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.
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.