How much should we worry about the British Covid variant?

Whoopee! It’s another moment when Britain gets to claim world-beating status. Its new Covid variant may be more deadly than the old ones. In addition to maybe being more transmissible.

Maybe. (Also may be, if you want to split hairs and words.) Nothing’s certain yet, although we’d be smart to act as if the possible bad news is rock-solid certain bad news. Otherwise even more people might die. That has a way of focusing a person’s attention. Or at least it should. 

But that doesn’t mean that the evidence on it is clear.

Nervtag–the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group–says there’s a “realistic possibility” that it’s more deadly, but it’s by no means a sure thing, and the government’s chief science advisor, Patrick Vallance (known as Sir to his friends and family), said the data on this is “not yet strong.” 

The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are both expected to work against the new variant, but they may be less effective against the variants from South Africa and Brazil. Not completely ineffective, just less effective. 

So it is time to be careful but it’s not time to panic. We can always do that later.

Irrelevant photo: A winter tree.


If we don’t panic, what should we do?

Susan Michie, an adviser on the government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours says Britain’s lockdown rules aren’t strong enough, so she’d recommend strengthening them. 

There’s been a lot of focus on people who break the rules, and government ads urge people to stay home, “But actually,” she said, “all the data show that the overwhelming number of people are sticking to the rules with one exception which is self-isolation.

“In fact I would say that it’s not so much people not sticking to the rules, but it’s the rules themselves that are the problem.”

Compared to the first lockdown, twice as many people are going to work and using public transportation, and more kids are in school because the definition of key worker has been broadened.

“The better the lockdown is now the shorter it will be,” she said.

And the problem with self-isolation doesn’t seem to be that people don’t care but that so many of them can’t afford to miss work.


Your feel-bad stories for the day

Just when you think the government might be taking the pandemic seriously and understanding how important the people who work in the National Health Service are–

Nah, I won’t go on. It’s too silly. Foreign and minority group NHS workers in England might be disproportionately ineligible for Covid vaccines because guidelines on who hospitals should vaccinate rule out anyone without an NHS number.

Who’s that going to affect? Disproportionately, foreign-born workers and people from Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic backgrounds. They’re all less likely to have registered with a doctor’s practice, which means they haven’t gotten a number.

Some hospitals are working around the guidelines and vaccinating them anyway. 


In case you’ve wondered how Britain’s £22 billion test and trace system manages to spend so much money while barely functioning–and I have–its bottom line gets a boost from a consulting company, Deloitte, which has 900 consultants on the test-and-trace books, each earning £1,000 a day.

Maybe that’s an average. Do we care? Nah, not really.

That’s a savings from last year, when the number of contractors was over 1,000. I can’t find the hourly wage for people working the test and trace phone system, but memory insists it’s minimum wage.


Your feel-good story for the day

On January 14, Dzhemal Senturk was hospitalized with Covid in Trabazon, Turkey, and his dog, Boncuk, ran after the ambulance all the way to the hospital and waited for him.

Senturk’s family took her home.

The next day, she came back, and she came back every day, waiting from 9 a.m. until dark. 

On January 20th, the man was released and she went home with him. And they lived happily ever after. Except that some papers spell the man’s name Cemal. It’s okay, though. Boncuk can’t spell.


And your information-packed snippet for the day

And now down to serious business: A British survey reports a lot of uncertainty about what key pandemic words and phrases mean, and as ever I’m here to help. 

Epidemiologist: These are doctors who treat the epidermis–your skin. Why is the news making such a fuss over them when the skin is one of the few things Covid isn’t interested in? Because so many people observing the current lockdown have gained weight and are desperate to get skinnier.

Flattening the curve: See above. 

Antibody: This is how people feel after failing to flatten the curve.

R number: This is the plural of the Is number, but abbreviated.

Is number: This is a secret metric kept by the deep state. You won’t hear about it anywhere but here. Doesn’t metric sound more worrying than measurement

Support bubble: This is the collection of imaginary friends you’ve gathered around you during the pandemic. They offer emotional support from within the confines of  your four walls.

Stay alert: This is a government slogan–or at least it was. It may have been retired by now and it’s okay not to know what it means because it never did mean anything, it just filled space while the government dithered.

The interesting thing about the survey–at least as far as I could tell from the article about it (my research didn’t take me as far as reading the survey itself)–is that it seems to have asked people if they could confidently explain the terms. It doesn’t seem to have cross-referenced their explanations with reality. In other words, were they even remotely right or only confident? It’s the perfect survey for our fact-free world.

53 thoughts on “How much should we worry about the British Covid variant?

  1. It it extremely difficult, I think, to find an appropriate balance for a lockdown. Obviously the stricter the lockdown is, the less off the virus will spread. But then it is important that vulnerable children are able to continue attending school, and to be honest I emphasis with those who are not self isolating simply because they cannot afford to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So do I, and the problem will continue until they pay people who need the support. And I agree with you about kids and school, but all the compromised lockdowns that the government sets up prolong the pain. They seem to be incapable of planning anything.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I feel very sorry for the authorities. Whatever they do, people moan. Lots of different groups are demanding priority for the vaccine, and there aren’t enough doses for everyone to have priority – and they shouldn’t be asking for priority over medically vulnerable people either. Scientists want restaurants shut until May, but then a load of restaurants will go out of business. And, even if they agree to pay more to people who are self-isolating, a lot of people won’t anyway: getting a government grant won’t help if your customers all go to your rivals who are still working, or if your boss uses the number of sick days taken as a criteria for determining redundancies (as a lot of bosses do). Whatever they do, people will complain – as you say, it’s very hard to find a balance.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You’re lucky that Boris is at least a little different from The Donald. Otherwise he would have boasted the Britain has the best Covid Mutant yet.
    Sorry about my sarcastic remark as to a very serious subject.
    Have wonderful weekend and stay healthy,

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Sorry, still riding the “Trump is gone” high over here. I can’t be brought down by new variants that are this or that better/worse.

    I like the definitions, particularly the R-Number. I’ve been wondering about that one.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I like the definitions too. “Stay alert” has made me laugh since It was first used. What were we meant to be staying alert for? Invisible droplets? U-turns? Waffling? Chumocracies? Any other suggestions?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Over Here the motto has long been “Stay Alert ! The world needs more Lerts !”

    Like Dan, we are still reveling – quietly in order to keep a low profile – as we have no automatic weapons. The gummint is now making plans, but, alas, there is no vaccine reserve as was promised, so that is holding things up a bit.

    Stay safe and well.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. ‘Stay Alert’ was a great one. Every single time I took a walk outdoors during the first lockdown I was ‘Staying Alert’, my eyeballs roving the streets for one of those deviant viruses. I held my breath every time someone passed me and got irrationally angry at cars driving by too close. I do marvel at the government’s ability to villainize people who are not self-isolating, considering a lot of them are doing so because they have mouths to feed. It just makes everybody angry at each other when the real problem is that we are in a pandemic but people are still poor and need to make a living. I will be honest, I am worried about the new strain potentially being more deadly. I am worried about the number of ventilators in use being much higher than that of the first peak. I do worry about my family/parents getting ill. I don’t know if the stories on the news make it worse or not, but I know we are all worried and are all doing our best… except for those people protesting outside hospitals that COVID is a hoax… while nurses and doctors cry from exhaustion and emotional trauma inside as they suck water out of people’s lungs.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. You think you have it bad in Brittan? Here in Portugal we have the highest death rate per million in all of Europe, and both the British and South African mutants! This mutant explosion happened in two weeks! We were doing well before this. We went into emergency lockdown on Friday. No schools, hair dressers, etc… This is bad, very bad. The most pessimistic I have been. We probably have the Brazilian mutant but it is not confirmed yet. I state again that the real way to get rid of the virus is to stop transmission by installing far UVC lights in all places where people gather. If this is not done the mutations will eventually become resistance to the current vaccines and just keep on killing! Remember that the 1919 flue pandemic lasted two years, 1918-1919.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for that post, I think. The dog bit and the definitions, at least, turned my frown upside down for a bit. I attempt to read the news less and less lately in a general ‘I can’t read about any more ineptitude’ malaise but am a bit of a nerd for the Zoe Covid Tracker ( Can’t wait for each Tim Spector video and I guess, before I press play, whether he looks defeated and fatigued or more chipper. It’s been an up and down ride for him and all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I know how you feel. It’s been up and down for everyone–at least for those of us lucky enough to find some ups in this mess. Hang in there. We’ll get through it–although I wish I knew how.


  9. Well, I’m trying to get back to reading blogs again and yours is a treat! I like the def’s and the dog story (glad the family came and got the dog) and the fact the guy recovered. Lat weekend I was walking with a friend and we wandered into a cemetery that’s turning itself into an arboretum as well and has labeled its trees. I’ve never had a walk in a cemetery where I saw more than one fresh grave. There were at least a dozen and two funerals going on. I’m wearing double masks now because of the new strains, but…ugh, I did not know there was one from Brazil as well. Always good to read your blog! Now that I’m not having a nervous breakdown defending democracy, maybe I’ll be back more regularly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A sizable chunk of the world breathed a sigh of relief over the elections. Whatever you did to help, thanks for your part in it.

      I would’t have thought of a cemetery walk as a way to track the pandemic, but of course it is. What strange times–and how bizarrely normal they’ve started to feel, at least to me.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. ‘… consulting company, Deloitte, which has 900 consultants on the test-and-trace books, each earning £1,000 a day.’ – Say what?! Dolittle, more like!:)

    This post has both cheered and, well, just cheered actually. So, thank you for this.

    Er, Britain needs lerts. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does, my friend, but the lerts are extinct and have been for centuries. They were over-hunted and over-fished, and now they’re being over-hyped. I don’t know what we can do about it at this point, but we’re going to have to get through this mess without them.

      Liked by 1 person

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