The new Covid variant and other pandemic news

Remember when Boris Johnson promised Britain a world-beating Covid test system? Or a world-beating something else. It doesn’t matter what it was going to be exactly. What matters is that we were going to beat the world, so take that, world.

Well, we seem to have developed a world-beating new strain of Covid. Yay us! It may spread more rapidly than the old ones. Tell me we’re not the envy of the world.

Mind you, it also may not transmit more rapidly. That’s still up for grabs. The scientists say they have moderate certainty that it does. But the mutations affect a part of the virus that’s likely to matter. In the lab, it looks like it might set that world-beating speed record. 

Notice the multiple wiggle-words there: may, moderate certainty, likely, might. Scientists don’t like to commit themselves in the absence of evidence, bless their white-coated hearts. It’s not time to panic until they finish working on this. What it is is time to be cautious.

Irrelevant photo: heather

What’s known is that the new strain is out-performing other versions of the virus in the southeast of the country. That’s where the world-beating business comes in. Go, Virus!

But viruses get lucky sometimes. They’re in the right place at the right time, and it makes them look like champions, but only because they’ve latched onto a set of humans who are particularly helpful. So we don’t know yet if what’s happening is due to the virus or to human behavior. 

In the meantime, the sensible thing to do is assume we’ve got a world-beater on our hands and go into deeper lockdown.

Which we’re doing, sort of. As of Sunday, the southeast of the country went into lockdown, with socializing limited to Christmas day. I’m simplifying. If you need the details, you either have them already or need to get your news from some sensible source. As I remind myself often when I see some bit of important news that I just can’t wedge in here, I am not a newspaper, I just play one on the internet.

So: deeper local lockdown except for Christmas day, and Christmas day, fortunately, is safe: The virus does its celebrating on Christmas eve and it’s too hung over to spread on Christmas day.

The lockdown was announced some hours before it took effect, which set off a scramble to get out of London, bequeathing us pictures and videos of socially undistanced trains headed over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, bearing tidings of comfort and infection. 

I do love a holiday.

There’s no evidence that the new strain is more deadly and no indication that the current vaccines won’t work against it, so it’s not time to panic completely. The dangers are that (a) it may spread more rapidly and (b) it may continue to mutate, requiring the vaccines to be tweaked regularly, the way flu vaccines are every year. 

But we’re not there yet. 

Again, don’t panic. There’s always time to do that later.

*

In the meantime, although it has nothing to do with Covid (except to complicate a bad situation), Santa’s bringing us Brexit, with or without a deal on January 1. The negotiators are still meeting and they’ve got to be sick of hearing each other’s voices by now. A couple of days ago, trucks were backed up for five miles in Kent, trying to reach the Eurotunnel, with similar lines on the other side. And that was not just before Brexit but before France halted freight from Britain in response to the Covid variant. 

Covid news snippets  from the rest of the world

In a survey, 71% of the US public said they’d either definitely or probably get a Covid vaccine. That’s up from 63% in September.

And Covid is now the leading cause of death in the US–equal to fifteen daily plane crashes, with each one carrying 150 people. 

Those two statistics might actually be related. But the second one doesn’t include excess deaths–the people who don’t get counted because of reporting delays, miscodings, and non-Covid deaths that are caused by the pandemic’s disruptions. Add those in and the numbers could be as much as 20% higher.

*

Latvia has introduced an automatic Covid testing booth. It eliminates the risk to medical workers who’d otherwise have to test people. A robot arm hands you your vial, you give it your sample, and it gets back to you within 24 hours.

I don’t think I ever used the word vial as much as I have this year.

*

A small US study says schools aren’t necessarily a big factor in the spread of Covid, but the small print is says that this depends on everyone wearing masks and keeping six feet apart, and on testing anyone who’s been in contact with anyone who might be infected. That would allow a school to stay open unless there’s an outbreak.

So yes, do read the small print.

*

A French study says that socializing, eating out, and going to bars and gyms seem to be more dangerous activities than using public transportation or shopping. 

That’s not absolute proof. All they can say is the statistically they’re associated with a greater risk. No one can spot the moment when the virus jumps from one person to the next. Still, it’s worth knowing.

*

A story on Covid and holiday events in Fredericksburg, Texas, included the following quote: “Everyone knows Covid is a risk, but if I want to go lick the handrails at the hospital, that is my God-given right.”

If someone could send me the relevant passage from the Bible, I’d be grateful. Not because I run my life by what it says in there, but I really would love to know.

50 thoughts on “The new Covid variant and other pandemic news

  1. Whilst I suspect that the new strain is probably all over the UK and indeed all over Europe, I’m not very impressed that the railway companies let all those people crowd on to trains to all four corners of Britain on Saturday night. Case numbers increased by 3.4% here last week. Whilst any increase isn’t great, it’s hardly to be compared with what’s going on in the South East. If we can at least try to stop this new strain from spreading, let’s do it. All they had to do was refuse to sell tickets to anyone who didn’t already have one.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t know the law on that in the UK. In the US (because of our history of segregation) laws of various sorts forbid businesses to refuse service to people in assorted ways. So I’m not sure what sort of legal ground they’d be on. Again, some government guidance would’ve been helpful. And , as you say, some responsibility on the part of the companies to keep the trains from becoming overcrowded. Although in fairness, the shots I saw were taken in the train stations themselves., not on the trains.

      I expect the horse was out of the barn before the door got locked.

      Remind me, would you? Whereabouts do you live? I’m pretty sure I’ve asked that before, but my memory’s always more of a sketch than a picture.

      Liked by 2 people

        • I can give you a theory: One driver can make a decision quickly. A railroad company (along with all the assorted ticket selling agents, machines, etc.) will take longer. And they had next to no warning. I don’t like defending the railroad companies–they’re bloodsuckers–but in this case I think they got dealt a difficult hand.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for your calm reasoned approach, which is somewhat different from today’s headlines (we are Europe’s pariah and all lorries are stuck here for the next 48 hours, poor lorry drivers!). I am happy to report that the covid vaccine my parents (aged 82 and 87) had on Saturday afternoon produced minor side-effects (a sore arm), less than the flu jab, in fact. So that’s good news!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Should we start a betting book on how many hours without goods and supplies coming in from Europe, (including, ahem vaccine doses) not to mention no exports from the UK going out, before Brexit headbangers blame the EU for doing it deliberately, to apply pressure to Britain in Brexit negotiations?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. There is no absolute proof that the new covid strain originated in the UK. It could have originated in the US or any other country and then entered into the UK. The UK was just the first country to discover this new strain. The French border closing are useless since the new strain has already spread across Europe and probably most to the world! My idea about far UVC lights seems more practical and reasonable as every day passes!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I won my first and only pool victory that way, although it didn’t involve four competitors colliding. I wish it had–it would’ve been a lot more fun. But yes, I suspect you’re right. We’re not going to lead the US in deaths, at least not as things look right now, although I don’t suppose that’s blocked to us forever.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I saw a news report earlier that this new strain was first identified in Brazil months ago. Presumably they were too busy ignoring Covid and claiming it was a hoax to think of telling anyone else. But at least it has helped muddy some waters: it is no longer clear if we are pariahs in Europe due to the virus or Brexit. Or both, probably.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That would cheer my up if I thought the problem was Europe blaming us for inventing it, but I don’t think anyone really cares who came up with it. We have it. We’re pariahs.

      And then there’s Brexit………………

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I want to nominate Trump as the source of the new covid variant. He is responsible for all great successes. And he just wanted to share it with the rest of the world. Starting with his friend Borris. He is the chief and most insidious minister of all lies covid. To not give him credit would be a grave insult to his talents. I will stop there as the manifestations of his talents are way way too numerous to fit in before your next installment. And I do want you properly rested for that. Unless you would like him all wrapped up with a ribbon. Sorry a bit of desperation there. There is building rumor that he will not leave the White House. If for no other reason to prove he had the longest four year term. I sometimes thing that we here do not truly appreciate the lengths he will go to demonstrate his greatness. Sorry again. We have had the blond virus for four years now and covid seems like a brazen upstart. Did I mention his ex-general advisor is advocating martial law as a remedy to this stolen election. Yup we are the home of democracy…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I keep saying this, but as a fiction writer I can’t help wanting to say it again: If you put this in a novel, you’d have to cut 99% of it because it’s too damned unbelievable. But since it does appear to be real, I thank you for your generosity, but I don’t think it would be right for another country to borrow your esteemed soon-to-be-former president when he’s expected to have important court appearances coming up.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I always thought the new strain originated somewhere in Europe like Italy and came over to the South East, but it seems that is not the case. Anyway, it’s all absolutely abhorrent. Your voice of reason seems to make everything less dramatic.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have no idea where it originated. I suppose it matters in terms of tracing its progress, but to the average person just trying to stay alive through this, I don’t expect it makes much difference. Let’s all just hang in there and get through this.

      Liked by 1 person

    • There’s supposed to have been a new strain in Spain .. and I now really want to say “which stayed mainly on the plain”, but sadly it didn’t stay anywhere, and spread around during the summer. But this seems to be a different one. I hadn’t heard the theory that it started in Brazil, but who knows? It’s very odd that it seems to have kicked off in Kent, which had some of the lowest rates in the country all the way through until the last few weeks.

      Liked by 2 people

      • We’ve got the news on as I type, and they are sounding more certain about it being more infectious.

        Damn, damn, damn. That’s all we need–although maybe it’ll kick the country into taking serious action instead of these half measures we’ve been fooling around with.

        Liked by 1 person

        • They’re trying to find a balance. I work in accounts, and I’m hearing more and more stories about small businesses being forced to close, or drastically to reduce the scale of their operations. Over 800,000 jobs had been lost even before the second lockdown, and I’m so sorry for kids whose education’s being disrupted. It’s just a nightmare situation: I don’t envy the people having to make the decisions. And, just as we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine, the virus kicks us in the teeth by mutating!

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Another thing to worry about now – mutations.

    I read some epidemiologist yesterday who said this virus is here to stay, mutate, circulate for at least 30 more years, which is what happened with the Spanish flu, the only solution being at least two third of the population needs to get a vaccine. If not, we don’t have a deal.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Ha ! The US has led the KNOWN WORLD in Covid deaths for months…apparently Dear Leader has been parading around chanting “We’re Number One ! We’re Number One !” Lord knows what will happen now that the UK has leaped into a leadership position…I don’t think the Virus will recognize Martial Law. Or even Marshall Dillon.

    All I can say about your news flash from Fredericksburg TX is : Your right to lick the handrails stops where my right to put my hand on a handrail for my own safety begins. It’s a variant on the “right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” The trouble is, no one is enforcing those rules, and the lickers have the automatic weapons.

    I will endeavor to come up with a Biblical reference, but it may take a bit. And it’ll probably come from Revelation, whereas I am more familiar with Isaiah…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll admit up front that the difference between Revelations and Isaiah goes over my head, but I think I catch the spirit of what you’re saying. And not only does his or her right to lick the handrails end as you define it, but also when he or she goes around exhaling in public.

      Lunatics.

      I’m reasonably sure the virus is too small for Marshall Dillon and his trusty six-shooters to be any use to us. But it’s a good thought.

      Like

  10. There’s always gotta be a country that other countries can gang up on. Looks like it’s England’s turn, though it’s probably not justified. I’ve read that the “new” strain is in Germany and Holland as well.

    As for (elementary) schools, Minnesota’s governor just gave the green light to returning… not to hybrid, but full, 100% back, because kids as young as nine don’t APPEAR to be as susceptible to the disease. When I wrote to him after his announcement (I’ve never written to my governor so much than I have in the last year) I reminded him that elementary schools usually contain 10- and 11-year-olds, who appear to be as susceptible as older kids. I also bemoaned his new rule that districts that choose to go back 100% (mine did, within hours of the announcement, and they got an email from me, too, though maybe not as snarky as my one to the governor because they’re my employer after all) have to have all staff wear both masks and face shields at all times. I don’t think this is wrong, I just know from experience how hard it is to teach (and be heard and properly understood) like that. I did it for several weeks, voluntarily, at the beginning of the school year until I finally abandoned the face shield (it fogs up, you can’t see or breathe, nobody can understand a word you’re saying) and just wore the mask. Anyway, I’m on a bit of a rant. I’ll stop now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Can I add to your rant? The face shields are only useful if someone’s likely to spit at you. Given the level of aggression around mask wearing in the US, that’s useful in some situations–and in any country, since folks have discovered a weapon that doesn’t need muscles or ammunition. But to contain any possible germs? It does nothing. The go up, down, and/or around it.

      Someone really should collect all the stupid decisions that have been made in response to this virus and, I don’t know, cast them in bronze or something. I was going to say publish a book of them, but it’d be too infuriating. It really does seem to have brought out a strain of stupid. Here, they had the kids go back in imaginary bubbles, declaring each class or year group (I’ve forgotten which) its own bubble, ignoring the fact that kids go home and have brothers and sisters in other imaginary bubbles, and as my neighbor said, her kids get home, jump on top of each other and wrestle their way across the floor. So much for separate bubbles. Craziness. Not the kids, the government guidelines. And when some London schools wanted to close a few days early, for the holidays since London’s in a high risk tier, the government threatened to sue them.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: The new Covid variant and other pandemic news — Notes from the U.K. - https://jakhala.com

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