July 4th – ‘Independence Day’ or Armageddon

More on covid pandemic 2020

July 4th – ‘Independence Day’ or Armageddon

With less than 24 hours to go before ‘The Great Relaxation’ how prepared is England to face the ‘new normal’?

‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.

How will people act in the relaxation of the lock down?

Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology Health Behaviour Research Centre Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, Radio 4, World at One, 23rd June;

Q. What is your understanding of how the public will react to the easing of the lock down on 4th July?

‘We’ll see a mixed response. There are people who, definitely, are nervous and rightly so, and not just because they are nervous people but also because they’re in a vulnerable group … and there will be others who will take the opportunity [to live a more normal life].

One thing that is really important to understand is that if the Government does decide … to reduce the social distancing level from two to one metres essentially what they are announcing is the end of social distancing. It’s not just the question of whether people have a choice, to decide whether they are going to go to the cinema, what this means is that employers will be able to, in effect, require people to come to work even if they don’t necessarily feel safe. There will be compulsion here and that’s something that needs to be taken into account.’

Q. Rightly nervous because they won’t be able to stay at home?

‘The reality is we still have something in the region of 3,500 new infections a day, which down the track is going to lead to 25 deaths a day at the current level, which is low, or we are considering it low, but without a test/track/isolate support system … there will be outbreaks and we’ll probably be quite slow to detect those outbreaks and act on them.’

People are essentially being put in a situation where they are having to manage risk without adequate information. For some people that will be fine, for others it won’t be.’

Q. You think the Government’s moving too quickly on this?

‘I think they are. I know it’s really hard news for people who want to open up businesses and so on but the reality is that without an adequate test/track/isolate system in place we are putting people at risk. Not to put too fine a point on it across the country lives will be lost. That’s a political decision and I understand why the Government makes that but they have to be clear about, transparent about, their reasoning. We haven’t seen the SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] advice, what they’re saying about this so that people can weigh it up and make their own decisions.’

Q. Isn’t it always going to be a balance of risk?

‘There will always be a balance of risk but we’re used to that in society. We still have more than 1,000 road traffic deaths a year, we have several thousand people a year dying of smoking. This is something that we’re used to but what we really need in a situation like this is good information on what the level of risk is and what is being done to absolutely minimise that risk and that’s what’s lacking at the moment.’

Q. Would you like to see the SAGE advice published as soon as possible?

‘Yes, I, and independent SAGE, and many other people, have been calling for this, for much greater transparency, not least because it’s not just for our edification but also because we need to be able to trust the decisions that the Government is making and if they say they are making this decision on a balance of risk versus benefits let’s see the evidence on what the risk and benefit is.

…. One of the problems is that some of us have felt that the kind of behavioural advice that we’ve been giving, it may be getting as far as SAGE but the Government hasn’t always been acting upon it. This is an example of that.’

Q. Professor Peter Piot has said that he would prefer to be a metre from someone wearing a mask that two metres from someone without. Is that part of the piece missing here?

‘That’s one relatively small part of it, to be honest. What he’s absolutely right in saying is that you have to look at the whole risk situation. For example, outside, when you’re passing people on the street or in a park, the risk is really minimal because you’ve got a lot of ventilation, the concentration of virus you will be exposed to is very low even if you’re right next to someone for a short period of time.

But if you’re in an enclosed space, with a lot of people with not necessarily good ventilation, then you’re risk is greater. So it’s a combination of time spent in a risky environment, how many people there are, how close they are and, potentially, face masks, if they are worn properly – which mostly they are not [my emphasis].’

Leicester locked down before it was unlocked

We are constantly being told that the Government ‘is following the science’. But when it comes to dealing with the covid pandemic there’s more than one ‘science’ – it’s just a matter of following those views which agree with the policies the Government wants to follow.

Much of what has developed in the last 100days/14 weeks/4 months has been very much a knee jerk reaction to events. The Government has tried to gauge what will get it the most support from the general population – their eye always being on the popularity polls.

But it has to be said that the Buffoon and his cronies have been spectacularly inept in dealing with the first major crisis since the General Election of last December. Witness the increasing number of U-turns in policy and the cries of despair and disbelief which inevitably follow in the wake of any of their decisions, witness the imposition of the 14 day quarantine for anyone entering the country and whatever ideas they might have of getting schooling back in some form or other, to mentuion just two.

That reaction also followed the re-imposition of restrictions and the postponing of the greater relaxation on the lock down in Leicester on 30th June.

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics (Infectious Diseases), Kings College London, Radio 4, World at One, 30th June;

‘It’s crucially important to follow the data, in part to try and find a reason why we might be seeing an increase in cases in a certain area. For instance, it might be that there is a virus outbreak in a school or following a specific event, in that circumstance all of those individuals could be traced and asked to self-isolate at home. It then avoids the need to do a lock down of an entire region.

But if you have a situation where the case number is increasing and you can’t pinpoint an exact reason behind that, or there may be many reasons, or you can’t trace everyone who might be involved then you have to start considering implementing more stringent lock down measures.

That doesn’t necessarily mean introducing a full lock down but it might be, for instance, closing schools again if the increase is all seen in children of all ages or it might be not opening restaurants and bars because you’re concerned about the direction the trend is going in.’

Q. Where else should we be looking at the numbers to see how to get on top of this?

‘Everywhere should be looking at the numbers the entire time and monitoring the situation. But looking at the data that was in The Telegraph this morning [isn’t it strange that scientific commentators have to use a newspaper to get up to date information and not finding it from an official, Government source?] I would suggest that Doncaster would be the most concerning at the moment simply because the numbers have tripled from last week to this. The case number is relatively low anyway so a tripling isn’t that big a jump but obviously what we’re looking at is a trend.

What we want to understand is; is there a reason that we know of why the cases might have increased there or is there a general trend that we’re seeing and would further lock down measures be required in that area.’

Q. We’re still talking about low numbers, aren’t we?

‘Yes, but what we need to remember is that these are the individuals that presented themselves for testing. For all those that test positive there’s probably quite a big group behind that haven’t been tested who may well be also positive to the virus.’

Professor Carl Heneghan, Director Evidence-based Medicine, Oxford University, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. What does the evidence from across the world, that we now have, tell us about what we should do in Leicester, for example?

‘That’s a complex question. But firstly let’s say the first thing about deaths is that in March and April they went up very sharply in a number of countries – Italy, Spain, France and the UK, and in America but more so in New York. The death rate as we currently stand has diminished.

This is a radically different disease now than what it was a few months ago. About 6% of all people in hospital were dying then, now it’s down to about 1%. The key about lock downs is that it’s a very blunt tool and it should be used for one reason, and for one reason only – because the health system is becoming overwhelmed.

What we see in Leicester is an increase in the number of people coming forward for testing and an increase, but a small increase because we are at low rates, of the number of people with covid. I would say that right now [a lock down] is a very blunt tool and a mistake for us to be locking down Leicester. It’s a perfect opportunity to let the test and trace system start working. In fact we’ve seen a 30% reduction in the cases in the last week already – so it is having an effect.’

Q. You’re saying it has nothing to do with lock down or not?

‘What you are trying to achieve with lock downs is to preserve the health system because you’re being overwhelmed. This is a very complex disease and, in fact, when you do lock down people for a week or two you will increase the rate of transmission because we know the ‘attack rate’ in households is very high and in particularly multi-occupancy households it is high.

Let’s be clear. The system that we should be putting in place is a test and trace and working through the summer preparing for the autumn when we’ll see rates of respiratory infection go up. The current rate does not require a lock down.’

Q. If test and trace was working you would still have a situation of people isolating and have a higher incidence of the disease?

‘Let’s be clear. When we talk about respiratory infections through the summer some infection will have to circulate and it’s generally – in the summer – about 40/50 people per 100,000. In Leicester right now we’re talking about double that rate.

Now, in winter, we get up to rates about tenfold higher and we don’t close down areas. So what’s happening in Leicester is what we’ll see in most other areas, a slight spike, but the key is how you can control this by saying we’ll close whole cities.

This will be so difficult to do in London or Manchester, the real ‘super-cities’, that we need a different approach and we need to be very clear – what is it that defines the number of cases that the Government thinks we should shut down on.

At the moment it seems to be made up in a sort of ad hoc way.’

Allyson Pollock, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, formally Director of Public Health and Society, Newcastle University, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. Do you accept what Professor Heneghan is saying there that what we see in Leicester should have been dealt with by test and trace?

‘You’re absolutely right. The whole purpose of the lock down is to try and stop the transmission of the virus, that was the really important thing and it is a very heavy tool and that’s partly because the epidemic was rising. But by now, four months into it, we should now have a really effective test and trace system in place and that’s a very real anxiety that it’s taken four months and we still haven’t got evidence of an effective test and trace system.

That’s for two reasons. One is because the local Directors of Public Health and the Councils have not been receiving the data they need of the positive tests and the cases. And that’s essential to do effective contact tracing. What we know so far is that only just over half of all the cases this month that have been transferred to the test and trace system have given their contact details.

And another problem is we don’t know how many of the cases and contacts are actually going into self-isolation and quarantine and how easy or difficult it is for them to do that. That’s another part of the system that isn’t being monitored and about which we have no information. And that’s particularly important for Leicester.’

Q. It seems there was a large data dump but it didn’t include post codes. It seems the Councils have to sign up to data protection laws to be able to do that.

‘The data privacy is just a red herring. The fact is that the data was flowing centrally, they were being processed in an aggregate and what people need on the ground is the post codes, occupations, age and gender so they can actually map the places, and the clusters, in order to identify the community where the outbreaks are happening. That’s particularly important when you’ve got multi-generational households as you have in Leicester. This data was not being made available until 24th June and they are still not being made available in some local authorities.’

Q. If this was working properly would it mean local lock downs could be avoided?

‘Yes, if it was operating successfully, in combination with all the other public health measures, then you would be able to do this as has happened in Germany, in Switzerland. In Zurich recently they had an outbreak in a night club of 300 people who were asked to quarantine and actually they were monitored and supported because an important aspect of this is that it is very difficult to self-isolate if your financial situation, your housing situation, is precarious.

So the Government, again, needs to put in the support part of effective contact tracing and we have no knowledge of that and how it’s working.’

Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and formerly Health Policy advisor to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. You have written that the policy followed in the UK was a major over-reaction.

‘Yes, that was the experience that we had … during the avian flu epidemic. We got some dire warnings about dreadful consequences if we didn’t close down ports, if we didn’t shut down airports, if we didn’t engage in all the lock down measures we have followed this time. … We were told there would be seven million dead and, of course, it was very alarming and it turned out, of course, to be wildly exaggerated and luckily we did not respond.’

Q. Who were the warnings from?

‘Ultimately the WHO [World Health Organisation].’

Q. Essentially the same people who put out warnings about this disease [covid-19]. But this disease is more dangerous than avian flu.

‘It’s clearly worse but the lesson we learnt from that experience was that you have to be careful about applying the ‘precautionary principle’. Epidemiologists tend to operate very much on the ‘precautionary principle’ which basically says ‘if you’ve got no data, no information, you’ve got a dreadful risk of some calamity, it’s better to be safe than sorry’. Which makes a great deal of sense at the first stages but what it doesn’t take into account of are the costs involved and what you do when you’ve got a little more data.

We are now in the situation where actually we do have more data. … We do now know that infection rates in Leicester are incredibly low, it’s something like 140 out of 100,000 – which is 0.14%. This is a tiny risk … which I don’t think [as do a number of other people] are worth the costs involved in locking down the city.’

Q. Except we do know what the worse case scenario is, as we saw in Northern Italy.

‘That’s when there was a cost, or a certain advantage, to an early lock down which was trying to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and that was successfully achieved. We’re not in that situation now and it has got to a point when the blunt tool of a lock down is, essentially, too blunt, it carries the ‘precautionary principle’ too far and we ought to move to a much more targetted system of trying to curb the transmission of the disease.’

Q. You think it’s a mistake for the lock down in Leicester to be extended?

‘Yes, I certainly do. What we should be doing, and what we should have done from the beginning actually, is to concentrate on old people in care homes and hospitals. Those are the principal routes of transmission and infection and are also the ones who are the most vulnerable.

… The fatality rate for under 45s is virtually zero so we should have been concentrating on the elderly and we should have been concentrating on the care homes. And that’s basically where the focus should be now.’

Q. And those people who refer to the experience of Sweden?

‘In Sweden they are making the point I’ve just made. What the experts in Sweden say is that the problem is in old people’s homes, its care homes and to some extent hospitals and that’s where the restrictions should be more generally applied and not in a blunt fashion, city wide.’

Care Homes

Once it was clear that infection and deaths rates were particularly high in care homes (not really a surprise when it was known long before the virus hit the UK that the elderly were much more at risk, especially those with other underlying health conditions) there had been a call for more support to that sector, especially in the region of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and regular testing of both staff and residents.

When it came to testing I thought that had been resolved some time ago, but no. This will only take place from the start of next week. Why does everything always take so long?

On 3rd July results of a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), about fatalities in care homes, showed that there were 29,000 ‘excess deaths’ over the five year average since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in the UK – full, downloadable report

Nadra Ahmed, Chief Executive of the National Care Home Association, Radio 4, World at One, 3rd July;

Q. What do you make of the ONS survey?

‘It’s an interesting survey … and what it tells us is that the people we knew had to be shielded from the very start, the services that needed to be shielded, were the ones that have had this enormous impact of the virus entering those services.

What it shows is, perhaps, at the very beginning, when we were being told that care homes were not going to be impacted [the report] blows a hole in that and that the impact was going to be substantial.’

Q. What is the lesson for the future and a possible ‘Second Wave’?

‘What we’ve learnt is that at the very start of this PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], which was not something we knew much about, was something we needed as a matter or urgency. [Care home] providers are now prepared, we need to ensure they have a good supply of PPE – it was all being requisitioned by the NHS at the point all this started.

The other thing is we have pushed and pushed and pushed to make sure that testing became available and we know, of course, today it’s been announced that testing will now be available in care homes but it should have been from the very beginning. It would have been one of the things that would have mitigated the challenge.’

Q. What about the point of agency staff and sick pay?

‘One of the things we have to remember is that coming into this pandemic there were already 122,000 vacancies in our services. So the recruitment of care staff has been a challenge for the past decade at least, if not longer. The image of social care has been such that we don’t have a professionalised pathway and then, of course, there’s the matter around the low pay bit, which is the National Living Wage when I know many providers pay above that just in order to recruit. That led us to the fact that we were already using agency staff, which is why we’ve seen a growth of recruitment agencies for care staff.

As the pandemic hit and we started to see 20 – 30% of staff self-isolating, going off sick, the numbers were quite enormous. What we found was that people were transmitting from one home to another. A lot of homes tried to stop that by shutting the doors to agency staff.’

Q. What about sick pay? I have heard that people were going into work sick because they needed the money.

‘That’s something we would need to dig a bit deeper into. Because the majority of providers that we have spoken to have said that they were very keen, as soon as there were any symptoms, that staff went off sick.

The problem is the asymptomatic bit where people were continuing to work. Because we didn’t have the testing we didn’t know they had the symptoms.’

Q. The correlation is sick pay, isn’t it?

‘People [care home providers] were paying sick pay because they wanted people to come back and that’s why we will need to look a bit further into this. We’re required to pay Statutory Sick Pay so you can’t not pay sick pay if somebody goes off sick. ….

Q. Do agency staff get sick pay in the same way?

‘That depends on the agency staff. They should do. If you have a contract with an employer then you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.’

The Buffoon and his ‘Roosaveltian’ speech in Dudley, 30th June

About the inefficiency and inability of his Government to properly deal with the pandemic;

‘There are plenty of things people will say we got wrong and we owe that discussion and that honesty to the tens of thousands who have died before their time, to the families who have lost loved ones and, of course, there must be time to learn the lessons – and we will.’

A mea culpa but nothing about a promise of an investigation or a holding to account.

About how the Buffoon thinks the country will get out of the deepening economic crisis following their inefficiency and inability to deal with the pandemic in an effective and constructive manner;

‘I just serve notice that we’ll not be responding to the crisis with what people will call ‘austerity’ [then what would he call what has been forced on the British people in the last eleven years or so?]. We’re not going to cheese pare our way out of trouble because the world has moved on since 2008. We not only face a new but, in some ways, a far bigger challenge.

… Next week the Chancellor will be setting out our immediate plan to support the economy through the first phase of the recovery. But this moment also gives us a much greater chance to be radical and to do things differently.

To build back better and to build back bolder and so we will be doubling down on our strategy – we will double down on levelling up [rhetoric with no substance, what does it actually mean? – just playing to his ‘core’ audience].’

… This Government is not just committed to defeating coronavirus. This Government is determined to use the crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades [three decades which are a result of the fundamentalist, monetarist policies introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s].

To build homes, to fix the NHS, to solve social care, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK, to unite and level up [all allowed to get worse under the previous Tory (and Labour) Government’s. If these services and social policies had been strengthened the country would have been much more able to confront the problems caused by the pandemic].

And to that end we will build, build, build. [Although often misquoted, Danton has a lot to answer for. Every pretentious politician in Britain seems to think they have to repeat one word three times at least once in their miserable political lives – and often more than once.]

Build back better, build back greener, build back faster!’ [This one’s down to Aristotle.]

Britain, covid-19 and poverty

Just as Trump has done the most for the Black population of America since Lincoln, the Buffoon claims that the Tories have done the most in the last ten years to reduce poverty in the UK. How true is that?

A report from the Resolution Foundation, published on 9th June, shows how the pandemic (and the lock down) has had an impact on families throughout the UK – the brunt of the negatives being taken by the poorest in society.

Things also don’t look so good for those in the 50s and 60s – the next generation of retirees.

And the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that things are getting worse for poorer families with children. The Foundation also published ‘diaries’ of four different so-called ‘key workers’ and the problems they are having just getting by during the covid pandemic.

The Resolution Foundation also produced a report on the prospects for youth unemployment.

Another report, this time by the Social Metric Commission, shows that the UK has seen a 39% rise of those living in ‘deep poverty’ – meaning their income is at least 50% below the official breadline.

Test, track, trace and isolate – perhaps

Testing was the key to getting on top of the covid-19 outbreak. That was universally agreed from the very beginning – even before the first cases were reported in the United Kingdom. However, the problem the British people have is the government they ‘democratically’ elected to manage such situations – at almost the same time as the first reports were coming out about a new and not understood virus – has quickly proven itself to be one of the most inept in history.

What the Buffoon and his gang has never understood is that if you wish to win any war – and the statements made about this pandemic have been replete with military analogies and language – then first and foremost you need a strategy. There has not been, there is not now and, in all probability, there will never be one in place.

When the decision was taken, way back on the 12th March, to end testing and to go for the lock down approach that shouldn’t have meant that testing was just forgotten. A ‘task force’ [even I’m getting into the military terminology] should have been set up so that when testing was restarted the infrastructure needed to make it truly ‘world beating’ was actually in place. No such force was set up, the testing has been a shambles (to say the least) and all decisions have been made based upon what was seen as the best way to deal with a particular crisis. In management/politician speak ‘there was no joined up thinking’.

And as the independence day/end of the world as we know it approaches, whose success will very much depend upon the testing regime in place, there have been a deluge of articles, reports and commentaries on the perilous state of the testing system which is being provided in one of the richest countries in the world.

The story that has been unfolding in the last seven or so days can speak for itself.

11th June

This one from the beginning of the restarted test, trace, track system – mainly to remind people of how the system is supposed to work and also why sometimes it doesn’t – or hasn’t.

19th June

This one goes back a couple of weeks but hasn’t been reported here before so worth adding. Issues over supply of necessary material, from Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ventilators, have bugged the battle against the pandemic from the beginning. To that list can now be added testing kits.

26th June

You would have thought that the Government was aware that not everybody in this country has access to a private vehicle and the placing of drive in testing sites on the outskirts of major towns made it virtually impossible for a huge proportion of the population to take advantage of the facilities. ‘Walk-in’ testing centres, a whole 6 of them, were announced more than three months AFTER the lock down was declared.

One of the impacts of a ‘not fit for purpose’ testing regime is that it doesn’t inspire confidence and in the climate of fear that has been created in the last three months those anxiety levels are likely to increase.

You would also have thought that with all the publicity about potential covid-19 carriers being released into the community without first being tested (and probably/possibly one of the main causes of the spread of the disease in care homes) that by the beginning of July this wouldn’t be happening. Not in Hertfordshire it seems. And where else?

29th June

And, not surprisingly, it’s more than likely that the poor testing system has cost lives.

And will the testing regime be robust enough to deal with any potential ‘second wave’?

30th June

What has been like working in one of the testing laboratories? Again a sign of lack of planning.

That’s the way to do it. Instead of just talking about being ‘world beating’ the UK Government should have been learning from elsewhere. Germany can do it well, why can’t Britain?

The app that never was – or ever will be?

There might be a working app in Britain – whether it talks to the ones used in any other country is another matter – before the arrival of the next pandemic (or even the one after that) but whenever it arrives there will still be issues over privacy and who does what with what information and for how long. Perhaps worthwhile bearing this in mind. As stated before states are quite adept at using ’emergencies’ to introduce policies and practices ‘under the radar’ or under the pretence that it will only be temporary. Once such practices are entrenched they are very difficult to get rid of – the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

‘Immunity passports’ rise their heads – again

This idea has been around since the beginning of the pandemic and not just in Britain. It ties in with both the testing regime and the use of a Smartphone app and starts to become complicated as it starts to divide societies into people who can do certain things and those who can’t. And when it crosses borders it determines who can travel and to where.

The desire of States to know as much as possible about their own citizens – as well as those of other countries – it’s almost certain that some sort of system will be introduced in the coming months/years. But it comes with its own problems – not least it’s unlikely to do what it promises, that is proving that the carrier is no longer a threat from transmitting the disease.

And as if we didn’t need any other divisions in society these ‘immunity passport’ could potentially create an ‘antibody elite’ – as well as providing opportunities for fraudsters and gangsters.

Devolution means the need to do things differently

The nationalist continue to follow their ‘independent’ course. The most recent decision of the Scottish variety is making the mandatory use of face covering in shops north of the border.

The problem of ‘symptomless transmission’

Away from the best measures to deal with the pandemic the covid-19 showed itself to be tricky and the virus was able to spread more widely as the concept of symptomless transmission was difficult to accept in many countries.

Does ‘symptomless’ possibly indicate increased ‘herd immunity’?

The lack of a vaccine definitely makes the idea of herd immunity very attractive to speed the return to normality (even though a ‘new’ one). In a way that makes those locations (be it cities or countries) with high infection rates possibly those locations with a greater herd immunity, so suggests a study from Sweden.

Not protecting the NHS for ever

With so many billions of pounds being thrown around it’s difficult to keep track – and that’s what the Government wants, to confound people with numbers. Now that the pressure has been taken, somewhat, off the NHS the Tories start to show their true colours and what they give with one hand they take with another.

A quote from the Buffoon when he was released from hospital at the beginning of May;

‘We are making progress in the national battle because the British public formed a human shield around the country’s greatest national asset – our National health Service.’

Schools returning in September

This is another to watch. The so-called ‘guidance’ published at the beginning if July, will without a shadow of a doubt, go through so many revisions before September that it won’t be recognisable in two months time. Just an example that even when the Buffoon and his gang make a decision it is so badly thought through that has to be changed beyond so much it’s really a new one – something that could have been avoided if all the plans of how the Uk comes out of the lock down were part of an overall strategy.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;

Q. One of the concerns of the unions has been safety. Are you re-assured by what you’ve read in the guidance?

‘We need further re-assurance, both from Public Health England (PHE) and SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies]. That re-assurance is in two areas.

… It’s important that SAGE tell us explicitly that they have modelled what the guidance is in practical reality, what the effect of that would be on transmission networks. We are talking about big groups of children where there is no social distancing. Within a class of 30 there won’t be any social distancing, in reality our classrooms aren’t big enough for us to allow it.

In Secondary Schools that will often be that group of 30 within a year group of 280/330, so they are very big groups. It would be important for public confidence for SAGE to say that they have modelled that.

The other form of re-assurance that SAGE needs to tell us about is the question of vulnerable parents and vulnerable staff. If you are a member of staff, a teacher or a support assistant, who is on the clinically vulnerable list … certainly in a primary school you cannot do your job and stay socially distant from the children. Teaching assistants there work alongside the children so if they are clinically vulnerable what do Public Health England and SAGE say about the level of risk for that person? Obviously it depends upon the level of the virus within society

The same thing in Secondary Schools for clinically vulnerable people. The Government is saying ‘try to stay two metres away’ but you’re in a class of 30, it’s quite an enclosed environment, often with not very good ventilation. Thirty children who aren’t socially distancing, who are meeting lots of people during the day, those things we need re-assurance on.

We want children to go back, we want the virus level to be lower in September so that makes it possible but the Government does need to work on re-assurances.

That needs to be about practical reality because this idea of big ‘bubbles’ which can be distant from one another at break time, at lunch time, that feels like it’s quite an organisational challenge in a big school.’

Q. Do you think the ‘bubbles’ are too big?

‘Yes, we do. We prefer a situation where there are lower numbers of children in the ‘bubbles’. That’s why we’ve been arguing, from earlier on, that they might need to have to look for extra classrooms, ‘Nightingale’ classrooms. We’ll have to bring teachers back who have left the profession, mobilise supply teachers.’

Q. There are many challenges. Is there anything that can fully satisfy you on the matters you are raising?

‘We absolutely recognise that there’s a balance of risk in this. There are risks with children being at home. We want children back at school. As the virus level drops then obviously the balance of risk shifts in favour of children being at school.

But there are people with particular risk factors. … If you’re a 55 year old man from a Black background, then you’re at more risk than other people. So the idea that some teachers should be doing work that is supporting children who will still be at home and other teachers being brought in to teach the classes. That doesn’t seem to me to be an unreasonable thing to ask about. That does give you, then, a graded way of looking at the level of risk. It’s not the same for every teacher, it does depend upon the vulnerability that you have as an individual.’

The fact that children have been out of school for a few months is bad enough – the fact that when they return they could be receiveing a much worse education is another. Due to lack of imagination and will instead of confronting the problems of a return to proper full time education it seems that too many are looking to reduce the provision to make a basic return easier to manage. The curriculum could be altered for most children and the guidance is far from clear on how matters will progress in September.

And in a demonstration that Government ministers don’t understand that the idea of local schools is a thing of the past and far too many children have to travel long distances every day the plan that they should find alternatives to public transport is laughable – if it wasn’t so serious.

Quote of the week

Buffoon at Prime Minster’s Questions, Houses of Parliament, Wednesday 24th June;

‘ … [Starmer] has been stunned by the success of the tracking operation … [that it was] a formidable achievement … [in response to the UK app failure] no country has, so far, developed a successful tracing app … [and it] got up much faster than the doubters expected.’

More on covid pandemic 2020

Now into the third month of lock down – confusion remains in Britain

More on covid pandemic 2020

Now into the third month of lock down – confusion remains in Britain

Most people were waiting for the easing of the lock down but when it was announced it came with the confusion and questions we have become used to from the Buffoon and his gang.

Testing, track and trace

A couple of differences of the NHSX app (now being ‘piloted’ on the Isle of Wight) from that produced by Apple/Google (and which is being used in many other countries) is that in the UK version people report their symptoms BEFORE a test whilst elsewhere the reporting comes AFTER a test. Also the Apple/Google version actually helps Bluetooth (the way the Smartphones communicate with each other) work better. But the NHSX is not free of the ‘tech giants’ – it needs their permission to work at all – therefore the tech companies remain the ‘gatekeepers’ of any app.

From the beginning one of the arguments given by States to encourage use was that it was voluntary, that no one would be forced to download and activate it. That’s becoming less of a case as some app will almost certainly play a part of any movement of people between countries. This is already being used in Honk Kong for any international arrival and some version will almost certainly be obligatory in many other copy cat countries – even before it has been proven that these apps are actually any use. Just helps to keep a track on people’s movements.

The rocky road of the NHSX app

The pilot has gone very quiet in the last few days – after the fanfare of its release and the ‘overwhelming’ take up.

By now plans should have been in place to extend the pilot to other parts of Britain, although this has now been delayed – until when nobody is saying.

And needless to say we are still no closer to a resolution of the matter of privacy – presumably the Government hopes that if they say nothing for long enough people will get bored with asking the question. That’s also one of the things unlikely to happen. Security concerns continue with fears that it allows an opening to hackers.

Not only is the roll out of the unproven app been delayed so has the contact tracing. The problem, at least in England, is that there is no strategy which doesn’t rely almost entirely on the app’s information. By now this should all have been up and running – if we had listened to Government promises – but by their own admission the contact tracing won’t be up an running before some time in June. And don’t talk about the figures, or the actual people involved. That also seems to change as often as the British weather.

The latest (20th May) ‘information’ is that there will be 25,000 tracers working from 1st June (world-beating’ according to the fantasist Buffoon). I have no doubt those numbers will be reached (as did the 100,000 tests on April 30th – but few days since) and work will begin on that day but of what use is another matter. One issue that has to be resolved before this contact tracing can be effective is to increase the speed at which results are obtained. It currently takes 4/5 days to get a result – that’s far too slow to make the isolation part of the concept useful.

The ‘Norwich Experiment’ – tacking and tracing

Neil Hall, Earlham Institute, Norwich, on a project to test and monitor the whole population of Norwich; Radio 4, World at One, May 15th;

‘The major problem with this virus, and the reason it’s been so difficult to contain, is that it transmits from people who are asymptomatic, before they get ill, or in some cases, from people who don’t get badly ill at all.

That means if you are only testing for the virus from people who are presenting at a doctor’s or a hospital or even if you’re contact tracing you are always playing catch up with the virus. You’re always a step behind. The idea of mass community testing is that you identify those asymptomatic cases before they become ill or before they are identified in a chain through contact tracing.’

Q. You want Norwich to be a city in which that is done?

‘The size of Norwich is about right, 140,000 people, challenging but doable. Also Norwich has one of the highest proportion of molecular biologists per head of population with government funded institutes and a research hospital, etc., in the city.’

Q. How do you test everybody?

‘The idea we’ve been working on is people would be sent a testing kit to their house. That might involve some self-swabbing but research has shown that simple saliva tests are pretty accurate. The kit is bar coded with peoples’ details and then sent back depending upon the logistics being discussed. People would be informed if they had a positive test and would have to self-isolate.’

Q. How far is the push to make it happen? Is the Government on board?

‘There are a lot of partners involved but no funding from National Government. The national government strategy at the moment is putting its weight behind testing of individuals who are sick or in high risk environments.

Mass community testing will also provide a huge amount of information about how the virus is spreading in the community and that will inform government policy nationally. If we know, for example, how asymptomatic cases are in transmission, how important public transport is, how important work place is or households are in the replication of the virus then the government will know when it can relax restrictions and when it has to reinforce them.’

The Track-Trace-Isolate (TTI) strategy in Scotland

Jason Leitch, Clinical Director, Scotland on extension of the covid-19 symptoms (to include taste and smell) and contact tracing in Scotland, Radio 4, World at One, 18th May;

Q. Why has the list of symptoms changed?

‘Science changes all the time. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has a long list of symptoms for covid-19 none of which are, unfortunately, very specific. So you have to cast a net as wide as you can to detect covid-19 but no tos wide you capture the whole population. The evidence has increased on the loss of taste and smell so this has been now, across the four countries of the UK, been added to the list.

We’ve always wanted those with symptoms to self-isolate. We don’t do this with other infections so we have created a fear in society. We don’t want to put 60 million in isolation so we have to be balanced.’

Q. Is it important to get the contract tracing implemented before easing the lock down in Scotland?

‘It’s a kind of parallel process. The WHO says there are six measures you have to have in place before thinking about any dramatic changes to your lock down.

The first is to suppress the virus. The second is a reliable test, trace and isolate system. We [in Scotland] have added an S to our TTI, which is Support.

People underestimate the level of support some need in order to self-isolate – not everybody lives in an environment where a 14 day isolation, although annoying, won’t be that restricting. So we need to think about the support people might need to do that.’

Q. Do you have enough tracers to do that?

‘Tracing exists already across Europe for sexually transmitted diseases etc., so the public health community are very used to contact tracing. We’ve decided to organise this in Scotland around the 14 regions and we are using staff from various sectors to fulfil the need. We’re aiming for 2,000 by the end of the month.’

Q. Why no app?

‘Not no app, considering the app. A digital solution to help with contract tracing and we’re beginning to test in three of our Health Boards with an app really as a boost for the contact tracer to help them along. Contact tracers are detectives, they are used to doing that, their training is about who you were with, where were you, it’s quite an elaborate interview.

The NHSX app is still in development. We need to know about the privacy of it. When we’re reassured about those three things then we’ll happily embrace it. We don’t need it, we’ll have contract tracing without it but if we feel it adds a layer of information, a layer of data then we will, of course, use it if it is safe to do so.’

‘Easing’ the lock down – how will people respond?

Professor Robert Dingwall, School of Social Science, Nottingham Trent University, member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threat Advisory Group (NERVTAG), Radio 4, World at One, 18th May, on how people will react to the easing of the lock down;

Q. There are some people terrified of opening their front doors again. What will happen when people start to go out more?

‘The Government campaign to get us all to stay at home has probably been more effective than they would have wanted it to be in terms of raising the level of anxiety among the population. Surveys show we are easily the most anxious country in Europe about the impact of the virus. In the news coverage there’s been this relentless drum beat of death that’s rather overshadowed the fact that most people (80%) won’t need to go anywhere near a hospital and virtually all those that do will come out again in one piece.’

Q. Was that due to the Government message or the sense of community in protecting the NHS?

‘It’s probably the way the Government has gone about it. It’s also the attraction of kinds of stories for the media. Deaths are full of human interest and there are lots of opportunities for ‘intrepid reporters’. It’s a combination of things. The coronavirus has been overlayed on a number of pre-existing tensions and conflicts. We were a fairly divided society to start with. This hasn’t exactly helped.’

Q. What do you think will make a difference?

‘We might see quite a period of tension and possibly some micro-aggression between people who are more or less risk averse, for example visually impaired people who are unable to maintain social distancing rules are already being abused. Conflicts about masks, what two metres looks like and whether two metres is relevant at all. Those things are going to run for quite a while.’

Q. We were told schools had to shut. What has changed to make them safe now?

‘One thing that has certainly changed is out understanding of the science around children and the transmission of infection. With influenza children are clearly super-spreaders – although we never close schools over the winter because of this. What we now understand [with covid] is that children get a relatively mild form of the disease and they certainly don’t transmit it any more than adults. And teachers are no more at risk in school than going about everyday business in the community.’

The Blame Game

In one of the early post on covid-19 I suggested that having the scientists at the regular press conferences was to have a ready scapegoat if things went pear shaped. As the country entered the third month of the lock down – although now with certain caveats – the accusations started to fly around.

Jeremy Hunt, one time Tory Health Minister, now Chair of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, on 19th May;

‘… some of the decisions, notably on testing, represent some of the biggest failures of scientific advice to ministers in out life time.’

Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when asked why community testing was ended on 12th March, in a testy reply on 19th May;

‘If the science was wrong I’m not surprised people think we then made the wrong decision.’

The issue can be clarified very easily here. Advice does not equate to decision. The only way to know the facts is for the Government to publish all the documents at the time. The longer this takes (as they will come out at some time in the future) the more it looks like the Government has something to hide.

The Nationalists and Covid-19

I haven’t really quoted extensively from politicians in previous posts but am doing so here with a contribution from Gordon Brown, at one time Labour Prime Minister, who dislikes the Scottish Nationalists as much as I do, Radio 4, World at One, 19th May, on how the pandemic has been approached in the ‘devolved’ Scotland;

‘Half of the deaths in Scotland are in care homes. It’s tragic that even today not all care home residents and workers have been tested. It’s a great failure of public policy to have known about this problem for weeks, to have known that the one way that we could find out whether people are at risk is testing early and testing routinely and not being able to bring in a system as the capacity was simply not good enough. Less than 3% of people have been tested so if we are going to avoid a second wave we’ve got to act urgently to have not just mass testing but routine testing.

We are not talking about thousands of tests a day but hundreds of thousands per day. If we are trying to ease the lock down then we have got to give people reassurances, we’ve got to prevent a second wave, we’ve got to get the R figure down.

With testing [on the return of schools] you can guarantee to people that they can be assured that those who have got this disease are not going to be passing it on. Where are the hundreds of thousands of tests? There’re clearly not here. The contact tracing is not yet working and therefore the strategy which was supposed to be to test, to trace and isolate cannot be working in full. And that was the basis of the Government’s decision to end the lock down and to end it gradually.

In Government you’ve got to make decisions on your priorities and then you’ve got to act of them quickly. Since March 12th when it was decided to give up testing in the communities there has been an absolute failure to recognise that if we are going to end the lock down there were certain things that we had got to have put in place. If you can’t say ‘get vaccinated’ you should be saying ‘get tested’ and you should make it possible for people to get tested.

Q. Do you fear for the Union [that’s the United kingdom] when you see different nations going their own way?

‘We were bound to have differences of approach to issue like schooling when you have different systems in schooling. What the real problem is is the lack of co-operation between the different parts of the Union and the lack of common purpose. The desire to be seen as separate for the sake of being separate is the problem and over time we have got to recognise that we’ll benefit and achieve more by working together than isolating yourself and making a virtue of being apart.’

All in this together?

As with the recovery from economic crash of 2008 (caused by the reckless gambling and rush for easy money by the financial institutions) so in the battle against covid-19, we are supposed to be all in this together, a common fight against a common enemy who knows no barriers such as wealth. The words were empty in 2008 and are as worthless in the present pandemic. There’s one law for the rich and one for the poor.

On the 17th May it was reported that the author Neil Gaiman travelled all the way from New Zealand to the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

A number of issues are raised here;

  • why was he allowed to leave New Zealand in the first place? The country is making a big issue about how well it has managed the pandemic locally, why don’t they help other countries enforce their travel restrictions?
  • why was he allowed to transit the United States?
  • why wasn’t he questioned when he arrived in London? There are so few travellers now surely just so they don’t get bored Border Officials must ask the reasons for people travelling to the country – especially as there has been so much fuss recently about why a quarantine is being talked about in the future but not in the past – don’t these immigration officials have any idea what is being discussed in the country?
  • why are the rich so arrogant that they think they can boast about their activities on Twitter – even when most of the people who would read such social media messages wouldn’t be able to do what he did – another rhetorical question, the rich do what they do because they can.
  • why do the police bother to interview him when they know they are not going to do anything anyway. And even if they do take ‘action’ what’s a £100 fine to the rich?
  • this coming Bank Holiday in Britain there will probably be thousands of people who will be breaking the rules. There will be big coverage of this in the media with politicians (and a number of ‘key workers’) making moral judgements about such ‘thoughtlessness’. But why should they abide by the rules when all you need to flaunt them is money. If the State was serious about ‘we’re all in this together’ they would make an example of the prick Gaiman – but that’s not going to happen.

Travel on public transport

‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer travel guidance for passengers’ is the heading of the official guidance published by the Tory Government on 12 May 2020.

This is like something out of the 1940s where those in power regularly talked down to the vast majority of the population. They might argue that its design, and wording, is in an age of hyperlinks but it just reads as if they are addressing small children where repetition of the same phrases is the only way to get people to learn.

It’s been estimated that to maintain social-distancing on public transport it would not be able to operate at more than 15% capacity, some argue even less. That’s not sustainable for any real length of time. For the last seven or eight weeks buses nationally have been running at a much lower capacity – but this is all being heavily subsidised by the Government. If the money can be found during the covid-19 pandemic why wasn’t it there in the past when the public transport system was being run down as it ‘wasn’t financially viable’? These Tory bastards have got a lot to answer for – as are the people who accepted their lies over the years.

On 13th May, the first day of the limited return to work, the ASLEF union complained, on behalf of their drivers on the London Underground, that there were too many passengers. I don’t really understand what they are thinking about. At some time in the future (next week, next month, next year – but by then there’ll be no London Underground) the transport system has to get back to some sort of normality.

Especially in London. There are, on a normal day, 4 million Tube journeys and 6 million bus journeys. If, soon, Transport for London is not able to get the numbers back to that sort of level you might as well abandon the capital. We have heard for years about the social cleansing when it comes to housing in London. The people who keep the capital working (those in mostly poorly paid jobs with awful conditions – night work or getting up a the crack of dawn) don’t live closer than many miles from the centre. They depend totally upon public transport and a fatuous suggestion to walk or go by bike shows a total lack of understanding of how major cities, especially London, function.

Also if you consider how much London (as do many other cities in Britain) depends upon tourism then you will need the transport system up and running, with full capacity, if there is any plan to get London back to anywhere near what it was pre-March 2020.

Neither is the idea of walk, cycle or use you own car really feasible in most of the country. After years of being encouraged to leave their cars at home people are now being encouraged to drive to work. Congestion, air and noise pollution will go through the roof.

So instead of complaining that their members are at risk the union has to do, what the rest of the country has to do, and that’s come up with ways to protect people if they are perceived to be at risk, so they can do their job. The virus will not go away. We can either close down until there’s an effective vaccine or live with it.

All indications, from the very beginning, is that the virus is particularly dangerous for a certain section of society (even though, from time to time others might also get a bad, and even lethal infection). But that happens with any virus, even the common cold or the flu.

Even the Department of Transport understands you can’t have a public transport system and maintain ‘social-distancing’. Public Transport without ‘social distancing’ is called a taxi or a chauffeur driven car.

After a couple of months of trying to instil fear in the population to get them to do what they want the Government has now got to come up with a strategy to get public transport back to running as it should do – together with the virus. It has to happen some time – and sooner rather than later – so why not now?

Following complaints from transport workers and other ‘key-worker commuters’ about ‘overcrowding’ on trains, on 14th May train companies stated there would be more trains in the week beginning the 18th. Why couldn’t the train companies been informed of the policy change in sufficient time for them to arrange for those ‘more trains’ to be available when there was an increase in the number of passengers?

By allowing people to travel, basically as far as they like in private vehicles, the Government is also effectively penalising the poorer section of the population – who don’t have a car and under normal circumstances would travel on public transport. In all the decisions that have been taken since the beginning of March it’s almost impossible to see any structure or strategy at all. Decisions are made but with no thought to their consequences. If Britain is ever to restore some some of normality – for the vast majority of the population – one of the issues that needs resolving is that of public transport and than would need a complete rethink of the concept of ‘social distancing’.

Vocabulary of ‘Opposition’ Parties in a Parliamentary Democracy

‘too soon’, ‘too late’, too much’, ‘too little’, ‘not enough’, ‘more honest’.

Companies abusing the furlough scheme

By 13th May 800 companies had been reported to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for fraudulently claiming on the furlough scheme whilst having people at work.

On Money Box, Radio 4, on both 2nd May and 16th May, there was a section of various ‘anomalies’ surrounding the so-called ‘furlough’ scheme where employers get 80% of their employees wages paid for by the State. But it hadn’t been in place for more than a couple of weeks before abuses of the system were raising their ugly heads;

  • ‘furloughed’ but still being expected to work from home
  • employers cutting peoples’ wages during the lock down
  • using the fear of isolation to get away with illegal practices
  • these matters all should remind us of the importance of unions, which too many people have consigned to history. The idea that ‘most people are only one wage packet away from destitution’ is as true today as when wages actually came in packets.

Ken Clarke (Tory, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer), Radio 4, World at One, 13th May, said that there would be cases of fraud and there would be some companies that wouldn’t have survived despite the pandemic, but who have taken money from the State in furlough schemes, business grants and loans, but that it was the maintenance of the good companies that was most important.

In the past the State would hound anyone unlawfully claiming state benefits and would spend huge amounts to get a conviction – but company cheats will get a way with murder.

Being open on the ‘scientific advice’

About three weeks ago Hancock said the Government would be open about the advice it was using to arrive at the decisions they want to impose on the population. However, when reminded of this on 13th May (during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons) his response was ‘in due course’.

This issue came to the fore, once again, on 19th May. At that date of the 110 papers that were part of scientific advice to the Government only 28 had been released.

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, on Radio 4, World at One, 19th May;

Q. Does the Government need to be more transparent when it comes to the evidence upon which it is basing its policy decsions?

‘This discussion has been going on for a long time and many people have been calling for greater transparency. Apart from security reasons advice should be as open as possible. Covid is not an intelligent opponent, it’s not going to find out things.’

Q. What needs to be released now that hasn’t been?

‘Much would have been done rather rapidly and it’s not fair to the researchers who have produced it to put it out in the public domain. SAGE does come up with a summary statement and it would be helpful if that were made available.’

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Care Homes

Nadra Ahmed, Chair National Care Association, in the preference given to the NHS over care homes when it came to PPE, 14th May;

‘PPE had been requisitioned for the NHS but when it came to us it was a sort of supply/demand market which was completely out of control with providers desperate for PPE so here we were suddenly left completely abandoned.’

There have been countless stories of care homes trying to buy PPE on the ‘open market’ and finding that to get even the basics they would have to pay 2, 3 or even 4 times the normal asking price. In any sort of crisis like a pandemic (or war or natural disaster which effects the whole country) the government should take matters in hand to control the price of the necessaries, whether it be food or, as in this case, protective equipment. To do otherwise just stuffs money into the pockets of spivs and gangsters.

The advice on care homes in the early days

Jennie Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, on what they thought was the threat to residents (and staff) at care homes in the early days of the outbreak in Britain, 13th May;

‘Throughout the outbreak, and it would have been the same for any other, we look at the background of the epidemiology, they would be monitoring background diseases and so that document [scientific advice to Government] will be looking at where we knew there was a background risk of transmission. I think that, at the time, there weren’t any sustained community transmissions though we clearly had cases around.’

But surely here, from the very beginning, before the first cases were being publicised in Britain, it was accepted worldwide that those over the age of 70 with ‘underlying medical conditions’ were those most at risk. That risk rose sharply the older the person was, not least because they would be more likely to develop these ‘underlying medical conditions’ and the biggest concentration of these old people, certainly in those wealthier countries where a care home structure existed, would have been in care homes. Added to that most care homes are probably both overcrowded (in the terms of the space per resident) and understaffed – another couple to add to the recipe of disaster.

The ‘Swedish Experiment’ – an evaluation

Lena Hallegren, Swedish Health Minister, Radio 4, World at One, 13th May;

Q. Do you have any sense of the level of immunity in Sweden due to the approach you have followed? Do you know how many people have been infected?

‘Not now. In a week or so we will have an opinion about that. We probably have some immunity but we’re not sure. No figures yet. We know more people were infected in Stockholm than in other parts of Sweden. We will have numbers of infected and immunity in a week or two.’

Q. In Sweden half of all deaths have been in care homes and 25% in their own homes. How do you protect those receiving care when those looking after them are mixing in the community without lock down?

‘We are trying to figure out the changes we need to do to protect the vulnerable in a better way. I think it’s a combination of many things. It’s a fact we have to be even better with our guidelines when it comes to basic hygiene rules …. but also looking at part time workers, which means a lot of people are coming into places where there are vulnerable people. … We also have to work out how to use the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and we can do more when it comes to testing people, both the residents and the staff in care homes. ….. It’s still a problem. ….. The main issue was in Stockholm. ….. I hope we are better prepared in other parts of the country but I cannot say for sure.’

Q. Even though you don’t have the same sort of lock down it looks like you’ll have the same sort of economic pain as elsewhere?

‘We didn’t make any kind of choice between a lock down for economic reasons or not. We decided we wanted to have a better combination of the legally binding ones [measures] and the voluntary ones but the ones we felt we could stick with all the time, because this virus won’t disappear from our society, unfortunately, so we have to have measures and restrictions to keep all the time.

We also have big suffrance [sic] in our economy, a higher unemployment rate, even if we’re trying to help business, companies, the stores to keep up. But that’s difficult.’

Q. Are you expecting that Sweden will gain higher levels of ‘herd immunity’ because of your approach?

‘We don’t have a goal of ‘herd immunity’ but, of course, we’re interested in knowing about immunity. To know how many people have been infected, how many have gained immunity, what does that mean for our society.

We’re trying to save our health care system from a big amount of patients at the same time, to flatten the curve. We think that has been quite successful, if I may use that word, as we still have 20 – 30% availability in intensive care units. The health care has been able to receive and to care for the infected patients.’

Not too good an interview and she didn’t argue Sweden’s case particularly well, I didn’t think. It’s strange that Sweden hasn’t been collecting infection and death numbers on a daily, rolling basis so don’t really understand why there’s a wait of ‘a week or two’ before they are available. I was surprised to hear that care homes were ‘forgotten’ about in Sweden – as they were in Britain – and that obviously accounts for the high percentage of deaths in them (50%). It’s also interesting that they followed the measure they did, specifically to protect the health care system (as was the lock down in the UK, supposedly) and not for economic reasons – as the country’s economy is also in a bad way.

The most important point in this short interview is the recognition, in Sweden, from the very beginning, that the virus would be around for a long time and any measures taken had to be seen in a longer perspective. Presumably this would also be the type of measures other countries, such as Britain, would have to follow to regain some sort of society so Sweden’s experience could be useful internationally. If the health system was broken by this approach it places more questions on the efficacy of the British approach and also a question mark on how to move forward in a meaningful manner.

Hallegren is a little bit vague when it comes to the situation in the care homes and ‘hopes’ matters will improve rather than providing confidence that it will. On 19th May the situation in the Swedish care homes was questioned – but I’m not absolutely sure that this situation was being discussed in an effort to undermine the more relaxed approach Sweden has so far taken in relation to the pandemic.

Reasons for change

Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, 11th May;

‘Really what we’re trying to do is to take very small steps which allow us to be sure that we’re not going to end up with an increase in transmissions again. We recognise that we’re going to have to do change for a long period of time and making things sustainable is extremely important.’

Why it’s safe to be outside

Lucy Yardley, Professor of Health Psychology, who sits on the scientific advisory body, SAGE, on 10th May;

‘There’s a study, for example, in China, of 7,000 people who’d been infected with coronavirus. Only 1 of those 7,000 people had been infected outside and that was during a conversation. We don’t know if they were socially-distancing but I suspect they probably weren’t. So that gives you an idea that the risk outdoors, if you remain socially-distanced, is very,very small indeed, which I think is behind the guidelines.’

Poorer workers more vulnerable – yet again

A report from the Office of National Statistics, issued on 10th May, found that;

  • men in low skilled, low paid jobs are twice as likely to die of covid-19 but there are many caveats over the information – a lot of important facts, such as social and health background, age, ethnicity, smoker/drinker, etc., not known in this study
  • perhaps too partial and thus resulted in knee jerk reactions

The General, Municipal Boilermakers Union (the GMB – should, perhaps, think of changing its name) declared the ‘figures horrifying’.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of ‘Unite the Union’, in response said, on 11th May, it was the poorer workers who were expected to return to work, and take the most risk;

‘It’s certainly an obvious division that blue collar workers, factory workers, mainly lower paid workers are being told to go back to work while those with a higher earning scale can stay safely at home.’

How many people have been infected in Britain?

David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, astounded that people still don’t know how many people have likely to have been infected, on 10th May;

‘They’re hungry for details, for facts, and yet they get fed, what I call, number theatre – which seems to be co-ordinated really much more by the No. 10 communications team rather than genuinely trying to inform people about what’s going on. I just wish that the data, which has been brought together was presented by people who really knew its strength and limitations and could treat the audience with some respect.’

More on covid pandemic 2020