Social not-much-distancing: it’s the pandemic update from (mostly) Britain

Since this is the news from Britain, we’ll start in Florida: The commissioners of Palm Beach County voted that people (with a few reasonable exceptions, such as babies) have to wear masks in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. But before they could vote on that, they had to listen to people telling them that they’d be throwing out god’s wonderful breathing system, that they were obeying the devil, and that they were imposing a communist dictatorship and dishonoring the American flag.

I tell you, it makes me proud to be an American.


Here in Britain, we’re also at our best. We had a heatwave, and–

I have to interrupt myself here. In Britain, you know it’s hot weather when you wear short sleeves. If you do that for two days in a row, you’re looking at a heatwave.

So we’ve had a heatwave and it hit just after lockdown eased up. 

“Our hibernation is beginning to end,” the prime minister told us jubilantly.  

Whoopy doo.

Irrelevant photo: Fields in Cornwall.

What did he mean, though? It wasn’t all that clear, but that’s okay because ever since his external brain, Dominic Cummings, broke his own rules on lockdown by driving 30 miles to make sure he could still see well enough to drive (no, I didn’t make that up; he did), people have been a little skeptical about the rules anyway. And the more lockdown has eased, the hazier we’ve gotten on what the limits are and how seriously we take them.

So what happened? In the first couple of days, people flocked to parks, beaches, and rivers, jamming in together because what the hell they’d be outside and the virus was on the wane and the lockdown was over, sort of, and we’d all be fine. 

Or maybe they flocked to all of the above because they figured no one else would and they could enjoy the beauty of the British countryside in safety, but once they found a few thousand other people had done the same thing they didn’t want to turn around and go home. Or maybe it was because they’d been cooped up since forever and were understandably losing their minds. 

Or all of the above. It’s easy for people who have elbow room to criticize. But there were problems. One was that public toilets aren’t open yet–or at least a lot of them aren’t–so some people acted like a litter of eight-week-old puppies. Minus the paper on the floor. 

Last Wednesday and Thursday, beaches were packed. Forget keeping two meters from each other, and forget one meter. People were everywhere. Drinking was involved. Fights were involved. Broken glass was involved. A few stabbings were involved. If singing was involved, no one’s mentioned it, but it’s hard to separate singing and drinking in Britain.

When people went home, their trash–which, being responsible citizens, they’d instructed to follow–stayed behind, because who wants to leave the cooling sea breeze? So the beach was a mess when they left. And even at a beach where the toilets were open, people still had that litter of puppies problem. I’m not sure why. It might have had something to do with the drinking, but there’s me, speculating again.

Cleaning crews complained that they were being abused and intimidated for trying to empty overflowing trash cans. 

As I type this, the weather’s turned, so the problem at the beaches might just be a two-day glitch. If it had stayed hot, though? I wouldn’t bet on it.

In Brixton–a mostly black area of London–a street party ended in violence when police moved in to break it up. On the evening news, a resident noted that the police hadn’t moved in that aggressively on overcrowded beaches with mostly white crowds. 

As far as I can tell, he was right.  

Yeah, it all makes me proud to be British as well.


Enough about people. They’re a difficult species. Let’s talk about science.

A small and still tentative survey of Covid-19 antibody tests in use around the world shows that their accuracy seems to depend on when they’re done. In the first week after people develop symptoms, they spot only 30% of infected people. Between eight and fourteen weeks, they spot 70%. After that, they catch 90%. 

I’m not sure why I think you need to know that, but you just might.

Long term, the tests will give some indication of whether having had the disease means a person is immune.


Last month, the British government bought 10 million antibody tests. They were going to play an “increasingly important role,” someone or other said. I’ve lost track of what they were going to play an important role in has been lost, but that’s okay because most of us don’t take the bloviating seriously.

Oh, wait. They’d play an important role in understanding the spread of the disease. 

I’m not questioning that whatever data they gather will help scientists understand the beast we’re facing. What I doubt is that science had any impact on the government’s actions. Forgive me, but pretty much everything’s politics, perception, and possibly a cousin in the business.

So the government sent the tests out and asked–or told; I’m not sure how much weight their words carry–medical organizations and care centers to have staff use them. But in a letter to the BMJ (which I think used to be the British Medical Journal but is now just the BMJ–it could stand for Beautiful Mango Jam for all I know)–

Sorry. Should we start that over? Fourteen senior academics published a letter in the Beautiful Mango Jam to say that the tests are burdening the National Health Service while proving fuck-all.

They didn’t say “fuck-all.” These are senior academics. They only talk that way in private, when they think their mics are off.

They did say that since we don’t know whether having antibodies isn’t the same as having immunity, you can’t change your behavior based on the test results. So the test offers no benefits to either the staff or the organizations they work for. It does, however, give the government a chance to brag about how many tests they’ve sent out. 


Sweden’s handled the virus differently than most European countries. It didn’t go into lockdown. It took a few steps–discouraging gatherings of more than 50 people, for example–but basically it advised people to keep some distance from each other and trusted them to have good sense.

I don’t know about you, but I’m losing whatever faith I once had in humanity’s good sense.

Any chance that had of working was undercut by the government’s early advice, which implied that people who didn’t show any symptoms weren’t contagious. If someone in the family’s sick, they said, a kid showing no symptoms can still go to school. No problem.

The country also had the usual lack of protective equipment, and government  guidelines for what to use and how to use it kept changing, depending on what protective equipment was available.

The rate of testing has been low and contact tracing has been pretty nearly abandoned. 

According to Anders Bjorkman, a professor of infectious diseases at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, “They did not want to put it bluntly, but seeking herd immunity was always inherent in the Swedish strategy.” In other words, let the disease spread, let some people die, and wait for herd immunity to build in the population that’s left. 

By most estimates, it takes 50% to 60% of the population becoming immune for the herd to be protected. It also takes a disease that people become immune to, and it hasn’t been solidly established that Covid-19 is cooperative enough to fall into that category.

Sweden now has the highest number of Covid cases in Scandinavia (the other Scandinavian countries went into lockdown), and the highest number of deaths. For one week at the end of May and the beginning of June, its mortality rate was 5.29 deaths per million inhabitants per day–the highest in Europe. The UK limped in a sorry second with 4.48. 

Our prime minister just hates it when someone comes in ahead of us. He likes world-beating systems. 

So how’s Sweden doing with herd immunity? In Stockholm, 7.3% of the residents had developed covid-19 antibodies by late April. In the rest of the country, the numbers were lower.


A day or two after the street party in Brixton was broken up, Liverpool won the Premier League game. I think that’s football, but my sports allergy kept me from watching the actual game. Or knowing anything about it. What matters is that it made people in Liverpool happy. 

So happy that they gathered in a huge honkin’ crowd to celebrate, to throw bottles at the police, and to throw fireworks at the Liver Building, setting a balcony on fire. 

They know how to have a party in Liverpool. 

[Late addition: The next paragraphs were based on the assumptions that (a) because the Liver Building is in Liverpool, it would be pronounced like the city and (b) because the Liver Building is spelled like liver it would be pronounced like liver. Silly me. It’s pronounced Lye-ver.

[Well of course it is. It’s a place name. This is England. Take nothing for granted. My thanks to April Munday for catching that. I’ve left it all in because why should I pretend I know what I’m doing here?]

Why does Liverpool have a building named after the organ that cleans the blood? I can only answer that by asking why Liverpool’s named Liverpool.

According to WikiWhatsia (I can’t be bothered going any deeper), Liverpool’s “name comes from the Old English liver, meaning thick or muddy, and pol, meaning a pool or creek, and is first recorded around 1190 as Liuerpul.”

I don’t want to piss off anyone from Liverpool. I’m sure your city’s got a lot going for it. All I’m saying is that if you’d run the name past a focus group before making any impulsive decisions, you might’ve come up with something entirely forgettable.

But we were talking about the building, which isn’t called the just Liver Building, thanks, it’s the Royal Liver Building, so it was named after a monarch’s liver, not yours or mine. I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse about it. I don’t like to think much about my liver, but then I don’t like to think much about anyone else’s either. 

It was built between 1907 and 1911 as offices for the Royal Liver Group and still houses the head office of the Royal Liver Assurance. 

And it gets worse. Each tower is topped by mythical Liver Birds.

I might just jog up north and throw some fireworks myself.

72 thoughts on “Social not-much-distancing: it’s the pandemic update from (mostly) Britain

    • Thanks–a couple of people got to me with that before you did and I’ve updated the post so we can all enjoy my ignorance. It’s immensely freeing to admit that I don’t have a clue. It means I don’t have a facade to defend.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. So clearly I must find a new group to belong to – being American no longer has the attraction it once did. Today’s anti-American feelings remind me of our trip to Italy during the Dubya Bush administration. The Italians were happy to have us samping their best cuisine as long as we assured them we didn’t like Dubya any more than they did.
    I’m thinking of claiming I’m Candadian in case I venture out of the house. Thankfully, we are no longer able to leave the country.
    Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What’s with urinating? To piss on the whole virus thing?

    When I saw a photo of Britain’s beaches yesterday, I thought this can’t be happening. We have an increase of codiv cases worldwide. If I had some power, I’d forbid the use of ‘relaxation.’ I cringe every time I hear it. People are sheep, they’ll listen when you tell them, not to say forbid, as if would sound never non-democratic, right?

    Liked by 2 people

    • In the UK, there were the possibility of fines (which fell disproportionately on communities of color, you’ll be surprised to know) for breaking the lockdown rules. How much that had to do with people following them I don’t know. My hunch is that they sent a signal that these were serious, so it wasn’t so much about avoiding the fines as following the (this is serious) rules.

      It’s a very law-abiding country, at least compared to the US–although even there if a clear message were sent out, most people would probably follow it.

      The urinating, though? I don’t know. Get people drunk enough, I guess.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Your second topic remind me of the newspaper headline the husband recalls from his youth in the motherland: England Sizzles in the Seventies. We have a good laugh about that now and then.

    Your first topic makes me cringe. I saw the footage of my fellow country-idiots addressing the dictators who wanted them to wear masks. One guy said he would die for the American flag. I thought, “Please do. Do it now and take all those other morons with you.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. ‘They didn’t say “fuck-all.” These are senior academics. They only talk that way in private, when they think their mics are off.’ A gem, Ellen.
    Re Liverpool, I often share your witticisms with my wife but her being a proud Scouser I’ll leave that bit out. The nickname comes from ‘lobscouse’, which was a type of stew (Norwegian in origin), once popular among sailors, and still eaten in Liverpool today. Not sure what effect it has on their livers.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I saw some of those Florida folks on tv. I’m guessing they’re allowed to vote, which probably explains a lot. The same goes for the seaside Brits, who were presumably told that Brexit would separate us from the Continent, thereby rendering us incontinent.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. While the fields in Cornwall are lovely, when I first began to scroll down I felt sure it was going to be a picture of “The Rude Man.”

    Our Very Religious Vice President was the main speaker at the Covid-19 Task Force press conference yesterday (he is the head of that committee) and he told so many lies about how wonderful things were (you could tell he was lying because his lips moved) it was a wonder – well, no it wasn’t – but when several reporters quizzed him on he and The Prez having large indoor rallies where no one was masked or distanced he pointed out that The Constitution guaranteed the right of free speech and assembly. Not to protesters, apparently, just to the chosen ones. As a friend pointed out “KKKrisitians have a different set of commandments.”

    In a related development Dear Leader importuned the Supreme Court to immediately do completely away with the Affordable Care Act…in the middle of pandemic. Because, of course, the ACA was created by that Former Non-White President., and many unemployed people, suddenly without insurance, have been signing up with the ACA like crazy. And we can guess how THEY will probably vote in November…if our AG doesn’t find a way to prevent voting at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. There are no boundaries to stupidity, are there?
    A friend (American, as it happens) once asked me why Liverpool was so-called.I explained that, over the years, spellings had changed, but the named had meant mud puddle. He looked down at the Mersey’s murky depths and said:”I see.”

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m still trying to figure how Liverpool could win some championship or other without actually playing a game that night and better still – there are still some games to play, though what’s the point if they already have a winner… still at least though Bournemouth lost two football games we won the busiest beach award.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And all the headlines for a day or so.

      You’re way ahead of me at untangling the sports complications. I had no idea there were still games to play. My cluelessness knows no bounds.


    • It’s because the Premier league doesn’t have a championship game like the FA Cup (or the Rose Bowl for Ellen’s sake). The Premier league champions are simply the team that wins the most games in a season and Liverpool now has an unassailable lead although the season is far from over.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aha! It all makes sense now. Unfortunately, fifteen minutes from now I will have forgotten, since this is quite a long way out from the center of my world. But for this moment, I feel satisfyingly enlightened.


  9. There were apparently 500,000 people at Bournemouth the other day! The UK is like a big bottle of pop just ready to explode all over the place. So many people are pent up after weeks at home away from the pub/footie/holiday on the Med. It wont take much to get some riots going. Heaven knows what it will be like when the pubs open next week. As always, I am hoping for rain/and or a cold wind.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. So Liverpool means the same as Dublin (Dubh Linh or Black Pool.) Probably explains whjy there are so many from the one in the other and why people in the one get excited about sporting events involving the other (if you get my meaning). As for the behaviour of people who go mad in the mid-day sun, well, as Noel said, it’s what the English do.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I watched those Floridians (probably not the right name at all, but it should be) in utter disbelief. I write fiction, but I’d have struggled to come up with some of those characters. I certainly would have hesitated before writing dialogue with lines like theirs in it.

    And after the Bournemouth fiasco (and if I needed anything to convince me evolution has been nowhere as successful as we often think, then the behaviour of that crowd was it), I think it’s safe to say we certainly won’t be going near any freshly opened pubs in the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Florida gets little credit from me for making an obvious decision. What is questionable is why they reopened so many things prematurely when all of the signs indicated otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sigh.

      Because the economy trumps (no pun intended, however appropriate it turned out to be) lives. There’s immense political pressure to get things rolling again. A surprising number of people refuse to believe the pandemic’s real. Or if it is real, it’s interfering with their right to run around bareback and spread and catch germs, so it can just go take a hike. And they’re a noisy, and sometimes heavily armed, group of people.

      Even without that pool of complete and well-armed crazies, England’s also re-opening too early. Get that economy rolling.

      I don’t want to minimize the problem. It’s real, and we may, as a society, need to look at different ways to structure an economy if we’re going to get through this without sacrificing a huge swathe of the population.


  13. I have a question: if we were a nation so fixated by masks in the fifties sixties and seventies- zorro, batman, Bonanza- and they were the good guys- what the heck happened?
    Just put on shorts, guys, and wrap the bikini bottom or the speedo over the mouth and nose. And then wander off. To a distance. As for Americans, Brits…whoever….I’m waiting for someone sensible, like labradors, poodles, or airedales, to get it together and start issuing passports. .

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I gave up on relying on humans (en masse) to have common sense…

    I stick resolutely to the belief that people are stupid.

    Not individuals, I know a lot of extremely non-stupid individuals, but when it comes to relying on large groups of people to make sane and sensible decisions, they prove me right again and again (sadly)

    Stupidity of people seems to be pervasive, and to have nothing to do with academic prowess or education levels.

    I think we would be better to let the otters run things!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh boy i have seen the footage on the news or via facebook not sure lol of the crowded beaches. Where is common sense gone out with the rubbish. We here in Melbourne are having a second outbreak because some people decided to have big parties and kiss and cuddle and share stuff.. not sure what they were sharing. It seems as people think oh its gone. Mind you here in Australia its winter although the last few days where i live its been sunny but chilly and the beach has been wonderful. Our dogs love it. #SeniSal

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can actually understand why people would think, in a place where the spread has slowed, Oh, it’s gone, I can go back to normal life. As time goes on, I find it harder, when I’m out in public, to remember the danger. The beast’s invisible. We don’t have dead bodies on the street. And even though I have friends who’ve had the disease and one who died of it, I still find it hard to remember to keep my distance.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fantastic. The government advice has all the clarity and deep thought we’ve come to expect. And since our village hall is actually talking about reopening (reluctantly, but still talking about it), the link is actually very timely. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

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