The pandemic update from Britain: hope, hype, and a tiger running loose

At the risk of injecting a dangerous note of optimism into these updates, a new blood test looks promising. It might–emphasis on might–be able to pick up traces of Covid-19 a day after a person’s been infected. That would be several days before symptoms show up and most importantly (there may be a small question mark involved here) before a person’s contagious.

That’s four days sooner than any existing test can pick up the beast.

It’s been developed by Darpa–the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency–by the folks who usually work on diagnosing germ and chemical warfare poisoning. The test’s been rushed to the Food and Drug Administration for fast-track approval. If it is approved, it’s expected to be available in the U.S. in the second half of May.

Possibly. The fine print is that approval isn’t guaranteed. And they won’t know how early it can pick up an infection until the test gets approval and they can gather data. And I don’t know what the plan is about making it available elsewhere. But if it works and if it’s approved and if it’s widely enough available, it would mean pre-infectious people could be quarantined and the transmission chain could be broken. And I could finally do my own damn grocery shopping.


Irrelevant photo: A whatsit plant. We got it last year and whatever is it, it survived the winter.

Two other antibody tests are in the works, one from Roche and one from Quotient. The Roche test has gotten FDA approval. Quotient is in the U.K., so the FDA is irrelevant. It says its screening machines could process up to 36,000 tests per day and give results in 35 minutes with 99.8% accuracy. The snag? Both tests are lab-based. They can’t be done at home.


With a whole lot of fanfare, the British government announced that it had met it’s (completely arbitrary) goal of testing 100,000 people a day by the end of April. Some of those tests hadn’t been processed yet, mind you. And others hadn’t actually reached anyone. In fact, some were sent out without return envelopes. And only 7% of the 31,000 for care home staff and residents had been used by last weekend.

I mentioned that in an earlier update, but the details have gotten more absurd, so I thought it was worth repeating.

And you know, a number’s a number, so sound the trumpets, please, bandmaster.

When last sighted, the daily test number had dipped below 80,000.


One of the mysteries of Covid-19 is being called happy hypoxia: It involves patients whose blood oxygen levels are so low that they should be unconscious but they’re talking, checking their phones, and generally saying they’re comfortable. Which doesn’t make their blood oxygen levels less dangerous, only mystifying.


How are people coping with the pandemic? Some 300,000 people in Britain have quit smoking.  And online searches for puppies have gone up by 120%. The Dog’s Trust is begging people to think about how they’re going to deal with the dog when real life picks up again.


In a rare display of good sense and global cooperation, a global alliance is expected to pledge $8.2 billion for Covid-19 research and the equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know more when and if I hear about it.


Can we talk about something else?

Police in Kent got a call about a big cat running loose, so they called up a helicopter and an armed response team and went looking for it. They found an 85-year-old sculptor and the life-size tiger that’s been in place for 20 years without scaring anyone until now.

One cop figured it was all because a of a recent Netflix series about big-cat ownership in the U.S..

In the interest of making fun of English place names, I should really mention the location. This happened near Underriver, in Ightham. According to all the laws of the language, Ightham should be either  unpronounceable or leave your tongue twisted back on itself and begging for rescue. How do they deal with that locally? They pronounce it Item.

And yes, English does have laws. It also breaks them anytime it the mood takes it.

And Underriver? How are we supposed to understand that? According to Wikipedia, which may or may not know what it’s talking about at any given moment, the name comes from old English and means under the hill.

That makes perfect sense.

If I really had to, I could also tell you how to report potholes in Underrriver. It’s very useful having me around.

80 thoughts on “The pandemic update from Britain: hope, hype, and a tiger running loose

  1. I read an English paper yesterday, and every single article contradicted the next one. To be or not to be?… Apparently half of all adults are being paid by the government, and the tracking app is incompatible with the one used by the rest of Europe. And I thought Greece was disorganized. In Greece they’ve done well so far, but now they’re opening up and greeks are notoriously loath to obey rules. They love congregating in cafés and lying on top of each other at the beach. Sigh…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Without a serious system of testing and tracking, I can’t see how opening up is going to be anything but a disaster. I just read about a farcical testing experience that a friend’s daughter had. This government could–to use an American expression–fuck up a free lunch.

      I read that Greece still hasn’t found a way to deal with exposure in the refugee camps. Does that match what you’re hearing?

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I search for puppies online occasionally, not as often as kittens or red pandas though…

    I have no intention of adopting one though, the three feline residents would not be pleased! I have adopted a tiger, some snow leopards and an orangutan, but I started that a few years ago and the have never visited which I think is rude!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. These updates are indeed required nearly daily… we need the humour! |
    There’s already a hoohah (that’s a quaint way of saying ‘enormous amounts of effing arguments’ isn’t it?) about the tracking app that the UK Gov. have ‘chosen’ to trial due to above mentioned incompatibility with the rest of the world’s systems, the capture of data being invasive with no promise for it to be deleted after the need for it is over, the contract for its delivery and operation being given, without tender process, to a firm involving the same people behind Cambridge Analytica… and it continues, on and on as the Health Secretary tells a Labour MP, who is a doctor, to mind her attitude as she asks him in the Commons about staff protection in the NHS and so doing evades the question (surprise..)…
    I need to get out more.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s early here so I haven’t gotten much news yet. I’m sure the idiocy continues.
    Yours is the first info I’ve heard that one (at least) of the armed protestors) has Covid. Irony may be dead, but apparently karma is still on the job !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, karma’s no respecter of political opinion or of firearms. And he, she, or it is relentless. Leave cookies and milk out for him, her, or it and try to keep all the available pronouns as your allies.


  5. “And I could finally do my own damn grocery shopping.”

    I hate to disappoint you: to my mind, not in your life time. Even if a working test will be developed soon, just do the maths [I hope mine are correct]. The UK has – as far as I could find out – 66 million inhabitants. Even if only half of those [I’m pulling that out of the air, just to have a much lower figure, but it will still prove my point] would be tested within one year, it means that 90,000 people would have to be tested PER DAY! Impossible, to my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sigh.

      The government’s efforts to test people here are farcical. I just read a friend’s email about someone trying to get tested, involving a canceled appointment (after she was already there) and lost test results. And a refusal to test other people at her workplace to figure out who else was sick. I’m ready to throw them (that’s the entire cabinet) all in the Thames and see if we can’t start over.


  6. Testing device is good news. Hope someone can may it work. . Air traffic in US is down by ninety per cent or more. No need here for a lot of test kits.

    Price of meat is going up . Grocery chains are talking about rationing meat to keep the prices down.

    Predictions about what effect partial reopening will gave in the US vary greatly. I think we will just have to wait and see. Numbers in Georgia are still going way down but who knows. People in my area are wearing masks and social distancing.

    Another news item today about a new complication affecting children. No deaths but one child needed a ventilator for a few days.

    Did I mention that when I was in college my fraternity had a pet lion. We got him at the start if fall quarter for rush. He was like a playful little puppy who like to play. Two months later he was stalking people and hard for one person go control. Tried to bite one coed. We had to get rid of him by orders if the dean. The dean was a grandson of General Pershing of World War I. A no nonsense guy. Smoked a pipe. Don’t think I ever saw him smile. I have a post about it on my blog.

    Looking for more good. news.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If a bunch of kids I felt responsible for had a pet lion, I’m not sure I’d smile either.

      I have no idea how to interpret the number of cases that are being claimed anywhere since, with minimal testing, no one has a fuckin’ clue how many cases there are. Even deaths–how many aren’t being counted as virus cases but should be?


  7. Sorry, I have to be obnoxiously pedantic, but Ightham is pronounced Itam rather than Item (unless you come from the wrong side of Kent, that is). I’m not taking any responsibility for the tiger, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The tiger’s already been claimed, so you’re off the hook. And–okay, here’s the problem with English pronunciation. When I’m talking, Itam and Item are the same word with a wandering vowel causing a bit of damage on the page but noplace else. And Mary and Merry sound alike–something I learned when I was in my teens and had a friend named Merry who spent half her life trying to get a distinct pronunciation of her name.

      We stayed friends anyway, at least until we lost track of each other, as kids at that age do.

      That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a bit of pedantic argument. I do, but this time I’m going to lean a little to the left and let it whizz right past my ear.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I came for the irrelevant and nearly gratuitous flower. The blah blah blah isn’t bad either. the whole testing thing is still just like a late night infomercial for teens on the weekend. Go out and have great time. The condoms will be delivered somewhere about Tuesday. And its up to you to find them. Oh and the condoms will only be available to those who show advanced symptoms of pregnancy. After all we don’t have enough to give them to everybody. Now about those English rules that can change on a whim. Now I know where Calvin rules have derivated from hence Underriver by Ightham. I would go on except I have to add derivated, Underriver, and Ightham to the local dictionary. I stop back tomorrow to ask why Ightham is not pronounce I – Tham. And how this led to Sam in the Lord of the Rings. Calvin rules you know.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ightham pronounced Item or Itam? Am I glad I don’t teach English to VIPs any more: just the type of once-in-a-blue-moon word I would have mispronounced. By the way, apparently the UK has even beaten Italy in coronavirus deaths as of today. Brrrrr …..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know that. They tell us we’re past the peak of the infection. I’ll believe it in a week or two–or not, depending on what the numbers do.

      The only thing you can possibly tell people about English place names is to ask somebody local, because they’re impossible. And the English can’t possibly get them all right either.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for dredging up some good news. So far, most of what I hear is “we’re going to let business open, if there’s testing, there isn’t enough testing, there’s a new test, the new test is unreliable, there’s a reliable antibody test, we don’t have enough antibody tests, we don’t actually know if the antibody makes you immune to further infection, if the antibodies make you immune, we don’t know for how long, we going to let business open.”

    We’re sticking with the one dog and two cats that seem ready to kill off the humans in the house and live the rest of their lives eating everything in the pantry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How wonderful. Now, let me do something useful: Is it usefulnessosity or usefulnosity? The first one’s understandable, but the second one, if we can only manage to insert it into the language, has a real ring to it. It’s authoritative, somehow or other. (I shouldn’t follow “authoritative” with “somehow or other” but hell, it’s barely past 8 am. I’m not entirely responsible for my actions yet.)

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My Featured Blogger this week is Ellen Hawley of Notes from the U.K. A New York-born transplant to picturesque Cornwall, England, Ellen is the author of three popular seriocomic novels. The same mix of facts and whimsy shows up in her generally informative and always delightful blog posts. So, Bob’s your uncle, give her a read!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wow, where to start? The underriver under a hill is quite the conundrum. The ightlskdfjrsldfjzem “item” town is just plain wrong. It reminds me of when my car broke down as I was traveling through Mississippi and I was stranded in a little town called Gautier… Only don’t dare give it a French intonation because the natives will bite your head off as they correct you with the correct pronunciation: “Go-shay!” Your flowers look like two old-fashioned ladies wearing aprons and bonnets. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that you mention it, there’s a wild columbine here that they call a granny bonnet–and it does look like one. I can’t help thinking the flowers, whatever they’re called, would be happy to be seen that way.

      And Go-shay? Um, yeah, of course. What a language, eh? I do love it, but it’s insane.


  13. Pingback: The pandemic update from Britain: hope, hype, and a tiger running loose — Notes from the U.K. – Health Matters

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