From bad to worse – August 2020 in Pandemic Britain

More on covid pandemic 2020

From bad to worse – August 2020 in Pandemic Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What went wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Herd immunity’

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

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

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

How does the pandemic look in the UK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. So what is the answer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Buffoon really contrite?

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

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

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

The ‘eugenic’ virus

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

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

And being too tall can also increase your susceptibility.

Mandatory wearing of face coverings

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

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

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

Supermarket workers facing torrent of ‘mask rage’.

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

Q. What do you think is going on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. The Government hasn’t been clear enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio 4, You and Yours, 30th July;

Representative of ‘extra care’ home provider.

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

Spokesperson for MENCAP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housing and homelessness following covid-19

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

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

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

Easing of planning restrictions

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

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

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

Short comment, big propaganda.

Local Government Association, 2nd August;

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

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

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

Who will suffer from the fall out of the pandemic?

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

Medical collateral damage of covid-19

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

Immunity

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

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

The blame game

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

Going back to school

But not with a pint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rich not happy – another result for covid

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

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

Vietnam evacuation

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

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

The Swedish ‘Experiment’

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

Repatriation at the beginning of the lock down

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

Contact testing and tracing

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

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

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

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

But it’s still ‘jobs for the boys’.

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

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

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

Poverty in Britain

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

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

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

Tourism, quarantine and the consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What would your answer be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incompetence leads to more wealth in private hands

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the week

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

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

More on covid pandemic 2020

24th July – the day England went under (face) cover – perhaps

More on covid pandemic 2020

24th July – the day England went under (face) cover – perhaps

July 24th will go down in history as the day that face ‘coverings’ became mandatory in English shops and other indoor locations. 24th July will also go down in history as yet another day of confusion and wtf.

The lack of any strategy, the lack of any impression that the Buffoon and his Government has any understanding of the seriousness of the pandemic let alone a thought out way through and out of it has been a stark reality since the very beginning. Previous posts in the Journal of the Plague Year 2020 have been full of examples of their sheer stupidity and incompetence.

The introduction of mandatory face coverings in an increasing number of situations is yet another of those.

Some of the questions of why at all, whether they are effective and why now will be addressed below but one of the answers to the why question is – because others have done it.

And this seems to be one of the problems that has bedevilled the whole approach to the pandemic since the very beginning. The first appearance of large numbers of infections, and then an exceptional number of deaths, of an unknown virus occurred in Wuhan in China. The Chinese Government, equally caught unawares as virtually all the other governments in the world, decided that the way to deal with it was the seal off the city from the rest of the country and the world.

Not because it was the necessarily the best thing to do but because they couldn’t think of, and certainly hadn’t prepared for, dealing with such a pandemic in any other pro-active manner. That re-active approach was then copied as outbreaks of the disease spread to other parts of the globe.

If we move to on the the issue of masks (or face coverings as it is more normally referred to in Britain) there have been some who say that the wearing of masks has become such a norm in many Asian countries that the wearing of them during this pandemic has not been an issue in that part of the world as it has in some parts of the ‘west’.

But that ‘tradition’, if you like, of wearing masks once outside in the street wasn’t prompted by an esoteric desire to lower the spread of disease, it was done to prevent the inhalation of all the pollution that was being created by internal combustion engines and the filth thrown into the atmosphere by rapidly expanding industry with minimum emission controls – the latter especially in China.

So by wearing masks it meant that people didn’t get up off their knees and fight against the pollution that was probably killing them but just let it carry on – in the vain hope that their pathetic masks would save themselves. Instead of addressing the root causes of the problem they just tried to find a way to live with it.

The mandatory use of face ‘covering’ in shops in England

The Buffoon and his minions (under the orders of Dominic Cummins) have, since the very beginning been saying that they ‘are following the science’ – or not (see below). However, the problem is that it’s often very difficult for those not in the scientific community to read or get an idea of this ‘scientific advice’. Months ago even top scientists in the field of epidemiology and pandemics couldn’t get rapid access to the material upon which the Buffoon was basing his decisions. Getting that information at the time of the decision is of the utmost importance. Making it available days, weeks, months or even years into the future is not good enough.

If you go on the official government website today, on the page that addresses the mandatory use of face coverings, you will be able to read about so-called ‘guidance’ on wearing masks, how to make your own as well as how to get an exemption – but no link to the science which backs up and justifies their decision.

Now there have been some who have been pushing for the introduction of mandatory face coverings since the end of March (and they have been quoted in previous blog posts here) – but without citing the scientific evidence so support their assertions.

Here are a few statements about the issue the wearing of face coverings that have been made in the last ten days or so, to bring matters up to date.

Michael Gove, BBC 2, Andrew Marr Show, 12th July, on NOT making face coverings mandatory;

‘If necessary, if tough measures are required, as we have seen in Leicester in a very different situation, then tough measures will be taken. But, on the whole, my view is that it is always better to trust people’s common sense, to give then a clear sense of what is wise and I think individuals and businesses will respond well.’

Wendy Barclay, Head of Department of Infectious Disease and Chair in Influenza Virology at Imperial College London, 12th July;

‘We do think that the virus is breathed out in droplets. Whether or not these droplets are large or small it’s quite likely that a face mask will remove some of them from your breath.

If you are infected by the virus but perhaps not yet feeling ill you are at a point where you have the virus in your breath then you may be hazardous to other people.’

Rachel Reeves, Labour Party, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, 12th July;

‘[The wearing of masks] might encourage more people to go out and spend money if they see more people wearing face masks in shops.’

[The social democrats pushing for people to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to get the country back into the downward spiral of consumerism.]

Andrew Goodacre, CEO, British Independent Retailers Association, 12th July;

‘There’s no evidence the wearing of masks will increase footfall in shops. That’s the concern really. Without any evidence there’s a fear that it might become a barrier to shopping instead of an enhancement.’

Melinda Mills, Nuffield Professor and Director, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford, 12th July;

‘The Government just has not been clear. They’ve said there isn’t evidence. Businesses also need to know. In many countries you come into a shop, or an enclosed space, you put a mask on and it’s clear and everyone knows what to do. You just need some clarity and you need everyone to hold the same line and actually do what the rest of the world has already been doing for a few months.’

Buffoon, on visit to an ambulance station, 13th July (the days after another cabinet minister, Michael Gove (cited above), had something different);

‘We do think that masks do have a great deal of value. Obviously they are mandatory on public transport, on the Tube but also have value in confined spaces when you are coming into contact with people you don’t normally meet.

What’s interesting on the face covering issue over the last few months is the scientific evaluation of face coverings, that’s been growing. I do think in shops it’s very important to wear a face covering, in a confined space, when you want to protect other people, to receive protection in return.’

Lucy Powell, Labour Party, Shadow Minister for Business and Consumers, 13th July;

‘We [the Labour Party] have been arguing for face covering wearing in shops for the last few days’.

[But I’m not really aware of the Labour Party arguing for this in the recent past. The Buffoon-in waiting (Keir Starmer) and his minions no more clear on the issue than the Buffoon-in-place.]

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, USDAW, shopworkers union, Radio 4, World at One, 13th July;

Q. Do you want face covering in shops made mandatory?

‘Firstly, we recognise that face coverings can help limit the spread of the virus and we welcome anything else to keep customers and shop workers safe. The most important measure for us is to ensure the proper social distancing and hygiene and we need clarity from government. The mixed messaging and indecision is not helpful for shopworkers.

There must be clear and detailed guidance from the Government on this.’

Q. It should be compulsory for someone to come into a shop to use a face covering?

‘Yes, absolutely.’

Q. Who policies it?

‘There lies a problem. … We don’t want retail workers to have to police things. They’ve got enough to do, they’ve taken enough abuse and assaults during the pandemic. … It’s not for retail workers to put themselves at risk,’

The only ‘study’ I have come across is one that was published on 26th June 2020 by Melinda Mills, Nuffield Professor and Director, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford – there’s a short quote from her above.

Her ‘paper’ is entitled ‘Face masks and coverings for the general public: Behavioural knowledge, effectiveness of cloth coverings and public messaging’. You can read the full report here, or if you are lazy you can have a look at a highlighted (by me) version here. For those who are really lazy I include the one page summary and conclusions below:

‘Face masks and coverings for the general public: Behavioural knowledge, effectiveness of cloth coverings and public messaging’

Executive summary

Cloth face masks and coverings for the general public are effective in improving: i) source protection, i.e., reduced virus transmission from the wearer when they are of optimal material and construction and fitted correctly; and ii) wearer protection, i.e., reduced rate of infection of those who wear them.

Optimal cloth face coverings are made from specific material (e.g., high grade cotton), hybrid and multilayer constructions (e.g., silk-cotton) and need to be fitted correctly.

Many countries implemented a policy requiring the general public to wear face masks and coverings in all public places by mid-March 2020.

Countries with no previous history of wearing face masks and coverings amongst the general public rapidly adopted usage such as in Italy (83.4%), the United States (65.8%) and Spain (63.8%) by the end of April 2020.

A systematic review isolated key socio-behavioural factors to understanding public adherence to wearing face masks and coverings, namely:

  • public understanding of virus transmission, including efficacy of source versus wearer protection, diagnostic uncertainty and inability to self-diagnose.
  • risk perception, individuals’ underestimation of health risks and perception that protection is only relevant for vulnerable groups, or outside of their proximity.
  • previous national pandemic experience resulting in rapid response and socio-political systems, allowing for more or less coordinated action and public trust.
  • individual characteristics, such as younger people and men having a lower threat perception and compliance with interventions.
  • perceived barriers, lack of supply of surgical masks and perceived competition with medical resources, resource constraints to obtain coverings, comfort and fit.

Consistent and effective public messaging is vital with non-pharmaceutical interventions more effectively seen as part of ‘policy packages’ to acknowledge:

  • interventions as interrelated, to be reviewed in tandem with face masks and coverings related to hand hygiene, sanitizers and social distancing when maintaining the 2 metre or 1 metre+ distancing rule is not possible.
  • public communications must be clear, consistent and transparent with inconsistent, premature, alarmist information or that without a clear source raising scepticism and lowering compliance.

Conclusion

In England face masks and coverings for the general public in public places have not been mandated beyond public transport and hospitals. Wearing a face mask or covering in the UK has had very low uptake (~25%, late April 2020). The lack of clear recommendations for the general public and low uptake of wearing face masks and coverings may be attributed to: (i) over-reliance on an evidence-based medicine approach and assertion that evidence was weak due to few conclusive RCT (randomised controlled trial) results in community settings, discounting high quality non-RCT evidence. There have been no clinical trials of coughing into your elbow, social distancing and quarantine, yet these measures are seen as effective and have been widely adopted; (ii) inconsistent and changing advice from supranational organisations (WHO, ECDC) and other nations with variation in policy even within the UK; (iii) concern over the applicability of findings across multiple settings (health care versus general public, other pandemics and countries), yet many ‘lessons learned’ from previous pandemics, including public wearing of face masks and coverings, repeat themselves during COVID-19; and, (iv) mix of supply concerns of PPE shortages of surgical face masks with recommendations for face mask and covering wearing for general public.

Comments on the report.

The first point to make is that the phrase ‘pre-print non-peer reviewed’ (or variations on the wording) appear around 20 times in this ‘paper’. That means the data upon which it has been based has not been checked and evaluated by other scientists in the field. Now that doesn’t mean to say the conclusions are wrong (and there’s an interesting BBC Radio 4 programme, Inside Science, 23rd July, which looks at this matter – the first 18 minutes or so) but it is, therefore, more of an assertion than scientific ‘proof’.

It doesn’t mean that all papers that have been ‘peer-reviewed’ are the gospel but that is the present convention in scientific circles. I just want to emphasise that caveat when reference is made to this paper. Added to the fact that the Mills paper itself is ‘pre-print non-peer reviewed’ is the fact that she makes use of data from a number of other ‘pre-print non-peer reviewed’ papers.

Points that need to be taken into account from the ‘findings’ of the paper;

  • most of the studies were taken from studies on practices and experience of health professionals in medical facilities, who are knowledgeable of the risks, use best practice and have an almost unlimited access to such equipment (at least pre-pandemic)
  • no one knows how the results will look like when you have millions of non-professionals using face coverings during a pandemic
  • ‘ordinary’ people will almost invariably NOT follow best practice, i.e., they will reuse disposable masks, they will touch their face, they will not wear them in the way they are designed, they will not dispose of the mask in a ‘safe’ manner and then immediately wash their hands, etc.
  • many of the home-made versions, pushed by the Government, can be worse than useless
  • poorer families, who try and follow ‘best practice’ could spend £100, or more, a month in buying disposable masks, at a time when many of them are strapped for cash to pay food bills or rents
  • mass events that have taken place during the lock down, technically illegal but allowed to go ahead nonetheless, such as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations throughout the country, but especially in London, were face covering use was sporadic, haven’t led to noticeable ‘spikes’ in infection rates. Nor have there been from illegal raves that are happening virtually every weekend now
  • there’s no consideration of the negatives which prevented ‘the science’ from recommending mandatory use four months ago, i.e., the possibility of a massive accumulation of virus cells from someone asymptomatic who then, by not following ‘face covering protocols’, are then deposited on hard surfaces which others touch
  • another element of control, test the water to see how far you can go before people rebel
  • and, finally, why now? Why not months ago? The science hasn’t really changed so this is just another example of ‘doing something’ even though it’s not necesasarily effective.

Added to that, there being a certain amount of resistance to the compulsory use of masks there will inevitably be conflicts (customer-customer, customer-officious employee, counter-aggressive police). And if there are ‘spikes’ the Government can blame them upon those non-conformers to face coverings, create yet another division within society and say they have done their best and so anything problems in the future are not their fault.

Other comments on face coverings;

Persuasion could be more effective than an ‘unenforceable’ law.

Masks are pointless unless Britain learns to wear them properly.

Why men are less likely to wear masks.

What you need to know and what the experts say – non-Government site.

What’s the value of the ‘R’ number?

This one has dropped out of the news recently but will no doubt have its time in the limelight if/when there is ever a proper review into the Government handling of the pandemic. It’s still strange though. It’s treated as a viable indicator for the present whilst it is merely a notional number which can only be known in hindsight.

Track and Trace

England’s ‘world-beating’ track and trace system? Obviously the Buffoon is of the school of thought that if you repeat something enough times you will get people to believe you, however much the facts point in the opposite direction.

Dr Lisa McNally, Sandwell, West Midlands, Council Director of Public Health, Radio 4, World at One, 16th July;

‘Test and trace is one of the most important ways we have of separating the infected from the non-infected and breaking the chain of transmission. What we know from the test and trace data in my area is that four out of ten people, who test positive, are not being contacted or reached by the test and trace system.’

Q. You asked if you could help out in contacting these people. What happened then?

‘We have a team of public health practitioners and specialists who know how to do contact tracing. They also know their local area, we have a number of languages in our team, we could find people we think that Test and Trace can’t. We asked for contact details for the people who were tested positive recently, alternatively we asked for access to the data base that was used by the contact tracing system. But unfortunately we were told that we were not able to get that data or access at this time.’

Q. Do you know why that is?

‘I wasn’t given a reason, if I’m honest. My theory is maybe they were concerned about information and governance but, of course, we’re a statutory body in the Council, we’re used to dealing with confidential information every day. I cannot really imagine what the problem is but what I do know is that if we were given the contact details of the people tested we could do a good job of helping the test and trace system to find them and identify their contacts.’

Q. You say that because you have local knowledge that would give you an advantage?

‘Yes. My team are local people. They know how to get in touch with people, they know about the community groups that people go to, the places of worship – we have good relationships with those as well.

We also have in our team a number of people who speak ‘local’ languages. We have a large number of languages in our area and they speak those languages. That is a barrier we could also get through.

We’re not saying we could get 100% but I’m sure we could close that 40% gap to some degree.

We’ve got a lot of data, we can’t move around here for bar charts, graphs, but it’s the personal information we need to make sure as many people as possible are followed up for test and trace, for contact tracing, so we can warn people if they’ve been exposed.’

Q. The test and trace system we have has been described by the Buffoon as ‘world beating’. Do you think it is?

‘I can’t imagine that our test and trace system is ‘world beating’ at the moment unless the rest of the world have some pretty awful test and trace systems.

We cannot go ahead, we cannot continue with their large number of positive cases not being contacted and have their contacts identified.

As we come back out of lock down the only way we have to break the chain of transmission and separating those who are infected from those who aren’t is test and trace – and we need it to work properly.’

Q. Do you think that can only happen if local teams are involved in it?

‘We need to have one seamless system. A system that links a local team, with regional teams, with the national team. It’s not going to work if some of us, especially those of us at a local level, are blind-folded and not having the data shared with us.’

These thoughts were echoed by the Public Health Director for Blackburn with Darwen, Dominic Harrison, a few days later. His analysis had shown the national tracing service had reached only 44% of the 799 close contacts and called for testing and tracing to be carried out at a local rather than national level.

Proportion of close contacts being reached is below 80% in high infection areas.

Contact tracing only prevents infection if done within three days.

For more on the systemic failings in the the way the Buffoon and his Government have ignored the local Public Health structure in the fight against the pandemic this matter is very well covered in the BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health programme broadcast on 22nd July.

How effective are anti-body tests?

Testing for who has the virus is important (and a source of controversy when it comes to speed and numbers) but so is the testing to determine who might have had the virus, especially those who were asymptomatic.

The finger-prick tests were found to be 98.6% accurate.

Still more on the (in)famous app – if, when and privacy

Yet another of the stories that goes on and on – without, seemingly, an end in sight.

UK government admits Track and Trace scheme ‘breaks GDPR’.

But Ireland seems to be able to get it right.

PPE – Personal Protective Equipment

The consequences of the lack of proper planning for a pandemic, although PPE was being stored but then allowed to go past its sell-by date, is starting to come to light. When you depend on a ‘just in time’ delivery model you have to have a Plan B in the event things don’t go as you wish.

Immunity – is it possible?

This volley in the ping pong match has been going on since the end of March – and I’m still none the wiser. So some recent ‘thoughts’.

Immunity to Covid-19 can vanish in months, from the Independent.

Steep drops in patients’ antibody levels three months after infection, from the Guardian.

Levels of antibodies depleted by as much as 23-fold in the three-month period, from the Telegraph.

That should cover a fair proportion of the political spectrum in the UK.

Not forgetting ‘herd immunity’

Levels of herd immunity in UK may already be high enough to prevent second wave.

Scientists say many people may already be immune to Covid-19 without ever having caught it.

Has ‘herd immunity’ already come in to play?

A vaccine and Britain ‘goes it alone’

UK opts out of EU Covid-19 vaccine scheme.

David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation, Department of Health, Assistant Fellow, Chatham House, Radio 4, World at One, 11th July;

Q. Should the UK take part?

‘There are a few issues that surround this problem. The first is equity, is it equitable for a country to say we want to have vaccines first because we have paid for the R+D [Research and Development], we’ve capitalised the manufacturers and therefore we have first rights. That’s the position the US have taken. …

The second issue is, do you get a better contract if you go on your own or if you go as part of a consortium. And that, clearly, is the position the UK is thinking about. If you were [a very small country in Europe] you might think you’d be much better off if you joined in with [the bigger countries in Europe] in a consortium. … There was a lot of progress in setting up consortia after the 2009 flu pandemic.

But it isn’t really as straightforward as that because it depends hugely on the position the manufacturers take. If a manufacturer takes the position that says ‘for all high income countries we have a fixed price, irrespective of the number of doses that you want’, you might as well be in a consortium, it won’t make any difference. If they say it’s volume dependent you might do better in a consortium again. But if you want the flexibility then you’d do better going on your own

I’m not sure this is a hugely important issue. The issue of equity is, perhaps, one that is more important and that is how do we ensure that everyone gets access.

Q. You can understand a national government putting it’s own people first?

‘That’s the dilemma that clearly everybody has to try to deal with. If you say to your popualtion we’ve invested in the research, we have invested in the companies to produce the vaccine, by the way the population isn’t going to get it because we are allowing other people to have it before us. That’s not going to run well.

So I can understand why people are taking a position that says we have made investments therefore we have the right – but that doesn’t help the people who can’t afford the vaccine on whom the impact of covid might be even worse because they don’t have the health service resilience that industrialised countries have.’

Q. How do you get to that equity of poorer countries and poorer people?

‘One of the ways is that you have purchasing consortia for those countries that can’t afford vaccines and so GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) acts on behalf of the poorer countries to get access to new vaccines. That’s made a huge difference to world health. The other is you have clear pricing. This is a phenomenon we have been working with for many, many years. That is, exactly the same vaccine, the same product, is available at different prices in industrialised countries, middle income countries and low income countries. So the same vaccine is bought at a trivial part of the price of an industrialised country. That gives equity of access.’

Considering there’s no known vaccine against covid-19 the British government seems to be committing a lot of money in contracts with the huge pharmaceutical companies witrh a deal with two different companies for 90 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

Data – giving the wrong impression?

Hancock calls for urgent review into coronavirus death data in England, because it might reduce the numbers. Supposedly there were hundreds of cases of people being diagnosed with covid-19 but then getting run over by a car three months later – and still being counted as a covid fatality.

In reality you could probably count those ‘miscounted’ individuals on the fingers of a few hands. There wasn’t this ‘urgent review’ when thousands were dying in care homes where there was no one available to make a decision of whether the death was covid related or not on the death certificate.

And this ‘shock horror’ revelation allows the Government to no longer publish the statistics – because they may not be accurate. What a prick!

Is covid-19 a super virus?

This virus has only been with us for six months (or a year and a half if the reports of its existence in frozen sewage samples is finally confirmed) but it’s already gaining mythical ‘end of the world’ status.

Are mutations making covid-19 more infectious?

Perhaps it can survive in the air for more than an hour and is so …

… we’ll have to fight it in all new ways.

Although it might not be as clever as it thinks – by giving away vital information that allows the enemy to find a way around its defences.

The role of scientists and experts in the battle against the pandemic

My experience of higher education was that there were many people in the full time academic university community who were intelligent and, on paper, very highly qualified but when it came to life in general extremely naive if not plain stupid.

From the very beginning, with the first televised press conference that the Buffoon gave, accompanied by an ‘expert’, it was obvious they were there merely to be a future scapegoat. A number of them took turns, new ones came and went, some were even barred because they spoke out of turn but they only got their 15 minutes of fame so they could be made responsible for any blips, errors or downright crass mistakes. But once you stand there it’s too late to cry ‘unfair’.

But that didn’t stop Patrick Vallance, the Governments Chief Scientific Advisor from having a go.

A second wave?

The fear level has to be kept up – if not how can the State keep control of the people and get them to do the Government’s bidding?

Poverty in the UK

Poverty has always been a problem in Britain, one of the most prosperous countries in the world which had spent centuries raping the rest of the world of its resources, whether they be human or material.

Perhaps with the pandemic some of these contemporary facts of the results of capitalist exploitation and oppression are getting a wider hearing. That’s the case with child malnutrition. [A strange one this . When I tested this link pre-publishing I went to the Guardian page where this article first appeared but with a message that the information may not be accurate. I’ll leave the link here until I am able to confirm the what is happening.]

Covid in schools

This is another issue that’s gone into hibernation at the moment – as all schools in the United Kingdom are now officially on the long summer holiday. One of the consequences of creating a climate of fear to ‘encourage’ people to stay at home during the lock down (although the rich, influential and powerful could do what they liked with impunity) is the reluctance of some parents to send their children back to school.

This was despite the statistical fact that they were more likely to suffer injury and death by crossing the road to school than by catching the virus itself. To the best of my knowledge only three children have died in England as a result of covid-19, hundreds die in road accidents in normal, non-pandemic times. Yet still parents live in fear.

A German study has found no evidence coronavirus spreads in schools – but will parents accept that?

Planning for a pandemic

Anyone who has been sentient in the last six months won’t be surprised at this one.

UK’s pandemic planning an ‘astonishing failure’.

The Independent’s view of ‘a competent government does not run a country on the hoof, and it will not steer us through this global health and economic crisis that way’.

Inquiry into management of pandemic

But we don’t need to worry that no one will be held accountable.

The Buffoon promises future independent inquiry – but giving no indication of when and when he makes reference to any future inquiry he always adds that people aren’t really concerned with that now, they’re more concerned about what’s going to happen next.

So all the so-called ‘experts’ had better watch out.

Under the cover of covid

In any crisis the State especially (but also other organisations within society be they large or small, public or private, social or charitable) will use the cause of that crisis as justification for making changes which they had wanted to make for a long time and now can hide behind the smokescreen of, in this case, the covid-19 pandemic.

Increasingly we are hearing of companies bringing changes ‘forward’ by a year or two. In a time when we are supposed to be ‘all in this together’ the profit motive always will out.

So not surprising, what is surprising is that when it comes to Centrica, the company that owns British Gas and who want to change conditions of service, the unions are actually saying something about it. Let’s hope their words turn into action.

Death rates in England

Hospital mortality rate varies from 12.5% to 80% in different trusts around country.

The pandemic and the rest of the world

A ‘hidden education emergency’ is facing the world’s children where almost 10 million of them will probably never return to school following the pandemic – and yet parents in the UK are so scared they are thinking of preventing their children from returning in the autumn.

Reverting to a typical primitive tribalism the British Government showed its concern for the poorest in the world by cutting the international aid budget. This gets somewhat complicated as I don’t accept what is called ‘international aid’ as really helping the poorest in the southern hemisphere, more a way of an old colonial power maintaining an elelment of control. However, in the way they sell themselves the capitalist countries which now, unfortunately, includes the People’s Republic of China, always try to convince us they are ‘doing good’ for others.

For me it’s not the actual cutting of the amount that’s important, it’s the hypocrisy.

Housing

Whilst thousands of renters are struggling to pay their rents and fearing eviction when the Government brake is taken off at the end of August investors are having a field day with the reduction in stamp duty. The Tories always look after their own yet they keep on getting voted in by the very people they think are of no significance.

A kinder and fairer Britain after covid-19?

So suggests a recent poll. Don’t quite see that – unless people make it so. The result of the General Election in December 2019 certainly didn’t feel like a caring society. Sounds as likely as the lion lying down with the lamb.

Confusion surrounds the return to work on August 1st

No doubt, following past performance, the guidelines for the next major return to work will be released on the evening of the 31st July.

A ‘Cultural wasteland’?

The ‘Cultural Sector’ – which covers a myriad of organisations throughout the country – is really on the brink of collapse at the moment. For months now, since the lock down, various representatives from theatres and arts organisations have been arguing the financial card. They thought that if they mentioned pounds sterling in the same phrase as billions it would make the Government perk up as the arts are a major money earner as part of the tourist industry.

What they failed to understand is that a) they are dealing with a bunch of cultural morons and b) these morons have proved themselves totally incapable and inept in protecting the capitalist system in any other way than through shovelling untold quantities of billions of pounds of public money into the bank accounts of the richest in the land/world. Just as they did in 2008.

Twelve years ago international capitalism realised that they could weather any storm, any disaster which they themselves had created, by dipping into the public purse. Someone, down the line will pay. Having been robbed once you would have thought the ‘people’ were a bit more savvy now but that’s not the case. Now the ‘people’, workers, unions, the petite bourgeoisie, small and big businesses are just putting out their hands like Oliver and asking ‘can I have some more’. Those with the biggest hands smack the minnows out of the way and get their bowls filled to overflowing.

So a great deal of the cultural institutions, and those who work in it, are going to be thrown by the wayside. The ‘crown jewels’ will be saved – as that is all the the rich and powerful are concerned about. Not for the performances that are put on but for the ability to pay the exorbitant prices and to be seen – it was ever thus with the rich.

Perhaps the ‘prima donas’ from the cultural world should have a rethink. Instead of seeking fame and fortune (which the overwhelming majority are dreaming about) they should work to build a completely new structure which sees the majority of the population as their preferred audience and do so at a wage that is commensurate to that of other workers.

Apart from anything else that would avoid a situation where a few live a life of luxury on the backs of the many who are living from hand to mouth.

Use of the Armed Forces in the battle against covid-19 – why so little?

This is an article about those areas of England that are most at risk of a covid resurgence, according to the experts. That’s interesting in its own way but the main reason for including it here is the mention it makes of the use of the armed forces to back up the civilian superstructure.

Why haven’t the military been used more in the ‘battle’ against this pandemic? With my ‘conspiracy theory’ hat on I would think the Government is keeping them in reserve in the event of people getting too frustrated at the idiocy of the Buffoon and the ineptness of his Government and system to deal effectively with the crisis.

It’s much more difficult to use military force against a civilian population if they had been spending the previous three or four months tending to their needs and meeting them on a daily basis.

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