When Covid proximity sensors go wrong

Wanting to be responsible journalists–and responsible bureaucrats who are responsible for responsible journalists–the BBC bought proximity sensors in January. Thousands of them. They were to protect the newsroom staff during the pandemic. Because not everyone could work from home. Some of them had to show up, so they’d wear these gizmos and if anyone got too close to anyone, they’d scream.

Not the people, the sensors. 

It was a great plan, and it worked: The sensors screamed. Especially when people were recording. You know: “This afternoon in Birmingham–” 

“Nyeee-ah, nyeee-ah, nyee-ah.”

Take two.

“This aftern–”

“Nyeee-ah, nyeee-ah.”

Before long, most people had stopped using them. Not everyone, though, because one started smoking and threatened to set itself on fire. Why? No other sensors were being around to scream at and it lost its sense of purpose and became suicidal. 

Irrelevant photo: strawberry blossoms

A BBC spokesperson said staff were still using them.

Staff members stopped giggling long enough to say they weren’t. 

“We are surprised that a problem with a single electronic device is a news story,” the spokesperson said

Her or his proximity sensor said, “Nyeee-ah, nyeee-ah.”

Here at Notes, we aren’t surprised that a single sensor that entered a smoldering, screaming state of despair is a good story. We’ve all been there during this past year and a fraction. At least once. It spoke for us all.


Britain wonders if it’s out of the woods yet

June 1 was the first day since last summer that no Covid deaths were reported in Britain for twenty-four hours. But before we celebrate being out of the woods, let’s check in with the scientists peskily pointing to trees and saying, “Woods, people. If we have enough trees, that means we’re in the woods.”

What’s the problem? We do have an effective (although distinctly incomplete) vaccination campaign. We also have a new Covid variant that seems to spread faster than the dominant variant that used to scare the pants off us because it spread more rapidly than the one before it but that we now look back at nostalgically and think of as our old friend. 

Never mind if you didn’t entirely follow that. We can say the new variant’s scary and leave it at that. The day before we had no deaths, the country reported 3,000 new Covid cases for six days running. We hadn’t been at those levels since early April. 

So which way is the country going to tip? Herd immunity? Third wave?

Several experts that the Relevant Authorities don’t particularly want to hear from are sending out warnings. A third wave, they say, is likely. 

Nyeee-ah. Nyeee-ah. 

Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he thinks the third wave had already started. 

“The current measures are not stopping cases rising rapidly in many parts of the country,” he said. “Unless there is a miracle, opening up further in June is a huge risk.”

Why June? The 21st is the still somewhat tentative target date for the next stage of opening up. 

Ravi Gupta, who’s on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group–called Nervtag, said, “If things go as I think they are going to go, we will likely end up with a third wave. It will be a big wave of infections and there will be deaths and severe illness.”

All waves, he reminded us, start small. 

My best guess is that the government will open the country up regardless of the warnings, regardless of what’s happening as the date comes closer. Because the business community’s pushing for it. Because there’s money to be made. Because they want to deliver good news. Because they seem to be wired for it. 

I would love to be wrong about this.


Renaming the Covid variants

The World Health Organization is renaming the Covid variants to avoid calling them by names no one outside the field can remember (B.1.617.2, anyone?) or after the places they were first identified, which has led people to blame them on the places. So the former Kent (or UK, or British) variant is now Alpha. The former South African variant is Beta. The former Brazilian variant is Gamma. And the former Indian variant is Delta.

It follows from this that the world will have to beat this beast before the Greek alphabet runs out of letters. It has twenty-four. Get with it, people.

35 thoughts on “When Covid proximity sensors go wrong

  1. It would be nice to be wrong wouldn’t it? It gets tiring thinking “this is all going to go pear-shaped again” and being right. The thought of facing another lockdown is just too much to bear.

    Liked by 3 people

      • We are tidying and painting the house before we move over to Ireland at the end of the month (fingers crossed). My husband spends a lot of time muttering “we need to get out before the third wave!” and I look at those rising numbers of new cases. It’s no good the news going on about no covid deaths, deaths are infections that took place several weeks ago. We need to keep a close eye on new cases!

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re right, but so many of the papers and the politicians and I don’t know who else start with the conclusion they want (Open back up! Happy days are here again!) and choose their facts to support it. Fingers crossed for you.

          Liked by 1 person

    • One of those variants–I can’t remember which–combines features of the former Indian variant with the former UK variant, for whatever that bit of information’s worth. I wonder if at that point they get to combine the letters from the earlier variants. It all sounds so simple until you try to apply it.

      I also wondered what a variant has to do to qualify for a letter. I hate the idea that we’re challenging them to be deadlier so they can get that sort of recognition.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Melbourne’s now got a Kappa variant. I thought this meant that I must have missed a load of variants with letters between Delta and Kappa, but apparently they’ve jumped to Kappa and not used Epsilon, Zeta etc. I’m more confused than ever now! You’d think the point of using the letters of an alphabet was to use them in order, really, but apparently that’s too sensible.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Okay, it’s at this point that I have to confess that I can’t get more than a few letters into the Greek alphabet before I have to give up and jump to omega.

          This great and sensible idea may not end well.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that the third wave is already there. I changed my business. I work online. And I keep myself busy with jigsaws, painting by numbers, sketching and embroidery. We have to be prepared for another hard lockdown. Hobbies will keep your mind sane. Gardening is another pursuit. I am watching the plants grow, take photos and follow the birds with my binoculars.
    Watching the news makes you scared. That is why I am watching comedies.
    The bad news are too much to bear. We have to create positiveness in our life in order to fight the pandemic.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. We’re never going to have a zero infection rate, and must learn to live with the Rona. How many people have the ‘flu or the common cold at any one time? I expect it’s probably more than 3000. I think t’s time to be sensible, keep a distance from people we don’t know, and get on with life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. maybe thay can combine Greek letters as the fraternities do in the US universities. Pi Beta Cappa etc. but I think some college graduates would complain! The variants will be with us for years to come since some countries do not even have 1% of their population vaccinated!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it was Japan that just donated some money to Covax, but what’s needed more than money is vaccine.

      Minneapolis has a set of streets named alphabetically, and then they repeat the alphabet when they get out into the western suburbs, and repeat it again. The Xs and Zs get a little strained in the second and third alphabets.


  5. Much of a news junkie as I have always been I have to severely limit my consumption Of course, over here there are other bad things than the virus to think about.
    The proximity sensors add a certain levity – kind if like having a parrot on your shoulder with a large vocabulary and an cunning understanding of when to say things. Maybe they could rent parrots.
    Picking the worst thing that can happen can leave you the satisfaction of being right…but any sensate person would pray to be wrong. Murphy’s Laws seem to indicate otherwise.
    Carry on. But not too loudly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the parrot idea. Especially the uncontrollability of what they’d say. And even more especially if they ended up on the air. I think we’d all listen much more closely to the news.


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