Increased restrictions in September – too few or too many?

More on covid pandemic 2020

Increased restrictions in September – too few or too many?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How good is the science for the September 2020 restrictions?

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

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

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

Living with the virus or attempting to defeat it?

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

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

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

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

What does ‘follow the science’ really mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The messages from the Government

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

Testing

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

Government to prioritise NHS and care homes for testing.

Matt Hancock – we will ration tests.

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

Hancock says Covid testing crisis may last weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vaccine

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

Food Banks, food policy and a lack of a strategy

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

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

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

Universities and the student return

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

The anti-lock down movement

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

Care Homes

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

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

The ‘Nationalists’

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

Flu jabs

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

Even the scientists are millionaires

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

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

‘Herd immunity’

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

Prospects for employment in the coming months

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

Poor Housing

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

Government strategy

What’s a strategy?

More on covid pandemic 2020

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

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

More on covid pandemic 2020

Britain still in covid-19 lock down – with the lunatics in charge of the asylum

The same issues keep on coming up and the Government of the Buffoon (but with the Buffoon himself stating out of the limelight) still makes policy decisions which most find mind-boggling. Welcome to Britain – but if you come after 8th June be prepared to put yourself in a 14 day quarantine.

Testing

The much vaunted figure of 100,000 tests per day was, surprise, surprise, attained on 31st April – but not on too many days since. And in place of an investigation into why numbers are not going up we are merely given another number and another target date.

But some doubts have been cast on whether the information is even accurate, with the possibility that some tests are being counted twice. That might be a valid approach if that was the way they have been counted in the past – but shouldn’t have people been informed of that? I’m sure than most people would have thought that the number of tests carried out was, in fact, the same as the number of people tested.

I might be missing something but is the Government still declaring how many tests are carried out each day? It seems those numbers were bandied about when it suited but things have gone quiet as the targets are difficult to attain. And now all the news is about the new antigen test. So two different tests which will cause even greater confusion and make it almost impossible to know what is going on.

Test – Track – Isolate

Adam Kucharski, working on the mathematical analysis of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Radio 4, World at One, 21st May;

Q. Is the NHS Confederation correct that there should be no lifting of lock down until a plan for contact tracing is in place?

‘Countries have to be very careful about lifting restrictions without having something to replace them that can ensure a reduction in transmission. Over time we can have more targetted measures, such as track and trace, when we don’t need the more blanket measures. We are still seeing infections appear so we have to be cautious in how we lift those measures.’

Q. Are other European countries lifting lock down measures without track and trace in place?

‘It’s not entirely clear what the long term strategy is in some of the countries. If you lift restrictions then outbreaks can occur and be spread fairly easily so unless there’s something to replace restrictions you may well see other outbreaks occur.’

Q. How easy is it to have personnel doing the contact tracing and is the app necessary?

‘We probably need both these things to work in tandem. Manual contact tracing is labour intensive and if you look at countries who have done this, like S Korea, they have access to a lot more data, such as credit card transactions, phone location data. Even with that level of oversight very quickly the manual effort can increase. The app can particularly pick up contacts that are very difficult to trace. To identify someone in your own house is very easy, identifying some one you sat two tables away from in a restaurant would be much harder. Here apps could potentially add a lot more value.’

Q. Do apps need to be closely integrated to those doing the manual work?

‘From a public health point of view these things are always more effective if you integrate them because then you don’t have them overlapping in effort and wasting resources. Also we need to be thinking about social distancing measures that remain in place alongside these. Other countries that have used contact tracing have still kept infection control and physical distancing. Ideally we can do that in some more moderate way but we need to think of this as a sequence of tools and find the best possible way of combining them.’

Q. We hear of issues of those employed to do the tracing not knowing exactly what to do. Can you see contact tracing all happening by the beginning of next week?

‘To make sure of identifying contacts and to be confident, especially of lifting measures, we do need to ensure that we are capturing quite a large proportion of transmissions. Our modelling shows as soon as you get delays in identifying contacts this will lead to more transmissions. We want the system to be as effective as possible.’

On 20th May the Buffoon made a big thing about a ‘world-class’ contract tracing system being up and running by 1st June. Only a day later that was changed to ‘early next month (June)’ but now without the much vaunted NHSX Smartphone app.

The NHS Confederation was still cautious about any major changes in the lock down before effective contact tracing was in place. Niall Dickson, chief executive of the confederation, said on 21st May;

‘We are absolutely clear that contact tracing is the right thing to do, it is absolutely critical, it has got to be in place to prevent any notion of a second surge if the lock down is being further released.’

Testing – or not

Although already mentioned it doesn’t do any harm to remind people about the report that surfaced on Tuesday which criticised the decision to stop community testing on March 12th.

Antibody tests

These are likely to be the next ‘best thing’, theoretically providing proof of whether someone has already contracted the infection, recovered and possibly immune to any re-infection. Their efficiacy still hasn’t been proven (but even so the Government has a contract with the pharmceutical giant Roche to provide millions of such tests) but already major companies are playing on peoples’ fears, and hopes of immunity, and are selling them online.

The high street chain Superdrug was one of the first. On sale 21st May, sold out on 22nd – at £69.00 a pop.

14 day quarantine on international arrivals

Loath as I am to have to say so but I agree with one of the most unpleasant present day representatives of the free market economy, Michael O’Leary, the Chief Executive of the budget airline Ryanair, that the introduction of a 14 day quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK is a crass and irrational response to any fear of the virus coming into the country. Millions of people have arrived in the UK since the lock down was declared on 23rd March and any measures to protect the country so late in the day borders on the farcical. After a lock down the last thing you need is a further restriction on movement – especially one that doesn’t make any sense at all.

More details were unveiled on the afternoon of 22nd May. For some reason this will not come into force until 8th June. There will be exemptions – but what’s the point of a rule if there are exemptions which will basically undermine the rule?

The role of unions in the covid-19 pandemic

When we live in a time ‘ruled’ by a bunch of useless public schoolboys (and girls) – who most of the time of the covid-19 pandemic in Britain seem to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off – it’s an opportunity to those organisations of the workers to show some ability, insight and forward thinking and take on a role of leadership. In light of the fact there is no revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Party to take up that banner it has been left to the Trade Unions. However, with few exceptions, they have shown themselves lacking.

In the early days of the lock down there were a number of wildcat strikes where workers were taking immediate action to safeguard their safety – decided upon and organised at a local level, without recourse to the national leadership and certainly with no concern of so-called ‘cooling off periods’ and the only ballot being a showing of hands.

Most of the time we hear of trade unions in the present situation it’s when the union leadership reacts to an event, this is from both individual trade union leaders and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which should be presenting a unified approach of organised labour to the ‘unprecedented’ crisis that covid-19 has brought to the fore.

At the moment it’s the education trade unions that are not covering themselves in glory. At best they are merely frightened at worse they display a total inability to analyse and respond to an unknown situation. Instead of looking for ways out of the problem they seem to look for reasons NOT to do something, being obstructive in the face of the (admittedly half-baked and muddled) plans of the Buffoon and his government to get education moving again.

One of the education union leaders, Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union (NEU), seemed to treat the whole thing as a game and a poll carried out by the NASUWT, one of the other education unions, found that only 5% of its 30,000 members believed it was safe for children to return to education on 1st June – going against the vast majority of the scientific evidence that such a move was neither prejudicial to the children nor the teachers themselves. And these are the people entrusted with the education of future generations.

We can all criticise how this pandemic is being managed (and that’s all I’m doing on these posts) but there comes a time when to move forward others have to take the reins of leadership. The British Labour Party is incapable of doing so and that leaves the task to the workers organised in their unions – but that won’t be the case if all the unions do is cower in a corner and hope the the pandemic will just go away. They are acting just the same as the Government.

Problems don’t solve themselves and it’s for organised labour to face up to the problems now or they will have no chance of having any positive impact upon society when we return to the ‘new normality’ – a normality which will have many more hundreds of thousands of workers in unemployment on top of the abysmal situation we have allowed workers conditions to fall into in the years before anyone ever heard of covid-19.

Nationalists

The nationalist parties in the UK, especially the Scottish, have loved playing their own game in the last two months of the all Britain lock down. The fact that areas such as health were devolved as part of the capitulation to the nationalists means that here is an area where the devolved governments have a great deal of autonomy. And the Nationalists have used it to their utmost, perceived, advantage. But they don’t like it when it’s pointed out.

Profiteering during the pandemic

Although there may be positive changes in attitude by many during this pandemic, which makes the society more cohesive, there will always be those who seek to profit from the misery of others. There’s constant mention in Britain (when isn’t it when it comes to any crisis?) of the Blitz (the aerial bombing of London and other major cities in Britain by the Nazi air force in the Second World War) and the Dunkirk Spirit (when retreating British armed forces escaped from western France in 1940) and how the country came together. But they conveniently forget the looting of bombed properties, the ‘Black Market’, the ‘spivs’ (small time conmen), break-ins and burglaries, rapes and murders that went on in the black-outs as well as all-round profiteering when companies knew they could charge the Government what they liked for their goods or services.

Obviously not on anything like the same scale (although we don’t now all that’s been going on in the last couple of months) profiteers have already had a field day and are filling their boots when they can. Although the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is a part of Government nothing will happen about these abuses. The response of the Government to this sanctioned theft? The Department for Business maintained ‘the vast majority’ of firms were acting responsibly.

How is knowledge growing about covid-19?

After infections and deaths over a period a little under three months since the first death on 5th March the statistics of the infections and deaths in the intervening period have started to paint an interesting picture of the pandemic – as it has worked its way through the UK but whilst also filling in the international picture.

Taking the statistics up to the week ending 8th May it’s possible to say (according to David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University);

  • ‘pattern of covid deaths is changing
  • ‘around half the deaths from covid were in the community – and therefore only half in hospitals’
  • ‘the median age of deaths for women was 87, for men 82’
  • ‘this shows the penetration into care homes’
  • ‘epidemic in the community seems to be largely under control’
  • ‘in care homes and even hospitals there’s a bigger risk of infection’
  • ‘1 in 1600 of the population have died of covid’
  • ‘for those over 90 ‘1 in 70’
  • ‘for kids between 5 and 14 there’s only been one registered death, in a population of 7 million – although there will probably be more’

Other information from the statistics available at this moment, 22nd May;

  • 90% of those who had died in March and April had ‘underlying health conditions’
  • in 25% of all deaths the persons had diabetes (although it is not specified whether that is Type 1 or 2) – that came out as 5,800 out of 22,000 deaths in hospital
  • those with dementia and Alzheimer are highly at risk
  • at any one time (according to statistics released for the first two full weeks of May) 1 in 400 people in the UK are infected. That means the chances of meeting one by chance is very low – the problem with covid-19, however, is because an infected person can be asymptomatic and be infectious you don’t know who that one person might be.

How is the virus spread?

By a small percentage of the population normally. This has been the pattern with previous recent outbreaks such as HIV, SARS and Ebola – and now covid-19 it has been proposed. This report suggests that events where there are a lot of people, in very close proximity and where there might be a lot of vigorous activity, such as fitness centres or night clubs, could be classified as ‘super-spreader events’. Nothing is certain here as the spread of any infectious disease can be complex, but such studies start to suggest that certain activities and locations could be pin pointed as potential infectious hot spots which could then be approached in a considered manner.

Such an approach is needed to get away from the blanket approach which, honestly, only displays fear and ignorance – the approach that has characterised virtually all countries response to the pandemic.

Universities in Britain – all Open University now

The Open University was established in 1969 with the aim of providing part time, distance learning degree opportunities for those who (for various reasons) couldn’t commit to a full time university course. And it did – and is still doing – its job very well, the invention of the internet making distance learning more proactive and with occasional meet ups with fellow course members at various times of the year. But this was the exception – not the rule.

When the lock down was declared in March all universities eventually closed down, sent their students and staff home and any teaching went on line. This time of year is exam time and so even exams are taking place online – although I don’t know exactly how they are doing that. This made sense in the initial stages when knowledge of the virus was in its early stages.

But what normally also happens at this time of year is that the new intake of, mainly, 18 year olds decide at which university they want to study. At least one, Manchester University, stated they would only have lectures online for the first term of the 2020-2021 academic year – others are expected to follow suit.

However, on 19th May Cambridge University declared that all lectures would be online for the whole of the academic year.

If this matter becomes more general I can’t see why anyone would want to go to university in the academic year 2020-2021 – especially first year students. Going away to university in Britain isn’t just about education. For first year students it’s the first time any of them have been in any way independent in their lives. It’s the moving away from the parental home (although that trend has reversed with the costs of living expenses in the last few years) that makes staying in further education more attractive – as is the so-called ‘campus experience’. And those foundations get laid down in the first year – subsequent years work and study (theoretically) take precedence.

Universities have already stated (as has been the case since the lock down in March) that even if teaching goes online students would still be expected to pay full fees. Even if students do enrol in universities and the ‘social distancing ‘ rules remain the same there’s absolutely no incentive to leave home and pay the huge expense rent and other living expenses in often substandard accommodation and perhaps with people with whom you would rather not spend too much time.

The wider community would also suffer if the thousands of expected students stayed away for a year. Education has become so much of a business in the last 20 years or so that students and what they spend can be as important to a city as is foreign tourism – be that national or international. This is, yet again, a decision which seems to have been taken without taking into account the fall out.

And who is this really protecting? Students in their late teens or early twenties are among the least likely to suffer serious consequences from covid-19 and wouldn’t be at any greater risk than if they stay at home.

I just don’t understand this decision, another example of how risk averse (based upon no evidence) Britain has become.

The old may be dying but it’s the young who will pay the long term price

A report by the Resolution Foundation reports that it’s the young who are going to carry the long term consequences of the pandemic.

It found that;

  • young employees are most likely to have lost work due to furloughing, jobs losses and hours reductions
  • compared to prime-age adults, a smaller proportion of young employees had the same pay in May as before the coronavirus crisis hit
  • young (and old) employees are the least able to weather the crisis by working from home

On top of this the number of new job vacancies has also fallen sharply – 170,000 fall from February to April, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

And all the debt that’s being accumulated in the last couple of months will be expected to be paid by someone – hands up the young.

The poor you will always have with you (Mark 14:7)

It’s amazing how the poor are also thought about in times of crisis – but totally ignored in the ‘good times’. There have been many declarations of concern for the poor in the last two months of the lock down such as the homeless and children who need to claim free school dinners (who are always, insultingly, described as coming from ‘deprived backgrounds’).

In the debate about whether or not schools should restart (or at least part of them) on 1st June, Andy Preston, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, argued that it was important to open the schools as soon as possible as this was imperative for the ‘deprived’ children as they need education to get them out of their ‘deprivation’.

This is merely an example of the crassness of British society. There’s the concept, constantly being promoted by those who have the wealth and the power that it only needs an extra push for the poor to drag themselves out of the mire in which they find themselves – this is the so-called ‘social mobility’ lie.

Such arguments are loved by those in power as it places all the responsibility of their poverty on the poor themselves – all they need is to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. This idea was pushed in the 19th century and it’s still with us now in the 21st. Those 200 years have not eradicated poverty and neither will the next 200 if things remain the same.

The sanctimonious Victorians made such trite statements and those who continue in the same vein maintain that ‘improvements’ in poverty can be made without any substantial changes to society. They don’t realise, or accept, that poverty is a pre-condition for the existence of capitalism.

Activities which result in large donations to charities are applauded, the very existence of food banks in every town is considered an ‘advance’, but if people are really serious about eradicating poverty, in this country or any other part of the world, a much more systemic change is necessary.

Putting matters into perspective

Amphan is the name of the cyclone that has been battering India and Bangladesh in the last few days, made landfall early on 21st May and then headed north. Events like this should make people living in the privileged ‘industrialised’ countries put the covid-19 pandemic into perspective. Before this cyclone moves away hundreds, if not thousands, of people are likely to lose their lives.

Bangladesh is one of the countries which is particularly susceptible to climate change as the vast majority of the country is only a few metres above sea level. The winds that are moving inland will no longer be causing damage but the amount of water in the rainfall when the storm hits the high mountains will eventually arrive at the Bay of Bengal, flooding the huge low lying delta on its way.

And those in different parts of the world whose lives were precarious before the arrival of covid-19 will now be in even more danger of the ravages of poverty. The 60 million (surely only a wild guestimate) of these people identified by the World Bank certainly puts the numbers of deaths in Europe, so far due to the pandemic, into some sort of perspective.

Changes to laws under the radar

The various British governments (of whatever colour) have built up a reputation of releasing contentious reports or trying to introduce changes to legislation on ‘quite news days’. They are also not averse to slipping in such law changes when everyday is a big news day and covid-19 drowns out everything else.

That’s what is happening to changes in the already draconian anti-terrorism laws. You wouldn’t have thought there was any need to restrict even more any legal rights for a suspected (but not convicted) ‘terrorist’ – but not the British Government. When someone can be arrested and held just on the say so of the security services already the Tories (no doubt with the implicit support of all the other political parties in Parliament) now want to increase unlawful detention indefinitely.

Whenever ‘terrorist’ legislation is discussed in Britain the argument is always presented, by the State, that if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. However, everyone should be aware that the definition of a ‘terrorist’ is growing all the time and can theoretically include any anti-State activity.

We shouldn’t let the dominance of one problem in society blind us to what is going on around us, hidden and without our permission.

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