The Covid update for Britain

Between lockdown and vaccination, Britain has fewer people dying of Covid on any given day than in–well, let’s say anytime in the last three months because I found some very pretty graphs that use that as a reference point. We also have fewer Covid cases (as opposed to deaths) than we did three months ago, but the downward slanting line has flattened out. Maybe because the schools have reopened, but that’s guesswork. You’ll find other possible reasons below.

By mid-March, half of Britain’s population had antibodies, some from vaccination, others from having had Covid. 

Okay, not half: 54.7%. Most of us who’ve been vaccinated have only had one dose and are waiting nervously for the second. At least my partner and I are nervous. We’re coming up toward twelve weeks and haven’t heard a memory of an echo of a whisper of a date. 

The main thing, though, is that case numbers and deaths are both down and we’re breathing a bit easier. The country’s coming out of lockdown in stages, peeping its head over the parapet to see if the virus is still shooting at us.  

Irrelevant photo: Blackthorn

Should people be working from home?

So what would any sober, sensible prime minister do in that situation?

Damned if we know, because we don’t have one. We’ve got Boris Johnson, and he’s told us that people who’ve been working at home should go back to–

What do you call that place? The office. They should go back and start working from their offices. They’ve had enough days off, he told the Conservative Party spring conference.

The exact quote is, “The general view is people have had quite a few days off, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing for people to see their way round to making a passing stab at getting back into the office.” Making it not exactly his idea, but one that originated elsewhere and meandered into his head because there isn’t much in there to stop it. 

That followed on the heels of the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, saying that people are likely to quit their jobs if they’re not allowed to go back to the office and businesses had better open up if they want to keep them.

Are office workers really desperate to start working from work again? It seems to depend when you ask, and who, so we’ll skip the numbers and say that some want to keep working from home, at least until they can count on the workplace being Covid-free, and some would love to go back because they’ve been calling one square foot of kitchen table an office and they’ve had to share that with a cup of tea and the toast crumbs from breakfast. Not to mention until recently a small kid or three who they were supposed to be homeschooling. And the cat, whose spelling is terrible.

Recruitment agencies expect that a lot of people will want to work remotely after the pandemic ends. 

So working from home isn’t a simple yes/no question. It involves a lot of ifs and no answer will be unanimous. But offhand I’d say Johnson may have had his own work habits in mind when he assumed people were sitting around with their feet up, drinking wine and contemplating how to get someone who isn’t himself to pay for new wallpaper

Okay, it’s more than wallpaper. It’s also furniture. To the tune of £200,000. Which is, at least, more than the £2.6 million spent on a new briefing room.

But forget all that. How safe are workplaces?

A strike’s pending at the Swansea Department of Vehicle and Licensing Agency over workplace safety after 560 workers tested positive for Covid. That’s out of, as far as I can tell, something in the neighborhood of 2,000, so let’s say a quarter of the workforce. 

The union says the building’s too overcrowded for pandemic working. 

Britain’s had 4,500 workplace Covid outbreaks. 

What are businesses doing to make workplaces safe? Half of them have done Covid risk assessments. Others have done none or have outdated assessments. A quarter of them have been inspected during the pandemic. My world-beating mathematical skills tell me that means three-quarters of them haven’t been inspected. No employers have been prosecuted for violating Covid regulations.

That’s not to say that workplace outbreaks are due only to violations of the regulations, or that the regulations are up to the job of keeping people safe, only that they’re the measure we have at hand. 

If you want to read the guidelines, they’re here.  

At least part of what’s driving the push to get office workers back into the office–and this isn’t my speculation but that of genuine journalists (I only play one on the internet)–is that the businesses that feed on office workers need to be fed, and what they need to be fed is money. That can only happen when people work in central locations, then go out for lunch, stop in for coffee, and buy a pair of shoes on their way home. 

Office workers, put on your high heels and your ties (pick one, please; if you wear both you’ll draw too much attention to yourself) and get back into the office. Your nation needs you. 

Your nation needs your money.


So why isn’t the number of cases dropping?

I can’t give you a definitive answer on that, but I can toss a few possibilities at you. If we practice this long enough, you’ll know when to duck.

I mentioned that the schools have reopened. That’s one factor. Another is that fewer than one person in five requests a Covid test when they have symptoms and only half self-isolate when they have symptoms. That’s from a large study by the British Medical Journal

The people least likely to self-isolate are men, younger people, the parents of young kids, people from working-class backgrounds, people working in key sectors, and people with money problems.

One of the (many) glaring gaps in the government handling of the pandemic has been not giving low-income people who have to self-isolate enough money to live on while they’re off work. 

The reasons people don’t self-isolate range from the compelling, including the need to buy groceries and pay the rent, to the self-indulgent. The self-indulgent ones include exercising, meeting people, and having only mild symptoms so what the hell.

The study took place in waves, over a good stretch of time, and it did see some improvement as time went on, from 43% self-isolating to 52%. The study’s authors said greater practical and financial help would improve the numbers and messages addressed specifically to men, younger people, and key workers might also help.

In the meantime, the country’s budgeted £37 billion for a test and trace system that hasn’t shown any clear impact. The Public Accounts Committee said it was set up with the goal of preventing lockdowns, but the country’s had two since then. It also said the spending was “unimaginable” and that the taxpayer shouldn’t be treated like an ATM machine.

Some of the test and trace system’s consultants are paid more than £6,600 per day.

In a pinch, a person could live on that. 


The elusive Covid inquiry

Assorted troublemakers have called for an inquiry into the way Britain’s handled the pandemic. You know the sort of troublemaker we’re talking about. The doctors publication the BMJ wanted one as far back as last September. A group called Bereaved Families for Justice, whose name pretty much explains what they’re about. Health workers. Minority ethnic organizations, whose communities have been hit particularly hard by the virus. A small bouquet of academics. The children’s book writer Michael Rosen, who recovered from Covid after a long (long, long) hospitalization and has written movingly about the experience, so he’s able, for the moment, to grab some lines of newsprint. Your basic troublemaking pick-and-mix.

Some of them want a wide-ranging inquiry into what went wrong and others want a tightly focused inquiry into what should be done in the future, but that division’s in the background right now. They can argue over it later.

And then there’s Boris Johnson, who says he wishes he’d done some things differently but he’ll keep all that between himself and his pillow at 3 a.m. In the meantime, sorry, but no inquiry–not to not to figure out how to do better in the future and not to figure out what went wrong–and a horrifying amount has, both stuff you can chalk up to incompetence and stuff you can chalk up to corruption, not to mention stuff that embraces both with enthusiasm.

Other ways of holding public inquiries are possible, though, and they’re outside the prime minister’s grasp. Ian Boyd, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, better known as Sage (Boyd’s a sir, but I never can bring myself to attach that sort of nonsense to people’s names), suggested a royal commission–basically a committee of experts pulled together to investigate an issue. It wouldn’t have as much power to gather evidence as an inquiry form with the prime minister’s blessing and that of his pillow, but it could get some work done–probably with less political interference.

23 thoughts on “The Covid update for Britain

    • It’s hard to say. No one knows for this disease how many people have to have be immune before you reach herd immunity. And although it looks like the vaccines will lower transmission, they probably won’t block it completely. And then there are the variants to consider, which we may not have any or as good immunity to.

      I think until the world reaches a level where we can talk about herd immunity, no one country can consider itself safe.

      Liked by 1 person

    • They have been dropping but lately they’ve leveled out. The good news is that they haven’t started climbing again, and they’ve leveled out at a much lower level than three months ago, but we seem to have stagnated somehow. I read some stats for Cornwall the other day and they said they were climbing here. Not dramatically, and again, from a low level, but it’s not the direction we want to be going in.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. People here are being told to contact the vaccination centres and make appointments, if it’s around 12 weeks. That’s what my mum and dad did, and they’ve had theirs now. But it seems to be different everywhere – a friend in another part of the country was given a date for her second jab when she had her first. I think it’s up to the local health authorities how they do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re right about it being local. NHS Kernow (that’s Cornwall in Cornish) says we’ll be contacted. I hope they’re right. They do seem to be waiting till the last minute. People who booked through the mass vaccination sites were given their second date on the spot–filling me with regret that we didn’t do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And there you have it. Sigh.
    Excellent reporting.
    Also, sorry you and your Ida haven’t had second jab. Pretty is waiting for her second one, also.
    If I can believe the “news” here, we apparently will be producing enough vaccines to share with other countries.
    What a novel idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, high damn time the rich countries began sharing. Didn’t their mothers teach them anything? (A friend used to work in a preschool and swears one of the kids grabbed a toy from another and said, “Share, Tommy.”)

      Hope Pretty’s second shot appears in the mailbox asap.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Never attribute to malice what is explained by stupidity.”

    I am scheduled for my second Pfizer shot tomorrow at the drugstore. It will have been 3 weeks which is the interval we were told to expect. So I hope you and your partner are soon able to complete your “treatments.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I’m glad you’re scheduled and one way or the other (at some point or another, not necessarily the right one) I trust we’ll finally get onto the list. It’s a relief, isn’t it, having at least some protection?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We all seem to have reached the point that we want things back to normal, but the virus won’t cooperate. Perhaps Mr. Johnson could have a talk with it. People seem to be getting tired of him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was tired of him beforehand, so I’m nothing to judge by. At the moment, he seems to be getting credit for the vaccination program and a lot of people are willing to overlook the screwups and the corruption and the lack of money where it’s needed so it can be spent where it’s not. Not to mention–oh, other stuff. Lots of other stuff. More about a bit of that tomorrow.

      Which all goes to show you something, although I’m damned if I know what. If nothing else, that I’m not anyone to judge the political climate by.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can just imagine the result I’d obtain from my daughters if I said “perhaps you might see your way round to making a passing stab at getting enough stuff off the floor of your room to reveal a portion of the rug.” That seems tantamount to admitting that I don’t exist.

    Liked by 1 person

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