Pesky science and contact tracing: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

A former Conservative Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, accused Boris Johnson of “giving in” to the government’s scientific advisers when he declared a second lockdown. 

Those damn scientific advisors. You can’t turn your back on them for a minute. It’s all just science, science, science. 

So what have those pesky scientists done lately? 

Some have demonstrated that masks don’t deprive you of oxygen. Yes, they already knew that, but the rumor that they do has a life of its own, so a few of them went ahead and rigged up a clutch of people with portable pulse oximeters (the measure blood oxygen levels), and guess what: They found no signs that any participant was short of oxygen. 

In other words, they’re saying you should wear a mask. You’ll still be able to breathe.

Pesky damn know-it-alls.

They’re also developing an overwhelming number of possible vaccines–more than I can keep up with–and identifying existing drugs that hold out the hope of treating Covid well enough to at least prevent hospitalization. But stay strong, people. We mustn’t give in to them. We’re doing just fine by our own ignorant selves.


We haven’t heard much drum-beating lately about Britain’s world-beating Covid app–the one that was going to save us all–but every so often an article surfaces about what’s gone wrong with it. The latest is that it was set at the wrong sensitivity level, so it missed notifying thousands of people that they’d been in contact with and infected person, and it stayed at that setting for a month. A government source said a “shockingly low” number of people were sent warnings. 


Someone working in Britain’s business secretary’s private office tested positive for Covid and the rest of the office went into isolation. But the business secretary himself, Alok Sharma, went to South Korea and even after he heard of the positive diagnosis held meetings there . 

He hadn’t had close contact with the person who tested positive, he said. 

They had a meeting four or five days before, the papers say–and people are contagious before symptoms begin. 

Sharma hadn’t “been told to isolate by NHS test and trace,” a spokesperson said.

Well, no, I don’t expect he had been. The test and trace system is notoriously nonfunctional.

Sharma tested negative before he left for the trip and again when he arrived, someone the spokesperson said, not mentioning the test’s percentage of false negatives or its inability to pick up pre-symptomatic cases reliably.


Before England went into lockdown, the universities minister (hands up: who knew Britain had one?) urged university students to stay where they were for the duration of the lockdown. Some uncounted many headed home anyway. 

Most of them are taking classes online anyway. 


Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, and Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, gave out assorted wrong information on what people could and couldn’t do under the new lockdown rules. There’s no point in repeating misinformation, so let’s just say that it hasn’t helped. They apologized very nicely, and in fairness the new lockdown was hauled out of the flatpack so quickly that the government only had time to put half the screws in place. We’ve been asked not to rest heavy objects on it until November 15.

Still, I don’t think they’ll be letting any ministers out on their own for a while.


The Department for Education has outsourced the work of advising schools on how to handle Covid. Until recently, this was done by clinicians from Public Health England, who advised, did spot checks, followed up, and advised further. Then in September they were replaced with a call center whose workers read from a script. One teacher was told to send thirty-two students home.

Why thirty-two? he asked.

The call handler didn’t know. 


At the end of October, Boris Johnson promised England that we’d have Covid tests we could read ourselves. Better yet, they’d give us a result in ten to fifteen minutes. They’d work on presymptomatic people, asymptomatic people, semisymptomatic dogs, cats in all states of symptomosity, and ham sandwiches–in short, everyone and everything. Including–this being England, a nice cup of tea.

People could be tested, know they were safe, and go on with normal life. And the would still be warm enough to drink.

The government bought 20 million of tests. 

Unfortunately, the maker’s website says the tests aren’t meant for people without symptoms and are meant to be read by a health professional. 

Step away from that tea, please.


Just in time to beat lockdown, a couple got married, joined their last names, and became Mr. and Mrs. White-Christmas.

Seriously. Tilly Christmas and Kieran White. I doubt they had any arguments over whose name would come first.



54 thoughts on “Pesky science and contact tracing: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. I couldn’t tell that anything had changed when I went out for my run this morning. There seemed to be the same amount of people about in cars and on foot, and they weren’t all on their way to school or out for exercise. I knew I had the right day, because the NHS Covid app no longer tells me that I live in an area of medium risk.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting.

      After some hand-wringing and a great deal of website checking, our village produce stall has decided to continue, since it sells food (and a few other things). It’s outdoors and so as safe as anything is these days. I hope we’re right to do that.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Here in good old North Norfolk, it didn’t look like there was any lock-down this lunchtime. Had a doctors appointment and the village was fuller than on Christmas Eve. Never mind. I hunker down with a not-tested 😁 cup of green tea (I am sure that makes a difference) and keep watching this Horror-movie called reality. Thanks for keeping us updated 🙋‍♀️🐝

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Were those tests bought by the Department For Making It Up As We Go Along, by any chance? I hope Mr and Mrs White-Christmas were given a pack of tests as a wedding present, along with a free scientist to explain them. Although I would guess that, as newly-weds, they might not appreciate the idea of a stranger watching them…

    Liked by 3 people

    • I missed most of Saturday Night Live and mostly heard the jokes second hand. Long story. Somehow catching up on it now just seems sad. So–okay, I’ve missed the joke but I’ll take your word for it instead of looking for a clip on YouTube.

      The White-Christmas family is going to be sooo sick of that song.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you, Ellen, for a virtual swag of gems here. ‘… the new lockdown was hauled out of the flatpack so quickly that the government only had time to put half the screws in place.’ ‘Symptomosity’ is now in my lexicon. And finally the White-Christmases. Really, would you hire a business graduate who’d taken a fair time to work out the connection and got married in a bath? There again, I suppose Boris would. Stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, well, don’t blame the White-Christmases for the mess Boris Johnson’s made. I’m sure it was a love match and the names were a bonus. And I say that on the basis of no information whatsoever.

      Glad I could add to your collection of worthwhile phrases. I’m aware that you’re collecting and do my best to keep ’em coming.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Following the scientists ? Are they mad ? That’s certainly not how it’s done in the Yew Ess of Aaaaay. And we’re number one ! Glad your chaps have come to their senses to ignore them.

    We are still on “results pending” Last time it was “hanging chads” – hoping now for “hanging donald” up by you know what parts of his anatomy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Follow the scientists? That could get downright creepy. Most of them, I expect, just want to go home at the end of the day without an entire government–or a country, for that matter–tagging along behind them.


  6. I’ve just been into the office for 1/2 hour because I had to take some files back and print a load of stuff which I can’t manage on my small home printer. Most of the offices in the office block were open as normal, even though they’re all doing the sort of work which *can* be done from home by remote link, and a lot of people are going in full time – whether through their own choice or their employers’, I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well here in Wales (day 14 of firebreak) I walked to the chemist to put up some medicine and it was noticeably quieter in terms of people on the street, but not totally dead. I can’t compare with the first lockdown as I was confined to my bedroom recovering from a broken leg. Did I mention that I broke my leg earlier this year?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Ellen,
    you are my very favourite go-to-place for infos on Britain. :-)
    It is interesting to see that starting from the new lock down in Britain a wave of panic spreads across the world. Not panic because of the virus but panic because everybody hates the ensuing measures, cutting down on our freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do understand the anger and the panic, especially among people who lose their livelihoods. The government’s offering some support, but there are huge gaps in the programs and some people being told to isolate just plain can’t afford to. Some of the anger, though, is concocted, and people end up getting angry at not having the right to freely infect other people. It’s lunacy.

      Thanks for the compliment. It’s always nice to hear them.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s hard to tell, the numbers in Merthyr and RCT, Brynmill (here) and Cardiff have stayed very high. There doesnt seem to have been much drop but maybe we should be glad that they haven’t climbed even higher. Two weeks isnt long enough in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Here in Australia we also have a COVID app. So far it hasn’t detected too many cases. Not sure if there are sensitivity issues like your app over there. Finally the state I am in have come out of lockdown since March. So long but we’re having almost zero cases here – but as a pessimist there will be another wave soon. Hopefully it blows over soon over there.

    Liked by 1 person

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