The pandemic update from Britain: science, censorship, and birthday celebrations

On Sunday night, Boris Johnson addressed Britain prime ministerially and assured us that we have a plan for getting the country out of lockdown without loosing the hounds of hell–or at any rate letting Covid-19 gain ground on us again.

Or he has a plan. Or someone has a plan.

What is it? People who can’t work form home should go back to work if they can do so safely, starting the next day. That’s Monday. Which is–oh, wait, it’s today. Or, depending on when you read this, yesterday or further back than that. So they’d better hurry. But they shouldn’t take public transportation. They should drive, they should walk, they should bike, they should call the chauffeur.

If they have school-age kids, they should stash them in the freezer until they get home, because schools haven’t started yet.

Do their workplaces have plans for how they can work safely? Well, they had all night to work them up, so it should be fine.

Irrelevant photo. A plant from last summer. This year’s version still has the training wheels on its bike.

But what really matters is that we have a new slogan: Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.

What does that mean? Nothing much, but it fills a gap.

The changes Johnson announced only apply to England. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland set their own rules on this, and Scotland and Wales, at least, aren’t sounding impressed.


We also learned that Britain will start quarantining people who come into the country. How? In an unspecified way.

To work, this should’ve started (in a specified way)–give me a minute here, I’m counting and I never was good at that–oh, let’s say something like five months ago, when Covid-19 first emerged and could have still been contained. At the time, though, the government’s response was to tell people to wash their hands while singing “Happy Birthday.” 

That was all we needed to do if we wanted to stay safe. 

Really. It was. I’d make that up if I could but I’m not that good. No one’s that good. You can only come up with something that stupid if you mean it. 

Why didn’t it work? A bunch of you hooligans sang the wrong song. You want to know how we got into this mess, that’s how we got into this mess.

The quarantine won’t apply to people coming from Ireland. Because Irish viruses don’t travel. On top of which, they speak English. Or people coming from France, because the prime minister was on the phone with Emmanuel Macron and everyone sang “There’ll Always Be and England” and hung up happy. And French viruses are bilingual.

Mind you, this may not be exactly a quarantine because it’s not clear that anyone’s going to be enforcing it. All the same, U.K. airports say it’ll kill the aviation industry.

And there was me thinking the pandemic had pretty much done that already. Shows you what I know. 

We won’t start the quarantine until the end of May. Why not? Because they’re recording fourteen days’ worth of “Happy Birthday” for everyone coming into the country to sing and these things take time.


Some groups in society adapted admirably to lockdown. Take drug dealers, for example. With streets empty and travel restricted, they were standing out for a while. Now they’re dressing as joggers or tricking themselves out with fake National Health Service i.d.

And a lot of them are respecting the social distancing guidelines by using cars to deliver drugs. If you’re buying, you throw your money into the back seat and they throw your drugs out the window. 

I thought you might need to know that, although your dealer will be happy to explain it if you call.

If you want to know why their sales force tends to be younger than me, it’s because to pass for a jogger you can’t just wear the clothes, you will, at some point, actually have to run, and my knees have never forgiven me for the small bit of running I did many decades ago. But with a little effort, I can pass as a harmless old lady, going about her business.


People who are convinced that 5G systems caused the coronavirus have been attacking engineers working for Openreach. 

Why Openreach? Because it has nothing to do with 5G, that’s why. It deals with the wiring that phones and broadband rely on–the cables, the ducts, the cabinets, the exchanges. I think we can all accept that this makes it the perfect target.

Engineers have been attacked, spat on, doused with water, and chased. The company reported 46 incidents in April. I’ve written to suggest they disguise themselves as drug dealers and am waiting to hear back.


From the beginning–in fact, from the time when we were told to wash our hands and sing “Happy Birthday”–the government has defended every decision it’s made by saying, “We’re just following the science.” Meaning, “Hey, if we got it wrong, the science is to blame.” 

Which explains why an April 1 report from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (called Sage by its friends and family) has been published with huge blocks of text blacked out. Presumably the science went someplace it shouldn’t have gone. 

Bad science. Naughty science.

Why publish it at all? Because the government’s been under pressure to be more transparent about what advice government ministers were actually getting. And nothing says transparency like blacking out huge chunks of text.


Black and minority ethnic people in Britain are four times more likely to die of the coronavirus than white people. That’s not accounted for by pre-existing conditions, age, or socio-economic differences.It could be accounted for by some groups being over-represented in jobs that bring them into contact with the public. Those include health care, other kinds of caring jobs, and all those jobs that used to be called unskilled and are now called essential. 

Even if, for reasons I can’t seem to put my finger on, they’re not getting paid essential-type wages.

People from “deprived social backgrounds” (I’m pretty sure that if you translate that it means people who are poor) are also at higher risk, whatever their ethnic background. 

As an aside, the British seem to use a different definition of black than Americans do, and since I wander through life with an almost complete set of American assumptions, it scrambles my head in an interesting way when I find people from south Asia defined as black. It’s a nice reminder that however seriously we take these categories and however powerful we make them, they’re arbitrary. 

These days, the phrase I see most is black and minority ethnic, or BAME

Within the BAME group, the only subgroup less likely than whites to die of Covid-19 is Chinese women. A lot of work seems to be devoted to figuring out what accounts for the differences. Or at least, a lot of ink’s being spilled over it. I may be making a leap when I assume it reflects actual research.


The Young Foundation and the Open University have started a Covid-19 citizen-science project, which invites people to “share their day-to-day experiences of pandemic via online platform over the next three months, creating a rich digital archive of life during a pandemic.”

The idea is to capture the social impact, across the UK, of what they call (and I can’t find a way to argue with them) a generation-defining moment.

There are several ways to participate, and I’ll leave you to chase them down if you’re interested. 

87 thoughts on “The pandemic update from Britain: science, censorship, and birthday celebrations

      • It’s the incompetent communication that’s so particularly exasperating, and all (I suspect) for a temporary petty-politics success.

        Once upon a time, a plan like this would have been launched with all the necessary detailed guidelines (that are being released today) being presented as a complete package (and of course in Parliament). If the Prime Minister wanted to make a specific broadcast to support/explain/commend it to the public at home, that would follow later, and by custom and convention would allow the opposition an equal length of time for their own broadcast the folllowing night. That’s what used to be done for the Budget each year.

        Instead, some communications “genius” decided it would be a good idea for Johnson to have a direct line to the public to give a fraction of the outline first (thereby leaving Keir Starmer just the chance of whatever time news interviewers would allow him and – so they must have hoped – hogging all the headlines for Johnson). Great wheeze, eh?

        Except that, of course, Johnson notoriously doesn’t do detail, even though that’s exactly what everyone queued up to say they were desperate for – employers and employees alike, teachers, hoteliers, you name it. So this morning’s headlines are decidedly mixed. It’s blown up in their faces. For all his waffle about the R numbers, one has to conclude they don’t know their Rs from their elbow.

        And people’s lives are at stake.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Strictly speaking, businesses have had two months to work out how they’re going to cope, or not, when people were sent back to work. That should have been the main occupation of any business owner or CEO for the last few weeks. Working itself might not turn out to be the problem, but getting there. I should hate to think what’s going on in railway stations and trains this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not to mention the London tubes. But really, in the absence of very clear (and enforceable) guidance from the government on what constitutes safe working, I’m skeptical. Unions have been pushing for that, and if they’ve gotten any response at all I haven’t seen evidence of it.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I know unions–who would be following the guidelines closely–have been highly critical of the lack of specific protections for workplaces. Today’s headlines are all about teachers’ unions, but it’s been more widespread than that. It would make sense to me that the focus would be on retail–on what’s visible to the public (she said cynically).

          Liked by 1 person

          • You need to buy things, even in lock down. I’ve had to buy chicken feed online, because we were running out. I could do with some straw for the strawberries, but they’re going to have to manage without. We’re still staying at home, though. It will be some time before I go into any shops other than a supermarket or a chemist, and I’m trying to go to them as little as possible.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I haven’t braved either of those yet. We’re managing with the small shops (including one that sells pet supplies), which for the most part are selling at the front door, the occasional supermarket delivery that I manage to book, and younger neighbors who pick up this and that when they do their shopping. I’m sorely tempted to try the supermarket, but my partner’s 80 and had asthma as a kid, which never entirely went away. It’s hard to remember, though, how real the threat is, even though a friend died of this thing about 6 weeks ago. It’s invisible. The numbers locally seem (emphasis on seem) to be low….

              Liked by 1 person

              • I live with my dad, who’s on the extremely vulnerable list, so going out to the shops is not on my list of sensible things to do. Our first supermarket delivery came yesterday and I’m hoping that I can arrange some more in the future.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Let’s cross our fingers. I’m grateful for them and they drive me nuts. I had a delivery all set up for next week but I must’ve clicked the wrong buttons or failed to make the right offerings to the gods of the internet and it all disappeared, so now I have one for the 27th. In the meantime, a good friend just told me she and the kids are stopping at the store late this afternoon. I’ve always been grateful for friends, but I have multiple reasons to be lately.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t watch Boris. Those of us living in Wales are bracing ourselves for hordes of English crossing our (invisible) border to take their ‘extra’ exercise by walking up our mountains and falling over, or putting to sea on lilos, thus endangering the Rescus Services – who are still in lockdown as are the rest of us – except those who pass a garden centre on their daily walk.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I always think to myself I should be informed and so started watching the PM on telly last night. I lasted four minutes before I was already one slipper short so had to turn it off again to ‘Save Slippers’. And televisions actually.
    I waited till this morning to find out what everyone had made of his garbled nonsense and am pleased to see it was his completely normal garbled nonsense that everyone can make up their own minds what it meant.
    I expect the A30 into Cornwall is already busy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. And Dominic Raab says you can meet 2 of your relatives, so long as it’s outside in a park and 2 meters apart, but then someone else in the govt said nope, you can only meet one person, but you can meet one in the morning and another in the afternoon. They don’t know their arse from their elbows, as my Mum would have said.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very witty, as usual. I’m continually fascinated by politicians’ love-hate relationship with “science”, which is all-knowing and helpful when they find it suits their propaganda — oops, I meant position — and is denigrated when it’s counter to their message, aka blustering buffoonery.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: A Short Hit of It: Post 199 – O4FS

  7. BoJo’s announcement was so ridiculously vapid that I am stunned any of his people allowed him to utter it in public. Or maybe there is a Fifth Columnist style agenda in allowing him to go ahead. I get the sense that people in the UK are more confused than ever about what is expected of them to both keep everyone as safe as possible while also not slipping into complete economic collapse. I suspect the result will be the chaos of everyone interpreting the rules (which aren’t even rules) to fit their own perspective and agenda and that will only lead to conflict and half-arsedness and an inevitable second wave.

    We, of course, have a similar failure of leadership here in the US. I don’t have to tell you or anyone else about that. The chasm between those who are trusting the scientists and those who are vehemently anti-science is ever widening, as is the gulf between the attitude and plans of red states and blue states. It shouldn’t come down to the political persuasion of the Governors but that is how it is playing out. Here in PA, 24 of the counties are moving to the next phase of gradual reopening and emergence while my county just had its shelter in place order extended. How this will work out for a virus that does not respect boundaries is anyone’s guess. Likewise the idea that a border between the states that are reopening and returning to business as usual and the states with strict mitigation measures in place will have any effect is patently ludicrous. It is just complete and utter chaos. I very much hope I am wrong but I am fully anticipating a terrible second wave and more economic pain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely. I will not be sleeping tonight, and neither will any of my neighbors, since I’m starting, as of 10 pm, to learn the trumpet, alerting them all to the need to stay alert.

      Eternal vigilance is the price of voting for an idiot.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this post – I laughed out loud several times and feel some of your words would make wonderful refrigerator magnets for people during the pandemic.
    For example: Welcome the Bilingual French – Not Dangerous To Your Health
    Stop Singing When You Wash Your Hands
    (Happy Birthday Isn’t Working)
    Boris Has No Plan, But No One Else Does Either
    Attention All Drug Dealers Buy Nike Sportswear
    I could go on, but I’ll leave those few with you – you get the idea. I think the refrigerator magnets are a real money maker. The Drug Dealers could sell for you.
    Somebody Stop Me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m glad your politicians aren’t orders of magnitude smarter than ours.

    “Stay alert” – OK. He knows the virus is so small as to be invivible, right? I mean it’s not like “look both ways before crossing and wait for the virus to pass.”

    If something was going to kill the airline industry, it would have to go where they parked all their planes a month ago. Still, a friend and I were talking about a 3-day meeting he was hoping to attend in London. Now, it looks like that’s a 5-week hotel stay. Two weeks in London’s Hostel d’quarantine, three days int he meeting and then two more weeks in motel-quarantine here in the states. I suggested that maybe he could call, but he says “video calls are complicated and boring.” There is that.

    Life during a pandemic – I get up. I eat cookies until I feel comfortable drinking wine and then I switch to eating cheese.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Complicated and boring? And a full month of quarantine sounds simple and interesting? Meeings are complicated and boring, now that I think of it. I’ve been at a few that would make a month’s quarantine look good.

      Maybe that “stay alert” reminder was about me in meetings. I wasn’t paying enough attention to be sure, though.


  10. Man, as I said to another blogger who had written about BJ’s speech last night, I’m a little ashamed to be relieved to see incompetence elsewhere. It’s so interesting to see how people are coping with it as well. I go to the garden, the grocery store every two weeks, and for walks at odd times when I think nobody else will be out. The shopping experience has gotten better at stores, now that people are wearing masks and adhering to the distancing for the most part. But I have to say, it’s wearing on me, heading into 9 weeks of this. My state, Virginia, is going to be slowly opening, with exceptions for the northern counties near DC and MD and those will collaborate to synchronize opening in the DC Metro area. It’s crazy. But I have to say the Dept of Health for the state and the county have both been really informative. Deep breath. I think we have a long time with this ahead of us…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, if he’d only said so. I did just read a comment from a man who said he could see his kids if he hired them as cleaners. So it all makes sense.

      I enjoyed the link. As long as you’re not trying to sell me Cialis, it’s not spam.

      Liked by 1 person

        • But if another relative not from your house is also in the park and stands not six feet away but twelve feet away and pretends not to know you, then it’s okay because no one will know you’re related. On the other hand, if people you don’t know are in the park and stand fourteen feet away and on the other side from your relative, that–


          Never mind. The advice hasn’t been written for that situation yet. For the time being, avoid stranges.

          I hope that clarifies things.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. In Ohio. the tattoo parlors are clamoring for our governor to allow them to open.

    I am just boggled (I guess that’s an Americanism meaning gobsmacked) by what you h ave written It sounds so…familiar.

    In fact, our Dear Leader is about to speak from the Rose Garden (by name, already full of pricks…in the American sense of the term) so I must log off and work on seeing which cable staions have paranormal shows or animal documentaries. Carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We are slowly coming out of lockdown and as from midnight tonight we can have 5 friends or family visit our house. No overnight stays however so visiting Gregs Mum who lives over 3 hours away isnt on the agenda. #SeniSal

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Generation-defining, for sure. As it happens, I just told my 4th graders today (the ones who showed up to my online class, that is), that as difficult as things are right now, they will be telling their grandchildren about how they were 4th graders and going to school remotely during the pandemic of 2020.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I have a hunch they’ll remember that. I still remember being told by some one of my teachers that we could expect to see Halley’s Comet (which was due to be visible, although being a New Yorker I didn’t see it) a second time, as adults. S/he was right, although when it came back it was much smaller than expected and although I read about it I didn’t see it that time either. But I did remember the prediction. It left me with a sense of time and change that I hadn’t had before.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I love a good conspiracy theory but what is up with this 5G thing? Damn, I’ve got an arts degree but I’m pretty sure waves cannot make viruses… Those people need to shape up. We all know it was clearly the lizard people. Put some orange men in charge, blame it on other countries and do nothing. New World Order.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Just got a message that my cell phone use was down this week to only eight and a half hours a day. My age group is still under shelter in place order until June 12.

    Some infectious disease expert just said the pandemic will continue until seventy per cent of the population has has it We are at about .5 per cent now. If he is right we have a ways to go.

    Keep the news coming from Cornwall. And send some good news if you can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a lot of that going around just now–blustering know-nothings riding waves of anger to get into office. Or possibly blustering know-somethings, although I can’t think of an example just now. They speak, I think, of the failure of centrist politics to take care of people, and of the left to (a) organize and (b) provide an alternative. And they scare the bejeezus out of me. I’d like to think their obvious failures will mean an end to them, but I’m not convinced it works that way.

      I’m in a cheery mood this morning, thanks for asking. How about yourself? I’m sure I lifted your mood immensely.

      Liked by 3 people

  16. I’m circling November 4th on my calendar. Eric Trump says that the virus will disappear after the election. Apparently it’s a hoax to keep his father from being re-elected. I’m hoping the miracle will be accompanied by all those poor victims being brought back to life

    Liked by 1 person

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