Masks, anti-masks, treatments, and vaccines: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

I shouldn’t keep telling you about small, promising trials of one thing or another that’ll prevent or cure  Covid-19, should I? Or the ones that will–it they work–roll time backward so humanity wiped the virus out before it sank its teeth into our immune systems. Because most of them, inevitably, won’t come to anything.

But you know what? I will anyway. Because I can’t help myself. Because one just might work. And because we need some hope, no matter how badly shredded it is these days. As long as it’s not total bullshit.

A company in Britain has run a small trial on a protein called interferon beta, which patients inhale through a nebuliser–one of those things that people with serious asthma use when it gets particularly bad. That puts the protein deep into the lung, where–apologies for using heavy-duty scientific language–it gives the immune system a swift kick in the pants and tells it to get back to work. 

Irrelevant photo: The Cornish coastline.

Interferon beta was tried on hospitalized patients and they were 79% less likely to develop severe disease. Their hospital stays were shorter, and (better yet) they were two or three times more likely to recover well enough to handle everyday activities.

One of the particularly frightening things about Covid-19 is that not everyone who survives can go back to handling everyday activities. 

Interferon beta may be even more effective on patients who aren’t as sick. It’s on its way to a larger trial. 

And an early trial of an Oxford University vaccine shows that it makes both antibodies and white blood cells that fight the coronavirus. It appears to be safe. The question, though, is how well it will work in the real world. 

The answer is a resounding we dunno. Now they need to set volunteers loose to toddle through the real world, some with the real vaccine in their systems and some with a placebo, and then wait to see how many get infected. 

Let’s hope it does, because Britain’s ordered 100 million doses. Plus 90 million doses split between two other vaccines that are still in development. 

Do they pay for those in advance? Or do they pony up some small amount of money to prove they know where their wallets are and promise the rest if the things works out? They pay in advance.

All told, 163 vaccines are in various stages of testing. They may be as promising as the Oxford one, or more so, but Oxford’s the one getting a lot of ink in Britain just now.

C’mon, admit it: You’re glad to know some of that, aren’t you?


A hundred or so people gathered in London for an anti-mask rally. They hugged each other. They posed for photos. They carried signs saying things like “Flu world order” and “Spread love, not fear.” 

They spread fear all the way down here to me in Cornwall. In the most loving possible way.

One of the organizers said they were “campaigning for the return of our rights and liberties.” 

Ah, yes, those traditional rights and liberties set out in the  Magna Carta. You know, the part where it says, “No Briton shall be compelled to wear a mask, or even shamed into it, yea, even during a plague year. Even if it would save another person’s life.”

Except that since the Magna C. was written when spelling was still a liquid, nothing except  the word a was spelled the way you’d expect. Which is why no one’s ever drawn attention to that clause before.

You won’t find news like that in the press. What are they covering up? Have you ever asked yourself that?


In spite of the many ways Britain has mishandled the pandemic, the number of infections is, generally, falling. Speaking for myself and several thousand of my closest friends, we’d feel more confident about those numbers if the test and trace program was testing everyone it could convince to stick a swab up their nose instead of concentrating on people with symptoms. But even if we don’t know how many cases we really have, fewer people are dying. That can only be a good thing. 



An assortment of doctors are basically (and I’m doing just the tiniest bit of paraphrasing here) giving up on government leadership and hoping the public stays (or in some cases, becomes) sane, understanding “that [the virus] has certainly not disappeared and could come back and cause even more suffering.”

That’s Carrie MacEwen that I’m quoting, the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Try typing that three times quickly. She expects a second surge in the winter, which could be larger than the first.

“The public has begun to think we are free of this,” she said, “but we are not.”

Why are they giving up on the government?

On the one hand, it’s finally telling people they have to wear masks in shops and on public transportation when on the other hand they’re saying people don’t have to wear one at work because “when you’re in close proximity with somebody that you have to work closely to, if you’re there for a long time with them, then a mask doesn’t offer that protection.”

That incisive bit of explanation comes from our health secretary, Matt Hancock, and if you followed his logic you might be eligible for a cabinet post yourself, because not many people could. 

In case you can’t, it works like this: Masks keep people from spreading the virus, but if you share a workplace with someone for eight hours a day, they stop offering any protection because familiarity breeds contempt. Even in the virus world. Once you and I get to know each other, my germs lose interest in you. And yours–it’s dismaying but it’s true–see right through me and look for someone more exciting to infect.

I might be eligible for a cabinet post myself, and may all the gods I don’t believe in protect us.

The noises coming from government ministers haven’t consistently supported even the government’s half-hearted policy on wearing masks in shops. Michael Gove, the cabinet minister, said it was best to “trust people’s common sense” on mask wearing instead of mandating it. 

Indeed. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, common sensically posed for one of those press photos where he pretended to serve food to restaurant customers, with his naked face smiling over two plates of food. I like to think the customers got up and fled, but they may not have been real, in which case they didn’t.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, wore a mask out of doors when she met her French counterpart and then took it off for their indoor meeting.

Well, of course she did. It’s a workplace. Germs got bored during meetings. 

Conservative MP Desmond Swayne called masks a “monstrous imposition.”

All of which helps explain why Chaand Nagpaul of the British Medical Association said, “There needs to be clear, concise public messaging. To introduce measures for shops but not other situations where physical distancing is not possible–including some workplaces –is illogical and adds to confusion and the risk of the virus spreading.”

A poll shows that 71% of the public support making masks mandatory in shops. Another 13% oppose it. The remaining 16%? (It is 16%, isn’t it?) They’re still trying to work out which part of the face a mask is supposed to cover and haven’t formed an opinion yet. 


I keep reading King-Kong-meets-Godzilla warnings about what will happen when the current pandemic meets the upcoming flu season, and I finally found an explanation of what that’s about. The worry goes like this:

There’s this thing called viral interference. It happens when you (or an entire population) get one virus and it keeps you (or that same population) from getting a second one at the same time. 

Yes, that really happens. Think of it as professional courtesy. But it doesn’t happen with all viruses. Some of them don’t play nice. They push other viruses off the monkey bars. They steal their lunch money.

What no one knows for sure is what kind of virus Covid is. In one early case from China, it infected a man who also had the flu. Beyond that, not much is known. In Australia, lockdown short-circuited the winter flu season, so we didn’t get any information from it. 

It’s not impossible that when kids go back to school in the fall (assuming they do) and start trading all their usual seasonal colds, they’ll short-circuit the coronavirus. It’s also possible that they won’t. 

It’s not clear what the effect of having the flu and Covid-19 at the same time would be, but the assumption is that it wouldn’t be good. The worst scenario would be if this winter’s flu turns out to be a pandemic in its own right and, to pick up our opening metaphor, if Godzilla and King Kong join forces. Who made the rule that they have to fight each other? They don’t. 

And that, at long last, brings us to another bit of good news: For years, researchers–unrealistic souls that they are–have been working on a universal flu vaccine. The idea behind it is to target the viral bits shared by all versions of the flu. It’s good science but, in the current system, bad economics. The researchers haven’t been able to run the expensive trials that are needed to show that it’s safe and effective so it can be marketed. Because where’s the profit in selling people a vaccine they’ll only need once or twice in their lives when you can sell them one every damn year?

All of a sudden, though, a universal flu vaccine looks profitable, and one is being tested. Expect results by the end of the year.

69 thoughts on “Masks, anti-masks, treatments, and vaccines: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

    • Well, first they immunize themselves, then their families and cronies. Then their donors. After that, if there’s any left, the essential workers. Then they’ll set up a privatized immunization program and every day they’ll pick a color at random. People who show up wearing that color get immunized. Everyone else has to try again the next day.

      They will not run the program through existing NHS surgeries because who’s going to make a profit from that?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Watching the train wreck of virus responses in other countries (with the inestimable assistance of your good self, Ellen), Antipodeans have watched on in with horror and sympathy (and just a tad of smugness at their cleverness in quickly smiting this unmasked intruder). That is now starting to unravel in our second most populous State, Victoria, and the most populous State, NSW, is teetering on the brink of following them. Victoria is now suddenly getting hundreds of new cases every day and has mandated mask wearing in public and in workplaces. But methinks they are following your MPs and not your scientists. The ‘common sense’ rules include that teachers will not be required to wear masks while teaching and children under 12, or 12-year-olds attending primary school, will also not be required to wear face coverings. Neither will childcare workers. Apparently, through the magic of the science you have described, these people could not possibly be asymptomatic carriers. PS – Facemasks in Victoria have become the new toilet paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t written anything about this, but several studies make it look like younger children (and I’m not sure about the definition of younger) may (emphasis on may) not pass the virus back and forth or carry it to their families. I assume that’s what they’re basing that strategy on, but it’s still sounding inconclusive. I’m not sure I’d want to risk everyone’s health on it.

      For what it’s worth (which is, unfortunately, nothing at all), I’ve got my fingers crossed for you guys. And for us all.


  2. I’ve been “missing” for a good long while in this space…your space and comment board. We’ll call it that for clarity. You see, I’ve been stock piling chocolate Digestives and making HRH shortbread recipe for those rainy days ahead…and Christmas because it will come in some form or another. Toilet paper hoarding be damned, which makes me a danger mostly to myself. Your post could have been written by me, a personage of the Pacific Northwest but wasn’t. We experience the same able body and minded government officials making decisions (or not) for the rest of us. We have, however, one-upped you in the Really? Really?? Department. Portland, Oregon now has militiamen roaming our streets day and night looking for non-violent protester’s faces to shoot at with non-lethal ammo. Really?? Really.

    Seems I have dumped all my frustrations here in your space, your message board. Wish my apology meant more than the discovery of my breakfast cereal bowl still in the sink and not put away as usual. It is well past noon. Another discovery…seems I put my shorts (short trousers worn on hot days) on backwards when dressing this morning. Things just seem to be “off” lately. Not sure tea and biscuits will help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tea and biscuits fix nothing but help everything. Even clothes put on backwards and inside out. And they give the breakfast bowl in the sink company, which is important. Bowls get lonely too.

      You have gone us several better in the crazy department, I’m sorry to say, but troops moving into over local government objections? Holy fuck.


  3. I’m holding out (wearing a mask and properly sanitized) for when they discover that copious amounts of alcohol cause the virus to trip over its own pointy things, wither and die. I hope one of the vaccines emerges as good and useful. I don’t expect to see that before you start getting questions about Brussels sprouts, but I can wait.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “All of a sudden, though, a universal flu vaccine looks profitable…” Ah ! Nailed it ! Problem solved !

    Internet question being posed : “If you knew wearing a mask for a month would prevent cancer, would you do it ?” (My reply was I’d wear one every minute for a year if it would destroy effing idiots.)

    Re: the latest from Portland OR – some protesters are being charged (one allegedly assaulted a federal officer…with her purse ?) Dear Leader has said these same storm troopers will be coming soon to a city near us. (That U.S. us, not UK) Oregon’s governor, attorney general, the mayor of Portland and the ACLU are all filing lawsuits. Many of us are just praying the Ruth Bader Ginsberg can hang on through January. Because if dear leader is reelected we are screwed anyway, and if he isn’t, her legacy can be safely passed on. May she live forever. And John Lewis RIP

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Costa Rica has produced three likely systems by cooperation between the University of Costa Rica, the Instituto Clodomiro Picado – specialist in snake venom serums – and the national health service..the CAJA. They are convalescnt plasma, purified antibodies, and serum from the plasma of horses hyperimmunised with the virus – though withut harming them. The latter looks the most promising and will allow Costa Rica to produce its own response without relying on big pharma.
    I await the WHO decision to ban all three.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ellen, I always enjoy your posts. Thank you for the update on virus research. It seems the covid19 parties are popular in Germany and the US too. Such idiocy! At the beginning of the pandemic, my sister sent me an excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. I thought that was quite apropos! Take care. Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch. I’m not sure I’d want to take a dive into that right now. But Covid parties? What are people thinking? And then we have politicians coming along and saying we can just trust people’s common sense…

      I’m glad to know you enjoy the posts. Thanks. It keeps me going.


  7. Here are additional links re: Portland. Sorry to put them in your blogspace rather an a PM



    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Flu world order”; I hadn’t heard that one, it’s rather clever. Not wearing a mask in the workplace, that’s new also. Trusting people’s common sense is what the governor of Oklahoma (where I live) has been saying, as he has refused to wear a mask. Last week he became the first governor in the United States to test positive for COVID-19.(and so far the only one, at least that has been reported.) Apparently his symptoms are mild. And he now wears a mask. I agree Ellen, we do need hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, at least he’s learned to wear a mask. Maybe there’s some hope. Over here, Boris Johnson’s policies are almost as silly (not to mention dangerous) as before he got ill. I doubt he’s capable of learning much. The situation in the US sounds, from here, truly frightening. Stay well.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh, that’s a tough one. And I think I’m going to fail you. I already made the joke about the Magna Carta. If we were in the US, I’d say it’s because it’s not in the Bible. Wait, wait. It’s because of the special relationship. You know, the relationship all Britons know about but no Americans do–that’s what makes it so special. They’re signaling: We’re over here. We’re just like you. Notice us! Notice us!


  9. We are in for a seismic shift over here in the Looney Bin, Dear Leader just announced to wear a mask is “Patriotic”. He had his followers all tuned into how wearing one infringes on their Freedom, now what will they do? How does he plan on taking their freedom away from them? They sent death threats to all of those in his administration that recommended wearing them. He has been against wearing masks for 5 months, I’m so tired.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting points about CV19 verus the flu, I hadn’t really thought about that. On the issue of mask, I get that there may not be a lot of point wearing masks in offices all day long, but why encourage people to go to work, if they can work at home? I had a socially distanced chat with a woman in my street who said the people she knew who had had CV19 had taken a very long time to recover (I am not sure if they had, actually).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the chilling thing about this virus–that some people don’t seem to recover. Okay, one of the chilling things. And no one knows, if they get sick, what kind of case they’ll have.

      Pick a card, any card. Oops, that’s not a good card. Sorry, no do-overs.

      I don’t see what the problem is with wearing a mask all day. It’s not fun, but medical people managed it during the crisis. It might mean having to bring several, so if one gets soggy you can put on a dry one, but–am I missing something?

      Liked by 2 people

        • Yeah, when you put mass infection and death on one hand and discomfort on the other, it does seem like a fairly clear choice. The problem’s always the inconvenience is closer and mass etc. is further away. It’s a perspective problem.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. I wish I’d worked harder on my underground bunker plan…
    I could hide in it away from all the stupid people!

    I wonder if anyone in the non-mask brigade has used the phrase, “I’d rather die than wear a mask” because… it just might come down to that, and kill some other people in the process…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t mean to sounds as cold hearted as I probably am, but if they only killed themselves I wouldn’t get exercised about it at this point. On the positive side, there weren’t a whole hell of a lot about them.

      Of course, it doesn’t take a whole hell of a lot of people to infect a lot of people if they’re being stupid about it.

      There’s still time for that bunker.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I totally agree!
        People in shops give me funny looks while I am getting increasingly wild eyed and panicky behind my mask…I want to yell at them “I am doing this for you!!”

        I which is why I need a bunker…

        I’ll get my spade!

        Liked by 1 person

        • We’re in slate quarrying country. Go down a few inches and you’re busting rock, as we discovered when we planted our imaginary hedge. We kept ourselves going by arguing over whether a jackhammer or dynamite would be better suited to the job. Since we didn’t have either, our neighbors are still our neighbors. We’ll have to take our chances aboveground.

          Liked by 1 person

          • eeek! That makes bunker excavation tricky, but you’d have some good building material if you managed it…
            We are on heavy clay, so it might be doable, but probably not in summer when the clay resembles brick…
            Anyone know of any spare caves?

            Liked by 1 person

            • Maybe you’d better set a geographical limit on how far you’re willing to go for the aforesaid cave. I do know of one locally, but it floods at high tide and it’s open at both ends. Probably not the one you’re looking for.

              Liked by 1 person

              • When I first head about cavepeople, as a kid, I thought they had to dig out a cave. What did I know about caves? I grew up in Manhattan. I couldn’t figure out how they did it. It was years before the light went on. Glad you know of some good ones.

                Liked by 1 person

              • I only know about the Matlock ones because my mum went to college there and told me tales of signs on shops that said “no troglodytes” which means I have know the meaning g of troglodyte since I was about 6. This is totally useless but I am weirdly proud of it 😁

                Liked by 1 person

  12. People who refuse to wear a mask ought to stay out of the hospitals when the get sick, and leave the beds for those who took the pandemic seriously. Also. If they don’t believe in medical science the anti- maskers should stop taking their blood pressure medicine and not get chemo if they get cancer. We have many laws to keep people safe: helmets, seatbelts,speed limits, etc. It’s about common sense and the common good! The virus is no more a “liberal” thing than the common cold is, or hiccups.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Yes – bravo to the Oxford researchers on their excellent progress in finding a vaccine that could work on the coronavirus! We will doubtless want to jump on board from across the pond if and when we can. We wish it could come before we send our children back to public schools because we have politicians here in the colonies who go around saying yes, we know the children will get sick from Covid-19 but hey they won’e get very sick, quickly recover and soon return to the desks from whence they sprung. All’s well that ends well. Teachers? Oh well, hm. they’ll probably be ok, too. Cafeteria workers? Custodians? Administrators? Secretaries? Financial workers? Oh well, they’ll all be fine.Maybe we can send some more essential workers over to fill in for them. You know, our more essential workers have fared so well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know. There’s some, so far very uncertain, research that may (emphasis on may) indicate that younger children don’t pass on the virus, but it’s still very iffy. And nothing says older kids have that exemption. That’s the only hopeful thing I can come up with in the midst of this crazy decision to reopen the schools with zero safety planing.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. You are always do upto date with the news.
    That protein inhaler is interesting.

    Anti mask – hmmmmmm . They are living in a parallel planet! Like there is no covid 19.. where have they been last 6 months? Clearly not on this planet.

    Boris seems lost without his brain. Of may be his brain a certain d Cummings, hasn’t a clue.

    I am sickened by the decisions. I am sickened by the disorder in the country. Some gaps are helping patients others not.

    I pray for a miracle the magically this virus disappears. So many people have other health issues that hospitals and gps are just ignoring.

    Boris seems to be on another planet.

    May be I should wish my way on another planet.

    I am soooo……disappointed 🤒🤕 by the uk … we are a mess!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Daughter #1 and her hubby are both MD’s and infectologists at that. They say the medical/scientific community has short-circuited all other channels (political in particular) and sharing advance results as soon as they can. A cure/treatment/health vaccine will be found. For covid-19. I’m afraid the cure for stupidity will take a few centuries more. Hope all is well with you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I take heart from their conviction that a cure/treatment/vaccine will be found. Thanks for sharing it. Now if we can throw the same amount of effort into curing stupidity–

      We’re good, thanks. Surrounded by swarms of people who’ve come down to Cornwall on holiday/vacation (sorry–I’m being bilingual there), which is terrifying in a calm, slow-moving sort of way, but so far, we’re in one piece. It’s hard to figure out where to draw the line in terms of contact. I’m avoiding the supermarket but did eat (outside) at the local cafe the other day. I hope that wasn’t a mistake. You’re okay?

      Liked by 1 person

  16. The US Govt also bought 100 million doses of vaccine this week, but from a different, untested vaccine designer. Is this wishful thinking, or dark money being moved around. What world order are we in right now?

    In my hometown, bless their red-hat hearts, a very (very) large group of morons (oops, I meant Christian zealots) gathered together secretively under our local sundial bridge to show that god will protect them from large (very) large gatherings in close proximity while hugging without masks. This large (very) large church controls a lot of the town and is known for performing miracles that most cultists truly believe in. Outbreak uptick to come.

    Besides that, it’s all a hoax. Haven’t you read?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have heard it’s a hoax. Knowing that, I hope to bring back my friend who died of it. We’re still working out the mechanics.

      I wonder what your friendly local cultists will tell themselves when some of them die. Will they rethink things or will they cling tighter? I remember hearing that groups that set a date for when the world’s going to end not to rethink but to set a new date and cling tighter.

      The vaccines are a gamble. I knew some producers were going to go into production before they knew whether they’d get approval, but I didn’t understand until recently that they weren’t gambling their money on a hit vaccine but ours.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Yep, and, back in the days of the Plantagenets, there were curfew rules, and there were even sumptuary laws governing what sort of material people from each social class could use for their clothes, which the #NoMask brigade seem to have conveniently forgotten ;-) .

    Liked by 1 person

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