Britain’s still in lockdown, but the government–after a good bit of pushing–has announced that it’s preparing an exit strategy.
That’s not pushing from people who want the freedom to infect their neighbors and loved ones but from people who accept that lockdown’s necessary but want to end it in some way that doesn’t undo the progress. Along, predictably, with pushing from business people who get to sleep at night by counting money disappearing over the fence instead of sheep.
Stay tuned. We’re told we’ve passed the peak of the epidemic. Stay tuned on that too. I hope it’s true.
Testing & Protective Gear
Britain’s been frantically trying to test more people because the government set an arbitrary goal for itself and doesn’t want to look like the kind of government that can’t meet its own arbitrary goals. Also (and I can’t help thinking it’s their secondary concern, but then I’m getting more cynical by the minute) because testing’s necessary if we’re ever going to get the virus under control.
The government is managing to perform more tests. It may even meet its goal. But the testing’s a shambles. To get a test, people are having to drive all over hell and gone and wait in a long line of cars only for some of them to be told that the tests have run out and then (by the computer) that they can’t rebook because they were just tested. (Yes, that seems to have happened to at least one someone.)
A statement from NHS Providers, the organization of National Health Service hospitals, says, “NHS trust leaders…feel they are on the end of a series of frequent tactical announcements extending the testing criteria to new groups with no visibility on any longer term strategy, and are being expected at the drop of a hat to accommodate these changes with no advance notice of planning.”
Britain had a chance to buy 50,000 home testing kits from a company in the U.S. but wrote back to say, “Ho, hum, boring boring boring. Not interested.”
The test is less invasive than and at least as accurate as what it’s using now, and it allows people to test themselves at home instead of booking an appointment, driving, waiting, being told they’ve run out of test kits, and all the rest of that joy. And all that sounds good, but the home testing kits didn’t come with a side of fries, so why bother?
And as long as the right number of tests get performed–or at least logged–it’s all good.
British coroners have been told not to look at systemic failures to provide protective gear when they consider deaths among NHS workers. They can consider human failure, though. So basically, they can blame the individual but not the system.
And they wonder why people break windows.
Britain isn’t the only country struggling to get protective gear to frontline staff. German doctors have posed naked to draw attention to how vulnerable the lack of protective equipment has left them.
But Britain is probably the only country that, in order to boost the amount of protective equipment it can boast about providing, counts each glove separately instead of counting them in pairs. It also counted body bags, paper towels, and cleaning equipment as protective gear.
A British textile factory belonging to the department store chain John Lewis has at long last been contracted to make 8,000 clinical gowns, but other textile firms say they’re desperate to help and can’t get the government to respond.
See breaking windows, above.
Other Triumphs in the Supply Chain
A batch of 250 ventilators that were bought from China on April 4 have turned out to be unusable and possibly dangerous. They supplied a variable level of oxygen and the oxygen connection base was marked “non-EU.” Technical staff spent days trying to make them work and couldn’t.
They also had a fabric case that made them hard to clean and were designed for ambulances, not hospitals.
Other than that, they were great, though.
They cost somewhere between £1,000 and £2,500 each. I’m not sure why there’s a range of prices but if you’re in the market for a few hundred, you’ll want to hold out for the lower price.
Light Relief and Good News
Three London roommates missed their commute so much that they recreated it in their shower and posted it on TikTok.
Yeah, go on, follow the link.
Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old (now 100-year-old) who raised £33 million for the NHS by walking laps around his garden, supported by his walker, received 125,000 birthday cards. By now it’s probably more. The post office was overwhelmed and his grandson’s school offered to open and display them.
They found £60,000 inside the cards.
This probably won’t surprise you, but condom sales are down since the lockdown started.
Not long ago (time’s adrift in lockdown, or at least I am, so let’s keep it vague) I wrote that a test of remdesivir had been abandoned because it wasn’t helping and the side effects (liver and kidney problems) were too damaging. But the preliminary results of a different test show more promise: It cut recovery time from 15 days to 11 and the death rate in the group on remdesivir was 8% compared with 11.6% in the control group.
The full data from the trial hasn’t been released and it’s not a knockout blow in any case, so I wouldn’t set off any fireworks yet, but the drug hasn’t been ruled out.
More Light Relief and Good News
A 7-year-old, dressed as a tricertops, has been riding his toy tractor to deliver food to neighbors. Who could fail to be nourished?
I’d love to give you a link for that but you’ll just have to take my word and say “Awww,” because he looked very cute. It was on the evening news and all Lord Google wanted to talk about when I looked for a picture of the kid was a 65-million-year-old triceratops skull that was found somewhere or other and isn’t going to deliver lunch to anyone.
A couple of companies have come together to refurbish bikes that have been abandoned at train stations so they can be donated to key workers.
No, I don’t know why anyone would abandon a bike at a train station, but some 20 are left behind every month. And they’re lonely. So this is good news for everyone.
Religion and the Coronavirus
Germany’s government and religious groups are trying to work out safety guidelines for religious services as the lockdown there eases, and one sticking point is how to handle singing, which is not only an important part of many services but a great way to spread the virus. You know all that business about projecting your voice? When you do it, you also project tiny droplets of spit, and riding on them, if you happen to be harboring the virus, are even tinier little viral warriors, looking for new humans to assault, all of them yelling some viral version of “Yee ha!” but they’re so small that you can’t hear them.
I don’t think any controlled studies of this have been done yet, but I can offer you an impressive bit of anecdotal evidence from one Protestant cathedral in Berlin: 59 out of 78 choir members became infected.
Many evangelical churches in the U.S. have pushed their members to keep on showing up to services, and they’re logging–this may not surprise you–a high incidence of coronavirus. And hinting that there might be some sort of cosmic justice, that includes their ministers.
The All-Important R Number
Germany, having slowed the spread of the virus, is warning about the danger of a second wave in the summer or fall. It all has to do with the R number.
You know: the R number.
Okay, I didn’t know the R number either. It sounds like one of those things from algebra class that helped make high school such a misery, but it’s not. Or if it is, I’m damned if I’ll admit it.
The R number measures how many people an infected person passes the bug on to–in other words, the reproduction rate of the virus. Without controls, an infected person passes it on to two or three people. The German R number is now below one. That means it’s spreading, but slowly.
If it stays below one, the theory goes, the virus will eventually fizzle out. Anything above one and it will grow exponentially: I give it to, let’s say, one and a quarter people (c’mon–we’re dealing with averages here), they all give it to one and quarter people, and those people all and so forth, and before you know what’s hit you, a lot of people are sick.
German researchers recommend using this time while the spread has been slowed down to massively expand testing capacities and contact tracing.
A German coronavirus expert writes that “to achieve herd immunity we need 60-70% of the population to carry antibodies to the virus. The results of antibody tests suggest that in Europe and the U.S. in general, we are in the low single digits, but the tests are not reliable.”
A second wave of infections, he says, can’t be contained only by humans handling the contact tracing. Electronic contract tracing will be needed.
The British R number right about now is estimated to be somewhere between 0.6 and 0.9. Keep your eye on that word estimated.
A study from Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori will follow 100,000 people to see if transmission rates are low enough to come out of lockdown safely. The participants will be given home test kits to see if they’re currently infected, then tested again in four to six weeks, or when it loooks like lockdown restrictions are ready to be relaxed.
The International Grab Bag
As of April 28, Hong Kong had had just four Covid-19 deaths and 811 recoveries.
Worldwide, there had been 220,000 known deaths and 957,000 recoveries. When you look at those numbers, though, remember that not all coronavirus deaths are officially attributed to the virus. In Britain, for example people who died of Covid-19 in care homes are only now being added to the list of pandemic deaths. It’s a small victory for sanity and reliable statistics, although I’m not sure how much practical difference it makes. I’ve been trying to find out if deaths in the community are being counted and I’m still not sure.
That still leaves the problem of deciding who’s a coronavirus death when testing isn’t available. To a large extent, it’s up the doctor who signs the death certificate, which could easily lead to undercounting.
In the U.S., the number of known coronavirus deaths is now larger than the total number of American soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. If you feel the need for a statistic, 58,220 died in the war.
Brazil’s response to the virus has been in a category of its own. It’s had 50,000 deaths. When reporters asked its president, Jair Bolsonaro, about the death rate having reached 474 in a day, he said, “So what? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do about it? I’m a Messiah, but I don’t do a miracle”
Only he said it in Portuguese, so you’ll find varying translations.
Meanwhile, China is trying to contain a new outbreak in a northeastern province, Heilongjiang.
Money and the Virus
The British government, in its wisdom, has rejected a call to bar companies that use offshore tax havens from receiving bailouts and support packages resulting from the pandemic.
It was a silly idea anyway. I mean, just because they avoid taxes, why should that keep them from getting taxpayer support?
I’ve gone on longer than I meant to, even after booting out a lot of news. I’m going to try posting shorter updates more often and see how that works. In the meantime, stay well. It’s crazy out there.