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

Covid-19 in Britain as the country enters ‘Stage 2’

London during the Great Plague 1665

London during the Great Plague 1665

More on covid pandemic 2020

Covid-19 in Britain as the country enters ‘Stage 2’

Give the State an inch and it will take a mile

There’s probably never been an event such as this present covid-19 pandemic that keeps on giving when it comes to the failings of the government – and the general capitalist system. The structure of society is just not geared up to deal with such emergencies – even when this emergency was flagged up a couple of months before it landed on the shores of the sceptred isle.

The government is stuck in its neo-liberal, laissez faire ideology which has convinced them that state intervention should be reduced to a minimum – that is, unless it helps to bail out the financial structure upon which it all depends, as followed the debt-created crisis of 2008. Capitalism itself has the in-built desire to make money out of any opportunity – and something like a pandemic offers huge opportunities to benefit from the suffering of others.

Although the Government still doesn’t have an ‘exit strategy’ to the present lock down in the UK there is a conversation starting about what will happen when such a lowering of the restrictions begin. However, there are some very concerning aspects to some of these ideas which – I fear – will be allowed to be introduced just because people are so fed up with their lives being disrupted in all cases – almost destroyed in others. This is fertile ground for a disreputable and manipulative government and security services to introduce measures which would never have been allowed in ‘normal’ circumstances.

My concerns increase in this field when these ideas seem to be introduced and ‘discussed’ for a short period of time but then seem to fall into the background as the noise of other events takes front stage. But lack of a high profile for these serious matters doesn’t mean they have gone away and there are probably more people working on these topics than on the infrastructure and method for the introduction of mass testing, for example.

Not the time to apportion blame

This is the refrain from the Government on an ever more regular basis now. As their errors and lack of any structure in their response to the pandemic increases every day those who speak for the government (either those in positions to do something or their pet hangers on) are trying to fend of criticism by saying the review of what has (and has not) happened during this crisis should be put off to some indeterminate time on the future.

This is the cry of all incompetents – whether they be in government or business. In this way they hope to make those who criticise the actual guilty ones as they bring up matters which prevent the government ‘concentrating on matters in hand’.

Its the same that’s happening in business and the wider society. Companies and organisations are not processing matters they should in a timely manner because of the virus – with the hope that when there’s a return to ‘normality’ all will be forgotten.

If, in truth, that does happen then the people of this country have only themselves to blame for what happens (or doesn’t happen) next time around.

Testing

As always the matter of testing, or more exactly not-testing, is still not being addressed in an appropriate manner – even when predictions of the final death toll are predicated on the failure of testing in the past.

In a previous post I criticised an ‘expert’ who stated that 40,000 dead would not be a surprise, long before the fatalities had hit half that amount. But just over a week ago more detail was added to the stark figure – which I thought that just stating it would only increase fear and panic among a sizeable proportion of the population. (I’ve never understood why we allow news to be drip fed or released before official statements were made. These people are just treating everything like a game.)

Anthony Costello, (University College London UCL), to the Health and Social care Select Committee, 17th April;

The UK will have

‘… probably the highest death rate in Europe. We have to face the reality of that, we were too slow in a number of things,’ speculating the fatalities could reach 40,000 before things are totally under control.

We are going to face further waves and so we need to make sure we have a system in place that cannot just do a certain number of tests in the laboratory but has a system at district and community level. …. transformations are going on now with General Practice, with the public health Local Authority outbreak teams and it will fall on them to put into place a system that enable you to test people rapidly in the community, in care homes and to make sure the results are got back to them very quickly. And we also maintain social-distancing, of a kind, after we’ve left the national lock down.

… As the WHO (World Health Organisation) has said all along you need to find cases, you need to test those you can. You trace their contacts, you isolate them, you do social-distancing but most important of all you do it all at speed.’

Since then we’ve learnt that the overwhelming number of those who had died in care homes were not part of the figures given out every afternoon. Now that statement is accompanied by the phrase ‘in hospital’ and as the 20,000 figure was passed over the weekend the 40,000 might well be surpassed.

But the questions that have to be asked if Costello’s predictions are proven to be correct are;

  • why was the UK so ill-equipped to deal with the arrival of the virus when it had longer time to prepare than the rest of Europe?
  • why did the Government lie so blatantly that they were prepared for the arrival of a pandemic through previous role playing exercises and knowing that they weren’t why didn’t they immediately start to mitigate the effects of their lack of preparation?
  • why did they just stand there like rabbits mesmerised by car headlights?
  • why is it, 11 days after Costello’s interview on the 17th April, has the government not taken into account the very last words of his contribution on the radio that all testing and tracing has to be done ‘at speed’?

This was the response of Jeremy Hunt, the Chair of the Committee, on World at One, Radio 4, 17th April;

‘Now is not the tight moment to look back, I’m sure we’ll do that exhaustively. …..

[This morning]

‘we heard more from the Health Secretary than we’ve ever heard before about the importance of mass community testing because if you look at Germany (25% more people, death rate 33% of that of the UK), or [South] Korea with no more than 9 deaths in any single day. They’ve done it through testing in the community. And what needs to happen now, if we’re going to emulate the best practice globally, is a massive ramp-up, not just in the testing but in the tracing of everyone who’s been in contact with someone who has the virus, the quarantining, and that is a very manpower intensive process. And if we’re going to be in a position where we can actually track and trace every single person who has had covid or might have had covid in three weeks time [when the lock down next gets reviewed]. …

That is a huge logistical undertaking and it’s clear none of the big decisions have been taken on that. We don’t know yet how much will be done by local government, how much will be done centrally, how much can be done by an app. But if we’re going to copy the best in the world then that’s what we need to do.’

When asked if this meant that the country was just flailing around looking for a testing strategy let alone in the ability to institute such a regime Hunt said;

‘I’ve been one of the people who’s been saying we need to move much faster to testing alongside the very best in the world. We now have this 100,000 to ramp-up. …

… a test is not a cure, a test helps you if you can isolate who has the virus and who they’ve been in contact with and isolate them as well. And we now need to see some very rapid decisions. One of the reasons the testing took too long to ramp-up was that it was all done centrally by Public Health England. Now the Health Secretary today said that he hadn’t decided whether it was going to be done centrally or with local government and I think one of the lessons we can reasonably draw from the slowness of ramping things up centrally on the testing is that this is something we should trust local government to help us with when we move out of the lock-down.’

When asked why the Government had still not decided on that Hunt said;

‘That’s true but they also said they recognise that this was part of the solution, and I haven’t heard it that explicit before. So I think that as with testing, I think they have got the right intentions but we need to work very fast. …. last week in the Committee meeting the Doctor from Korea said they had 1,000 people doing contact tracing, in central and local government. And Neil Ferguson was talking yesterday on the radio about the huge national effort. And this could be tested out in places like Yorkshire or Cornwall today because those are parts of the country that we’ve got relatively few covid cases. And so we could start seeing whether it is possible to lift the lock down by replacing it with the testing and contract tracing. That really has to be the next stage.’

When asked whether he was requesting, suggesting or demanding this from the Government as the issue of testing had been talked about week after week and all that is announced are targets Hunt said;

‘All I would say is in the situation we’ve just got to look at what works best around the world and it’s very clear the stand out country in Europe is Germany, the stand out country in the world is [South] Korea, also Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, so we were behind on testing but now there’s been some good progress made on testing, we’re up to 18,000 tests yesterday, which was a whole lot better than a week ago. The next bit is not just to test but to actually put in place in the community a system so that as we had in first begun a couple of months ago that was stopped on 12th May [he meant March], a system where anyone who thinks they got covid symptoms can call 111, they get a test immediately and then once they’ve had the test we then talk to them about who they’ve been in contact with, test them and isolate them, and that’s what international best practice is.’

Hunt basically said nothing during this interview – not a surprise but it’s useful to remember that even in situations as serious as the present pandemic politicians still follow the same tactics when it comes to answering questions. They have obviously learnt from Peter Sellers who gave this ‘Party Political Speech’ way back in 1958.

In this interview you could sense the bewilderment of the journalist who had the unfortunate job of interviewing such an idiot. Hunt was quoting best practice in countries (mainly in Asia but also in Germany) but didn’t seem to accept that the UK should have been emulating that ‘best practice’ for weeks and was still talking about it happening at some indeterminate time in the future.

Another question that arises from Hunt’s statement is if testing (and presumably tracing) was taking place up the 12th March why was it stopped?

He seems to recognise that a more community based testing process had to be developed, using all available resources at both national and local level but now, more than two weeks later, the testing process is fraught with problems; tests have to be booked online and there aren’t enough ‘slots’ for those requesting a test with them all going in the first hour of each day; there aren’t enough testing centres close to where the people who want the tests are situated; only now is the army being brought in to assist in the process; and just three days from the end of the month when we were promised that the daily figure of those being tested would be 100,000 (still a ludicrously low number) there are barely more than 30,000 tests being carried out on a daily basis five weeks in to the lock down.

And these tests are still being done without a process of contact tracing in place and there doesn’t seem to be any time scale when such follow-up will take place.

Recommended reading

As we are in the middle of a pandemic I decided to re-read Daniel Defoe’s ‘A journal of the plague year’, the year in question being 1665, the place London, the plague the bubonic. It’s fiction but Defoe did a lot of research (he didn’t remember much of the outbreak himself, being only 5 at the time) and he mingles fact with fiction in a way at times you are not sure which is which.

In a previous post I said it seems society hadn’t learnt from the ‘Black Death’ of 1348 (in Britain) as the modern tactic to deal with it was to hide away and hope the Angel of Death would pass over. In 2020 I had expected that the response would have been more aggressive, ‘challenging’ the virus and using our technology and highly developed medical skills to weather the pandemic in a different manner – as we now all know that hasn’t been the case.

In 1665 Londoners (who were most heavily affected by the plague – although it did huge damage in various parts of the country as well) either ran away, stayed at home or died. They hadn’t learnt from the 1348 outbreak (most probably didn’t know there had been a similar situation three hundred years earlier) which isn’t surprising as they thought – wrongly – that transmission was by human contact not understanding that it was carried on the fleas from rats.

The present pandemic is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person and its quite interesting to see the parallels with what happened in 1665 and what is happening now. The changing of a few details and you could be reading a contemporary report of the plague in London today – which is now, as it was 360 years or so ago, the epicentre of the outbreak in Britain.

To give a couple of examples of similarities.

Certain doctors and scientists believed that fires, both in the streets and in the homes, would ‘purify’ the air and thereby make it safer to move around. But there wasn’t agreement on what should be burnt. Some argued for wood fires, with a sub-group arguing for very specific wood. Others believed that coal fires (with all the toxic gases that were released from the coal that came from the north east – there was a huge trade in coal during the outbreak) did the trick. I don’t know if the two sides ever arrived at a consensus – I assume not. But today we have the debate between those arguing for the use of masks and those who think not. Whether that will ever be resolved we will have to wait and see – but I won’t be putting any money on it.

Defoe also related the story of a certain individual who had a leg wound which reacted in specific ways when in the presence of those who looked healthy but were in fact infected and carriers of the disease. Who needs Apple, Google and the NHSX app?

Other versions can be found on the Project Gutenberg website.

Hypocrisy grows as the virus diminishes

The hypocrisy of the odious Tories knows no bounds. At 11.00 on Tuesday 28th April there was a minutes silence for those ‘key workers’ who had died in the last few weeks with symptoms of the covid-19. Also, the day before, the Government announced that the families of those who had died in the NHS would receive a cash handout – and it could be extended to others, presumably to the likes of transport workers as they are the only other ones that I am aware have suffered fatalities in the last month or so.

As mentioned before the Tories are the very people who have been attempting to destroy the established principles of the NHS and have been making every effort in putting the money making aspects of the service into private hands. Being so gutless they don’t propose open privatisation – they prefer the stealth variety in the hope people won’t notice the service being produced for profit. They have constantly lied when challenged about funding and massage the figures so they can justify to themselves that they are maintaining the same level of service. However, the unions, the workers, those who make use of the services and even the management know that the NHS has been starved of cash for decades.

Like the money minded capitalist they are the Tories think they can buy their way out of the problems they themselves have created – lack of preparedness for the pandemic when it arrived; muddled action when the virus was in the country; lack of Personal Protective Equipment (which continues even more than five weeks into the lock down and more than six weeks after the first virus related death); no clear strategy of how to go forward.

Wouldn’t the families of those who have died rather have had those problems resolved than the cash payout? This is just blood money from the Tories.

And the best thing of all it’s not their money. They will take the credit for providing this ‘insurance’ but it’s future generations that will have to pick up the bill.

The app that does everything

… apart from know exactly where you are – according to the Government.

The saga of this miracle app that will help in the battle to defeat the coronavirus looks like it’s a story that will go on running for some time.

The idea of this use of technology came up even before the lock down was introduced in Britain but took a long time to become what could be called ‘government policy’. And as soon as it was first mooted concerns started to be expressed – both for privacy reasons and also whether it would be able to do what it was claimed.

To try and unpick this, starting with the practicalities.

Matters seemed to be moving on this at the beginning of April when it was announced that Apple and Google were working together on an app which would be compatible with the majority of the Smartphones out there. However, one of the important aspects of this app was that it used a decentralised system of passing data around (under pressure from human rights groups internationally).

On 12th April news came out that the NHS was going to use such an app – but it wasn’t stated clearly at that time whether it would be the same one on which the big companies were working.

But it seems the announcement was made before all the practicalities had been thought through.

For the idea to be effective a huge number of people would have to voluntarily sign up – in the region of 80% of all Smartphone users.

Then a report suggested that the UK was too technologically backward for the scheme to be reliable.

Another report suggested that too many Smartphones don’t have Bluetooth capability – the system that would be used for phones to ‘talk to each other. This would make the aim of 80% users signed up extremely difficult to achieve. (The article cited takes an anti-China stance initially – the important stuff comes a few paragraphs in.)

Other issues that came up in discussion were;

  • how accurate is the Bluetooth?
  • would people be prepared to have their phones constantly connected to Bluetooth?
  • what people will do when confronted when actually confronted with the app?
  • will be honest about the symptoms?
  • will some people will be tempted to troll – effectively by telling the app false information

And then, on 27th April, the NHS (i.e., the Government) decides they are not going to use the Apple-Google system after all as they want all information going to a centralised data base. They argue to better be able to use such data for research purposes but which means collecting more information than was first suggested. This argument has some validity, if you don’t know exactly who is involved how will you be able to build up a picture of how the virus has been and is spreading and where? The problem is the people in control of that data – do you trust the present Government?

This announcement came two weeks after Hancock’s big announcement, demonstrating yet again the Government doesn’t know what it’s doing.

On the matter of privacy.

In an effort to ally fears and criticism of breaches of privacy Apple and Google stated they would shut down the app once the need for it was passed.

On the 7th April there was a call for a pan-European tracking app – with the proviso that it had strong data protection built-in.

To give an idea of how the British Security Establishment sees such tracking and tracing it will be useful to read the words of Lord Evans, former head of MI5, on World at One, 13th April;

‘It’s a very intrusive set of proposals as far as we are aware. Obviously they have not yet been implemented.’

… There’s a social and health reason why this needs to happen. People are currently suffering real problems by being contained in their houses. And if the trade off for this is greater intrusion the people will probably want to do that.’

… The Government might say there is a trade off here. Obviously if you can’t accept that level of intrusion then there will have to be constraints on individual movements and who they are associating with. But I think the critical thing here is that this needs to be properly debated, it needs to be open in the way it is debated. There need to be rules and there needs to be redress if something goes wrong. We’re only going to get public support if we have these criteria met.

… We have to learn from our experience of using intrusive anti-terrorist powers that work better if there’s public consent, … if it is proportionate …. with accountability and oversight.’

In times of crisis the capitalist state always seeks to take advantage of people’s fears and introduce measures which would not be countenanced in normal conditions and there’s the distinct possibility the government would maintain this app long after the altruistic reasons for its initial implementation had passed – in the same way that identity cards were retained after WWII.

Some questions that arise from the very idea of this app;

  • at the moment everything is voluntary – but will people be pressurised in some way?
  • would people be denied access to certain geographical areas or even services if they don’t use the app?
  • would the government look at incentives to download and use the app – perhaps an earlier end to restriction?
  • what about people who don’t have a Smartphone?
  • is this just a cheap alternative to proper testing and tracing?

Quote of the last couple of weeks

On 23rd April Donald Trump, the American President suggested;

‘ …I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? So it’d be interesting to check that.’

Perhaps a field trial could be organised, with Trump surrounded by his admirers, à la Jonestown 1978.

Exit Strategy

For England there still isn’t one – although due to the fact that countries in Europe are looking for various ways to move on from the strict lock down the Tories in Britain are having to show at least some sign that they are considering what to do in the future.

Both the Welsh and Scottish governments came up with some sort of strategy a few days ago. But especially in Scotland the First Minister there, Nicola Sturgeon, wasn’t able to miss the opportunity to play the Nationalist card and would go it alone if she thought fit – suggesting there would possible be border controls in the north of England. When she expanded upon this on the 27th April I heard a lot of ‘I’s’, as if she, and she alone, would make the decision. If there isn’t a ‘presidential’ style of Government in Westminster it’s looking very much that it has already been well established in Scotland.

Just goes to prove that Nationalism + Capitalism = Fascism

…. but matters will soon be brought under control

The Buffoon returned to London – and took up ‘the reigns of power’ – on Monday 27th April.

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