Covid, Christmas, and other pandemic news

After a bit of four-nation arm wrestling, the British government decided to stand by its decision to loosen Covid restrictions for Christmas. Santa Claus, they told us a while back, was bringing everybody the chance to travel around the country and join three households together for up to five days. 

Don’t read the fine print, they said. It’s Christmas. 

Well, Santa hasn’t changed the present he’s bringing but some spoilsport enlarged the small print and now the government’s asking everyone not to actually do what they said we could look forward to doing. That is, we can still do it, they won’t tell us not to, but they’d really appreciate it if we didn’t.

Really, really appreciate it.

The tone of the press conferences has changed from a Santa-ish look-what-I-brought-you to a Pandora-ish don’t-look-inside-the-box.

Government guidance now says, “Think very carefully about the risks of forming a bubble. . . . [A bubble? That’s a  theoretically impermeable group of people that you seal yourself into, sharing love, germs, risk, and a commitment not to so much as turn your thoughts to anyone outside the bubble.] Everybody in a Christmas bubble is responsible for taking clear steps to prevent catching and spreading the virus.” 

If you’ll allow me to translate that for you, it means, If this bubble wheeze doesn’t work, it’s your own silly fault. We thought the British people had better sense than to do what we said would be safe.

Irrelevant photo: A gerbera daisy. Feel uplifted? Good. Now let’s get depressed again.

But we should go back to that four-nation arm wrestling: It’s a particularly British sport involving Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England. And whatever you’ve heard, four-way arm wrestling is not simple, either physically or politically. See, the British government doesn’t speak for Britain on this issue. It speaks for England, which doesn’t have its own dedicated government, although the other three pieces of the United Kingdom do.

Yeah, I know. It’s complicated, but never mind that for now. 

Wales, speaking for Wales, bailed out of the hoped-for four-nation love fest and issued a narrower set of guidelines. Even so, it expects to need tighter restrictions after the holidays. 

Scotland’s recommending that people stay home, but if they do mix it suggests they mix for only one day, not five. But it’s just a suggestion, not a rule and not a law. 

Northern Ireland’s expecting to tighten the rules after Christmas to make up for whatever Christmas unleashes. 

Assorted experts are holding their aching heads in their hands. For the sake of efficiency, we’ll quote just one, a (very rare) joint BMJ/Health Service Journal editorial, which said, “When the government devised the current plans to allow household mixing over Christmas it had assumed the Covid-19 demand on the NHS would be decreasing. But it is not, it is rising. . . . The government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring and again in the autumn. It should now reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period in order to bring numbers down in the advance of a likely third wave.”

In case anyone wants to know, what I want for Christmas is for the people I love to be alive and well next Christmas. That’s not meant to exclude anyone. If I can be greedy, I’ll expand that to people I like and to people I don’t even know. 

I’d also like to include myself, if that’s okay. 

 

Vaccinations

In the first week of vaccinations, 137,000 people in Britain got the first shot of the vaccine.

It’s Americans who talk about getting a shot. The British call it a jab. Both of them are unpleasant words. I never heard the underlying aggression until I heard the act of sticking a needle in a person’s arm called by something that surprised me.

Anyway, only 8 million or so people are in line ahead of me–give or take a few hundred thousand.

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Vaccinating all of Britain will cost something in the neighborhood of £12 billion according to a National Audit Office report, which also says the Public Health England (PHE) complained early on that it, along with its extensive experience in vaccination programs, were being locked out of key decisions. 

It was finally allowed through the door in September. 

Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said (diplomatically) that although the government was right to bet on several different vaccines, the accountability arrangements involved were “highly unusual.” 

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A study reports that a fifth of the world’s population is unlikely to get a chance at any Covid vaccine until 2022. And even that depends on how many of the vaccines in development turn out to work and on their manufacturers hitting maximum production

Back in November, assorted countries had reserved 7.48 billion vaccine doses from 13 manufacturers. Just over half of those doses will go to the 14% of the world’s population that lives in high income countries.

And the 85% of the population that lives in the rest of the world? 

Um, yeah.

True, those aren’t the only vaccines–48 are in clinical trials–but my best guess is that those are the ones that are furthest along in the process. 

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An unprecedented attempt at global cooperation in the face of the pandemic saw a number of countries sign up to the COVAX initiative, which involves richer countries buying vaccines through COVAX so that some of the money goes to getting vaccines to poorer countries. By participating, richer countries would both get access to a portfolio of vaccines and also negotiate as a bloc, bringing the price down

Unfortunately, someone (or possibly everyone) seems to have snagged their toenails in the threads, and that could mean billions of people getting no vaccine until (new source, new date; sorry) 2024–or so says a leaked document, although the World Health Organization, one of the COVAX initiative’s backers, is still making optimistic sounds about it.

The problems in the initiative are complicated enough that if I try to explain them we’ll all sink, but they involve some of the cheaper and easier-to-transport vaccines making slower-than-ideal progress, richer countries prioritizing their own needs (which pushes the prices up), and a lack of money for the initiative.

Go back to the yellow flower. It’ll cheer you back up.

 

Testing

The much-promoted launch of what the British government calls a test and release scheme has been suitably chaotic. 

What’s test and release? 

Well, back when I worked as a copy editor for a hunting and fishing magazine, the phrase catch and release popped up in every third article. It’s the noble act of hauling a fish out of a water by its lip, pulling the hook out of the hole you’ve made, and putting the fish back in the river, all for your own damn amusement, since the fish doesn’t find the process at all amusing. Yes, the fish survives as long as you didn’t hook it too deep and if you didn’t exhaust it and if you remembered to wet your hands before you touched it. But the fish isn’t what you’d call a willing participant.

I agree: Every vegetarian should work for a hunting and fishing magazine for at least five minutes. I lasted until the magazine sank under the weight of its own advertising department, which rumor insisted was run by the owner’s sons.

Anyway, that’s not what test and release is. No hooks, no lines, not even any anglers. I only threw it in because I hear its echoes every time I read about test and release. And, of course, for its sheer irrelevance.

The test and release plan involves travelers arriving in Britain having a Covid test that would shorten their quarantine. 

Hooray. Everyone wins.

Except, it turns out, the people who gambled on it working. A man traveling from the Netherlands to see his mother–who, irrelevantly, has dementia–took the Eurotunnel to London and found himself stuck in a hotel room not for the five days he’d counted on but for what will be either the full quarantine period or damn close to it. 

First he couldn’t find the list of approved test providers. Then he found it but couldn’t book a test with any of them. Not one. The scheme, he said, was “just hot air.”

I know. You’re shocked. So am I. Who’d have expected such a thing from this government?

Eleven providers got government approval. Airports, which already had testing centers up and running, weren’t among them. Instead, you have to get hold of one of the approved providers (assuming that you can, and assuming they have the capacity to deal with you) and ask for a test to be mailed to you. Then you mail it back. (Does that mean breaking your quarantine? Probably. Don’t worry about it. It’s Christmas. It’ll all be fine.)

You’ll get your results within 48 hours–I think of the company receiving it, not of you sending it. That would probably cut your quarantine from ten days to eight, although the program was promoted as cutting it to five. 

An airport source said (with only mild incoherence but impressive accuracy), “The rapid test is not yet approved but would cut self-isolation to five days–that’s what we hoped would be the situation. Unfortunately, the government hasn’t even managed to get a list of who could do it in eight days. Given the small number of passengers traveling now, you’ve got to question the procurement.”

*

The U.S. has approved an over-the-counter Covid test. It costs around $30, uses a swab, and gives a result in twenty minutes. Initially, supplies will be limited. 

It’s most accurate in people who have symptoms but it’ll miss some cases in people who don’t. In other words, if it tells you that you don’t have Covid, you don’t get to run out and hug everyone, because, damn it, you could be either pre-symptomatic or an asymptomatic carrier. 

As I read recently, testing alone does nothing. It’s what you do with the information once you have it. I’m not sure quite what this test will contribute to the fight against Covid.

 

Triumphantly irrelevant news

In the spirit of irrelevance that animates us here at Notes, I offer you the following news item:

The mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey, is auctioning off the chance to blow up a former Trump casino. The city hopes to raise upwards of $1 million and will donate it to the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City. 

The casino closed in 2014 and is already partially demolished. The auction’s winner will get to press the button that makes whatever’s left go ka-blooey.

57 thoughts on “Covid, Christmas, and other pandemic news

  1. I think all governments are in a no-win situation. The government says that schools should stay open. People complain that kids are spreading the virus. Which is true. The government says that schools should teach online for the first week of the Easter term. Teachers complain and parents complain. I can see everyone’s point of view, but it’s a no-win situation.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s one of those situations where I also find myself on both sides of the argument. I suspect the solution is in not seeing it as either/or, but in actually making distance learning possible. If that means setting households up with wifi and computers, so be it. It certainly means organizing teaching time so that it’s possible for teachers. One of the eastern European countries, apparently, has done a fantastic job with this–I think Estonia, but don’t take my word for that. And for some kids, it probably won’t be possible–some of the special needs kids especially. Mostly, though, it would take some thought, some planning, and some money.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. 1.The covd virus doesn’t take a holiday! 2.Politicians make decisions based on politics! 3.Vaccines will save the peoples lives that take it but they will not eliminate the virus. Only two diseases have ever been eradicated with vaccines, one of which took 200 years to do so. The spread of covid will not be stopped by vaccines if around 70% of the total world population does not receive a vaccine. There is no such think as a totally isolated country! Remember the wall around the USSR? The vaccine may only be effective for a limited time such as between six months to a year. This means that the people getting the vaccine now might be susceptible again in the fall of 2021, which means another spike and spread of covid then. Even if the infection rate gets to 1%, there is still covid in the population and it will return in the fall and winter when peoples immunity is less, due to less sunlight and insufficient vitamin D levels. 4. I would pay to blow up the Trump cassino!

    Liked by 4 people

    • A lot of people would pay for the privilege. I wonder if they wouldn’t make more money treating it as a lottery–$2 a chance.

      No arguments on any of this. The vaccine will bring things down to a manageable level for the people who get it. Until the whole damn world has access, though, there’s no chance of stamping it out, and as you say that’ll take time. And one hell of an education program to convince people that it doesn’t involve a microchip bearing instructions from Bill Gates or whatever the lunacy of the moment is. I just saw a bit of “news” claiming that the vaccine given to a nurse on the news wasn’t a real shot–the plunger on the needle didn’t move.

      At the moment, I’m less concerned about the immunity not lasting. We’ll see. Whatever the problems, they’re better problems than we face without it.

      Like

      • I forgot to mention complacency. Many people think that since the vaccine(s) are available, that the danger from covid is over. They will refuse to use masks and social distance thus putting the unvaccinated at higher risk of catching it and dying. It will be many months or even years before there is herd immunity if it is ever achieved. The death rate will go down sometime next year but it will not go down completely for a ling time, if ever. Remember that people still die every year from the seasonal flu. I think people will still die every year from covid for the foreseeable future. Some years more than others just like the seasonal flu! Sorry for the pessimism, but if life is precious, everything should be done to protect peoples lives. Politicians have never been particularly good at protecting the lives of the people!

        Liked by 3 people

    • I’m assuming, Peter, that the other disease eradicated was polio, although technically there were still 42 cases in three countries in 2016. It took considerably less than 200 years to get there, albeit with a few tragic failed experiments. As a polio survivor, I remain frustrated that this world-wide epidemic is rarely included in the Covid-19 discussion, the default always seeming to be the American flu i.e. the one that the Spanish have been taking the rap for over many decades.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sorry, Ellen, but this clusterfuckery is just making me depressed and anxious for all my Brit friends, including you and Ida (if I may be so bold as to count you as friends by blogosphere). I cannot imagine what it would be like living in a country (and this of course goes broader than the UK) that won’t accept the simple fact that hard lockdowns are the only strategy that works until vaccines are readily available to all, globally. As we speak, the Northern Beaches area of Sydney is in panic mode (and lockdown) over an evolved version of Covid that appears entered Australia via aircrews, who apparently were hitherto considered to be magically immune. As a result, Xmas get togethers have been thrown into chaos and the closure of State borders is deafening.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Please do count us as friends. And we’re lucky in many ways, considering. Cornwall has a much lower per-head infection rate than most of the country. We have lots of space to get outside, even during full lockdown. And above all, we’re retired, so we don’t have to cope with whatever a job would bring–or with unemployment. Plus our point of reference is the US, which is in so much worse shape that it makes things here look positively rosy. So considering the mess we’re in–

      Yeah.

      I’m grateful that at least some countries are taking it seriously. The government here just can’t get its head around the idea that they might actually accomplish something if they’d take the hard-to-take measures. They’d rather do something half-assed over and over again and claim that anything more would be too restrictive.

      I’ve wondered how air crews are shipping are being handled. I’m really sorry to hear that the damn things broken out again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The government is stupid. They lifted lockdown on the 2nd of December to make the most of the Christmas shopping economy boost, forgetting that if they wanted to allow people to mix over Christmas, they would have had to be in lockdown all the way leading up to Christmas. You can’t BUY your cake and eat it too. Fancy telling people not to mix together after they promised them they could, but not making any specific rules about it all. Oh I am so mad.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The idea of trying to have a semi-normal Christmas is insane–as is the idea that a short-term boost to the economy won’t, in this situation, have to be paid for with massive interest later on. Every so often I do try to understand how their thinking runs and the best I can come up with is that they’re so used to getting away with simply stating things that aren’t true that they just can’t take it in that it doesn’t work with pandemics, gravity, or the European Union negotiators. Sometimes, no matter how good a blusterer you are, you run nose-first into reality, and it hurts.

      Yeah, I’m mad too.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I very much dislike the idea of people getting together over the holidays. The virus doesn’t care what anyone is celebrating and will not be taking a break. Hospitals here in PA have buckled under the strain of the fallout from people getting together over Thanksgiving and meeting up indoors thanks to the colder temperatures. There is no way the system isn’t going to break entirely if people get together willy-nilly over the holidays.

    We are hibernating as our family of six over Winter break. I am so burned out from in-person teaching that I just need a block of days in which I am away from people, not constantly cleaning, sanitizing, and fixing small people’s masks. So many of our traditions are not possible this year but that’s fine. We will find ample things to occupy us at home and recharge our batteries with quality family time. I am really glad of the opportunity to social distance to the max. My parents (in Scotland) are going to be having Christmas just the two of them for the first time since the 1960s. I cannot quite figure out if they are sad about it or looking forward to the experiment.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Just about an hour ago, they announced a–how can I say this? A tightening of the loosening of the Christmas guidelines. They’re afraid the new variant on the virus is more highly transmissible, because they seem to be leaping to that conclusion very quickly. I’d like to hear that from experts who don’t appear on TV with the prime minister. It may be correct, but it may be (as an expert said a day or two back), that this strain of the virus just got lucky.

      The change is a step in the right direction, taken (as you’d expect) in the worst available way. Why promise people a nice, safe holiday, when it can’t be safe, and then retract it once they’ve made plans (and some of them have already traveled to wherever it was they meant to celebrate)?

      I think you’re wise to hole up by yourselves. The best gift right now is survival.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Indeed. My Facebook feed last night was chockablock with friends feeling deflated by the new rules and their festive plans being thwarted. For every moaner there was someone being stoic but there was just an overall sense of feeling defeated. It really feels like people were given false expectations when this could have easily been predicted. I did see one person (a friend of a friend) complaining about how he has now got a house full of food he cannot use since his umpteen family members can no longer come to his house for Christmas dinner and was the government going to give him a refund for his wasted food. I politely suggested he donate it to local families but it really took all my reserves of tolerance to not tell him to shove his turkey up his nether regions.

        I think we all need to abide by the maxim of not gathering now so that we can all be there to gather when it is next possible.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Ah, I just read Mary Trumps memoir/biography of that man in the Whitehouse (just after Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” what an extreme!) and remember his venture into casino-ing. That’s not a word, I know, but seemed fitting 😁. And I think I read your post too late because four nation arm wrestling has gone one atep further this afternoon, hasn’t it? 🙋‍♀️🐝 Thanks for keeping me updated as I can’t bear the news anymore. Surely people could have figured out by now that this government promises what it can’t keep…

    Liked by 3 people

  7. As far as I understand the restrictions (we are now in Tier 4) Robert and I will be on our own throughout the Christmas period. We will zoom family of course.

    I am annoyed because I believe that if they had told people earlier that Christmas would be cancelled for Londoners and several restricted everywhere else people would not have spent so much money on non-refundable rail tickets (they won’t refund tickets because of Covid restrictions changing!) and people would not have spent as much money on groceries or gifts.

    That leaves me thinking they have timed this to squeeze as much money as possible out of the pockets of Joe Bloggs and then burst Joe’s balloon right at the last minute by removing the bubble arrangement.

    I am all for doing everything it takes to protect people and stop this virus, but people have perhaps wasted money on silly things when perhaps there is great hardship ahead of them. That upsets me to think of so many people who have lost money because they were led to believe they had something special after a year of sacrifices.

    They should have made it clear much sooner that there was no guarantee things would not change at the last minutes. People may have been more careful with their cash.

    Liked by 3 people

    • They won’t refund the tickets?? Even as the government’s pushing the airlines to refund people’s money? That’s just insane.

      I agree with you that they should’ve been clear at the beginning: This is fragile and you should rest too much weight (or money) on it. And given the reliability of this government, we should all have expected a change of direction. I’d agree with you about trying to charm money out of people’s pockets, but I don’t honestly think this lot is capable of thinking ahead that clearly.

      Like

      • You are right, I don’t think they would be that cunning. However, I do think the only way that a lifting of restrictions could have gone ahead was if the November national lockdown had lasted right up to 22nd December.

        I guess it is important to keep it all in perspective. It will pass. We will look back at this and remember it as a hard year. But when you first learn that they have cancelled all the plans people have been looking forward to it is pretty heart breaking.

        Have to drink more camomile tea and keep myself calm – stiff upper lip and whatnot!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I confess, I’ve never associated camomile with a stiff upper lip. But then, I’m an immigrant here. Some things I’ll never really understand.

          When you balance deaths, and the permanent losses they’ll leave behind, against a lousy Christmas, it strikes me as an easy choice to make. But they should never have tempted people out onto that limb. A bit of clarity at the beginning could have gone a long way.

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          • You are right Ellen. I guess the sad thing is people had built their hopes up and now they are dashed.

            Camomile is more to calm me down. I have had friends and relatives on the phone all day in tears. Others are planning to ignore the rules and still have family stay over. It’s just a mess. A real mess.

            Liked by 1 person

            • It is a mess. I just saw a headline saying the government had made the right decision in the wrong way at the wrong time. That pretty much sums it up for me. Take care of yourself through all of this, will you?

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              • I will be fine Ellen, I have Robert. But I have friends who will be alone, including a wonderful friend who has been working hard for the NHS all year and has not seen her family for a year. I wish that some people could be allowed a special dispensation because they have made more sacrifices than many.
                But who could decide that. As another blogger rather bluntly put it – he said at least the NHS have jobs. Others have lost jobs and businesses throughout the year.
                I have not been anywhere near as hard-pressed as some of my friends. I feel desperately sad for them

                Liked by 1 person

              • We too have been lucky. And emotionally I can understand the desire to make exceptions for people who’ve been so hard pressed, but the virus makes no exceptions. How much worse would it be if on top of the overwork, the stress, and the isolation, someone either spread or contracted the virus during the holiday?

                Like

              • I guess what just saddens me is that there are meek obedient loving people who care about doing the right thing and protecting everyone….and there are people who just keep taking more and more liberties and finding loopholes or just completely disregarding all the rules completely.

                I think that is what hurts – there is a distinction between those who are just so unselfish and giving and those who are thoughtless and put themselves first.

                Liked by 1 person

  8. Over Here it seems the policy has devolved to “Do whatever you damn well please – you will anyway !” Spurred along, of course, by the high availability of automatic weapons wielded by people who oppose “cancelling Christmas.” (as long as all those dying aren’t they or theirs.).

    Liked by 3 people

  9. We’ve just returned from delivering baked goods (in suitably sanitised containters) to the offspring. They came halfway by train, we drove the other half to meet them … the four of us wore masks, exchanged a few pleasantries, wearing masks, and social distancing in the pouring rain. First time we’ve seen them in a year.
    Was it ideal? Of course not. Were we all safe? Of course we were.
    So, the family Christmas is over … (the two of us are just going to have an easy day off, eat some sushi, and christmas cake – not at the same time – and generally relax) 2020 can sod off, and take all those ‘anti-every-bloody-thing’, self-obsessed, I’m-scared-but-I’m-gonna-act-out-angrily, proponents of the very worst aspects of the human obsession with individualism, with it.
    And yes, I’ll buy a raffle ticket. :)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. And then the government did another screeching U-turn. We are now in lockdown in Wales again. Thank God. It was very worrying watching the numbers go up and up, faster and faster. I am very sad for the retailers and people who planned to see family (we didnt) but things were certainly getting out of hand here. Good news, my elderly parents (in their 80s) had their first jab yesterday. Sadly there was a mini riot in town after an anti-vax demo got out of hand. Shame on them trying to frightened very elderly and frail people! Unlike everything elseto do with this pandemic, my mother said the oranisation of the whole thing was excellent (the injections not the riot) . Here’s hoping the side effect arent too bad and we dont have to wait too long for ours (I am way down the list at No. 9)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Let’s hope some of the other vaccines are approved quickly so they can work their way down the list. I’m still baffled (and furious) that health care workers and other front line workers aren’t at the top. The elderly–at least many of us (I think that’s the first time I’ve included myself in the category)–can hide out for a bit longer. They can’t. Although having said that, I’m glad your parents got the jab. What a relief that must be.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. So London’s being locked down and now everyone is fleeing to other areas of the country? We have the same issue here–they lock down one region but don’t impose travel restrictions, so people just go to malls in the next city. We’re increasing cases every day but people just have to go to Walmart.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I wish I did better with my comments on your thoughtful provocative posts, but I seem to get lost in translation or somewhere. For example, when you mentioned being the copy editor of a hunting and fishing magazine, I tried so hard for a visual I lost track of the Covid facts. Thank you for that – and oh, yes, for the lovely yellow daisy.
    I am now also preoccupied with the news of the variant strain of the virus in London? Almost made me forget the hunting and fishing magazine.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So you’re saying I derailed you as well as myself with that? I’m not sure whether to say sorry or you’re welcome. Either. Both.

      The variant is still up for grabs. Worrying, but the implications aren’t clear yet. Stay tuned. (No one under the age of 70 says that anymore, do they? Or even knows what the hell it means.)

      I enjoy your comments. Please don’t stop leaving them.

      Liked by 1 person

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