How many days from a second national lock down – if only a ‘circuit breaker’?

More on covid pandemic 2020

How many days from a second national lock down – if only a ‘circuit breaker’?

It’s now just under seven months since measures were taken in the United Kingdom in an effort to control the covid-19 pandemic – the ‘first lock down’. From the beginning it was obvious the British Government didn’t have a strategy in how they were going to deal with this (not totally unexpected) catastrophic event. Now approaching winter there still isn’t one.

Restrictions that are due to come into force in the next couple of days in Scotland will almost certainly be emulated – although possibly in a watered down manner – in the rest of the four ‘nations’ that make up the UK.

The problem with these new restrictions is that once they are imposed how do you then relax them or remove then all together? The logic of the case made by some scientists and some politicians (although there is starting to be an element of criticism of the actual tactics from both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ in Britain) is that such restrictions will have to remain in place until a vaccine (if an effective one is ever produced) can curb the worse excesses of the disease.

Numbers of infections fluctuate – sometimes understandably (as with the return of schools, colleges and universities) sometimes for no apparent reason. Statistics of infections, hospitalisations and deaths are used to justify particular actions and it is only some time after the change in policies that they can be analysed and the ‘truth’ of the situation fully understood.

The economy is in free fall and even though this is a characteristic of capitalism this one is different in that the capitalist representatives in government (not only in the UK but throughout most of the world) are actually causing the crisis by their sheer inability to come up with imaginative and effective solutions to the problem because they lack any strategy at all.

At present in Britain the so-called ‘hospitality sector’ (pubs, restaurants, hotels and leisure activities) is in the sights of those about to pull the trigger. Whether it will have any effect is debatable but as has been the case since the very beginning, it gives the impression (no more) that the Government is ‘doing something’.

To continue to follow the same sort of policies that were used in epidemics and pandemics centuries ago has patently shown itself not ‘fit for purpose’ in the 21st century world. Those who oppose the lock down tactic (it’s a misuse of the word to call it a strategy) merely hope and pray, with all fingers crossed, that the virus will just get fed up killing people and go away.

Those who call for a more proactive approach to both save lives and reduce the huge, still hidden, impact of closing down a modern society at least have a strategy.

Preparedness for the pandemic

I’m sure that, for years, we in the UK were told that the country had made preparations in the event of a global pandemic. The buying and storing of Personal Protective Equipment was, presumably part of that. However, I have been unable to come across anything that indicates there was a strategy to deal with such an event.

Everything that has happened in Britain since news of the outbreak in China first became common knowledge has been a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the situation as it was perceived at the time or the political pressures under which the Government might have been – always hiding behind ‘the scientific evidence’.

However, nothing approaching anything that could be classified as a strategy – or if it does exist I haven’t been able to find any proof of it.

Last year, the Global Health Security Index (from the World Economic Forum) considered the United Kingdom second in the world for pandemic readiness, in first place was the United States. Events since the beginning of the year have proven the saying that the first shall be last.

What went wrong. It has been argued that in Britain it was because the Buffoon sabotaged the system.

However, another report (from April this year) stated that the British Government KNEW it wasn’t prepared for a pandemic – even before covid-19 outbreak. Briefings recommended preventative measures – but these were, seemingly, just ignored.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Most countries in the world have followed the ‘easiest’ way to deal with the pandemic by closing society down and hoping it will all go away – basically putting their heads in the sand. China was probably the guilty one here. They had no imagination and locked society down as they had no imagination (or preparation and/or strategy) to deal with such a pandemic – and then the rest of the world (equally lacking in preparation, imagination or strategy) did likewise (that is, apart from Sweden).

However, from the start there have been many who have argued for a different approach and as knowledge of who covid-19 effects the most their voices have gotten louder. Let the majority of the population get on with their lives (with certain minor changes to habits), protect the most vulnerable in society and deal with covid-19 as the world has been dealing with such diseases for centuries.

On 7th October a group arguing for this approach published what is strangely called ‘The Great Barrington Declaration’. It was signed by a thousands of people from the scientific community as well as members of the general public. You can add your name by going here.

One of the signatories, Sunetra Gupta, explained their thinking on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on the 7th October.

The ‘so-called’ Swedish Experiment

‘So-called’ because the majority of the establishment, both political and scientific (and their toadies in the media) who are the ostriches which are dominant in the argument at the moment, try to denigrate anything which differs from their orthodoxy. Although slanted to the present method adopted by the Buffoon in the UK a BBC Radio 4 programme, The Briefing Room, on the 24th September, had a look at what had happened and was happening in Sweden.

Infections in England

A look at the statistics towards the end of September asks if there is a North-South divide in England when it came to infections.

One of the problems of local lock downs is that there is no strategy established how to get out of the situation of increased restrictions. Added to that infections tend to increase rather than fall. This has been put down to the continuing confusion that reigns throughout the nation.

Fragility of the NHS

NHS staff took more than 500,000 sick days due to mental health issues in May – and the situation would probably get worse as time goes on as the pressures of dealing with the pandemic increase.

Covid impact on NHS capacity in England to last ‘several years’.

Breast cancer missed for thousands of women because of covid related screening delays. Up to a million might have missed out on scans.

There are doubts of the resilience of the NHS in the coming winter, some predicting a ‘triple whammy’.

Covid could cause a ‘tsunami of cancelled NHS operations’.

Women’s health is bearing the brunt of the covid pandemic.

Patients face being sent to back of NHS queue as waiting lists reviewed.

Lies damn lies and statistics

Statistics tell us a lot – and then they don’t. Most people have probably encountered statistics in the last seven months in a way they have never before in their lives. That’s a good thing as they can help us to understand what is happening – but the problem with statistics is that they can be (and often are) manipulated for various causes.

A ‘reassessment’ of figures from the early part of the year (the study upon which the Buffoon used to justify his ‘500,000 dead’ speech) is now suggesting that going down the ‘herd immunity’ route – as opposed to the total local down that was followed – could have been the way to save lives. (N.B. This is from an article in the Daily Telegraph which is starting to bang this particular drum quite noisily at the moment.)

The difficulties caused by the ‘asymptomatic’ character of covid-19 has been highlighted in a study which looked at how infections were manifested between April and June of this year.

Coronavirus Act

The act brought in to ‘deal with the pandemic’ contains quite draconian powers. This was pointed out when the act came in on 25th March. It has to be ‘reviewed’ every six months (as was the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973). The Irish related law first had a proper discussion in the early days but eventually just went through on the nod. It will be interesting to follow the fate of this latest law – once laws are introduced governments are very reluctant to see them abolished, especially when it gives them carte blanche to impose local restrictions under whatever pretext.

On the 29th September the extension was backed by 330 for to 24 against and was discussed for 85 minutes. It will be an indicator of the way British society is heading if the debate is shorter in six months time.

Postmortem of how the ‘first wave’ was handled

Did the NHS 111 Covid helpline fail hundreds of families?

Anyone want an unused ventilator? The Government acquired 14 times more ventilators than were needed for the pandemic. However the National Audit Office considers it was best to be safe than sorry. After all, in the present spending spree £569 million is nothing – and we should never miss an opportunity to pass fortunes from the public purse to the private sector. A little bit of pre-planning and preparation for such a pandemic might have mitigated this mad rush to buy what is now looking like useless hardware.

Vulnerabilities to the virus

Some people might have been born with less resistance to the covid-19 virus.

Vulnerabilities to the covid infection are a mixture of nature and nurture. A new one to be added to the nature list is our connection to our very earliest ancestors. If your ancestors had intimate contact with Neanderthals, and thus share genes, then this also makes you more vulnerable. However, it’s not certain what that means as a report released at the beginning of this year came to the conclusion that all modern humans have Neanderthal genes

As knowledge of the virus increases it has been reported that loss of smell may be clearer sign than a cough.

Scientists study whether immune response wards off or worsens covid.

Testing

A new global test will give results ‘in minutes’. However, as pointed out in the last post, it’s the richer countries that are hoovering up all these cheap and quick test kits – and for themselves and not the poorer countries of the world.

Airport testing to be launched within weeks. This test would cost £150 but would, in theory, cut quarantine time in half. So still slightly self selecting in that many people will be excluded due to the cost.

16,000 coronavirus cases missed in daily figures after IT error. This was blamed on Microsoft (for not making Excel accept more than a million lines), Public Health England (this from Matt Hancock who put the responsibility for the failure on the ‘legacy system’) or Uncle Tom Cobley and All. In fact anyone but the Buffoon and his Government.

NHS tests threatened by Roche supply chain failing. This is a crazy one. Why is such a major capitalist enterprise totally unable to get the logistics right when making a location change? Supposedly the move was in preparation for the UK leaving the European Union. Why didn’t they foresee the problems? Was it all due to cost cutting – which is often the case for such failings? And why did they carry out the transition in such a cavalier manner in the middle of a pandemic when their testing equipment was vital to the process of dealing with covid-19? They’re making a fortune out of the suffering of the British people but they are still incapable of providing an efficient service. And, no doubt, they will suffer no sanction for their incompetence.

First there was going to be testing at airports – then there wasn’t. If, when is still in doubt. Welcome to the land of the ‘world beating’ testing regime. Why does anyone even want to come to the UK?

A Tory’s ‘re-writing of history’

Jeremy Hunt, at one time in Matt Hancock’s position as Health Minister, sought to re-write history when discussing the failings in the testing regime on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on the 5th October.

Some points from this cretin’s few minutes on the radio;

the argument for localism was put from the beginning – but there was the issue of lack of finance

he tries to give the impression he is speaking in reaction to the recent failure (16,000 tests not being recorded and no contact tracing of their contacts) when it was the Government who went for the centralised system from the start

the 100,000 tests per day was just a publicity stunt brought out when criticism of the Buffoon was getting more intense

it was never stated that dealing with large numbers of tests needed large centralised laboratories

a centralised system meant that public money could be shovelled into the bulging bank accounts of private companies – going local would mean giving money to local authorities

there has not just been one ‘glitch’ – the system has been a disaster from the start

going local now will allow the Buffoon and his lackeys to blame others if things go wrong in the future

from the beginning (if they had anything approximating to a strategy) the Government should have identified all the places with capabilities for testing and should then have told them what to do, requisitioning their spaces and personnel if necessary, at no cost to the public purse, as private companies have been given billions of pounds of public money already

criticism of the present failings is not ‘the benefit of hindsight’

he just reiterates the arguments that local tracing is more efficient – but these arguments were not accepted by the Government months ago

The Buffoon’s policies of the past – and the future?

The 10pm curfew for pubs came under a lot of scrutiny as there didn’t seem to be any scientific proof for it (other than other countries had done it so it must be right) and was full of contradictions.

Asking over-65s to shield is ‘age-based apartheid’.

Leak reveals possible harsher three-tier England covid plan.

NHS Track and Trace app

How does the NHS app work? A short introduction from Radio 4’s World at One on the day of the launch of the app in England and Wales, 24th September.

Difficulties started to show themselves the day after the app was launched.

Problems also arose on Day 3 – with users unable to share the results of any tests via the app.

NHS tracing app problem that left tens of thousands of tests unlogged – but it was supposed to have been fixed quite quickly.

‘I spoke to one person in four months‘.

Police told not to download NHS covid-19 app

Covid fatalities

At the end of September it was estimated that about one million people have died in the last ten months due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Now that’s a lot of people – but this has to be placed in context.

Let’s have a look at some of the other causes of death worldwide.

Water and sanitation

829,000 – 2016

Tuberculosis

Over a million every year. It’s the world’s deadliest infectious disease.

AIDS

Estimated 770,000 in 2018. This figure has gone down substantially since the peak in 2004.

Hunger and hunger-related diseases

Around 9 million every year. NINE MILLION! In a world where in some countries obesity is becoming one of the most serious problems and the amount of food waste is almost unimaginable.

Malaria

About 435,000 in 2017.

Influenza

Around 646,000 people each year.

Hepatitis C

Around 400,000 each year.

Most of all these above statistics relate to those who are the poorest in the world. Note that these cases of ‘common’ diseases of the poor are every year. They have been dying in the past, the present and there’s no indication that these numbers will reduce significantly in the future – not with all the effort being placed on developing a vaccine for the rich – whether that be relative or absolute.

If covid-19 had stayed where it should have, i.e., in the East and the southern hemisphere, there’s no shadow of a doubt that all the resources that have been devoted to finding a vaccine would not have been brought into play.

Although the number of cases in the UK has been growing it is still far from the dire consequences predicted a couple of weeks ago. Even with an increased number of cases the growth is actually slowing down – apart from blips that occur when the testing system breaks down.

One law for us and one law for them

It was only for a few days but all the bars in the so-called ‘Mother of Parliaments’ didn’t have the same restrictions placed on them as all such places in the rest of the country. In itself it’s only a small issue but it’s a clear indication (even though these ‘us and them’ have been regular occurrences in the last six months) that the rich and ‘powerful’ don’t think that they should be included in any restrictions imposed on the majority of the population.

And even the Buffoon’s father can’t be convinced to ‘play the game’.

Return of University students

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that cases of infections would increase once students went or returned to university. Student accommodation is probably where you find the highest concentration of people in such a small space anywhere in the UK – apart from gangsters who run slave operations. In some ways this may not necessarily be a bad thing and here this blog doesn’t disagree with the Buffoon’s Government on this matter.

Although testing positive the symptoms in the vast majority of cases are minor – if not non-existent. And an element of ‘herd immunity’ in a University context may not be a negative consequence.

However, PC Plod doesn’t accept the anger of students being locked into their halls of residence after they were told that going to university would be ‘safe’.

Paranoid – or are they actually watching you?

Monitoring of workplace computers has existed for many years. Now, using the pandemic as an excuse, companies are extending this to those who work at home.

Flu vaccine

Elderly facing winter flu vaccine shortage. This is unbelievable and just demonstrates, yet again, the lack of strategy and general ‘joined-up thinking’ of the Buffoon and his Government. Ever since the drop in infections in August there was talk about how a serious flu outbreak this coming winter would exacerbate the covid pandemic. Instead of planning for this, organising the vaccine procedure and getting on top of things from the beginning the neo-liberal fundamentalists just left it to the ‘market’ to decide priorities.

Care Homes

After the high percentage of deaths in the ‘first wave’ occurring in the care home environment you would have expected there to have been major efforts to ensure this is not repeated in any potential ‘second wave’ or even natural increase in infections due to the arrival of winter. But this is Britain and that’s not the case. Instead of creating a steel wall around these most vulnerable they are being left at risk due to the poor testing regimes still in place.

A report by Amnesty International states that the treatment of residents and staff in care homes over the last six months has been a ‘violation of human rights’. However this criminal neglect of the most vulnerable doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.

Elderly care at home

BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours looked at how this situation was still fraught with problems on the 29th September.

And a strategy?

The word is being used more now – but there’s no substance behind it.

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain at the time of ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ – a strategy of sorts

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain at the time of Our Plan to Rebuild – a strategy of sorts

I wouldn’t go to the extent of calling it a strategy, but things have changed slightly with the policy of restoring some aspects of life in Britain to the time before the start of the pandemic – what we are having to call the ‘new normal’, which has an indeterminate end.

This was introduced to the British people by means of a muddled and confused television broadcast by the Buffoon on Sunday evening 10th May (although with speculation about what he would say going on for the best part of a week before) and then a ‘detailed’ document – Our Plan to Rebuild – made public on the afternoon of the 11th May. (I’ve linked to an annotated version, where I’ve highlighted things which struck me as I read it. Might make quicker reading for those who don’t want to go through the 51 printed pages.)

Testing

As always pole position in these posts. Unfortunately not good news for the Buffoon and his government.

On 4th May, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, admitted that;

‘If we had had 100,000 test capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively, I’m sure many things could be different.’

Hindsight’s a wonderful thing – everyone can be correct after the event. However, another pandemic, because of the way society is organised at present, is more than likely in the not too distant future. That means the lessons from the present, covid-19 pandemic have to be learnt by those who have the ability to influence matters. From what we’ve learnt about preparations for a potential pandemic (prior to the covid-19 outbreak), where we were told was all in hand and that the country was well prepared for whatever any pandemic would throw at us, we will have to monitor, very closely, what happens after covid-19 is a bad memory.

On 7th May it was reported that Coronavirus testing restricted across London after chemical shortages – this at the same time as the Buffoon ‘promised’ the number of tests by the end of May would be 200,000 per day (still a remarkably small number to that which is really required to ensure efficient and meaningful contact tracing).

A week ago an article reported the UK Government was in talks with the huge pharmaceutical company Roche over the provision of an antibody test – this is the test that tries to see if someone has had the virus (whether with symptoms or asymptomatic) and whether they are, therefore, possibly immune. There’s been some controversy over the reliability of these tests but that won’t stop 1) Roche selling such tests and making millions, or 2) this Government buying such tests which don’t do what it says on the tin – ref. PPE from Turkey last month.

Test-track-trace

Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, President of the Association of Directors of Public Health (UK), Radio 4, World at One, commenting on the UK’s test-track and trace strategy, 7th May;

Q. What role can local health authorities play in the programme of contract tracing?

‘I think, as we have found in the last few months, local public health teams and indeed local councils and the voluntary sector have played a huge role in actually addressing or tackling covid on the ground in local places. And what we’re trying to do, and say to national now, is ‘you need to listen to the experiences of how things work on the ground’. We know we all have a lot of work to do on the ground in making contact tracing accepted and the best that it can be at stopping the disease.’

Q. Can you explain why its important this is done at a local level?

‘Somebody has got a phone and they have been asked to go home and self-isolate, what we need to know is does that person live by themselves, do they have access to food or medication? Then what if that person is a teacher or parent or a pupil and the school wants to know and understand what to do next. So who can explain and advise the school? What if its a business owner? They might need support. So from the phone call we say ‘please go and stay at home.’ There’s a lot of work that needs to go into making accepted the programme that people stay at home and self-isolate.’

Q. What sort of numbers are we talking about?

‘18,000 is what they are talking about nationally. Councils have got teams of people already working, as I said, in supporting local communities that are coping with covid. This is now the next phase of that. We will be using all our local teams working on this.

What we would say is that a lot of this does need resourcing. Local Government, local Public Health are working at full capacity and we need to ensure that we’ve got the funding and resources available to make that be the most efficient programme that we can locally so we really get a grip on the disease.’

Q. Resources you don’t have at the moment?

‘We have experienced a lot of cuts over the last few years and that has meant fewer people on the ground so we are working from a lower base. We know the Government’s made money available for local government to respond to covid but we would say it still falls short of what’s required. Some of the contact tracing needs to be real show leather on the ground. Getting out, finding people who might not have access to a phone or might be in a certain circumstance where they don’t engage with a national service at all. We need to be out there ensuring that we find those people, that we support them to self-isolate and that does take resources so that’s something we would ask for. As you design a national programme, that absolutely needs to be delivered locally, as well, and in an integrated way. We need locally to have those resources to make it happen.’

What is highlighted here is that the cuts the Tories have made in the last 12 years or so, all as part of austerity (to mitigate the disaster the very system they represent had caused in the first place) has resulted in the country being unable to confront the pandemic. This is in all services that have been stretched in the last couple of months due to these cuts in finance, the NHS, local government as well as the education sector which will face problems in the future to get things back working.

There have also been criticisms of the way the contact tracing is planned to be implemented – some of which are based on the Government trying to follow this policy ‘on the cheap’ (10th May).

NHSX app – and the pilot on the Isle of Wight

Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, London, criticising the, what he considered, failings of the NHSX app which is presently being piloted on the Isle of Wight and which is planned to be rolled out across the UK later in the month. The Government has refused to work with his team on a symptom app which has been collecting information from, now, more than three million people since March. On 10th May he said;

‘The virus effects people in many different way, we have about 15 different symptoms, all of which can be associated with having a positive virus swab test. So the idea that we reduce this really complex, mysterious, virus just to two little symptoms and rely all of our strategies on that is going to miss about half the cases really makes no sense in the current environment.’

On 6th May there were other doubts about the NHSX app when some ‘experts’ were suggesting it was vulnerable to ‘malicious false alerts’, although to be fair this has also been said about the Apple/Google app which is being used in many countries.

Another aspect of depending upon technology to do the work in the UK is the fact not everyone updates their Smartphones at the same way they change their underpants – as is the case in a number of the more prosperous countries in Asia. That means the app won’t work in a Smartphone a few years old, mainly as they don’t have Bluetooth – as mentioned in a previous post.

A little bit of the technical aspects of the pilot – and also a schematic of how it will work. It includes reference to the source code in an effort to ally fears of those who don’t trust the authorities when it comes to surveillance.

There was also bad news for the app when it came to security. Anonymous sources revealed the app had initially failed all of the tests required in order to be included in the NHS app library, including cyber security, performance and clinical safety.

To add to confusion from Government’ statements on Sunday and subsequently an article on one of the IT websites reported that NHSX was even developing a second app – which is without the privacy and security issues mentioned above. If so it makes you wonder what will come next.

Experts – and when (or if) they will arrive at a consensus

Since the beginning of the lock down we have been constantly told the Government is ‘following scientific advice’ – the problem is there’s no real consensus when it comes to that advice. There are many examples of this and although in the situation of an unknown virus it shouldn’t be a surprise theories differ, in fact that’s the way science advances.

However, there must come a time when a general consensus is arrived at for the world to go forward – we have it with the climate emergency why not in how to deal with a pandemic? Confusing scientific advice on top of confusing political advice is a recipe for disaster. There are a number of examples of varying points of view in the last five weeks but one that stands out is the wearing of face masks/some sort of covering over the nose and mouth.

Although some ‘experts’ were fighting their corner over this at the beginning of March there does seem to have been a move. It is now accepted the wearing of masks won’t, in any meaningful way, protect the wearer, however if someone is unknowingly infected the wearing of a mask may (and it is considered only a may and not really a significant, measurable effect) prevent that person from passing the infection on to another.

However, the way it has been dealt with is that mask wearing is becoming more common but by the fearful – as they think they might be protected if they wear one – and not by those who understand it might possibly prevent the spread from themselves. Hence not, in the main, based on scientific evidence but because the scientists couldn’t get their act together early on.

We then have the crazy situations of high profile scientists going against their own advice. The recent case of Neil Ferguson having a visitor to his home which breaks the lock down guidelines is one thing, his excuse/reason is another. He stated that as he had already contracted the infection, and survived, he had an element of immunity and so it was OK for him to do what he did. However, that’s the very argument used by other scientists who disagreed with the lock down in the first place. They were arguing for testing and selective isolation and letting the rest of the population carry on as normal so that, over a period of time, a certain amount of ‘herd immunity’ would be build up in the population.

Views on the ‘next stage’ and how to go forward

As the Buffoon turned the transition from the lock down to ‘a still not entirely clear’ move to the ‘next stage’ many have been expressing their views on how this should be done – and also expressing their fears if certain issues were not addressed sufficiently well.

(Here I’m including a couple of interviews from commentators who were talking about this a month ago – so readers can consider if a) those ideas were correct and b) if any good points have been taken on board by the Government.)

David Nabarro, World Health Organisation (WHO) Special Envoy for Covid-19, speaking on the Radio 4 programme ‘Today’, 13th April;

‘This virus isn’t going to go away and we don’t know if the people who have had the virus stay immune afterwards and will not get it again. And we don’t know when we’ll have a vaccine. … So what we’re sating is get society defended. Yes, we’ll have to wear masks, yes, we’ll have to do more physical distancing, yes, we must protect the vulnerable but most importantly we all learn how to interrupt transmission. It’s a revolution!’

Professor Susan Michie, Behavioural Science adviser, speaking on Radio 4, World at One, 14th April;

‘There’s a lot of new behaviours that people will have to learn to adopt and that’s going to require different types of things. In addition to that it’s living with uncertainty and carrying on for a long time, many many months, if not years into the future. And I think there is something new that people won’t accept. I think people had thought this was going to be a few weeks, or may be months of difficulty, then we’ll be able to get a test and then we’ll know we’re immune and then we can go back to our normal business.

What’s become very clear is that that won’t be the case and so its absolutely imperative that if we are to keep the number of deaths down that people really do learn very simple steps that are very difficult to adopt behaviours.

Not touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Washing your hands when you come in from buildings, before eating and preparing food. And these things take time to build into habit. But we need to make them habit just as cleaning our teeth is now habit.

…. People touch their face 20 plus times an hour without being aware of it.

… The government needs to be very clear, very precise and very evidence based and really explain to people why these measures, that are effortful, that may be restricting what we want to do and why are these necessary? So we need specific clear advice but also explantation if the government is going to carry on taking the people with them.

… There’s been so much uncertainty about the nature of the virus, the nature of the transmission, the nature of the type of tests we need. All of these issues are still being studied and new knowledge is coming up every week.

So we’re in a very uncertain situation. But in that uncertain situation there’s a real need to be clear and evidenced based as we can in terms of what we’re expecting who to do what. And there has been confusion, we still carry on receiving confusing messages. For example, the whole issue about non-essential work. There seems to be a lot of people who are having to do non-essential work and working in unsafe working conditions when that doesn’t seem to be policy.’

One idea that doesn’t seem to be have been included in the ‘Our plan to rebuild’ is one from Edinburgh, 6th May, which suggested a lock down exit plan which allowed for restrictions to be eased for 60% of population. Aspects might be in the next stage but what are missing are the two words ‘segmenting and shielding’, which is a concept I hadn’t seen described as such before.

Carl Heneghan, Director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, on Radio 4, World at One, 7th May;

Q. You’ve always been sceptical of the need for the whole economy to be shut down. Is the Government being too cautious?

‘There comes a time in what we’re calling the [economic] depression in the lock down and people need to remember that austerity is a major threat to people’s livelihoods but also a major threat to health. Post 2010 120,000 excess deaths occurred because of austerity. What we now need to do is move to a situation where we can feel confident about moving back to what we call ‘mitigation’. And ‘mitigation’ is what is happening in Sweden and you do that in a staged way.

There are three concepts that are really important.

The first is the concept of health security, the ability of our nation to secure proficient, affordable and consistent health care supply for our requirements, a resilience to cope and then we use the evidence and data to drive a regional approach to this because it’s a very different outbreak to places like the south west compared to London, and if we do that well and we remain confident, we can use the evidence to understand what’s happening.

This virus will be with us for a few more months, into July, and then we will have pockets of outbreaks but in this stage, if we manage that well, we test, track and isolate, we can be confident we can overcome this infection and get to a point where we can rebuild the economy.’

Q. We keep hearing the Government is focussed on R rate. Are you suggesting there should be a different approach in different parts of the country?

‘R is a very interesting concept, generally the R number will be calculated after the event when people come back and say we understand what has happened. With this infection we are clear there are people spreader events, its very difficult to manage in confined spaces like nursing homes, in hospitals. What we should be doing is using the data that can reassure us.

For instance, since the peak admissions have come down by 72%, deaths are also halving every two weeks. So I would focus on the evidence at hand, use the data from admissions and ambulance calls, and check 111 calls. And if they start to go up when you open schools you understand the impact of what you’re doing, in terms of the evidence that matters.’

Q. Would opening schools be one of the first things you should do?

‘With a staged approach next week I would get some of the businesses going, I would monitor the evidence, then I would start to roll out primary schools, bring them back in a staged manner. Now I’m only talking about what our neighbours are doing, do it in a staged way and you use the evidence to understand the response of what you are doing. For example, if you opened up the Tube and it started to get overcrowded and what we saw was a spike in admissions, a spike in concentration, you would understand clearly that was a threat you’d need to reduce.

So what I’m saying is use the evidence to drive response and not use models to try and think about what you might think is going to happen in the future. Evidence shows we need to manage it.’

Q. One of the ‘Five Tests’ was whether the NHS will be overwhelmed. Would it be so in a ‘second wave’?

‘What I think needs to happen is a resilience to cope. The NHS now has to think about structure and strategy. Our neighbour Germany has more beds so they did not have to do what we had to do which was to build Nightingale Hospitals. The second concept is that we need to go back to the concept of ‘fever hospitals’, where we understood that to manage infection you had to have personal protection equipment there all the time. So I say we need more hospitals built in the community, more beds and some of them to be repurposed as infection hospitals … If we do that we can train for an infection outbreak and when they come we can have added facilities so we don’t have to shut down all of the NHS – which we’ve done this time, which has a potential to cause collateral damage to other conditions.’

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the Usher Institute in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh and presently one of the Government’s scientific advisors, 10th May;

‘There should be a change of approach. We can’t stay at home forever, with the current R number as it is, the rate of the decline of the virus. If we’re trying to get down to positions where there are literally only hundreds of new cases a day in the UK we are going to be in lock down for months. So something has got to change both to our approach in controlling the virus but also in the messages that goes with that.’

Francis O’Grady, General Secretary Trade Union Congress (TUC), on ensuring employers should be legally responsible for providing a safe working environment for workers returning after lock down, on 10th May;

‘At the moment we’re in the strange situation where people can’t socialise particularly with their extended families, without risking a big fine. Yet what goes on behind workplace doors, according to the Government, is a matter for individual employers discretion.’

The Swedish compared to the British experience

Since the coronavirus started to take hold in Britain I was sure the ‘run and hide’ approach proposed by the incompetents in control of the country surely couldn’t have been the best way to approach a pandemic. We were, in effect, doing nothing other than what the population did during the Black Death of 1348 or the Great Plague of London in 1665. Hadn’t our increase in medical knowledge and out immense technology taught us anything in those intervening hundreds of years?

Whilst not wishing to undermine the problems involved nor the threat this most simple of organisms poses to human life it will not be defeated if all we do is let it run its course without attempting to tackle it face on. If not outbreaks will be causing disruption and chaos for years.

Military phraseology has been used constantly since the first cases and deaths were reported in the UK, ‘we are at war’, ‘front line’, ‘collateral damage’ (an odious term that’s unfortunately become part of the language now), etc. But to use other military analogies the British response is similar to the disastrous retreat of Dunkirk in 1940 – which was then turned into an amazing victory. What followed Dunkirk was four years where there was no significant British army presence in Europe and the brunt of the fighting against the Hitlerite forces was taken on by the Soviet Union and the Red Army. In a similar way the British response to covid-19 is one of waiting, hoping, praying, some one, some where will come up with a solution to the problem.

Doctor John Lee, retired Professor of Pathology and former NHS Consultant Pathologist, Radio 4, World at One, 12th May;

Q. What’s the most important thing we should bear in mind about the R number?

‘The trouble with what’s happened is we are in such an extraordinary situation that governments are looking for a sort of secure way out. I think they fastened on to the R number as an idea of certainty to allow us to map a road out of this.

The trouble with the R number is that it is a modelling output, it’s not a number we actually know what it is. It’s based on a lot of variables which are constantly changing, things like; how infectious the disease is; how the population behaves; what the immunity is doing and even, possibly, how nasty the virus is. It’s nastiness might have been changing during the epidemic and obviously lots of people are starting to get asymptomatic infections and we don’t know who they are, we don’t measure them, its all going to make a difference to the R number.

The thing we have to understand is that epidemiological modelling is even more like weather forecasting rather than laboratory science and the lock down, changes in behaviour that we’ve had, social distancing, we have to ask ourselves, ‘would we be willing to undergo this sort of change in our lives on the basis of a long range weather forecast based on poor data?’ That’s essentially what we’re doing with epidemiological modelling with the R number.’

Q. Is every country measuring R in the same way?

‘I don’t know to be honest. I would imagine it’s similar because epidemiology is a subject and people draw to each other amongst that subject. Whether the data is the same, whether measurements and the testing is the same, whether the population measures are the same, clearly there are differences between countries. What is quite striking to me is the fact the R number is very similar in lots of countries and you have to ask the question whether anything could have been done which made a big difference to it. Everybody’s assuming the lock down has been changing the curve and that social distancing has been changing the curve but actually, when you compare different countries, the curves aren’t that significantly different.

This is a respiratory virus that probably spreads on the wind and in the air. We’re sharing air spaces in shops and in work and all this and it’s not clear, to me, that those drastic actions that we’ve been having have really been making such an enormous difference to the curves which might have been slightly similar anyway.’

Q. You think the lock down has been pointless?

‘Well, I wouldn’t say pointless because this is a new virus and so what we were going to have was a big spike of cases and that is what we have seen. The lock down has, possibly, flattened that spike a bit and it has allowed us to build up extra capacity in the NHS but the point is, when we look back on this in 3, 4 or 5 years time, it’s not clear that the actions would have made any difference to the actual total number of people who have died due to the virus because it’s now out there, it is going to spread in the population so what we’re doing at the moment is prolonging an economic misery and damage to health, direct damage to health, because of the lock down.’ (Interruption.)

Q. Don’t we have the evidence of other countries who acted more quickly having lower death rates?

‘The thing is this is a new epidemic so some countries seem to have been able, by very rapidly acting on the very severe model of disease containment, to have contained the disease. But, of course, unless they keep themselves isolated for ever the virus is going to spread again. It seems to me surely what we should be doing, and I think the Swedish model is a better model, what we should be doing is to find a sustainable way to live with this virus rather than go into a panic mode of shutting everything down and then we have to persuade ourselves sooner or later that the sky is not falling and come back out again in which case the virus will start to spread again, that we have to live with it.

I think we’re in much better position to live with it now than we were before because we do have extra capacity in the NHS, we do understand more about the virus, we have got better supportive treatment.’

Sweden and Denmark took wildly different approaches to handling the coronavirus pandemic – but so far, it hasn’t made much difference.

Johan Giesecke, who helped shape Sweden’s approach to coronavirus, says lock down does not protect vulnerable in care homes. The important aspect here is the care homes. In Britain it was known from the very beginning that it was in care homes where the vast majority of the very much most vulnerable would be found.

But what did the Government do in Britain; basically ignored those vulnerable people; denied the care workers Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); was slow in doing anything when both the deaths in care homes started to rise and there were countless calls from those working in the sector that decisive action was needed, yesterday; never accepted that cuts in this sector over years had made the vulnerable even more so; and continued to play to the gallery in its so-called policy of containment. And it took the Government weeks to even start to count people dying in care homes (or in their own homes).

What all the above has meant is as of 13th May, almost half of all the deaths attributed to covid-19 have now occurred outside hospitals; the daily death rate is now greater in care homes than hospitals; and it’s almost certain that before this first wave is over (let alone any subsequent ‘waves’) more people would have died due to the virus either in care homes or in their own homes. And that doesn’t take into account any ‘collateral’ deaths – when people have died due to lack of access to normal NHS facilities and treatment.

Greater surveillance worldwide on the back of covid-19

Some time ago, can’t find the exact reference, there was suggestion in South Korea that those who might be ordered to stay at home, if they were identified as being a risk through the electronic contact tracing, and had been ordered to self-isolate, would have to wear an electronic wristband – connected to their Smartphone to ensure they didn’t break the quarantine.

Coronavirus lock down causing ‘creeping’ expansion of intrusive surveillance tactics. It’s in times of crisis capitalist governments use the fear and chaos, which is normally a backdrop to the event, to introduce laws and ‘temporary’ measures to help them deal with the situation. However, there has been a tendency for these laws to remain (if only in the background – consider the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, which was renewed, almost as a formality every six months for fifteen years) and the temporary becomes permanent. And then it’s too late.

In the article of The Independent, 26th April, Clare Collier, the advocacy director of the human rights group, Liberty, said;

‘We will make it through this crisis but we must do so with our rights intact. … The police have been handed sweeping powers in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and the expansion of intrusive surveillance is troubling. …. Overzealous policing will undermine public trust in the authorities, which is vital for protecting public health. Meanwhile, the normalisation of surveillance and the concerning techniques we have seen in recent weeks could have impacts which last far beyond this pandemic.’

Snippets of news – which I haven’t had the chance to put here before

As before some of these bits might be slightly out of date, but they are all part of the story of how this pandemic raged through Britain – not least due to the incompetence of the Buffoon and his cohort.

I reported on this a few weeks ago, shows the sort of society in which we live the charlatan is still getting away with it – Camberwell church continuing to sell fake Covid-19 cure.

Being at home all the time causes all kinds of problems, some which have existed long before the arrival of the virus but also some that have been exacerbated by the forced lock down. Domestic abuse cases have already been recorded as increasing in number in the last five weeks and the Government threw a few crumbs to the problem. Almost immediately declared too little and too late.

Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Campaign, said, way back on 11th April;

‘a lot more money needed for support services throughout the country.’

Airlines are always in the news, either begging for bail outs or not abiding by their legal requirements when it comes to refunds. As with many issues they are flagged in the media before they actually become policy, so was the case with the 14-day quarantine for air passengers’ arriving at UK airports. (A policy which I think is somewhat strange, even though it is happening in other countries in Europe, and is, as are many policy decisions, a refusal to face the problem and look for solutions.) This is also mentioned in the Our plan to rebuild document.

Also in the most recent document is the new covid-19 alert system.

A few points about the lack of planning by the Government when it came to providing the necessary equipment to the NHS and care homes as well as the drugs necessary to keep people alive in Intensive Care.

a) ventilators

b) reusing PPE

c) intensive care drug shortage

d) changes in guidance in using PPE

Public support universal basic income, job guarantee and rent controls to respond to coronavirus pandemic, poll finds. Many say things will be different after the virus is brought under some sort of control – however the situation of the majority of the population could get worse or better. If it is left to the politicians and the establishment to decide it will be the former.

A BBC Panorama investigation broadcast on Monday, 27th April, revealed key items of PPE were not included in the government’s pandemic stockpile when it was established in 2009. According to the BBC, the government subsequently ignored warnings from its expert pandemic committee recommending the purchase of missing stock. The investigation also revealed millions of medical face masks are currently unaccounted for. The 2009 stockpile list included 33m masks, but only 12m have been handed out.

There’s an ongoing debate on how the virus is spread. Most people, myself included, from what we’ve been told so far, believe the virus is spread in the air, small droplets from an infected person then entering the system of another near by – the whole social-distancing theory revolved around this form of transmission. However studies have proposed transmission might be through virus aerosols.

What will happen to the climate emergency when covid-19 is history? Many of us would like the matter to be addressed seriously and there are already calls for that. However, that will be an uphill struggle. The economy will be in a mess (and unless things changed radically) the ‘recovery’ will follow the same pattern as it had in the past, i.e., looser regulation ‘to get things moving’; less control of those regulations that do exist; lack of money to invest in projects which might not give a quick return; less money so people use older materials, as in cars and other less environmental equipment; unless a solution is found soon – a growing dependence upon private transport as public transport is discouraged and will get even worse than it was pre-March 2020; and the issue falling from the headlines.

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