From bad to worse – August 2020 in Pandemic Britain

More on covid pandemic 2020

From bad to worse – August 2020 in Pandemic Britain

England Number One in Europe – when it comes to the number of dead. Scotland Third. The economy in the worst state of all the so-called G7 countries. Test, track and trace still not reaching enough people, results not coming out quick enough, huge percentage of contacts not being reached. Care homes (and those cared for in the community) still being marginalised, not getting regular testing – and storing up a problem for the future. Unemployment almost certainly going to rocket when support schemes (which were probably not the best long term solution – but made headlines and gave the impression the Government was doing something) come to a gradual end in the next couple of months. School children, who couldn’t take their exams due to the (not necessarily necessary) lock down and closure of schools at the end of March, are being badly served and let down by a system that seems unfair to lay people let alone education professionals.

The only good news is that summer has finally arrived – after a disappointing and cool start. However it’s still too hot for some of the British.

The vast majority of the population of the world should be pleased they’re not trapped within the boundaries of the island – yet thousands are risking their lives to come to the place that was one of the causes of all their ills in the first place.

Covid-19 hasn’t caused all these problems, it’s just torn down the facade.

England Number One in Europe – when it comes to death – Scotland Third

Now official, England Number One when it comes to excess deaths.

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, Radio 4, World at One, July 30th;

Q. When you look at the statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) what stands out to you?

‘I should first say that the Buffoon went on to quote me that we shouldn’t be making these league tables. But I think the time has come with this gripping analysis.

They look at data up to the end of May, using Eurostat data and, quite correctly, they look at the excess number of deaths. They completely ignore what any country labels as a covid death (because we know that varies so enormously) and they adjust for the different age patterns.

The data is very well presented, they’ve got an interactive map showing how the virus spreads across Europe and it’s really chilling to look at. You can see these strong hotspots in northern Italy and central Spain bursting out early. But then it erupts fairly evenly across the UK and my understanding this was the result of hundreds, maybe thousands, of ‘seeds’ being planted, individual outbreaks happening after people came back from holiday in Spain and Italy.’

Q. What do these statistics tell us that we didn’t know before ?

‘It does reinforce what we knew before but some areas had a massive impact. Bergamo had more than eight times the normal number of deaths and to have those sorts of huge local impacts reinforcement is very strong. …

In the UK it happened quite late, it happened very evenly across the country and it’s gone on and on, much longer than other places. It peaked very highly and then came down quite rapidly. The proper analysis they’ve done allows us to see we are top of the league table.

There’s Belgium which, if you look at a normal league table of covid deaths per million, Belgium is top but because Belgium has been quite generous in labelling someone as covid, then they drop right down to about half of that.’

Q. What about those at the bottom of the league table? Arguably we should be learning lessons from them?

‘Yes. Back in April I did say that we should be comparing, instead of arguing who’s top and who’s second which, in fact, now we can do, we should be looking at the country at the very bottom.

It’s interesting that Germany doesn’t feature in this analysis at all – which is unfortunate. The way that Germany’s statistics are calculated makes it much more difficult to do the calculations.

We can look at countries which are back to ‘no excess’ over the five years, France and other places, and that’s really valuable to see. But it is difficult to go straight to a conclusion about why this is the case and I would be very cautious ascribing differences, to particular interventions and when they occurred.’

Q. The difficulty for the UK was that there were so many points across the country where it was ‘seeded’.

‘I think the uniformed spread which was different from anywhere else in Europe just illustrates that very strongly indeed. We travel a lot as a nation. Sweden has done very badly and people might say that’s because they had a very relaxed lock down but it’s also been suggested that huge numbers of Swedes go on skiing holidays whereas Norwegians stay at home to go on holiday. So the similarity had very large numbers of people coming back from areas where the virus was spreading and ‘seeding’ it around Sweden.’

Devi Lalita Sridhar, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, Radio 4, World at One, 30th July;

Q. What went wrong?

‘The decision to lock down incredibly late (I think a lock down in early March would have saved many lives) as well as abandoning testing and tracing on the 12th March. If the Government felt on 12th March that capacity had been reached for testing and tracing then that would have been the appropriate time to go into lock down and build up the appropriate public health infrastriuture and use the lock down time to do that.

I think that period of days when the virus was spread throughout the community is probably one of the reasons that it was very hard to undo that and the longer we had to spend in lock down to try to bring it under control.’

Q. Is there another factor in treatment that effected the UK?

‘Yes. I think there are a few issues there. First, that the NHS became the covid health service. So people stayed away from the NHS who had other issues, for example, heart issues, respiratory issues that are non-covid related but were interpreted necessary to protect the NHS, stay away from the NHS.

The second thing, and this is what South Korea and Germany have pointed to for their low fatality rate for covid cases is that if you were tested positive and, let’s say, had mild symptoms, you would be monitored by the health system and brought into hospital at quite an early stage of your disease.

I think in other places, Italy as well as Britain, people were only admitted at quite a late stage in the disease, often when they had multiple organ failure and that’s why, at one point in the outbreak, it’s been estimated a third of people dying were being admitted to hospital with covid because they were only being admitted at such a late stage and people were only getting tested if they were quite severely ill unlike in other settings people were being tested when they only had mild symptoms or having more of the classic covid-19 coughs and fevers.’

Q. Do you think that as the figures show that deaths at present are lower than the average that eventually Britain will drop down the league table?

‘With the fall in the death rate I think we will see that across the world in places that have health care capacity because, first of all, we have better therapies, so we have a drug that is known to save people. Added to that doctors have gotten better at clinically treating this and understand more when to put people on ventilators, when to use drugs, when to use blood therapies and also people are being admitted to hospital at an early stage so we might see hospitalisations staying flat but that reflects more people being admitted to hospital with milder symptoms and so it shouldn’t only be interpreted as a bad sign. It’s flattening off because people are being brought in at an earlier stage and that’s quite a positive trend.’

Q. Does that mean we should change the way we think of the disease and the risk we associate with it?

The thing I’ve been trying to convey to young people is that it still is like gambling with your health. There is this emerging class of people called ‘long haulers’, ‘long tailed’ covids, aged 30 to 59 on average, who are generally healthy, who develop covid who aren’t necessarily hospitalised, they might just be unwell at home, but develop lasting issues which might be chronic fatigue or heart problems, whether it’s issues with lung scarring, it effects their quality of life and it’s not really clear how long it will last. Will it last for a few months on may continue for years? Is it becoming something almost like an anti-immune reaction your body has to this virus and that we’ll have to find medical ways of controlling this into the future. The message is clear. This is not like a flu which you get and recover. You don’t know when you get the virus how your body will react and how long you might be ill with it.

The message to the Government is that you do not wanting anyone getting infected with this and we should be pushing infections right down instead of thinking we can infect certain sections of society safely.’

Q. So the idea of ‘herd immunity’ is a bad one?

‘Herd immunity is fine if you don’t mind a lot of illness and death. And also if you think some kind of immunity is coming.’

Q. What is different from the way Scotland has handled the disease from England?

‘They were aligned in the crucial moments in March in terms of lock down and in terms of abandonment of testing and tracing but since April you saw a convergence.

The first convergence was in strategy where the Scottish government published a framework saying there was no acceptable level of infection and the push was towards zeros, the zero covid approach. This then set the stage for local testing and tracing so actually giving the responsibility to local NHS Boards to build up their capacity so they could go after their infections.

Scotland was lucky to go into lock down slightly earlier and our epidemic curve, compared to England, has also held it longer. In England you said to ‘stay alert’, in Scotland ‘stay at home’ and the highest risk situations like pubs and bars, hospitality weren’t opened up until cases were in single digits and actually testing and tracing was robust enough to be able to investigate clusters and bring them under control.’

Q. All four nations have today extended self isolation from 7 to 10 days. The WHO has long recommended this. Has the UK been slow in following some of the advice?

‘Yes. From the start other places have had a 14 day quarantine because of how long you can be infectious with the virus and the WHO showed a minimum period has been 10 days. I am happy we are moving towards that but I think the next stage is trying to use your testing to release people early from quarantine. Currently if you are in contact with someone with the virus you have to isolate for 14 days. I think that’s quite a long stretch so if you’re able to test people say on day 5 and then on day 8 and you have two negative tests could they be be released early? Is that enough assurance? I hope the debate will go in that direction so we can start to use our testing capacity to find better ways through.’

Q. What stands out to you in today’s ONS report?

‘Firstly, that all countries should not be competing who’s the worst, we should only be competing of who’s the best, how we’ve learnt from them, what had been done correctly, what have they been done badly and how we can improve on that.

There’s been the idea of who’s the worst in Europe. I think that’s the wrong debate. How do we become one of the best in the world? And how, for example, the UK can lead Europe and not have a second wave, we try to be pro-active and trying to lead. We can take on a leadership role in clinical research and how that can be accompanied by strong public health measures to contain the virus.’

One of the reasons for the high death toll might have been due to the fact that the UK did not take any action on the matter of quarantining people coming into the country – either British citizens or not – soon enough.

‘Herd immunity’

Raj Bhopal, Emeritus Professor of Public Health, Edinburgh University, on the issue of ‘herd immunity’, 2nd August;

‘I’m not sure actually why we are asking them [young people] to undergo local lock downs, with severe restrictions, on their life styles, rather than doing it for older people like myself who are at higher risk.

My view is we should be allowing young people to be getting on with their lives and their careers while we make special effort to look after the older people.’

How does the pandemic look in the UK?

John Edmunds, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 17th July;

‘If we go back to working more normally and the schools will open in September, they have to, then we will effectively link up households and an infection in one household can much more easily jump into another household and from there to another household and so on. That’s how the virus spreads. …

If what you mean by normality is what we used to do up until the middle of March this year, which was go to work normally, go on holiday without any restrictions, meet friends, shake hands, hug each other and so on, that’s a long way off. We won’t be able to do that until we are immune to the virus.’

Arooj Shah, Deputy Leader Oldham Council, Radio 4, World at One, 29th July, addressing the rise in the number of infections in the town;

Q. Why do you think we have seen this increase?

‘We are testing more, so that could be one of the reasons. The fact we can’t hide from in Oldham is that we do have areas of high deprivation, we do have people who are in high risk employment, such as taxi drivers, barbers, hairdressers and they will be in contact with people. We do have areas where people live in poverty. All these social economic factors make people vulnerable to the virus.’

Q. The rise in infections – can you link it to younger people?

‘We certainly see in recent findings that we have had a lot of younger people between 20 and 40 who have contracted the virus.’

Q. So whilst they may not be suffering from it may be spreading it?

‘Yes, definitely. This is why we’re saying limit the people that you do see outside of your household, maintain social distancing, wear your masks, wash your hands, do not embrace each other, son’t shake hands.

We understand with the younger generation it’s been difficult for them, they’ve not been able to see friends from school, college, university and their having to be locked down has had an impact on their mental well being, which is something we are so alive to. …

Q. Is it possible to make some sense from the different communities in Oldham?

‘We’re a diverse community and we take great pride in that. I don’t think this is an issue around ethnicity, or anything specific like that. I do think it has a lot to do with social economic and health inequalities that need addressing.

That is a concern for me and that’s where we are focussed because we have to understand and address the inequalities we have in towns like Oldham.’

Q. You think it’s making a link to poverty that’s driving this?

‘I, right now, think it’s absolutely linked to poverty and there’s no denying that.

A significant number testing positive from our South Asian communities is a fact but we know this community are more likely to work in high risk occupations, live in larger households with multi-generational occupation as well.’

Q. And the reasons for the larger households is down to poverty?

‘Yes, absolutely, and density in our housing stock.’

Q. So what is the answer?

‘It’s just addressing and focussing on health inequalities but we have been encouraging testing and the more testing we do the more positive cases we are going to see but what we don’t yet have is access to the data on those who test negative which means it’s harder to identify where more cases are linked to increased testing and more importantly it’s harder to identify areas where people are not accessing testing or where the virus might still be circulating.’

Q. Does somebody have access to the negative tests so you could know, as a percentage, therefore you would know if it is down to increased testing?

‘Well government may do but we don’t have access to that data and it’s really important because the focus has been so much on the disproportionate impact on BAME communities and actually I want the focus to be on health inequalities as that’s the issue, but we can’t outright say that there’s a significant issue just with BAME communities because we don’t have access to the negative testing. If we did we would be able to present a clearer picture.’

Another example of muddled thinking – put as always put down to ‘following the science’ the self isolation period was extended.

Time, lack of clear leadership has meant the UK has passed through the ‘honeymoon period’ and fraying tempers are leading to a fracturing of solidarity.

However often the Buffoon repeats the phrases such as ‘world beating’ there are still many scientists who don’t believe it. Are we ready to prevent or deal with the hypothetical ‘second wave’? Not according to the British Medical Association.

The hypothetical ‘second wave’ could target the young, so says one scientist, attempting to draw conclusions from the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic. As with many of the ‘predictions’ that came out, are coming out and will come out before all this is over often the aim seems to just frighten people to get them to do what the State wants. One of the problems is that there is never a look back at what some scientists predicted to see how valid their original arguments were. Do these statements help or hinder the battle against covid? What they all have in common, however, is that there is an assumption is that the virus is in charge and there seems to be an increasing divide between those scientists who only react when things happen and those who argue for a rational and considered pro-active approach – an approach that should more reflect the 21st century than the fear and ignorance approach of the 14th and 17th centuries in Britain.

Public trust in the Government in Britain continues to suffer from the ‘Cummings effect’ – although it has produced fertile ground for comedians.

And, for the potential future, experts have warned of patient misery and pain if there were to be another ending of normal NHS care in the event of a ‘second wave’.

Is the Buffoon really contrite?

Not really. Still pushes criticisms of his Government’s policies, U-turns and total chaos on to the shoulders of the scientific community – ‘following the science’. Still no real strategy. Still not taking responsibility for anything, e.g., high death rate, poor test, track and trace, confusion over face coverings, lack or reassurance over the return of schools, etc. Hoping any ‘review’ will be so far in the future he can weather any storm (which is probably correct).

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Five months in and this issue still far from being resolved. And ‘fully prepared’ for a ‘second wave’?

The ‘eugenic’ virus

Over 70, dementia, diabetes, respiratory problem and now obesity. This is the list, which gets longer as time goes by, of those who are most at risk from serious complications if eve infected by covid-19.

So what’s the best way to end obesity (which we must remember has been a developing issue in Britain for more than a decade and which, in certain parts of the world – the Americas, but north and south standing out – has reached pandemic levels)? Give people money to do up their old bikes and GPs (General Practitioners) prescribing bikes on the NHS. When money could have prevented many of the issues effecting society at the moment it wasn’t available – for all the crass ‘reasons’ we became tired of hearing – yet, all of a sudden, and to give the impression that the incompetent Government of the Buffoon is doing ‘something’, billions of pounds are just conjured out of thin air. I’ll be making an appointment to see my GP, a £1,000 bike would make a pleasant summer gift.

And being too tall can also increase your susceptibility.

Mandatory wearing of face coverings

I can foresee a number of incidents around the mandatory wearing of face coverings increasing over the next few weeks. Frightened people causing grief for others and leading to potential conflicts. As a consequence of the incompetence of the Buffoon and his Government in dealing with the pandemic there will a development of ‘mob rule’ where the ignorant, arrogant and officious will consider they have the right to police the regulations.

Such people are myopic and will jump to conclusions and show their general intolerance, such was the case on a train in Merseyside on the 16th July. With the mandatory use being extended to cover more indoor locations these cases will become more and more bizarre.

Although in California, USA, incidents where frightened people ‘take the law into their own hands’ will certainly be repeated in Britain in coming weeks. Here a woman uses mace on couple for not wearing masks in a park.

Supermarket workers facing torrent of ‘mask rage’.

Paul Gerrard, Campaigns and Public Affairs Director, Co-op supermarket chain, on the increase in the number of assaults (verbal and physical) on staff, Radio 4, World at One, 28th July;

Q. What do you think is going on?

‘What’s happened there are more flashpoints now. What we’ve seen over the last 14 weeks is people under greater pressure and there’s more flashpoints.

Last week people were being asked to queue because there were too many people in the store and that resulted in abuse. I’ve seen people being reminded of social distancing and the one way system around stores and that results in foul abuse.

Last Monday, as one example, a customer didn’t want to wait, there were too many people in the store, he barged in, took milk and ended up seriously assaulting a female colleague. …’

Q. Are you suggesting that the mandatory use of masks is turning out to be another flashpoint?

‘I think it is, yes. There are certainly examples where our collegues are gently reminding people in a queue to put a mask on and that’s resulted in abuse, security guards have said it and other members of staff have said it.’

Q. What do you advise your staff to say to somebody who comes into a store without a face masks?

‘We make sure that all our customers have all the information they need. There’s information outside, there’s signage inside. … What we’ve told out staff is do not challenge people for not wearing a mask because you don’t know how it will end up.. Our priority is always to keep our colleagues safe.

It’s our responsibility to make sure customers know what they are supposed to do, it’s the customers responsibility to follow the law, it’s the police’s responsibility to enforce the law.’

Melinda Mills, Nuffield Professor and Director, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford, Radio 4, World at One, 28th July;

Q. What would you advise shop staff who are in the situation of facing assaults by customers over not using face coverings?

‘It’s distressing to hear that that’s happening, and it’s happening to other front line workers. We have to reflect on why it is happening in the first place. It sounded like they were trying to diffuse the situation as much as possible and had prepared their information, signage and other stuff. I think it comes down to the fact that the guidance on face coverings was published less than 12 hours before the new rules came into force and its the inconsistencies that the public are getting confused about. For example, for shop workers it is strongly recommended that they wear them but it’s not mandatory. It’s not mandatory, but optional, in things like hairdressers, cinemas and concert halls. And that’s, frankly, confusing to the public.

I’m not justifying why they’re having this reaction but you can possibly understand it because of all the confusion.’

Q. The Government hasn’t been clear enough?

‘Yes. I think from Day One it’s been very slow to react but also not being clear about face coverings.

On June 5th the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended to governments across the world to recommend that the general public wear face coverings in closed and crowded places.

This is really late that this has happened but it’s also been very unclear, it just drifts out, slow information. If you think about a country like Japan. They had the 3C’s – avoid close faces, crowded places and close contact settings and then you can understand across multiple settings.’

Q. To be fair to the Government the WHO hasn’t been clear on this.

‘Yes, that’s a good point. The WHO actually did a U-turn. At the beginning of April that for healthy individuals they don’t have to wear face coverings and then they changed their opinion. And the governments across the UK are also differing, so it’s all very problematic.’

Q. Is part of the answer to provide them free, part to do a public health campaign as had been done with the likes of condoms in the past?

‘We’ll have to learn form countries that have already figured it out from SARS and previous pandemics. The key is that people have to understand why they’re wearing them – so it’s the behavioural factors.

Protection is not 100% [to the wearer] but it protects others around them. People have to understand the risks but also that they are wearing them for altruistic reasons, to protect those around them.

In countries that have universal take-up and wearing they are not introducing fines and they’re not calling the police. The public understands why they are wearing them and, I think, we have to back up the education in that way.’

Q. At the moment it’s the public that’s ‘policing’ this rather than the authorities.

‘Yes, it’s creating real flashpoints.. The question is should we be having to police this so much, should we be allowing misinformation about face coverings and masks to be propagated. There are some real issue here and we just have to support those shop owners and also support the public in understanding why they are doing this.

There’s been a lot of abuse, also to myself and other scientists working on this as well as to the shop workers. So we just have to be really clear and say this is a public health issue. This isn’t about rights, just like washing your hands, it’s a public health issue.’

One of (the very few) advantages of the use of face coverings – it scuppers the State’s efforts to control people’s movements by facial recognition technology.

Although normally a supporter of crowds and the ‘mob’ it can have it’s negative effects. With face coverings it’s the frightened who control the agenda.

On 8th August the face covering use was expanded – more than likely not for the last time.

People who need extra care in their own homes or care homes

The lack of a testing regime for ‘extra care’ staff who visit vulnerable people in their own homes.

Radio 4, You and Yours, 30th July;

Representative of ‘extra care’ home provider.

‘All our staff are making sure that they are social distancing, they’ve been wearing the appropriate and correct PPE from the start but if we could get everybody tested because of the difficulties of not knowing if somebody’s got the virus if they are asymptomatic it would just make sure that our staff weren’t walking around unintentionally passing on the virus if they do have it. So I can’t understand why ‘extra care’ locations have been excluded from the mass testing’

Spokesperson for MENCAP.

‘At MENCAP we absolutely agree with that principal. We support over 5,000 people with a learning disability across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most of those people live in supported living settings not care homes.

So we’re really calling upon the Government to act to make sure that everyone is protected for testing and has access to the rolling programme.’

Care homes and those who work caring for people in their own homes continue to be ignored. The lessons of where the greatest number of deaths have occurred so far, and the reasons for it, have not been learnt with ministers being accused of ‘negligence’ when it comes to the matter of regular testing. How long will this situation be allowed to continue? These matters were being discussed way back in April – but still no resolution.

One of the knock on effects effects will be to possibly delay regular visits to care homes.

How families cope – or don’t – during the covid pandemic

One in three parents ‘out of their depth’ as children struggle with pandemic fallout.

Housing and homelessness following covid-19

Housing is one of the areas which demonstrate how much on the edge to which many in British society have been reduced, primarily as a consequence of the more than a decade of ‘austerity’ imposed (and with little or no opposition) upon the country following the self-created financial crisis of 2008.

Unemployment has been rising since the lock down and is predicted to go through the roof once the present system of the Government paying a high proportion of the wage bill for millions come to an end in a month or so. One of the results of this increasing unemployment will be the inability to pay the high rents demanded in the private sector. Shelter, the homeless charity, in Scotland have predicted a steep rise in homelessness but there’s no reason to doubt the problem won’t be any different in the rest of the United kingdom, almost certainly worse in England.

Not only is the change in stamp duty helping those who use homes as a speculative investment (and therefore pushing up prices in general) it has not been revealed that it is region specific as well, having its biggest ‘effect’ in London.

Easing of planning restrictions

The Tories have been attacking regulatory bodies for decades, especially following the dismal time of Thatcher in the 1980s. Under the guise of assisting the ‘recovery’ from the consequences of the lock down they have already indicated that restrictions on developers with be relaxed.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive, Federation of Master Builders, on the sector calling for ‘reform’ for years, 2nd August;

‘We do have a housing crisis in this country. We should be building about 300,000 homes a year, we’re not doing that, just 200,000. So anything that speeds up the planning process to increase the supply of housing is welcome now but we particularly want to get more local house builders involved.’

Short comment, big propaganda.

Local Government Association, 2nd August;

‘When the process has been sidelined in the past, allowing office space to be converted into residential buildings, for example, too often the result is sub-standard housing. … It’s not the planning process holding up new build but developers sitting on land since more than a million homes have been given planning permission in the past decade but haven’t been built.’

Other professionals and experts predicted such ‘reforms’ would create a ‘generation of slums’.

And the changes could also have the effect of killing off affordable housing.

Who will suffer from the fall out of the pandemic?

There’s barely a section of society that will come out of this pandemic – and the way it has been handled by the Government. A recent report (‘The experience of people approaching later life in lock down’) highlights the problems faced by those over 50 during the lock down. A further report (‘Back on Track’) looks at issues related to employment.

Medical collateral damage of covid-19

It’s been recognised for some time that devoting all of the resources of the NHS to dealing with the covid pandemic has created ‘collateral damage’. Slowly, as time goes by and the averages of previous years can be compared, the covid deaths become only a part of the the main story.

Immunity

Another day, another report about immunity – or not – to covid-19. If there’s no immunity, if a vaccine won’t be the ‘magic bullet’ then a new way of living has to be developed. Lock downs, evacuations or quarantine won’t resolve the collapse of societies – even if it means that more people die. Even at present rates of deaths worldwide from covid-19 the ‘collateral damage’ – in various areas, be they other diseases having lower survival rates, the increased problems associated with poverty (in developed countries but more so in the countries of the geographic south) and the general collapse of support infrastructures – is starting to approach or even overtake that number. And the consequences of this ‘collateral damage’ will have a greater effect upon the young who are, generally, less seriously effected by covid-19.

At some time society has to make that decision. It would be better sooner rather than later.

The blame game

The Buffoon talks about an inquiry at some indeterminate time in the future but the blame game is already starting. In the sights of the Tories at this time is Public Health England. This also shows the hypocrisy that has been played out from the beginning when it comes to ‘following the science’.

Going back to school

But not with a pint.

Graham Medley, Professor of infectious disease modelling, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and on official SAGE suggested that pubs might have to close when schools return in September.

He’s got an ally in Calum Semple, Professor of child health and outbreak medicine, University of Liverpool, 1st August;

‘Come October I think some hard decisions will have to be made about what restrictions will need to be re-introduced and whether that’s, potentially, the pubs and the hospitality sector are taking a hit in preference to education. It will be a political decision.’

But it’s not unanimous in the scientific community. Allyson Pollock, a doctor and consultant in public health medicine and the Director of the Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University argues for a more pro-active approach – rather than just push the panic button if things go awry, 1st August;

‘We need to be much more confident that the Government is playing its part and has a coherent testing strategy, which it doesn’t have, that the test results are interpretable and that they’re putting in the necessary public health and primary care measures.

Then we would not need to see these ‘trade-offs’, as they are called. It’s a diversion and we’re in danger of going down a rabbit warren here.’

The role of trade unions in general has been pathetic from the very beginning of the pandemic. Instead of being the organised (social democratic) voice of the workers they have shown themselves to be merely sheep – reacting (sometimes) to events, decisions but never taking the lead. The teachers unions have been some of the most vocal – but each time they say something I find myself speechless and open-mouthed. Now they’re calling for all returning secondary (11 and over) school children to be made to wear masks. One school, Holmes Chapel comprehensive in Cheshire, has already told parents that masks will be part of the school’s required uniform.

Where’s the science? Or is it just another manifestation of paranoia?

Camille London Miyo, President, Leicester National Education Union, 2nd August;

‘We understand how critical it is for our young people to get back into school. What we need is the importance of clarity and consistent messaging that we need in terms of the guidance in order for us to do the best that we can.’

There are various views developing about the return of children to school (August in Scotland, September in the rest of the UK) but there does seem to be agreement that a properly functioning ad efficient testing and tracing system is the key to success.

An effective system of testing and tracing would also give students and parents the confidence to support a full return.

The rich not happy – another result for covid

You may be struggling to feed your family; facing the fear of eviction as you can’t pay the rent; been made unemployed or facing the threat of redundancy; surviving by using food banks; afraid to turn on the tele or the radio in case there’s something else to worry about – but the rich are not as happy as the poor a Cambridge study has found.

It has been said that many people have been struggling to find things to do in lock down (which just goes to show the paucity of their lives before anyone had ever heard of covid-19) but do we really need people to spend time and effort (and money) on such useless reports?

Vietnam evacuation

This one I don’t understand. Vietnam had a very quick and severe lock down. We were then told that was the reason why the infection and death rate was so low. After a relaxation of movement restrictions three people were tested positive in Danang a few days ago and as a result 80,000 domestic tourists are being evacuated.

Why? Isn’t this the antithesis of a lock down? Why send so many people in such a tight time frame all over the country? Wouldn’t it have been better to deal with them in Danang (even institute a lock down there) rather than spread the risk?

The Swedish ‘Experiment’

It’s necessary to look at how matters developed in Sweden as it was one of the few countries that didn’t follow the rest and introduce a forced lock down – but isn’t it too soon to decide whether it worked or not? Surely that shouldn’t happen until we are way down the line, after any potential ‘second wave’ and when ‘spikes’ are more generally understood?

Repatriation at the beginning of the lock down

It’s all well and good coming out with reports saying that the Government failed Britons abroad, who wanted to get back home, way back in March but shouldn’t this all be part of a proper review that looks at the failure of the Government in it’s dealing over the pandemic not on its individual aspects but as a systemic problem caused by capitalism and austerity.

Contact testing and tracing

‘World beating’ according to the Buffoon. The saga of testing always introduces something new.

The app is dead, long live the app – in a few weeks (perhaps).

Test results still not coming back quickly enough, in Wales for certain but no faith the situation elsewhere in the UK is any better.

Some good news? There’s a ‘new kid in town’.

But it’s still ‘jobs for the boys’.

The capacity goes up, and then it goes down again. This time having yet another adverse effect upon care home residents and staff from whom these tests were taken. How can these tests be ‘dangerous’? And who is going to pay for the disaster, both financially and on the responsibility level?

From the very beginning local health authorities have been arguing that a national based test, track and trace system wouldn’t work unless there was a significant use of, and investment in, a local back up arrangement to catch those not easy to trace cases. In yet another U-turn (although not, so far, referred to as such) the Buffoon’s Government is pulling back on the national numbers and placing responsibility on local areas. But will the funding be there?

As more information leaks out it is becoming known that not only was the national system ineffective (reaching few people) there was no real organisation and many of those employed – with great fanfare a couple of months ago – have just been sitting at a computer with nothing to do but watch films. Why a surprise? That was reported on this blog way back in June.

Poverty in Britain

A huge increase in the number of children receiving free school meals might be considered a ‘good thing’ but hardly fits in to the idea of a prosperous society. Just the opposite. With the rich getting richer (even continuing to do so during the pandemic) such changes in policy only go to highlight how it’s the poor that are paying for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

It’s almost certain that the real – and most long lasting – economic effects of the pandemic are still ahead of us. Unemployment is certainly about to sour and the brunt of this will be borne by the poorest in society and predictions are that this will all have a serious impact upon the nutrition of many children.

Another report (‘Poverty and Covid-19’) looks at how people have been effected in the last five months and their prospects for the future.

Tourism, quarantine and the consequences

Marcello Ricci, United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Radio 4, World at One, 28th July, on the decision of the UK Government to impose a 14 day quarantine on anyone arriving in Britain from Spain;

Q. What do you think of this decision of the UK Government?

‘The World Health Organisation recognises that government’s have a duty to put the health of their citizens first. Nobody disputes that. One of the true lessons of all of the situation, the criss that we are going through, and it transcends tourism, and it’s really about co-ordination.

How do we face literally uncharted territory and we’re not sure that going it alone is really the way to do it. It undermines confidence and this is critical when it comes to a sector, a service sector and probably the people sector par excellance, which is tourism.

Trust is a precious commodity … going it alone undermines it and this will not just effect tourism but the new reality we will have to deal with.’

Q. Isn’t every country going it alone, they are only doing it in different ways?

‘Yes, but because they are doing it doesn’t mean it is the right way. What we need is a convergence, in terms of protocols, measures of testing, tracing … and then decide how we do it in a co-ordinated manner. Isolation and building up walls we know don’t work, not for pandemics or other avenues.’

Q. Do we know that testing and tracing works? It’s isolation, it’s quarantine, they are the only things we know absolutely will work.

‘If we go back to the Spanish Flu of 1918 it was isolation, wearing masks and really wait until something happens, This is, of course, the orthodox way. We should be in a position, it may be politically idealistic, but when the greater good is really identified to better co-ordinate.

It is an illusion to, maybe, aim for total security and lack of risk. That wasn’t the case before covid-19 hit us with its full strength. It’s certainly not the reality now. We live with uncertainty, we crave concrete and specific answers nobody is really in a position to provide. Definitely not if we go it alone.’

Q. What would your answer be?

‘Testing out, testing in. Of course we want to return as healthy as we left. The proper social behaviour and then the understanding that we’re not facing a static situation. There was not tracing, for instance, at least not at the levels we are witnessing now, back in March. We have moved on, we have learnt. I mean the learning curve has been steep for everybody, government, institutions, civil society and citizens at large. We have to trust there is a common interest in moving on and adapting to the new reality. But certainly pulling down the blinds and locking the doors and locking ourselves in is not the way.’

Q. There is a huge number of travellers going between Britain and Spain, Surely it’s reasonable to take action to prevent the disease ‘re-seeding’ itself here?

‘Nobody disputes that really. The discussion goes along the economic ripple effects and the huge toll that this is taking on the sector. Tourism is far more than just having a good time. The valuation of tourism is the biggest one we have in the economy. … We’ve visited these destinations, we’ve been to the Canaries and the Balearics. The one size fits all policy is easy, it’s a good headline but it doesn’t really pay tribute to the diverse reality we are facing.’

Q. Do you think the UK will face repercussions because of this policy?

‘I don’t have a crystal ball, I wish I had. There has been some talk around this. But I’m not sure that retaliation on this level is a wise way to go. It’s a dialogue we need to follow. And weighing up the political costs and all it involves, and also to really adapt and change your decisions. We still haven’t finally learnt how the virus works, we don’t have a vaccine, but still we’re demanding the precise answers on tracing. It has to be a gradual approach, we need to go this way.’

The economic effects of the pandemic on the tourist industry was highlighted in a report by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation three months ago.

And on a local, UK level, unemployment is already starting to show the skewed effect on those parts of the country dependent upon tourism compared to other areas.

Incompetence leads to more wealth in private hands

Private hospitals to benefit from the backlog of operations and treatments caused by the emphasis on covid-19 to the exclusion of all else.

And the Tories look after their own when it comes to the awarding of contracts. How many more are there we are not aware of?

But there’s nothing for the ‘heroes’ of April, May and June.

Another example of incompetence was the report of 50 million face masks not being adequate for use in medical circumstances. These masks were part of a £252 million contract.

More information is coming out following a case brought by The Good Law Project which indicates nepotism (if not corruption) in government and a whole catalogue of ‘extraordinary waste [and] basic incompetence’. This could get interesting.

Quote of the week

On 30th July, the very same day the Office of National Statistics published a report that showed death rates in England were higher than anywhere else in Europe the Buffoon confidently declared;

‘This country has had a massive success now in reducing the numbers of those tragic deaths, and we’ve got it at the moment under some measure of control.’

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

The same issues keep on coming up and the Government of the Buffoon (but with the Buffoon himself stating out of the limelight) still makes policy decisions which most find mind-boggling. Welcome to Britain – but if you come after 8th June be prepared to put yourself in a 14 day quarantine.

Testing

The much vaunted figure of 100,000 tests per day was, surprise, surprise, attained on 31st April – but not on too many days since. And in place of an investigation into why numbers are not going up we are merely given another number and another target date.

But some doubts have been cast on whether the information is even accurate, with the possibility that some tests are being counted twice. That might be a valid approach if that was the way they have been counted in the past – but shouldn’t have people been informed of that? I’m sure than most people would have thought that the number of tests carried out was, in fact, the same as the number of people tested.

I might be missing something but is the Government still declaring how many tests are carried out each day? It seems those numbers were bandied about when it suited but things have gone quiet as the targets are difficult to attain. And now all the news is about the new antigen test. So two different tests which will cause even greater confusion and make it almost impossible to know what is going on.

Test – Track – Isolate

Adam Kucharski, working on the mathematical analysis of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Radio 4, World at One, 21st May;

Q. Is the NHS Confederation correct that there should be no lifting of lock down until a plan for contact tracing is in place?

‘Countries have to be very careful about lifting restrictions without having something to replace them that can ensure a reduction in transmission. Over time we can have more targetted measures, such as track and trace, when we don’t need the more blanket measures. We are still seeing infections appear so we have to be cautious in how we lift those measures.’

Q. Are other European countries lifting lock down measures without track and trace in place?

‘It’s not entirely clear what the long term strategy is in some of the countries. If you lift restrictions then outbreaks can occur and be spread fairly easily so unless there’s something to replace restrictions you may well see other outbreaks occur.’

Q. How easy is it to have personnel doing the contact tracing and is the app necessary?

‘We probably need both these things to work in tandem. Manual contact tracing is labour intensive and if you look at countries who have done this, like S Korea, they have access to a lot more data, such as credit card transactions, phone location data. Even with that level of oversight very quickly the manual effort can increase. The app can particularly pick up contacts that are very difficult to trace. To identify someone in your own house is very easy, identifying some one you sat two tables away from in a restaurant would be much harder. Here apps could potentially add a lot more value.’

Q. Do apps need to be closely integrated to those doing the manual work?

‘From a public health point of view these things are always more effective if you integrate them because then you don’t have them overlapping in effort and wasting resources. Also we need to be thinking about social distancing measures that remain in place alongside these. Other countries that have used contact tracing have still kept infection control and physical distancing. Ideally we can do that in some more moderate way but we need to think of this as a sequence of tools and find the best possible way of combining them.’

Q. We hear of issues of those employed to do the tracing not knowing exactly what to do. Can you see contact tracing all happening by the beginning of next week?

‘To make sure of identifying contacts and to be confident, especially of lifting measures, we do need to ensure that we are capturing quite a large proportion of transmissions. Our modelling shows as soon as you get delays in identifying contacts this will lead to more transmissions. We want the system to be as effective as possible.’

On 20th May the Buffoon made a big thing about a ‘world-class’ contract tracing system being up and running by 1st June. Only a day later that was changed to ‘early next month (June)’ but now without the much vaunted NHSX Smartphone app.

The NHS Confederation was still cautious about any major changes in the lock down before effective contact tracing was in place. Niall Dickson, chief executive of the confederation, said on 21st May;

‘We are absolutely clear that contact tracing is the right thing to do, it is absolutely critical, it has got to be in place to prevent any notion of a second surge if the lock down is being further released.’

Testing – or not

Although already mentioned it doesn’t do any harm to remind people about the report that surfaced on Tuesday which criticised the decision to stop community testing on March 12th.

Antibody tests

These are likely to be the next ‘best thing’, theoretically providing proof of whether someone has already contracted the infection, recovered and possibly immune to any re-infection. Their efficiacy still hasn’t been proven (but even so the Government has a contract with the pharmceutical giant Roche to provide millions of such tests) but already major companies are playing on peoples’ fears, and hopes of immunity, and are selling them online.

The high street chain Superdrug was one of the first. On sale 21st May, sold out on 22nd – at £69.00 a pop.

14 day quarantine on international arrivals

Loath as I am to have to say so but I agree with one of the most unpleasant present day representatives of the free market economy, Michael O’Leary, the Chief Executive of the budget airline Ryanair, that the introduction of a 14 day quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK is a crass and irrational response to any fear of the virus coming into the country. Millions of people have arrived in the UK since the lock down was declared on 23rd March and any measures to protect the country so late in the day borders on the farcical. After a lock down the last thing you need is a further restriction on movement – especially one that doesn’t make any sense at all.

More details were unveiled on the afternoon of 22nd May. For some reason this will not come into force until 8th June. There will be exemptions – but what’s the point of a rule if there are exemptions which will basically undermine the rule?

The role of unions in the covid-19 pandemic

When we live in a time ‘ruled’ by a bunch of useless public schoolboys (and girls) – who most of the time of the covid-19 pandemic in Britain seem to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off – it’s an opportunity to those organisations of the workers to show some ability, insight and forward thinking and take on a role of leadership. In light of the fact there is no revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Party to take up that banner it has been left to the Trade Unions. However, with few exceptions, they have shown themselves lacking.

In the early days of the lock down there were a number of wildcat strikes where workers were taking immediate action to safeguard their safety – decided upon and organised at a local level, without recourse to the national leadership and certainly with no concern of so-called ‘cooling off periods’ and the only ballot being a showing of hands.

Most of the time we hear of trade unions in the present situation it’s when the union leadership reacts to an event, this is from both individual trade union leaders and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which should be presenting a unified approach of organised labour to the ‘unprecedented’ crisis that covid-19 has brought to the fore.

At the moment it’s the education trade unions that are not covering themselves in glory. At best they are merely frightened at worse they display a total inability to analyse and respond to an unknown situation. Instead of looking for ways out of the problem they seem to look for reasons NOT to do something, being obstructive in the face of the (admittedly half-baked and muddled) plans of the Buffoon and his government to get education moving again.

One of the education union leaders, Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union (NEU), seemed to treat the whole thing as a game and a poll carried out by the NASUWT, one of the other education unions, found that only 5% of its 30,000 members believed it was safe for children to return to education on 1st June – going against the vast majority of the scientific evidence that such a move was neither prejudicial to the children nor the teachers themselves. And these are the people entrusted with the education of future generations.

We can all criticise how this pandemic is being managed (and that’s all I’m doing on these posts) but there comes a time when to move forward others have to take the reins of leadership. The British Labour Party is incapable of doing so and that leaves the task to the workers organised in their unions – but that won’t be the case if all the unions do is cower in a corner and hope the the pandemic will just go away. They are acting just the same as the Government.

Problems don’t solve themselves and it’s for organised labour to face up to the problems now or they will have no chance of having any positive impact upon society when we return to the ‘new normality’ – a normality which will have many more hundreds of thousands of workers in unemployment on top of the abysmal situation we have allowed workers conditions to fall into in the years before anyone ever heard of covid-19.

Nationalists

The nationalist parties in the UK, especially the Scottish, have loved playing their own game in the last two months of the all Britain lock down. The fact that areas such as health were devolved as part of the capitulation to the nationalists means that here is an area where the devolved governments have a great deal of autonomy. And the Nationalists have used it to their utmost, perceived, advantage. But they don’t like it when it’s pointed out.

Profiteering during the pandemic

Although there may be positive changes in attitude by many during this pandemic, which makes the society more cohesive, there will always be those who seek to profit from the misery of others. There’s constant mention in Britain (when isn’t it when it comes to any crisis?) of the Blitz (the aerial bombing of London and other major cities in Britain by the Nazi air force in the Second World War) and the Dunkirk Spirit (when retreating British armed forces escaped from western France in 1940) and how the country came together. But they conveniently forget the looting of bombed properties, the ‘Black Market’, the ‘spivs’ (small time conmen), break-ins and burglaries, rapes and murders that went on in the black-outs as well as all-round profiteering when companies knew they could charge the Government what they liked for their goods or services.

Obviously not on anything like the same scale (although we don’t now all that’s been going on in the last couple of months) profiteers have already had a field day and are filling their boots when they can. Although the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is a part of Government nothing will happen about these abuses. The response of the Government to this sanctioned theft? The Department for Business maintained ‘the vast majority’ of firms were acting responsibly.

How is knowledge growing about covid-19?

After infections and deaths over a period a little under three months since the first death on 5th March the statistics of the infections and deaths in the intervening period have started to paint an interesting picture of the pandemic – as it has worked its way through the UK but whilst also filling in the international picture.

Taking the statistics up to the week ending 8th May it’s possible to say (according to David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University);

  • ‘pattern of covid deaths is changing
  • ‘around half the deaths from covid were in the community – and therefore only half in hospitals’
  • ‘the median age of deaths for women was 87, for men 82’
  • ‘this shows the penetration into care homes’
  • ‘epidemic in the community seems to be largely under control’
  • ‘in care homes and even hospitals there’s a bigger risk of infection’
  • ‘1 in 1600 of the population have died of covid’
  • ‘for those over 90 ‘1 in 70’
  • ‘for kids between 5 and 14 there’s only been one registered death, in a population of 7 million – although there will probably be more’

Other information from the statistics available at this moment, 22nd May;

  • 90% of those who had died in March and April had ‘underlying health conditions’
  • in 25% of all deaths the persons had diabetes (although it is not specified whether that is Type 1 or 2) – that came out as 5,800 out of 22,000 deaths in hospital
  • those with dementia and Alzheimer are highly at risk
  • at any one time (according to statistics released for the first two full weeks of May) 1 in 400 people in the UK are infected. That means the chances of meeting one by chance is very low – the problem with covid-19, however, is because an infected person can be asymptomatic and be infectious you don’t know who that one person might be.

How is the virus spread?

By a small percentage of the population normally. This has been the pattern with previous recent outbreaks such as HIV, SARS and Ebola – and now covid-19 it has been proposed. This report suggests that events where there are a lot of people, in very close proximity and where there might be a lot of vigorous activity, such as fitness centres or night clubs, could be classified as ‘super-spreader events’. Nothing is certain here as the spread of any infectious disease can be complex, but such studies start to suggest that certain activities and locations could be pin pointed as potential infectious hot spots which could then be approached in a considered manner.

Such an approach is needed to get away from the blanket approach which, honestly, only displays fear and ignorance – the approach that has characterised virtually all countries response to the pandemic.

Universities in Britain – all Open University now

The Open University was established in 1969 with the aim of providing part time, distance learning degree opportunities for those who (for various reasons) couldn’t commit to a full time university course. And it did – and is still doing – its job very well, the invention of the internet making distance learning more proactive and with occasional meet ups with fellow course members at various times of the year. But this was the exception – not the rule.

When the lock down was declared in March all universities eventually closed down, sent their students and staff home and any teaching went on line. This time of year is exam time and so even exams are taking place online – although I don’t know exactly how they are doing that. This made sense in the initial stages when knowledge of the virus was in its early stages.

But what normally also happens at this time of year is that the new intake of, mainly, 18 year olds decide at which university they want to study. At least one, Manchester University, stated they would only have lectures online for the first term of the 2020-2021 academic year – others are expected to follow suit.

However, on 19th May Cambridge University declared that all lectures would be online for the whole of the academic year.

If this matter becomes more general I can’t see why anyone would want to go to university in the academic year 2020-2021 – especially first year students. Going away to university in Britain isn’t just about education. For first year students it’s the first time any of them have been in any way independent in their lives. It’s the moving away from the parental home (although that trend has reversed with the costs of living expenses in the last few years) that makes staying in further education more attractive – as is the so-called ‘campus experience’. And those foundations get laid down in the first year – subsequent years work and study (theoretically) take precedence.

Universities have already stated (as has been the case since the lock down in March) that even if teaching goes online students would still be expected to pay full fees. Even if students do enrol in universities and the ‘social distancing ‘ rules remain the same there’s absolutely no incentive to leave home and pay the huge expense rent and other living expenses in often substandard accommodation and perhaps with people with whom you would rather not spend too much time.

The wider community would also suffer if the thousands of expected students stayed away for a year. Education has become so much of a business in the last 20 years or so that students and what they spend can be as important to a city as is foreign tourism – be that national or international. This is, yet again, a decision which seems to have been taken without taking into account the fall out.

And who is this really protecting? Students in their late teens or early twenties are among the least likely to suffer serious consequences from covid-19 and wouldn’t be at any greater risk than if they stay at home.

I just don’t understand this decision, another example of how risk averse (based upon no evidence) Britain has become.

The old may be dying but it’s the young who will pay the long term price

A report by the Resolution Foundation reports that it’s the young who are going to carry the long term consequences of the pandemic.

It found that;

  • young employees are most likely to have lost work due to furloughing, jobs losses and hours reductions
  • compared to prime-age adults, a smaller proportion of young employees had the same pay in May as before the coronavirus crisis hit
  • young (and old) employees are the least able to weather the crisis by working from home

On top of this the number of new job vacancies has also fallen sharply – 170,000 fall from February to April, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

And all the debt that’s being accumulated in the last couple of months will be expected to be paid by someone – hands up the young.

The poor you will always have with you (Mark 14:7)

It’s amazing how the poor are also thought about in times of crisis – but totally ignored in the ‘good times’. There have been many declarations of concern for the poor in the last two months of the lock down such as the homeless and children who need to claim free school dinners (who are always, insultingly, described as coming from ‘deprived backgrounds’).

In the debate about whether or not schools should restart (or at least part of them) on 1st June, Andy Preston, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, argued that it was important to open the schools as soon as possible as this was imperative for the ‘deprived’ children as they need education to get them out of their ‘deprivation’.

This is merely an example of the crassness of British society. There’s the concept, constantly being promoted by those who have the wealth and the power that it only needs an extra push for the poor to drag themselves out of the mire in which they find themselves – this is the so-called ‘social mobility’ lie.

Such arguments are loved by those in power as it places all the responsibility of their poverty on the poor themselves – all they need is to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. This idea was pushed in the 19th century and it’s still with us now in the 21st. Those 200 years have not eradicated poverty and neither will the next 200 if things remain the same.

The sanctimonious Victorians made such trite statements and those who continue in the same vein maintain that ‘improvements’ in poverty can be made without any substantial changes to society. They don’t realise, or accept, that poverty is a pre-condition for the existence of capitalism.

Activities which result in large donations to charities are applauded, the very existence of food banks in every town is considered an ‘advance’, but if people are really serious about eradicating poverty, in this country or any other part of the world, a much more systemic change is necessary.

Putting matters into perspective

Amphan is the name of the cyclone that has been battering India and Bangladesh in the last few days, made landfall early on 21st May and then headed north. Events like this should make people living in the privileged ‘industrialised’ countries put the covid-19 pandemic into perspective. Before this cyclone moves away hundreds, if not thousands, of people are likely to lose their lives.

Bangladesh is one of the countries which is particularly susceptible to climate change as the vast majority of the country is only a few metres above sea level. The winds that are moving inland will no longer be causing damage but the amount of water in the rainfall when the storm hits the high mountains will eventually arrive at the Bay of Bengal, flooding the huge low lying delta on its way.

And those in different parts of the world whose lives were precarious before the arrival of covid-19 will now be in even more danger of the ravages of poverty. The 60 million (surely only a wild guestimate) of these people identified by the World Bank certainly puts the numbers of deaths in Europe, so far due to the pandemic, into some sort of perspective.

Changes to laws under the radar

The various British governments (of whatever colour) have built up a reputation of releasing contentious reports or trying to introduce changes to legislation on ‘quite news days’. They are also not averse to slipping in such law changes when everyday is a big news day and covid-19 drowns out everything else.

That’s what is happening to changes in the already draconian anti-terrorism laws. You wouldn’t have thought there was any need to restrict even more any legal rights for a suspected (but not convicted) ‘terrorist’ – but not the British Government. When someone can be arrested and held just on the say so of the security services already the Tories (no doubt with the implicit support of all the other political parties in Parliament) now want to increase unlawful detention indefinitely.

Whenever ‘terrorist’ legislation is discussed in Britain the argument is always presented, by the State, that if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. However, everyone should be aware that the definition of a ‘terrorist’ is growing all the time and can theoretically include any anti-State activity.

We shouldn’t let the dominance of one problem in society blind us to what is going on around us, hidden and without our permission.

More on covid pandemic 2020

Now into the third month of lock down – confusion remains in Britain

More on covid pandemic 2020

Now into the third month of lock down – confusion remains in Britain

Most people were waiting for the easing of the lock down but when it was announced it came with the confusion and questions we have become used to from the Buffoon and his gang.

Testing, track and trace

A couple of differences of the NHSX app (now being ‘piloted’ on the Isle of Wight) from that produced by Apple/Google (and which is being used in many other countries) is that in the UK version people report their symptoms BEFORE a test whilst elsewhere the reporting comes AFTER a test. Also the Apple/Google version actually helps Bluetooth (the way the Smartphones communicate with each other) work better. But the NHSX is not free of the ‘tech giants’ – it needs their permission to work at all – therefore the tech companies remain the ‘gatekeepers’ of any app.

From the beginning one of the arguments given by States to encourage use was that it was voluntary, that no one would be forced to download and activate it. That’s becoming less of a case as some app will almost certainly play a part of any movement of people between countries. This is already being used in Honk Kong for any international arrival and some version will almost certainly be obligatory in many other copy cat countries – even before it has been proven that these apps are actually any use. Just helps to keep a track on people’s movements.

The rocky road of the NHSX app

The pilot has gone very quiet in the last few days – after the fanfare of its release and the ‘overwhelming’ take up.

By now plans should have been in place to extend the pilot to other parts of Britain, although this has now been delayed – until when nobody is saying.

And needless to say we are still no closer to a resolution of the matter of privacy – presumably the Government hopes that if they say nothing for long enough people will get bored with asking the question. That’s also one of the things unlikely to happen. Security concerns continue with fears that it allows an opening to hackers.

Not only is the roll out of the unproven app been delayed so has the contact tracing. The problem, at least in England, is that there is no strategy which doesn’t rely almost entirely on the app’s information. By now this should all have been up and running – if we had listened to Government promises – but by their own admission the contact tracing won’t be up an running before some time in June. And don’t talk about the figures, or the actual people involved. That also seems to change as often as the British weather.

The latest (20th May) ‘information’ is that there will be 25,000 tracers working from 1st June (world-beating’ according to the fantasist Buffoon). I have no doubt those numbers will be reached (as did the 100,000 tests on April 30th – but few days since) and work will begin on that day but of what use is another matter. One issue that has to be resolved before this contact tracing can be effective is to increase the speed at which results are obtained. It currently takes 4/5 days to get a result – that’s far too slow to make the isolation part of the concept useful.

The ‘Norwich Experiment’ – tacking and tracing

Neil Hall, Earlham Institute, Norwich, on a project to test and monitor the whole population of Norwich; Radio 4, World at One, May 15th;

‘The major problem with this virus, and the reason it’s been so difficult to contain, is that it transmits from people who are asymptomatic, before they get ill, or in some cases, from people who don’t get badly ill at all.

That means if you are only testing for the virus from people who are presenting at a doctor’s or a hospital or even if you’re contact tracing you are always playing catch up with the virus. You’re always a step behind. The idea of mass community testing is that you identify those asymptomatic cases before they become ill or before they are identified in a chain through contact tracing.’

Q. You want Norwich to be a city in which that is done?

‘The size of Norwich is about right, 140,000 people, challenging but doable. Also Norwich has one of the highest proportion of molecular biologists per head of population with government funded institutes and a research hospital, etc., in the city.’

Q. How do you test everybody?

‘The idea we’ve been working on is people would be sent a testing kit to their house. That might involve some self-swabbing but research has shown that simple saliva tests are pretty accurate. The kit is bar coded with peoples’ details and then sent back depending upon the logistics being discussed. People would be informed if they had a positive test and would have to self-isolate.’

Q. How far is the push to make it happen? Is the Government on board?

‘There are a lot of partners involved but no funding from National Government. The national government strategy at the moment is putting its weight behind testing of individuals who are sick or in high risk environments.

Mass community testing will also provide a huge amount of information about how the virus is spreading in the community and that will inform government policy nationally. If we know, for example, how asymptomatic cases are in transmission, how important public transport is, how important work place is or households are in the replication of the virus then the government will know when it can relax restrictions and when it has to reinforce them.’

The Track-Trace-Isolate (TTI) strategy in Scotland

Jason Leitch, Clinical Director, Scotland on extension of the covid-19 symptoms (to include taste and smell) and contact tracing in Scotland, Radio 4, World at One, 18th May;

Q. Why has the list of symptoms changed?

‘Science changes all the time. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has a long list of symptoms for covid-19 none of which are, unfortunately, very specific. So you have to cast a net as wide as you can to detect covid-19 but no tos wide you capture the whole population. The evidence has increased on the loss of taste and smell so this has been now, across the four countries of the UK, been added to the list.

We’ve always wanted those with symptoms to self-isolate. We don’t do this with other infections so we have created a fear in society. We don’t want to put 60 million in isolation so we have to be balanced.’

Q. Is it important to get the contract tracing implemented before easing the lock down in Scotland?

‘It’s a kind of parallel process. The WHO says there are six measures you have to have in place before thinking about any dramatic changes to your lock down.

The first is to suppress the virus. The second is a reliable test, trace and isolate system. We [in Scotland] have added an S to our TTI, which is Support.

People underestimate the level of support some need in order to self-isolate – not everybody lives in an environment where a 14 day isolation, although annoying, won’t be that restricting. So we need to think about the support people might need to do that.’

Q. Do you have enough tracers to do that?

‘Tracing exists already across Europe for sexually transmitted diseases etc., so the public health community are very used to contact tracing. We’ve decided to organise this in Scotland around the 14 regions and we are using staff from various sectors to fulfil the need. We’re aiming for 2,000 by the end of the month.’

Q. Why no app?

‘Not no app, considering the app. A digital solution to help with contract tracing and we’re beginning to test in three of our Health Boards with an app really as a boost for the contact tracer to help them along. Contact tracers are detectives, they are used to doing that, their training is about who you were with, where were you, it’s quite an elaborate interview.

The NHSX app is still in development. We need to know about the privacy of it. When we’re reassured about those three things then we’ll happily embrace it. We don’t need it, we’ll have contract tracing without it but if we feel it adds a layer of information, a layer of data then we will, of course, use it if it is safe to do so.’

‘Easing’ the lock down – how will people respond?

Professor Robert Dingwall, School of Social Science, Nottingham Trent University, member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threat Advisory Group (NERVTAG), Radio 4, World at One, 18th May, on how people will react to the easing of the lock down;

Q. There are some people terrified of opening their front doors again. What will happen when people start to go out more?

‘The Government campaign to get us all to stay at home has probably been more effective than they would have wanted it to be in terms of raising the level of anxiety among the population. Surveys show we are easily the most anxious country in Europe about the impact of the virus. In the news coverage there’s been this relentless drum beat of death that’s rather overshadowed the fact that most people (80%) won’t need to go anywhere near a hospital and virtually all those that do will come out again in one piece.’

Q. Was that due to the Government message or the sense of community in protecting the NHS?

‘It’s probably the way the Government has gone about it. It’s also the attraction of kinds of stories for the media. Deaths are full of human interest and there are lots of opportunities for ‘intrepid reporters’. It’s a combination of things. The coronavirus has been overlayed on a number of pre-existing tensions and conflicts. We were a fairly divided society to start with. This hasn’t exactly helped.’

Q. What do you think will make a difference?

‘We might see quite a period of tension and possibly some micro-aggression between people who are more or less risk averse, for example visually impaired people who are unable to maintain social distancing rules are already being abused. Conflicts about masks, what two metres looks like and whether two metres is relevant at all. Those things are going to run for quite a while.’

Q. We were told schools had to shut. What has changed to make them safe now?

‘One thing that has certainly changed is out understanding of the science around children and the transmission of infection. With influenza children are clearly super-spreaders – although we never close schools over the winter because of this. What we now understand [with covid] is that children get a relatively mild form of the disease and they certainly don’t transmit it any more than adults. And teachers are no more at risk in school than going about everyday business in the community.’

The Blame Game

In one of the early post on covid-19 I suggested that having the scientists at the regular press conferences was to have a ready scapegoat if things went pear shaped. As the country entered the third month of the lock down – although now with certain caveats – the accusations started to fly around.

Jeremy Hunt, one time Tory Health Minister, now Chair of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, on 19th May;

‘… some of the decisions, notably on testing, represent some of the biggest failures of scientific advice to ministers in out life time.’

Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when asked why community testing was ended on 12th March, in a testy reply on 19th May;

‘If the science was wrong I’m not surprised people think we then made the wrong decision.’

The issue can be clarified very easily here. Advice does not equate to decision. The only way to know the facts is for the Government to publish all the documents at the time. The longer this takes (as they will come out at some time in the future) the more it looks like the Government has something to hide.

The Nationalists and Covid-19

I haven’t really quoted extensively from politicians in previous posts but am doing so here with a contribution from Gordon Brown, at one time Labour Prime Minister, who dislikes the Scottish Nationalists as much as I do, Radio 4, World at One, 19th May, on how the pandemic has been approached in the ‘devolved’ Scotland;

‘Half of the deaths in Scotland are in care homes. It’s tragic that even today not all care home residents and workers have been tested. It’s a great failure of public policy to have known about this problem for weeks, to have known that the one way that we could find out whether people are at risk is testing early and testing routinely and not being able to bring in a system as the capacity was simply not good enough. Less than 3% of people have been tested so if we are going to avoid a second wave we’ve got to act urgently to have not just mass testing but routine testing.

We are not talking about thousands of tests a day but hundreds of thousands per day. If we are trying to ease the lock down then we have got to give people reassurances, we’ve got to prevent a second wave, we’ve got to get the R figure down.

With testing [on the return of schools] you can guarantee to people that they can be assured that those who have got this disease are not going to be passing it on. Where are the hundreds of thousands of tests? There’re clearly not here. The contact tracing is not yet working and therefore the strategy which was supposed to be to test, to trace and isolate cannot be working in full. And that was the basis of the Government’s decision to end the lock down and to end it gradually.

In Government you’ve got to make decisions on your priorities and then you’ve got to act of them quickly. Since March 12th when it was decided to give up testing in the communities there has been an absolute failure to recognise that if we are going to end the lock down there were certain things that we had got to have put in place. If you can’t say ‘get vaccinated’ you should be saying ‘get tested’ and you should make it possible for people to get tested.

Q. Do you fear for the Union [that’s the United kingdom] when you see different nations going their own way?

‘We were bound to have differences of approach to issue like schooling when you have different systems in schooling. What the real problem is is the lack of co-operation between the different parts of the Union and the lack of common purpose. The desire to be seen as separate for the sake of being separate is the problem and over time we have got to recognise that we’ll benefit and achieve more by working together than isolating yourself and making a virtue of being apart.’

All in this together?

As with the recovery from economic crash of 2008 (caused by the reckless gambling and rush for easy money by the financial institutions) so in the battle against covid-19, we are supposed to be all in this together, a common fight against a common enemy who knows no barriers such as wealth. The words were empty in 2008 and are as worthless in the present pandemic. There’s one law for the rich and one for the poor.

On the 17th May it was reported that the author Neil Gaiman travelled all the way from New Zealand to the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

A number of issues are raised here;

  • why was he allowed to leave New Zealand in the first place? The country is making a big issue about how well it has managed the pandemic locally, why don’t they help other countries enforce their travel restrictions?
  • why was he allowed to transit the United States?
  • why wasn’t he questioned when he arrived in London? There are so few travellers now surely just so they don’t get bored Border Officials must ask the reasons for people travelling to the country – especially as there has been so much fuss recently about why a quarantine is being talked about in the future but not in the past – don’t these immigration officials have any idea what is being discussed in the country?
  • why are the rich so arrogant that they think they can boast about their activities on Twitter – even when most of the people who would read such social media messages wouldn’t be able to do what he did – another rhetorical question, the rich do what they do because they can.
  • why do the police bother to interview him when they know they are not going to do anything anyway. And even if they do take ‘action’ what’s a £100 fine to the rich?
  • this coming Bank Holiday in Britain there will probably be thousands of people who will be breaking the rules. There will be big coverage of this in the media with politicians (and a number of ‘key workers’) making moral judgements about such ‘thoughtlessness’. But why should they abide by the rules when all you need to flaunt them is money. If the State was serious about ‘we’re all in this together’ they would make an example of the prick Gaiman – but that’s not going to happen.

Travel on public transport

‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer travel guidance for passengers’ is the heading of the official guidance published by the Tory Government on 12 May 2020.

This is like something out of the 1940s where those in power regularly talked down to the vast majority of the population. They might argue that its design, and wording, is in an age of hyperlinks but it just reads as if they are addressing small children where repetition of the same phrases is the only way to get people to learn.

It’s been estimated that to maintain social-distancing on public transport it would not be able to operate at more than 15% capacity, some argue even less. That’s not sustainable for any real length of time. For the last seven or eight weeks buses nationally have been running at a much lower capacity – but this is all being heavily subsidised by the Government. If the money can be found during the covid-19 pandemic why wasn’t it there in the past when the public transport system was being run down as it ‘wasn’t financially viable’? These Tory bastards have got a lot to answer for – as are the people who accepted their lies over the years.

On 13th May, the first day of the limited return to work, the ASLEF union complained, on behalf of their drivers on the London Underground, that there were too many passengers. I don’t really understand what they are thinking about. At some time in the future (next week, next month, next year – but by then there’ll be no London Underground) the transport system has to get back to some sort of normality.

Especially in London. There are, on a normal day, 4 million Tube journeys and 6 million bus journeys. If, soon, Transport for London is not able to get the numbers back to that sort of level you might as well abandon the capital. We have heard for years about the social cleansing when it comes to housing in London. The people who keep the capital working (those in mostly poorly paid jobs with awful conditions – night work or getting up a the crack of dawn) don’t live closer than many miles from the centre. They depend totally upon public transport and a fatuous suggestion to walk or go by bike shows a total lack of understanding of how major cities, especially London, function.

Also if you consider how much London (as do many other cities in Britain) depends upon tourism then you will need the transport system up and running, with full capacity, if there is any plan to get London back to anywhere near what it was pre-March 2020.

Neither is the idea of walk, cycle or use you own car really feasible in most of the country. After years of being encouraged to leave their cars at home people are now being encouraged to drive to work. Congestion, air and noise pollution will go through the roof.

So instead of complaining that their members are at risk the union has to do, what the rest of the country has to do, and that’s come up with ways to protect people if they are perceived to be at risk, so they can do their job. The virus will not go away. We can either close down until there’s an effective vaccine or live with it.

All indications, from the very beginning, is that the virus is particularly dangerous for a certain section of society (even though, from time to time others might also get a bad, and even lethal infection). But that happens with any virus, even the common cold or the flu.

Even the Department of Transport understands you can’t have a public transport system and maintain ‘social-distancing’. Public Transport without ‘social distancing’ is called a taxi or a chauffeur driven car.

After a couple of months of trying to instil fear in the population to get them to do what they want the Government has now got to come up with a strategy to get public transport back to running as it should do – together with the virus. It has to happen some time – and sooner rather than later – so why not now?

Following complaints from transport workers and other ‘key-worker commuters’ about ‘overcrowding’ on trains, on 14th May train companies stated there would be more trains in the week beginning the 18th. Why couldn’t the train companies been informed of the policy change in sufficient time for them to arrange for those ‘more trains’ to be available when there was an increase in the number of passengers?

By allowing people to travel, basically as far as they like in private vehicles, the Government is also effectively penalising the poorer section of the population – who don’t have a car and under normal circumstances would travel on public transport. In all the decisions that have been taken since the beginning of March it’s almost impossible to see any structure or strategy at all. Decisions are made but with no thought to their consequences. If Britain is ever to restore some some of normality – for the vast majority of the population – one of the issues that needs resolving is that of public transport and than would need a complete rethink of the concept of ‘social distancing’.

Vocabulary of ‘Opposition’ Parties in a Parliamentary Democracy

‘too soon’, ‘too late’, too much’, ‘too little’, ‘not enough’, ‘more honest’.

Companies abusing the furlough scheme

By 13th May 800 companies had been reported to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for fraudulently claiming on the furlough scheme whilst having people at work.

On Money Box, Radio 4, on both 2nd May and 16th May, there was a section of various ‘anomalies’ surrounding the so-called ‘furlough’ scheme where employers get 80% of their employees wages paid for by the State. But it hadn’t been in place for more than a couple of weeks before abuses of the system were raising their ugly heads;

  • ‘furloughed’ but still being expected to work from home
  • employers cutting peoples’ wages during the lock down
  • using the fear of isolation to get away with illegal practices
  • these matters all should remind us of the importance of unions, which too many people have consigned to history. The idea that ‘most people are only one wage packet away from destitution’ is as true today as when wages actually came in packets.

Ken Clarke (Tory, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer), Radio 4, World at One, 13th May, said that there would be cases of fraud and there would be some companies that wouldn’t have survived despite the pandemic, but who have taken money from the State in furlough schemes, business grants and loans, but that it was the maintenance of the good companies that was most important.

In the past the State would hound anyone unlawfully claiming state benefits and would spend huge amounts to get a conviction – but company cheats will get a way with murder.

Being open on the ‘scientific advice’

About three weeks ago Hancock said the Government would be open about the advice it was using to arrive at the decisions they want to impose on the population. However, when reminded of this on 13th May (during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons) his response was ‘in due course’.

This issue came to the fore, once again, on 19th May. At that date of the 110 papers that were part of scientific advice to the Government only 28 had been released.

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, on Radio 4, World at One, 19th May;

Q. Does the Government need to be more transparent when it comes to the evidence upon which it is basing its policy decsions?

‘This discussion has been going on for a long time and many people have been calling for greater transparency. Apart from security reasons advice should be as open as possible. Covid is not an intelligent opponent, it’s not going to find out things.’

Q. What needs to be released now that hasn’t been?

‘Much would have been done rather rapidly and it’s not fair to the researchers who have produced it to put it out in the public domain. SAGE does come up with a summary statement and it would be helpful if that were made available.’

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Care Homes

Nadra Ahmed, Chair National Care Association, in the preference given to the NHS over care homes when it came to PPE, 14th May;

‘PPE had been requisitioned for the NHS but when it came to us it was a sort of supply/demand market which was completely out of control with providers desperate for PPE so here we were suddenly left completely abandoned.’

There have been countless stories of care homes trying to buy PPE on the ‘open market’ and finding that to get even the basics they would have to pay 2, 3 or even 4 times the normal asking price. In any sort of crisis like a pandemic (or war or natural disaster which effects the whole country) the government should take matters in hand to control the price of the necessaries, whether it be food or, as in this case, protective equipment. To do otherwise just stuffs money into the pockets of spivs and gangsters.

The advice on care homes in the early days

Jennie Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, on what they thought was the threat to residents (and staff) at care homes in the early days of the outbreak in Britain, 13th May;

‘Throughout the outbreak, and it would have been the same for any other, we look at the background of the epidemiology, they would be monitoring background diseases and so that document [scientific advice to Government] will be looking at where we knew there was a background risk of transmission. I think that, at the time, there weren’t any sustained community transmissions though we clearly had cases around.’

But surely here, from the very beginning, before the first cases were being publicised in Britain, it was accepted worldwide that those over the age of 70 with ‘underlying medical conditions’ were those most at risk. That risk rose sharply the older the person was, not least because they would be more likely to develop these ‘underlying medical conditions’ and the biggest concentration of these old people, certainly in those wealthier countries where a care home structure existed, would have been in care homes. Added to that most care homes are probably both overcrowded (in the terms of the space per resident) and understaffed – another couple to add to the recipe of disaster.

The ‘Swedish Experiment’ – an evaluation

Lena Hallegren, Swedish Health Minister, Radio 4, World at One, 13th May;

Q. Do you have any sense of the level of immunity in Sweden due to the approach you have followed? Do you know how many people have been infected?

‘Not now. In a week or so we will have an opinion about that. We probably have some immunity but we’re not sure. No figures yet. We know more people were infected in Stockholm than in other parts of Sweden. We will have numbers of infected and immunity in a week or two.’

Q. In Sweden half of all deaths have been in care homes and 25% in their own homes. How do you protect those receiving care when those looking after them are mixing in the community without lock down?

‘We are trying to figure out the changes we need to do to protect the vulnerable in a better way. I think it’s a combination of many things. It’s a fact we have to be even better with our guidelines when it comes to basic hygiene rules …. but also looking at part time workers, which means a lot of people are coming into places where there are vulnerable people. … We also have to work out how to use the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and we can do more when it comes to testing people, both the residents and the staff in care homes. ….. It’s still a problem. ….. The main issue was in Stockholm. ….. I hope we are better prepared in other parts of the country but I cannot say for sure.’

Q. Even though you don’t have the same sort of lock down it looks like you’ll have the same sort of economic pain as elsewhere?

‘We didn’t make any kind of choice between a lock down for economic reasons or not. We decided we wanted to have a better combination of the legally binding ones [measures] and the voluntary ones but the ones we felt we could stick with all the time, because this virus won’t disappear from our society, unfortunately, so we have to have measures and restrictions to keep all the time.

We also have big suffrance [sic] in our economy, a higher unemployment rate, even if we’re trying to help business, companies, the stores to keep up. But that’s difficult.’

Q. Are you expecting that Sweden will gain higher levels of ‘herd immunity’ because of your approach?

‘We don’t have a goal of ‘herd immunity’ but, of course, we’re interested in knowing about immunity. To know how many people have been infected, how many have gained immunity, what does that mean for our society.

We’re trying to save our health care system from a big amount of patients at the same time, to flatten the curve. We think that has been quite successful, if I may use that word, as we still have 20 – 30% availability in intensive care units. The health care has been able to receive and to care for the infected patients.’

Not too good an interview and she didn’t argue Sweden’s case particularly well, I didn’t think. It’s strange that Sweden hasn’t been collecting infection and death numbers on a daily, rolling basis so don’t really understand why there’s a wait of ‘a week or two’ before they are available. I was surprised to hear that care homes were ‘forgotten’ about in Sweden – as they were in Britain – and that obviously accounts for the high percentage of deaths in them (50%). It’s also interesting that they followed the measure they did, specifically to protect the health care system (as was the lock down in the UK, supposedly) and not for economic reasons – as the country’s economy is also in a bad way.

The most important point in this short interview is the recognition, in Sweden, from the very beginning, that the virus would be around for a long time and any measures taken had to be seen in a longer perspective. Presumably this would also be the type of measures other countries, such as Britain, would have to follow to regain some sort of society so Sweden’s experience could be useful internationally. If the health system was broken by this approach it places more questions on the efficacy of the British approach and also a question mark on how to move forward in a meaningful manner.

Hallegren is a little bit vague when it comes to the situation in the care homes and ‘hopes’ matters will improve rather than providing confidence that it will. On 19th May the situation in the Swedish care homes was questioned – but I’m not absolutely sure that this situation was being discussed in an effort to undermine the more relaxed approach Sweden has so far taken in relation to the pandemic.

Reasons for change

Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, 11th May;

‘Really what we’re trying to do is to take very small steps which allow us to be sure that we’re not going to end up with an increase in transmissions again. We recognise that we’re going to have to do change for a long period of time and making things sustainable is extremely important.’

Why it’s safe to be outside

Lucy Yardley, Professor of Health Psychology, who sits on the scientific advisory body, SAGE, on 10th May;

‘There’s a study, for example, in China, of 7,000 people who’d been infected with coronavirus. Only 1 of those 7,000 people had been infected outside and that was during a conversation. We don’t know if they were socially-distancing but I suspect they probably weren’t. So that gives you an idea that the risk outdoors, if you remain socially-distanced, is very,very small indeed, which I think is behind the guidelines.’

Poorer workers more vulnerable – yet again

A report from the Office of National Statistics, issued on 10th May, found that;

  • men in low skilled, low paid jobs are twice as likely to die of covid-19 but there are many caveats over the information – a lot of important facts, such as social and health background, age, ethnicity, smoker/drinker, etc., not known in this study
  • perhaps too partial and thus resulted in knee jerk reactions

The General, Municipal Boilermakers Union (the GMB – should, perhaps, think of changing its name) declared the ‘figures horrifying’.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of ‘Unite the Union’, in response said, on 11th May, it was the poorer workers who were expected to return to work, and take the most risk;

‘It’s certainly an obvious division that blue collar workers, factory workers, mainly lower paid workers are being told to go back to work while those with a higher earning scale can stay safely at home.’

How many people have been infected in Britain?

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, astounded that people still don’t know how many people have likely to have been infected, on 10th May;

‘They’re hungry for details, for facts, and yet they get fed, what I call, number theatre – which seems to be co-ordinated really much more by the No. 10 communications team rather than genuinely trying to inform people about what’s going on. I just wish that the data, which has been brought together was presented by people who really knew its strength and limitations and could treat the audience with some respect.’

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