Local lockdowns and, as always, money: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

Britain’s Covid test and trace system may be a functional disaster, but boy is it a moneymaker. Management consultants are taking home as much as £6,250 a day. Admittedly, not all of them, but you know, in a pinch a person could live on that.

One of the big track-and-trace players here is Boston Consulting Group, known to its friends as BCG. You and I can call it Boston Consulting Group. Senior execs are being paid as much as £1.5 million a year to salvage the test-and-trace mess. 

To throw another set of numbers at you, 40 people were paid £10 million for four months’ work. The government’s budgeting £12 billion for the program. 

I have no idea how all those numbers come together. Are we supposed to add them together? Divide? Multiply? Hide them under the floorboards? All I get out of them is that a lot of money’s flying around.

There’ve been too many screwups to list, but a recent one saw the program giving out used swabs for people to test themselves with. 

Irrelevant photo: roses.


In the meantime, the government’s at odds with its scientific advisory committee, SAGE, which advocates a short national lockdown–now called a circuit breaker–that would last a couple of weeks. Instead, the government’s doing local lockdowns.

How do they work? 

If you’re in tier one, you can get together with 6 people from up to 6 households (or 6 people from 12 households if your friends are divisible) indoors or out, with or without alcohol. If you add enough alcohol, you won’t care if you’re indoors or out. You’ll find yourself falling on people you barely know, people who come from 12 or 14 different households, telling them how much you love them. That’s not allowed, but it happens anyway. 

If you’re in a pub or restaurant, you have to sit at a table, which means you can only fall on the random acquaintances who are sitting next to you, but you’ll have to leave at 10 p.m., because that’s when pubs and restaurants close now. Once you’re outside, you can fall on all sorts of people and tell them you love them, and it’ll be all the sweeter for not being allowed.

If you’re in tier two, you can get together with 6 people from, oh, you know, hundreds of households, but only outdoors, with or without alcohol. See above for alcohol and closing times and love.

In tier three, you get multiple paragraphs because your life’s going to be complicated. Or at least your restrictions will be. You can’t socialize with anyone you don’t live with or who isn’t in your support bubble. What’s a support bubble? It’s an idea that at one point made sense but no longer does because politicians poked so many holes in it that all the logic leaked out. We’ll talk about it some other time, okay? 

Casinos, betting shops, bingo halls, and soft play centers are closed but gyms and leisure centers aren’t. Why? They have better lobbyists, that’s why.

Pubs are closed unless they serve substantial meals, in which case they can serve alcohol with the meal, but only with the meal. 

Eat slowly.

What’s a substantial meal? The evening news had lots of fun interviewing people about whether a pasty qualified or whether it had to have a side salad or potatoes with it to be a meal. Since a pasty’s pastry with potatoes and some other stuff inside, that’s sort of like having potato pie with a side of potatoes, so nutritionists might get huffy about it, but even they will have to admit that it’s substantial. 

Okay, a traditional pasty has meat and a stray bit of veg, but yeah, it still has a fair bit of potato. 

If you live in, say, a tier three area but work in a tier two area, whose restrictions are you supposed to follow? I haven’t seen anything that explains that. The government’s advising against traveling to any part of the country in a higher tier except for work, education, or a few other reasons. If it advises against traveling to a lower tier, I haven’t seen that either, although you’d think it would make sense. 

Which may be why they haven’t addressed it.

A separated parent asked the prime minister whether he’d be able to see his son. The prime minister, true to form, gave the father the wrong information. The correct answer is yes, you can see your kid, regardless. Johnson’s answer was–well, there’s no point in repeating incorrect information. What he meant was, “Why are you asking me? I’m the prime minister. Go ask someone who knows something.”

What about people in established relationships who don’t live together? If they’re in one of the higher tiers, they get to see each other outside and not touch. Unless they’re in a support bubble. Remember support bubbles–those things I’m working so hard not to define? But they can only ecstatically unite into a single bubble if one of them lives alone, at which point they can safely hold hands. 

By now it would’ve been simpler if I’d just explained support bubbles, but I’ve got too much invested in not doing it. Besides, we all need a little mystery in our lives.

As you can see, it’s a simple system.

In the meantime, the prime minister and the local leaders in Greater Manchester are arguing about whether the area belongs in tier two or tier three. Rumor has it that Johnson wants to impose tier three restrictions but is afraid the police would side with local government and refuse to enforce them. The main difference between the two sides–I think–is how much the government is willing to pay workers who are locked out of their jobs. So far, they’re offering less for the local lockdowns than they did for the national one.

On Saturday, the prime minister and the mayor couldn’t even agree on whether they’ve scheduled a phone call to discuss the problem on Sunday. 


Gordon Brown, who was Britain’s chancellor and briefly its prime minister, warned that the country’s facing a double cliff edge, Brexit and the costs of Covid. He knows a shitload more about finances than I do but he’s not so great with a metaphor: “I think we’ve got two cliff edges coming,” he said hallucinogenically. He did modify that by adding, “If it’s possible to go over two cliff edges at once,” but he doesn’t seem to have noticed that cliff edges mostly stay put and insist that you come to them.

Never mind. The point’s still valid.

31 thoughts on “Local lockdowns and, as always, money: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. No-one makes catastrophe as amusing as you, Ellen. (I think you’re secretly morphing into a Brit.) Now as to BCG, the company, they have form. In Sweden they recommended a value-based health care model that had not been properly investigated and would have resulted in an exponential growth in administration and lack of responsibility for patients. Perhaps some of those billions would have been better spent on the BCG tuberculosis vaccine which is showing promising signs against Covid and has the distinct advantage of having already been around for 100 years and may explain why children are rarely victims.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting, both threads of that. I don’t think I can blame BCG for this, but the NHS has already had an exponential growth in management. That may have started earlier, but I watched it happen under David Cameron’s massive (and poorly thought through) reorganization. It was supposed to simplify the structure. If it weren’t so damn tragic, you’d laugh hysterically. You should’ve seen the graphics explaining how simple it was going to be. They were wonderful and left me with a passionate hatred of organizational graphics.

      I haven’t read about the TB vaccine, although I have about several others, including as assortment of repurposed drugs. For the most part, I’ve stopped writing about them because after a certain point they tend to all blur together. You hear about them. Nothing happens on a time scale most of us can follow, and you forget about them. I’ll ask Lord Google. He know all. He tells some.


  2. Gosh, I’m worried that my support bubble has a few problems. Today we babysat our granddaughter who is supposed to be in our double bubble (a term I just made up because I am now thinking of Wrigley’s gum – double the pleasure, double the fun) but the baby had a rash all over her body, and Pretty made the mistake of telling me that was one of the signs of the coronavirus in children. I kept saying, but it’s not a bad rash, and Pretty said the doctor said not to worry about it so she wasn’t but all the same she felt she had to mention to me.
    By tonight I will have all the signs of the adult version. That’s how I roll over here across the pond.
    Stay safe and sane.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Is the Boston Consulting Group in Boston MA US of A ? If so, let’s hope they are using this massive windfall to provide some prime health care for their employees at the very least.

    I think Mr Brown has a cliff mixed up with a razor, as far as the double edge concept goes.

    Is your partner safely scheduled for her medical issue ? I had a doctor’s appointment a few days ago (regular check in for pre-existing conditions…) and when I checked in they took my temperature. I asked what they’d do if I had a fever and was told they’d send me home. “Of course, says I.”No point in being in a doctor’s office if you have a fever !” It annoyed me enough that I mentioned it to the doctor, who reacted appropriately “No we wouldn’t ! We’d put you in a separate room “(which admittedly makes sense.) It’s a relief to know I didn’t have a fever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Provide health care to their employees? What are you thinking? The top tiers, well of course. The unskilled? How 1960s.

      Ida’s still scheduled, but we won’t know if it’s canceled until the last minute. We’re hoping, though, for what that’s worth. She had a pre-operative check and they were doing fever checks. They’re better than doing nothing, but they’ll miss anyone who’s asymptomatic or presymptomatic.


  4. I’m picturing a cliff that, when you step off, you fall to a small ledge and another cliff. You can stay there and starve to death, or opt to fall off the second cliff – at which point, you’re gonna need that support bubble.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you missed a million off the pay of the BCG execs. £1.50 doesn’t seem excessive enough. I can call them BCG, as I used to work in the consulting world, not as a consultant but, as we were condescendingly referred to, back-office staff. Given that I once had a conversation with a consultant who was allowed to go out and advise clients in which it became clear that he thought all the money that a client paid for his services was profit, I’m not surprised that things aren’t working out too well where consultants are involved.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would be. Maybe that’s why he liked the rule of 6–he wouldn’t have to get them all together.

      Okay, I don’t know how many he has. Somewhere between two and a thousand. He may not know either. I don’t get the impression that he’s what you’d call a dedicated parent.


  6. Oh how strange it all is. We are slowly coming out of our lockdown here in Victoria…finally able to go 25k instead of 5 and can stay out all day! woo woo…mind you nothing is open. apparently we can go into a crowded supermarket (with mask on) and be safe but restaurants and cafes can only do take away as its too dangerous to sit inside and eat! We can sit outdoors in a park on a beach with hundreds of others but no one is allowed into our home. We have been in lockdown stage 4 for 4 months. My hairdresser rang yesterday. She can open up as of yesterday 1 days notice. So instead of opening on Tuesday she will open on Wednesday. However Friday is a public holiday for our AFL grand final parade (its not in Victoria this year its in Qld) so a Friday off when we still have no where to go makes sense NOT. Our beloved leader said a public holiday is needed after all the horrible things. Mind you no one has been working and he said its for the essential workers to have a day off. Most of them will be working. #sensal

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hate to see the logic in any of that–especially since it’s a lot more fun when I don’t–but for the most part I do see some. Outside, we have our friends fresh air and sunlight to protect us. The virus spreads way less effectively–at least if people keep some marginal good sense and don’t all crowd in on top of each other. I’m not so sure about that parade, though. That sounds like inviting trouble. Sort of like our 10 pm bar closing times, when people have gone out and partied on the streets in some cities, staying at least 6 millimeters from each other.

      The supermarkets, I guess, are in the Necessary Evil category. I was in one the other day, waiting in line behind a woman and her maskless son–he’d have been about 12. She had a sort of gesture of a mask: a thin scarf that she’d wrapped around her face. If I’d had any sense, I’d have moved away, but that’s hindsight.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmm, I felt – reading this – that I was lost inside a labyrinth. In any case, Our lock down – here in the Middle East – ended around late may and although there’s plenty of threats about more lock downs, no one cares anymore. There aren’t enough resources or aids to go on a lock down, no matter how many cases daily. Some politicians claim and schedule a lockdown to come, but economists stand up and boo, and it seems like economists have the word now. And no one is really enforcing the masks and the no gathering rule…. well, summarize it like that, and isn’t that a mess?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is. A while back, I read an article about ways to handle public health issues, and one of the things that stayed with me was the idea that you need to move the politicians off stage and let the public health experts talk to the public directly. They can explain what’s happening, they’re not running for office, they don’t stand to profit (or so we hope), and people are more likely to trust them.

      And they also need the politicians to listen to them. As it stands here, the government listens when the experts tell them what they want to hear, then ignore them when they don’t. If we’d listened to them to start with, things might not have gotten this bad.


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