On the eve of the announcement of the most substantial relaxation of lock down so far

More on covid pandemic 2020

On the eve of the announcement of the most substantial relaxation of lock down so far

Later on today, Tuesday 23rd June, the Buffoon will be making an announcement (as usual most of it being leaked to the media so it will be preceded by a day of useless and meaningless speculation) of more places being able to open in England during the first week end of July – Scotland, wales and Northern Ireland will continue to do their own thing.’

As is normal in these circumstances wild ideas will be floated only to be debunked at the time of the official announcement. One such is that people will be expected to ‘sign in’ if they go to a pub or a restaurant. If that were to be introduced expect the Buffoon’s name and address appearing in countless locations throughout the country.

One of the other topics which will be discussed to death in the coming days, as more and more businesses start to re-open, as more school children start to go back to classes and as more people are generally on the streets, is the efficacy – or otherwise – of wearing some sort of face covering.

This is being promoted as an easy way to control the virus but even those who are most keep on getting us all masked up accept that to be effective then it has to be done correctly. That is, it’s not just a case of putting a scarf around your face and pretending to be a bank robber in the wild west.

Doing it properly means; not touching your face, taking them off carefully and considering how they should either be stored (if reusable) or disposed of (if the one off sort), how, and at what temperature, they should be cleaned (if reusable), the process of hand cleaning when removing the covering, and many other ‘recommendations’ that will no doubt be presented in the coming days.

But what those scientists and politicians who want to enforce this upon the general population have failed to do is look at how people, so far, have acted when wearing masks. And there are many occasions where they could have learnt a lot – those demonstrations that have taken place internationally in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement.

In those demonstrations people haven’t followed any of the recommendations above. They come on and off as the discomfort level increases, they are constantly touched as people move them to be more comfortable or to speak to others, they are hanging around people’s necks. All guaranteed to spread the virus and not reduce contamination.

And in the photo/video of the teachers and schoolchildren in Wokingham, following the stabbings in Reading over the weekend, who were holding a two minutes silence at the school entrance on Monday 22nd June very few were wearing masks – and don’t talk about ‘social distancing’.

Two metres or one – or something in between

Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health, Edinburgh University, Radio 4, World at One, 11th June;

Q. When will it be safe to reduce interactions to one metre?

‘From a public health perspective to provide as much protection as we can we should stay at 2 metres. However, that is not the only consideration.

There’s a lot of discussion about this as if it were scientifically exact … but that’ not the case. It’s also due to the things like, what’s the indoor environment like, how long are you in contact within that distance, etc.

The other consideration which is equally important is how do you get sectors of the economy up and running again because job losses and economic impacts also have health consequences … therefore it would be open to reduction in certain circumstances.’

Q. Is there a level of infection which you think it would be right for the government to reduce the distance?

‘Everybody is looking for precise numbers but the Government’s right, infection rates are still high in England. We still have 39,000 cases per week so that’s a higher level than other countries where they relaxed the lock down. It’s better to remain cautious but as we look forward in the coming weeks certain premises, if they have got all the other public health measures in place, for example staff wearing masks, good ventilation, good hygiene standards, there may be room to reduce that slightly, particularly down to one and a half metres. There’s a number of studies that show distance provides a good level of protection.’

Q. Only one and a half?

‘That’s what I’ve seen from the studies. There’s more support for one and a half than one definitely. But let’s bear in mind countries here take a different approach on this so it has to be a package of measures.

If we are going to reduce it to one metre let’s make sure we have clear guidance for businesses on the other public health measures that are going to be in place. For certain environments we need to be giving much clearer emphasis on mask or face covering wearing. Obviously more and more evidence from different countries is going to make a real difference as we go forward.’

Q. Can you say what the difference is between one and two metres?

‘Essentially, if you have 100 people in a room, if you have less than a metre the rate of infection would be 13 people under certain conditions. If you have more than a metre, especially one and half metres, this reduces significantly down to three people. If you have two metres or more it reduces down to one person. So there’s a 50% reduction in risk potentially between one and two metres.’

Q. After the two metre message has been stressed for so long is it now difficult to change it to one metre?

‘We’re in a very confusing period for the public. It will be difficult to change and people will also lack trust in the advice of it suddenly shifts. People who are very cautious will be deeply uncomfortable being in indoor environments where that distance is reduced. But the consequences of a very deep recession are just as important. At the end of the day it’s going to be a political decision.’

Q. Are you happy in the way the decisions have been taken by the Government so far?

‘No. [Laughs. Yet another scientist laughs at Government activity.] The communication has been poor and the guidance has been confusing.

Many thing went wrong from testing to PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], to lack of capacity for contact tracing. We are beginning to move in the right direction which is good news.’

Robert Wallace, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University, Radio 4, Today programme, 11th June;

‘I think it’s a question of relative risk …. You’re moving from a tiny risk at two metres to a very small risk at one metre. And you have to set that against all the other harms that are being done by the economic devastation that is reeked by the two metre rule, and the deaths that will be attributable to the lock down and to the social and economic disruption which this is causing.’

Children going back to school – or not

As always, matters are less complicated for the more wealthy. Most, if not all, private schools have already said they intend to open in September.

James Wilding, Academic Principal, Claires Court Independent School, Maidenhead, Radio 4, World at One, 16th June;

Q. Will you open fully in September?

‘There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do. … We’ve been able to demonstrate throughout … that we are able to continue successfully … [with children] suitably being taught and separated appropriately from the adults teaching them.’

Q. Do you have the luxury of having a lot of space?

‘We’re on three sites, we have got room but we don’t have acres of land. The particular point is .. a class size of fifteen. My school has its entire enterprise based around class sizes of that number. So we have, essentially, always ran our school of class size of the recommended level the Government is saying.

I sympathise hugely with my State sector colleagues that they have class sizes with 30 children. But we don’t. So we are able to manage the suitable separation in the rooms we would normally use.’

Q. What should head teachers do for September?

‘September is sufficiently far away that we can make our plans in a continuous way for timetables, for appropriate arrival back at school. Also we can have our boys and girls at school where they need to be.

It’s not just children of ‘hard to reach’ families that need to be at school, all children need to be at school. It’s their childhood that they have at school, not just their learning.’

Devi Shridhar, Chair Global Public Health, Edinburgh University and advisor to the Scottish Government, Radio 4, World at One, 16th June;

‘The risks to children on a population level are quite small. Most children have no or very mild symptoms and so the concern has to be around parents, who they [the children] go home to [such as] grandparents as well as teachers.

In Scotland cases have come down considerably to the point that the past week it’s been most days 20 to 30 confirmed daily new cases which is a good position to be in going into another month before schools open.’

Q. If numbers are low enough what should happen on 11th August [when Scottish schools are due to re-open for the 2020-2021 academic year]?

‘Ideally, and this is the hope that we can eliminate the virus, so we have no new cases or one or two, and if this was the case then actually Scotland would be in a position to just open schools normally.

I’m thinking of [the example] of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, New Zealand, but I think it’s more likely to be in a position to that of Denmark and Norway where you have to have some sort of precautions in place, you have a low number of community cases and you need to keep in place certain measures but you can slowly release them as you see, and become more and more confident, that you have transmission under control.

And it’s not going to be a case of going back exactly as it was last time. There needs to be thinking around hand washing facilities, assemblies, for example, are not going to be possible, how you get parents and teachers and children to and from school and the role of face coverings if they’re going to be on public transport.’

Q. You haven’t mentioned social distancing and that’s what limits how schools will be able to open [in England]. Are you suggesting that social distancing should just go?

‘It’s not just as easy as that. It depends upon communities. If there was a local area in Scotland that had no cases I would say that social distancing is currently not necessary. Especially among kids. We have seen that social distancing has been a cost free exercise. There’s more concern around teachers, their distancing.

What we have noticed is that it is teacher to teacher transmission that is likely to set off chains of infections. We see much more limited evidence of children to adult transmission.’

Q. Whatever the rates of infection is it a failure not to get children back to school in August or September?

‘We definitely have to find a way to get children back. Kids will have been out … for six months. It’s a heavy price to pay. So the imperative is children. It comes above shops, pubs and gatherings, which are all so important to the economy. Kids don’t have a voice, don’t have a strong lobby, they don’t vote so sometimes we forget about their interests and that they do need to get back into school and we need to figure out a way to prioritise those settings and make things safe enough that there is confidence among parents and teachers to engage and participate fully.’

Anna Ekström, Swedish Education Minister, on the Swedish experience where schools have remained open during all of the pandemic, Radio 4, World at One, 16th June;

‘We have concluded that children have not been a driving force in the pandemic and, moreover, the staff within the school and pre-school system which have remained open, they have been found to not to have been diagnosed with covid-19 to a greater extent than those in other professions. Also we have big public support for keeping schools and pre-schools open and also, of course, the support of the teachers’ unions.’

Q. One of the fears here is that the staff might be at risk but you are saying that staff are no more at risk if schools return?

‘That is what our public agency has found. …The fact that we had schools open so far hasn’t led to a higher degree of infection among the staff.’

Q. Have the teaching unions always been on side?

‘Both of them have been on side always but I would like to add that they have, of course, being unions, they are critical when it comes to conditions and the terms of employment and they have been critical on lots of things but the fact that we kept schools open has not been part of the criticism.’

Q. What is the social distancing within schools?

‘That’s a difficult part. Our school building are clearly not built for a pandemic. We have used the WHO [World Health Organisation] recommendation. That is, keeping a distance between children in the classrooms, making sure that the canteens are not too crowded, making sure that lots of teaching is conducted outdoors.’

Q. Have you kept the one metre distance in schools?

‘Honestly I can say that schools aren’t built for this. The children are not always the best at keeping their distance and this is an area we had lots of discussions, all the time.

The handling of the schools in this pandemic has never been reaching an easy decision. It has been about weighing one kind of risk against another kind of risk. I am constantly aware of the risk if infection but I’m also constantly aware of the risk of keeping schools closed because that is a concrete link for all children.’

1,500 paediatricians have signed a letter to the Buffoon asking that the opening of schools be made a priority. Dr. Max Davie, Consultant Community Paediatrician, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Colleges’ Officer for Health Promotion, Radio 4, World at One, 18th June;

‘We are very concerned about the continued absence of children from school, particularly disadvantaged children. One of the big focuses of our work … has been on inequalities and we can only see a prolonged absence from school widening inequalities, both academic but also health inequalities across physical and mental health, with any disadvantaged child suffering disproportionately.’

Q. Are the risks now greater of not going to school that going to school?

‘For some children that’s true. I work sometimes in child protection … and we have a lot of children that being at home with parents who aren’t coping or who have issues of their own, is becoming more and more stressful and difficult and dangerous and we’re having some very difficult cases coming through where things have broken down. Schools really are a bulwark for a lot of very vulnerable families. They provide so much holding things together as well as, of course, the conduits for things such as vaccinations and a lot of mental health work that goes into children. … All this then happens through schools and losing that really just takes away a cornerstone of the whole system at a local level.’

Q. But schools are still open for vulnerable children as well as those of key workers?

‘They are but it all depends on how you define vulnerable children. So, if a child has vulnerability such as a diagnosis of ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] … they are not necessarily being offered a place because the definition of vulnerable is often quite a bit more narrow than perhaps would be ideal. Children are getting an input but they need to get the full input that the school does a fantastic job of providing.’

Q. Can you give an example of the kind of things you are seeing?

‘It’s difficult to talk about individual cases but I would say three things.

One is families with children with really significant special needs who are not perhaps at the threshold where they would be getting a school place. When you are struggling with their behaviour with three months in, confined to a small flat, often in an urban area … it must be becoming very difficult and tempers are getting frayed … and children are less safe.

The second area is where you have families with very significant mental health issues in the parents. They are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with children and therefore things happen in such situations that can be harmful to the children and then we have to step in. It’s much better if we can support children before that happens.

If you’re not seeing them, they are not in contact with professionals, then we don’t know what’s happening in the home and that’s very worrying.’

Q. Are you calling on the Government to open schools now?

‘What we’re really calling for is a plan. When I speak to teachers what they want is a plan. They don’t know what’s happening next week or next month. They just don’t know what’s going to happen. What we want is a coherent and sensible plan to get children back into school as soon as possible.’

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England;

[Tthere is a] ‘dangerous threat’ [to children’s rights as reduced access to education was being allowed to become] ‘the default’. ‘You have to come up with the level of intervention, such as the Nightingale hospitals, such as the job retention scheme. … There’s no reason why we can’t do that for children.’

The contact tracing app saga continues

James Bethell, an hereditary peer and a junior minster in the House of Lords (currently involved with the introduction, or perhaps not, of the NHS tracing app) said, on 17th June, that the much lauded application was not a priority for the Government at the moment [for that read its not working and they don’t know how to get it up and running] claiming that the pilot on the Isle of Wight had shown that people preferred to be contacted by a human being. He further said the app was unlikely to be ready ‘before the winter’.

Michael Veale, lecturer in Digital Rights and Regulation at University College London and part of the team that developed the app now being used in Germany and Switzerland, among other countries, Radio 4, World at One, 18th June;

Q. Have other countries found that people prefer human contact rather than technology?

‘Other countries have seen manual contact tracing and app contact tracing as going hand in hand. The concern that many countries, and this is also the same with the UK Government, have with calling people on the basis of an app result is that you encourage phishing, with calls from people pretending to be from ‘test and trace’ and trying to get people to pay for a test, or something like that, and it’s very difficult to verify. It’s always going to be a concern in these situations.’

Q. When you look at the UK results this morning where there is a 25% gap is an app needed to fill that gap?

‘The app is really useful in that area but we don’t have the data to say who that 25% of people are. The app is particularly useful when you are near somebody on a bus or train, for example, who you might not know the name of and so they may not be caught by a manual tracing process.

But if the 25% of people who don’t respond to manual contact tracing are the same 25% who don’t install an app then that might not be such a useful development.’

Q. The Government is talking about some concerns with their own app. Is it just being put on hold?

‘It sounds like it. Many countries have developed their own app, simultaneously or even before the UK. …

It’s now been the case that Germany launched theirs on Monday and 6.5 million people in Germany downloaded it in 24 hours. Italy has had theirs launched for a couple of weeks. Denmark launched theirs today. So we’ve really seen a great amount of development and take up but the UK has chosen an app which isn’t compatible with these countries’ apps. And that raises questions for holiday makers in particular.’

Q. If you went into another country couldn’t you download their app?

‘The challenge is where would you get tested? You need the app to work when you’re at home so that when you encounter tourists you can register them when you go on holiday. But when you get tested when you get home you need your tests result to propagate alerts to those people in whatever country you have visited. So it’s important the same app that works fluidly across borders.

The European Commission has been developing inter-operability guidelines which make all these apps work together very neatly. The UK’s version is simply not compatible with this.’

Q. So what should the UK be doing now?

‘The UK has never had a unified app. NHSX has always been NHS England. Northern Ireland has stated they would wish to focus more on the Republic and not use the English app. I think the UK should simply take some of the open source code from the many countries who have deployed these apps already and consider rolling it out in the UK.

That would be the sensible approach to make it work across borders with a system we see is working elsewhere.’

Q. So the NHS could do that, as could other nations?

‘Yes, … it’s totally within their ability to do that and we’ve heard they’ve been scoping and developing this idea of a decentralised app on the back burner.

You may find that countries start to impose quarantine on people who come in without an app in a different way from the people who come in with an app and that might really effect holiday makers who wish to go abroad and also in the economy more widely.’

Q. Is that being talked about in Germany?

‘Yes, Germany … specifically called out the role of this app on holiday. They haven’t announced any policy on it yet but I know these discussions are occurring at European level … those countries who are looking to make their apps inter-operable with each other.

This is not just Europe. Japan also has a decentralised application so it’s really going this far with inter-operability.’

And then the British position altered on that same day with yet another Government ‘U-turn’. These are now coming thick and fast. This followed confusion, to say the least, amongst Cabinet Ministers – they can’t even get their stories right let alone manage the country through a pandemic.

Before the ‘U-turn’ there were doubts being cast that the NHSX, go-it-alone app was doomed from the start.

As the figures are now showing that the Government is far from delivering a ‘world-beating’ contact and trace programme the numbers aren’t being made public in the way we have become used to. The reason from this can be shown by the effectiveness of the contact tracing in its first days – which may (or may not) be improving.

Free school meals during summer holiday

The fact that this became an issue last week says a lot about British society and the Government the people had chosen to ‘lead’ them. The Government for not realising that after throwing billions into ‘doing whatever it takes’ to defeat the virus they were willing to take a stand on a move that would cost very little in the overall scheme of things. Once the Buffoon and his minions had taken a stand there were even people in his own Party talking out against it.

The fact that it was a over-paid footballer who took the lead in a campaign to reverse the decision suggests that British people have lost the plot when it comes to defending their own interests. Where were the organisations of organised labour (i.e., the Trade Unions) in all this? They were noticeable by their absence. If they said nothing as they were disgusted that a rich society such as is Britain needs to have so many of its children needing to get assistance merely to eat well that would be one thing – but I fear they are also caught up in the capitalist trap that ‘the poor will always be with us’.

For that is the great obscenity about free school meals – as has been stated here when the issue has come up since the UK lock down began in March. The fact that children need these free meals (or vouchers when out of school) shouldn’t be treated as an example of a fair society it merely demonstrates the opposite. It should be considered as a matter of disgrace that such a situation has been allowed to develop – as it is with the Food Banks.

Figures published before the pandemic indicate that there are (roughly) 1,661,000 children claiming free school meals in the four constituent parts of the the United Kingdom. That was an average of about 15% of the school population nationwide – but, obviously, some areas would be higher. At the beginning of 2020 that was the highest rate it had been since 2014, indicating that the effects of short-term and zero-hour contracts (which have been on the rise in recent years) are some of the factors pushing these numbers higher. With the loss of jobs (which are mainly those with lower pay) and the chaos caused in the last three months that figure is certainly considerably higher now.

One of the side effects of the pandemic is that statistics (which used to send most people to sleep or were dismissed as ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’) have become sexy now, are more in the public domain with statisticians more prepared to place their findings in front of a populace who might be interested in knowing what the numbers say about British society. And as the debate about free schools meals was filling the headlines for a couple of days figures were published which clearly showed that the north-south divide is still living and well in Britain – with all the areas with the highest take up of free school meals being in the north.

This ‘debate’ takes place a few months after the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission (in a survey published towards the end of January) found that there were 600,000 more children living in poverty in Britain at the beginning of 2020 than there were in 2012. If it was bad in January it will only be worse in June.

When did the virus first appear?

Although there are too many vested interests involved to get a clear answer to this question – as well as the desire to look for a scapegoat and apportion blame – it’s interesting that speculation is rife about the actual start of the pandemic. If it was around in August 2019 why wasn’t it picked up by other countries much earlier? Surely the earlier it was a round the more difficult it will be for those who wish to push all the blame for the world’s woes onto the Chinese Government?

The privatisation of contact tracing

This is a strange one. One of the biggest financial institutions in the country had such faith in the Government’s ‘world-beating’ contact tracing programme that they introduced one just for their workers. Don’t know how that will fit in with any national plans. If nothing else there will be duplication of effort and a very fractured tracing system.

Covid and gender inequality

The list of those who are having to endure the adverse effects of the reactions to the pandemic gets longer. Statistics are already showing that the impact upon women in the work place will be worse post pandemic than it was before the March lock down.

A medical opinion of the Buffoon’s response to covid-19

…. isn’t favourable. Even more, the worse response in a generation.

The story of lack of preparedness of PPE

… doesn’t go away. The scandal is not new but as time goes by more damning evidence arises about how the Government didn’t prepare for a potential pandemic – even though they were encouraged to do so.

Lack of resources cost thousands of lives

…. in care homes. Again, not a surprise but this issue is not going to go away quietly.

Spend, spend, spend

never mind that those few industries that still exist in Britain are using the opportunity of the pandemic to shed thousands and thousands of jobs – the way out of the economic crisis is in the hands of the consumers. The Buffoon, on the eve of the opening of ‘non-essential’ shops in England, called upon the British public to ‘shop with confidence’. Consumer spending (and the consequential increase in personal debt) was rising until just before the pandemic caused the lock down and had kept the economy going for a number of years. But this was building upon sand and is unlikely to be able to pull the country out of its downward trajectory.

How’s the Buffoon doing within his own Party?

It seems the Buffoon is even disappointing his own side. That will come to nothing. All he has to say is that if they keep quiet they can take advantage of the gravy train for the next five years. A Tory with principles is an oxymoron.

How crucial is an effective ‘contact tracing system’ to end the lock down?

The problem here is that if we wait until the system is doing what it’s supposed to do Hell would have frozen over. It could also be the case here that the scientists are covering their backs in case the relaxing of the lock down causes ‘spikes’ or even a ‘second wave’. The problem here is that although there have been localised outbreaks in a number of countries that have started to return to some aspect of normality is that cases of covid-19 might have risen – but the news on the deaths has been sparse. Don’t even know if there have been any – the most vulnerable in society being allowed to be killed off in the first wave (at least here in Britain).

How many have died of the virus worldwide?

This is a question the answer to which we will have to wait years. There are so many variables and so many interests that want to be protected that it’s doubtful the true number will be any more than an estimation. What people do with that knowledge is another matter. Will populations throughout the world hold their leaders to account for what they have, and have not, done in response to the pandemic? Lots of discussion about this – nothing concrete so far.

Quote of the week

‘We have spent tens of billions, not millions, billions, wrapping our arms around the vulnerable.’

Grant Shaps, Transport Minister on 16th June.

This was just repeating the almost exactly the same words of the Buffoon the day before. A phrase that probably being tested to see what the response would be. If you lived in a care home those arms were more like those of Death itself.

More on covid pandemic 2020

When you thought the situation in Britain couldn’t get any worse – the Buffoon opens his mouth

More on covid pandemic 2020

When you thought the situation in Britain couldn’t get any worse – the Buffoon opens his mouth

If you are unfortunate enough to be living in Britain in 2020 – during the covid-19 pandemic – you are used to waking up hoping you had seen the worse – and then you would see, hear or read the latest cock up of the Buffoon and his gang (and pinch yourself hoping it was all some surreal nightmare).

Every time the present Government is questioned or criticised about its ‘handling’ of the pandemic the stock answer is that we should concentrate on dealing with the crisis in a united manner and that any review of what was, or was not done, will be part of an investigation at some time in the indeterminate future. Obviously the Buffoon and his Government hope that at that time people would have forgotten what a pig’s ear they had made of the situation from the very beginning – a wish that, unfortunately, will probably turn out to be true.

However, a short ‘review’ just short of three months into Britain’s response to the pandemic;

  • the death toll is around 64,000 (as of the end of May) – that being the difference in the average number of deaths in the last five years in the same period and what has happened in 2020 (considered as being the most accurate estimation as many deaths, especially in the early days, were not being put down to covid-19)
  • the ‘world beating’ test and trace programme is an embarrassment (see below)
  • the situation in care homes continues to be dire (see below)
  • most (if not all) policy decisions are taken by the Government in an ad hoc manner surprising those who have to carry out these policies (see below)
  • there’s a ever growing major difference of opinion between the scientific advisors and the politicians (see below)
  • there’s seemingly no strategic plan to get as many children as possible back to school as soon as possible (see below)
  • the prospects for the economy in the coming years is predicted to be the worst in Europe

Fourteen day quarantine for anyone entering the United Kingdom

The plans are announced – and immediately people ask the question – why now?

Robert West, Professor Of Health Psychology, University College London, on Radio 4, World at One, 2nd June, talking about the plans to introduce a 14 day quarantine for all travellers coming into the United Kingdom from 8th June;

‘There is science behind it but of course the science is ambiguous here with regards to exactly what policy you adopt. …

It’s a cautious approach but the science would also support other chunks of measures such as those being adopted by other countries which might involve having more testing of people as they come into the country and other preventative type measures. ….

What’s puzzling a number of people is that this seems a particularly cautious approach for people coming into the country when we’re seeing a relaxing, to some degree against the scientific advice, with the approach we are adopting for the people already here.

It would be fine if the Government were to say …. there are reasons for doing so while other countries are taking a different approach.’

Q. The line ‘we owe it to victims to impose a quarantine’ [Priti Patel]. Is that how you see it?

West laughs. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. [Laughs again, then stutters looking for words to express his reply in the face of such a ludicrous statement.] That’s just a very generalised, emotive argument you could apply to anything.

We owe to the victims to apply appropriate cautious measures across the whole gamut of what we are doing and that includes getting a decent contact, testing, tracing and isolation system in place – which we should have started on a long time ago.

Talking about ‘we owe it to the victims’ is not a particularly helpful contribution.’

Universities opening in September

Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University and President of Universities UK, on what situation students will possibly face at the beginning of the academic year in September 2020, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd June;

‘There are some wonderful examples of digital eduction now, techniques like virtual reality, so I do see this as a really exciting opportunity. If I’m honest it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and I think our students will actually embrace it.’

The reason for including this quote are twofold. The first is that this use of technology, especially when coupled with the ‘bubble approach’ being discussed at the moment, will change the whole ethos of attending University. If you can do all the work at a distance (which is the case for the majority of the students not involved in hands on practical courses) then why go in the first place.

With the cost of University fees and living costs this is a very expensive way of having a party – which you won’t be able to have because of the ‘bubble approach’ and social distancing. You might as well sign on to a university, go across the world where the sun shines most of the time and living costs are cheap and just pay for a good internet connection.

The second is what follows the phrase ‘if I’m honest’. This is just one example where different organisations and businesses will use the effects of the covid-19 ‘new normal’ to bring in practices they have wanted to introduce but couldn’t due to potential opposition. They will now make it a fait accompli and push the blame on a guiltless virus. It won’t be able to say that it wasn’t its idea.

To make the experience of being a students totally miserable (as well as expensive) it is being suggested they might have to stay in ‘protective bubble’.

Already universities are nervous – especially those which are over dependent upon foreign students, even more so those which have been cultivating the very lucrative Asian, mainly, Chinese ‘market’ – education is more of a business now and education seems to be a bit of a sideline. But even domestic students are thinking about their future and deferrals are certainly being considered by many. What to do if they don’t go to University might be what swings it – a ‘gap year’ travelling, finding a job for a year might not be viable alternatives.

The Buffoon and his Government inept and incompetent? – of course not

The Buffoon at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the Houses of Parliament, 3rd June, in response to a challenge on the ineptitude and incompetence of his Government’s approach to the covid-19 pandemic;

‘I really do not see the purpose of these endless attacks on public trust and confidence. What we’re trying to do is to …. [communicate] clear messages about how to defeat this virus.

Test and trace is a vital tool in our armoury and, contrary to what he [Starmer, leader of the Labour Party] says, actually we did, by the end of May [he meant April] get up to 100,000 [although that figure is generally accepted to have been ‘massaged’] tests a day and we got to 200,00 by the beginning of this month [another figure that has been extensively challenged].

That was an astonishing achievement, not by government but by tens of thousands of people working to support government. [Interesting how here the Buffoon turns a question of the truth of what Ministers have said and claims it as an attack on people carrying out the tests and the tracing. Also how those people are doing the job ‘to support the Government’ – as if they have faith in what it is doing.]

I think he [Starmer] should pay tribute to them and what they’ve achieved. [Here the Buffoon reiterates his ‘support’ for those who are being ‘questioned’ in the validity of the figures.]’

And this is the problem (one of many) of Parliamentary so-called ‘Democracy’. These characters aren’t concerned about dealing with the issues of the day, they are more concerned with playing to the gallery of their supporters. In Britain it’s played like a Public (in Britain that means private) school debating society. It’s not what is said but how it is said in order to win support – the solution to the problem doesn’t come into it.

If you can stomach it you can see a performance what is called PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) of the 10th June.

The mandatory use of face masks on public transport

The World Health Organisation doesn’t do itself any favour when faced by the cretins such a Trump. Now, seven, eight or even nine months (depending upon who you listen to about the actual first appearance of the virus) they reverse their policy on the general population wearing masks whenever they might have close contact with others outside of their immediate circle.

Devi Lalita Sridhar, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, Radio 4, World at One, 5th June;

‘There’s emerging evidence [although no mention of what or from where] about the positive impact that mask usage can have in reducing transmissions. … it would have been nice to have had this done earlier.

I agree with the British Medical Association that the latest proposals don’t go far enough. What we need to be seeing is mandatory masks whenever distancing is not possible. This means in shops, on public transport, in work places, airports, train station. This is a first step but there’s a long way to go.’

Q. Has mask wearing worked elsewhere?

‘It’s difficult to say. A lot of countries introduced a package of measures at the same time. We also need to look at a package of measures, we need to look at the cumulative effect that they can have together, even if each alone has a weak evidence base.’

This is a matter that’s been really badly handled in Britain by both the politicians and the so-called ‘scientific experts’. Also the introduction of the mandatory use late (as is that of the 14 day quarantine for those entering the country) doesn’t help to inspire confidence.

The pros and cons as I understand it;

Pros.

If someone is infected with the virus, and especially if they are not aware of it, the wearing of a mask will capture some, but not all, of the virus if they were to cough or sneeze – or even talk to someone close to them. The figure varies widely, down to below 50% by some estimates, but that would still make for a reasonable lowering of risk. And that’s it.

Cons.

The wearing of a mask will not prevent the virus from infecting you if someone coughs or sneezes in the vicinity. The problem here is that most people believe it will protect them. That’s why you see people alone in vehicles wearing a mask. And the majority who wear them when they are outside, and alone, are not doing it in an effort to not spread the infection they don’t know they have on to others. It’s fear which drives this wearing of masks and creates a false sense of security, which itself can cause problems.

The biggest ‘con’ that was being ‘promoted’ weeks ago was the fact that if someone is infected and they are breathing into a mask, that mask will accumulate millions of spores of the virus. Any mask, especially in the heat of summer, will soon get sopping wet and an infected person (who doesn’t know they are infected) is supposed to take that mask off in a controlled manner, dispose of it safely (or bag it if it is to be used more than once), wash their hands with sanitiser without touching any surface at all, including their own face.

That’s not going to happen.

To actually breathe and feel comfortable people will be constantly touching the mask and – if infected – then spreading the virus on anything they touch. It is just not possible to go through any daily routine without touching anything, including the face which we touch hundreds of times a day due to evolution.

For those who are good with the sewing needle – or were brought up on Blue Peter – here’s what you should do to prepare for the 15th June.

The British Medical Association has asked for the wearing of masks to be extended beyond public transport to any potential contact between individuals – and that they should be provided free. However, although there are plenty of hints at how to make your own masks those to buy are in relatively short supply – and/or expensive. Other countries where masks wearing is mandatory supply them and have controlled the price. For example, to just less than a Euro each in Spain and they have even gone down in price in Holland, where a pack of ten was €10 but are now selling (in normal supermarkets) at less than €7.

A slightly different take on ‘mask wearing’ and as an example of the Buffoon and his Government’s inability to deal properly with those who have to implement their policies – seemingly thought of after cigars and brandy (copious amounts of) they decided that everyone that enters a NHS facility (either workers or visitors) should have to wear a mask. However, the Government ‘forgot’ to consult with the NHS trusts – those responsible for enforcing such a policy.

Schools – when or even if – they open

Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, Radio 4, World at One, 8th June;

Q. What is different about September that will allow whole schools to open?

‘The joy must really be out about whole schools being able to open in September. It all depends where we are with the coronavirus at that point; whether the R rate is down, whether the number of cases is low enough and whether we’re confident that schools can operate. If you’ve got a whole school in there’s no way you can have social distancing. There’s much that is dependent on the spread of the virus, how well it’s controlled.’

Q. Isn’t there a point when certain children are more at risk not going to school than doing so?

‘Disadvantaged children, perhaps should be the priority. I was surprised when the Prime Minister said that first year groups should go back first. My union would have said that disadvantaged children should go back first because, you’re right, they need school the most, they benefit from school the most and they suffer when they can’t go to school. [If such a policy were adopted that would make the children feel good, wouldn’t it? There’s the whole rejects from society in one place at the same time. In a culture where bullying is rife surely such stigmatisation is the last thing that’s needed?]

We do know that in secondary schools there is a focus on disadvantaged children and vulnerable children being in school but the problem we’re got is that many of the families are extremely concerned. [For example] many Bangladeshi families won’t send their children back to school as they live in multi-generational households and they’re afraid they’ll bring the virus home.’

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, on the debacle and confusion around if/when/who on schools re-opening in 2020, on 9th June;

She accused ministers of ‘failing to prioritise schools and lacking the necessary will and ingenuity to overcome the difficulties that are involved in social distancing’. She also found the ‘delayed return deeply worrying’ and it was ‘a disruption not seen since World War Two’. Further that ‘a decade of catching up on the education gap may well be lost’.

Andrew Snape, Professor in General Paediatrics and Vaccinology, Radio 4, World at One, 9th June;

Q. Children don’t seem to be badly effected by the virus. Is that correct?

‘That’s right, as a paediatrician that’s really important. Children don’t seem to get sick from covid-19. There is a small number of cases of post-covid inflammatory syndrome but in the overall picture the risk to individual children is very small.’

Q. Do they spread it to adult?

‘Although children can carry the virus ….. perhaps 1 in 200 children, but they seem not to be the super-spreaders that they are for influenza. Children are fantastic at spreading influenza … but that’s not the case for covid-19. … It’s much more common that adults bring the virus into the household.’

Q. Are you confident to send your children back to school?

‘Yes, I’m confident of sending my children back to school. The risk as an individual would be very low. The bigger question is ‘does my children’s school re-opening increase the spread through the community?’ because it’s not just the children at school. It’s the teachers who are mixing in the staff room, it’s the parents mixing at the school gate and bringing their children to school. So there’s all the other elements that need to be very carefully looked at and managed to avoid the actual opening of the school creating a spread of the virus through the community.’

Q. How important is mitigation?

‘It’s really important. There’s not a lot of evidence that children are spreading it. … A lot of effort would need to go into ensuring there’s not a lot of mixing of parents and the teachers, to try and minimise their social interactions might even be more important in reducing the spread.’

David Blunkett, former Education Secretary in a Labour Government, Radio 4, World at One, 9th June;

Q. What’s the problem about schools not going back as was previously announced?

‘To be honest I think it’s a lack of will, it’s a lack of ‘can do’, it’s a failure to do what we’ve already done with the health service and the economy, which is to say ‘there are challenges, there are real problems but we are going, as a nation, to actually seek to overcome them’. It’s easier for Scotland, they go back much earlier in the summer anyway but for England and Wales it’s a different matter.

Why is it that other countries, not just in Europe but across the world, can have the ambition to get their children, in all kinds of creative ways, back into school and we can’t?

I can only conclude that the Government are losing the plot.’

Q. You are saying it’s a lack of will on the part of the Government, not that it’s the parents taking a precautionary approach?

‘Well, it’s a Catch 22. the less confident the Government is, the less clear they are about what steps they’ll take themselves to help those local authorities and education trusts to manage this transition, the more parents get worried,

This is an endeavour for all of us to work together. We have 600,000 people taken on as volunteers nationally to help with vulnerable people at home. We’ve got supply teachers who are not being paid anything. We’ve got excellent teachers doing their utmost to work with children at home.

We can take up the suggestion … of using other buildings, we can do what the Americans do … which is to close roads around schools to make space available. All of this could be done with a bit of thinking creatively and everyone working together.

Q. However much space you give them aren’t children going to break the 2m or 1m rules? And it’s six months, it’s not the end of the world. What price do you think will come with this?

‘If it’s not the end of the world why do we have the education systems we have here and in the rest of the world?

I spoke to someone who said her nephew, who is in his mid-teens, spends everyday until 12.30 in bed. That won’t be because teachers aren’t trying or parents aren’t actually encouraging it will be because a kind of lethargy comes out in teenagers if they don’t have a structure and they don’t have encouragement. … I just know that we’ve got to do this.

If we can set up the Nightingale hospitals in the time we did why on earth can’t we invest in the future of out children?

Q. Where does the initiative need to come from?

‘The Government should say to local authorities and education trusts – get together, come up with a plan which includes mentoring and recovery programmes in certain schools as well as staggered hours and new premises. Come up with that plan and we, as a nation, will fund it. The funding from the middle of June through into August, we’ll pick it up again in September if the scientific advice is that we can’t actually go back to complete normality. We’ll reduce the distancing for schools to a metre – which is being done across the rest of Europe and is the advice of the WHO – and above all we’ll say to people at local level use your initiative, have confidence to develop programmes locally.

Of course, take the advice of the directors of public health at local level but try and do it in a very positive way so that you can deal with any spikes, you can be confident there’s no infections at the present time … and then we can ensure that we not only give the confidence to parents and to teachers and children but we also allow those parents to go back to their jobs where they will be contributing to the recovery of our economy.’

Was the lock down worth it – and effective?

Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, Radio 4, World at One, 9th June;

Q. Would you have argued for ‘herd immunity’ all along?

‘Yes, I would have said that but with the proviso that we put as much money as possible – and to make up for what hasn’t happened over the last 30 years – to support the vulnerable sectors of the population.

I think at that point we had enough information to know that there were certain sectors of the population that were particularly vulnerable and that we needed to protect them – and the word ‘protect’ carries with it all sorts of implications – but essentially it seemed to be that there was a real gap in the resources available to achieve that.

Let’s now try and divert as many of these resources as possible to protect the vulnerable population and to reduce their risk. And the way to reduce this risk to the vulnerable population – as we have done unwittingly in many cases with the pathogens that do kill us … is by having enough immunity ourselves such that the risk posed to the vulnerable population is low.’

Q. So the majority of the population carry on as normal and catch the virus and build up ‘herd immunity’?

‘That’s how we have traditionally dealt with the pathogens that do at the moment kill the elderly and the vulnerable.

It’s a terrible thing that that happens but it happens.

I guess we’ve made the decision that we need to balance out that problem against the problem of completely shutting down the economy or compromising out social interactions to the point of farce.’

Q. Has the lock down been a farce?

‘We are trying to wriggle out of this situation in a way that is quite farcical. We come up with rules that are arbitrary, to my mind.’

Q. The idea would be to change the strategy with the vulnerable staying indoors?

First of all we need to go out there and make a proper map of what their risk is. The risk to the elderly and frail is not just contingent upon how elderly or frail they are but how immune the rest of the population surrounding them is. We need to go out and test, to the best of out abilities, knowing now that some people are not going to register positive on these tests simply because they happen to be entirely resistant to the disease.

We need some clever statisticians and people who are disinterested in promoting any kind of sense of what they think is going on, to make proper, clear, best assessments about what the risks are to the vulnerable in every part of the country.

Just in the UK there is a huge variation in who has been exposed given the locality. There’s enormous heterogeneity and homogenising this data just to fit certain precepts or preconceptions is not helpful.

What we need to do is go out there, look at who’s been exposed in different regions and come up with a strategy, put public money into supporting the people who are vulnerable given the risks that they face. … We need to make sensible decisions about how to protect people.’

Q. Should we be relaxed about the R number, lift the lock down quickly and not be phased by the idea of a second wave?

‘There will be a resurgence of this like any other respiratory pathogen in the winter and we need to prepare for that.’

Q. We hear there’s some regret in Sweden due to the death toll. Would that not have happened here if we didn’t have lock down?

‘I think it’s unfortunate that people are focussing on that point. … What was said was that they could have done better to protect the care homes and indeed that’s what we should have done.

It’s unfortunate people are jumping on that [failing in Sweden] to say they should have had a lock down earlier.

What I don’t understand about the lock down is what is the exit strategy from it anyway?’

Q. Would you lift it as quickly as possible?

‘Yes, right now, absolutely.’

Q. Do you think the disease arose earlier in China than was suggested?

‘Absolutely, yes,’

Q. When did you think it appeared?

‘… In any normal system by the time it takes for deaths from the disease [to be recorded] it’s been around for at least a month.’

Q. So October rather than November?

‘Yes, something like that.’

Related to this idea is the uncertainty of how many people might, for whatever reason, already be (or have always been) resistant to covid-19.

Care Homes

This issue will run and run. This sector was in a dire state prior to covid-19 and the political philosophy and attitude of the Tories – which is to step back from any social welfare that benefits the general population – won’t just evaporate. And even when they make a big splash about giving to the sector it’s more giving with one hand and taking with the other.

More than 25,000 patients discharged to care homes in crucial 30 days before routine testing.

Even thought he care homes have become the epicentre of the disease in Britain they are still not getting the priority they need. And the stupidity of the Government is demonstrated by the fact that they are seemingly incapable of avoiding criticism by making sure care homes are at the top of the list for any developments in the battle against the virus. Instead of giving the impression they see that mistakes were made in the past (and will do their best to do better in the future) they continue to try to score political points – even when the facts stand in opposition. This was the case about testing kits – and the difference between being delivered and used. (Note how Hancock gets testy when challenged in the video clip.)

Another view on Hancock and numbers.

Test, track, trace – and isolate

Only 4 in 10 Covid-19 patients contacted at start of government’s ‘test and trace’ scheme.

The people of Britain were promised a ‘world beating’ test and tracing system. However, in the first days of June there was nothing for many of the staff employed to do this had a great deal to do.

Matt Hancock under fire over incomprehensible testing targets.

Sir David Norgrove, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, sent a letter to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, on 2nd June where he stated that the figures being presented were ‘still far from complete and comprehensible’ and that many of the ‘key numbers make little sense’. This was partly in response to the Government’s ‘massaging’ of their testing ‘target’ numbers, mainly the 100,000 by the end of April and the 200,000 by the end of May – both of which were ‘met’ but with dubious counting.

But the ‘world beating’ system is not going to be with us soon. The autumn might be more likely.

The privacy issue also keeps on running.

Open Rights Group to challenge UK over test and trace data retention.

This might be academic. We still don’t know exactly when the magic app will be in general use.

And which app? There’s now the possibility that the NHSX will ditch their own, centralised app and revert to the ‘off the shelf’ system developed by Apple and Google and which is being used in other countries.

Watch this space.

For an interesting view on the ‘complications’ surrounding tests and how the figures we are told about and reality are not always in line listen to the first 15 minutes or so of the BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘More or Less‘ on Friday, 5th June.

Food Banks

The obscenity gets even worse.

The stories behind the statistics.

Two metres – or less

This has now become part of the debate.

Two-metre rule halves chances of catching coronavirus.

Although there is a push to reduce the social distancing rules – especially as in Britain the 2 metre rule is out of kilter with many other countries.

How did covid-19 land on the sceptred isle?

Through the ability of scientists to break down the genetic sequence of the virus – and with the sharing of information between countries of their particular outbreaks – it’s possible for scientists to identify from which part of the world those in Britain contracted the disease – normally by close contact from someone infected from those countries. And that happened on more than 1,300 occasions.

That puts the idea of instituting a quarantine for visitors to the UK from 8th June into context – stable doors and bolting horses come to mind.

And for the xenophobes the majority of those cases came from two countries – France and Spain. That shouldn’t come as any surprise as with the explosion in recent years of air travel with the budget airlines those are the two most popular countries for British travellers – and the UK for the French and Spanish

Asymptomatic spread of coronavirus

It has long been argued that it’s the asymptomatic individuals that were the biggest spreaders of the coronavirus – not out of Mary Mallon fear and ignorance – but because they don’t know they are infected. That seemed to be challenged somewhat by a statement from Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19. However, there was later some ‘clarification’ that she was arguing for emphasis to be placed on tracing contacts with anyone who was proven to have had the disease. But I still slightly confused.

Has the Dominic Cummins affair gone away?

Perhaps not. Reminiscent of Al Capone being imprisoned for tax evasion (and not the countless murders for which he was certainly responsible) Cummins – or his family – might have broken local government planning regulations when a farm building was converted for residential use. Haven’t heard any more of this so don’t know if it is just bubbling under the surface.

And as neither Cummins not the Buffoon are prepared to do the ‘right thing’ it is being left to private individuals to make the rich and powerful abide by the same rules that the majority of the population are expected to do with a private legal case being progressed to get the prosecution service to take the matter seriously.

Risk of getting severe case of covid-19

To the conditions that have become recognised as presenting a higher risk in the present pandemic (older than 70, being male, from a BAME community, suffering from ‘underlying health conditions’, diabetes, dementia/Alzheimer’s) can now be added another – baldness.

What we might learn to face the next pandemic more efficiently

The virus has been around long enough now – with hundreds of thousands of scientists trying to learn as much as possible about all of its hidden characteristics – for a fuller picture to be constructed which might make the next pandemic less traumatic.

Should the lock down had happened earlier?

Forgetting for the moment whether the lock down should have happened at all (see the section above arguing it wasn’t the right tactic if other provisions had been in place) there are scientists who are now arguing it was imposed too late – by about a week.

On Sunday 7th June, Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, told the BBC ‘We should have gone into lock down earlier’ and that by not doing so it ‘has cost a lot of lives’.

The response from Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary was ‘There’s a broad range on Sage of scientific opinion and we were guided by the science, which means guided by the balance of that opinion’.

I suppose we would have a better idea of what the ‘scientific advice’ was if the Government were to publish any of their reports in a timely fashion. Even though calls for the publication of, at least, summaries to these reports being published more or less at the same time as the decisions upon which they are ‘based’ have been made for months we seem to be no closer to a situation of openness.

On the 10th June, Neil Ferguson (remember him? He was one of the ‘naughty’ boys and girls who broke their own rules but at least had the good grace to fall on their own swords – unlike Dominic Cummins) weighed into the ‘controversy’.

At a meeting (virtual) of the Commons Science and Technology Committee he said ‘We knew the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lock down interventions were introduced. … ‘So had we introduced lock down measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.’

Whilst not openly agreeing with this one of the other top scientific advisers, Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said he had a long list of regrets – the most important being the stopping of the testing regime.

The Buffoon, on the other hand, whipped out a straw boater and cane and gave a rendition of Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’.

More on covid pandemic 2020