Restrictions, conspiracy theories, & sewage: It’s the pandemic update from Britain

Britain’s Covid alert level has gone from 3 to 4, meaning infections are high or rising exponentially, and if nothing changes we could be looking at 50,000 new cases a day by mid-October. 

What are we doing in response? Well, weddings in England are now limited to fifteen people but funerals can have thirty. If you like a big party, I recommend dying.

People who work in stores now have to wear masks. Customers have had to wear them for some time, but who knew that staff members breathe as well? We learn something new about this disease every week.

Pubs and restaurants will close at 10 pm, because the virus is a creature of the night and we need to be tucked safe in our little beds when it prowls. 

People who can work from home should. Again. They were mostly doing that until the government sent out the virtual sheepdogs to round up as many of them as possible, sending them off to work from work. It would be fine, the government told them. They wouldn’t even need to wear masks, because their employers would make the workplace safe (stop laughing when someone’s typing, people; it’s rude) and besides the virus doesn’t have the attention span for eight hours in an office. Besides, the economy needed them to be out there buying a sandwich for lunch, a coffee to reward themselves for showing up, and a pen with metallic green ink to bring home for a seven-year-old.

No, I don’t know why we’ve had this upsurge either. 

Irrelevant photo: Watching the sea. It’s from last winter.

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Hospital admissions are also going up, although not as sharply as infections. They do lag behind, so that may or may not mark a change in the way Covid’s affecting people. Stick around long enough and we’ll find out.

What is new is that the rise includes women between the ages of twenty and forty who work in hospitality, in the care sector, or who have kids in school. In other words, women who are at higher risk of exposure than the general population. They’re not in the age groups we’ve all considered vulnerable, but they seem to be vulnerable anyway. 

As far as I can tell, from my highly unscientific seat on the couch, this is a change, and a worrying one.

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An experiment that involves testing sewage sludge for Covid (some people get to have all the fun) has not only tracked the virus accurately but spotted trends in the local infection rate five days ahead of the time when individual testing did. If they start using the system where you live, you can feel civic minded every time you use the toilet.

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What crazy theories about the virus are getting enough circulation that the BBC feels a need to debunk them? 

  • That a Covid vaccine will turn us all into genetically modified creatures and  “hook us all up to an artificial intelligence interface.” That one got 300,000 views on YouTube.
  • That a Covid vaccine will implant us with microchips so the Gates Foundation can track our locations.
  • That the vaccine used during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 was responsible for 50 million deaths. 

That last one’s my favorite. There was no vaccine during the Spanish flu epidemic. Scientists did try to find one, but they were looking at bacteria and it was caused by a virus. At that point, no one had a clue. 

Be careful where you get  your news, friends. It’s crazy out there.

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Can we check in with a bit of real science, just to lift our spirits, not to mention the tone of the blog?

An experimental cancer drug may keep Covid from infecting cells and replicating itself–in other words, it would effectively kill the little bastard. It’s called AR-12, and it works by inhibiting cellular chaperones.

Yes, chaperones. They don’t follow the coronaviruses around at dances to keep them from getting too familiar with the boys. Nope, these chaperones are proteins that run around after the cells and keep them from getting bent out of shape. 

Well, more or less–probably a bit less, given that I’m the one interpreting this–but they do help the cells maintain their shape. Mess around with their shape and the little virii don’t reproduce themselves, and the whole purpose of a virus’s life is to reproduce. 

Earlier trials have shown the drug to be safe and tolerable. Now they need trials to show that it distracts the chaperones, allowing the viruses to get themselves into all kinds of trouble.

Other approaches are in the works–lots of them–but I try to limit myself to the ones I can explain, at least marginally well. Or failing that, make fun of. 

76 thoughts on “Restrictions, conspiracy theories, & sewage: It’s the pandemic update from Britain

  1. Hate to be of any remotely helpful assistance to the nutters out there but … Obviously the Spanish flu vaccine didn’t kill 50 million people but there was a vaccine of sorts and it was delivered to millions of people globally. From an article I’ve just sent you:
    We think about the 1918 flu pandemic as being a pandemic without a vaccine. But, at the time, multiple groups around the world tried to make a vaccine, including some in Australia. “These vaccines were basically made by collecting gunk out of the lungs of people who had confirmed cases of pneumonic influenza and making what we’d now call a broad-spectrum vaccine,” says medical historian Peter Hobbins. “Basically they were killing multiple germs and then injecting that material from those germs to people in the hope that it would stimulate the immune system to respond broadly to all of those potential pathogens and therefore lessen the impact of the virus.”
    People didn’t know at the time that influenza was caused by a virus. “So theoretically, that vaccine shouldn’t work,” Dr Hobbins says. “But it may have helped reduce the number of secondary infections in people who had influenza and then picked up some sort of bacterial infection.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s depressing and confusion in equal measure. I look at maps of Europe and see infections rising everywhere, something to do with schools opening I guess. Children NEED a education. The of society should try a lot harder so the children can carry on going to school. Everyone got to slack in the summer. People round here were acting like it had all gone away. Now we have students arriving in town (freshers week next week) and already we have 12 student cases. Gosh, who could have seen that coming?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Surprise, surprise!

      The fact is, I got careless over the summer too, to an extent. The numbers were down, the virus is invisible–. I did look at the visitors swarming around here and feel thoroughly spooked, but within our circle of friends I let my guard down somewhat, although all of us have contacts, and when we contact each other we carry those contacts with us. So far, we’ve been lucky.

      You’re right about the schools. Not educating kids isn’t a sustainable approach. But at least in this country (I haven’t followed the approach in others) no serious thought was given to how to handle it. It all seems to be cosmetic–just enough to convince people that they’re doing something.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Second waves have always happened, with the Spanish flu and other flu pandemics. Rates started going up in Spain, France, the Czech Republic and elsewhere before the schools went back there, so I don’t think it’s down to schools. And I don’t think it’s down to holidays because the holiday resorts seem to have low rates – Blackpool’s doing better than anywhere else in Lancashire – , maybe because people spend most of their time there outside. The interesting thing is that places which suffered worse early on – Italy, and, within the UK, London – aren’t being so badly affected this time round. But the second wave’s hitting everywhere, so I don’t think it’s anything to do with rules or conditions within any one country. It’d be easier if it was, then we could all say, OK, let’s not do what Spain’s done, or let’s do what Latvia (which seems to have the lowest rate in Europe)’s done.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m sure someone somewhere is combing through the data and the decisions various countries made and working out the how and why of it all, but they probably won’t be able to report back until long, long after that information’s useful for this outbreak. I’m not sure what to do with the Blackpool data, though, because to make sense of it you’d have to–well, you’d have to have a serious track and trace system, which could sort out where people had been and where they were exposed–at least probably. I’m assuming the people visiting Blackpool went home. Where’d they go? Any case they might have gotten will show up there. I don’t really mean to undermine what you’re saying about people there spending most of their time outdoors, because it makes sense. All I’m saying is that it sounds like an incomplete picture.

      Liked by 1 person

      • None of this makes any sense! In the spring, we were being told that it affected men worse than women. Now we’re being told that it affects women worse than men. The upshot is that it’s a new virus and no-one really understands it, and, as you say, by the time they do, it’ll be too late!

        Liked by 2 people

        • I don’t know about affecting women worse than men. I think–okay, I don’t know how to read the data. The one thing I understand, because so many articles and studies say it, is that this is all so new that the experts’ understanding is constantly evolving. We really do live in interesting times, don’t we?

          There are a couple of countries that make the argument that an early and very tight lockdown is effective, New Zealand being one of them. They’re still having a very few cases surface, and as far as I know it’s not clear (even with obsessive tracing) how that’s happening, but they have been able to keep it under control.

          Liked by 2 people

          • They’ve only got 3 million people, though! Sweden didn’t lock down and did OK anyway, but they’ve also got a small population relative to the size of the country, I’d love to know what’s really going on in some of the countries we don’t hear much from, like Iran and Russia.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Iran, I believe, has had a bad time of it. Russia claimed early on that they were doing well, but I wouldn’t believe the statistics. I’m not sure anyone’s keeping any, or that they’re not playing with the figures if they are. China has also done well in containing it after the first outbreak, and it’s massive.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. The lane we live in is closed at one end for some emergency water supply works… it is blissfully quiet. Although we can get out to the main road, there is no through route for ‘traffic’ (in inverted commas as twenty to thirty vehicles passing per day is a very busy level of ‘traffic’). It all reminds me of the late-late-lockdown late March, when the lane went similarly quiet. Sadly, the news on the virus front reminds me of that too, and I expect it’ll be known as the late-late Lockdown 2. These idiots learned nothing and continue to hope that their plastering over the cracks as they appear, and painting it brightly, lasts until working vaccine time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • They couldn’t make a plan that went from undoing the wrapper on a plaster (bandaid, whatever) to getting it on the skin. Even thought that’s not the kind of plaster you were talking about.

      Glad you’re getting some peace and quiet, at least.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We’ve left the ‘compound’ two mornings in a row, driving past a local primary school just after 9am. No wonder the figures for younger women with children are increasing when they are all standing around outside the school gates chatting to their mates – no masks, no 2 metre gap social distancing – and our county is one that has seen a sharp rise in known cases (and probably a sharper rise in unknown ones) and may be entering local lockdown sooner rather than later, unless the whole of Wales goes into lockdown. Meanwhile, I’ve just visited our largest town for the first time since February (to stock up on anti-histamines ready for 2021 hay-fever season, and sewing cotton and elastic – to make more facemasks). I’m going nowhere now until my flu jab appointment at the end of October. And – which makes me really angry (which it shouldn’t as it’s none of my business) someone I know currently in a local lockdown city, has just jetted off to Greece for a week in the sun!!!!
    Sorry for the rant :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Our mostly stable, well nearly stable, well okay his thoughts smell like they were scraped off the stable floor, genius did not want to create a panic. So the virus will just go away. And he has a new campaign slogan. And you know George Washington is the greatest president since him. And now he is even going to be the greatest queen since Elizabeth. So his slogan is going to be ‘Keep Calm, be carrion’. Yeah his that kind of smart. Did I mention that he is doing a really really good job of controlling the virus ? And he has a health care plan that is even better than Obama Care ! Be careful he might try to sell you London Bridge… and make it sound like a really really good deal.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I would like to offer encouraging words from your family and friends in America, but I have nothing except please be careful over there.
    As my daddy said time and again, when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember your initial objective was to drain the swamp. Gators everywhere on every continent.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Over here in the Emerald Isle the pubs only opened yesterday (so called ‘wet’ ones, ie ones that don’t serve food). Having them closed since March hasn’t prevented an upsurge here of similar proportions to the one in UK. Never having been a great one for visiting pubs I don’t understand people who are so upset at not being able to do so. One on BBC last night was talking about being suicidal because he can’t go to the pub. I also don’t understand how it is that people who proffess to be hard up can afford to party on a regular basis, whether at home or in the pub. I never could have done had I so wanted. Sorry, but I find it hard to sympathise with such people.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t know, Frank. I can get as far as understanding that pubs are a large part of some people’s social lives–a kind of community living room. And I definitely understand that when money’s tight not everyone makes sensible decisions. They don’t make sensible decisions when money isn’t tight, so why would they all of a sudden when it is? We’re a difficult species. That’s the best I can do. On that and many other subjects.

      Like

  9. The sewage study sounds fascinating. I don’t work in public health but I cannot imagine that this ability to predict a surge within a community, even just a few days in advance, is anything other than a useful tool.

    It is interesting that the UK is falling prey to dangerous conspiracy theories too. Here was me thinking it was just the US that was riven with divisions between those who trust in science and those who trust in memes or social media rants by a stranger who consumes QAnon. It is easy to mock such people, of course, but they are really dangerous because we cannot safely navigate our way through and hopefully out of this pandemic unless the majority of the population is cooperating with mitigation efforts.

    That is a troubling statistic about rising cases in younger women. The occupations you describe make it easy to see why this might be the case, however. Being in close contact with people for whom you are providing care over and over again definitely seems like a higher risk of exposure and possibly higher viral load when exposed. I am older than that age group but, as a preschool teacher, that is a development I should best keep an eye on.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Dear Leader has announced – at one of his packed, unmasked rallies – that young people never get the virus. Apparently no one let him in on the fact that people younger than 18 can’t (legally) vote. Of course “legally” may not be a factor here.
    RIP Ruth Bader Ginsburg

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting. Here in Virginia, where alcohol blue laws are still on the books and you can only get spirits at a state alcoholic beverage control (ABC) store (wine and beer being available in the grocery), restaurants have been able to give people drinks to go with or without food orders. Public parks have also loosened the rules for sitting outside with such beverages… Ugh, the thought that it’s come to us taking cancer drugs for COVID is very depressing. Somehow the idea of a lot of us without hair and with chemo skin is … well, not sure I have words. I did have a nice happy hour with a neighbor tonight, outside with our wine. It’ll be a long time before I go to a restaurant, much less a bar…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know that the drug is chemotherapy–I had the impression is was in some other category. So it may not be so extreme. Who the hell knows at this point. I think I’d trade my hair for a workable drug to get rid of this thing. Think what I’d save in shampoo costs.

      Liked by 1 person

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