The pandemic news from Britain: cats, profiteers, rule-breakers, and the Dunkirk spirit

People in Belper, Derbyshire, are dealing with Covid-19 isolation by going to the window or doorstep at 6:30 every evening and mooing. The instigator, Jasper Ward, said he figured it would last a day or two but after six weeks folks are still crazed enough to think this is a great idea.

My thanks to Autolycus for pointing me in the direction of this important information. My life would be poorer without it. And so would yours.


In Hong Kong, the zoo’s giant pandas are coping with coronavirus isolation by mating for the first time. Pandas aren’t thrilled about mating in captivity, and artificial insemination doesn’t have a great track record, so zookeepers are delighted, even though the last time I checked it wasn’t clear whether a little pandalet was on the way.

We can assume the pandas are happy as well.


Britain’s Tesco supermarket chain is also making the best of things. It got a £585 million tax break from the government in emergency coronavirus support (I’m not sure why since food stores seem to be doing very well, thank you, but what do I know?). Then it announced that it would pay out £635 million in dividends to its shareholders–a total of £900 million for the year.

Tesco’s chair, John Allan, said it was the right thing to do.


Cats and their people were in a frenzy for a day or three over bungled advice to keep all cats indoors during the pandemic. A tiger in the Bronx Zoo had caught the disease from a keeper, leading the world to realize that cats and ferrets (but not dogs) are susceptible.

So the British Veterinary Association (apparently–there seems to be a lot of confusion involved in all this) advised people to keep their cats in.

All cats. All the time.

The website got so many hits that it crashed. Just to be on the safe side, our cat, Fast Eddie, spent the night outside. He knew which side of the window he wanted to be on if it closed forever and he knew that enough other cats were on the internet to keep that website crashed.

The next day, our veterinarian’s office sent an email saying they don’t recommend keeping all cats in and cats are not suspected of transmitting the disease to humans, although they could transmit it to other cats.

Eddie came back inside. It was time for breakfast anyway.

Daniel Kuritzkes, head of infectious diseases at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said the information that’s available does support “the recommendation that people who are with COVID-19 should be distancing themselves, not only from other household members but also from their household pets, so as not to transmit the virus to their pets, particularly to cats or other felines.”

That’s good news for cats–and for the government, because it had made no moves to keep its prime ministerial cat, Larry, indoors. Even when the prime minister and some good portion of his cabinet came down with the virus, Larry strolled around outside Number 10 Downing Street as imperturbably as only a cat can.

No, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of telling him he couldn’t go out, but if Eddie’s expected to stay in while Larry’s out for a stroll–well, I don’t want to be in charge of that conversation either.


Speaking of creatures who don’t want to stay in, the housing secretary, Rober Jenrick, got caught driving to his parents’ house after he’d made public appearances telling everyone else to save lives by staying home. It was okay, though, because he was bringing them food and medicine–something at least one newspaper reports that community members were already doing.

That was worth a couple of days of flapping before it was forgotten. It’s not like the thing with the cats, after all.


The prime minister himself is now out of the hospital and recovering not where he lives, above Number 10, where Larry has been doing his frustrated best to advise him, but at Chequers, the grace and favor country residence that prime ministers get to pretend is theirs for as long as they can stay in office.

Sorry about that “residence” bit, but when a building’s expensive enough you end up using words like that. It’s all the fault of real estate agents–called simply estate agents in Britain, possibly because the British don’t believe they’re real.

He’s at Chequers because he’s the prime minister, and because his government’s been telling everyone not to travel to their second homes.

It will, I’m sure, surprise you to hear this, but not everyone in Britain actually has a second home. Or a first one.


But we were talking about cats. They’re more interesting than prime ministers and they have fur..

Veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and veterinary dentists have been recruited to help out in hospitals to help alleviate the shortage of medical personnel. Their training will include the suggestion that they not offer patients their hand to sniff.

Across the land, cats breathed a sigh of relief.


In Shetland, the hospital’s communications officer, Carol Campbell, posted a note on social media that staff were running out of scrubs–the clothing they wear and change out and wash endlessly to prevent cross-contamination. Across the island, volunteers broke out their sewing machines, found patterns, and started cutting up every piece of cloth that wasn’t currently on somebody’s body. Hospital staff have been running around wearing floral patterns, cartoon characters, and the giant faces of the band One Direction.

Other groups around the country are doing similar work, but without, as far as I can establish from the safety of my couch, the nifty graphics because the hospitals they’re giving them to are holding out for regulation colors. One group has a GoFundMe page, Helping Dress Medics, to raise money for fabric. That effort was started, appropriately enough, by the costume designer for His Dark Materials, Dulcie Scott, and involves costume makers from the film and theater world.

But the larger story isn’t all Dunkirk spirit and lovely people with pinking shears. Hospitals are running out of protective gear of all sorts. A group of nurses made do with bin bags. All later tested positive for the virus. Government ministers say it’s a distribution problem. Everything will be arriving tomorrow.

Okay, but it’ll be there over the weekend.

Or possibly next week.

After a where’s-the-home-secretary campaign on social media (which may or may not have affected anything but did make me aware of her disappearance), Priti Patel finally took center stage at the daily Covid-19 briefing and said, “I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that.”

So that’s very, very clear. Especially the “if” and the “feel” part.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “There’s enough PPE to go around, but only if it’s used in line with our guidance.”

In other words, stop playing football with the stuff, you reckless idiots.

The British Medical Association says supplies are at dangerously low levels around the country and lives are at risk.

Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a doctor who went on Facebook pleading with the prime minister to provide protective equipment for front line staff and to ensure that healthcare workers get tested for the virus, has died of Covid-19.

I’m having a hard time being funny all of a sudden. I heard his son interviewed on the radio. He asked people to remember his father’s name.

Refugee doctors whose accreditation comes from other countries are asking to be fast tracked so they can help alleviate of the shortage of doctors and nurses. The British accreditation process, they say, is long, difficult, and expensive. RefuAid says it has gathered copies of the qualifications of 230 doctors, which come from their home countries

The health secretary said he’d discuss the proposal. He didn’t say who he’d discuss it with.


On a cheerier note, the Faroe Islands, with a population of 61,000, haven’t yet had a single death from the virus and have only one person hospitalized with it. They’re getting ready to reopen schools.

What did they do right? They listened to a veterinary scientist, Debes Christiansen, who warned them that the virus was coming.

Christiansen’s lab is set up to test salmon for viral infections, but he bought the supplies he’d need to test humans and 10% of the population has now been tested. The contacts of people who tested positive were traced and quarantined. Christiansen said it was easy to adapt his lab and to get hold of the materials he needed. He could, he said, use a wider range of suppliers than hospitals could.

No, I don’t understand that last bit either, but he could do a thousand tests a day if they were needed.

So why is the UK having such trouble testing people? See that bit neither of us understood about the range of suppliers. It probably means something along the lines of “We have regulations and we’re not going to abandon them just because people are dying.”

Or possibly not. I’m in the dark and making guesses at where the door is.

An opposition MP praised not just Christiansen but also the government for setting up a drive-in testing facility and quarantine facilities at an airport hotel.

The Faroes, in case this is useful information, are a self-governing territory of Denmark.


And finally, the spacecraft BepiColombo made its closest approach to Earth on April 10, took a good look at the mess we’re in, and headed off to Venus. Can’t say I blame it.

Stay safe, be careful, and try not to let it make you crazy. We’re hiding from things we can’t see. It’s easy for that to tip a person over the edge.

109 thoughts on “The pandemic news from Britain: cats, profiteers, rule-breakers, and the Dunkirk spirit

  1. Thanks for the laughs and much neede slantwise look you do so well. Belper is where my family comes from. Do please stop me if I start mooing.

    Meanwhile, the design and technology department of our local school is making those plastic face shields for the local hospital. Used school funding for the first batch. Asked for a further£350 on crowdfunding site, it’s at 3500 and growing.


    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m not at all sure how that works. I think all they’ve said (and I haven’t gone back to check this) is that there’s no verified transmission from cats to people. But the articles I found were sketchy and not meant for or written by scientists. Take them as a rough indication of what’s going on, not the final word.


    • There’s nothing like weathering self-inflicted storms to get a person down. None of this had to get so bad. If they’d planned. If they’d quarantined. If they’d listened to a guy who tests salmon, who admittedly was talking to his own government, not Britain’s, but surely his counterpart was over here yelling as loud as he could and being sidelined.

      Stay well, Inge.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If it wasn’t so sad and serious, the government’s whole approach to this would be regarded as a joke. But I guess that’s what you get from voting for clowns (I didn’t, by the way).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a front line health worker in primary care, I was told last week that I could get tested if (a) I logged on and booked a testing slot at one of the two car park testing stations in England and (b) I had to drive (not travel by public transport) to Nottingham or Greenwich testing stations. I didn’t bother.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Good post Ellen! The part about the grocery store bail out caused teeth grinding across the pond. But balanced with yuks and moos and a nice soft landing. It snowed – a lot – on Easter and there are tornadoes killing people and taking the electrical grid down in the south. That’s the news from Little Merry Sunshine of the North.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always good to hear from you, Little Merry Sunshine. Ida just forwarded me a story about sidewalk art in the Twin Cities. (That was, presumably, before the snow. Or under it. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone shoveling just so they could draw on the sidewalk.) Anyway, I’ll include it in the next update.


  5. Meanwhile, and the mean in meanwhile appears to be accurate here, the cockwomble in charge is gung hoe for all of us to get back to work. Even though we have not quite developed herd immunity nor that other part preventive testing. And tweet has it he is not happy with the medical expert on our national virus response team. It is a toss up what the good news is. It could be that some areas have finally started to flatten the curve of infection. Or it could be that the cockwomble’s behavior might be the biggest impediment to his own re-election. I will leave it to you to decide which one you like best. Stay calm and carry on dodging cockwombles as best you can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cockwombles are hard to dodge–and so are invisible viruses. Or virii. Or whatever the plural of virus turns out to be. That’s the nice thing about being a retired editor: I can spot the problem and decide–serenely, mind you–not to worry about the solution. The point about dodging invisible things is that you just can’t tell whether to zig or zag.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re probably right about the U.K. clinging to all the rules for tendering and processing and thus making bad worse.
    Little Costa Rica is doing its best….the main public university and the state technical university are turning out masks and developing ventilators, while researching ways to deal with the bug….the national apprenticeship institution has opened workshops to make protective clothing – all this with none of the bureaucracy which normally characterises the country.

    Liked by 3 people

    • They made of mess of it from the start, refusing to quarantine people as they repatriated them from Wuhan, underfunding the NHS for a decade and tearing it apart with an assortment of privatizations and reorganizations, not stockpiling protective gear, not preparing to test, thinking herd immunity was a strategy until the whole thing was completely out of control. We either have or will soon have the highest death rate in Europe. What an accomplishment.

      Sorry–I lose my sense of humor sometimes in these comments. Underneath the jokes, I am seriously furious at what they’ve done. Our prime minister–Mr. Herd Immunity–suddenly discovered he was one of the herd, not the lord of the manor and not (to shift metaphors) the cowboy. Will it change his policies? I doubt it.

      Stay well. Be careful. It’s dangerous out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This post was so clever I had to check myself to see whether it was real.
    I have to admit I am not a huge fan of your PM but listened to his speech yesterday when he left the hospital and thought perhaps I had judged him too harshly because he seemed to sincerely be grateful to his caregivers, but your info that he is recovering at Chequers restores him to his original place in my judgment.
    The information on the Faroe Islands was truly mind boggling. Good for them and the vet who was brilliant. We here in the Colonies have a leader who seriously considered letting the virus “wash over the country and let the herd separate itself.” Nice. Who are these people? More importantly, who elected them?
    Thanks for the smiles and education this morning.
    Stay safe, my friends.

    P.S. I am sure Fast Eddie could take Larry behind the barn and give him what for.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m sure Eddie’d try, but I have it from a reliable source that Larry gives the cat from the Foreign Office (whose name I’ve forgotten) a good dose of what for himself. So I don’t think we should arrange to face-off. Eddie has a reputation to protect–or for me to protect.

      It just occurs to me that a lot of the major governmental offices have cats. It’s a shadow government. They really are going to take over, and it can’t happen a moment too soon.

      Don’t believe a minute of Boris’s Bullshit. He’s grateful as hell. Will he get out there and do some serious work on getting them protective gear? Will he pull his raggedy act together and organize a serious response to the crisis? I doubt he’s capable of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the update. I have one question. How do you distance yourself from a cat?

    I thought our stable genius or genius in the stable, bought The Faroes from Denmark. Oh wait, he wanted to buy Greenland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A cat? You can’t, although the cat can distance itself from you. That’s just how it is–it’s never been an equal relationship between cats and humans. And not a single cat has ever tried to buy Greenland.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Dr. Christensen must be using supplies made for testing fish and other animals. Those suppliers would not be normally sending supplies to human hospitals and doctors.

    I believe Elizabeth and her son Charles are holed up also in their second homes/ residences/castles. Harry and Megan have moved to Los Angeles. He us not using a last name in his business dealings, but signs as Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex.

    We are all going batty over here. Social media is full of crazy. No mooning has been reported.

    No cat behavior to report from my neighborhood. Will keep a lookout for further reports.

    Thanks for helping us stay sane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You may well be right about the suppliers, but it’s working. Given the choice between salmon medicine and a lot of deaths, I’ll go with the fish. And Harry and Megan got out before all this started, so they’re playing by a whole different set of rules. As the the queen, I haven’t a clue–I haven’t been following that strand of insanity.

      Keep me posted on the cats.


  10. I was about 12 when I first learned about the Faroe Islands. Houses there have grass on the roofs. I saw a picture of a man mowing his roof and I immediately fell in love. (With the place, not the man.) I’m glad to see that they’re managing the virus situation so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Another terrific read. Also loved all the comments and your responses. As a result, I’ve developed a couple of new ways to while away corona time here in my tiny mobile home in coastal California. I always have to add that coastal bit. We don’t want to be taken for the folks in the valley where there’s a high proportion of people who think our deranged leader is brilliant and staying home is only for fools. I can now moo at my next door neighbors when they return from their trip to Southern California but it won’t be a moo of solidarity. They’re from that valley before moving here. Also, I can now daydream about moving to the sensible Faroe Islands or maybe Germany where reasonable government is struggling a bit but still intact. On my own, via Netflix, I’m watching the British Kitten Rescuers. Two episodes to go after which I may have to see if the local Humane Society has any real cats left to visit or adopt. Between this wacky show and all this talk of Fast Eddie and Larry, I think I could use a furry companion to discuss whether your Boris will emerge a changed man or not. No hope for the narcissist occupying our White House whose biggest source of anxiety is when he can next get down to Mar A Lago. He’d happily kill a million of us if he could just to get there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t have fur, sadly, but I wouldn’t advise you to look for any serious changes in Mr. Johnson. I hope you do get a cat. Or a dog. They’re good company, and most of them have good sense.


    • Larry, I’m sorry to say, is too far away for me to have any influence, but I don’t get the impression that he needs any help from me. Any my moggy is a jealous moggy, so I’ll keep myself focused on him.


  12. This is a nice grab bag of the funny and sad. The Tesco thing is infuriating–and likely to happen here as well. In fact, I’m thinking just how similar the situations are. As for the moo-ers, I think that would be something to see and hear. People here are making masks and gowns as well and I’ve made a couple for myself to wear, since the County wants us to when we’re in public. I wonder how we’ll remember this when it’s over. Somehow, I doubt we’ll learn anything and keep starving our public health systems and … you get the drift.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s amazing how good we are, as a species, at not learning things. As for face masks, I saw some craft blog yesterday with patterns for crocheting masks.

      Give that a moment to sink in: crochet. You know, that lovely way of making yarn into porous objects. What the fuck is she thinking. She could just as usefully hang a feather from her nose, or install windshield wipers.

      I despair.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you, Ellen, especially for the snippet about vets, vet nurses etc, being called up. That idea had occurred to me, but I could find no trace of it having occurred to the Government. Sadly, I can’t get Mad Fifi’s claws clipped by the two intrepid experts it takes, until the claws have actually grown into her paws, when it becomes an emergency operation.

    Liked by 1 person

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