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

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

More on covid pandemic 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One comment from Downing Street;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Is there sufficient grip on it now?

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

Q. Sufficient?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transmission routes increase

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

University students and rebates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. How many have you dealt with already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing

A ‘world beating’ testing regime – not yet.

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

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

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

The ever elusive tracing app

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

Is there such a things as ‘herd immunity’?

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

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

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

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

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

What about a ‘second wave’?

Is a ‘second wave’ likely?

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

The issue of masks

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

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

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

The future NHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern day slavery and the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

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

Homeowners and renters – different treatment

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

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

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

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

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

The Swedish experience

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

Britain and the world in figures

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

They don’t get any better a week later.

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

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

Changes using covid as an excuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and to finish …

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

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

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