Traffic cones, pubs, and coronavirus testing: It’s the news from Britain

According to a small and deeply meaningful study, fans of apocalyptic movies may be handling the pandemic better than the rest of us. 

I wasn’t part of the study, but I’ve watched one or possibly two movie apocalumps (that’s the not-quite-official plural of apocalypse), and I don’t know about other people, but I come out thinking, Live? Die? Does it really matter? I can see where take some of the angst out of the pandemic.


There’s a bit more news about remdesivir, the drug that shortens people’s Covid-19 recovery time: The studies showing that shortening turn out to be small, preliminary, and ambiguous. In one small study that was cut short, it didn’t outperform a placebo. In another, patients on remdesivir recovered an average of four days ahead of the control group, but there was no difference in their death rates. 

But, according to the Medical Express, “That study was also stopped early, which can lead to exaggerated estimates of treatment benefits. A British Medical Journal editorial highlighted the study’s financial links to Gilead [the drug’s manufacturer] as another source of bias.”

The U.S. has bought out almost three months’ worth of Gilead’s production of remdesivir, for a sizable sum of money.

Now we have to wait and see how useful it’ll be.


This isn’t, as you’ll probably have noticed, the Duke of Wellington on his horse. (Wellington appears just below, with his horse). It’s a wild horse on the Cornish cliffs, but it’s as close as I could come. No traffic cones were injured in the making of this photo.

Let’s take a break from the coronavirus. We owe ourselves that.

In Glasgow, a statue of the Duke of Wellington generally wears a traffic cone on his head, and he looks quite fetching in it. Go on, click both links here. This is important.

The city authorities generally take it down.

And someone generally puts it back on. 

This has been going on since the 1980s. That’s a lot of traffic cones. I like to think the city puts them back into its working stash of traffic cones instead of throwing them away, and if today weren’t Saturday I’d play intrepid reporter and make a phone call or two, but as things stand I just don’t know. And, you know, we have to go to press. We have deadlines to meet. The world is counting on us.

And by us, of course, I mean me.

The city estimates that it spends £10,000 a year taking traffic cones off the duke’s head. That’s £100 per cone. 

The city may or may not be padding its expenses. That’s another thing I don’t know. Let’s pretend we believe them. It’ll keep the story flowing.

In 2011, the Lonely Planet included the Coneheid (as Duke W. is known locally) on a list of the world’s ten most bizarre monuments, and if you don’t think that’s a big deal, just try getting something on the list by your own self.

In 2013, the council decided to stop all this fooling around once and for all by doubling the height of the statue’s base–called a plinth in case you ever need to know that–to the tune of £65,000. By the next day, 72,000 people had signed onto a Facebook page supporting the cone. Before much more time had passed, a petition had 100,000 signatures. A demonstration was held.

How many people showed up? Somewhere between 3 and several million.

The cone was local culture, they said, and the council had better keep its hands off it.

It all settled down for a while, with the cone staying in place, but a July 3 tweet showed that in retaliation for the cone being taken down again someone had put a whole stack of cones on the duke’s head. And one on the horse’s. 

And the pubs in Scotland hadn’t even re-opened yet. 

My thanks to Pete Cooper, who was entirely sober when he sent me these links. As–I would never imply anything else–he generally is. 


A new coronavirus testing program worth £5 billion looks like it will go to private companies, although the president of the Institute of Biomedical Science said, “We are campaigning for NHS labs to be allowed to bid for these contracts. This should not be exclusive to commercial partners.”

Translation? Britain’s own National Health Service is blocked from the bidding. Why? Because.

NHS sources say the money will go to expand the Lighthouse laboratory program, which has successfully kept communities from getting early notice of local spikes, making it impossible for them to respond to them. For two months, IT and data protection problems meant they didn’t let local governments, hospitals, or doctors know about growing clusters of cases in their areas. They’ve also (anecdotally: I wasn’t there and I can’t prove it) lost samples, left them sitting until they were too old to be tested, and generally made themselves beloved of the medical community.

Some of those problems have been sorted out, but if a patient’s test was processed by a Lighthouse lab, hospitals still can’t find out the result. 

The number of Covid cases and deaths have both gone down in Britain–and in England, where I think this program is running. The more I read about it, though, the more I wonder how.


Locally, a friend who drives people to medical and hospital appointments was exposed to the virus by a symptomatic passenger and spent ”a silly part of the day trying to find out how this works, with no joy at all.” 

She called 111, the number for medical advice. They told her to phone 119, “even though 119 is supposed to be to book a test only.” 

She called anyway and the “operator only knew how to book a test but couldn’t as I didn’t have any symptoms.” 

Government advice is that you shouldn’t get tested unless you have symptoms. The test, they say, is most accurate in a relatively short window of time after the symptoms appear.

That left my friend with no idea of what to do next. She went into isolation, which she’d have to do anyway, since the test comes up with a fair percentage of false negatives. But she would like to know if she has a life-threatening disease. You know how these whims can be.

She tried to find out how long it would be before the woman who’d exposed her would get a test and how long would it be before she herself would be contacted if the woman tested positive.

No answers.

She gave up and phoned the doctor’s office–called, in British, a surgery. They were in the dark, they said. The test and trace program doesn’t talk to them. Or write. Or email. You could say it was a bad breakup, but they’d never been married.

She phoned the woman who’d exposed her. She hadn’t been contacted about having a test.

If I weren’t a better person, I’d remind you that all that only costs us £5 billion. But I won’t because that wouldn’t be accurate. The £5 billion’s to expand this wondrous program, not fund its current work of saving our sorry asses.


So how can a country find asymptomatic cases if the tests are most accurate after symptoms appear? 

By massive testing. With the same type of test the government’s using–a PCR test. As far as I can follow this, the tests may be more accurate once symptoms appear, but they’re very much worth doing beforehand.

According to Healthline“ ‘People exposed to the virus who have had close contact with a confirmed case should get tested whether or not they have symptoms,’ Amira Roess, PhD, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, told Healthline.

“ ‘By identifying individuals who are positive early in disease progression before they develop symptoms and implementing public health interventions, we can prevent a large percentage of infections. This is key, because we have learned that asymptomatic infection is a key driver of this epidemic,’ she said. ‘Finding asymptomatic individuals will allow us to prevent them from spreading the virus.’ ”

As far as I can sort this mess out, it seems to be true that early testing comes up with some false negatives (the test has a fair number of those anyway), but Antibiotics Research UK talks about the importance of mass testing to identify asymptomatic carriers, meaning both people with symptoms and people without, and notes that the World Health Organization has called for it.

“Doing so has seen South Korea handle the outbreak with exceptional efficacy. A similar project in Iceland has shown that around half of the people who tested positive are showing no symptoms, too. Mass testing is the example we should be following here in the UK. This should be followed by tracking and quarantining the people who have been in contact with those found to have the virus. We need to be able to identify asymptomatic coronavirus carriers to further limit the spread.”

And we’re not doing that.


On the other hand, the virus must be under control, because England’s pubs are opening today. The prime minister’s urging us all not to be silly about it, and of course we won’t be. But I would recommend putting the traffic cones someplace safe for a few days.


Finally, Florida State University sent out an email saying that starting on August 7 it would “no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely.”

Predictably enough, the shit started flying in all directions. So they sent out new announcement, saying, “We want to be clear—our policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children.”

And that upset the people who’d already cleared out space in their freezers to stash their kids in. All that ice cream gone to waste.

60 thoughts on “Traffic cones, pubs, and coronavirus testing: It’s the news from Britain

  1. Whilst not a fan of apocalyptic films or literature, I do have vivid memories of a TV series in the 70s called Survivors. Actually, that might be why I don’t bother with apocalyptic films or literature. It was very scary. A virus killed most of the world’s population in a matter of days; society collapsed and those who survived had to work out how to live without any of the things that we all take for granted. It’s probably what fuelled my interest in the Black Death. Did I mention that it was scary?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I enjoyed the article on the cone…especially the last lines about Wellington being amused as he knew his soldiers…..’scum of the earth, enlisted for drink’…was his view, if I recall.
    It would be rash to apply that saying to the ‘conies’…Weegies are quick to take offence.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. That horse is interesting, the brown nose doesn’t seem to fit and he looks like someone got a big paint brush and splashed him with black paint. They made another series of Survivor in 2008 but cancelled it after 2 seasons as not many people were watching it which was a shame as it ended on a cliffhanger. It wasn’t that scary.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Here in Wales, there is a cautious lifting of some lockdown measures – and our First Minister has lambasted the Prime MInister for making decisions before deciding how to implement them. Apparently there has not been a meeting since May with the devolved countries, yet we are left to deal with England’s decisions.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Sorry to upset the people who did the apocalyptic movie survey thing, but I know several people who enjoy movies and books along those lines – including myself – and none of us are coping with things better because of our love of reading or watching apocalypse books or movies. Either that, or everyone is coping a lot worse than I thought, because if I’m doing better than them, I have to wonder how we’re not all curled up under the blanket crying while cuddling our teddy bears. Or maybe all the people I’m seeing out there apparently doing a lot better than me are just looking for their teddy bears? Unless by, “Coping,” they mean more prepared and not running out of food? Because if they mean that, then I’ll believe the survey. Otherwise I’m going to have to assume it’s another of those surveys where you have to wonder who they actually asked, because it doesn’t reflect reality.

    Liked by 2 people

    • All good questions. And all of them questions I can’t answer. Wherever the hell I found that information (and I embedded a link, which means my memory decided it no longer needed the information and flushed it)–

      We’re lost, aren’t we? I’ll start over: Wherever I found that didn’t say anything about the survey itself and I wasn’t as sharp as you or I’d have gone digging around to see if I couldn’t learn more. The study could easily have fallen into the category of Small and Unscientific Surveys, which if written up well sound like they contribute to the store of human knowledge even while they don’t.


  6. Yes, yes excellent points on testing – as many as half of people CV19 show no symptoms, that how its spread. I watch the film “Contagion” the other day. Odd film. I amstillwondering what happened to Kate Winslett who was last seen lying on a bed in a field hospital. I did laugh at all the rubbish in the streets and how people where punching each other in the chemists, instead of queing in the street behind traffic cones. Which brings me to statues and cones – there’s a similar state of affairs in Cardiff and a statue of a chapcalled John Batchelor, no I had never heard of him either but apparently he was “A Friend of Freedom” and regularly had a traffic cone on his head. No one tried to pull down recently, as far as I am aware.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, they are such tempting targets. If I were younger. If I weren’t afraid of heights. If I were taller and bolder and just a touch more reckless I’d be tempted to do my bit for improving the quality of our proud nation’s statues. I’ve always admired seagulls for their artistic taste, now that we’re talking about it, perching on the very sober heads of very sober metallic men.

      I did see Contagion. I remember one scene–the one where she catches the bug by bumping into someone.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, gosh, so many disparate unrelated things to say. I’ve only seen one apocalyptic movie and it was Mad Max, back in the 80’s. I got a lot of mythic references from it. As for horror movies, I am absolutely the wrong person to take to one. I laughed liberally through The Shining and did the same thing in that recent movie, Get Out, after I warned the friend who wanted me to go with her that I would likely laugh through it. I just find them completely implausible, and kept telling that guy “it’s the white people! Get the heck out of there before they know you know. You’ve always known it’s the white people!!” As for those irrepressible Glaswegians, what would we do without them? I got some laughs from the pictures of that statue. Now your horse…an interesting little character. It made me think of Faulkner and a story called “Spotted Horses” that involved the Snopes clan, specifically Flem. He had acquired some wild horses and was trying to shop them around. Ultimately, by taking care of them the way the Snopes clan took care of everything he managed “to fill this whole county with spotted horses.” I wonder if wild horses develop the spots for camouflage. Hard to say. I haven’t thought of that story for years. As for Covid-19, I have come to the conclusion Trump is actually trying to kill us. There really isn’t another explanation. Now, his presidency, that’s a real horror movie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love your response to horror movies and I wish I shared it. I hate tension in movies (I’m not in love with it in real life, come to think of it), and they feed on tension. And fear. Why should I pay someone to scare me?

      The wild horses around here aren’t all spotted, so if this is camouflage they’ve failed. Like many things lately–especially policies and governments.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lighthouse Labs sounds like it is ripe for a US Gummint contract : Slow the testing and slow the number of cases !

    Seriously hoping your friend who was exposed by committing a good deed will turn out to be all right !

    In positive news, Trump has finally initiated a Travel Ban that is effective – no US people allowed into the EU. So no more taxpayer-paid jaunts to his golf course in Scotland.

    In the “irony isn’t dead” dept : Dear Leader gave a superspreader speech last night at Mount Rushmore, S Dakota, Since this is on land sacred to several groups of Indigenous People, they showed up to protest. The Trump supporters met them by screaming :Go Home !” To which the natives screamed back “We ARE home !”

    One book you want to be sure NOT to read is “The Cobra Event” by Richard Preston.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not sure what history Wellington has with Scotland–the whole Scottish/English thing is pretty combustible–or with racism, but that traffic cone tradition would probably argue for keeping the statue.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed. Those with clout probably recall their drunken student escapades and argue for retention.(The alternative might unlock a cupboardful of skeletons)Besides, most people like the wegie cone.I do.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I have seen a fair few movies about apocalumps, and read many dystopian future type book, so far this apocalypse is much better!
    I mean, I have to wear a mask, but I don’t have to wear improbably small amounts of leather and spikes and live in a desert and this disease, at least, doesn’t make people want to eat each other…

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Ellen, I just knew I’d feel better about the whole mess after visiting your blog. Thank you. I’m sure you’ll be saying more about the pubs reopening in a future post. Saw a tweet about it on Saturday that left me a question that made me think, “I’ll ask Ellen!” Is urinating on the pavement a common occurrence in the UK of 2020?

    Liked by 1 person

    • As far as I know, only in the last few weeks, since they gave people the okay to go to parks and beaches but haven’t opened most of the public toilets. Which you have to admit does cause a problem.


  11. So apparently your country is almost as messed up as your cousins across the pond – the same cousins who sit and watch our Covid-19 numbers continue to spike out of control.
    But, at least you have consolation in the sight of a wild horse on the Cornish countryside. That picture alone makes me feel better about life. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad I can give you that. Isn’t it strange the way something that isn’t of any practical use is of such intense practical use?

      All told, I think we’re messed up but not almost as messed up as the US. The government does, at least, acknowledge the problem. That’s a start.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. We have a statue in Exeter of Sir Redvers Buller. It is placed on the crossroads just outside the College and always seems to have a traffic cone on it. Three years ago there was a terrible accident where a young lad fell to his death whilst trying to place the cone on the statue. There is a small memorial there now and since all the Black Lives Matter demonstrations regarding inappropriate statues, it has now been suggested that the statue be removed and a bigger memorial put in its place to the lad who died. These are strange times.

    Liked by 2 people

    • They are indeed strange times. I have no idea who Redvers Buller was and leaving it a mystery appeals to me more than looking it up does. Something about someone having been important enough (at least to someone) to have a statue set up and then as time goes on becoming nothing more than a name–that tickles me. But the idea of a memorial to someone who died doing something pointless and dangerous (which however much I love traffic cones on statues, putting one there is) does seem strange, and almost encouraging.


  13. For all the talk of tracing here, the NYS governor decreed testers were not allowed to ask people tested if they were at a protest. Everyone else has to give up the names of everyone they were around and where they went. They don’t want to blame surges on the protests but have been on 20 somethings having parties. I don’t think any of the tests are that accurate. I took the antibodies test when it first became available, which is 2 months or more after I was in close proximity to several people who ended up having it. The test results had a big one page disclaimer- if you tested negative it was no guarantee you did not have it. I think the tests are more accurate while they have symptoms. Alcohol is a big tax generator here. So Liquor stores and sales were deemed essential. The state changed the rules on restaurants- they could sell alcoholic drinks delivery or take out. One person told me that helped their restaurant survive. They did a lot of take out with alcoholic drinks. They cancelled St. Patrick’s Day parades but did not shit down the bars/pubs until after It. Needless to say bars/pubs were jam packed that weekend. I’m sure some got it that way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • All of which is an argument in favor of letting epidemiologists drive the decision making in these times. They’re less influenced by all the political considerations.

      I don’t know what the thinking was behind not asking about protests, but having been to many–precovid, most of them–I can testify that I didn’t know many of the people I was there with. I don’t know if that entered into their thinking of what. The New Yorker had a fascinating article a while back about what was and wasn’t done right in New York and in, I think, Washington State in handling the epidemic. New York, I’m sorry to say, was the bad example.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I could tell you stories. Fauci said no masks in the beginning. He is one of the top medical people here. So many wonder about trusting these people when they keep changing their minds and they have. They are not immune to political biases. A group of medical people came out after the protests here and said the protests are okay but all other gatherings are not. A lot of people started not taking things seriously after that. Yes California politicians have admitted the protests led to spikes there. NY governor did not want that tie, hence he banned asking if you were at a protest and tracking that. NY governor and mayors made a lot of mistakes that led to the large numbers we had. Keeping schools open when there were cases they knew about within them is one. We have a lot of dead teachers now . Students lost a parent or a grandparent. Yes they can carry it with little to no symptoms , but pass it on in multigenerational houses. Our governor mandated nursing homes take CoVid patients. No excuse on his part. They all knew in the beginning the elderly and immune compromised were the most vulnerable. He had options but when asked refused to use them- Javits Center and hospital ship. They did not deep clean the underground/subways until late in the game. They allowed the homeless to live on the subways for years. The sleep in the cars and use as a toilet. Healthcare workers, cops firemen postal workers and bus drivers all use the underground/ subways to get to work. That increased greatly their chances of getting it. Many in those jobs got it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • They did the same thing here with care homes–decanted people, untested, some with Covid, from hospitals into the homes. That was completely insane. As were many, many other decisions. What I will cut medical people some slack on is that the virus is so new that, yes, they do change their guidance along the way as new evidence comes in. With masks, I’d have thought caution would have said, “Use them,” from the start, but research is leaning only recently toward an understanding that the virus may well be spread by aerosols, not just droplet. That argues more strongly for masks.

          Anyway, yes, many mistakes, many stupid decisions. I’ll see if I can’t find that New Yorker article and add a link to an upcoming post. It’s in the morass here somewhere. I need to find it before it sinks. It’s well worth the time for its discussion of what does, as a rule, work when dealing with an epidemic.

          What I will say about the the Black Lives Matter protests is that if I were in the US, I’d have gone too. With a mask, but some things you just have to do.

          Liked by 1 person

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.