The pandemic news from Britain, for at least the next 20 minutes

Unless you took too long to get around to reading this, here’s the Covid situation in Britain at this very minute: Wales is in a circuit breaker lockdown, which they’re calling a firebreak in order to distinguish it from the circuit breaker the British government’s refusing to impose on all of England, even though its experts say it should.

A brief interruption, just so we’re clear: Both of those are short lockdowns. And just so we’re even clearer, the British government doesn’t govern Britain as far as lockdowns are concerned. It governs England, which is part but not all of Britain. And when I say England, of course, I also mean Cornwall, because Cornwall’s governed by English law. 

It’s so simple I’m almost embarrassed to explain it.

Irrelevant photo: Cylamen, one of those magical British plants that bloom in the winter.

Scotland’s lockdown will have five tiers, and Northern Ireland’s will be northern. And also Irish, although let’s be honest, I don’t understand what happens up there. They’re across some water, I don’t swim well, and if I say too much I’ll expose my ignorance. They were the first part of the UK to impose a circuit-breaker lockdown. And I have a link to back that up.

None of the lockdowns sound as complete as the lockdown we all went through in March to keep the Covid horse from getting out of the barn, although by then the horse hadn’t just left the barn, it had gone to the pub for a drink and decided to move to a bigger barn. 

Are you still with me? By now, the horse has invested in a whole series of barns, because what’s the point of getting stuck in one barn when you can become a developer? In other words, since the metaphor’s also left the barn, the country locked down too late to control the virus the first time around and is now looking at the second wave and wondering if maybe it shouldn’t take some sort of action in case the wave turns out to be full of swimming horses. 

Stop me, someone.

What the British government’s trying to do where it has some power–in other words in England–is to on one hand lower the number of Covid cases but on the other avoid locking down the whole country. Hence the idea of local lockdowns where the virus is concentrated.

It sounds sensible until you put it into practice, at which point it gets messy. The earliest local lockdowns don’t seem to have worked well, but the emphasis there is on seem. The most authoritative assessment I’ve found is that it’s hard to say whether they’re working. That’s balanced but it’s not reassuring.

The local lockdown that’s getting the most press is Manchester’s, where the mayor, backed by local politicians, including some from Boris Johnson’s own party, wouldn’t agree to go into the most restrictive category because the government refused to give them enough money to cover the losses to workers and businesses. A lot of public snarling followed until Johnson said, “It’s my ball, so I get to make the rules,” and imposed the lockdown anyway. It will take effect on Friday.

One of the major issues they fought over is that people who can’t work during the lockdown will get less than they did during the national lockdown. 



What’re they supposed to live on?

The government doesn’t much care. 

How do I know that? 

I’m channeling them. I hear them in my head, and if you think that’s fun, I invite you to play host to a bunch of overprivileged ex-Etonians. Especially when you thought the wine on sale at the supermarket would be fine.

Eton? That’s a public school, which in British means it’s a private school–a place where parents with too much privilege pay too much money to have their darling boys taught how to be part of the ruling class. 

No, I’m not exaggerating.


Universities–which in the US would be called colleges, but that has a whole ‘nother meaning here–are trying frantically to deal with their own localized Covid outbreaks. 

In Bristol, 900 students and staff have tested positive, and both they and the people who’ve been in contact with them are having to self-isolate. Hundreds of students who live in university housing have signed up to a rent strike that’s due to start at the end of the week. They’ve been locked down twenty-four hours a day and want to be released from their rental contracts if they move out or have their rent reduced if they stay. They also want people who test negative to have access to the outdoors, and they’re unhappy with the food boxes that are delivered to them (since they can’t go out), which they say don’t have enough food, don’t work for all diets, and sometimes don’t include essentials like cleaning products or sanitary products. 

Complaints about the food delivered to students who are expected to self-isolate are widespread, and I don’t think this is a case of kids complaining that they’re not getting quail under glass but that a week of instant noodles and energy bars doesn’t make a workable diet. Also that delivering pork products to Muslim students doesn’t communicate cultural sensitivity.

Of course, the kids who put “Send Beer” posters in their windows aren’t doing the cause a whole lot of good, although they are at least finding a way to pass the time that doesn’t involve either property damage or self-harm.

Rent strikes are already going on at Glasgow and Cambridge.


Arts organizations have been struggling during the pandemic and lobbying hard for some help, so when some got rescue grants from the government and were told to pour a bit of public praise on the campaign, they (at least mostly) did.

“Welcome this funding on your social media accounts . . . on your websites . . . and in your newsletters,” they were told. “In receiving this funding, you are agreeing to acknowledge this funding publicly by crediting the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.” 

And so on. 

Recipients obediently went online and sang the praises of their glorious leaders, who are also our glorious leaders. 

I used to work for an arts organization and it made my flesh crawl to watch how some of the staff members fluttered around when large donors appeared, but at least the donors had the good grace not to dictate their own thank-you letters.


In an unexpected side effect of the pandemic, Britain may be facing a shortage of tracksuit bottoms, leggings, and running shoes. Think of it as the Zoom meeting effect. Only half of you needs to look respectable. 

There’s a more serious side to it, though. A lot of clothing factories in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bangladesh closed in response to the pandemic. Sorry to chuck that in, but it is part of the story.


And now a feel-good story as a reward for having gotten this far: 

Football teams (and if you’re American, please understand that in Britain football teams play soccer) have been playing to empty stadiums in the pandemic and making money by broadcasting the games on pay-per-view TV. The cost is £14.95 a game.

Earlier in the pandemic, the games were shown free. And since fans–or many of them, anyway–have already paid for subscriptions to the stations carrying the games, the extra fee didn’t sit well. 

Newcastle United Supporters urged a boycott and raised £19,000 for local food bank instead.


The UK will be the first country to deliberately expose volunteers to Covid in order to test the effectiveness of vaccines. They’re called challeng trials, and there’ve been debates about the ethics of doing that with a life-threatening disease that we have no cure for, but it’s a lot faster than injecting people with the vaccine, then winding them up, letting them go about their ordinary business, and waiting to find out if they get the virus.

The volunteers are between 18 and 30, and they’re healthy, so they’re in a relatively low risk group. They’re also, given the dangers that long Covid presents to people in all age groups, incredibly brave.


66 thoughts on “The pandemic news from Britain, for at least the next 20 minutes

  1. No offense intended but even if I could fly to England (which I love for many reasons) right now, I wouldn’t. Looks like it’s going to be some time before the Boris virus is under control. Perhaps the next move is free plastic surgery to maintain stiff upper lips. ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll blame Johnson for many things, but I don’t think I’ll go as far as naming the virus after him. I’m also guessing (and I’m American by culture, so what do I know?) that the stiff upper lip can be maintained by way of a thin removable plastic insert.


  2. Our (very) local paper headlined this morning that a significant amount of money from the CARES act was released into our county. Um – the CARES act was passed months ago…so where has that money been all this time ? If another such act gets passed – how long will that take ? In case you in the UK aren’t familiar with Mitch McConnel, who bears a clear resemblance to Yertle the Turtle (apologies to Dr. Seuss) he is simply sitting back on his cloaca waiting for the Supreme Court to finish packing.
    This comment doesn’t even make sense, but then, nothing else going on does either, SO i AM GOING TO POST IT ANYWAY. PLEASE CONTINUE YOUR EFFORTS TO MAKE SENSE OF THIS WORLD-WIDE SNAFU. (the caps lock was accidental, but it makes as much sense as anything else.).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, my. That’s all I can think of to say about your latest update.
    My apologies for a lack of creativity…but I am at a loss except to say bless your heart, and the hearts of those who struggle with you. Seems safety and sanity are assaulted daily.
    Head high, tits up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s good to hear about the football supporters. Most of what I hear about them involves going out and looking for a fight. Another stereotype bites the dust.

      I haven’t read anything that says the volunteers are getting paid. The Guardian ran profiles of a handful of them and money didn’t come into it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re right. We have massive technological change that we haven’t really caught up with yet, corporations that are larger, richer, and more powerful than governments, economic shifts that have left huge swathes of the population without the kind of job you can build a life around, and–I think partly in response to all that–a lot of angry people who are blaming parts of the population who aren’t like them–immigrants, Black people, Jews, gays, whoever’s available. And we can’t fix that with a vaccine. These are frightening times.

      Sorry to get all serious on you. I do that sometimes.

      Liked by 2 people

    • PPSD is a new one on me, but it does sum things up neatly. I suspect a large part of the problem here is that no one in power wants to go headfirst into a strict lockdown, so they take all sorts of almost measures, which have many of the same problems but don’t accomplish the goal. I’m glad yours have worked–or at least seem to have.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I live in the UK and honestly thought I was on top of the news but have since realised that simply asking google to ‘relate the latest news’ does not do it justice. I am particularly surprised about users having to pay to watch a football match on telly but I expect that is to be expected given that the teams can’t make ticket sales. I feel satisfied that Newcastle United fans raised money for a food bank. Go them. I am of the opinion that the country should have been in a circuit breaker lockdown weeks ago, as I am pretty sure nobody is following these local lockdown rules. I am in a Tier Two area meaning no mixing of households at all (I think????) but no way this is happening. People are being careful, sure, but for the most part are still visiting each other as usual. Covid fatigue is real and if someone survived the first bout I expect they just think well, it cannot be that bad. Not bad enough to sacrifice my mental health at any rate. Anyway. Thanks for sharing this news, it’s excellent, and way better than trawling through various UK news sites for something remotely positive or that I haven’t already heard on the radio. Strange times indeed. At least our prime minister, bumbling idiot as he is, does not deny the dangers of coronavirus nor does he falsely claim we are on top of it. Small mercies? Or do we demand better?

    Liked by 2 people

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  6. I’m not sure that the shortage of running gear has anything to do with Zoom, but more to do with the fact that lots of people took up running during the lockdown. When I say lots, I mean lots and lots of people. I notice that there are more runners when I’m out for my run in the morning. Some people who were running before are running further and more often, because they’re working from home and don’t have a long commute. It can’t all be all my fault; I only bought two pairs of running shoes and three pairs of leggings.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. If you don’t live in a university town you are probably OK (I do and I am surrounded by covid, argh!). My parents don’t but their neighbours’s daughter recently went to university in Cardiff (which is riddled with it) but she pops home most weekends (breaking the Welsh rules). My father’s golf buddy’s granddaughter also went to Cardiff Uni, she’s caught it and her parents went and fetched her (to spread it around I guess to her elderly grandparents who live in the same road) also breaking the Welsh local lockdown rules. It drives me absolutely crazy. Why or why did the government insist on in-person teaching? (I know, money).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Money and probably also so they could tell us–for half an hour or so–that life had returned to normal and it was all thanks to them. I understand that people want to see their kids, but all this popping back and forth is horrifying.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. There’s a lot that’s horrifying about this year. I simply cannot address it and am grateful for your hard work in providing what humour you can for us all. The divisive nature of this government’s policies are forcing us rapidly into Godwin’s Law territory.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for another great summary of the current Covidapocalypse madness over here. As I prepare to upgrade my lockdown to Tier Three (Very High Alert) on Friday, I must now re-write my leaving the house risk analysis and suffer further ‘rules and restrictions’ checking fatigue (I liked your explanation posted on 17th October).
    I am finding it difficult to motivate myself to keep up with daily co-vid news or indeed any news at present but I do enjoy reading your blog which picks up the salient points with such wit and humour.
    As Charlie Chaplain said, “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chaplin knew a lot about both, from what I’ve read about him. So all we need now is to learn the play-with-it part, because we’ve been handed enough pain for a whole host of experiments. I’m glad to hear you’re doing a full risk analysis before leaving the house. Do be careful. It’s crazy out there.

      And in all seriousness, stay well.


  10. A wet lot, those students…’send beer’ indeed.
    In my day – age of the dinosaurs – the rugby club would have organised a supply the minute a lock down was proclaimed.
    But at least they were asking for beer and not vegan sausages, so all is not lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The rugby club, if it exists, is probably locked down itself. I haven’t gone through the lockdown details for universities–they vary too much–so I can’t say for sure who’s free to wander around and who isn’t, but the food issue (vegan sausages aside) actually sounds serious.


      • Any self respecting student rugby club would have had the booze deliveries organised the minute a lockdown was announced.
        As to the food deliveries the students need to get together and make a joint order to a supermarket which delivers, if they are paying for these supplies themselves. If not, they need to make the university authorities hand that budget over to them and use it as they see fit. If said authorities kick up go and breathe on the Vice Chancellor.

        Liked by 1 person

        • My impression is that the rent strike is a variation on the theme you’re humming. As for rugby clubs, I’ll have to take your word on it. They’re way outside of my experience. I not only didn’t grow up with any idea what rugby was, I have a generalized allergy to team sports left from my joyous experience of phys. ed. in school.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. I think you’ve got the Eton definition absolutely right, Ellen. How come these little Lord Fauntleroys get to rule the country and nobody else has a chance? I think I’d make a great Prime Minister, although I’d probably not be very popular!

    Liked by 1 person

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