June 2020 – Britain still with covid-19 – and Cummins

Make the rich pay for covid-19

Make the rich pay for covid-19

More on covid pandemic 2020

June 2020 – Britain still with covid-19 – and Cummins

Britain stuck with the pandemic – the Buffoon and Cummins – and still with covid-19. But at least the sun’s shining.

The Dominic Cummins affair

The most important lesson learnt from the ‘Dominic Cummins affair’ is not the fact that he broke the rules that the rest of us were expected to follow (he might not have done so if there’s an interpretation of the letter of the law but it certainly was against its spirit) it’s the contempt that the Tories have for the people of Britain.

When the Buffoon came out of hospital in the middle of April I said then that his ‘humbleness’, if it actually was heartfelt and not just an example of his hypocrisy, wouldn’t last for long. We now know that it’s sell by date was definitely no more than six weeks.

The Buffoon’s defence of Cummins in the last week was not based on any sense of friendship or loyalty to someone who might have been accused falsely. No, it was based upon self-interest, slavish support of someone who he needs due to his own weakness or, perhaps just fear that whatever Cummins has on him can’t be allowed to come out.

In the process he, and all the other Buffoon clones in government, demonstrated exactly what they think of the people of Britain – even those within his own party (both in and out of Parliament) who thought that Cummins had crossed a line which was not acceptable.

In the last week the Buffoon has clutched at any straw in an attempt to ‘draw a line under the matter’. Matters about how to go on from the lock down are (and had to sooner or later) changing and the argument given that we should leave this affair behind us to deal with the uncertainties of the future is what he is hoping (and it might even work out in his favour) will lead to people forgetting that even when we are all supposed to be in this together, there’s always a rule for the rich, powerful and privileged and a rule for the rest of us.

Since the pandemic hit Britain the Government of this country has shown that it is at best incompetent at worse criminal in its handling of the ‘unprecedented’ event. Their lies and interpretation of events and numbers were added to their hypocrisy over the defence of the the NHS.

Last week a number of commentators wondered why the Buffoon was putting his reputation and ‘popularity’ on the line when so many were incensed at the sheer brazenness of Cummins at his press conference (arriving late, treating it all as a game, lack of apology that he might have done anything at all untoward, etc.). Perhaps the answer to that was given by the look on the face of the Buffoon at the daily briefing where he refused to allow the ‘independent’ scientists to make any comment on the affair.

The Buffoon knew the questions he would have to face and knew his reply – long before he stood in front of Britain’s ‘free press’. But is was his smirk that said it all – not his words. The idiots of this country put his Government in power at the end of 2019, he has a huge majority, no Tory MP – however ‘incensed’ and/or deluged with complaints from constituents – is going to risk not being on the gravy train for the best part of five years over a ‘principle’.

So far anger from the populace has been limited to a few stunts. Will it have a shelf life after the virus is under control (if it ever is – the State would love to maintain this control of the population for ever, even if a vaccine were to be developed).

‘I am Dominic Cummings!’

Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, on Radio 4, Today programme, 27th May, on the ‘Cummings affair’;

‘If there are no other options, if you don’t have ready access to child care then you can do as Dominic Cummings chose to do. The guidelines say that you must do your best, but they appreciate that family life poses particular challenges and in order to protect children you are able to exercise a degree of personal judgement.

‘I think that’s a reasonable way forward because everyone’s slightly different and it’s not for me to judge individual circumstances and decisions that they take’

The problem is that is what the Government has ben doing in the last ten weeks (although with an incredible level of incompetence) and that is tell people what they should do, and made laws to enforce the rules they laid out in the Coronavirus Act. People have been fined for doing exactly what Cummins is being excused for doing – exercising ‘a degree of personal judgement’.

As to Cummins’s ‘excuse’ for driving sixty miles ‘to test his eyesight’ – long term detriment to eyesight has never been suggested as a consequence of being infected with covid-19. Perhaps he was just suffering from over indulgence from the night before.

David Jamieson, Police and Crime Commissioner, West Midlands, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

Q. Is the row about Dominic Cummins making things difficult for police on the ground?

‘I’ve received intelligence reports from senior officers who are now saying that officers on the ground are reporting things like ‘If it’s all right for Cummins, it’s OK for us,’ and ‘It looks like there’s a rule for us and another rule for the people in No 10 Downing Street [The Prime Minister’s office].

If the rules are flexible and the people who who seem to have been interpreting them, whio are at the heart of Government, then it’s almost impossible for police officers to be able to carry out their job effectively. …

What he [Cummins] has done is squander the trust of Government and the Prime Minister, we’re squandering the trust in the police services and all the people in this country who have made sacrifices … are now being told that somebody in government can make the rules up for themselves.’

Q. How do you police the lifting of the lock down?

‘This is difficult. When you get Matt Hancock saying they may reviews the fines, that’s difficult. What we are doing is being sensible and proportionate. I’m concerned that unless the rules are really clear and everybody, everybody, is seen to be sticking by those rules – and that includes people in No 10 – then we won’t be able to police them. …

Policing in this country is largely by consent, if people feel the rules and laws apply to everybody – and everybody is being treated equally – then people will comply. But if certain people are seen to be able to wheedle their way out of the rules and the laws then that undermines the whole of the people’s confidence in those laws.’

When people are questioned by the police for their actions and asked for their details they should give the name ‘Dominic Cummins’ and get a free pass. Although it didn’t work for the slaves in rebellion against the Romans.

Testing capacity

It will come as no surprise that on 31st May testing capacity exceeded the 200,000 promised by the Buffoon at the beginning of the month – in exactly the same way they reached 100,00 by the end of April, that is, by the skin of their teeth. But then it took days (if not weeks) to reach the magic number again – and to be consistent.

However it wasn’t long before questions were raised about the veracity of the numbers. Just as reaching the goal at the end of April was achieved by introducing tests that weren’t part of the general understanding of the target, so antigen tests were used to boost the latest figure.

Earlier there was a report that the Government (because ultimately ‘the buck stops there’) can’t even get the equipment right. The swabs were too long for the containers.

Yet again the Government is just playing with numbers – and the public. The Cummins affair has shown they can spout any rubbish and get away with it. And they will continue to do so until they are held to account.

Nationalists

You say six (England), we raise you eight (Scotland). But in Wales – ‘there will be no limit on numbers’.

Test, track and trace

In England this was set to start on 30th May.

Devi Sridhar, Director of Public Health, Edinburgh University, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘We don’t need a ‘world beating system’ [as boasted about by the Buffoon earlier in the week]. We need a system that works and many countries have proven that you can do it. Is it possible in the time frame of June 1st? It’s a gamble – there’s a lot to happen in that time. You don’t want to have it coming on, tracers needing training, getting it up to speed, the testing happening and then all of a sudden a whole new set of cases occur because schools are opening. So it will be a challenge. …

It’s traditional epidemiology that you do this, to test at the start, track and trace clusters. Other countries trace right through their outbreaks; South Korea, Hong Kong, Denmark, Norway, Germany. Here we’re a little bit alone in trying to resume contact tracing and testing at a different part of out outbreak as the numbers are falling down. …. You can’t do contact tracing when you have hundreds of thousands of cases. …

Time is a currency and urgency is needed because this is a virus where you can have an exponential growth if you are not doing anything. I do think the countries that acted very quickly; Vietnam, Thailand, Senegal, Rwanda are in a better position that the UK.’

Professor Tobias Welte, Head of Medicine, Hanover University. Member of Germany’s Covid taskforce, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘Germany has a different system compared to the UK. Cases are reported to the local health care authorities and the local administration is responsible for the tracking. This bottom up approach works much better. The German Government promised to have an app in place in May but it did not happen. There’s a lot of controversial debate about data safety rules so we do it on a personal basis. Contact apps are the future and will be in place in the next month but nothing is available at the moment.’

Bing Jones, retired doctor in Sheffield, part of a team that set up contact tracing in April, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘We were dumbfounded that no one was doing contact tracing which is an essential part of public health medicine. There seemed to be an intellectual paralysis. Nobody was standing up and saying anything about it. …

The Government shouldn’t have much difficulty [in getting the process up and running] but they are proposing a very centralised system with people working in call centres. Unless we can be local and nimble and jump on every new cluster of infection then we are not going to get out of the unique and excruciating situation we are in. ….

The fact is health and social care staff are unwitting vectors of the disease. There’s just no system for contact tracing within the NHS or social care and there’s no consistent culture either of social isolation at work. They don’t have the money and they don’t have enough staff. This is a major challenge for the Government.’

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health Sheffield, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘My sense is that not all the elements will be 100% in place by 1st June. The Government is going to have to consider a go, no go, scenario because what we are doing in Sheffield has to fit into the bigger picture. What we can’t do is do this alone. It’s too big and too complex and actually too high a risk.

We will have our bit of the system ready to go by the end of the month [May] but that will have to fit into the national system as well. …

The implementation of track and trace is fundamental to keeping transmission low and particualrly in closed settings, as and when they occur. Far less of us have been infected than was initially feared – which is obviously a good thing – but that means there is a potential for a second and/or subsequent waves. So we do need to have contact tracing working really well before we start getting into re-opening society in a big way. …

We hope the app will be ready soon and hope it does what it was built to do. I’m not building my hopes and aspirations about this app being there to save us, I’m building my hopes and aspirations by having skilled humans. The local staff is about enhancing the heavy lifting work of contact tracing which will be done by Public Health England (PHE). …

What PHE won’t know is how to make some of the action stick if the scansion at hand is an outbreak in a care home locally. We will go and visit that care home and actually help them, to manage that outbreak which the PHE [call] centre just won’t be able to do, they won’t have the capacity to do it.’

Cliff Neal, Clinical Director Public Health England, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

‘People are being very critical of it [Test, track and trace] before it’s even started. I don’t think it matters how much is done but how much is actually achieved because the more cases we contact and trace the better. We’re never going to actually get to all the cases because some people are asymptomatic, some won’t be contactable but the more chains of transmission we can intercept and interrupt the better.’

Chris Hopson, Chief Executive NHS Providers, Radio 4, World at One, 27th May;

Q. What would you like to hear from the Buffoon this afternoon?

‘We’d like four dots to be joined up.

The first is that we are about to enter a dangerous phase as we come out of lock down and we’ll potentially need to go through easing and tightening in local areas and it’s vital that that process works effectively.

The second is that we are not going to have comprehensive test, track, trace and isolate facilities available from 1st June.

The third dot is effectively what has happened ove the last four days [the Cummins affair] when we now have opinion polls saying that 65% of people believe that what’s happened will make it less likely for people to follow lock down rules and 25% of people saying they would be less likely to self isolate.

The fourth dot is that we are probably going to see many spikes of coronavirus breaking out. …

We are about to enter a dangerous phase but if we haven’t got the test, track and isolate infrastructure in place and if we’re got confidence and trust in the guidelines starting to reduce that’s quite a dangerous position. ….

We need to build local track and trace capacity and that’s not going to be in place. If you go back to a Government press release of 22nd May it says that £300 million will be provided to local authorities to develop their own tailored outbreak control plans and work on those plans will start immediately. That was five days ago. People are working very, very fast on this because we think this is absolutely the right thing to do but the reality is these plans aren’t going to be in place by 1st June.

It’s really, really important that the Government should be very clear about what will be in place from 1st June and therefore how they are going to ease the lock down rules to effectively match the capacity that being built in.

It’s really not helpful to argue that there will be ‘world class’ test, track and trace facilities by 1st June when local authorities only got started working on their plans five days ago. ….

It would be really helpful if the Prime Minister was to acknowledge the fact that there is a risk that public trust and confidence has been dented and if he was to set out really clearly what the Government is going to do to restore that lost trust and confidence. …

What [NHS] trusts are really nervous about is that over the last four days those guidelines, the credibility of those guidelines, the trust and the confidence in them seems to have been significantly dented which is now confirmed by this opinion poll today.’

Jeremy Hunt, Chair Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee, Radio 4, World at One, 28th May;

Q. Why is the getting of results from tests quickly so important to tracing?

‘It is taking too long, too often. In this system it’s particularly important because you are going to be asking anyone who has been close to someone who has tested positive to covid to self isolate. If you get that test result back in 48 hours, or longer, then those people will have longer to infect other people before they are traced and asked to self-isolate.

So squeezing the testing turn around to 24 hours is really, really important. The big picture is that we are now implementing the system that is the best in the world – it’s been proven to be not just to reduce death rates but also help economies to function more normally. Within that the tightening of these tests is actually critical. ….

The ‘system’ [a system that has a mind of its own and independent of those who programme the computer, it appears] thinks the goal is 48 hours – most of the time that is happening – but too often even that doesn’t happen. …

What the Buffoon said yesterday is that he’s asked them [or the ‘system’] to do it in 24 hours. Which is excellent news but we’ve got to make it happen.’

Q. This whole structure relies on voluntary compliance. Has this been undermined by the Cummins Affair?

‘Well, of course, it’s not going to help. But we’ve got to see the big picture [seems the present buzz phrase] here. The big picture is that today [28th May] the Government has launched a ‘system’ which is international best practice. This is what has been proven to work all over the world.

So however angry people might feel about the Dominic Cummins issue we do now have to move on, we have to make this system work, we have to comply with the advice we are given.’

Security of information from test, track and trace

The debate about what happens to the information collected during the tracing of new ly infected people continues.

In living there’s a risk of dying

Yes, there’s a pandemic and the covid-19 is a nasty one as no one knows how exactly to deal with it and it is particularly virulent – especially for certain sections of the population. However, life was, is and (even after covid-19 is a bad memory) will be risky.

It’s worthwhile reminding people of that. If you concentrate all your fear on covid-19 you risk ignoring all the other aspects of life which can bring it to an abrupt end.

And this becomes important as society attempts to get back to a situation that is similar to what we had before the lock down was declared in Britain towards the end of March. As capitalist governments can’t rely on argument in such circumstances they resorted to fear. Even to the extent that those less likely to be either serious effected or die of the disease (that is, young children under the age of 15) have become the subject of the long drawn out and ludicrous debate about the reopening of schools.

But various articles and discussions have started to lessen these fears. Because of the virus some people seem to think they can live in a society that is totally risk free – not realising that, certainly when it comes to accidents, peoples’ homes are the most dangerous and they will have been a huge ‘spike’ in the number of such accidents in the last 10 weeks or so.

As we return to ‘everyday life’ people will have to re-adapt to the risks they were used to encountering – without fear – long before covid-19 was the one on everyone’s lips.

There’s also issues about how frightened people should be of the actual virus itself. As time has gone on (we must remember that covid-19 has been known about for almost six months now) the numbers have started to reveal how dangerous it is and to whom. The more susceptible groups are becoming more clearly defined – as are the less (who tend to be in the majority). If governments had an ounze of sense they would be adapting their strategies to protect those most at risk whilst allowing the rest of society to carry on in the (an adapted) old way. But that would need thought and planning – both of which have been singularly lacking in most countries since December 2019.

Migrant labour and agricultural work

Agriculture in Britain, especially at harvest time when it comes to fruit and vegetables, has become dependent upon low paid labour for a couple of decades now. This really took off when the European Union (EU) expanded to the east and included those erstwhile socialist countries whose economies had collapsed in the 1990s.

This provided a vast and potentially cheap labour force and capitalism, especially in the more wealthy countries of the EU, jumped at the chance to lower wages in general and, in the process, increase their profits.

The growing ‘labour market’ brought with it many issues – most of which are not really being dealt with in the way they should. Some of those who came to do these jobs were ‘legal’ (being citizens of EU countries which allows for the ‘free movement of labour’) but many weren’t. The chaos that imperialism has caused through its wars of aggression in the 21st century has created a huge refugee problem and many (conned by the propaganda that Britain has been spewing out for centuries) have attempted – and still do – to get to Britain as they see the country as some sort of paradise on earth (the reality, if they get here, is often very different).

This situation has led to the growth of ‘gang masters’ and the general idea of ‘modern day slavery’. Those lefty-ish liberals who laud the EU and look down on those of us who have always opposed the UK’s membership of the capitalist cartel seem to forget some of the changes to working practices that membership of the organisation brought with it. And this had the effect of generally driving down wages even further in a sector that was already notorious for low pay.

The issue of ‘modern day slavery’ and ‘people traffickers is to big to be discussed here so all I’ll do is look at the ‘legal’ workers’ and the reasons they are prepared to work long hours, in fairly miserable conditions and for not particularly high wages.

The cost of living in eastern Europe is much lower than that in the west – and certainly much less than it is in Britain. For a relatively young person from eastern Europe to come to Britain and work in the fields for the 6 months of so (from April/May to September/October) makes sense when they can earn in those months enough to survive on not working – or at least not needing to work – in their home countries for the rest of the year.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused problems but these problems had been developing for a couple of years. A couple of months after the 2016 EU Referendum in Britain the value of the pound sterling fell in value (by about 20%) in relation to the Euro. This wasn’t because of the result of the referendum, it was as a consequence of the over valuing of the pound in relation to the Euro for years. (During the so-called ‘Euro crisis’ which followed the financial crash of 2008, in theory, the pound sterling should have risen in value vis a vis the Euro but this didn’t happen as it was already over-valued and any readjustment at that time would have only compounded the general European disaster.)

One of the consequences of this was a shortage of foreign agricultural workers in the autumn of 2016 – working hard in the heat of the poly-tunnels or the mud of a British autumn lost 20% of its attraction. So 2020 began with a problem for growers anyway, covid-19 only compounded that problem.

And the solution to this? Pick for Britain. A dismal failure. British workers might accept such conditions on minimum wages for a short time but not the months the growers need and most importantly even if they did work for the ‘season’ the money earnt would have lasted weeks and not months as it does for the eastern European workers. If growers want British workers to work in their fields in the future then they are going to have to pay better wages and improve the working conditions. They have had it easy for too long. If they go out of business then that the way it goes. They live by the capitalist ethic then they can die with it as well.

Consequences of a late lock down in Britain

I have argued a number of times that the sort of closing down of societies that has been the general approach to deal with the pandemic is not what we should be doing in the technological age in which we live. To carry on as normal as possible, however, needed a carefully thought out strategy (which had been considered and planned for in advance) as well as providing the right resources in the right places.

But we had none of that in Britain in March 2020 and the government of the Buffoon went from panic measure to panic measure – all the time trying to place ultimate responsibility on others (that is, the scientists) if any thing should go wrong.

As the figures have started to show patterns there has now been a look at few mass sporting events that occurred in the week before the official lock down on 23rd March. There was also a more detailed look on Radio 4, 26th May, Game Changer.

We could be heroes

There was always a problem associated with lionising those who work in various health services throughout the world and having to cope with the covid-19 outbreak – often (if not always) without adequate preparation, enough protective equipment, without enough capacity in terms of intensive care beds, without enough staff to cope with normal demands let alone a pandemic.

It allowed the politicians to praise all the work and effort of the health professionals (as did the Buffoon when he came out of hospital on 12th April) and thereby divert attention away from their (that is, the politicians’) incompetence and inability to cope in a crisis). So the people who, in many countries towards the end of 2019 felt forced to take industrial action to defend their respective health services where, all of a sudden, turned into super-humans.

The answer to the question; how long will that last? has already been answered in Italy, one of the first countries in western Europe to attempt a return to normality.

Turning ordinary people into something they are not also tends to undermine the professionalism which has been the result of years of study and practice. This was put by Dr Michael FitzPatrick, a gastroenterologist in Oxford and Co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians Trainees Committee, at the very end of the Radio 4, Inside Health broadcast on 26th May.

What have health workers learnt from covid-19?

What those in ‘the front line’ have learnt dealing with the pandemic – with a virus that acts so differently from what they are used to. This knowledge will be invaluable in preparation for the next pandemic.

Are we learning from this pandemic?

The last pandemic on the scale of covid-19 was just over a hundred years ago, the so-called ‘Spanish’ Flu pandemic of 1918-19. At that time medical and technical knowledge was much less than now, there was nothing like international co-operation and a sharing of knowledge (which might not be perfect in 2020 but, at least, exists at some level) and it came at the end of the most destructive war (to date) to have afflicted so many countries – especially in Europe. So there were fewer opportunities to actually learn a great deal from that pandemic.

Covid-19 could (and should) have been different. But that, unfortunately, has not been the case.

Renters suffering more than those with a mortgage

Lindsay Judge, Principal Research and Policy Analyst, Resolution Foundation, 30th May, when speaking about her report ‘Coping with housing costs during the coronavirus crisis’;

‘It [the Government] should be thinking about guidance to landlords and tenants about how to negotiate these rent arrears. We don’t want to see evictions and I’m sure landlords, on the whole, don’t want to see evictions but there’s got to be some sort of mechanism to help people roll over arrears, for example, or perhaps begin rent holidays during this crisis time.’

This followed an extension of mortgage relief (but with a sting in its tail).

Should those ‘most vulnerable’ be permitted to leave home?

At the end of March two million people who are considered to be those, within the community, most at risk of having serious complications if they were to be infected by covid-19 were sent messages telling them to stay indoors and not meet up with anyone at all. This wasn’t an instruction but a recommendation but most seem to have stuck with it. They were originally told to stay at home for twelve weeks but, at the beginning of the eleventh they were told it was OK to go out – as long as they were careful. However, fear makes some of them anxious even to leave their front doors.

Professor Sian Griffiths, Staffordshire University, 30th May;

‘There’s a huge amount of stress and strain with you not being able to see friends or family. Being able to see them, although at a distance, may actually help peoples’ mental health and may help them live with lock down a bit better. It might help them comply better.’

The poor taking the brunt of the consequences – yet again!

Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that lower paid workers are disproportionately effected by redundancies at this time, with 64% of job losses hitting those earning between £15,000 and £24,299.

Kylie Jenner (who she?) dropped from Forbes billionaire list

Demonstrating how totally f****d up present day capitalist society is there was a report that some insignificant ‘influencer’ had been dropped from a rich list. And notice not ‘millionaire’ but ‘billionaire’. Capitalism has no values – even less those in the population who consider these ‘celebrities’ as anything less than a parasite on society.

Is a lock down an effective approach to a pandemic?

This will go on for a long time and I have made my views known about how the pandemic could have been managed in a different way. Perhaps one for the conspiracy theorists.

3.4 million key workers are 50 or over

This is an interesting one – and another from Office of National Statistics (ONS) data. If this is the case then when (and not if) the next pandemic hits there won’t be anyone working to applaud on the Thursday night.

Lack of proper research

The covid-19 pandemic is the first in the modern age which has caused so much disruption – if death rates from other causes of capitalism don’t knock covid deaths into a cocked hat. Therefore it was an ideal opportunity to learn as much as possible about this disease as it developed. But that hasn’t been the case.

The statisticians seem to be on top of matters (but then there are lies, damn lies and statistics) but few clinicians. Many deaths that have occurred during the pandemic have not been even ascribed to covid let alone proven to be so. And what should have happened was that postmortems should have been ‘ramped-up’ (to use one of the terms that you hear all the time now but which I had never heard before in common usage) – but only a handful have been carried out. A huge opportunity squandered.

The Swedish ‘experiment’

This is another of those aspects of the pandemic which will be a subject for debate for a long time. Figures for a week aren’t really reliable but might be of interest.

A further argument for ‘fever hospitals’?

As it is becoming generally accepted that pandemics could well be the norm and not the exception a general plan about how to deal with it, and keep as much of society as possible functioning ‘normally’, especially in the health sector, would require a separation of the treatment for pandemic sufferers and the rest of the population.

Coronavirus does not spread easily on surfaces?

I don’t know how widely this theory is accepted – it originally came from the US of Trump so might, therefore, be suspect. It would also mean that a great deal of what we have been told about the spread of the virus was inaccurate – and would have saved millions of tons of heavy duty chemicals being released into the environment.

Quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK

I don’t really understand why this has been introduced at the time it has. Starting next Monday, 8th June, ‘everyone’ landing on British soil, in whatever form of transport, will have to self-isolate for 14 days – there will be spot checks and fines for transgression.

However, as this is a policy of the Buffoon’s Government it is being questioned (even by the people proposing it) before it is even enacted.

There will be exceptions – and there are calls that the list be extended. But isn’t this a bit like the Cummins affair – one rule for some but not for all? And, I am sure will be treated by many people in the same way that they have responded to Cummins’ two fingers to the population.

Such a policy is also showing up the petty mindedness of different countries. France will introduce a tit-for-tat quarantine to UK visitors. Greece will open up soon – but not for visitors from the UK, France and Spain.

However, Iceland, in a wish to get visitors (and their money) back on the island are offering free tests on arrival (from 15th June) and no quarantine if they come back negative. Hong Kong is also doing this. It might mean an eight hour wait in the airport but, as it has been said by others, that’s better than 14 days.

‘Spanish’ flue pandemic of 1918

As the most serious and widespread pandemic in recent history the so-called Spanish Flu (which might actually have started in the United States) outbreak of 1918 is being constantly referenced. I think there are many differences and am wary of there being any lessons to be learnt from what happened just over a hundred years ago.

However, there has been an interesting, three part radio series (which began on 15th May and for the next two Fridays) on this outbreak – not known about by many people until relatively recently (it was never taught as part of the history of the First World War when I was at school) and for most the first they heard about it was when the 2020 covid pandemic was taking hold.

And to end?

Although not really news, there are a number of coronaviruses we have been ‘living with’ for centuries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, yet again, that covid-19 may never go away – even more need to find of how to live with it.

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain and the pandemic – during an uncharacteristically sunny Bank Holiday weekend

Masks becoming the new norm

Masks becoming the new norm

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain and the pandemic – during an uncharacteristically sunny Bank Holiday weekend

What Britain is like during the weekend that ‘celebrates’ 75 years since the western Victory in Europe (VE) Day – the event is commemorated in Russia on 9th May – and the wild comparisons as the country lives under the lock down due to the coronavirus.

Testing

When asked, at Prime Minister Questions (a peculiarly British anomaly which takes place every Wednesday at noon), in the House of Commons on 6th May, the Buffoon was asked a clear question of why they were only able to reach the target of 100,000 tests per day on one day, the day when they could say the Government had reached it’s target by the end of April – not repeated since.

‘Actually I think the Right Honourable Gentleman [another British anachronistic peculiarity] was right last week when he paid tribute to the amazing work of the NHS, the logistics team, everybody involved in getting up from 2,000 tests a day in March to 120,000 by the end of April. Yes, he’s right, capacity currently exceeds demand, we’re working on that, we’re running about 100,000 a day [an outright lie] in the first 5 days of May the number has not exceeded 85,000 per day]. But the ambition clearly is to get up to 200,000 a day by the end of the month and then to go even higher. As he knows, and the whole of the House will know, a fantastic testing regime is going to be absolutely critical to our long term economic recovery.’

So the Buffoon starts by ‘praising’ those who had ‘achieved’ the 100,000 plus, being self-effacing and then completely ignoring the question. Then continues to throw mud on the issue by introducing yet another meaningless figure, that of 200,000 per day but without any proper strategy surrounding this so-called increase.

Chris Hopson, Chief Executive NHS Providers, which represents NHS Trusts, on Radio 4, World at One, on 6th May;

Q. Do we have what the Prime Minister referred to as a ‘fantastic testing regime’ now?

‘I think we should give due credit where it should be given for the extraordinary expansion in capacity we’ve had over the last month, month and a half, and NHS staff and Public Health staff have played a key role in expanding that capacity. But there are three problems we still need to address.

The first one is today’s problem that there are still too many care staff and too many health staff who have got potential symptoms and still can’t get access to a test. I was speaking to a hospital yesterday. About a week, ten days ago, they were able to turn their tests around in a day. They’ve now slipped back to only having those tests turned around in five days. We already know there are plenty of staff in the social care sector who need to be tested because they may have symptoms where actually they can’t be tested because there aren’t enough local facilities.

So hospital, community, mental and ambulance trusts and social care homes need to test. That’s the first point.’

Q. Why does the turn around that used to take one day now take five?

‘There’s some complex things going on here but the first is that we know that there are shortages of chemicals, reagents and testing kits. To give you an example, this week one of the major manufacturers of testing equipment has actually cut back its supplies to the UK because it’s actually wanting to increase supply elsewhere. I describe it as a rather complicated game of rubics cube where, effectively, different laboratories are trying to swop tests between each other to ensure that those problems are overcome.’

Q. It’s not by ramping tests in drive-in centres you are depriving hospitals and care homes?

‘What we are basically saying is that we can see why there was a logic of setting up these drive-in centres but one of the problems which we have heard from NHS and care home staff is that these drive-in centres are quite a long way away from where these people work and therefore they’ve been having long trips of an hour or even two to get to these centres and if you really want to have an effective testing regime you need to ensure that they’re sufficiently local to people who want to be tested.

Point two is, exactly as we have heard the Prime Minister say today, we are heading toward coming out of, easing, lock down and we know that testing, tracking and tracing is really important and we need to get going on that really fast but the NHS organisations that we represent, none of them know at this point what we are meant to be doing in terms of the process.

If we want to mobilise the NHS to deliver that test-track-trace approach we need to know really very quickly what our organisations in the NHS are required to do,’

Q. They’ve heard nothing?

‘From what we’ve heard so far is that it’s a step forward, we’ve heard that there’s a pilot of the approach in the Isle of Wight, but what we need is the lessons of that pilot to be learnt and shared very quickly, but critically our organisations, particularly, for example, 111, GP surgeries, pharmacies, which are absolutely at the first point of contact of the patients of the NHS, they need to know what role they’re going to play in test-track-trace. At the moment they don’t know.

The third one is that there is a growing argument, and a really important one, that if we want the NHS to really re-start its ordinary business and if we want to control, and hopefully reduce the number of deaths in care homes, we really should be testing every single member of staff, every single patient in a health and care setting, because one of the pernicious features of the virus is that, actually, you can have it for 2 or 3 days, be infectious, but have no symptoms. If we want to create safe care homes, if we want to create safe hospitals … (interruption)’

Q. That was promised some days ago.

‘What we were told was that it was important and, to be fair, there are some pilots going, there are eleven hospital pilots going, testing staff on a systematic basis but the issue here, again, is the complicated logistics, which is, at a really conservative estimate, there are a million front line health and care staff that you probably want to test once a week. And if you wanted to do that you need the capacity to be 142,500 tests a day. What was said in the House of Commons today we are currently running at 80,000.

And the other point to make is, if you are responsible, as some of our hospital trusts are, for 20,000 staff getting them tested once a week is a huge operational and logistical undertaking. So they need to know now when they are going to be able to start testing these staff, where are they going to be tested, how is the capacity going to grow from the current 80,000 to 140,000 that will be required as a minimum to do that? And the need to know when that’s going to happen. The problem is we don’t have a clear strategy about how that’s going to happen.’

What’s behind the new tracking and tracing apps?

In previous posts I’ve expressed my reservations about these apps (whether the ‘generic one, used or that will be used by a number of countries or the one (using a centralised database) which has been developed by NHSX (an ominous acronym for a health related issue) and which, at present is part of a pilot scheme on the Isle of Wight. How that pans out will have to be seen – as well as what will be the results if or when it gets used throughout the UK.

The ‘debate’ will go on for a long time, I’m sure, with fears and theories abounding. On 8th May there was a story that the NHSX contact-tracing app reportedly failed cyber security tests.

Here I want to highlight issues that might well follow from this supposedly ‘temporary and specific’ form of personal surveillance. If people look at the consequences of what accepting this app could mean then they might not be so keen to accept the reassurances of the Government. Well, some people may not, others are sheep and will do whatever they are told.

On 4th May it was revealed that Britons without the Apple/Google tracing app may not be able to travel abroad. Even before the app has proven itself to be effective governments worldwide are already thinking about making this mandatory for any visitors from another country. And if this is being thought about in many other countries then it’s guaranteed a similar regulation will be applied in Britain.

So in one fail swoop what is being sold now as being voluntary is de facto obligatory – if you want to travel – and who wouldn’t want to get out of Britain as soon as possible after the months of lies and incompetence we have been submitted to since the declaration of a pandemic.

In something I read recently (can’t remember the exact reference) in relation to visas for Russia it was suggested that the installation of such apps would be conditional on obtaining a visa. Presumably there would also be an obligation to keep it switched on and so movements would be constantly monitored.

I assume it is not impossible to have two, or even more, apps installed on a phone so no free movement will become possible in the near future.

Free school meal vouchers

The situation is not getting any better since I first wrote about these vouchers that have replaced free school meals now that all the schools are closed.

The incidences about the difficulty of getting online to apply, receiving the vouchers and then actually using them just keep on growing. All through the structure there are problems and although the scheme may be ‘working’ for the majority of people there is a sizeable minority where there are problems and it is causing a lot of distress.

And, I would argue, the problems stem from the way that this arrogant, free market Tory Government has decided to ‘help’ some of the poorest in society through the pandemic. Those whose companies having applied for ‘furlough’ money get up to £2,500 paid directly into their bank accounts by the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Those who have had to sign on for Universal Credit at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) similarly get money paid into their bank accounts. Yet those families who need help to buy basic foodstuffs are paid in vouchers – for which they have to jump through hoops.

Complaints about them include; a scheme that has changed a number of times since its introduction; a restriction on which stores they can be used (each voucher has to have a designated store); not being accepted online – especially difficult for one parent families with young children who will have problems going to the supermarkets with a gaggle of children and even more so if they are supposed to be self-isolating if one (or more) of those children have special needs; the vouchers are regularly arriving late; they can be temperamental if not printed out perfectly causing humiliation when they are refused in a very public manner; and even if parents manage to get an online order the supermarkets are still charging for delivery – a charge which is disproportionately carried by the poorest by not reaching the ‘free delivery’ threshold.

This contract was handed to a private company which is making money out of the poorest in society (even if their profits come from any additional money from the Treasury it takes that away from helping those in need) and yet, to use that awful cliches, the system ‘is not fit for purpose’.

So far more than £55 million has been spent on these vouchers but there’s no details about how that may be short if all who were eligible had used them and neither is there information on the amount of profit for the private company, Edenred.

But the most important aspect of this is that a society which provides free school meals for those who can’t afford to feed themselves properly, as well as the provision of food banks, does not indicate a caring society but one that is irretrievably broken – and should be, itself, destroyed and replaced with a more just system.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

As with testing this is another issue that will not be with us as long as is the virus. The Government continues to argue that it is doing its best and has provided ‘billions of pieces of PPE’ but six weeks into lock down both NHS but especially care home staff are saying there is still a shortage.

A big issue was made a couple of weeks ago about PPE coming from Turkey. Forget the farce of when it would all arrive with the RAF sending out a couple of transport planes to bring it to Britain. It has now (7th May) been revealed that the gowns ordered from Turkey fail to meet safety standards.

Like most people I have no idea what the safety standards are or how they are measured. It’s not my job – but it is someone’s. Also if there are strict safety standards then why aren’t those specifications transmitted to the company that’s making the equipment? And why didn’t someone make sure that the consignment met those requirements before the cargo was even put on the planes? If they were no more useful that large black bin bags why did we have to go all the way to Turkey to get them – surely there’s enough here already.

European Union disunion

There has been no common approach on how to deal with the virus in the European Union with virtually every country following a different procedure. Then when it came to paying the costs some of the richer members were less than forthcoming when there were requests from the poorer nations, principally Italy. This could cause a lot of resentment in the near future and will only serve to feed the cause of the ‘anti-unionists’ and there will be a lot of uncertainty about the future of the EU.

We in Britain had to go through almost four years of mind-numbingly boring and tiresome ‘debate’ about leaving the EU and this virus sorts matters out in a matter of weeks!

Constant leaking and speculation about what will be announced

It’s not the virus that’s the problem it’s the system that is ‘dealing with it’. And one of the characteristics of those politicians is the grandstanding that accompanies all they do. Everything’s a game to them and that’s the way they play with those they are supposed to lead.

This attitude has characterised the whole business of the pandemic from the ‘recommendation’ that pubs and bars should close (way back at the beginning of the lock down) to the ‘suggestion’ that people in Scotland should wear masks when shopping (later on in April).

Politicians are constantly playing to their ‘core’ audience, to those they need to keep on side. In 2020 the exemplar of this is the US President Trump, but we have the same situation in Britain. The Buffoon plays the clown as he thinks it makes him (an over-privileged, rich, overweight, white male) ‘attractive’ to those who are everything he isn’t – the average working class Tory voter.

The Nationalist First Ministers in both Scotland and Wales are playing to their constituency to whom they want to impress the idea that they are in control for what happens in the periphery of Britain. They continually attempt to score points over the Buffoon in Westminster – and this was even more obvious when the Buffoon was in hospital and none of the other Tories deputising had the courage to slap them down.

What this leads to in normal circumstances, but which is accentuated at present with the covid-19 pandemic, is that issues, decisions and policies are trailed to build up some sort of anticipation. Everything is directed to a particular time (as with the daily press conferences) or a day (as with the statement to be made by the Buffoon on Sunday afternoon, the 10th May).

The problem is that the time delay, whether it be hours or days, provides time for too much conjecture. When clear leadership is needed all this provides is speculation and ultimately confusion. And almost always the grandstanding just leads to disappointment and further frustration.

Susan Michie, Behavioural Psychologist, Radio 4, World at One, 7th May;

Q. Is it going to be very difficult (in the next stage) to get the message across to the different audiences and how people hear it?

‘It’s going to be very complicated because you’ve got such a huge range, type of persons, and also types of sector. So some people who’ve not actually gone outside for the last six or seven weeks, even though they’re not in the vulnerable group, because they’re very anxious about the situation. They’ve begun to associate home with safety so for that group there will need to be messaging reassuring them that spending time outside is going to be very negligible in terms of the risk of infection.

At the other extreme, polling data has shown, especially with younger men, are getting increasingly bored and frustrated and really wanting to get out there and be back in life as things were before. For that group it’s going to be increasingly important to really stress the staged approach, really stress that all the issues about social distancing, hand hygiene, tissue use, not touching your eyes, nose and mouth, are even more important than when we’re spending more time at home.

So that’s just two examples of different parts of the population that will require different messaging. We are also in a situation where different sectors will be coming back into business at different rates, in different ways even within the same sector. You may have some organisations that could start up because they are able to meet health and safety regulations and others that won’t. So I think there’s another layer there of potential perceived unfairness that will need to be handled and managed incredibly skilfully.’

Q. This will be changing each week. Is there a way of ensuring clarity?

‘One thing that’s very problematic is what seems to be happening at the moment when first messages are being trailed. We’ve heard that we are going to be told about the plans on Sunday and I think what’s so important is the whole plan is given at once so people can understand it in the whole round and the explanations for it can be given very clearly.

What’s happened at the moment, and the only thing I’ve heard trailed is about sun bathing and having picnics outside. Now, I can see the rationale of positing outside as being not a risky situation but this is really potentially very damaging because what seems to be happening is that people, or the press, certain groups, have over-generalised, over-extended, and now there are messages about ‘this is the end of the stay at home message’ – which I’m sure won’t be the case.

My concern about this is that people will hang on to what they want to hear, build on that. Prior to Sunday we’ve got a three day Bank Holiday weekend coming up, I think the weather will continue fine and people may say ‘well, we’re going to hear on Sunday of the end of the stay at home policy, let’s all go out because that’s going to happen on Sunday anyway’. And once people have stopped obeying the rules then it becomes very difficult to get them back again.’

Snippets

Below are a number of snippets I have come across in the past few weeks. Some of them are old (not enough time or space to include them before) but the aim of this blog is not to provide up tp date news – people get that from other sources. Here I just want to create one space where the idiosyncrasies of how the pandemic has unfurled here in the UK can be found. Some may have been superceded by events, others may just be waiting to come to fruition.

Supply of testing kits

British firm that can deliver 1 million coronavirus tests per week left waiting for Public Health England order.

Business

CEOs cutting salaries is mostly a ‘publicity stunt’.

Food Banks

UK food banks face record demand in coronavirus crisis. And as with the need for the provision of free school meals, their very existence should be considered a disgrace by any reasonable nation.

International situation

France’s first known case ‘was in December’. This is an interesting one as it starts to ask questions of how the virus spread. I’m sure that the general idea was that the outbreak started in China and then gradually moved westward. That was definitely the situation in historic pandemics but in the present ‘globalised’ world that’s not the case. Yet another aspect of the covid-19 pandemic that could lead to a greater understanding which will could mean to a much more co-ordinated and efficient reaction to the next one – not if but when.

Shopping during a pandemic

There’s a lot to be said about ‘shopping’ and how the State ensures that all of the population get access to what they need in a situation such as this pandemic. Until then a couple of items.

Shoppers stock up on alcohol amid lock down – not really surprising this and it really has been going on since the pubs were closed way back in March. The future of the so-called ‘traditional’ English pub has been in question for some years now – the pandemic might be the last straw. However, the brewers aren’t concerned about pubs closing as they’ll make their profits from supermarket and off license sales.

Shops ‘exploiting’ pandemic by profiteering – yet another news story that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Once the pandemic was an accepted fact there should have been a monitoring of shops, at all levels, to prevent profiteering, but such a move is an anathema to the free market Tories – no matter how much that might adversely effect some people.

Where did the virus originate?

It’s interesting how some stories dominate the airwaves for a few days and then (if only for a short time) completely disappear. The Trumpites were making all kinds of accusations about the cause of the virus – without providing a shred of evidence. (It has to be said that equally wild accusations have been made in response – which is as foolish.)

Although not being a biochemist I think I’ve understood from various episodes in the past that it is relatively easy for experts to determine whether a virus was manufactured or was just a natural occurrence. That would make proving the matter one way or the other, I would have though, relatively easy.

What always strikes me in situations like this in the past is the demand from governments in the west that the facilities in other countries should be opened up for ‘international inspection’. It happened in Iraq (and we know how that turned out) and also in Iran (but that didn’t make life easier for the Iranians). After the poisonings in Salisbury a couple of years ago there was speculation in Russia that the poison came from Porton Down (the UK chemical and biological warfare facility) which is just down the road. Would the British government have been ‘open and above board’ if the Russians had asked for an ‘international inspection’ of the laboratories?

Dr Michael Ryan, head of Emergencies, World Health Organisation (WHO), 1st May;

‘We have listened again and again to numerous scientists who have looked at the sequences and looked at the virus and we are assured that the virus is natural in origin and what is important is that we establish what the natural host for the virus is.’

After public sympathy

The Buffoon ‘revealed’ that ‘contingency plans’ made during his treatment for the virus a few weeks ago. He was obviously playing for the ‘sympathy vote’ here. Why his case should be any more revealing of the reaction to this virus is beyond me. But I did think he was taking it a bit far when he described these contingency plans. When it comes to comparing himself with any other world leader the Buffoon comes way down the scale – when it comes to comparing himself with Joseph Stalin he’s way off the scale. And if such ‘contingency plans’ were indeed needed then woe betide us.

Toxic leak at chemical plant in India

The world, and especially the wealthier countries in the northern hemisphere, are totally obsessed with the pandemic. But the rest of the world goes on, having to deal with serious issues that they have to confront – covid-19 or no covid-19.

The tragedy of the leak of toxic and deadly chemicals at the LG Chem factory in Andhra Pradesh shows that the capitalist ‘normality’ is a bigger threat to health than the present pandemic – it’s been going on for centuries and kills millions a year due to starvation, non-potable water and general oppression and exploitation as well as surrogate wars fought by the imperialist powers which has a greater impact upon the poorest on the planet.

This leak also should make us remember the crime of the incident at Bhopal in 1984 – where people are still suffering the consequences and the American based company has never (and will never) be held to account.

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