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

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

More on covid pandemic 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two metres or one – or something in between

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Only one and a half?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children going back to school – or not

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

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

Q. Will you open fully in September?

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

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

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

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

Q. What should head teachers do for September?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Have the teaching unions always been on side?

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

Q. What is the social distancing within schools?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England;

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

The contact tracing app saga continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. So what should the UK be doing now?

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Is that being talked about in Germany?

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

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

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

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

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

Free school meals during summer holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did the virus first appear?

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

The privatisation of contact tracing

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

Covid and gender inequality

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

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

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

The story of lack of preparedness of PPE

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

Lack of resources cost thousands of lives

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

Spend, spend, spend

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

How’s the Buffoon doing within his own Party?

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

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

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

How many have died of the virus worldwide?

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

Quote of the week

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

Grant Shaps, Transport Minister on 16th June.

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

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