24th July – the day England went under (face) cover – perhaps

More on covid pandemic 2020

24th July – the day England went under (face) cover – perhaps

July 24th will go down in history as the day that face ‘coverings’ became mandatory in English shops and other indoor locations. 24th July will also go down in history as yet another day of confusion and wtf.

The lack of any strategy, the lack of any impression that the Buffoon and his Government has any understanding of the seriousness of the pandemic let alone a thought out way through and out of it has been a stark reality since the very beginning. Previous posts in the Journal of the Plague Year 2020 have been full of examples of their sheer stupidity and incompetence.

The introduction of mandatory face coverings in an increasing number of situations is yet another of those.

Some of the questions of why at all, whether they are effective and why now will be addressed below but one of the answers to the why question is – because others have done it.

And this seems to be one of the problems that has bedevilled the whole approach to the pandemic since the very beginning. The first appearance of large numbers of infections, and then an exceptional number of deaths, of an unknown virus occurred in Wuhan in China. The Chinese Government, equally caught unawares as virtually all the other governments in the world, decided that the way to deal with it was the seal off the city from the rest of the country and the world.

Not because it was the necessarily the best thing to do but because they couldn’t think of, and certainly hadn’t prepared for, dealing with such a pandemic in any other pro-active manner. That re-active approach was then copied as outbreaks of the disease spread to other parts of the globe.

If we move to on the the issue of masks (or face coverings as it is more normally referred to in Britain) there have been some who say that the wearing of masks has become such a norm in many Asian countries that the wearing of them during this pandemic has not been an issue in that part of the world as it has in some parts of the ‘west’.

But that ‘tradition’, if you like, of wearing masks once outside in the street wasn’t prompted by an esoteric desire to lower the spread of disease, it was done to prevent the inhalation of all the pollution that was being created by internal combustion engines and the filth thrown into the atmosphere by rapidly expanding industry with minimum emission controls – the latter especially in China.

So by wearing masks it meant that people didn’t get up off their knees and fight against the pollution that was probably killing them but just let it carry on – in the vain hope that their pathetic masks would save themselves. Instead of addressing the root causes of the problem they just tried to find a way to live with it.

The mandatory use of face ‘covering’ in shops in England

The Buffoon and his minions (under the orders of Dominic Cummins) have, since the very beginning been saying that they ‘are following the science’ – or not (see below). However, the problem is that it’s often very difficult for those not in the scientific community to read or get an idea of this ‘scientific advice’. Months ago even top scientists in the field of epidemiology and pandemics couldn’t get rapid access to the material upon which the Buffoon was basing his decisions. Getting that information at the time of the decision is of the utmost importance. Making it available days, weeks, months or even years into the future is not good enough.

If you go on the official government website today, on the page that addresses the mandatory use of face coverings, you will be able to read about so-called ‘guidance’ on wearing masks, how to make your own as well as how to get an exemption – but no link to the science which backs up and justifies their decision.

Now there have been some who have been pushing for the introduction of mandatory face coverings since the end of March (and they have been quoted in previous blog posts here) – but without citing the scientific evidence so support their assertions.

Here are a few statements about the issue the wearing of face coverings that have been made in the last ten days or so, to bring matters up to date.

Michael Gove, BBC 2, Andrew Marr Show, 12th July, on NOT making face coverings mandatory;

‘If necessary, if tough measures are required, as we have seen in Leicester in a very different situation, then tough measures will be taken. But, on the whole, my view is that it is always better to trust people’s common sense, to give then a clear sense of what is wise and I think individuals and businesses will respond well.’

Wendy Barclay, Head of Department of Infectious Disease and Chair in Influenza Virology at Imperial College London, 12th July;

‘We do think that the virus is breathed out in droplets. Whether or not these droplets are large or small it’s quite likely that a face mask will remove some of them from your breath.

If you are infected by the virus but perhaps not yet feeling ill you are at a point where you have the virus in your breath then you may be hazardous to other people.’

Rachel Reeves, Labour Party, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, 12th July;

‘[The wearing of masks] might encourage more people to go out and spend money if they see more people wearing face masks in shops.’

[The social democrats pushing for people to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to get the country back into the downward spiral of consumerism.]

Andrew Goodacre, CEO, British Independent Retailers Association, 12th July;

‘There’s no evidence the wearing of masks will increase footfall in shops. That’s the concern really. Without any evidence there’s a fear that it might become a barrier to shopping instead of an enhancement.’

Melinda Mills, Nuffield Professor and Director, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford, 12th July;

‘The Government just has not been clear. They’ve said there isn’t evidence. Businesses also need to know. In many countries you come into a shop, or an enclosed space, you put a mask on and it’s clear and everyone knows what to do. You just need some clarity and you need everyone to hold the same line and actually do what the rest of the world has already been doing for a few months.’

Buffoon, on visit to an ambulance station, 13th July (the days after another cabinet minister, Michael Gove (cited above), had something different);

‘We do think that masks do have a great deal of value. Obviously they are mandatory on public transport, on the Tube but also have value in confined spaces when you are coming into contact with people you don’t normally meet.

What’s interesting on the face covering issue over the last few months is the scientific evaluation of face coverings, that’s been growing. I do think in shops it’s very important to wear a face covering, in a confined space, when you want to protect other people, to receive protection in return.’

Lucy Powell, Labour Party, Shadow Minister for Business and Consumers, 13th July;

‘We [the Labour Party] have been arguing for face covering wearing in shops for the last few days’.

[But I’m not really aware of the Labour Party arguing for this in the recent past. The Buffoon-in waiting (Keir Starmer) and his minions no more clear on the issue than the Buffoon-in-place.]

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, USDAW, shopworkers union, Radio 4, World at One, 13th July;

Q. Do you want face covering in shops made mandatory?

‘Firstly, we recognise that face coverings can help limit the spread of the virus and we welcome anything else to keep customers and shop workers safe. The most important measure for us is to ensure the proper social distancing and hygiene and we need clarity from government. The mixed messaging and indecision is not helpful for shopworkers.

There must be clear and detailed guidance from the Government on this.’

Q. It should be compulsory for someone to come into a shop to use a face covering?

‘Yes, absolutely.’

Q. Who policies it?

‘There lies a problem. … We don’t want retail workers to have to police things. They’ve got enough to do, they’ve taken enough abuse and assaults during the pandemic. … It’s not for retail workers to put themselves at risk,’

The only ‘study’ I have come across is one that was published on 26th June 2020 by Melinda Mills, Nuffield Professor and Director, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford – there’s a short quote from her above.

Her ‘paper’ is entitled ‘Face masks and coverings for the general public: Behavioural knowledge, effectiveness of cloth coverings and public messaging’. You can read the full report here, or if you are lazy you can have a look at a highlighted (by me) version here. For those who are really lazy I include the one page summary and conclusions below:

‘Face masks and coverings for the general public: Behavioural knowledge, effectiveness of cloth coverings and public messaging’

Executive summary

Cloth face masks and coverings for the general public are effective in improving: i) source protection, i.e., reduced virus transmission from the wearer when they are of optimal material and construction and fitted correctly; and ii) wearer protection, i.e., reduced rate of infection of those who wear them.

Optimal cloth face coverings are made from specific material (e.g., high grade cotton), hybrid and multilayer constructions (e.g., silk-cotton) and need to be fitted correctly.

Many countries implemented a policy requiring the general public to wear face masks and coverings in all public places by mid-March 2020.

Countries with no previous history of wearing face masks and coverings amongst the general public rapidly adopted usage such as in Italy (83.4%), the United States (65.8%) and Spain (63.8%) by the end of April 2020.

A systematic review isolated key socio-behavioural factors to understanding public adherence to wearing face masks and coverings, namely:

  • public understanding of virus transmission, including efficacy of source versus wearer protection, diagnostic uncertainty and inability to self-diagnose.
  • risk perception, individuals’ underestimation of health risks and perception that protection is only relevant for vulnerable groups, or outside of their proximity.
  • previous national pandemic experience resulting in rapid response and socio-political systems, allowing for more or less coordinated action and public trust.
  • individual characteristics, such as younger people and men having a lower threat perception and compliance with interventions.
  • perceived barriers, lack of supply of surgical masks and perceived competition with medical resources, resource constraints to obtain coverings, comfort and fit.

Consistent and effective public messaging is vital with non-pharmaceutical interventions more effectively seen as part of ‘policy packages’ to acknowledge:

  • interventions as interrelated, to be reviewed in tandem with face masks and coverings related to hand hygiene, sanitizers and social distancing when maintaining the 2 metre or 1 metre+ distancing rule is not possible.
  • public communications must be clear, consistent and transparent with inconsistent, premature, alarmist information or that without a clear source raising scepticism and lowering compliance.

Conclusion

In England face masks and coverings for the general public in public places have not been mandated beyond public transport and hospitals. Wearing a face mask or covering in the UK has had very low uptake (~25%, late April 2020). The lack of clear recommendations for the general public and low uptake of wearing face masks and coverings may be attributed to: (i) over-reliance on an evidence-based medicine approach and assertion that evidence was weak due to few conclusive RCT (randomised controlled trial) results in community settings, discounting high quality non-RCT evidence. There have been no clinical trials of coughing into your elbow, social distancing and quarantine, yet these measures are seen as effective and have been widely adopted; (ii) inconsistent and changing advice from supranational organisations (WHO, ECDC) and other nations with variation in policy even within the UK; (iii) concern over the applicability of findings across multiple settings (health care versus general public, other pandemics and countries), yet many ‘lessons learned’ from previous pandemics, including public wearing of face masks and coverings, repeat themselves during COVID-19; and, (iv) mix of supply concerns of PPE shortages of surgical face masks with recommendations for face mask and covering wearing for general public.

Comments on the report.

The first point to make is that the phrase ‘pre-print non-peer reviewed’ (or variations on the wording) appear around 20 times in this ‘paper’. That means the data upon which it has been based has not been checked and evaluated by other scientists in the field. Now that doesn’t mean to say the conclusions are wrong (and there’s an interesting BBC Radio 4 programme, Inside Science, 23rd July, which looks at this matter – the first 18 minutes or so) but it is, therefore, more of an assertion than scientific ‘proof’.

It doesn’t mean that all papers that have been ‘peer-reviewed’ are the gospel but that is the present convention in scientific circles. I just want to emphasise that caveat when reference is made to this paper. Added to the fact that the Mills paper itself is ‘pre-print non-peer reviewed’ is the fact that she makes use of data from a number of other ‘pre-print non-peer reviewed’ papers.

Points that need to be taken into account from the ‘findings’ of the paper;

  • most of the studies were taken from studies on practices and experience of health professionals in medical facilities, who are knowledgeable of the risks, use best practice and have an almost unlimited access to such equipment (at least pre-pandemic)
  • no one knows how the results will look like when you have millions of non-professionals using face coverings during a pandemic
  • ‘ordinary’ people will almost invariably NOT follow best practice, i.e., they will reuse disposable masks, they will touch their face, they will not wear them in the way they are designed, they will not dispose of the mask in a ‘safe’ manner and then immediately wash their hands, etc.
  • many of the home-made versions, pushed by the Government, can be worse than useless
  • poorer families, who try and follow ‘best practice’ could spend £100, or more, a month in buying disposable masks, at a time when many of them are strapped for cash to pay food bills or rents
  • mass events that have taken place during the lock down, technically illegal but allowed to go ahead nonetheless, such as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations throughout the country, but especially in London, were face covering use was sporadic, haven’t led to noticeable ‘spikes’ in infection rates. Nor have there been from illegal raves that are happening virtually every weekend now
  • there’s no consideration of the negatives which prevented ‘the science’ from recommending mandatory use four months ago, i.e., the possibility of a massive accumulation of virus cells from someone asymptomatic who then, by not following ‘face covering protocols’, are then deposited on hard surfaces which others touch
  • another element of control, test the water to see how far you can go before people rebel
  • and, finally, why now? Why not months ago? The science hasn’t really changed so this is just another example of ‘doing something’ even though it’s not necesasarily effective.

Added to that, there being a certain amount of resistance to the compulsory use of masks there will inevitably be conflicts (customer-customer, customer-officious employee, counter-aggressive police). And if there are ‘spikes’ the Government can blame them upon those non-conformers to face coverings, create yet another division within society and say they have done their best and so anything problems in the future are not their fault.

Other comments on face coverings;

Persuasion could be more effective than an ‘unenforceable’ law.

Masks are pointless unless Britain learns to wear them properly.

Why men are less likely to wear masks.

What you need to know and what the experts say – non-Government site.

What’s the value of the ‘R’ number?

This one has dropped out of the news recently but will no doubt have its time in the limelight if/when there is ever a proper review into the Government handling of the pandemic. It’s still strange though. It’s treated as a viable indicator for the present whilst it is merely a notional number which can only be known in hindsight.

Track and Trace

England’s ‘world-beating’ track and trace system? Obviously the Buffoon is of the school of thought that if you repeat something enough times you will get people to believe you, however much the facts point in the opposite direction.

Dr Lisa McNally, Sandwell, West Midlands, Council Director of Public Health, Radio 4, World at One, 16th July;

‘Test and trace is one of the most important ways we have of separating the infected from the non-infected and breaking the chain of transmission. What we know from the test and trace data in my area is that four out of ten people, who test positive, are not being contacted or reached by the test and trace system.’

Q. You asked if you could help out in contacting these people. What happened then?

‘We have a team of public health practitioners and specialists who know how to do contact tracing. They also know their local area, we have a number of languages in our team, we could find people we think that Test and Trace can’t. We asked for contact details for the people who were tested positive recently, alternatively we asked for access to the data base that was used by the contact tracing system. But unfortunately we were told that we were not able to get that data or access at this time.’

Q. Do you know why that is?

‘I wasn’t given a reason, if I’m honest. My theory is maybe they were concerned about information and governance but, of course, we’re a statutory body in the Council, we’re used to dealing with confidential information every day. I cannot really imagine what the problem is but what I do know is that if we were given the contact details of the people tested we could do a good job of helping the test and trace system to find them and identify their contacts.’

Q. You say that because you have local knowledge that would give you an advantage?

‘Yes. My team are local people. They know how to get in touch with people, they know about the community groups that people go to, the places of worship – we have good relationships with those as well.

We also have in our team a number of people who speak ‘local’ languages. We have a large number of languages in our area and they speak those languages. That is a barrier we could also get through.

We’re not saying we could get 100% but I’m sure we could close that 40% gap to some degree.

We’ve got a lot of data, we can’t move around here for bar charts, graphs, but it’s the personal information we need to make sure as many people as possible are followed up for test and trace, for contact tracing, so we can warn people if they’ve been exposed.’

Q. The test and trace system we have has been described by the Buffoon as ‘world beating’. Do you think it is?

‘I can’t imagine that our test and trace system is ‘world beating’ at the moment unless the rest of the world have some pretty awful test and trace systems.

We cannot go ahead, we cannot continue with their large number of positive cases not being contacted and have their contacts identified.

As we come back out of lock down the only way we have to break the chain of transmission and separating those who are infected from those who aren’t is test and trace – and we need it to work properly.’

Q. Do you think that can only happen if local teams are involved in it?

‘We need to have one seamless system. A system that links a local team, with regional teams, with the national team. It’s not going to work if some of us, especially those of us at a local level, are blind-folded and not having the data shared with us.’

These thoughts were echoed by the Public Health Director for Blackburn with Darwen, Dominic Harrison, a few days later. His analysis had shown the national tracing service had reached only 44% of the 799 close contacts and called for testing and tracing to be carried out at a local rather than national level.

Proportion of close contacts being reached is below 80% in high infection areas.

Contact tracing only prevents infection if done within three days.

For more on the systemic failings in the the way the Buffoon and his Government have ignored the local Public Health structure in the fight against the pandemic this matter is very well covered in the BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health programme broadcast on 22nd July.

How effective are anti-body tests?

Testing for who has the virus is important (and a source of controversy when it comes to speed and numbers) but so is the testing to determine who might have had the virus, especially those who were asymptomatic.

The finger-prick tests were found to be 98.6% accurate.

Still more on the (in)famous app – if, when and privacy

Yet another of the stories that goes on and on – without, seemingly, an end in sight.

UK government admits Track and Trace scheme ‘breaks GDPR’.

But Ireland seems to be able to get it right.

PPE – Personal Protective Equipment

The consequences of the lack of proper planning for a pandemic, although PPE was being stored but then allowed to go past its sell-by date, is starting to come to light. When you depend on a ‘just in time’ delivery model you have to have a Plan B in the event things don’t go as you wish.

Immunity – is it possible?

This volley in the ping pong match has been going on since the end of March – and I’m still none the wiser. So some recent ‘thoughts’.

Immunity to Covid-19 can vanish in months, from the Independent.

Steep drops in patients’ antibody levels three months after infection, from the Guardian.

Levels of antibodies depleted by as much as 23-fold in the three-month period, from the Telegraph.

That should cover a fair proportion of the political spectrum in the UK.

Not forgetting ‘herd immunity’

Levels of herd immunity in UK may already be high enough to prevent second wave.

Scientists say many people may already be immune to Covid-19 without ever having caught it.

Has ‘herd immunity’ already come in to play?

A vaccine and Britain ‘goes it alone’

UK opts out of EU Covid-19 vaccine scheme.

David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation, Department of Health, Assistant Fellow, Chatham House, Radio 4, World at One, 11th July;

Q. Should the UK take part?

‘There are a few issues that surround this problem. The first is equity, is it equitable for a country to say we want to have vaccines first because we have paid for the R+D [Research and Development], we’ve capitalised the manufacturers and therefore we have first rights. That’s the position the US have taken. …

The second issue is, do you get a better contract if you go on your own or if you go as part of a consortium. And that, clearly, is the position the UK is thinking about. If you were [a very small country in Europe] you might think you’d be much better off if you joined in with [the bigger countries in Europe] in a consortium. … There was a lot of progress in setting up consortia after the 2009 flu pandemic.

But it isn’t really as straightforward as that because it depends hugely on the position the manufacturers take. If a manufacturer takes the position that says ‘for all high income countries we have a fixed price, irrespective of the number of doses that you want’, you might as well be in a consortium, it won’t make any difference. If they say it’s volume dependent you might do better in a consortium again. But if you want the flexibility then you’d do better going on your own

I’m not sure this is a hugely important issue. The issue of equity is, perhaps, one that is more important and that is how do we ensure that everyone gets access.

Q. You can understand a national government putting it’s own people first?

‘That’s the dilemma that clearly everybody has to try to deal with. If you say to your popualtion we’ve invested in the research, we have invested in the companies to produce the vaccine, by the way the population isn’t going to get it because we are allowing other people to have it before us. That’s not going to run well.

So I can understand why people are taking a position that says we have made investments therefore we have the right – but that doesn’t help the people who can’t afford the vaccine on whom the impact of covid might be even worse because they don’t have the health service resilience that industrialised countries have.’

Q. How do you get to that equity of poorer countries and poorer people?

‘One of the ways is that you have purchasing consortia for those countries that can’t afford vaccines and so GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) acts on behalf of the poorer countries to get access to new vaccines. That’s made a huge difference to world health. The other is you have clear pricing. This is a phenomenon we have been working with for many, many years. That is, exactly the same vaccine, the same product, is available at different prices in industrialised countries, middle income countries and low income countries. So the same vaccine is bought at a trivial part of the price of an industrialised country. That gives equity of access.’

Considering there’s no known vaccine against covid-19 the British government seems to be committing a lot of money in contracts with the huge pharmaceutical companies witrh a deal with two different companies for 90 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

Data – giving the wrong impression?

Hancock calls for urgent review into coronavirus death data in England, because it might reduce the numbers. Supposedly there were hundreds of cases of people being diagnosed with covid-19 but then getting run over by a car three months later – and still being counted as a covid fatality.

In reality you could probably count those ‘miscounted’ individuals on the fingers of a few hands. There wasn’t this ‘urgent review’ when thousands were dying in care homes where there was no one available to make a decision of whether the death was covid related or not on the death certificate.

And this ‘shock horror’ revelation allows the Government to no longer publish the statistics – because they may not be accurate. What a prick!

Is covid-19 a super virus?

This virus has only been with us for six months (or a year and a half if the reports of its existence in frozen sewage samples is finally confirmed) but it’s already gaining mythical ‘end of the world’ status.

Are mutations making covid-19 more infectious?

Perhaps it can survive in the air for more than an hour and is so …

… we’ll have to fight it in all new ways.

Although it might not be as clever as it thinks – by giving away vital information that allows the enemy to find a way around its defences.

The role of scientists and experts in the battle against the pandemic

My experience of higher education was that there were many people in the full time academic university community who were intelligent and, on paper, very highly qualified but when it came to life in general extremely naive if not plain stupid.

From the very beginning, with the first televised press conference that the Buffoon gave, accompanied by an ‘expert’, it was obvious they were there merely to be a future scapegoat. A number of them took turns, new ones came and went, some were even barred because they spoke out of turn but they only got their 15 minutes of fame so they could be made responsible for any blips, errors or downright crass mistakes. But once you stand there it’s too late to cry ‘unfair’.

But that didn’t stop Patrick Vallance, the Governments Chief Scientific Advisor from having a go.

A second wave?

The fear level has to be kept up – if not how can the State keep control of the people and get them to do the Government’s bidding?

Poverty in the UK

Poverty has always been a problem in Britain, one of the most prosperous countries in the world which had spent centuries raping the rest of the world of its resources, whether they be human or material.

Perhaps with the pandemic some of these contemporary facts of the results of capitalist exploitation and oppression are getting a wider hearing. That’s the case with child malnutrition. [A strange one this . When I tested this link pre-publishing I went to the Guardian page where this article first appeared but with a message that the information may not be accurate. I’ll leave the link here until I am able to confirm the what is happening.]

Covid in schools

This is another issue that’s gone into hibernation at the moment – as all schools in the United Kingdom are now officially on the long summer holiday. One of the consequences of creating a climate of fear to ‘encourage’ people to stay at home during the lock down (although the rich, influential and powerful could do what they liked with impunity) is the reluctance of some parents to send their children back to school.

This was despite the statistical fact that they were more likely to suffer injury and death by crossing the road to school than by catching the virus itself. To the best of my knowledge only three children have died in England as a result of covid-19, hundreds die in road accidents in normal, non-pandemic times. Yet still parents live in fear.

A German study has found no evidence coronavirus spreads in schools – but will parents accept that?

Planning for a pandemic

Anyone who has been sentient in the last six months won’t be surprised at this one.

UK’s pandemic planning an ‘astonishing failure’.

The Independent’s view of ‘a competent government does not run a country on the hoof, and it will not steer us through this global health and economic crisis that way’.

Inquiry into management of pandemic

But we don’t need to worry that no one will be held accountable.

The Buffoon promises future independent inquiry – but giving no indication of when and when he makes reference to any future inquiry he always adds that people aren’t really concerned with that now, they’re more concerned about what’s going to happen next.

So all the so-called ‘experts’ had better watch out.

Under the cover of covid

In any crisis the State especially (but also other organisations within society be they large or small, public or private, social or charitable) will use the cause of that crisis as justification for making changes which they had wanted to make for a long time and now can hide behind the smokescreen of, in this case, the covid-19 pandemic.

Increasingly we are hearing of companies bringing changes ‘forward’ by a year or two. In a time when we are supposed to be ‘all in this together’ the profit motive always will out.

So not surprising, what is surprising is that when it comes to Centrica, the company that owns British Gas and who want to change conditions of service, the unions are actually saying something about it. Let’s hope their words turn into action.

Death rates in England

Hospital mortality rate varies from 12.5% to 80% in different trusts around country.

The pandemic and the rest of the world

A ‘hidden education emergency’ is facing the world’s children where almost 10 million of them will probably never return to school following the pandemic – and yet parents in the UK are so scared they are thinking of preventing their children from returning in the autumn.

Reverting to a typical primitive tribalism the British Government showed its concern for the poorest in the world by cutting the international aid budget. This gets somewhat complicated as I don’t accept what is called ‘international aid’ as really helping the poorest in the southern hemisphere, more a way of an old colonial power maintaining an elelment of control. However, in the way they sell themselves the capitalist countries which now, unfortunately, includes the People’s Republic of China, always try to convince us they are ‘doing good’ for others.

For me it’s not the actual cutting of the amount that’s important, it’s the hypocrisy.

Housing

Whilst thousands of renters are struggling to pay their rents and fearing eviction when the Government brake is taken off at the end of August investors are having a field day with the reduction in stamp duty. The Tories always look after their own yet they keep on getting voted in by the very people they think are of no significance.

A kinder and fairer Britain after covid-19?

So suggests a recent poll. Don’t quite see that – unless people make it so. The result of the General Election in December 2019 certainly didn’t feel like a caring society. Sounds as likely as the lion lying down with the lamb.

Confusion surrounds the return to work on August 1st

No doubt, following past performance, the guidelines for the next major return to work will be released on the evening of the 31st July.

A ‘Cultural wasteland’?

The ‘Cultural Sector’ – which covers a myriad of organisations throughout the country – is really on the brink of collapse at the moment. For months now, since the lock down, various representatives from theatres and arts organisations have been arguing the financial card. They thought that if they mentioned pounds sterling in the same phrase as billions it would make the Government perk up as the arts are a major money earner as part of the tourist industry.

What they failed to understand is that a) they are dealing with a bunch of cultural morons and b) these morons have proved themselves totally incapable and inept in protecting the capitalist system in any other way than through shovelling untold quantities of billions of pounds of public money into the bank accounts of the richest in the land/world. Just as they did in 2008.

Twelve years ago international capitalism realised that they could weather any storm, any disaster which they themselves had created, by dipping into the public purse. Someone, down the line will pay. Having been robbed once you would have thought the ‘people’ were a bit more savvy now but that’s not the case. Now the ‘people’, workers, unions, the petite bourgeoisie, small and big businesses are just putting out their hands like Oliver and asking ‘can I have some more’. Those with the biggest hands smack the minnows out of the way and get their bowls filled to overflowing.

So a great deal of the cultural institutions, and those who work in it, are going to be thrown by the wayside. The ‘crown jewels’ will be saved – as that is all the the rich and powerful are concerned about. Not for the performances that are put on but for the ability to pay the exorbitant prices and to be seen – it was ever thus with the rich.

Perhaps the ‘prima donas’ from the cultural world should have a rethink. Instead of seeking fame and fortune (which the overwhelming majority are dreaming about) they should work to build a completely new structure which sees the majority of the population as their preferred audience and do so at a wage that is commensurate to that of other workers.

Apart from anything else that would avoid a situation where a few live a life of luxury on the backs of the many who are living from hand to mouth.

Use of the Armed Forces in the battle against covid-19 – why so little?

This is an article about those areas of England that are most at risk of a covid resurgence, according to the experts. That’s interesting in its own way but the main reason for including it here is the mention it makes of the use of the armed forces to back up the civilian superstructure.

Why haven’t the military been used more in the ‘battle’ against this pandemic? With my ‘conspiracy theory’ hat on I would think the Government is keeping them in reserve in the event of people getting too frustrated at the idiocy of the Buffoon and the ineptness of his Government and system to deal effectively with the crisis.

It’s much more difficult to use military force against a civilian population if they had been spending the previous three or four months tending to their needs and meeting them on a daily basis.

More on covid pandemic 2020

A week of incompetence, hypocrisy, revenge and corruption – life returns to normal in the UK

More on covid pandemic 2020

A week of incompetence, hypocrisy, revenge and corruption – life returns to normal in the UK

The weekend of 4th – 5th July saw a big jump towards normality (or the ‘new normal’ as we are been encouraged to say) in England, especially with the opening of more business, including pubs and restaurants. But if the majority of the population have to get used to the ‘new normal’ we see no change in the old normal of the British ruling class.

As life has changed back to what it was pre-March 23rd, with the slowing down of the pandemic in the country (or not, depending on which scientific expert you wanted to listen to) we have seen signs that some things hadn’t changed at all in the country, especially when it comes to the attitudes of the cretins the population has chosen as its ‘rulers’.

I don’t condemn the Buffoon for what he says and does. He was born into the class that has been exploiting and oppressing the workers of this country (and many other parts of the world) for centuries. In many ways he’s the perfect person to represent his class – criticisms bounce off him as if he were wearing armour, scandal slips off him as if the armour was coated with Teflon, he does and says anything he likes with impunity as he knows that he will survive whatever happens, like many of his class he has had the arrogance bred into him that he can never do wrong and certainly never runs the risk of being held responsible for his actions.

Together with arrogance comes hypocrisy and a total lack of irony. He stood behind a board with the words ‘Protect the NHS’ and never once considered this was against all he has believed, treated with contempt and acted against all his miserable life. He expects the people to ‘abide by the guidelines’ (imprecise, muddled and contradictory much of the time) which were issued when the relaxation of restrictions on businesses was announced, implying that if it all goes tits up it would be our fault and not anything to do with the crass incompetence and lack of imagination of his government over the last four months – and of his class for the last four centuries.

No, it isn’t the Buffoon that’s at fault, it’s the forelock tugging British working class which constantly lacks the courage to take matters into its own hands and instead continues to vote for those who know where their class interests lie and who use the pusillanimity of the workers to suck the country of its resources and do whatever it suits.

Social care

One person who knew that the Tories would revert to norm once the height of the pandemic crisis had been reached was Sir Simon Stevens, head of NHS England. Looking at what had transpired in the last four months and the number of deaths that had occurred in care homes and the so-called ‘fault lines’ that had been exposed by the pandemic he stated that a complete reform of the social care structure was needed within a year. He made these calls in an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC 2, on 5th July. To the best of my knowledge, neither the Buffoon nor any other member of his government have made a response to this demand for a radical improvement in social care provision in Britain.

Care homes – or a leopard never changes it’s spots

Care homes, and social care in general, came to dominate the early part of the week. The Tories sought to divert attention away from this by their characteristic drip feed of relaxations – so that issues of why all beauty salon treatments couldn’t be carried out would dominate the headlines and so push structural matters into the background.

It also came as no surprise that, at the first opportunity, the Buffoon started to apportion blame on others in an effort to divert attention from his own personal incompetence and that of the bunch of buffoonettes around him.

In place of agreeing with the head of NHS England the Buffoon, the day after Stevens had made his call on the Sunday morning television, attacked the very workers in the care sector – who had been declared ‘heroes’ over the last four months – by saying that ‘too many care homes didn’t follow procedures’.

Such comments, not surprisingly, created a nationwide, and angry, response.

The fact that this comment should be taken as planned and considered – and not a Buffoonism – was proven by the fact that ‘No 10’ (the term used in Britain to refer to the office of the Buffoon, Number 10 Downing Street, in London) refused to apologise. In fact the Tories have surrounded the Buffoon and defended his comments in the way they should have defended the residents and workers in care homes during the height of the pandemic – and in the future.

One comment from Downing Street;

‘… nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time.’

So why, apart from trying to steer blame and responsibility upon anyone else as long as it’s not the Buffoon and his Government, was the comment made? What use does it have in the fight against the virus?

And, of course, they didn’t refer to the matter of Dominic Cummins ignoring a clear ‘procedure’ not to travel nor to the fact of the Buffoon’s own father just jetting off to a holiday home in Greece when the rest of us were told to stay at home. Both stories which seem (but shouldn’t) to have been forgotten. Nothing new there. One law for them, one law for us.

Mark Adams, Chief Executive of Community Integrated Care, a national social care charity, accused the Buffoon of;

‘seeking to re-write history, for the mistake after mistake made by the Government.’

He wrote that the Buffoon’s comments were an insult to care home staff who had worked long and hard in extremely difficult circumstances.

Others responded by saying it was ‘a huge slap in the face’ for the sector and that the Buffoon was merely attempting to deflect blame for Government failings.

But the Buffoon has to be careful. When he makes statements which annoy so many people there will always be those who will look deeper for the dirt on the Government. Arrogance has a price.

It emerged that warnings about staff working in multiple care homes (due to the chaotic and desperate shortage of trained staff in the sector) were missed by Ministers as long ago as the beginning of April – long before the so-called ‘guidelines’ were produced.

And then, ‘coincidentally’, later in the week a report was published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) of 50 care homes that were inspected where, it was alleged, procedures were not followed. The Buffoon fighting back. It’s always interesting, the timing of the release of such reports.

Imelda Redmond, National Director Healthwatch England, ‘champion’ of health and social care users, Radio 4, World at One, 7th July;

Q. Can you understand why people are angry about the Buffoon’s comments?

‘Yes and the issues underlying all of this have been there for a very long time. There’s been under-investment in social care for vary many years. There needs to be very significant amount of reform which has been talked about for many years but hasn’t been acted upon. Actually, all those fault lines have been laid bare during the pandemic.’

Q. Do you see this as a ‘positioning’ ahead of any future enquiry?

‘I don’t think it’s a matter of where blame lies but we do have to understand and learn lessons as quickly as we can before we enter winter so we can be ready to deal with the issues.

The care sector is a very complex sector and we didn’t have a real handle on it, when the pandemic hit, of the complexities of the sector. We know more now but we really need to get to grip with this before we enter winter and perhaps a ‘second wave’.’

Q. So what is your answer to why there are so many deaths in the care sector?

‘We talk to families all over the country all the time and the kinds of things they are saying is that care homes were instructed to receive people from hospitals, if you remember. There was Government pressure to get people out of hospital so we would have capacity to deal with people who were very ill. But those people coming out of hospital were not always tested, or were not tested in the early days. That’s part of the problem.

The other issues are around the lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that they had. To be frank it was a difficulty that the social care sector in general had in getting access to the right type of PPE. … Nobody had a handle on the sector. Also the data was poor. There’s no way of contacting all social care at the same time, some people pay for their own care, some are paid through local authorities. It’s really that complexity that wasn’t understood.’

Q. Is there sufficient grip on it now?

‘Under the leadership of David Pearson and senior people at the Department of Health and Social Care there’s a better grip on it now than there was.’

Q. Sufficient?

‘Really we won’t know until later. The Task Force has only been around for about three weeks. There’s a greater grip on it. Nurseries are getting tested and tracing, we’re beginning to see more data coming through so there’s a better grip than we had but the underlying problems are that we didn’t plan properly and we really need to get that in place now.’

Finally on the care home front, more ‘collateral’ damage, this time patients with dementia ‘deteriorating’ due to the lack of family visits – which will no doubt have an effect on mortality rates sooner rather than later.

Did covid-19 exist a long time before December 2019?

This idea has been around for a while but seems to be getting more attention now. Not really sure where this will lead – or whether it will entail a change in tactics of how to overcome the virus. If nothing else it starts to take the pressure off the Chinese as ‘being responsible’ for the pandemic. If there were cases of the virus way back in 2019 in a number of countries then either medical staff weren’t able to spot a pattern or hospital administrators and/or governments sat on the information. If it wasn’t causing deaths (and therefore potentially making itself known) then this would have an impact upon the numbers of people who, potentially, have some resistance to the virus if not being completely immune.

Dr Tom Jefferson, Senior Associate Tutor, Centre for Evidence-based Medicine, Oxford, Radio 4, World at One, July 6th;

‘We have had a series of reports of the presence of viral particles, complete or fragments, of them in sewage and waste water and this goes back, the earliest I’m aware of, in March 2019 in Barcelona.’

Q. That would suggest it came from Europe not China.

‘No, it would suggest it was being excreted, with people’s stools, and got into waste water and got into sewage sometime, at least, by March 2019 if the study findings are confirmed. As you know there are a lot of false positives and a lot of uncertainty about testing.

The other thing we should bear in mind is that tests that have been done are on sewage and samples of sewage that have been frozen and kept. These are tests that can’t tell us whether the virus was active or alive. It could have just been fragments but it suggests that the micro-organism had been around for some time.’

Q. It’s not just Spain. There was Milan, Turin in mid December, even in Brazil in November.

‘Indeed. Australia as well and I have just seem something from Korea so it’s possible in the next few weeks we’re going to have more and more information.

What you’ve got to bear in mind is that these are reports that need to be confirmed.’

Q. But we didn’t have deaths back in March 2019.

‘We don’t know that. The thing is you only recognise, really only identify, a micro-organism when it causes problems, causes disease or death. Now to identity disease or death you’ve got to have an eye for it, like our Chinese colleague in Wuhan who recognised there was a sequence, a series of deaths which were unexplained.’

Q. Are you suggesting that there were deaths from the virus in early 2019 or just spreading among the population and not causing deaths?

‘I think the latter is more possible, more probable because if the findings in the sewage samples are confirmed then that would suggest that people were excreting them in their stools.’

Q. All the present theories are that it started in China, related to bats, but you’re saying it could have originated anywhere?

‘I don’t see why it should have originated from any particular country. It manifested itself in epidemic form in that country [China] first, as far as we are aware of, but we are now discovering that there were other cases. We are now almost certain there was a case in France at the end of December. So we just need to be broad-minded and try not to box our ideas in too much.’

Jefferson also wrote an article at the beginning of March – which might be useful when considering what we know then and what we didn’t then.

Transmission routes increase

Sneezes, being touched by an infected person, touching a surface which might have the virus there just waiting for a foolish host. Now, airborne transmission can’ be ruled out, possibly, according the the World health Organisation (WHO). We are well and truly doomed and starts to make a mockery out of any distance in ‘social distancing’.

University students and rebates

There’s a great deal of uncertainty in the British University community at present. Although not specified thirteen British universities are possibly on the brink of bankruptcy. Added to that many of the others (even those in the Russell Group) will have problems as they have relied on the money provided by foreign students, especially from China, who are unlikely to be coming as first year students in the 2020-21 academic year. Also many UK students are considering deferring as the ‘university experience’ just won’t exist with ‘social distancing’.

But the universities haven’t given up on getting hands on that money. Education is a business now and education takes the back seat.

Julia Buckingham, President Universities UK, Radio 4, You and Yours, July 6th;

Q. How do universities respond to the suggestion they shouldn’t have a blanket refusal for demands for refunds?

‘Universities have had to adapt their approach to teaching and learning because of the covid crisis and the most important thing for all of us was the health and safety of our students and our staff.

So we needed, unfortunately, to very rapidly transition to online learning and the support of our students because it simply wasn’t safe to continue with face to face teaching.

We have done our very best to ensure that all teaching can be completed, all modules completed, all our learning resources accessed and that students can achieve the desired learning outcomes in this academic year. And we’ve gone to very great lengths to make sure that assessments can be delivered online to ensure that as many as possible of our students will graduate at the end of the academic year or they have got the qualifications they need to progress to the next year of study.’

Q. Students who are not happy with what they have received have been advised to go to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) but they are told the Adjudicator doesn’t have the ability to make a decision on academic matters. You’re wasting students time by giving them that advice, aren’t you?

‘No. Every university has a very clear procedure for looking at complaints and concerns raised by students and we are recommending that if students are concerned by the level of support that they had then they should access that process and we will do our very best to make sure that things are moved forward as speedily as we possibly can do.’

Q. How many have you dealt with already?

‘Different students will complain at different times. The students have been very busy doing assessments and I don’t have the information across the sector of the number of complaints and appeals that have come. But the universities will handle these and in the event that the student is not satisfied with the outcome from the university then they have recourse to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.’

Q. But not if it is about the quality of the academic provision. This is outside the remit of the OIA.

‘If the students feel they have not had adequate support, adequate learning then those things go through the the complaints process and the OIA will look to see if the university has followed the process properly.’

Q. Now that students pay for their education they regard it not as a service but as a commodity. Universities don’t seem to accept that they are then covered by consumer law and you’re not doing anything about that.

‘Universities are working very hard to provide students with the very best information that we can at this time. But we all have to recognise that covid has been exceptionally challenging and it’s not always possible to provide students immediately with the sort of information that they want. I think the Office for Students (OFS) has been very clear in making sure that we should be providing information in a timely way but recognising that we are continually working with a series of unknowns.’

Q. There will likely be very few foreign students starting this autumn and many UK students might defer. The OFS has said if new students starting in the autumn face significant changes to their courses that universities must inform them, secure their consent and explain what the options are if they don’t accept the changes. Have all your 137 members done that?

‘Our universities are working very hard to develop their teaching programmes next year. It’s a long and very detailed process. Of the universities we have surveyed 97% have said they are aiming to deliver face to face teaching on campus next year. This means a vast amount of work in making sure our campuses are safe – that is the top priority.

With social distancing as it is at the moment that means that in many places, a lecture theatre for example, could only have 20% of the normal number of students within it. There is very, very detailed planning ongoing to make sure we deliver the education. What many universities are saying is that education next year will be blended.

So lectures, for example, will be delivered online, in a virtual environment – and actually many students like that because it gives them the opportunity to re-run the lecture, over and over again, and really get to grips with it. That will be supplemented with face to face teaching which, wherever possible, will be done on campus.

But we have to be prepared that there could be a further lock down and we need to be prepared to switch back to digital learning only to make sure that our students get the support they need.’

Testing

A ‘world beating’ testing regime – not yet.

The Lighthouse Laboratories have ‘failed to deliver robust data’, according to the Institute of Biomedical Science.

Home tests are taking too long and ‘they render tracing scheme useless’.

And anti-body tests aren’t living up to expectations (or hopes).

The ever elusive tracing app

Continues to be elusive – and barely gets a mention now.

Is there such a things as ‘herd immunity’?

This is another topic that’s starting to get more space. Perhaps we need anti-body testing regimes in many other countries, who have adopted various strategies in dealing with the virus, to start to get any meaningful idea on a world scale. I would have thought the tighter the lock down, the more the restrictions, the less the ‘herd immunity’. If so we face the shock horror of the possibility of Trump and Bolsonaro being proven correct in their non-tactics.

No ‘herd immunity’, according to a Spanish study.

Yes, if you look at a New York based study.

But many of us might have had a level of natural immunity even before the pandemic was declared.

As a reminder, just what is immunity – and how can you get it.

What about a ‘second wave’?

Is a ‘second wave’ likely?

And when it comes to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the UK ready?

The issue of masks

There is still no real consensus on the wearing of masks. The problem here is that the level of fear (at least in British society) is that the wearing of masks will become more general outside of the home as those not wearing a mask (or a face covering) will be seen as virtual ‘Typhoid Marys’ – not a way to establish policy.

The Buffoon is now saying that the scientific evidence is moving in favour of mask wearing on a greater scale and it’s likely it will be mandatory, in certain circumstances, in a few days – as always the Government lets speculation run rife before making a grandstanding statement.

However, in all this mad rush to conform with what other countries have instituted the downsides of masks/face coverings are being ignored. As has been the case since the very beginning the only ‘expert’ advice that the Buffoon follows is that in which he (or his master Cummins) is in agreement.

The future NHS

The NHS might have survived the pandemic to date but it seems, due to pre-existing staff shortages, only by the skin of its teeth. We might not be so lucky in the future if covid comes back with a vengeance later in the year, according to many organisations representing workers in all levels of the service.

On top of everything else there are now arising a whole raft of issues that are accompanied by contracting the virus and a special approach is being established to provide care over an extended period.

In yet another example of the Tories back-tracking on previous pledges, especially the one about providing the NHS with ‘whatever it needs’, the promises of financial support which are made with such fanfare (especially by the rich kid poster boy Chancellor) are coming with serious strings – once people analyse the small print.

And now that the Buffoon is out of hospital himself (he must have felt at risk going into a NHS hospital, probably the first time other than wanting to make a show of concern, normally he would have been using private facilities) and the ‘heroes’ are no longer needed in the immediate future, any concessions are being revoked. One of the first to go is free car parking of all NHS staff.

The timing of the release of reports into the NHS is always suspect and is often part of a political agenda. That doesn’t mean that shortcomings in the NHS shouldn’t be exposed and solutions found but they have to be taken in the context of what has been happening to the NHS structure since the 1980s. The way it was turned more into a business rather than a service a culture was created that has led to most of the scandals and malpractice of recent years.

The Cumberlege Inquiry, which looked at the issue of patients being put at risk from unsafe medicines and implants, has just published its findings where patients were ‘being exposed to a risk of harm when they do not need to be’. Jeremy Hunt, a previous Tory Health Minister said ‘we must not allow this seminal report to gather dust on a shelf’. However, when he has made statements about reviews of the present Government and its cack-handed handling of the pandemic he continually tries to push this as far as possible into the future.

One of the unintended consequences of the desperation to curb the spread of covid-19, especially in the early days when the knowledge base was low, is the (perhaps) over-use of antibiotics which could fuel a ‘superbug time bomb’ in the future.

After spending the last almost four months praising the NHS the Buffoon (no doubt just uttering the words that have been fed to him by the puppet master Cummins) is now planning on a major restructuring of the National Health Service (NHS).

This seems to be prompted by the fact that senior people in the NHS don’t always kowtow to government diktat.

Anyone who has lived through major reorganisations of large concerns such as the NHS knows that this never goes well – often changes being reversed to what they were before. But in the process there is huge damage to the organisation – financial, operationally and also in staff relations.

With already reported staff shortages and the possibility of a ‘second wave’ in the near future the reorganisation of the NHS now seems to be bordering on the criminal. So much for ‘Protect the NHS’ slogan.

And all this comes less than a week after the hypocrites were ‘celebrating’ the 72nd anniversary of the foundation of the NHS.

The collateral damage of the covid-19 shut down – not pandemic

The pandemic has put a halt to the vast majority of regular treatments for a number of reasons. Staff working elsewhere, people afraid to report problems to GPs and that fear also preventing patients attending testing and scanning appointments. A report has stated that could, over the course of the next year, lead up to 35,000 extras deaths from treatable cancers.

This matter was also discussed on Radio 4’s Inside Health on 8th July.

Also the climate emergency hasn’t gone away – even if for the last four to six months various countries throughout the world have been pumping less crap into the environment – yet the almost unbelievable amount of disposable plastic from PPE might have counteracted the poison pumped into the atmosphere.

Changes at the top – or the creation of a new committee

When a government such as that of the Buffoon finds that a structure no longer suits their political agenda then the response it to change that structure. This has happened with the arrangement which was praised so much over the last four months.

As part of these changes a new unit, Joint Biosecurity Centre, was to take charge of overall covid-19 response. A lot of people saw problems here.

A Government spokesman said a slimmed-down Sage would focus on longer-term concerns, such as the impact of winter.

‘Sage will continue to provide a single consensus view of scientific advice at the heart of government decision-making, to inform the national strategic response to the coronavirus epidemic.

As we move into the next phase of the coronavirus response, the JBC will complement the work of Sage, providing more operational focus including data analysis and epidemiological expertise, with the aim of ensuring that outbreaks of coronavirus are detected and brought under control quickly.’

Modern day slavery and the pandemic

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, 5th July, when referring to the not relaxing of the lock down in Leicester;

‘Infection in Leicester was running at three times the rate in the next highest city. In stopping that the first priority is stopping the virus but there are clearly also other problems under the radar, that have been under the radar in the past in Leicester, that need action.’

Those ‘under the radar’ problems were many garment factories in Leicester which were functioning in conditions akin to modern slavery.

It was revealed that a major British fashion retailer, Boohoo, used these factories for much if its supply of clothing. This led to a number of well known (in the fashion world) stores dropping Boohoo like a red hot brick. An element of hypocrisy here as so much clothing these stores sell, mainly women’s clothing, is so cheap that some one had to be exploited – if not in this country then in sweat shops in Asia.

Then, only a few days later, it emerged that one of the founders of Boohoo has links to some of the factories at the centre of the scandal – so not really a surprise to them.

It will also be interesting if anything really happens here – and who will take the brunt of any closure. It’s highly likely that many of those working in these factories might well be ‘illegal immigrants’ (the reason the slave/gang masters are able to function without any news of the conditions being made public). The Tories haven’t shown themselves sympathetic to such groups in the past – and at the time of writing (11th July) the French riot police had just cleared away about 1,000 people from temporary encampments in Calais, at the request of the British.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

At the beginning of April – and for a number of weeks after – the issue of PPE was rarely out of the news. Eventually, too late for some, this equipment was provided for those who needed it. But it came a cost – £15 billion. Someone saw the Buffoon coming – but will we ever know who and why.

Homeowners and renters – different treatment

When Tories talk about homes they mean homes to buy. Ever since Thatcher, in the 1980s, realised that she could use the selling off of council homes at a vastly reduced rate to buy herself votes and dig away at a system that had provided decent homes for working people this has been a principal plank in the Tories programme. No matter people have the risk of negative equity, never mind the fact that it was the housing policies, throughout the world, in various countries that was integral to the financial collapse of 2008.

And social housing has continued to be attacked and those unable, or unwilling, to get into home ownership are increasing forced to rely on the private renting market – one that is fraught with dangers, both financial and physical, due to the unregulated nature of the sector.

The Buffoon had to be forced to declare an eviction ‘holiday’ during the pandemic but that will end soon and there is bound to be a slew of eviction notices during the early autumn. Studies by Shelter, the housing charity, show that the numbers of those in arrears have doubled since March and the pandemic lock down. In England, Acorn, and in Scotland, Living Rent, are preparing to fight this injustice.

And when the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, sought to ‘stimulate’ the economy he decided on handing more money to home owners (or rather many people caught in a lifelong cycle of struggling to pay their mortgage) rather than assistance and promotion of social housing. This came in the form of paying each house £5,000 for insulation and double glazing – attempting to build his ‘green’ credentials at the same time as giving money to those who least need it.

It wasn’t spelt out in his announcement on 8th July but the consequence of his proposed changes to stamp duty will benefit those wealthy people who are buying second homes or buying to let – and not the first time buyers it was pushed as helping. The biggest expansion in the revitalised British economy will, it seems, be in the production of bulldozers to shovel more pound coins into the bank accounts of the rich.

The Swedish experience

The analysis of the different approach from most countries in Europe followed by Sweden will be interesting when it is finally released. Unlike the Westminster government the Swedes are looking at what they did right, or wrong, now – not some indeterminate time in the future.

Britain and the world in figures

When it comes to ‘world beating’ the Buffoon is right – but not in the manner he would really like. Amongst the G7 nations (the most developed, ‘traditional’, pre ‘fall of Communism’ capitalist countries) the percentage excess death rate is the highest.

They don’t get any better a week later.

And why did Japan ‘do so well’ and the UK so badly?

This might be interesting for the cases and deaths on a local authority basis in the United Kingdom, as of the first days of July.

Changes using covid as an excuse

There will be many things that will change under the excuse that there was no alternative due to the covid crisis, from Government, local authority, business and even at social enterprise level. Some of it might be forced upon organisations others welcomed as a get out of potential problems that would have existed under ‘normal circumstances’.

As a result of the Buffoon’s call to ‘Build, Build, Build’ we are likely to get ‘Shoddy, Cheap, Nasty’.

Just over three years after the avoidable blaze at Grenfell Tower in London – which resulted in the death of 72 people – the ex-residents are not really any closer to getting ‘justice’ (whatever that might mean in capitalist Britain). Now the survivors can’t even attend the hearing to investigate what happened that night of the 14th June 2017. The reason given? Covid-19. Those still fighting for an answer to why things were allowed to get such a state are just brushed away.

They will be able to watch a live video recording but that’s not the same. In such circumstances you need to be read the body language of all the participants to really understand what is going on, also to look at the reactions to events by others on the room. By denying the survivors that right they are being denied ‘justice’.

‘Collateral damage’ in the south as a result of northern hemisphere centrism

There’s a problem with the knee jerk reactions that have been made in many countries since the start of the covid pandemic – very often the plans are not thought through and they don’t realise the consequences of their actions or decisions. Such is the case surrounding vaccination programmes in the southern hemisphere which were stopped following WHO ‘advice’. Now, in at least 68 countries, these very same experts are concerned of the long term implications of the suspension of these programmes.

When it comes to covid-19 the young are less likely to suffer serious consequences yet the diseases that vaccination can prevent have been proven to kill millions over time.

The pandemic has shown that most countries really don’t have a strategy to deal with it. The same is the case when decisions are taken which effect many other countries. If there is to be any real preparation for the next pandemic (the not if but when one) then there should also be consideration of the risks involved unless more lives are put at risk by hasty, unthought and poorly considered policies.

Corrupt and inept governments in some countries are so weak and care so little about their populations that gangsters are picking up the ‘social care’ provision that should be the duty of the state. In Mexico the drug cartels are having a field day in attracting mainly young people to help them in their ‘business’ as they are desperate for any source of income.

The cartels don’t care for these people and are just using them, as Pablo Escobar was successful in doing in Colombia in the 1980 and early 90s. But even in the short term life is better than any dependence upon the state. Apart from anything else this makes any war against these gangsters more difficult to pursue as the drug barons are seen as modern day ‘Robin Hoods’.

… and to finish …

Corruption at the highest level – or why they are in politics

It seems that the people who are responsible for giving out contracts are so arrogant they think they can do what they want that they don’t make much of an attempt to hide what they are doing. A sizeable contract was given, without tender, to a research company to which there are close links with Michael Gove and Dominic Cummins.

More on covid pandemic 2020

July 4th – ‘Independence Day’ or Armageddon

More on covid pandemic 2020

July 4th – ‘Independence Day’ or Armageddon

With less than 24 hours to go before ‘The Great Relaxation’ how prepared is England to face the ‘new normal’?

‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.

How will people act in the relaxation of the lock down?

Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology Health Behaviour Research Centre Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, Radio 4, World at One, 23rd June;

Q. What is your understanding of how the public will react to the easing of the lock down on 4th July?

‘We’ll see a mixed response. There are people who, definitely, are nervous and rightly so, and not just because they are nervous people but also because they’re in a vulnerable group … and there will be others who will take the opportunity [to live a more normal life].

One thing that is really important to understand is that if the Government does decide … to reduce the social distancing level from two to one metres essentially what they are announcing is the end of social distancing. It’s not just the question of whether people have a choice, to decide whether they are going to go to the cinema, what this means is that employers will be able to, in effect, require people to come to work even if they don’t necessarily feel safe. There will be compulsion here and that’s something that needs to be taken into account.’

Q. Rightly nervous because they won’t be able to stay at home?

‘The reality is we still have something in the region of 3,500 new infections a day, which down the track is going to lead to 25 deaths a day at the current level, which is low, or we are considering it low, but without a test/track/isolate support system … there will be outbreaks and we’ll probably be quite slow to detect those outbreaks and act on them.’

People are essentially being put in a situation where they are having to manage risk without adequate information. For some people that will be fine, for others it won’t be.’

Q. You think the Government’s moving too quickly on this?

‘I think they are. I know it’s really hard news for people who want to open up businesses and so on but the reality is that without an adequate test/track/isolate system in place we are putting people at risk. Not to put too fine a point on it across the country lives will be lost. That’s a political decision and I understand why the Government makes that but they have to be clear about, transparent about, their reasoning. We haven’t seen the SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] advice, what they’re saying about this so that people can weigh it up and make their own decisions.’

Q. Isn’t it always going to be a balance of risk?

‘There will always be a balance of risk but we’re used to that in society. We still have more than 1,000 road traffic deaths a year, we have several thousand people a year dying of smoking. This is something that we’re used to but what we really need in a situation like this is good information on what the level of risk is and what is being done to absolutely minimise that risk and that’s what’s lacking at the moment.’

Q. Would you like to see the SAGE advice published as soon as possible?

‘Yes, I, and independent SAGE, and many other people, have been calling for this, for much greater transparency, not least because it’s not just for our edification but also because we need to be able to trust the decisions that the Government is making and if they say they are making this decision on a balance of risk versus benefits let’s see the evidence on what the risk and benefit is.

…. One of the problems is that some of us have felt that the kind of behavioural advice that we’ve been giving, it may be getting as far as SAGE but the Government hasn’t always been acting upon it. This is an example of that.’

Q. Professor Peter Piot has said that he would prefer to be a metre from someone wearing a mask that two metres from someone without. Is that part of the piece missing here?

‘That’s one relatively small part of it, to be honest. What he’s absolutely right in saying is that you have to look at the whole risk situation. For example, outside, when you’re passing people on the street or in a park, the risk is really minimal because you’ve got a lot of ventilation, the concentration of virus you will be exposed to is very low even if you’re right next to someone for a short period of time.

But if you’re in an enclosed space, with a lot of people with not necessarily good ventilation, then you’re risk is greater. So it’s a combination of time spent in a risky environment, how many people there are, how close they are and, potentially, face masks, if they are worn properly – which mostly they are not [my emphasis].’

Leicester locked down before it was unlocked

We are constantly being told that the Government ‘is following the science’. But when it comes to dealing with the covid pandemic there’s more than one ‘science’ – it’s just a matter of following those views which agree with the policies the Government wants to follow.

Much of what has developed in the last 100days/14 weeks/4 months has been very much a knee jerk reaction to events. The Government has tried to gauge what will get it the most support from the general population – their eye always being on the popularity polls.

But it has to be said that the Buffoon and his cronies have been spectacularly inept in dealing with the first major crisis since the General Election of last December. Witness the increasing number of U-turns in policy and the cries of despair and disbelief which inevitably follow in the wake of any of their decisions, witness the imposition of the 14 day quarantine for anyone entering the country and whatever ideas they might have of getting schooling back in some form or other, to mentuion just two.

That reaction also followed the re-imposition of restrictions and the postponing of the greater relaxation on the lock down in Leicester on 30th June.

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics (Infectious Diseases), Kings College London, Radio 4, World at One, 30th June;

‘It’s crucially important to follow the data, in part to try and find a reason why we might be seeing an increase in cases in a certain area. For instance, it might be that there is a virus outbreak in a school or following a specific event, in that circumstance all of those individuals could be traced and asked to self-isolate at home. It then avoids the need to do a lock down of an entire region.

But if you have a situation where the case number is increasing and you can’t pinpoint an exact reason behind that, or there may be many reasons, or you can’t trace everyone who might be involved then you have to start considering implementing more stringent lock down measures.

That doesn’t necessarily mean introducing a full lock down but it might be, for instance, closing schools again if the increase is all seen in children of all ages or it might be not opening restaurants and bars because you’re concerned about the direction the trend is going in.’

Q. Where else should we be looking at the numbers to see how to get on top of this?

‘Everywhere should be looking at the numbers the entire time and monitoring the situation. But looking at the data that was in The Telegraph this morning [isn’t it strange that scientific commentators have to use a newspaper to get up to date information and not finding it from an official, Government source?] I would suggest that Doncaster would be the most concerning at the moment simply because the numbers have tripled from last week to this. The case number is relatively low anyway so a tripling isn’t that big a jump but obviously what we’re looking at is a trend.

What we want to understand is; is there a reason that we know of why the cases might have increased there or is there a general trend that we’re seeing and would further lock down measures be required in that area.’

Q. We’re still talking about low numbers, aren’t we?

‘Yes, but what we need to remember is that these are the individuals that presented themselves for testing. For all those that test positive there’s probably quite a big group behind that haven’t been tested who may well be also positive to the virus.’

Professor Carl Heneghan, Director Evidence-based Medicine, Oxford University, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. What does the evidence from across the world, that we now have, tell us about what we should do in Leicester, for example?

‘That’s a complex question. But firstly let’s say the first thing about deaths is that in March and April they went up very sharply in a number of countries – Italy, Spain, France and the UK, and in America but more so in New York. The death rate as we currently stand has diminished.

This is a radically different disease now than what it was a few months ago. About 6% of all people in hospital were dying then, now it’s down to about 1%. The key about lock downs is that it’s a very blunt tool and it should be used for one reason, and for one reason only – because the health system is becoming overwhelmed.

What we see in Leicester is an increase in the number of people coming forward for testing and an increase, but a small increase because we are at low rates, of the number of people with covid. I would say that right now [a lock down] is a very blunt tool and a mistake for us to be locking down Leicester. It’s a perfect opportunity to let the test and trace system start working. In fact we’ve seen a 30% reduction in the cases in the last week already – so it is having an effect.’

Q. You’re saying it has nothing to do with lock down or not?

‘What you are trying to achieve with lock downs is to preserve the health system because you’re being overwhelmed. This is a very complex disease and, in fact, when you do lock down people for a week or two you will increase the rate of transmission because we know the ‘attack rate’ in households is very high and in particularly multi-occupancy households it is high.

Let’s be clear. The system that we should be putting in place is a test and trace and working through the summer preparing for the autumn when we’ll see rates of respiratory infection go up. The current rate does not require a lock down.’

Q. If test and trace was working you would still have a situation of people isolating and have a higher incidence of the disease?

‘Let’s be clear. When we talk about respiratory infections through the summer some infection will have to circulate and it’s generally – in the summer – about 40/50 people per 100,000. In Leicester right now we’re talking about double that rate.

Now, in winter, we get up to rates about tenfold higher and we don’t close down areas. So what’s happening in Leicester is what we’ll see in most other areas, a slight spike, but the key is how you can control this by saying we’ll close whole cities.

This will be so difficult to do in London or Manchester, the real ‘super-cities’, that we need a different approach and we need to be very clear – what is it that defines the number of cases that the Government thinks we should shut down on.

At the moment it seems to be made up in a sort of ad hoc way.’

Allyson Pollock, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, formally Director of Public Health and Society, Newcastle University, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. Do you accept what Professor Heneghan is saying there that what we see in Leicester should have been dealt with by test and trace?

‘You’re absolutely right. The whole purpose of the lock down is to try and stop the transmission of the virus, that was the really important thing and it is a very heavy tool and that’s partly because the epidemic was rising. But by now, four months into it, we should now have a really effective test and trace system in place and that’s a very real anxiety that it’s taken four months and we still haven’t got evidence of an effective test and trace system.

That’s for two reasons. One is because the local Directors of Public Health and the Councils have not been receiving the data they need of the positive tests and the cases. And that’s essential to do effective contact tracing. What we know so far is that only just over half of all the cases this month that have been transferred to the test and trace system have given their contact details.

And another problem is we don’t know how many of the cases and contacts are actually going into self-isolation and quarantine and how easy or difficult it is for them to do that. That’s another part of the system that isn’t being monitored and about which we have no information. And that’s particularly important for Leicester.’

Q. It seems there was a large data dump but it didn’t include post codes. It seems the Councils have to sign up to data protection laws to be able to do that.

‘The data privacy is just a red herring. The fact is that the data was flowing centrally, they were being processed in an aggregate and what people need on the ground is the post codes, occupations, age and gender so they can actually map the places, and the clusters, in order to identify the community where the outbreaks are happening. That’s particularly important when you’ve got multi-generational households as you have in Leicester. This data was not being made available until 24th June and they are still not being made available in some local authorities.’

Q. If this was working properly would it mean local lock downs could be avoided?

‘Yes, if it was operating successfully, in combination with all the other public health measures, then you would be able to do this as has happened in Germany, in Switzerland. In Zurich recently they had an outbreak in a night club of 300 people who were asked to quarantine and actually they were monitored and supported because an important aspect of this is that it is very difficult to self-isolate if your financial situation, your housing situation, is precarious.

So the Government, again, needs to put in the support part of effective contact tracing and we have no knowledge of that and how it’s working.’

Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and formerly Health Policy advisor to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. You have written that the policy followed in the UK was a major over-reaction.

‘Yes, that was the experience that we had … during the avian flu epidemic. We got some dire warnings about dreadful consequences if we didn’t close down ports, if we didn’t shut down airports, if we didn’t engage in all the lock down measures we have followed this time. … We were told there would be seven million dead and, of course, it was very alarming and it turned out, of course, to be wildly exaggerated and luckily we did not respond.’

Q. Who were the warnings from?

‘Ultimately the WHO [World Health Organisation].’

Q. Essentially the same people who put out warnings about this disease [covid-19]. But this disease is more dangerous than avian flu.

‘It’s clearly worse but the lesson we learnt from that experience was that you have to be careful about applying the ‘precautionary principle’. Epidemiologists tend to operate very much on the ‘precautionary principle’ which basically says ‘if you’ve got no data, no information, you’ve got a dreadful risk of some calamity, it’s better to be safe than sorry’. Which makes a great deal of sense at the first stages but what it doesn’t take into account of are the costs involved and what you do when you’ve got a little more data.

We are now in the situation where actually we do have more data. … We do now know that infection rates in Leicester are incredibly low, it’s something like 140 out of 100,000 – which is 0.14%. This is a tiny risk … which I don’t think [as do a number of other people] are worth the costs involved in locking down the city.’

Q. Except we do know what the worse case scenario is, as we saw in Northern Italy.

‘That’s when there was a cost, or a certain advantage, to an early lock down which was trying to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and that was successfully achieved. We’re not in that situation now and it has got to a point when the blunt tool of a lock down is, essentially, too blunt, it carries the ‘precautionary principle’ too far and we ought to move to a much more targetted system of trying to curb the transmission of the disease.’

Q. You think it’s a mistake for the lock down in Leicester to be extended?

‘Yes, I certainly do. What we should be doing, and what we should have done from the beginning actually, is to concentrate on old people in care homes and hospitals. Those are the principal routes of transmission and infection and are also the ones who are the most vulnerable.

… The fatality rate for under 45s is virtually zero so we should have been concentrating on the elderly and we should have been concentrating on the care homes. And that’s basically where the focus should be now.’

Q. And those people who refer to the experience of Sweden?

‘In Sweden they are making the point I’ve just made. What the experts in Sweden say is that the problem is in old people’s homes, its care homes and to some extent hospitals and that’s where the restrictions should be more generally applied and not in a blunt fashion, city wide.’

Care Homes

Once it was clear that infection and deaths rates were particularly high in care homes (not really a surprise when it was known long before the virus hit the UK that the elderly were much more at risk, especially those with other underlying health conditions) there had been a call for more support to that sector, especially in the region of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and regular testing of both staff and residents.

When it came to testing I thought that had been resolved some time ago, but no. This will only take place from the start of next week. Why does everything always take so long?

On 3rd July results of a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), about fatalities in care homes, showed that there were 29,000 ‘excess deaths’ over the five year average since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in the UK – full, downloadable report

Nadra Ahmed, Chief Executive of the National Care Home Association, Radio 4, World at One, 3rd July;

Q. What do you make of the ONS survey?

‘It’s an interesting survey … and what it tells us is that the people we knew had to be shielded from the very start, the services that needed to be shielded, were the ones that have had this enormous impact of the virus entering those services.

What it shows is, perhaps, at the very beginning, when we were being told that care homes were not going to be impacted [the report] blows a hole in that and that the impact was going to be substantial.’

Q. What is the lesson for the future and a possible ‘Second Wave’?

‘What we’ve learnt is that at the very start of this PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], which was not something we knew much about, was something we needed as a matter or urgency. [Care home] providers are now prepared, we need to ensure they have a good supply of PPE – it was all being requisitioned by the NHS at the point all this started.

The other thing is we have pushed and pushed and pushed to make sure that testing became available and we know, of course, today it’s been announced that testing will now be available in care homes but it should have been from the very beginning. It would have been one of the things that would have mitigated the challenge.’

Q. What about the point of agency staff and sick pay?

‘One of the things we have to remember is that coming into this pandemic there were already 122,000 vacancies in our services. So the recruitment of care staff has been a challenge for the past decade at least, if not longer. The image of social care has been such that we don’t have a professionalised pathway and then, of course, there’s the matter around the low pay bit, which is the National Living Wage when I know many providers pay above that just in order to recruit. That led us to the fact that we were already using agency staff, which is why we’ve seen a growth of recruitment agencies for care staff.

As the pandemic hit and we started to see 20 – 30% of staff self-isolating, going off sick, the numbers were quite enormous. What we found was that people were transmitting from one home to another. A lot of homes tried to stop that by shutting the doors to agency staff.’

Q. What about sick pay? I have heard that people were going into work sick because they needed the money.

‘That’s something we would need to dig a bit deeper into. Because the majority of providers that we have spoken to have said that they were very keen, as soon as there were any symptoms, that staff went off sick.

The problem is the asymptomatic bit where people were continuing to work. Because we didn’t have the testing we didn’t know they had the symptoms.’

Q. The correlation is sick pay, isn’t it?

‘People [care home providers] were paying sick pay because they wanted people to come back and that’s why we will need to look a bit further into this. We’re required to pay Statutory Sick Pay so you can’t not pay sick pay if somebody goes off sick. ….

Q. Do agency staff get sick pay in the same way?

‘That depends on the agency staff. They should do. If you have a contract with an employer then you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.’

The Buffoon and his ‘Roosaveltian’ speech in Dudley, 30th June

About the inefficiency and inability of his Government to properly deal with the pandemic;

‘There are plenty of things people will say we got wrong and we owe that discussion and that honesty to the tens of thousands who have died before their time, to the families who have lost loved ones and, of course, there must be time to learn the lessons – and we will.’

A mea culpa but nothing about a promise of an investigation or a holding to account.

About how the Buffoon thinks the country will get out of the deepening economic crisis following their inefficiency and inability to deal with the pandemic in an effective and constructive manner;

‘I just serve notice that we’ll not be responding to the crisis with what people will call ‘austerity’ [then what would he call what has been forced on the British people in the last eleven years or so?]. We’re not going to cheese pare our way out of trouble because the world has moved on since 2008. We not only face a new but, in some ways, a far bigger challenge.

… Next week the Chancellor will be setting out our immediate plan to support the economy through the first phase of the recovery. But this moment also gives us a much greater chance to be radical and to do things differently.

To build back better and to build back bolder and so we will be doubling down on our strategy – we will double down on levelling up [rhetoric with no substance, what does it actually mean? – just playing to his ‘core’ audience].’

… This Government is not just committed to defeating coronavirus. This Government is determined to use the crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades [three decades which are a result of the fundamentalist, monetarist policies introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s].

To build homes, to fix the NHS, to solve social care, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK, to unite and level up [all allowed to get worse under the previous Tory (and Labour) Government’s. If these services and social policies had been strengthened the country would have been much more able to confront the problems caused by the pandemic].

And to that end we will build, build, build. [Although often misquoted, Danton has a lot to answer for. Every pretentious politician in Britain seems to think they have to repeat one word three times at least once in their miserable political lives – and often more than once.]

Build back better, build back greener, build back faster!’ [This one’s down to Aristotle.]

Britain, covid-19 and poverty

Just as Trump has done the most for the Black population of America since Lincoln, the Buffoon claims that the Tories have done the most in the last ten years to reduce poverty in the UK. How true is that?

A report from the Resolution Foundation, published on 9th June, shows how the pandemic (and the lock down) has had an impact on families throughout the UK – the brunt of the negatives being taken by the poorest in society.

Things also don’t look so good for those in the 50s and 60s – the next generation of retirees.

And the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that things are getting worse for poorer families with children. The Foundation also published ‘diaries’ of four different so-called ‘key workers’ and the problems they are having just getting by during the covid pandemic.

The Resolution Foundation also produced a report on the prospects for youth unemployment.

Another report, this time by the Social Metric Commission, shows that the UK has seen a 39% rise of those living in ‘deep poverty’ – meaning their income is at least 50% below the official breadline.

Test, track, trace and isolate – perhaps

Testing was the key to getting on top of the covid-19 outbreak. That was universally agreed from the very beginning – even before the first cases were reported in the United Kingdom. However, the problem the British people have is the government they ‘democratically’ elected to manage such situations – at almost the same time as the first reports were coming out about a new and not understood virus – has quickly proven itself to be one of the most inept in history.

What the Buffoon and his gang has never understood is that if you wish to win any war – and the statements made about this pandemic have been replete with military analogies and language – then first and foremost you need a strategy. There has not been, there is not now and, in all probability, there will never be one in place.

When the decision was taken, way back on the 12th March, to end testing and to go for the lock down approach that shouldn’t have meant that testing was just forgotten. A ‘task force’ [even I’m getting into the military terminology] should have been set up so that when testing was restarted the infrastructure needed to make it truly ‘world beating’ was actually in place. No such force was set up, the testing has been a shambles (to say the least) and all decisions have been made based upon what was seen as the best way to deal with a particular crisis. In management/politician speak ‘there was no joined up thinking’.

And as the independence day/end of the world as we know it approaches, whose success will very much depend upon the testing regime in place, there have been a deluge of articles, reports and commentaries on the perilous state of the testing system which is being provided in one of the richest countries in the world.

The story that has been unfolding in the last seven or so days can speak for itself.

11th June

This one from the beginning of the restarted test, trace, track system – mainly to remind people of how the system is supposed to work and also why sometimes it doesn’t – or hasn’t.

19th June

This one goes back a couple of weeks but hasn’t been reported here before so worth adding. Issues over supply of necessary material, from Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ventilators, have bugged the battle against the pandemic from the beginning. To that list can now be added testing kits.

26th June

You would have thought that the Government was aware that not everybody in this country has access to a private vehicle and the placing of drive in testing sites on the outskirts of major towns made it virtually impossible for a huge proportion of the population to take advantage of the facilities. ‘Walk-in’ testing centres, a whole 6 of them, were announced more than three months AFTER the lock down was declared.

One of the impacts of a ‘not fit for purpose’ testing regime is that it doesn’t inspire confidence and in the climate of fear that has been created in the last three months those anxiety levels are likely to increase.

You would also have thought that with all the publicity about potential covid-19 carriers being released into the community without first being tested (and probably/possibly one of the main causes of the spread of the disease in care homes) that by the beginning of July this wouldn’t be happening. Not in Hertfordshire it seems. And where else?

29th June

And, not surprisingly, it’s more than likely that the poor testing system has cost lives.

And will the testing regime be robust enough to deal with any potential ‘second wave’?

30th June

What has been like working in one of the testing laboratories? Again a sign of lack of planning.

That’s the way to do it. Instead of just talking about being ‘world beating’ the UK Government should have been learning from elsewhere. Germany can do it well, why can’t Britain?

The app that never was – or ever will be?

There might be a working app in Britain – whether it talks to the ones used in any other country is another matter – before the arrival of the next pandemic (or even the one after that) but whenever it arrives there will still be issues over privacy and who does what with what information and for how long. Perhaps worthwhile bearing this in mind. As stated before states are quite adept at using ’emergencies’ to introduce policies and practices ‘under the radar’ or under the pretence that it will only be temporary. Once such practices are entrenched they are very difficult to get rid of – the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

‘Immunity passports’ rise their heads – again

This idea has been around since the beginning of the pandemic and not just in Britain. It ties in with both the testing regime and the use of a Smartphone app and starts to become complicated as it starts to divide societies into people who can do certain things and those who can’t. And when it crosses borders it determines who can travel and to where.

The desire of States to know as much as possible about their own citizens – as well as those of other countries – it’s almost certain that some sort of system will be introduced in the coming months/years. But it comes with its own problems – not least it’s unlikely to do what it promises, that is proving that the carrier is no longer a threat from transmitting the disease.

And as if we didn’t need any other divisions in society these ‘immunity passport’ could potentially create an ‘antibody elite’ – as well as providing opportunities for fraudsters and gangsters.

Devolution means the need to do things differently

The nationalist continue to follow their ‘independent’ course. The most recent decision of the Scottish variety is making the mandatory use of face covering in shops north of the border.

The problem of ‘symptomless transmission’

Away from the best measures to deal with the pandemic the covid-19 showed itself to be tricky and the virus was able to spread more widely as the concept of symptomless transmission was difficult to accept in many countries.

Does ‘symptomless’ possibly indicate increased ‘herd immunity’?

The lack of a vaccine definitely makes the idea of herd immunity very attractive to speed the return to normality (even though a ‘new’ one). In a way that makes those locations (be it cities or countries) with high infection rates possibly those locations with a greater herd immunity, so suggests a study from Sweden.

Not protecting the NHS for ever

With so many billions of pounds being thrown around it’s difficult to keep track – and that’s what the Government wants, to confound people with numbers. Now that the pressure has been taken, somewhat, off the NHS the Tories start to show their true colours and what they give with one hand they take with another.

A quote from the Buffoon when he was released from hospital at the beginning of May;

‘We are making progress in the national battle because the British public formed a human shield around the country’s greatest national asset – our National health Service.’

Schools returning in September

This is another to watch. The so-called ‘guidance’ published at the beginning if July, will without a shadow of a doubt, go through so many revisions before September that it won’t be recognisable in two months time. Just an example that even when the Buffoon and his gang make a decision it is so badly thought through that has to be changed beyond so much it’s really a new one – something that could have been avoided if all the plans of how the Uk comes out of the lock down were part of an overall strategy.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. One of the concerns of the unions has been safety. Are you re-assured by what you’ve read in the guidance?

‘We need further re-assurance, both from Public Health England (PHE) and SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies]. That re-assurance is in two areas.

… It’s important that SAGE tell us explicitly that they have modelled what the guidance is in practical reality, what the effect of that would be on transmission networks. We are talking about big groups of children where there is no social distancing. Within a class of 30 there won’t be any social distancing, in reality our classrooms aren’t big enough for us to allow it.

In Secondary Schools that will often be that group of 30 within a year group of 280/330, so they are very big groups. It would be important for public confidence for SAGE to say that they have modelled that.

The other form of re-assurance that SAGE needs to tell us about is the question of vulnerable parents and vulnerable staff. If you are a member of staff, a teacher or a support assistant, who is on the clinically vulnerable list … certainly in a primary school you cannot do your job and stay socially distant from the children. Teaching assistants there work alongside the children so if they are clinically vulnerable what do Public Health England and SAGE say about the level of risk for that person? Obviously it depends upon the level of the virus within society

The same thing in Secondary Schools for clinically vulnerable people. The Government is saying ‘try to stay two metres away’ but you’re in a class of 30, it’s quite an enclosed environment, often with not very good ventilation. Thirty children who aren’t socially distancing, who are meeting lots of people during the day, those things we need re-assurance on.

We want children to go back, we want the virus level to be lower in September so that makes it possible but the Government does need to work on re-assurances.

That needs to be about practical reality because this idea of big ‘bubbles’ which can be distant from one another at break time, at lunch time, that feels like it’s quite an organisational challenge in a big school.’

Q. Do you think the ‘bubbles’ are too big?

‘Yes, we do. We prefer a situation where there are lower numbers of children in the ‘bubbles’. That’s why we’ve been arguing, from earlier on, that they might need to have to look for extra classrooms, ‘Nightingale’ classrooms. We’ll have to bring teachers back who have left the profession, mobilise supply teachers.’

Q. There are many challenges. Is there anything that can fully satisfy you on the matters you are raising?

‘We absolutely recognise that there’s a balance of risk in this. There are risks with children being at home. We want children back at school. As the virus level drops then obviously the balance of risk shifts in favour of children being at school.

But there are people with particular risk factors. … If you’re a 55 year old man from a Black background, then you’re at more risk than other people. So the idea that some teachers should be doing work that is supporting children who will still be at home and other teachers being brought in to teach the classes. That doesn’t seem to me to be an unreasonable thing to ask about. That does give you, then, a graded way of looking at the level of risk. It’s not the same for every teacher, it does depend upon the vulnerability that you have as an individual.’

The fact that children have been out of school for a few months is bad enough – the fact that when they return they could be receiveing a much worse education is another. Due to lack of imagination and will instead of confronting the problems of a return to proper full time education it seems that too many are looking to reduce the provision to make a basic return easier to manage. The curriculum could be altered for most children and the guidance is far from clear on how matters will progress in September.

And in a demonstration that Government ministers don’t understand that the idea of local schools is a thing of the past and far too many children have to travel long distances every day the plan that they should find alternatives to public transport is laughable – if it wasn’t so serious.

Quote of the week

Buffoon at Prime Minster’s Questions, Houses of Parliament, Wednesday 24th June;

‘ … [Starmer] has been stunned by the success of the tracking operation … [that it was] a formidable achievement … [in response to the UK app failure] no country has, so far, developed a successful tracing app … [and it] got up much faster than the doubters expected.’

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