The pandemic update from Britain: money, vaccines, and killing the virus

With Italy’s Covid death toll rising (it just beat Britain to Europe’s top spot), a bar in Rome banned any conversation about Covid, viruses, and lockdown. 

“We’ve been talking about the same thing for months,” manager Cristina Mattioli said. “It’s not at all about denial or not understanding the difficulty of what the world is going through, but just about giving yourself a break.”

They don’t throw people out if they break the rules, but they do show them a poster with a list of alternative topics they might want to consider.

“Customers found it funny,” Mattioli said, “with some saying they could finally have a coffee in peace. They started to have other conversations. What was also lovely is that it gave a cue to customers who don’t know each other to start chatting. Yes, we have to maintain a physical distance, but we can still chat to each other.”

I’m not ready to do that here at Notes, but I do know a reader or three who’s bailed out of the Covid posts. I understand the impulse. If I could bail out on the whole damn virus, I’d be happy to. I’m sure it’s a learning experience and all that, but ignorance wasn’t all that bad, really, was it?

Irrelevant photo: a day lily. Each flower blooms for a single day. We could spin all kinds of metaphors about the transience of all things, including beauty and including the pandemic (I hope), but we’ll skip that. It’s a flower. I needed a photo to fill the space.


An Australian vaccine, the University of Queensland/CSL vaccine, has been abandoned because it set off false positives on HIV tests. It didn’t give anyone HIV–that’s the beast that causes AIDS–but somehow it made them look, on tests, as if it had. Which, given that HIV is still out there in the world and people do still get it, and more to the point if you have it you’ll damn well want to do something about it–

Yeah. You’d want a false positive only slightly less than a real one. So we have one less vaccine in the works, but many others still in development.


The Peruvian trial of a Chinese vaccine was suspended after a volunteer developed neurological problems–trouble moving his arms (in two articles) and weakness in his legs (in one, which said that was among other symptoms, so these may not contradict each other). That “could correspond to a condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome,” the National Institute of Health said. They’re investigating to see if it’s related to the vaccine or has some other explanation.

The vaccine’s also being tested in Argentina, Russia, and Saudi Arabia–as far as I’ve read without this happening.

Peru has one of the world’s highest per capita Covid death rates.

China has four other vaccines in development, some of which are already being used on an emergency basis.


British and Russian scientists will test a combination of the Oxford and Sputnik vaccines to see if that gives better protection than either one singly. The trials will start at the end of the year.


Barcelona gave rapid Covid testing a serious challenge by throwing a free five-hour concert but only allowing people in if they tested negative–on the spot. People danced, bumped up against each other, hugged, and generally did things we wouldn’t have found remotely shocking last year at this time. 

They used hand sanitizer and they (mostly) wore masks, except in one area where they could have a single free drink.

A control group with the same number of people didn’t get in. The researchers will keep an eye on both groups to see if one has a higher incidence of the virus than the other. If I see any more news about how this works out, I’ll let you know. 

Why is this worth doing? Because rapid tests miss a fairly high percent of Covid cases. It’s possible that those people aren’t highly infectious. It’s also possible that they are. It all sounds like Russian roulette to me, but then I’m a zillion years old, on the cautious end of the spectrum, and never did take my music loud. 

Besides, I wasn’t invited. I’m sure it was an oversight. 


The issue of who’s contagious for how long is a live one. Britain’s cutting the quarantine period for people who’ve tested positive or who’ve been in contact with someone who positive. It’ll go from fourteen days to ten. The theory is that in the last few days only 1% to 2% of infected people can still pass on the virus.

That’s 1% to 2% too many for me, but see above about the cautious end of the spectrum.

People, they say, are most infectious in the day or two before they develop symptoms. 

I suspect cutting the quarantine period is also about hoping more people will respect it if there’s less to respect, although at least part of the problem comes from people not being able to afford time off work. That won’t be fixed by shaving off four days off the recommended time.

There’s talk of eliminating the blanket quarantine altogether for people who’ve been exposed to someone who tests positive, replacing it with daily testing, and only asking people to quarantine only if they test positive themselves. 


A system that uses LED lights to emit ultraviolet radiation may be a quick, cheap way to eliminate Covid (and pretty much anything else) from indoor air systems. The snag is that you can’t use it in the presence of actual human beings–or, presumably, non-human beings. I’m not sure what it does to them–or us, more accurately–but probably something not unlike what it does to the virus.

The only way to use it would be in an air conditioning or ventilation system. 

A related use of ultraviolet light involves using conjugated polymers and oligomers (whatever they may be), which when activated by UV light almost completely kill the coronavirus. They can be added to masks, clothes, paint, even sprays. They don’t wash away–at least not with plain water–and don’t leave a toxic residue when they break down. 

They could also be used–and this may be a potential use or an immediate one; I’m not sure which–to combat colds, flu, low grades, and cakes that don’t rise properly.

Yes, we’re playing spot-the-exaggeration today. I got myself into deep water with something I thought was so obviously a joke that no one would believe it. Next thing I knew, someone had referenced my claim that Druids worshiped the Great Brussels Sprout. 

I’m sadder but wiser now. So yes, part of that paragraph is a joke. And yes, it’s very sad when you have to tell people you’re making jokes.


Matt Hancock, Britain’s health minister, announced that a new Covid variant may be associated with a faster spread of the disease.

Notice the wiggle words there: may be; associated with. If you dig into the speech he made to a massively bored-looking House of Commons, he even said, “We don’t know . . . ” But he also said the new Covid variant was growing faster than the version that we’ve come to know and love.

He didn’t say that growing faster may not mean that it spreads more easily or that it makes people sicker, but it would’ve been true if he had. Measuring the danger by comparing the spread of the variants would be like kicking over two cans of paint, looking at the pools on the floor, and deducing that blue spreads faster than red. 

Never mind. What he said wasn’t exactly inaccurate but it was misleading enough to sow bits of panic here and there: Covid’s mutating! Help, help, a horrible heffalump. 

The New Scientist reports that researchers are skeptical. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute said, “This is going to require rigorous assessment before it can be confirmed. New variant sure, functionally significant unlikely. Suspect it will be refuted or seriously questioned.”

Missing words in quote to be found under couch. Have gone free range. From whence they send the news that coronaviruses generally need more than one mutation to hide from a well primed immune system. A lot more than one mutation.


What else is happening in Britain? Well, the BMJ reports that it hasn’t been able to get information on the financial interests of the doctors, scientists, and academics who give the government pandemic advice. Do they have conflicts of interest? Do they stand to benefit from companies with government contracts?


At first, the government wouldn’t even release their names. They’ve now done that but refused to let the BMJ see the financial interest forms they’d filled out, although in the interest of complete transparency the government did release a blank copy of the form.

At least someone has a sense of humor. Or else no sense of humor. I can’t tell which.

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser and head of its Vaccine Taskforce, is reported to have had £600,000 worth of shares in GlaxoSmithKline, which signed a vaccine deal with the government worth we don’t know how much.

Another member of the taskforce, John Bell of Oxford University—who also headed the National COVID Testing Scientific Advisory Panel and chaired the government’s new test approvals group—was reported to have £773,000 worth of shares in Roche, which had sold the government £13.5 million of antibody tests.

The government assures us that neither of them had any involvement in those deals, so it’s okay. 

And I assure you that any resemblance to individual persons, either living or dead, is purely coincidental. 

Bell may or may not also be part of the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. A press release said he was. A spokesperson said he wasn’t.

37 thoughts on “The pandemic update from Britain: money, vaccines, and killing the virus

  1. I suspect it’s done a lot of mutating already. There’ve been a lot of reports about a new strain appearing in Spain in the summer, and then being carried around by holidaymakers and itinerant workers. And now it’s apparently appearing in Catalan lions …. sounds like a rugby team.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Corruption’s alive and well and quite happy, thank you. As for knowing what to do, public health people have a pretty good handle on it but the government’s not willing to listen. They talk about the damage that decisive action would do to the economy, but it’s their dithering and reluctance to take action (in the name of protecting the economy) that’s hammered the economy and allowed things to get to this point.

      No vaccine’s 100%, but when you look at the impact the polio vaccine has had, it’s the difference between night and day. I think the Covid vaccines will have a similarly powerful impact–or could if we can just get them out there and distributed worldwide. The reports say that, at least with the Pfizer vaccine and I think with the Oxford one as well, even the people who caught Covid didn’t get serious cases. I’m still waiting to hear if that means that as well as not dying and no needing hospitalization, none of them got long Covid, but I haven’t seen any information on that.

      Sorry–I’m taking the long way around. What I’m trying to say is that I think the vaccines will make a huge difference. Our local GPs have started vaccinating the over-80s already. I’m waiting till they get down to my age group.

      Liked by 2 people

    • We haven’t heard yet either, although Ida should be in the first category. I wish, really, that the first category had been front-line workers and the medically vulnerable, but oddly enough they didn’t ask my opinion. I have heard, though, that Bottreaux has started doing the injections.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for reminding me that if I wish to know, I only need to read you. This is the first time I hear of this Roman bar. And of all the rest, more or less. Greetings from Tuscany in zone red, where I’m going to stay these holidays. No joy of sea food Christmas dinner in Rome. Luckily, I have a bestia to walk. I know every cactus and bush by now, first name basis. So many Giacomos.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Two points: One, I am getting tired of Covid, but not of your reporting on the subject. Two, perhaps the reason for the second half of number one, I appreciate a little humor and generally don’t require being told when it’s in there. And as for those Druids…oh…OK.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. UV rays kill the virus but daren’t be used around humans or other carbon-based life forms ? I’d swear Dear Leader advocated hat already a while ago, along with an injection of bleach. It was generally frowned upon.

    Speaking of the Great Brussel Sprout Festival- dress optional – at Wardley Woods (not Birnham Wood coming to Dunsinane ?) Secretary of State Mike Pompous A**hole hosted a Christmas Party- indoors – mask free – to which 700-800 people were invited. Only 70 RSVPed and less than 70 showed up. Apparently something is culling the herd. It may even be common sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It could be common sense but it could also be that the ship is sinking and they’re running down the ropes, headed for shore. May the Great Brussels Sprout restore balance to the planet and keep us all green and healthy. And round and, um, leafy.


  5. Many years ago (pre Good Friday Agreement) I remember visiting a bar in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, where there was a sign up saying if you discussed religion or politics you would be asked to leave (actually it said something like “thrown out on your ear”) but the place had a great atmosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

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