What we’re not supposed to do: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

A whopping 13% of people in England say they fully understand the lockdown rules. In Wales and Scotland, they’re doing better: 15% are fully enlightened. No one in charge of the survey managed to locate Northern Ireland, so I don’t have any data from wherever it is today. 

No, I can’t explain its absence. I’m only somewhat British–I was adopted, and late in life at that–so I can’t be expected to understand how this stuff works, not to mention why. What I can tell you is that 51% of people in England, 62% in Wales, and 66% in Scotland say they understand the majority of the rules. 

Do they really? Maybe. Which also implies maybe not. It was a survey, not a test. 


Irrelevant photo: Virginia creeper.

Meanwhile, in response to a ban on social get-togethers, the police in Scotland have broken up hundreds of house parties since August. Or possibly thousands. The number I found was 3,000, but that was how many times they’d been called out, not how many gatherings they broke up. 

Let’s say lots and leave it at that.

What kind of get-togethers? A party involving 270 students at a dorm. A religious gathering of 20 people. The virus doesn’t care whether you’re praying or shouting, “Sweet Jesus, I’ve never been this drunk in my life.” 

Places rented on Airbnb have been used for a number of the parties, indicating that people aren’t in the awkward position of have 264 more friends show up at their house than they’d planned on, they’re going into it with malice aforethought. 

A police spokesperson said the gatherings weren’t limited to any one age group. 


A Spanish company, working together with a university, has come up with a machine that should be able to disinfect a room in minutes. It uses cold atmospheric plasma to clean surfaces and to kill 99% of viruses and bacteria in the air.

And if you’re not sure what atmospheric plasma is, what have you been doing with your life? It’s a deeply scientific-sounding phrase that I quoted in order to sound like I know more than you. 

Okay, haven’t a clue. I do understand cold, though. I used to live in Minnesota, which is close enough to Canadian border than the icicles that dangled from their roofs grew right past our windows.

Why don’t we go to a spokesperson, who can explain it all? 

Broadly speaking, we subject the surrounding air to a very strong electrical field, pulling electrons from the neutral particles in the air and forming ions. This system can generate up to 70 different types, from ultraviolet rays to peroxides, ozone, or nitrogen oxides. The synergies between these allow bacteria and viruses to be neutralized.”

Got it?

Me neither. What I do understand is that it’s the size of a laptop, it’s silent, and it can be used to clean either an empty room or one with people in it, recirculating the air. 

Let’s quote the article I stole that information from

“To do this, the system releases ions which, once disinfected, are reconnected in neutral particles.” 

They’re hoping to have it tested and certified by the end of the year. The snag? No one’s said–at least within my hearing–how much it’s going to cost. 


Staff at some universities complain that they’ve been pressured to stop working at home and show up on campus so that the schools can create a vibrant atmosphere. Because what could be more exciting, when you’re young and taking on a  debt the size of Wales, than having lots of people around you to participate in the Great Covid Lottery? And who’s more exciting to play it with than the back-office staff? 

One school, in explaining why it needed bodies behind desks, wrote that it was trying to keep students from asking to have their tuition refunded, which at least has the virtue of being honest.


The AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine–one of the front runners in the race to make a massive viral load of money in the Covid vaccine market–reports that it’s sparked a good immune response in older adults as well as the young. Old codgers (and being one, I get to call us that) also have fewer side effects than the young. 

AstraZeneca says it will be available for limited use in the coming months.

Um, yes, and how fast, exactly, will those months be in coming? AZ says before the end of the year where countries approve its use. Britain’s health secretary says the first half of 2021 is more likely. But whenever it happens, it’s likely to be available to only a limited group at first. 


Which leads me neatly into my next item, a warning from scientists that the rush to adopt a vaccine may get in the way of finding the best vaccine. Once a vaccine’s in widespread use, it’ll be harder to prove the efficacy of a later vaccine, especially among particularly vulnerable groups. Some mechanism, they say, needs to be set up to compare them.

The vaccines that are ahead in the race are using new approaches, but it’s possible that the older approaches will yield a better result. It’s not necessary, but it is possible.


The US Centers for Disease Control has (or should that be have, since they insist on being multiple centers instead of a single one?) redefined what close contact means when we’re talking about exposure to Covid. The earlier guidance counted close contact as being within six feet of an infected person for fifteen minutes. Now the CDC reminds us that six feet isn’t a magic number, and neither is fifteen minutes. They’re rough estimates, and being around an infected person fifteen times in a day for a minute each time exposes you to as much virus as fifteen lovely, relaxed minutes in a single encounter.

That may seem obvious, but someone’s always ready to take these things literally. Some schools were moving students around at fourteen-minute intervals. Quick, kids, the virus is onto us! Everybody split up and move to different classrooms!

Basically, what they’re saying is that the more virus you’re exposed to, the greater your risk. Exposure isn’t something that happens all at once, like falling off a cliff. 


And finally, a bit of rumor control: Wales did not classify tampons and sanitary pads as nonessential items and ban their sale during its current lockdown. What happened was that someone tweeted to Tesco that a store had refused to sell her period pads. Tesco tweeted back that it was government policy.

Tesco then deleted the tweet and apologized. It turns out that the store had cordoned off an aisle because of a break-in. Had someone knocked a wall down? No. The police were investigating, and anyone who’s ever been on a British highway after an accident can testify that you don’t mess with the police when they’re investigating. Everything stops until they’re damn well done.

But by the time Tesco deleted its tweet, the rumor-horse was out of the social media barn and galloping happily toward the Severn–the river that divides Wales from England–reciting, “One if by land and two if by sea, and I spreading rumors of all sorts shall be.” 

Sorry. American poem that kids of my generation had to memorize if we hoped for lunch period to ever arrive. It’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” ever so slightly bastardized, and it’s totally irrelevant but we’re getting toward the end of the post here and headed not just for the Severn River but the Stream of Consciousness.

Should we go back to our point? Sanitary products are recognized as essential and are available for sale. The Welsh health minister added that stores can sell nonessential items to customers in “genuine need,” which is defined as I think it’s lunchtime and I’m leaving now, so define that for your own hair-splitting self.  

The Welsh government is meeting with retailers to review the regulations and guidelines, after which it will all make sense.

60 thoughts on “What we’re not supposed to do: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. they are recognised as essential, but not when it comes to tax, where they are classed as luxury. Like cake, cake is luxury, but biscuits are essential. Hence no tax on biscuits. Probably shouldn’t use biscuits as sanitary pads though…

    Also, a little known fact about Northern Ireland is that it is in fact an independent time travelling entity that just allows people to live on it. It sometimes just ups and leaves taking all its residents on fantastical adventures!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. What a ride this was. I have to laugh at the whole Welsh confusion. I had seen the image of an aisle cordoned off and seen a petition flying around and heard people shouting about it, so assumed that shops in Wales were being unreasonable. I also saw a man protesting this unfairness by only wearing underwear to the shops. I think it was Tesco. There are many MANY things in this pandemic that don’t make sense, and I am sure people reading about this historical event 50 years later will snort at our stupidity, just as we snort at the stupidity of the people before us. What I want to say to these future snorters is this: WE KNOW IT’S STUPID. We know coronavirus won’t wait 14.75 minutes to attack. We know stopping households mixing but allowing groups of 30 to meet in a restaurant is bonkers. We know. Policy-makers seem to be frantic to make ANY change to show they’re being PROACTIVE that the changes often clash and don’t make sense and just leave everybody in a state of massive confusion. It’s a shambles. Anyway thank you for this very informative post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wouldn’t it just be simpler for the government to determine what genre of shops are allowed to remain open and which are not rather than allowing this weird ambiguity whereby stores can be open but they cannot sell all of their wares? Obviously I am looking at this as an outsider but it does seem like someone has made a right faff of this whole process.

    The news about the house parties is dispiriting. I thought we were having such problems here in the US simply because of the politicization of the pandemic and the fact that mask-wearing and social distancing have been turned into “culture wars”. I see now that being a selfish arsehole knows no national boundaries. It is endlessly frustrating, however, for those of us who have continued to live as if shelter in place was still mandatory while seeing other members of the community are behaving like every day is a new party. That is the main reason we have elected to keep our sons 100% virtual for their education (80% of students in our district are resuming in-person education so we are very much the minority). I essentially do not trust other people to abide by the mitigation guidance or to be honest about their exposure risk.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Being an idiot–or an asshole, for which there’s less excuse–knows no borders, but within some borders both are getting more encouragement than within others. Although misinformation on this crosses borders fiercely these days. I can really see why you’d want to home school your kids.

      I don’t know whether it would be easy to draw lines between the stores sell essentials and the ones that don’t. There are always going to be some arbitrary lines drawn and some completely silly results.

      Liked by 2 people

      • In my county, during the strict lockdown in the Spring, the rule was that stores selling food could remain open along with pharmacies. That was it. Food and medication were considered essential and nothing else was. However, if you went into a store that sold other items in addition to food, there was nothing to prevent you from buying those non-essential items. I guess the idea was that essential workers were under pressure and under paid and shouldn’t be press ganged into policing what people could purchase within the boundaries of their store. I didn’t go to any of those stores so can’t assess whether people were buying TVs instead of pasta to any great extent.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Brilliant, entertaining, possibly helpful post today.
    “Sweet Jesus, I’ve never been this drunk in my life,” is a phrase I’m afraid I used more than once. Good to know it’s commonplace.
    When I was a freshman at UT-Austin in 1964, my first roommate spent a good deal of the first semester throwing up in the dorm bathrooms. I got the Sweet Jesus phrase from her.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We don’t need to understand the rules as long as we comply with them. Sis tells me rarely anyone is wearing a mask these days in Belgrade, and I can’t help but wonder – Are we really that stupid? What needs to happen so that we can finally understand?

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, sunken just isn’t going to work, at least not for me. I’ve never been at home in the water. Let’s go for the time traveling land, and if the future doesn’t turn out to be an improvement (although I haven’t given up hope on that score), we’ll try the relatively recent past.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Aha, you spotted the problems. They didn’t say how much it was going to cost (plenty, I’d guess, at least initially) or where anyone could get one (Spain, probably). They’re still being tested, though, so right now, nowhere.

      I don’t know. I read this stuff and it gives me hope that at some point there’ll be an end to this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love a blog that sends me searching the internet for things like “atmospheric plasma.” Otherwise, I fear my brain would simply atrophy. And, for the record, if 13% of the people understand your rules, you’ve made them way too clear. Here in the US, we shoot for single-digit understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan, don’t use the word “shoot” when it follows “Here in the U.S. we.” People have these stereotypes about Americans. I haven’t a clue what they’re based on, but you don’t want to add fuel to the fire.

      And with that out of the way, tell me (preferably using words of one syllable): What is atmospheric plasma?


      • A system where the plasma (an electrically active gas) can be used at (or close to) normal atmospheric pressure.

        The other systems, high-pressure or low-pressure, require building a container around the system (cleaning, welding, coating) or the point of use where the plasma is being used.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks. I almost understood that. I couldn’t explain it to someone else (that’s the point at which I think, yes, I really do understand it), but I can follow along behind it without wanting to yell, “Wait, wait, wait!”

          Liked by 1 person

  7. When ions in genuine need are shaken strongly enough and released on campi (or is it campuses)? they produce (sweet) vibrations. Ergo, professors should be replaced by ions… A non-documented on-line survey of this sentence on a sample of indeterminate size showed that 87% (that is 100 minus 13) understood zilch. Zip. Naught. I therefore conclude they must be Welsh.
    (Or did I not fully grasp – pronounced with a long open A – your brilliant text?)

    Liked by 1 person

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