The pandemic update, in which Britain tries to beat the world

Let’s start in France instead of Britain:

Because of the coronavirus and the lockdown, wine sales have been down. Bar and restaurant closures hit the industry hard, and if that wasn’t enough, Donald Trump got mad at the whole damn country and slapped a 25% tariff on French wine. 

What’s a wine-producing country to do?

Make hand sanitizer. Some 200 million liters of unsold wine will be–or possibly already has been; it’s hard to know how to read this–made into hand sanitizing gel. That will free up space in the wine caves for this year’s vintage. 

The gel will not sport its vintage on the label, although up-market wines were hit particularly hard, so you could be rubbing your hands with some really great wines. Or at least some really expensive ones. 

You can’t turn it back into wine, though, no matter how hard you try. 


Irrelevant photo: The Cornish coastline.


In Britain, shutting down the pubs–and also opening them back up, which will happen eventually–is all about beer, and beer (I’ve just learned) doesn’t last forever

So how do you get rid of it? You can’t just dump it down the drain. You have to talk to the water board. You have to record everything and verify everything, because you’re going to want to get your beer duty back from the brewers. 

Beer duty? You don’t want to know. It’s a tax. And you have to  submit a Beer Duty (in caps) form by the fifteenth day of the month after your accounting period. 

After you do all that, presumably, you can dump it down the drain.


New Zealand is now free of Covid-19. You probably already heard that, but good news is hard to come by and I can’t let it go to waste: New Zealand. Covid free.

If you’re not New Zealandish, though, you can’t go there. They’re keeping tight control of the borders, and even incoming New Zealanders will be quarantined–by which I don’t mean the mythical quarantine Britain’s imposed (ride public transportation, go shopping, lick a few door handles, then stay kind of vaguely inside, mostly, unless you need something), but the real kind, where you don’t breathe on people or touch them or lick their door handles.


With that out of the way, let’s talk about the world-beating track and trace system that Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised us. 

Why do we want to beat the world on this? Because we’re coming second in our official count of coronavirus deaths (the US is ahead, the wretches, and Brazil’s rushing up the charts just behind us). Well, by gum, that’s not good enough. We need to beat someone at something. 

How are we doing at beating the world with our track and trace system, then? 


Our custom-built track and trace app should be ready next month, the government says. It was supposed to be ready last month, but never mind. One month is a lot like another when you’re in lockdown. And the calling system that’s supposed to back it up, or possibly substitute for it until it’s working, is a privatized shambles. 

An independent science advisory group, formed by the government’s former chief non-independent science advisor, Sir David King, says the system isn’t–in that very British phrase–fit for purpose. To prevent the infection rate rising, he says, it needs to detect 80% of an infected person’s contacts, and it won’t. He’s called for it to be scrapped.

“This is the critical moment for the government to act now or risk further spikes. We believe that a new approach is required, one that moves away from a centralised system that utilises a local-first approach. We are calling on the government to urgently rethink their course to ensure that we have a system in place that will help and not hinder the country’s recovery.”

Why’s the government stuck on the idea of a centralized system? My best guess is because there’s money to be made that way, and contracts to be handed out, and the god of privatization to be placated with large offerings.

One contactor in the tracing program is Serco, which has an impressive record of disaster. A few months back, it was fined £1 million for failures on a contract.

And £3 million for messing up another contract

And £122.9 million (plus repaying £68.5 million) for another. That’s for the contract that saw them billing the government for all the work involved in monitoring the movements of the dead.

No, that’s not a joke. They really did that.

Anyway, they’re working on the contact tracing program. We’re in good hands here.

The junior health minister, Edward Argar, is a former Serco lobbyist. Which has nothing to do with anything. Don’t give it a minute’s thought. I only mentioned it because I’m biased.


A small pest-control company–small as in 16 staff members and £18,000 in assets–was awarded a £108 million Department of Health contract, making it the government’s largest supplier of protective equipment. 

A coffee, tea, and spice wholesaler got a £2.15 million contract to supply medical and surgical face masks. 

All told, £340 million in contracts were signed in April, most of them without a competitive process. Some of the companies may be doing exactly what they’re being paid to do. Others–. Well, you do get the sense that a lot of money was spent without adult supervision.

I was going to give you a link to Pest Magazine for this story, because how many times in a life does a person get a chance to link to Pest Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s not much of an article. I only added the paragraph to justify the link.


But we don’t need to go to a pest control company to buy a mask. A full-page newspaper ad tells me that we can all order our own, and since they’re not the kind the NHS uses, we’re not taking anything they need. The masks come in packs of three, they’re reusable, and the ad doesn’t say how much they cost.

But no mask is complete without face mask sanitizing spray, which is designed to “eliminate and reduce the spread of harmful germs and viruses.” So first we eliminate the little bastards and then, in case that isn’t enough, we reduce them. And it all comes with a 100% money back guarantee. The fine print is too small for human eyes, but I think it says that if you die from the virus, you get your money back.


But we were talking about Britain beating the world, and it still could. Or at least it could lead the world’s major economies in being hardest hit by the pandemic, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Go, us!

The current guess is that we’ll be looking at an 11.5% fall. 

And even better, the Covid Crash should hide whatever disasters a no-deal or last-minute-deal Brexit brings us.

50 thoughts on “The pandemic update, in which Britain tries to beat the world

  1. I should probably write this a smaller font…just hope to whichever deity you favour that the Tories don’t try to reverse decimal currency. We had enough problems going from the old money to the new in 1971

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Finally someone has outed the French for what we in the Antipodes already knew i.e. that French wine has always tasted like hand sanitiser. UKanians need to seek out the quality stuff from Australia and New Zealand, where at least we know how to stop a virus dead in its tracks. (Unfortunately we have had to dump our beer produced before we sensibly re-opened the pubs but luckily, because of the shutdown at the time, we didn’t have to see grown men crying at the site/sight. ;-)

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve been a non-drinker for years now, and when I did drink I never was much of a wine drinker, so I’ll have to take your word on the wines. But, although I haven’t followed Australia’s response to the pandemic as closely as I have NZ’s (I have family there), I do know enough to say you guys have handled it better than we have. A friend and I were talking about it a while back and he said, “Well, they’re islands.” And we looked at each other blankly for a moment, then said, “Wait a minute….”

      Liked by 3 people

      • The UK’s population is roughly 2.5 times that of Australia. Covid stats to date. Australia 7,267 cases with 102 deaths. To compare apples with apples, Australian stats multiplied by 2.5 gives 18,167 cases and 255 deaths. Current UK figures: UK 290,147 cases with 41,128 deaths. My wife is originally a Liverpudlian and we have many friends and relatives in the UK, so despite any smug remarks I might make from time to time, we feel your pain and wish you all well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Doug. The papers consistently report raw numbers of cases or deaths, which is an apples/tomatoes kind of report. I understand math well enough to know that unless you factor in the overall population of a country you’re not giving readers a good picture of what’s happening. My best guess is that they’re doing that because it’s what the assorted health departments report. I’m doing the same thing–passing on the numbers I find–but in my case it’s because my math (not to mention my arithmetic) are too shaky to do any comparisons myself. When you factor in the size of the UK, we’re in worse shape than we seem to be.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. >>And even better, the Covid Crash should hide whatever disasters a no-deal or last-minute-deal Brexit brings us.<<

    That's the one thing in your post I might quibble about. Sooner or later the latter shambles will be very evident in its own terms, though whether it will sink in where it needs to, and whether anything can be salvaged from it, is another matter (my crystal ball is a bit cloudy, distilled vinegar being hard to come by round here at the moment).

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I fax you the appropriate vinegar–just let me know how much you need–would you let me know what it has to say?

      I’m sure you’re right about the shambles being evident, but whether people will blame it on the real cause is another question. I remember when California (which had a great school system) started cutting taxes thinking that people would look back and see what caused the mess it made. I was wrong.


  4. Sounds even more confused than here in Italy. Wine into hand-sanitizer? Yuck. Even your complicated beer situation’s more civilized – you can just dump excess down the drain. And does this Serco still exist?…. But you left the best for the end: Brexit….hahaha!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can feel wine snobs the world over shuddering at that news about French wine becoming hand sanitiser. As someone who rarely, if ever, drinks these days … I don’t feel the same level of pain. The national disgrace – and it is HUGE – is especially appalling in the area of the government’s selection of the wrong businesses to produce/provide the healthcare items we desperately needed. But BoJo & Co have absolutely no shame, no siree Bob.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For a moment there you had my full and undivided and entirely covid-free attention. Monitoring the movements of dead people? I mean, maybe they actually DO move (we already know they fart, belch and groan). Sort of wriggling about – not just because of maggots; as tendons get tight and dry, and then break down. Maybe this is scientifically significant information!

    To be clear, this comment has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve finally, albeit reluctantly, discovered Stephen King. A girl can hear just so many topical references to “The Stand” without reading the damn thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve resisted the impulse to read it. Not bragging, you understand. Just saying.

      Monitoring the dead was (a) easy and (b) a lot less interesting than you’d think. They were supposed to be monitoring people on parole, using ankle tags. They billed for people who’d died. You’d think, if you had to fit an ankle tag on someone, that you’d notice whether they were alive or dead, but hey, it’s a job I’ve never done, so what do I know?


      • Also, the book is pretty dang good. I chickened out of actually reading it and got it as an audiobook, to be ingested in bits and pieces while driving. I figured my nerves could stand that. I ended up manufacturing road trips, and finally curled up on a couch with my eyes closed, earphones clamped to my head, and life at a dead halt. He is a FINE writer, and The Stand isn’t ghoulish horror – it’s post-apocalyptic fiction, with well-drawn characters that one actually cares about. I was impressed. Am now girding my loins for a swipe at “It” … although … argh … that does look a bit like actual horror. Not sure I can do it. Still at the pondering stage.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. While it isn’t exactly the same as tracking the dead, a panelist on a news show today pointed out that there is no program to keep track of the number of people killed by the police every year, but the CDC (keeping busy) collects the data on how many people die from jellyfish stings. He didn’t offer a guesso n which number of fatalities would be higher.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do seem to remember that the CDC was forbidden to keep track of the number of gun deaths, so politics comes into a lot of these decisions–although probably not keeping track of jellyfish stings.


  8. “The fine print is too small for human eyes, but I think it says that if you die from the virus, you get your money back.”

    Given that, it makes sense that you paid someone to track dead people. By the way, how far and fast are your dead people moving?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m concerned about this hand sanitizer. Wine isn’t high enough proof to make an effective sanitizer. And don’t the French ship alcohol locally? Geez, our consumption has gone way up here. What’s wrong with them, anyway? And now they’re going to have ineffective hand sanitizer…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ellen I can always count on being entertained and enlightened by your pandemic posts. I’m glad you explained about the “money back guarantee“ on the masks. I guess buyers could put that in ones will in case one dies of the virus. And unfortunately at the time I’m reading this I’ve heard that New Zealand has had two new cases apparently imported from Australia two ladies sisters or a mother and daughter I’m not sure and now they’re both in isolation we can only hope. Stay well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • According to the British papers, it was a couple of women from Britain, not Australia, who brought the disease into NZ. They’d flown in to see a dying relative and got a compassionate exemption from quarantine. I don’t think NZ will make that particular mistake again.

      I won’t bother amending my will to assign my mask refund to anyone. I have a very basic cloth one sewn by someone in the village. It came without a guarantee but it has a huge pair of lipsticky lips that I wear on the inside. I already feel silly enough in the mask. The lips are more than I can handle.

      Thanks for the good wishes. Mine go with you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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