Increased restrictions in September – too few or too many?

More on covid pandemic 2020

Increased restrictions in September – too few or too many?

On 24th September new restrictions came into force in England (the other three ‘nations’ in the UK following similar but not exactly the same guidelines – only making the confused situation even more so.)

It’s difficult to understand which scientific advice the Buffoon is following. The ‘lock everything down and try to suppress the virus’ brigade, who seemed to have been in the ascendant up till now, don’t think he has gone far enough. The ‘let’s get used to having to live with the virus’ brigade, on the ‘back foot’ in recent times are happy that the restrictions aren’t as severe as they could have been.

Whatever side of the argument there is an expectation that infections will rise and with the return of Universities in England, happening as I write, that’s almost a certainty. One side will argue this is a reason for more restrictions, the other side will say that’s OK, let’s adapt and protect the most vulnerable in society as the majority of those infections will be among the younger, and more resilient portion of the population.

The problem is that as the Buffoon doesn’t have a strategy (or if he does he’s keeping it a State Secret) any future response will be more dependent on the competing forces rather than ‘following the science’.

For any lay person who wants to understand the situation we are hampered by the lack of complete and comprehensive data on these infection rate. We shouldn’t be too surprised at that. Local Councils who have been arguing for a more local based track and trace system have been complaining about lack of information for months now – and I don’t get the impression the situation even now is what they would like.

A big figure of infections will be thrown around but it doesn’t tell us much if the vast majority of those just stay at home and let the disease take its course – as they would with a mild case of the flu or a common cold. What is important to know is: the number of hospitalisations; the age and gender of those infected; where they work or study; their possible health vulnerabilities; and the number of deaths attributed to covid.

And a lot of what should determine the way forward is still not in place. Tests results take too long; some people are asked to travel so far it is impractical so they don’t test and are a potential threat to others; the track and trace system is a farce; communication of what should be done in the event of being told to self-isolate is poor and a support system for those who might live alone is still no where in place. Recent cases of infections in a couple of Scottish universities where students have been told to self-isolate come with support in terms of deliveries of food and other necessities. That’s ‘doable’ in the context of a student accommodation block – not so much countrywide.

One disturbing comment (almost throw away) that the Buffoon made on the 22nd September that should be closely monitored was his mention of the use of the Armed Forces to support the police in the monitoring and control of the population. Some dismissed this as just referring to ‘back room’ operations but if that was all it implies why was there a necessity to mention it as a raft of measures to police the restrictions on peoples’ movements and activity?

Although a Buffoon he’s too – or at least those behind him pulling the strings are – smart to mention something if it didn’t have meaning.

The lack of real response from the Labour Party also shouldn’t be a surprise. From the very beginning they’ve just followed behind what the Tories have proposed, any criticism being limited to the oft repeated phrase ‘too little, too late’. They criticise the Government for not having a strategy but I haven’t seen any sign of a strategy from them.

One issue that is also worrying, in the sense that there’s a move to make it more the norm than the exception, is the increased locations and times people will be obligated to wear a mask or face covering. This is an issue which is very likely to be considered a norm once this present pandemic has passed over (if it doesn’t kill us all in the process).

At one time the Government campaign against flu was the simple, uncomplicated request to take a responsible approach with the slogan ‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases – trap them in your handkerchief’. Simple and if not adopted by all was something that people were aware of and could act appropriately.

The obligation to wear a mask doesn’t take into account that people; don’t wash them regularly; don’t dispose of the one-use masks responsibly; re-use one-use masks multiple times; don’t wash their hands when they take them off – which is impossible once away from home as in public places all such wash room facilities have disappeared in the last 20 years; wear them around their necks when not on the face; build up the virus in the mask in between uses; touch their faces and masks before touching other hard surfaces where it could be spread to others; and generally don’t use them in a way that would possibly make the use effective.

But what do we know. The millionaire politicians and scientists know better than us.

How good is the science for the September 2020 restrictions?

The figure of 50,000 infections per days was mentioned to frighten people but how likely is it when we compare the UK situation to that which has already developed in France and Spain?

The two sides of the scientific argument – do we suppress or live with the virus?

For an understanding of the statistics the Radio 4 programme, More or Less, looked at the ‘doubling’ of infections on 23rd September, first on hospitalisations and deaths and secondly, the issue of ‘false positives’. (An interesting point in the section on hospitalisations and deaths was the fact that there are delays up to 28 days for the reporting of deaths. If these numbers are important during a pandemic – as they could have an impact upon policy decisions) shouldn’t the Government make it mandatory that these reports are sent as soon as possible?)

Living with the virus or attempting to defeat it?

This subject will probably take on more significance as time goes on and the attempts (perhaps) to suppress the virus don’t have much success. If one tactic proves to be failing then it is time to change direction. Some, including myself, think we are at that place now – the Buffoon, his Government and a sizeable section of the scientific community think not. Time will tell.

How do we live with the virus? We have to plan what to do when there are ‘circuit breaks’ or local lock downs/increased restrictions. David Nabarro, from the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave his view of what should happen in an interview on Radio 4’s World at One on 18th September.

Local ‘lock downs’ – what prompted that in the North east of England?

An item on Radio 4’s World at One on 17th September considered the background to the decision by the Buffoonette to declare the North East of England a special case.

What does ‘follow the science’ really mean?

Six months (at least in the UK) into the pandemic and divsions in the scientific community are becoming more polarised. On Monday 21st September, in expectation of something changing within days two ‘open letters’ were sent to the Chief Medical Officers of the four ‘nations’ of the United Kingdom.

One was written by Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford University, the University of Buckingham’s Professor Karol Sikora and Sam Williams, director of the consultancy firm Economic Insight – also being signed by a total of 31 prominent scientists in the field of epidemiology. This letter suggested a different strategy should be followed rather than just shutting the doors and hoping the virus would go away.

The other letter (from the Government’s toadies) can be read by following the link from an article in the online British Medical Journal.

Both these letters came to light on the same day as an ‘unprecedented’ press conference from No 10 Downing Street (the office of the British Prime Minister) by the two most senior scientists who have been ‘advising’ the Government since the very beginning.

In a country that constantly harps on about the media being ‘objective’ it was interesting to see, in two concrete circumstances, where impartiality was certainly lacking. That doesn’t surprise me, even less so bother me, it’s the crass hypocrisy that is most annoying.

The Radio 4 programme, the World at One, at 13.00 on Monday 21st September was almost totally devoted (it’s a 45 minute programme) to presenting the issue as presented by the Government’s scientific commentators earlier that day. But to show ‘impartiality’ the programme had an ‘interview’ with Karol Sikora (one of the authors of the anti-Government policy open letter mentioned above). He was asked 2 questions and the whole ‘interview’ lasted less that 2 minutes 20 seconds.

The British Medical Journal also followed the Government line by having a direct link from the article to a copy of the pro-Government open letter but only a link to a tweet for those arguing for a change in strategy. Here there was a difference in the emphasis that demonstrates the hypocrisy.

The messages from the Government

Some of the adverts produced by the Buffoon’s Government since the end of March are becoming incredibly annoying. The latest, ‘Hands – Face – Space’ doesn’t even get the most important message right, according to some scientists. It should be the other way around with social distancing being the most effective tactic for people to adopt.

Testing

How is the ‘world beating’ testing system operating in Britain during September – before an increase in restrictions. This is a constantly changing situation.

Government to prioritise NHS and care homes for testing.

Matt Hancock – we will ration tests.

Cases are rising rapidly and the UK’s testing infrastructure is straining at the seams.

Hancock says Covid testing crisis may last weeks.

Coronavirus testing chaos ‘puts children at back of queue‘.

Not only are potential vaccines being hovered up by the richer countries, the most simple tests (which would be most effective in countries with less access to laboratory facilities and with poor transport infrastructures) are also being taken selfishly for the ‘rich’.

Problem: private companies have been making a pig’s ear of the test and trace system. Solution: give more work to private companies. This time Amazon are in the frame.

Schools, colleges and universities re-start in September at the same time as many people would return to work following the summer holidays. This has been the situation for decades yet those at the head of the Test, track and trace programme didn’t foresee a huge upsurge in requests for tests. If you made it up it would have been considered fantastical.

Chaos, confusion and anger – welcome to a new Covid test centre.

The failures in the testing centres is starting to put pressure on hospital Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments.

More and more areas of the UK are undergoing their own local lock down caused by the higher than the average number of infections. However, even in these areas the test and trace regime is not up to the job.

But in all crises there are those who benefit – here it’s ‘consultants’.

The head of the Government’s test and trace system didn’t fare so well as an internet provider – she brings the same level of expertise to dealing with the pandemic.

Technology doesn’t always work – so beware putting too much faith in it.

Scientists hit back when accused by the head of the test and trace system, Dido Harding, that she wasn’t given adequate information about the surge in demand for tests in September.

The long-awaited NHS tracing app is due to be launched on 24th September – however (as is normally the case) there’s not a lot of information about some of the crucial aspects of this technology which will determine its success. On 23rd September there was an interview with Lilian Edwards (an expert of technology law) about the known – and unknown – details of this new app, on Radio 4’s World at One.

More or Less, on Radio 4, on 20th September, looked at the numbers on both covid testing capacity in laboratories and also whether the Buffoon’s ‘Operation Moonshot’ makes any statistical sense.

Vaccine

The rise in ‘vaccine nationalism’ continues despite warnings that more will die unless there is equal access to a vaccine globally.

Food Banks, food policy and a lack of a strategy

A recent report by the Trussell Trust (one of the biggest providers of food banks in the UK) demonstrates how the pandemic has made the situation worse for those already using them and is forcing others to go to food banks for the first time.

As with so many other issues surrounding poverty in the 6th richest nation on the planet the fact that so many people struggle to feed themselves with wholesome and healthy food has been highlighted due to the pandemic. Not because the pandemic itself has caused this poverty (although that is part of the problem) but in the present climate of openness and people talking about their problems the rest of the population is being forced to hear about, if not necessarily do anything to prevent, the matters that effect millions in the British population.

On 23rd September Radio 4’s You and Yours consumer programme had an interview with Professor Tim Laing who has long been arguing (and so far not successfully) for the need for a comprehensive and well thought out food strategy to ensure that food poverty is eliminated.

Universities and the student return

If the university experience for young people isn’t bad enough they are now being threatened with the end of their university careers with automatic suspensions if they break any of the ‘oft times not very well thought out’ regulations.

The anti-lock down movement

Protest songs against war, unemployment, climate emergency and now against the imposed lock down on people in the UK.

Care Homes

Life in care homes isn’t getting any better – even though they were the locations of the majority of deaths in the first six months of the pandemic. There are doubts whether they are fully prepared in the event of another general outbreak and some family visits are being curtailed by those providers who are ‘over cautious’.

You can’t change the culture that has developed in care homes in the last decade (poor wages, low staff levels, lack of training, no career path, minimum wage/zero hour contract agency working, etc.) overnight. Glib statements made by the Tories about improving the situation in care homes are merely empty words when confronted with the reality within British society. The current situation was outlined in a  section of Radio 4’s You and Yours programme on 17th September.

The ‘Nationalists’

The Scottish Nationalists don’t only want to determine what happens in the area ‘north of the border’ they also want to determine what happens in the rest of the UK. After spending the last six months constantly wanting to demonstrate their ‘independence’ from England (although they are quite happy to have matters decided for them in the European Union) and arguing that the border between Scotland and England means they can make their own decisions they now interfering in the affairs of another country.

Flu jabs

For some time now there has been talk about increasing the number of people who have been (for a number of years) considered vulnerable to the regular influenza outbreaks – those over 65, pregnant women and those with certain respiratory diseases – to include those over 50. However, if the talk is there it’s not entirely clear that the infrastructure exists to cope with the increased demand. Instead of expecting people to ask for the injection why weren’t they contacted so that the programme could be followed in an orderly and structured manner, ensuring that the most vulnerable were not left out. The situation that seems to be developing is similar to the panic buying that follows the announcement of any new restrictions on movement due to the pandemic.

Even the scientists are millionaires

The forelock-tuggers of Britain have been happy enough for the rich politicians to tell them what to do for the last six months, they must be over the moon now to know that even one of the scientists who are passing on advice to the government are also millionaires. And will be even more wealthy if the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) vaccine proves to be effective.

(One of the interesting developments in the last six months, since the pandemic started to close down British society, is that it’s what are considered the ‘right-wing’, pro-Tory, pro-wealth newspapers (such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph) are more likely to publish scoops about the abuses of wealth by the very politicians they used to support.)

‘Herd immunity’

Even though they (the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty) painted a ‘doomsday’ scenario in their presentation on the 21st September – softening up the public for whatever the Buffoon would announce in the next couple of days – it wasn’t enough to save them from being criticised for one time arguing for the ‘herd immunity’ approach in dealing with the virus.

Prospects for employment in the coming months

A recent report by the Resolution Foundation suggests that unemployment levels, in the coming months, will reach those in the 1980s (the ‘Golden Thatcherite Years’).

Poor Housing

Those living in badly maintained and decaying private rented accommodation will be at increased risk this coming winter due to the added threat of covid-19. The report, produced by the Centre for Ageing Better, has repercussions for others than the old, there being people of all ages who are already suffering from ailments caused by their living conditions.

Government strategy

What’s a strategy?

More on covid pandemic 2020

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

Masks becoming the new norm

Masks becoming the new norm

More on covid pandemic 2020

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

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

Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. They’ve heard nothing?

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

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

Q. That was promised some days ago.

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

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

What’s behind the new tracking and tracing apps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free school meal vouchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

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

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

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

European Union disunion

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

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

Constant leaking and speculation about what will be announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snippets

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

Supply of testing kits

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

Business

CEOs cutting salaries is mostly a ‘publicity stunt’.

Food Banks

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

International situation

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

Shopping during a pandemic

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

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

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

Where did the virus originate?

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

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

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

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

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

After public sympathy

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

Toxic leak at chemical plant in India

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

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

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

More on covid pandemic 2020

Food banks – the biggest growing business in Britain after charity shops

No more beans for the foodbanks!

Baked beans are still the main contribution to foodbanks

Foodbanks are becoming a feature of British society as the ‘austerity’ measure bite. The nation should prepare itself for a great deal more hot air as more and more people become dependent upon charity.

Earlier in the year, during and after my trip to Catalonia, I posted a couple of articles about how people in Spain and Catalonia were dealing with the austerity measures that were having such a dramatic impact upon an increasing number of people. What I wanted to stress there was the fact of people taking direct action. People weren’t just sitting back and suffering without a fight.

This included a number of raids on supermarkets (where activists would take basic foodstuffs without paying in order to highlight the desperate situation of many people) and that movement spread, during late August, to cover a number of areas of the country. I must admit that since returning to the UK I haven’t kept up to date with any subsequent developments but, at least, people are still angry as can be seen by the activity on the streets of the likes of Madrid and Barcelona.

At the same time there were statements being made by Spanish judges and rich politicians that what the poor and hungry should do is go, cap in hand, asking ‘Can I have a little more, Sir’, Oliver Twist wise. Just be servile and perhaps a few crumbs will fall from the rich man’s (and woman’s) table and survival might be possible.

This after years of so-called ‘prosperity’ when everything was possible, when deprivation was to be a thing of the past. But these false promises, based upon the spending of money that did not exist, did not take into account the periodic crises of capitalism that occur, have occurred and will occur, at (irregular but normally decade long) intervals for as long as capitalism exists. The ‘Third Way’ promised by Blair was nothing more than new wine in old bottles.

In my post about Reus I wrote about the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) distributing monies to the poor and then went on to discuss the issue of collection of food for distribution to the poor and needy. I was surprised to learn that this was happening in Spain, which is not, on the world scale of things, a poor country but even more surprised to learn that foodbanks were common in the US (and had been since 1967!) and becoming common in the UK.

A few days ago I read that a new foodbank is about to open in Warrington, just a few miles down the road. This prompted me to check if they existed in Liverpool and was ‘shocked’ to discover that they do, and are spreading. I was even more shocked to read the statement from one of the biggest ‘providers’ of these foodbanks:

“The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 250 foodbanks currently launched, our goal is for every town to have one.”

‘Our goal’, it seems, is to perpetuate poverty and charity, not do something about it so that people can live in dignity and security.

In the intervening days there have been more references to foodbanks, even being the topic of an edition of the Food Programme on Radio 4. Mostly run by churches, of all denominations, this seems to be a way that religion (‘the opium of the masses’) is trying to inveigle its way back into society after being effectively rejected and marginalised in recent times.

And there doesn’t seem to be an end of the demand for these charity outlets. Each year since the crash occurred in 2008 we have been told that next year will see improvements. Such statements have obviously been lies or (at best) wishful thinking. Now the UK government is saying that austerity is with us for – at least – another 5 years. And what happens on the streets of Britain? Nothing!

That nothing in the past has prompted the present coalition of Tories to attack even more aspects of the welfare state that was sold to the country in the immediate post-WWII period to ward off and potentially revolutionary activity on behalf of the working class. As the descendants of those who fought against fascism are prepared to do nothing then it should be no surprise that the ruling class continues its attacks. When ‘austerity’ eventually ends there will be nothing left but the dog eat dog, care nothing for anyone else, selfish society that was the dream of Thatcher and Blair. If anyone thinks that what we once had would return with the ‘good times’ they are deluding themselves.

What was gained in the past by struggle and which is being taken away due to acquiescence will not reappear without an even greater struggle in the future.

When even the departing Governor of the Bank of England has said, on a number of occasions, that he is surprised that the people of Britain have not taken to the streets in reaction to what has taken place in the last 4 or 5 years; when the trade unions in this country don’t make an effort to show a modicum of support for fellow workers in the rest of Europe when they take to the streets to express their anger at the wholesale robbery of a nation’s resources, through privatisation, and the removal of hard-won terms and conditions of employment; when the people of the UK revert to a situation more akin to that at the end of the 19th century with imperialist pretensions and support for foreign wars (already there is UK army involvement in Syria and it’s only a matter of time before something kicks off in Iran); when billions of pounds are being spent, and many more billions being committed, for more modern and sophisticated weapons to ensure that ‘we’ can kill more of ‘them’ with less and less risk to ‘our boys (and girls)’; when a nation effectively sticks its head in the sand and hopes that all the problems will just go quietly away then the people of this country better get a liking for baked beans.

For that will become their basic diet if they are forced to rely on charity. Despite all the years of campaigning about a balanced diet and the experience from the Miners Strike of 1984-5 it’s tins of baked beans that predominate in donations to foodbanks.

2019 Update

This post was first published in 2012. Then I said food banks were one of the biggest growth areas in the fifth most richest economies in the world. But in place of making efforts to see the elimination of such obscenities the people of Britain have been quite happy to see the need for such locations expand. A recent article about the number of people in Scotland who depend upon these centres (and the disinterest of government ministers) demonstrates that the growth in this area is becoming almost unstoppable. A civilised country would consider the existence of such places a disgrace – but too many of those who are unfortunate enough to live in Britain don’t seem to see that.

The food bank juggernaut continues to forge ahead

In Britain – at the end of 2019 – there are few days when food banks aren’t in the news for one reason or another. And we are sure to see that continue with the success of the Tories in the December election. Even some of the ‘patrons’ of food banks came out as Tory supporters so there’s little chance of them (the food banks not the ‘patrons’) disappearing in the near future.

As the governments of the last nine years and the government for the next five – unless British workers wake up to the disaster that is unfolding around them – have and will continue to create a situation where food banks are necessary then stories about them are likely to become even more bizarre.

Many new Tory MPs probably didn’t really think they would win and now that they have been pushed into the public eye revelations of how they have benefited from the policies of the past will start to come to light. One such is how a new Tory MP has been making money out of the food banks – which is quite clever if you think about it. Support a system that creates a need and then make a profit out of the structure created to alleviate the problem. It’s a win win, as they say.