Covid, Cornwall, and the G7 meeting

 

Cornwall’s had a low Covid rate throughout most of the pandemic, but it now has the fourth highest Covid growth rate in England. That’s not the highest number of overall cases–that’s still relatively low. It’s the rate of growth, which went from 12.2 cases per 100,000 people to 99.5 per 100,000. 

Did that happen because the G7 met here? Or is it because the county’s a tourist center and we’re visitors have flooded in–more than usual, since going abroad’s a gamble just now? County councilors (which I initially misspelled as counselors, as noted in a comment; councilors is British for politicians, not for mental health professionals) are arguing both sides, but heavy Covid concentrations have shown up in Falmouth, St. Ives, and Newquay, where assorted people associated with the summit stayed, and in Carbis Bay, where the meetings were held 

Most other parts of the county haven’t seen spikes. That argues for the G7 as a superspreader event. 

Irrelevant photo: honeysuckle

On the other hand, the spikes started three weeks after what we’ve learned to call hospitality venues–those place we might once have called cafes and pubs and things like that–opened back up. Staffed heavily by young (by which you can understand largely unvaccinated) people, and customered at least in part by people visiting from parts of the country with higher Covid rates, many of them accompanied by children (by which you can understand smallish unvaccinated people). 

Also on that second hand, some spikes point toward a local university campus at Penryn.

Those points argue for reopening hospitality venues as a superspreader idea.

The national government’s announced that the spikes have nothing to do with the G7. It’s also announced that it’s not about to publish its summit risk assessment and anyone getting themselves into a state about reading it should go have an ice cream cone and settle down.  

Someone may manage to untangle the threads in the next week or three, but until then you can take your pick of the causes.

My small patch of the county is still fairly Covid free, but we’re full of visitors and the cafes, pubs, and restaurants are open. We’ll see what happens next. 

 

Covid transmissibility

A study of two Covid variants–the one first found in South Africa and the one first found in Britain–looked at why they’re more transmissible and found that the people they infect don’t have increased viral loads, which a person might logically think would be linked to high transmissibility. But nope, that doesn’t seem to be it.

People with the variants are less likely to have asymptomatic cases, though. And although they’re not more likely to die of Covid, they are more likely to be hospitalized. 

I can’t draw any conclusions from that. All I can do is toss it on your doorstep and hope you find something useful to do with it. 

 

Covid test effectiveness

Not long ago, the US FDA–that’s the Food and Drug Administration–urged the public to stop using the quick Covid tests that Britain relies on to test asymptomatic people. To which Britain said, “What do you know anyway?” and extended its emergency use approval. 

One of the problems with the tests is that when the number of Covid cases drops below a certain point, they produce more false positives than genuine positives, turning them from a not terribly accurate but possibly useful tool to an outright pain in the neck. Other tests are available and better supported by test data. But we like our lateral flow tests and we’re not about to abandon them. I have no idea why. 

 

Stay safe: avoid birthdays

A study in the US found a link between the spread of Covid and–guess what–birthdays. Yes indeed, gathering data from 45 weeks in 2020, a study found that in areas where Covid was circulating heavily, a birthday was 30% more likely to be followed by a Covid diagnosis in the household than a non-birthday. If it was a kid’s birthday, the rate was higher. 

The study was designed to look at the impact of small gatherings in spreading the disease. It didn’t specifically look at whether the household had a party–it drew its information from insurance records–but it is suggestive.

But don’t worry. If you don’t have a birthday in any given year, you should be safe enough.

What does “we have to live with Covid” mean?

Periodically, someone announces, as if it ends the discussion, that we’ll just have to live with Covid. But that doesn’t end the discussion, it only begins it. What does living with Covid mean?

To some people, it means, end the lockdowns, burn the masks, and get together in an unventilated space with a few thousand of our closest friends so we can all get shitfaced and dance. Because that’s what normal looked like, at least in retrospect, and we need to get back to normal.

To others, it means that we keep wearing our masks and hoping to hell other people do the same, because someone out there is contagious and someone else is vulnerable. It means staying out of closed, crowded spaces. It means admitting that we only liked six of those few thousand closest friends anyway and haven’t missed them this past year and a half.

But forget what we think. I’m making it up anyway. Let’s turn to the experts. 

An article in the Medical Xpress says that we may never reach full herd immunity–that point where so many people are immune to a disease that those who aren’t immune are protected by not being exposed to it, ever. 

Irrelevant photo: poppies

Why aren’t we likely to reach that point? Because Covid immunity seems to wane over time. Because the disease continues to evolve, especially where unvaccinated groups of people create pools that the virus can spread through and evolve in. And because animals can harbor the virus and pass it back to humans. 

There may be conflicting arguments that say we will reach herd immunity, but I haven’t found them. Let’s go with what we’ve got. 

The article’s authors say that even if we don’t reach full herd immunity, we could still reach practical herd immunity, allowing us to go back to near-normal levels of activity. Their measure of near normality seems to be how far a country can open up without overwhelming the health-care system. It depresses the hell out of me that we measure safety not by the deaths and disabilities the disease would cause but by how many cases of it a health system can sustain, but–well, there it is, written in black and white. That’s what happens, I guess, when you enter the land of policy making.

How many people need to be immune to reach practical herd immunity? It depends on the level of restrictions–or adaptations, if you want a more user-friendly word–we’re willing to live with. Masks? Contact tracing? Mass testing of asymptomatic people? Measures to stamp out outbreaks? 

It’s interesting that although this is a consideration, how many deaths and disabilities we’re willing to live with isn’t. 

Practical herd immunity also depends on vaccination levels: “Some estimates,” the article says, “suggest that we may need two-thirds of the population to be protected either by successful vaccination or natural infection. If 90 percent of the population is eligible for vaccination, and vaccines are 85 percent effective against infection, we can obtain this two thirds with about 90 percent of the eligible population being vaccinated or infected naturally.”

Don’t let those numbers scare you. They’re safely contained within quotation marks.

There’s still a possibility that new variants will escape our immunity, but the fewer outbreaks we have, the fewer chances we’ll give the disease to reach escape velocity.

And we’ll all live happily–if cautiously–ever after.

I hope.

 

The cost of herd immunity in cold, hard cash

But if you’re in love with the idea of restricting nothing and either pursuing herd immunity or in letting Covid circulate freely because it’s no worse than the flu–or if you want to argue with someone who is–academics have calculated the cost to Western Australia if it had pursued a herd immunity strategy: They say the state saved $4.9 billion and avoided 1,700 deaths in a year by locking down hard. It also prevented 4,500 hospitalizations.

In Britain, it was the cost of a hard lockdown that made the government hesitate, repeatedly, to either stamp out or contain the virus. It sounds like it was an expensive savings.

 

Vaccination news

In Britain 52% of the people who said they’d never get vaccinated have now gotten vaccinated, along with 84% of the people who said they weren’t likely to. The percentages shift when you break the population down into religious and ethnic subgroups, but in all of them the trend is in the direction of vaccination.

Part of the change, I’m sure, comes from work that’s being done with community leaders and work to counter misinformation campaigns, but I can’t help wondering if a kind of herd immunity isn’t at work here too: People around us have been vaccinated. We see that keys don’t stick to their faces and that axe heads don’t pursue them down the street, so we figure they probably haven’t been magnetized after all–or at least not heavily. There probably hasn’t been enough time for them to demonstrate that they can still get pregnant–at least those of them who could’ve gotten pregnant in the first place. That–allow me to remind you–excludes all males of the species and enough categories of females that I won’t list them. Even the real but very rare serious side effects of some vaccines–well, they’re very rare. Have they happened to anyone we know? Um, no.

It’s an odd thing, but a 1 in 100,000 chance looks more likely to happen if it happens to someone you know and less likely to if it doesn’t. Even if the numbers don’t care who your friends and acquaintances are.

Humans do seem to be herd animals. We see people around us getting vaccinated and going on with their lives, not visibly marked by the vaccine, and it starts to look like a safe thing to do. Even a smart one. 

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The Netherlands is offering pickled herring to people who get vaccinated. Traditionally, the year’s first barrel of Hollandse nieuwe is auctioned off to raise money for a good cause, but since that couldn’t happen this year it was given, “on behalf of the Dutch people” to the head of the health services. Other barrels were sent to vaccination sites and people are being offered herring when they show up.

 

Counterfeit and Covid

Counterfeit Covid vaccines, tests, and vaccination passports are becoming big businesses. Vaccines and test kits are sold through online pharmacies. Amazon, Etsy, and I’m sure other places sell vaccine passports, with no proof of vaccination required. 

Why not? Everything’s available online. This Christmas, I bought my partner a certificate making her a minister in the Church of the 400 Rabbits. All I had to do was make a donation (it went to a food bank) and print it myself.

Although the article I found talked about the danger of counterfeits infiltrating the supply chain that countries use for genuine vaccines and tests, it didn’t say it had happened. So we’re talking about individuals–people made desperate enough by the world’s uneven rollout that they’re willing to roll the dice and hope that luck will lead them to the real thing.

 

Odd ways to fight Covid

Okay, just one odd way, but the plural made a better subhead. Scientists have developed a sticky wall surface that uses ingredients in hair conditioners to trap the aerosolized droplets that contribute so heavily to the spread of Covid. 

The theory works like this: Droplets bounce off indoor surfaces all the time. Add sticky stuff to your plexiglass divider, though, and their bouncing days are done. 

The developers coated a barrier and it captured almost all the aerosolized microdroplets and 80% of plain old droplet-size droplets. (The comparison point for those numbers is an uncoated barrier. I have no idea how you compare them.) The coated barrier didn’t need cleaning any more often than the uncoated one did, and once it was wiped down with water the coating could be reapplied.

It also works on fabric, concrete, and metal, turning low-touch surfaces into Covid fighters.

This won’t eliminate the need for ventilation, though. We’ll still need air filtration systems and open windows. But it does give us another tool. 

The bad news? A lot more work needs to be done to confirm its usefulness and get it authorized. 

“We understood that the current pandemic may end before this concept is implemented,” said engineering professor Jiaxing Huang. “It may or may not be used now. But next time, when an outbreak like this happens, I think we will be better equipped.”

Will the pandemic ever end?

The pandemic, it turns out, is not a war. It won’t end in either complete victory or in a negotiated treaty. That leaves us with no clear line between pandemic and not-pandemic. 

The consensus among public health experts and epidemiologists is that Covid will, at best, turn into a background danger, something that pops up in localized and seasonal outbreaks that we have to live with and work around. 

But that’s the best outcome, not the guaranteed one. Everything depends on how many people get vaccinated and what variants develop. And because no variant can be contained in one country or region, one country’s problem is every other country’s problem.

According to Alessandro Vespignani, professor of physics, computer science, and health sciences, “Vaccination of the low- and middle-income countries is the most altruistic thought and at the same time, the most selfish. Because we have to protect those populations so that we can protect us.” 

Irrelevant photo: The Bude Canal

So that’s a definite maybe on the pandemic ending, not a resounding yes. Pack away the trumpets, the confetti, the Mission Accomplished banners. That banner stuff looked a little silly anyway, back when Bush Jr. tried it. And keep your eye on what’s happening in the worst prepared countries, because what happens there will be knocking on your door and mine in no time at all.

 

More on long Covid

First, the disclaimer: There’s no one definition of long Covid, so if this all seems a little murky, that’s because it is. Long Covid’s symptoms range from the annoying to the life-changingly disastrous, and at this point they all get lumped in together. Some of them go away after a while and others get milder. Some do neither–they set up housekeeping. 

If that sounds ominous, allow me to make the picture worse:

Almost a fifth of the people who caught Covid infections but had no symptoms show symptoms “consistent with long Covid” a month after they got infected. In other words, people who had no symptoms may be going on to develop long Covid. 

And 27.5% of non-hospitalized people with symptomatic Covid did the same thing, as did 50% of the people who were hospitalized. 

That comes from an analysis of medical insurance claims by 1.96 million people in the U.S. The weaknesses of the study are that it didn’t have a control group and that it only studied people who had certain kinds of insurance. In the U.S., what kind of insurance you have says a lot about your class, which in turn says a lot about how Covid hits you.

Did I say “class”? Sorry. Everyone in the U.S. is middle class. It’s just that a very few members of the middle class are obscenely rich, some are doing fine, some are just hanging on, and some are long-term broke.

I’ve been away so long. I sometimes forget. 

But back to the study. Its strength is that it’s huge. 

But you can’t look at it and say, “This group of people definitely had long Covid.” On the other hand, with no solid definition of long Covid, it’s hard to look at any group of people and say that. At the very least, it’s enough to make us stop and think about what we’re dealing with in the long term. The pandemic is likely to leave us with a long-term public health problem, something individuals, families, health systems, and governments will all have to deal with.

The report also “drives home the point that long Covid can affect nearly every organ system,” according to Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of the research and development service at the Veterans Administration St. Louis Health Care System. “Some of these manifestations are chronic conditions that will last a lifetime and will forever scar some individuals and families.”

Just to keep from scaring ourselves witless, let’s remember that some of the manifestations (that translates to symptoms) aren’t likely to leave scars forever. No one seems completely sure of how wide and how deep the problem of long Covid will go. It scares the hell out of me, but there’s no point in getting so scared we can’t function anymore.

If, in fact, we ever did function (she said cheerily).

 

So when do we go back to normal?

England–or its government, anyway–has put off lifting the last of its lockdown rules. That makes the prime minister very sad. He wanted to let us know that we all live in paradise, have enough money to live well, and are at our ideal body weight. 

Yea, every last lumpy one of us.

The postponement came because multiple experts have been warning of a possible third wave. Last I heard, England’s R number–the rate at which the virus is spreading–was estimated to be 1.4. Anything above 1 means the number of infections is growing. The numbers aren’t high yet, but the direction’s not good. 

If we do have a third wave, it’s expected to be caused by the more transmissible and possibly more dangerous Delta version of Covid. The hope is that keeping those last restrictions for a while means there’ll be time to vaccinate more people, preferably with two doses of a vaccine, not just one. 

 

Vaccine updatelets

In the region at the center of Britain’s outbreak, vaccination numbers have dropped in the last month. I’d love to give you more detail, but the article’s behind a paywall on a site I don’t want to subscribe to, so it’s headlines only on this. 

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People working in care homes in England will have to get vaccinated in the next 16 weeks if they’re going to keep working with patients–or in some cases, keep working at all. The only exceptions will be people with a medical reason not to get the vaccine. No one knows how this will play out, but assorted organizations of medical professionals are opposing it.

The requirement may be extended to National Health Service staff.

“Compulsion is a blunt instrument that carries its own risks,” the British Medical Association said. An (unnamed) NHS boss said it was setting up a confrontation with staff “at a time when you’re denying them a decent pay rise but also saying how much you love them.”

Both fields already have staff recruitment problems. That have been made worse by Brexit. And low pay. And at least in the NHS, pandemic working conditions. 

In early June, 89% of NHS staff was at least half vaccinated and 82% fully vaccinated. In adult care homes, that was 83% and 68%. 

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A new vaccine, this one made by Novavax, has come through stage 3 trials showing 90.4% effectiveness against mild and moderate Covid and 100% effectiveness against severe cases. It was tested against the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma variants. The Delta variant overslept and missed the test.

Delta will receive a failing grade but will be eligible to take the test the next time it’s scheduled. A spokesperson for the variant said, “Delta has other priorities at the moment and will be in touch when its schedule allows. It has no further comment at the present time and will not take questions.”

The Novavax is a two-dose vaccine. 

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A small study dropped hints that a third Covid vaccine does might give transplant patients a better immune response. People with transplanted organs have to take drugs that suppress their immune systems in order to keep their transplants from being attacked by the aforesaid immune systems. Two doses don’t seem to be enough to rev up their Covid immunity.

A larger study is planned. In the meantime, the people who understand these things are feeling hopeful.

 

How well are China’s vaccines working?

China is exporting two vaccines, and although they’re less effective than the gold standard vaccines like Pfizer and AstraZeneca, they do work. Sinopharm is 78% effective and Sinovac is somewhere between 50% and 78%. I’m not sure why the range is so large there. Sorry. And while I’m apologizing, apologies for not having a link on this. It’s from an email newsletter the New York Times sends out. It usually has links. Maybe I’m being particularly dense today.

There’ve been questions about the vaccines, especially after vaccinated people in the Seychelles became infected, but they do seem to be useful. In the Seychelles, when vaccinated people got Covid they had mild cases and recovered at home. It’s not what we’d all hope for, but it’s a lot better than being hospitalized. Or dying. China says it can make 5 billion doses a year. The U.S. has promised to donate 500 million doses of other vaccines (I don’t think they’ve specified which) to poorer countries. Britain has promised 100 million. 

The world’s population–since this is relevant to the discussion–is 7.6 billion. Or it was in 2019. I haven’t counted it since. I did try last month but I lost track somewhere around 5 billion and didn’t have the heart to start over. The vaccine rollout in poorer countries is beyond dismal. The vaccines are going to rich countries and poor ones just can’t get them.

So weigh 600 million against 5 billion, then weigh both of those against the number of countries that can’t get hold of any useful amount of vaccine and it makes the two Sino- vaccines appealing. 

Irrelevant photo: a rose

Not much is known yet about how well they protect against the variants. There seems to be some reduction against the Beta and Gamma variants, but that’s still not solidly established. 

China, having gotten off to a slow start in vaccinating its population, is now working at high speed. 

I had links for all that and have succeeded in losing them. Apologies.

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Early reports are that mixing vaccines–I think they were playing mix-and-match with the Pfizer and AstraZeneca, although the Moderna might have slipped in as well–may make them more effective, and Canada and a few European countries have started doing that. 

 

How times have changed

To boost the number of people getting vaccinated, Washington State is allowing marijuana retailers to offer a free joint to anyone who can show proof that they’ve had either their first shot or second shot. Or both at once. What the hell. If the stuff they’re offering is strong enough, who can count that high?

It also allows other businesses to offer a beer, a cocktail, or a glass of wine. Arizona and New Jersey have done similar things. Other states are running lotteries.

What are they up against in their effort to promote the vaccine? People who think getting vaccinated will cause keys to stick to their faces and forks to–

I stopped listening right about there, so I’m not sure where the forks stick. I’ve heard of food that sticks to your ribs, but we seem to have entered new territory here.  

Whether or not you’ve been vaccinated, plastic forks will not attack you. Covid restrictions allowing, you can go back to the food courts.

Antiviral drug update

If an antiviral drug that’s in late-stage testing works–and that’s not guaranteed–it could stop a Covid infection in its early stages. It could be available by the end of 2021–again, if it works.

With all those coulds in there, that sentence has a lot of wiggle room. Still, as everything we read lately says repeatedly, it could (there’s that word again) be a game changer. 

Cards? Jenga? A football team crashing through the front door and out the back?

The drug is one of several attempts to tackle Covid by treating the infection rather than vaccinating people, so let’s not bother to name this particular one and instead hope one of them comes through. Even the people weren’t cranking themselves up to be afraid of flying forks might accept this.

Or possibly not. It’s gotten so crazy out there that I’ve given up trying to predict where we’re headed.

Fighting Covid: the useless gestures and the useful ones

An article in a Canadian medical journal notes that the country’s Covid prevention advice hasn’t caught up with the current knowledge about how the disease spreads. It’s airborne, so the advice, the article says, should focus on ventilation, filtration, and better masks. 

Having recently been at a meeting where before going home we dutifully sprayed and wiped the furniture, even though it’s pointless–

Yeah. How many other people are ending meetings that way? It’s like sanitizing our hands when we walk into a shop. It’s not a useful way to keep Covid from spreading, but it’s basic politeness these days–one of those many meaningless gestures that you do to keep from scaring people.

Irrelevant photo: I wish I could tell you what this is. It’s one of a whole set of large white wildflowers that I’ve never been able to tell apart. They don’t look all that much alike, but somehow I just can’t sort out large white flowers.

A fair number of people seem to think of masks the same way, putting on masks only when other people come in, even though if they have any virus to share the breathing they did when they were alone in the room would go a long way toward sharing it.

At the meeting, we did at least open the windows, keep a decent distance, and wear masks, although not all the masks covered all the relevant body parts. You have to hope people do better with the placement of their underwear. 

As far as I know, Britain’s advice hasn’t caught up with what’s now known any better than Canada’s has.

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Someone I know likes to tell me, with great confidence, that face masks funnel air–along with whatever germs the wearer’s sporting–off to the sides and from there to whoever’s behind the wearer. 

Okay, when I say “likes,” what I mean is “seems to like,” basing that on how often she talks about it. Maybe it’s just that my caution annoys her. I have that effect on some people.

So allow me to smugly report on a new study that measured the leakage from the sides of everyday masks. These weren’t the surgical masks that are made to have a tight fit but the ones civilians buy and, with luck, wear. They reduced the escape of particles–and that would include the Covid virus if it’s present–by an average of 93% They reduce escape from the bottom by 91%, from the sides by 85%, and from the top by 47%.

The moral of this story is that if you’re worried about masks funneling the virus toward you, do not lie on top of a mask-wearer’s head. 

You’re welcome.

The protection’s best when both people are wearing masks.

Covid and kids

During the first half of 2020, no one had reliable information about Covid’s effect on kids. Early reports on the hospitalization rate among kids spanned a jaw-dropping range from 5.7% to 63%. Estimates of its impact ranged from “it’s no worse than the flu” to fears that kids’ immature immune systems would be overwhelmed.

What can I tell you? It was new on the scene and they were working with limited information. 

So now there’s a study of 242,000 kids and adolescents from five countries who’ve been diagnosed with Covid. It compares them with 2 million who’ve been diagnosed with the flu.

What do we now know?

Epidemiologist Talita Duarte-Salles said, “It was a relief to see that fatality was rare, but clearly both complications and symptoms showed the COVID-19 was no flu in children and adolescents.” To translate that (forgive me: I just have to), kids aren’t likely to die of it, but the symptoms and complications can be serious.

We’re switching sources here, so bear with me. I had a very useful article on this that I accidentally deleted and now can’t find, so I’ll slip backwards to a somewhat less useful one that came out in April. It has estimates for the number of kids who had Covid symptoms five weeks after they were diagnosed. 

The percentages clearly aren’t of all kids, and I’m reasonably sure it’s not of all kids diagnosed with Covid. Let’s put our chips on the number of kids who got symptomatic Covid. Five weeks after they were diagnosed, 12.9% of kids between 2 and 11 still had symptoms, as did 14.5% of kids between 12 and 15 and 17.!% of teenagers and young adults. That’s a bizarre set of age categories, since the last one includes one of the earlier ones plus a few other random folks. 

Don’t worry about it. Any statisticians who accidentally read Notes have long since fled.

Another study followed 129 children who’d had Covid and found that 52.7% had at least one symptom four months later.

Some of the individual stories are frightening. They’re typical–they’re rare–but they do happen and it’s important to know that. One nine-year-old developed long Covid that included severe fatigue, sensitive skin, painful rashes, headaches, and indigestion. She lost her senses of taste and smell. Another–also a nine-year-old–had slurred speech, tremors, and brain fog. He became so weak that he had to use first a walker and then a wheelchair.

Again, none of that is typical, but as the epidemiologist said, this is not the flu.

How long does Covid immunity last?

This is still up for grabs, but the Covid vaccines–or some of them anyway–may not need yearly booster shots. Or may only need them every few years. 

To understand this, you have to know that the body’s immune system is a hierarchy.

Well, no, it isn’t really, but it’s a workable way to think of it. At the bottom are the antibodies, which swarm in and kill things, and they get most of the press because they fly flags and have marching bands and we notice that. But they don’t have long memories, so we have to worry: If the same enemy–in this case, Covid–comes back, will they recognize it?

Above the antibodies, though, are other bits of the immune system–plasma cells, memory B cells, memory T cells–and they have longer memories and they’re the bits of the system that crank up the antibodies, show them pictures, say, “That’s what the enemy looks like,” and send them out to kill and die.

It’s not a nice world out there. Or in here, on the inside of our bodies. 

Irrelevant photo: a poppy

Immunologists also have long memories, and they’ve been busy working out how long Covid immunity lasts, both after an infection and after vaccination. The answer depends on understanding the actions and interactions of all those different ranks. 

They’d also, I’m sure, hate my explanation of how this works.

The unpredictable element in all this is the rise of Covid variants. So far, they haven’t outrun our immune systems or the vaccines, but some variants do slow them down. 

The primary sign that a variant’s gotten faster than the vaccines will be if a whole lot of vaccinated people suddenly come down with Covid. 

I know, that’s not the way we’d like to get the news–a telegram would be better–but like I said, it’s not a nice world out there.

Assorted trials are underway, testing booster shots and testing the effect of mixing vaccines. It will be up to individual countries to decide if boosters are needed, but work’s underway in case they do.

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In the meantime, studies from northern Italy, which was the first part of Europe to be hit hard by Covid, say that immunity lasts at least a year and may last longer, only there hasn’t been time yet to find out. Reinfection is rare. But the experts are still urging people who had the disease to get vaccinated. It will boost their protection and make them more likely to resist variants. 

As for the vaccines, they’re protective for at least a year and possibly for a lifetime. 

Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University, said, “People who were infected and get vaccinated really have a terrific response, a terrific set of antibodies, because they continue to evolve their antibodies,” Nussenzweig told The Times. “I expect that they will last for a long time.”

 

So that’s the good news out of the way. Let’s have some bad news for dessert.

The Delta variant (no I don’t know why we capitalize Delta; I do it because the papers do) is now the dominant U.K. variant. As many as 75% of the new U.K. cases may be Deltas. That’s the variant formerly known at the Indian variant, or B.1.617.2, but India changed its name to Delta and the variant’s followed along behind.

No, you really shouldn’t believe everything I say.

Annoying as the name changes are, it’s a good thing, given the human propensity for stupidity in the form of blaming other countries and peoples whatever goes wrong, that they’ve stopped naming variants after countries. Unfortunately, it’ll take some of us a while to catch up. 

So. Delta variant. Dominant strain in U.K. It seems to carry a higher risk of hospitalization (2.61 times higher) than the Alpha variant, formerly known as the Kent or British (or U.K, or English) variant. 

Sorting out the U.K.’s name is a constant problem, so I look forward to the time when the country changes its name to Alpha. It’ll be much simpler to write about. And since Alpha’s the first letter of the Greek alphabet, it should keep the nationalists happy.

Yay, Covid! We got there first!

Where were we?

The number of hospitalized Covid patients in Britain is small right now, as are the number of cases, but the number of cases is growing slowly. The worry is that this is the start of a trend.

Working against that is vaccination: 73% of the Delta cases are in people who haven’t been vaccinated. Two doses are a good protection, although not as good as against the Alpha variant. One does, though, is 17% less effective against the Delta variant. 

In the meantime, schools and colleges (if you’re American, British colleges stand somewhere between American high schools and American colleges) in England are responsible for a good deal of the spread

Why them? Partly because they collect a whole bunch of people who aren’t priorities for the vaccination programs–or even eligible for vaccines–and jam them together. Preferably in badly ventilated rooms where they nod off gently while trying to absorb important information. And also because the government lifted its mask mandate for secondary schools. That did affect primary school students because they were always considered too young to locate their noses and mouths. Adults are, demonstrably, still having trouble with that. 

Why did it lift the mandate? I’m still struggling with that one. The best I can do by way of an explanation is to suggest that they thought it would make people happy. Also possibly because they’re idiots. 

No, I don’t know. But they did, ignoring the complaints of teachers and school staff–or at least of the unions that represent them. 

That leaves repeated testing as the only way to control school outbreaks, and the number of tests (at least in secondary schools) seems to be decreasing. The government’s approved one of the vaccines for teenagers, but as far as I know that’s as far as things have gone.  

Again the number of cases isn’t huge. The fear, though, is that this is the beginning of a wave, not a few little splashes of water against the sand. It’s too early to tell.

 

So what’s the government doing? 

Well, it’s taken Portugal off its list of green countries and added it to the list of amber ones, meaning people coming into Britain from Portugal will now have to self-isolate when they get home. 

Self-Isolation? That’s quarantine on the honor system. Green and amber? They’re traffic lights. You know: Stop, go, look at the yellow light and get confused. 

All this matters because (a) the government made a lot of noise at one point about opening up foreign travel this summer and (b) some of the trashier newspapers made even more noise about it. We all want to be happy, happy, happy, so let’s declare the pandemic over.

In addition to moving Portugal off the green list, the government also moved seven countries from the amber list to the red one, so people coming from them will have to go into serious–and expensive–quarantine. 

But the story the country’s focused on isn’t the seven moves from amber to red but Portugal’s lone move from green to amber. The official explanation for it is that returning travelers risk bringing more variants home. 

So what variants is this preventing? The Delta variant–remember the Delta variant? The one that’s become dominant in Britain? Well, it’s picked up a mutation, one that’s happened before. It was seen in the South African variant (which came along too early to get itself a Greek letter). And that new mutation’s been seen in 12 cases in Portugal. 

It’s also been seen in 36 cases in Britain, so it might make more sense to quarantine travelers from Britain when they arrive in Britain but where’s the fun in that?

The last I heard, the mutation hadn’t been flagged as dangerous, although I wouldn’t say that’s definitive. Public Health England hasn’t tagged it a variant of concern, only a spike mutation of interest.

Actually, I’m in favor of being cautious about everything connected to Covid. The idea of promoting tourism right now is somewhere between stupid and criminally irresponsible. It’s the murky thinking that gets to me. First they crank people up about travel, then they try to keep out a mutation that’s already here. 

 

And what do we call the new mutation?

The new mutation is now being called–at least in Britain–the Nepal variant because the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, called it that in a press conference. Thanks, Grant. The don’t-blame-this-on-other-countries campaign appreciates your support. 

There is some marginal logic to linking it to Nepal, although it’s marginal enough that after I’d spent half an hour trying to explain it I looked at the hole I’d dug and gave up. It was pretty deep by then and I was worried about getting back out if I kept on. I’ve written to Nepal, suggesting that it change its name to Epsilon.

There’s no clear line between a mutation and a variant, so we don’t have to worry much about that.

 

Yeah, but what about the green list?

The countries left on the green list (last I checked) are Australia; Brunei; Falkland Islands; Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; Iceland; Israel; New Zealand; St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha; Singapore; and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.

But any number of those countries aren’t accepting random British tourists, including Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and the Falkland Islands. And Israel and Singapore sound less than thrilled about them, although I’m not sure that’s an outright ban. I should’ve done better research but I had to close the computer and feed the cat. As far as I can figure out, though, an awful lot of those green list countries are closed to British tourists.

It doesn’t sound like the list means much, does it? British tourists are welcome to come home from countries they can’t get into. Yes, friend, we’re on the other side of the looking glass here, and if you’ll pass around the slices of cake Alice will be happy to cut it as soon as you’re done. 

Think of the money those non-tourists will save by not going anywhere.

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.

Is it safe for vaccinated people to go maskless?

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control announced that it’s safe for people who’ve been fully vaccinated to dance through the world naked–

Sorry. Not naked. Maskless. Which after a year and more of pandemic feels like the same thing. So this might be a good time to ask, What the hell’s going on? 

Let’s turn to an article in the Conversation that breaks it down manageably. It’s not a long article or a difficult one, and it’s well worth reading, because I’m going to boil it down until all that’s left is a thick syrup.

First, the vaccines we have for Covid are more effective than anyone had the right to expect. Much more effective. But they–or at least most of them–don’t provide sterilizing immunity. (There’s a chance one does but we’re not there yet.) 

To translate that, they don’t stop the virus from entering our systems, they only stop them from getting us sick. That’s less than ideal because it leaves open the possibility that we can pass on the disease.

Irrelevant photo: cornflowers

At the moment, it looks like the vaccines make fully vaccinated people less likely to spread the disease, but the numbers aren’t in yet. They’re outside, running around in the wet grass and refusing to come in for dinner. Or supper. Or whatever you call that meal. And Covid numbers are particularly hard to call home. It has to do with the disease’s habit of spreading while people don’t have symptoms.

Never mind that, though. What we need to know is that it’s hard to make those numbers behave and that scientists are working on it and that dinner’s going to be cold. Nothing’s certain, but a couple of studies hint at fully vaccinated being able to spread the disease–which means they’re able to spread new, more infectious variants. 

That is highly inconvenient but it doesn’t mean that vaccination’s pointless. Vaccination protects the vaccinated person, and it may mean they’re less likely to spread the disease. Less likely isn’t the same thing as incapable of, but it’s an improvement over what we had at this time last year.

The article (remember the article?) ends by saying, “The . . . relaxed guidelines on masking are meant to reassure vaccinated people that they are safe from serious illness. And they are. But the picture is less clear-cut for the unvaccinated who interact with them. Until near herd immunity against COVID-19 is achieved, and clear evidence accumulates that vaccinated people do not spread the virus, I and many epidemiologists believe it is better to avoid situations where there are chances to get infected. Vaccination coupled with continued masking and social distancing is still an effective way to stay safer.”

Boiled down to a thick syrup, that says masks still make sense. 

 

An update on viruses and human DNA

A study published in the Journal of Virology found no evidence that Covid integrates its genetic material into human DNA. An earlier study had found it doing that in petri dishes, but in real life–

Okay, think of this as computer dating. You exchange a few messages with someone, maybe you have a Zoom date. You establish that they can hold a coherent conversation and that they’re not a cat (that’s either good or bad, depending on who you are and what your preferences happen to be). Then you meet and think, I can’t spend an hour with this person, never mind my life. 

That’s what it was like for the Covid virus. In the petri dish, mingling genetic materials looked like a good idea. In person though? 

Nope. 

Some viruses do fall in love with us, and human DNA is a palimpsest of useless bits of genetic material left behind by bugs we danced a couple of numbers with back–oh, it might’ve been as early as when life was simple and we still had hairy bodies. The bits of genetic code don’t make us sick. They don’t make us better. They just sit there remembering old times.

That integration is called a chimeric event. And a palimpsest is something with layers of meaning, buried history, like a canvas that’s been painted over but the old brushwork is still there, under the surface. That bit of not particularly useful knowledge comes to us courtesy of the Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/palimpsest

For anyone who’s spooked by the idea that MRNA vaccines might integrate themselves into our DNA, this new study should be good news: Covid doesn’t seem to love us. But for anyone trying to figure out why some people test positive for Covid long after they’ve gotten rid of the infection, it may not be good news. Chimeric events had been suggested as an explanation. Take that away and we’re left with the possibility that they might be getting reinfected and the question of whether they continue to be infectious.

 

How to vaccinate 108% of your population

The island of Nauru has injected 108% of its adult population with at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

How’d they do that? They included foreign visitors, coming up with a total of  7,392 people. The island has been free of the virus, but every visitor brought the risk of an outbreak, so this comes as a real relief.

 

Online gamers researching Covid

Thanks to game designers embedding a citizen science project inside a game called EVE online, players are helping researchers learn about Covid and the immune system. The idea is to look at the blood cells of people who have Covid and eventually sort out why some people get severe cases and how Covid makes us sick. 

Thousands of gamers have been looking for patterns in groups of cells and have fed 120 million data submissions into Project Discovery. That amounts to decades of data analysis, and each submission also teaches the program to learn the process so that it can be automated in the future. 

The game’s popular, something I can prove by telling you that I’ve never heard of it.

How’s the new Covid variant affecting Britain?

If nothing changes before June 21, England will lift all its restrictions on social gatherings. 

Unless, of course, it doesn’t. Because since that date was penciled in, something has changed: We’ve got a new Covid variant and anyone who’s even marginally awake is nervous about it. On the other hand, anyone who’s even marginally in government is nervous about not ending the Covid restrictions. Because the national mythology of the moment is that We’re on Top of This.

With capital letters.

The new variant’s the one that’s devastating India, although it’s up for grabs still whether its impact is because of conditions in India or because of the variant itself. It’s also up for grabs whether it’s turning into Britain’s dominant variant because it spreads more easily or because it’s been lucky. 

Irrelevant photo: bluebells

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I said England would lift the last restrictions if nothing changes, but the government may already have changed its mind about the parts of the country where the variant’s spreading most quickly. 

Or it may not have.

You have to love this government. It’s a gift to satirists and wiseacres everywhere. 

What’s happened is that the government website changed its Covid recommendations but did it quietly, with none of the usual trumpeting and drumming and press releasing. No one made an announcement. No one told local governments that things were changing. 

No one told local residents. It didn’t even call out the morris dancers. And nothing happens in this country without morris dancers.

You can see already how effective the changes are likely to be.

The website now carries advice for Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees, Leicester, and North Tyneside. Stare at that list long enough and you’ll figure out that it’s dangerous to live in a town or city that starts with a B.

But never mind that. What’s the advice? Don’t enter or leave those areas unless you really, really have to. And if you  live in one of them, don’t meet people indoors unless you really, really have to. And get tested. And to get vaccinated. And to keep 2 meters away from people unless you share a kitchen table with them or have included them in that imaginary relationship called a bubble, into which you may or may not be able to fit a kitchen table.

Is that just friendly advice or is it a legal requirement? Initially, it wasn’t clear, but the government’s now said it’s just advice. You should feel free to ignore it if you want, because if the variant causes a spike the government will need someone to blame and there you’ll be, in all your beauty and convenience.  

 

How worried should we be about the variant?

The chief medical officer of Wales says we should be worried. Even though the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against it, they seem to be less effective than they are against the Kent variant. And they’re noticeably weaker if you’ve only had one dose of vaccine instead of two. 

All of that is to the extent that data’s available. 

The votes aren’t all in yet even on whether the new variant spreads more quickly than the Kent variant–the one we used to worry about because it spreads more quickly than the one it replaced. But this isn’t one of those competitions where the audience gets to vote. We have to wait for the judges and they don’t like to just pick a side and stick with it. They want information. 

You know what scientists are like. Fussy, fussy, fussy. So don’t turn off your TV set just yet.

In the meantime, Public Health England says that 12.5% of the close contacts of a person with the new variant will get infected. For the Kent variant, that was 8.1%. That’s called the secondary attack rate.

No, I’d never heard of it either.

That makes it look like it spreads more easily, but we haven’t gotten to the buts yet. 

  • But they have compared the vaccination status of those contacts.
  • But they have compared how close those close contacts are. 

Once the buts get factored in, the variant may not be quite as transmissible as it looks right now, but the early signs are that we should pay attention to this. Even if it’s not quite as bad as it looks, it could still be pretty damn bad. 

*

One of the things that worries me is that government actions are weighted toward avoiding the kind of serious illness that clogs hospitals and threatens to collapse the National Health Service. I don’t advocate an onslaught of serious Covid, but I’m very aware of the dangers of milder Covid, and of long Covid, and of isolated cases of Covid. I’d like us to avoid them too if anyone’s taking orders, thanks. I’m not happy about avoiding only the worst outcomes.

 

The political side of it all

A screwup in the test and trace system (or the £37 billion test and trace system, as the paper where I found this reminds me) might have opened a door for the new variant when it was still sampling the air in the country and deciding whether to settle here. A coding error meant that information about positive cases didn’t get passed to local authorities, so they couldn’t follow up on them. 

Did that make a difference? We’ll probably never know but it seems like it would. For three weeks, some 700 people, plus the people they shared a kitchen table, bubble, or work changing room with, weren’t contacted, so unless they got actively sick they felt free to float through the world shedding germs.

The number of missing cases was highest in one of those areas starting with a B, Blackburn with Darwen, which has one of the biggest outbreaks, but it also affected other places starting with B, including Blackpool, Bristol, Bath, and York.

Sorry: Byork. 

The government assures us that the screwup only lasted a short time and it handed out large if irrelevant numbers related to the number of people it had traced. 

Go back to sleep. Everything’s fine. 

*

Meanwhile, a government minister is urging people not to go to Spain unless they really, really want to. And I mean really seriously badly want to.

Okay, what she actually said was without an “urgent family reason and so on,” but my version is what people who really seriously badly want to go will hear, because Spain’s lifted its restrictions on visiting Brits and Britain’s put Spain on the amber list of countries–the ones that aren’t recommended but where no one’s going to do anything to stop you going if you really seriously think you have a compelling reason, such as wanting to eat paella. 

When I say no one’s going to stop you, though, what I really mean is that no one’s going to stop you unless the situation changes while you’re there and you come home to find that you have to go into a very expensive quarantine. But no one ever thinks that’ll happen to them. 

*

In spite of the new variant, England lifted its mask mandate for school kids. Interestingly enough, a pre-print report from Public Health England included data on the spread of the new variant in the schools.

In the final edition, that page had vanished

Cue accusations of political meddling.

Cue denials of political meddling. 

Cue end of post.

What did people do during lockdown?

Well, Gareth Wild completed a six-year labor of love, which was to park in every space in his local supermarket’s parking lot. Or–since he’s British–car park, which makes it sound like a place our cars go to play on the swings. It’s not. It’s a flat stretch of pavement marked out with yellow lines and it’s almost as much fun as it sounds like it is.

Gareth Wild is a man who lives up to his name. 

He went about this methodically, not just parking here and there but studying a satellite view of the car park. He made color-coded diagrams and spreadsheets.

Or possibly just one spreadsheet. I hope you’ll forgive me if I exaggerate. It’s the excitement of the thing. 

In a tweet, he explained his method: “Rather than walking around the car park counting each space and exposing myself as a lunatic, I used the overhead view to mark out a vector image to make it easier to identify each space.”

A vaguely relevant photo, since I’ve mentioned cars, and by extension driving. This is a traditional Cornish traffic jam: cows being moved from one field to another. They weren’t in any kind of a hurry.

The parking lot/car park has 211 spaces. I’m going to assume that doesn’t include the handicapped spaces or motorcycle spaces, which he couldn’t use. He’s got kids, so he could legitimately use the parent-and-child spots.

Don’t you learn wonderful things here? Hasn’t your world become richer and your brain stranger?

And what else did people do during lockdown, Grandma?

Other people used the various lockdowns to drink at home. In England and Wales, 2020 alcohol deaths hit a twenty-year high, climbing almost 20% higher than the year before. Blame the way the pandemic disrupted their work and social lives if you like. 

That doesn’t mean everyone ended their evenings shitfaced on the living room floor, but a substantial number of people did take to hazardous drinking at home. 

For what it’s worth, a similar thing seems to have happened during the bubonic plagues. Emphasis on seems, because no one was tracking the numbers. The evidence is anecdotal.

Although the government didn’t shut down the places where people gathered to drink completely, the authorities in 1665 London (by way of example, since it’s the only one I have) did give them a nasty look, calling them “the greatest occasion of dispersing the plague” and decreeing that they had to close by 9 pm.

That included coffee houses, reasonably enough. It wasn’t about people drinking but about gathering. At night. 

The plague worked the night shift. Before 9, everyone was safe enough.

That information about the plague is, I admit, hanging from a thin Covid hook, but it was the authors of the study who put it there. Presumably they decided that Covid sells. I’m only taking advantage of their opportunism and then blaming them.

*

In the U.S., some baffling number of people used lockdown to collect trading cards, which drove up the prices. Boxes of first-edition base set Pokemon cards (whatever that means) have sold for as much as $400,000. So speculators rush around to stores and buy up whole inventories–a deck might sell for a couple of dollars–then break up the sets and resell the more expensive cards online. They can go for a few hundred dollars.

What’s the connection to lockdown? People have too much time on their hands, maybe. And the people who don’t have too little money have too much. My best guess is that no one’s collecting the cards because they care about them. They’re collecting them to sell to people who are buying them because they think they’ll be worth more tomorrow. Or to put that a different way, everyone’s collecting them because other people are collecting them. 

Not that I actually know that. Maybe someone loves them enough to spend $400,000 on a set. We are a strange species, as I’ve said before–and I’m sure you wouldn’t have noticed it yourself if I hadn’t.

In an effort to make sure the U.S. lives up to its reputation as well armed and completely insane, a disagreement over trading cards in a Wisconsin store (a Target if you know the U.S. retail landscape) ended with a man pulling a gun on four other men in the parking lot. 

No shots were fired, no Pokemon characters were injured, and the guy with the gun had a permit, so it was all okay, but Target suspended sales of trading cards in stores, at least temporarily. They’ll still sell them online where it’s harder to shoot people.

*

In Britain, the proportion of people working from home more than doubled in 2020, but they’re still a minority of working people. About a quarter of people who work were working from home at some point in the week. 

Or more accurately, at some point in the week they answered the survey question. Compare that to 2019, when it was 12.4%. 

That was unevenly distributed. In London,that  was 46.4%, and in the most expensive suburbs it was 70%. If you wondered why Covid has landed hardest on people with the least money, you can start here. It’s not the only reason, but it’s door you can walk through to find the others.

 

And what happens when lockdown ends?

When lockdown ends, all the fun moves to the black market in fake test and vaccination certificates. Researchers found 1,200 sites selling them worldwide. By now, I’d bet on that number having gone up. If you’ve got £25 (or more) and an itch to pass yourself off as safe to be around, you can buy one. Police in Connecticut ended up with a whole box of fake vaccinations cards from an anti-vaxx rally. Whether someone was there to sell them to a likely crowd or was nobly giving them away I have no idea.

As for the fake test certificates, they’re showing up at borders, where people use them because they’re faster, cheaper, and more certain than genuine Covid tests. Unless you get caught.

*

Britain’s traffic-light system for labeling countries safe, risky, and Very Scary to visit has created the usual chaos

The environment secretary said people could travel to countries on the amber list. (If you speak American, that’s the yellow warning light.) Then the prime minister said people shouldn’t visit them unless they had pressing reasons. Then the Foreign Office said it was safe to visit 20 amber-list countries and it had published the list on its website, so there. 

That’s 20 out of how many countries are on the amber list? Lord Google tells me 170 countries are on the amber list. He also tells me the world contains 195 countries at the moment. And that 43 countries are on the red list and 12 on the green list.

Lord Google’s math is worse than mine. And I set a high standard. As does the U.K. government, but at least I’m not pretending to run a country.