anti-Government policy open letter mentioned above). He was asked 2 questions and the whole ‘interview’ lasted less that 2 minutes 20 seconds.

The British Medical Journal also followed the Government line by having a direct link from the article to a copy of the pro-Government open letter but only a link to a tweet for those arguing for a change in strategy. Here there was a difference in the emphasis that demonstrates the hypocrisy.

The messages from the Government

Some of the adverts produced by the Buffoon’s Government since the end of March are becoming incredibly annoying. The latest, ‘Hands – Face – Space’ doesn’t even get the most important message right, according to some scientists. It should be the other way around with social distancing being the most effective tactic for people to adopt.

Testing

How is the ‘world beating’ testing system operating in Britain during September – before an increase in restrictions. This is a constantly changing situation.

Government to prioritise NHS and care homes for testing.

Matt Hancock – we will ration tests.

Cases are rising rapidly and the UK’s testing infrastructure is straining at the seams.

Hancock says Covid testing crisis may last weeks.

Coronavirus testing chaos ‘puts children at back of queue‘.

Not only are potential vaccines being hovered up by the richer countries, the most simple tests (which would be most effective in countries with less access to laboratory facilities and with poor transport infrastructures) are also being taken selfishly for the ‘rich’.

Problem: private companies have been making a pig’s ear of the test and trace system. Solution: give more work to private companies. This time Amazon are in the frame.

Schools, colleges and universities re-start in September at the same time as many people would return to work following the summer holidays. This has been the situation for decades yet those at the head of the Test, track and trace programme didn’t foresee a huge upsurge in requests for tests. If you made it up it would have been considered fantastical.

Chaos, confusion and anger – welcome to a new Covid test centre.

The failures in the testing centres is starting to put pressure on hospital Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments.

More and more areas of the UK are undergoing their own local lock down caused by the higher than the average number of infections. However, even in these areas the test and trace regime is not up to the job.

But in all crises there are those who benefit – here it’s ‘consultants’.

The head of the Government’s test and trace system didn’t fare so well as an internet provider – she brings the same level of expertise to dealing with the pandemic.

Technology doesn’t always work – so beware putting too much faith in it.

Scientists hit back when accused by the head of the test and trace system, Dido Harding, that she wasn’t given adequate information about the surge in demand for tests in September.

The long-awaited NHS tracing app is due to be launched on 24th September – however (as is normally the case) there’s not a lot of information about some of the crucial aspects of this technology which will determine its success. On 23rd September there was an interview with Lilian Edwards (an expert of technology law) about the known – and unknown – details of this new app, on Radio 4’s World at One.

More or Less, on Radio 4, on 20th September, looked at the numbers on both covid testing capacity in laboratories and also whether the Buffoon’s ‘Operation Moonshot’ makes any statistical sense.

Vaccine

The rise in ‘vaccine nationalism’ continues despite warnings that more will die unless there is equal access to a vaccine globally.

Food Banks, food policy and a lack of a strategy

A recent report by the Trussell Trust (one of the biggest providers of food banks in the UK) demonstrates how the pandemic has made the situation worse for those already using them and is forcing others to go to food banks for the first time.

As with so many other issues surrounding poverty in the 6th richest nation on the planet the fact that so many people struggle to feed themselves with wholesome and healthy food has been highlighted due to the pandemic. Not because the pandemic itself has caused this poverty (although that is part of the problem) but in the present climate of openness and people talking about their problems the rest of the population is being forced to hear about, if not necessarily do anything to prevent, the matters that effect millions in the British population.

On 23rd September Radio 4’s You and Yours consumer programme had an interview with Professor Tim Laing who has long been arguing (and so far not successfully) for the need for a comprehensive and well thought out food strategy to ensure that food poverty is eliminated.

Universities and the student return

If the university experience for young people isn’t bad enough they are now being threatened with the end of their university careers with automatic suspensions if they break any of the ‘oft times not very well thought out’ regulations.

The anti-lock down movement

Protest songs against war, unemployment, climate emergency and now against the imposed lock down on people in the UK.

Care Homes

Life in care homes isn’t getting any better – even though they were the locations of the majority of deaths in the first six months of the pandemic. There are doubts whether they are fully prepared in the event of another general outbreak and some family visits are being curtailed by those providers who are ‘over cautious’.

You can’t change the culture that has developed in care homes in the last decade (poor wages, low staff levels, lack of training, no career path, minimum wage/zero hour contract agency working, etc.) overnight. Glib statements made by the Tories about improving the situation in care homes are merely empty words when confronted with the reality within British society. The current situation was outlined in a  section of Radio 4’s You and Yours programme on 17th September.

The ‘Nationalists’

The Scottish Nationalists don’t only want to determine what happens in the area ‘north of the border’ they also want to determine what happens in the rest of the UK. After spending the last six months constantly wanting to demonstrate their ‘independence’ from England (although they are quite happy to have matters decided for them in the European Union) and arguing that the border between Scotland and England means they can make their own decisions they now interfering in the affairs of another country.

Flu jabs

For some time now there has been talk about increasing the number of people who have been (for a number of years) considered vulnerable to the regular influenza outbreaks – those over 65, pregnant women and those with certain respiratory diseases – to include those over 50. However, if the talk is there it’s not entirely clear that the infrastructure exists to cope with the increased demand. Instead of expecting people to ask for the injection why weren’t they contacted so that the programme could be followed in an orderly and structured manner, ensuring that the most vulnerable were not left out. The situation that seems to be developing is similar to the panic buying that follows the announcement of any new restrictions on movement due to the pandemic.

Even the scientists are millionaires

The forelock-tuggers of Britain have been happy enough for the rich politicians to tell them what to do for the last six months, they must be over the moon now to know that even one of the scientists who are passing on advice to the government are also millionaires. And will be even more wealthy if the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) vaccine proves to be effective.

(One of the interesting developments in the last six months, since the pandemic started to close down British society, is that it’s what are considered the ‘right-wing’, pro-Tory, pro-wealth newspapers (such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph) are more likely to publish scoops about the abuses of wealth by the very politicians they used to support.)

‘Herd immunity’

Even though they (the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty) painted a ‘doomsday’ scenario in their presentation on the 21st September – softening up the public for whatever the Buffoon would announce in the next couple of days – it wasn’t enough to save them from being criticised for one time arguing for the ‘herd immunity’ approach in dealing with the virus.

Prospects for employment in the coming months

A recent report by the Resolution Foundation suggests that unemployment levels, in the coming months, will reach those in the 1980s (the ‘Golden Thatcherite Years’).

Poor Housing

Those living in badly maintained and decaying private rented accommodation will be at increased risk this coming winter due to the added threat of covid-19. The report, produced by the Centre for Ageing Better, has repercussions for others than the old, there being people of all ages who are already suffering from ailments caused by their living conditions.

Government strategy

What’s a strategy?

More on covid pandemic 2020

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.

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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.

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