Money, masks, and rumors: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

The number of coronavirus cases in England went up 17% in the past week. Some of those are concentrated in hotspots, but there’s been an increase outside those areas as well. And the test and trace system is managing not to contact almost half of the new cases.

But the spread of the virus among people outside of hospitals and other institutions may be leveling off. I think that’s in Britain, not England, but when I went back to check (I found that in an ongoing pandemic news update and it’s easy to lose an old item as new ones are added) I found a newer item saying the R rate–the rate at which the disease spreads–may be rising. In England, as opposed to Britain as a whole. 

What do all those contradictory statistics mean? Part of the difference has to do one set of numbers covering everyone and the other covering only people outside of institutions. Beyond that, I’m not really sure. 

Irrelevant photo:California poppies, which grow well in Cornwall. You’d hardly notice their accent.

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In April, England bought 50 million face masks for the National Health Service, which can’t use them. They’re not a tight enough fit. To be any use at all, they have to pass a face-fit test, which checks that they seal tightly to the wearer’s face. These don’t. 

The masks were the most expensive part of a £252 million contract given to Ayanda Capital, which says it specializes in “currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing.” As the BBC explains it, “It has emerged that the person who originally approached the government about the deal was a government trade adviser [that’s Andrew Mills, and no, I never heard of him either] who also advises the board of Ayanda.

“But he told the BBC his position played no part in the awarding of the contract.”

Mills’ company “had secured the rights to the full production capacity of a large factory in China to produce masks and was able to offer a large quantity almost immediately.

“But the legal document seen by the BBC notes that Mr Mills requested the government instead sign the contract for the masks with Ayanda Capital, whose board he advises, because it could arrange overseas payment more quickly.” 

Far be it from me to imply that there’s any skullduggery going on here.  Or incompetence. But, the director of the Good Law Project, one of two organizations pushing for a judicial review, mentioned three Covid-related contacts, each worth over £100 million, going to a pest control company, a confectioner, and a family hedge fund.

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This might be a good time to tell you about a study of what’s being called the Cummings effect. Dominic Cummings is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisor and external brain, and when he came down with Covid he broke the lockdown rules he helped write. The most interesting of the ways he broke them was to take a 60-mile round trip, with his kid in the car, to test his eyesight. 

Then he got caught. Then he refused to resign. Then Johnson refused to dump him. Because without him, he has no thoughts. None. Not even “I wonder what’s for supper.” It all just goes silent in there.

As you might expect, it’s been harder, since that happened, to convince people to follow the guidelines, but now we don’t have to guess: It’s been established by 220,755 surveys of 40,597 people in England, Scotland, and Wales. 

The more often Lord Google showed people doing searches on Cummings’ name, the more confidence in the government’s handling of the pandemic declined. And it hasn’t come back. 

Confidence in the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales didn’t drop. Northern Ireland had stepped outside for a smoke at a crucial time and was left out of the survey.

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Unlike Cummings, when the mayor of Luton, Tahir Malik (along with two fellow members of the Luton Council), got caught–on video–attending a party that broke the lockdown guidelines, he had the decency to resign. The limit was supposed to be six people or two  households. There were twelve, and there’d just been a warning that the town had a spike in virus cases.

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In the early stages of the pandemic, the BBC was busy debunking pandemic rumors that circulated on WhatsApp. 

What rumors? 

One: Tanks were rolling into Middle Britain, ready to put down civil unrest. That came with photos. When you looked closely, though, the tanks were on the wrong side of the road and the license plates were wrong.

Who knew that tanks had license plates? Or even kept to their own side of the road. Call me naive, but I kind of thought that any vehicle that can get past a trench can drive on whatever side of the road it wants to.

Two: Dead bodies were being stored in ice rinks. 

Three: Helicopters were spraying disinfectant at night. 

Four: Sipping warm water every twenty minutes would wash any virii out of your throat and into your stomach, where they’d be slaughtered by the gastric juices that work there twenty-four hours a day.

Someone sent me that one on Facebook, although by the time I got it, it was considerably more complicated and the water was no longer warm.

A Londoner got into the spirit of the thing and sent out a message that went viral: Wembley Stadium was going to be turned into a giant oven so the government could make a massive lasagna. He heard about it from his sister’s boyfriend’s brother, who worked for the Ministry of Defense. 

Other people got into the act. The Channel Tunnel was being used to bake a giant garlic bread and the Rome Coliseum was being used as a bowl for a giant salad. 

I wish I’d thought of at least one of those.

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For a while there, governments–or at least some governments–were considering issuing immunity passports, which would exempt people who’d had Covid from whatever the restrictions the rest of the country was expected to follow. Because they’d be immune.

The problem with doing this is that no one knows whether immunity’s available for it. Virus stores have lots of immunity on hand, but not necessarily in your size or in the color you need. Covid immunity is on back order and will be shipped as soon as it’s available. Please try us again at your earliest convenience.

The World Health Organization says there’s no scientific evidence to show that immunity passports make any sense. Other than that, they’re a great idea. 

They’re also called immunity certificates, and there’s no scientific evidence for them under that name either. But if you ask Lord Google, he’ll be happy to refer you to an outfit that’ll sell you one for $89.95. All you do is get tested, come up negative, connect your doctor to the company, and open your wallet.

“ImmuniPass is your Immunity Passport!” it says. 

Indeed it is. It’s absolutely useless, but it is your Immunity Passport and yours alone, and it comes with a tasteful sprinkling of capital letters and a hand-crafted exclamation mark.

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The Covid antibody test that Britain’s using may be giving more false positives than anyone thought. A recent study from Oxford University tested 9,000 healthcare workers and found 11% less sensitivity than they expected. To translate that, go back to the first sentence: More false negatives. More people told they don’t have the virus when they do. It has to do with the level of antibodies you need to convince the test that you’re toxic. 

The study found people who’d lost their senses of taste and smell, suggesting they had the disease, but still tested negative. It’s not definitive, but it rings alarm bells. 

*

That’s not the best intro to this next bit of information, but my partner and I both tested negative on Wednesday. And of course, in our case negative really is a negative. And we know that because–

Okay, we don’t know it, but Cornwall (so far) has a relatively low rate of infection. How long that’ll last with all the summer people running around is anyone’s guess, but for the moment we’re okay. May you be as well.

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Australia, having worked its way onto the all-too-short list of countries that were handling the pandemic well, saw the beginnings of a second wave. Unlike New Zealand, which is somewhere near the top of the list, it didn’t try to eliminate the disease, just suppress it. (New Zealand is warning itself not to get complacent, but that’s a different tale.)

Australia has responded to the second wave with hard regional lockdowns, including fines for not wearing masks and the possibility of manslaughter charges for people who cause a death by spreading the disease. 

A group of people who refuse to wear masks claim that being sovereign citizens means they’re exempt from an assortment of laws they don’t like–not just the ones about masks but having to pay parking fines and local taxes. Basically, the argument goes, the government has no power over them. It’s an idea that gained traction in the U.S. in the 1990s and it seems to be popping up across the world now. Legally it’s complete bullshit, but in these post-truth days, that doesn’t weigh heavily with everyone.

The police have found themselves baited at checkpoints and dealing with people who refuse to give their names and addresses. One woman who refused to wear a mask smashed a cop’s head into the cement repeatedly.  The police link the incidents to the sovereign citizen movement. 

*

This has nothing to do with the pandemic, but let’s end with the anti-immigrant campaigner Tommy Robinson (whose real name isn’t Tommy Robinson, but never mind all that) having moved himself and his family to Spain, claiming that it’s not safe from them to stay in Britain after an arson attack on their home. 

In one article, that’s an alleged arson attack. I’m not clear on how alleged or established it is, but I am clear on the irony of an anti-immigration activist becoming an immigrant because, hey, his home country just isn’t safe anymore and what else can a responsible parent do but try to make sure his kids are safe? It’s a Dominic Cummings moment: one set of rules for me and another set for you lot.

 

58 thoughts on “Money, masks, and rumors: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

    • I’ll go as far as admitting–especially in the midst of this mess–that guidelines and rules are necessary, but it’d be nice if (a) they made sense and (b) the people who created them followed them. Oh, and (c) they took account of people’s need to eat and pay their rent.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. We had helicopters flying over here during lockdown. It was explained that they were taking supplies to the new Nightingale Hospital. Everyone got that. No giant lasagne at Old Trafford or the Etihad. Conspiracy theories obviously spread more quickly in London than in the North :-) .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember seeing something in the news recently that people were heading to the beaches in the UK and Britain – to enjoy summer weather. Hopefully that doesn’t translate to a second wave. It doesn’t sound good in England.

    The second wave is truly well and alive here. Not everyone is happy with being told to stay at home. Luckily most of us are rational and doing the right thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As far as I know, the last rush to the beach during hot weather (we have lots of beaches here but not much hot weather) didn’t translate into a spike, although it’s not easy to trace. People are, from the look of the photos, closer together than they should be. They certainly are in our nearest small town, which is full of tourists. I’m holding my breath–occasionally literally as I pass someone. It’s good to know most people are being rational, even though the ones who aren’t are the most visible.

      Be careful there.

      Like

  3. Is it just me, or would you normally test one or two things before buying 50 million of them? I’m asking for a friend. We’re buying all kinds of stuff, from all kinds of financial companies who’ve never made or distributed such stuff before. The government actually has power over them, but they chose not to use it. It was easier to write a big check, lock the doors and go on vacation. Congressfolk are exempt from travel bans and quarantine regulations, on the theory that no self-respecting virus would attach itself to a politician.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clearly the coronavirus has no self-respect, because it’s taken down a fair number of them.

      Testing the masks–or whatever: Wouldn’t that show a level of distrust for all those guys you went to school with? Nah, better to just write a check. When you have a drink with them at whatever club you belong to (I trust the upper crust here still belong to clubs, although I I may be importing that from the 19th century), it’ll be much pleasanter.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Man, and here I’ve been drinking warm water since march. I even made my kids stop drinking cold water. Hmm. I think at this point and after all the admonishments, I’ll continue the charade. Hey, it’s only 32 C here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Giving some of those contracts to a pest control company seems to make sense. Not for Covid-tests but for members of the government.

    Your people up for citizens’ rights seem not to be equipped with automatic weapons, unless the woman who beat the cop’s head on the pavement had one.

    Russia is still assisting Dear Leader for the upcoming election, but China has let it be known they do NOT want him reelected. The GOP will certainly want to investigate THAT interference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1. Interesting idea. I’ll see if I can interest anybody among my highly uninfluential contacts.

      2. Yes, them not being armed is a real plus–and the woman who pounded the cop’s head into the pavement was in Australia.

      3. Absolutely, they’ll want to investigate China. We can’t have that kind of interference going on.

      Like

  6. Twenty-three of the fifty states in the United States are on the rise in terms of virus numbers.

    One of the most unfortunate things I see more of is a general difference of opinion about schools reopening to in site learning. Most of the schools in our county are starting with distance learning only. The majority of teachers I’ve spoken to are happy about this (not everyone), though it isn’t the preferred way of teaching or learning.

    I was reading some Facebook posts earlier today, and I don’t like where all of this is going. Two schools in the county have decided to reopen fully. This is getting quite a bit of pushback from teachers who don’t feel safe. On the other hand, the majority of parents seem to want their kids back at school. One parent’s comment read, “I sure hope the teachers do the right thing and come back to work.” Her comment suggested that teachers were somehow selfish if they were worried about their safety. Ahhhh! I’m retired, but I don’t understand that type of thinking. I see the potential for this evolving to a parent vs. teacher conflict. That would not be good for anyone. It’s hard to understand how all the schools in California closed back in March, and so many are now reopening, even though COVID cases are way up throughout the state.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. The schools here are reopening in the fall–or so they say at the moment–but there doesn’t seem to be a plan on how to make it safe. We’re not in the same shape as the US–cases are down, although we’re seeing what could be the beginning of a second wave. I understand the pressure. Kids whose parents have time and education–and probably money–are able to handle distance learning. Kids whose parents don’t aren’t. It’s a real divide. But teachers aren’t invulnerable–and neither are parents. The data on whether kids transmit the virus are highly contradictory at this point. So basically, no one knows what this will do, but we’re going to do it anyway. If I were a teacher, I’d be terrified.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If the masks are too loose to be used medically, could they at least be donated to be used by the general public–I know that they don’t have to be as tight based on what people around here are using for masks–bandanas, socks, scarves, etc. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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