Your Covid update for the day

Can I take time off from being snarky and welcome a moment of sanity? Any minute now, the British government’s expected to announce a hotel quarantine on returning travelers. 

Travel in the age of Covid

Up to now, we’ve had a do-it-yourself quarantine: You go home, you add water and shake vigorously, you take a Covid test or two, then you wait ten days or until the world’s ready for you to emerge blinking into the sunlight. 

Or you do none of that. Who’ll know?

And that’s the problem with the do-it-yourself system. Some unknown percent of arriving travelers go home, have a nice shower, and since they’ve added water consider the thing done, so they go out and buy groceries. And, of course, even the people who take the quarantine seriously have to get home, leaving a viral trail from the airport to wherever they live.

The noise accompanying the expected change is all about the newer, scarier Covid variants from Brazil and South Africa, so it’s not clear yet whether the quarantine will apply to everyone coming into the country or just to people coming from countries known to have the variant. 

If it’s limited to a few countries, it’ll be the policy equivalent of wearing your mask underneath your nose and pretending you’ve done your bit to battle Covid. Most countries don’t do enough virus sequencing to know which variants they’re dealing with. In other words, the variants are circulating in more countries than we know about.

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Irrelevant photo: I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think this is a viola. At any rate, it was a volunteer last summer.

In another moment of startling good sense, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said it was “far too early” to talk about people booking summer holidays. 

The travel industry is not happy about any of this.

 

Vaccine news

Moderna reports that its vaccine is effective against both the British and South African Covid variants, although it’s not as effective against the South African variant as they’d like. The company will test a second booster shot, making a total of three shots, with the third one designed specifically for the South African variant.

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If you’ve been reading stand-your-hair-on-end stories about people in Europe dying after getting a Covid vaccine, go find your comb and get your hairdo in place: There’s no evidence that their deaths had anything to do with the vaccine. 

In most countries, early vaccinations have focused on the elderly, and–well, the thing about old people is that we develop the habit of dying. In larger numbers than other age groups. So the vaccinated group included a lot of people who weren’t well to start with. And they died, but their deaths haven’t been linked to the vaccines. 

I subscribe to, among other things, a conspiracy-inflected newsletter, and it’s been counting the dead gleefully, without hinting that there might be extenuating circumstances. 

It helps me remember how crazy the world’s gotten lately.

*

The fear that Covid will mutate until it’s beyond the reach of vaccines has kept the news–and I assume sensible scientists as well–focused on Covid’s new variants. So let’s talk about variants:

They happen by accident. Mutations are random–they have no plan and no goal. If you’re not a fan of evolution, this is the time to change the channel, because what I’m talking about is evolution at work, but speeded up enough that we can see it happening. Some of the variations are disasters for the virus and they fall off social media. Some don’t matter–they don’t have good publicity agents, they post on Twitter but no one likes or retweets them, and we never hear about them. 

Some, though, work well. I’m taking that from the virus’s point of view, remember, so that means they’re more infectious or they change clothes so the vaccine-primed immune system stops recognizing them. They’re the Kim Kardashians of the virus world. 

The reason I’m dragging you through all this is that the more times the virus mutates, the more chances it has to hit on a winning formula. So the more people become infected, the greater the chance the virus has of becoming even scarier. 

In people with suppressed immune systems, it may get to mutate even more freely.

Could it mutate enough times to become less scary? Of course. The process can go in any direction. But we can’t know which one it’ll take. It’s not a bet I’d like to make. If you hear someone saying that no one is safe until we’re all safe, this is what they’re talking about. 

Bjorn Meyer of the Pasteur Institute said that with vaccination and the distancing and cleaning measures that are in place around the world, the virus’s successful mutations are more likely to affect how easily it’s transmitted rather than how lethal it becomes. I have no idea why that should be true, so I’ll just have to take his word for it and skip merrily on to the next item.

 

Antibody therapy

A joint Swiss, Czech, and Italian effort has developed a second-generation double antibody that protects against Covid.

A what?

I know. Me too. Think of it as an arranged marriage. The researchers introduced two natural Covid antibodies that target separate sites on the virus and fused them into a single artificial molecule. As long as they both may live or until one of them has an affair with some other antibody, whichever comes first.

In pre-clinical trials, the artificial antibody neutralized Covid and its variants and kept the virus from changing its structure. If it changes its structure, remember, the antibody has to close its eyes and count to seven while the virus hides.

The antibody stands a good chance of both preventing and treating Covid but it still needs to go through human trials before. If it does go into use, it looks like a single injection will reduce the viral load in the lungs and minimize inflammation. 

Politics, economics, and interviews

I don’t know about you, but I was impressed that England had instituted a £500 grant for low-income people who test positive for Covid and have to self-isolate. It didn’t sound like enough, but it was better than nothing. Until I found out that three-quarters of the people who apply for it are turned down.

Local governments say they’re having to turn people down because the criteria are too narrow.

Thanks, guys, you’ve renewed my faith in the incompetence of the current government.

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Speaking of which: Britain’s work and pensions secretary walked out on a TV interview when she didn’t like the interviewer’s paraphrase of what she said.

Okay, it was a Zoom interview. It’s hard to walk out them with any flair, but she did turn off her camera. 

It started when Therese Coffey said Britain’s death rate was so high because it had an obesity problem and an older population. To translate that, it means, None of this is the government’s fault. 

The interviewer, Piers Morgan, turned it so the seams showed. So the public was too old and too fat, then?

“I think that’s a very insulting thing that you’ve just said,” Coffey answered. “I also have to point out that you started this interview late. Unfortunately I have to go to other broadcasters as well, and I wish we had more time.”

“It was you that boycotted the programme,” Morgan said. “Please don’t play the ‘we haven’t given you enough time’ card, because we gave you eight months and you didn’t turn up.”

*

A recent report tells us that the wealth of the world’s ten richest people has increased enough during the pandemic to pay for the planet’s entire population to be vaccinated. And enough pocket money will be left over to make up for the income the poorest of them have lost. 

So how much is that in numbers? It’s £400 billion. Of course, if you have to split that with nine other people, all you get to take home is £40 billion.

 

The almost obligatory snippet of good news

I’m not doing well on the good news front, but research from the University of Illinois reports that the psychological problems of lockdown tend to fade with time as people adjust to the new normal. 

Sorry–best I could do today. 

39 thoughts on “Your Covid update for the day

  1. “I’m closer to the front of the vaccine queue than you” has been my riposte to some of the less deferential birthday wishes I received last week from Facebook friends – many off whom were at school with me and, if social media can be believed have all made a dazzling success of their lives – not an alcoholic, drug addict or vagrant amongst them. You’re probably not allowed to do Facebook in jail so that probably accounts for some missing birthday wishes. I haven’t heard anything about when I am likely to vaccinated, but I’m not a keyworker, don’t live in London and don’t have any friends in high places. On the plus side I have a phobia of needles, an immune system like a panzer division and enough food stocked to eat chilli for the next 10 months, which is probably going to ward off something. I’m presently into my 3rd furlough, and so far having a fairly agreeable time playing computer games , annoying people on the internet, and eating chilli…

    Liked by 3 people

    • It doesn’t sound like a bad life, really, although I’m American and my definition of chili probably isn’t the same as yours. My partner loves to be scandalized by British definitions of chili. It’s her favorite indoor sport. But since I’m not eating yours, we can both be happy.

      Yeah, everyone I went to school with made a roaring success of their lives too. Odd, isn’t it? Against all my instincts, I wrote a couple of sentences for some class reunion nonsense and was amazed to discover that once it had gone through the success-grinder I’d had a successful career as a novelist. Uh huh. Published three novels–that’s true. Success? Not by any definition, and I’m pretty sure not by my publishers’. Even the word career’s questionable.

      Liked by 2 people

        • My partner’s a Texan, where chili’s more or less a religion. It’s heavy on the meat. They might or might not accept a few beans. Rice is anathema. Celery, corn, anything like that? They’ll damn you into the outer darkness. Me, I’m from New York and to make it worse, a vegetarian, so for me it’s pretty much black beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chili, and cumin. But that’s where I stop.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I do both meat, (fat rather than lean) and veggie and use only fresh chillies, tomatoes and red kidney beans . I also use dark, unsweetened chocolate (cocoa) to thicken and add flavour and also paprika, loafs of garlic and celery giess we differ a tad! I do like it bloody hot though!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Whoa, chocolate! In Mexico, that’d go into mole (pr. mo-lay, it’s not a small furry animal, but maybe you know that). I won’t tell the purist about the celery.

              Sadly, I can’t eat my food as hot as I used to, but then there are a lot of things I can’t do as well as I used to. Enough those peppers for me.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. All hospital departments I’ve worked in and typed letters for have one common denominator – many of the patients are too fat. Some are so fat that they cannot fit on the MRI scanner, and so weigh more than 25 stones. In the Diabetes Clinic there is a specially reinforced bariatric chair that can sit 3 normal sized people.. Ms Coffey speaks much sense.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Even if the news isn’t all that great, you do a great job of making it readable. I particularly liked the comparison of the Covid virus variants to a Kardashian. (I’ve always considered the Kardashians to be an infectious symptom of what’s wrong in social media.)

    So, if we are managing not to panic less as we become entrenched in our quarantine life-styles, this means we are doing well? Hurrah! I think. Either that, or it’s a bit like Stockholm Syndrome–you have to learn to love being imprisoned for sanity’s sake.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good question and a good comparison. Probably too good for a simple answer to do it justice, so let’s just put one on each hand for a few days/weeks/years and see which we decide has more weight.

      I’m glad you don’t feel the lack of a good-news story. When I do manage to find one, I always get an appreciative comment or two, and it’s funny how much weight they carry, cumulatively.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Please can we use your excellent blog to launch a crowd fund to send Piers Morgan and Nigel Farage to Mar-a-Largo? I have a reflex reaction to both of them that forces me to take the opposite view .

    Liked by 3 people

    • Why, sure. Having so far managed to avoid Piers Morgan–I wouldn’t know him if I fell over him, which to the best of my knowledge I haven’t–I don’t have an opinion of him. But how could I say no to a request like that?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I do have great respect for the University of Illinois (and gratitude since my offspring managed to achieve three degrees there), but, as with any survey, I always wonder – to whom did these people speak? Although I live in a bubble of one, no one to whom I speak seems well adjusted anymore.

    If I ever get to travel again and make it to England, I’d like to take you to lunch as a thank you for your entertaining and thought provoking writing. I haven’t actually eaten a meal with anyone for over ten months but based on the U of I study, I’m sure my social skills will gradually return.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a deal–if any of us ever get to go anywhere again. It sounds wonderful. We’ll probably both eat with our feet it will have been so long since we had to behave.

      I don’t know who they talked to, or how or how many. I’m somewhat skeptical but who knows. The possibility’s worth considering, which is why I included it.

      Like

  6. An admirable effort.
    Vaccines are starting to swim around my brain like darts being thrown at a board – but none of them hit the bull’s eye yet.
    Sadly, some of them miss the board entirely.
    Sigh.
    It’s the best I can do.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I do not understand why so many people are travelling in the middle of a pandemic. There’ve been pictures of long queues at Heathrow. None of the people were in uniform, so they obviously weren’t airline crew staffing essential cargo flights. A lot of them were accompanied by kids, and kids presumably do not need to make essential business journeys. How come the police are stopping people for driving 20 miles for a walk at a beauty spot, but other people can jet off all over the place? It’s not just in the UK: it seems to be the same story at airports all over the world. Japan’s apparently got several cases of the Brazilian mutant, brought in by travellers. How come so many people need to make urgent trips between Japan and Brazil just now?!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such an entertaining and enlightening read. You’re much more digestible than a medical journal! The husband always says that British journalists are much more hard-hitting than American ones – that they don’t take any bullshit. Sounds like Morgan lives up to the husband’s hype.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes that is a Viola. I think ,my Grandma called them “Johnny Jump Ups.”)she died when I was three so my data is sketchy)

    NPR reported that the UK has reached a benchmark of cases that is the highest in Europe. Or maybe it was in deaths. But they also said the UK does genome tracing on ten percent of the diagnosed cases and has a much better handle on what variants there are and what they do. The US genome traces only about one percent

    To build on Jean’s statement – PBS Newshour discussed depression in kids isolated by not being in school, leading to an alarming rise in suicides – including a third grader.

    Sending those two to Mar-a-Lago would be interesting to say the least. At least until the sea level rises sufficiently .to solve the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If it’s a viola (I wondered vaguely if it might be a full-out pansy, but I wasn’t convinced and with your encouragement have abandoned the idea), then yes, it’s a Johnny jump-up–a name I learned from my partner. Where she picked it up I don’t know. Possibly from a grandparent as well.

      I lose track of the comparative data, but I think it’s the number of deaths that we’re ahead in–probably in absolute numbers, not per 100,000, although don’t take my word for that. I can’t hold them in my head. There are too many ways to measure this damn thing, and they all shift from one week to the next. I do hear you about the impact on kids, and if the study addressed that I didn’t see it mentioned.

      Like

  10. I find it so hard to believe that it has taken a year to begin hotel quarantine in the UK. Surely being an island Britain was in a great position to be able to have a more effective control of the virus from the beginning. We had problems with our hotel quarantine here in Melbourne, Australia, but at least we were able to understand where the escaped virus came from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, I know. We had a chance, early on, to stamp the damn thing out, or at least keep it minimal enough that we could have traced every case. We blew it, and it’s taken us until now to think of quarantining incoming travelers. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

      Like

  11. Dealing with the lockdown has been made easier for us by binging on Netflix. Yesterday we even watched “Wayne’s World” and about died laughing at the Bohemian Rhapsody scene! No could be depressed after that! On a positive note more and more far UVC lights are being installed in public places. These lights will kill all mutants (but not Teenage Mutant Turtles)!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think the deal with mutating to more infectious but less deadly is the virus playing by virus rules – spread fast but don’t kill the host in which you’re living. It’s like “sell more books but don’t tell people how the story ends.” Or maybe it’s not like that. Maybe it’s like bartenders selling just enough beer, but not so much as to make you think you’re an alcoholic. Maybe I should think more before I comment.

    Liked by 1 person

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