After a bit of four-nation arm wrestling, the British government decided to stand by its decision to loosen Covid restrictions for Christmas. Santa Claus, they told us a while back, was bringing everybody the chance to travel around the country and join three households together for up to five days.
Don’t read the fine print, they said. It’s Christmas.
Well, Santa hasn’t changed the present he’s bringing but some spoilsport enlarged the small print and now the government’s asking everyone not to actually do what they said we could look forward to doing. That is, we can still do it, they won’t tell us not to, but they’d really appreciate it if we didn’t.
Really, really appreciate it.
The tone of the press conferences has changed from a Santa-ish look-what-I-brought-you to a Pandora-ish don’t-look-inside-the-box.
Government guidance now says, “Think very carefully about the risks of forming a bubble. . . . [A bubble? That’s a theoretically impermeable group of people that you seal yourself into, sharing love, germs, risk, and a commitment not to so much as turn your thoughts to anyone outside the bubble.] Everybody in a Christmas bubble is responsible for taking clear steps to prevent catching and spreading the virus.”
If you’ll allow me to translate that for you, it means, If this bubble wheeze doesn’t work, it’s your own silly fault. We thought the British people had better sense than to do what we said would be safe.
But we should go back to that four-nation arm wrestling: It’s a particularly British sport involving Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England. And whatever you’ve heard, four-way arm wrestling is not simple, either physically or politically. See, the British government doesn’t speak for Britain on this issue. It speaks for England, which doesn’t have its own dedicated government, although the other three pieces of the United Kingdom do.
Yeah, I know. It’s complicated, but never mind that for now.
Wales, speaking for Wales, bailed out of the hoped-for four-nation love fest and issued a narrower set of guidelines. Even so, it expects to need tighter restrictions after the holidays.
Scotland’s recommending that people stay home, but if they do mix it suggests they mix for only one day, not five. But it’s just a suggestion, not a rule and not a law.
Northern Ireland’s expecting to tighten the rules after Christmas to make up for whatever Christmas unleashes.
Assorted experts are holding their aching heads in their hands. For the sake of efficiency, we’ll quote just one, a (very rare) joint BMJ/Health Service Journal editorial, which said, “When the government devised the current plans to allow household mixing over Christmas it had assumed the Covid-19 demand on the NHS would be decreasing. But it is not, it is rising. . . . The government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring and again in the autumn. It should now reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period in order to bring numbers down in the advance of a likely third wave.”
In case anyone wants to know, what I want for Christmas is for the people I love to be alive and well next Christmas. That’s not meant to exclude anyone. If I can be greedy, I’ll expand that to people I like and to people I don’t even know.
I’d also like to include myself, if that’s okay.
In the first week of vaccinations, 137,000 people in Britain got the first shot of the vaccine.
It’s Americans who talk about getting a shot. The British call it a jab. Both of them are unpleasant words. I never heard the underlying aggression until I heard the act of sticking a needle in a person’s arm called by something that surprised me.
Anyway, only 8 million or so people are in line ahead of me–give or take a few hundred thousand.
Vaccinating all of Britain will cost something in the neighborhood of £12 billion according to a National Audit Office report, which also says the Public Health England (PHE) complained early on that it, along with its extensive experience in vaccination programs, were being locked out of key decisions.
It was finally allowed through the door in September.
Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said (diplomatically) that although the government was right to bet on several different vaccines, the accountability arrangements involved were “highly unusual.”
A study reports that a fifth of the world’s population is unlikely to get a chance at any Covid vaccine until 2022. And even that depends on how many of the vaccines in development turn out to work and on their manufacturers hitting maximum production
Back in November, assorted countries had reserved 7.48 billion vaccine doses from 13 manufacturers. Just over half of those doses will go to the 14% of the world’s population that lives in high income countries.
And the 85% of the population that lives in the rest of the world?
True, those aren’t the only vaccines–48 are in clinical trials–but my best guess is that those are the ones that are furthest along in the process.
An unprecedented attempt at global cooperation in the face of the pandemic saw a number of countries sign up to the COVAX initiative, which involves richer countries buying vaccines through COVAX so that some of the money goes to getting vaccines to poorer countries. By participating, richer countries would both get access to a portfolio of vaccines and also negotiate as a bloc, bringing the price down.
Unfortunately, someone (or possibly everyone) seems to have snagged their toenails in the threads, and that could mean billions of people getting no vaccine until (new source, new date; sorry) 2024–or so says a leaked document, although the World Health Organization, one of the COVAX initiative’s backers, is still making optimistic sounds about it.
The problems in the initiative are complicated enough that if I try to explain them we’ll all sink, but they involve some of the cheaper and easier-to-transport vaccines making slower-than-ideal progress, richer countries prioritizing their own needs (which pushes the prices up), and a lack of money for the initiative.
Go back to the yellow flower. It’ll cheer you back up.
The much-promoted launch of what the British government calls a test and release scheme has been suitably chaotic.
What’s test and release?
Well, back when I worked as a copy editor for a hunting and fishing magazine, the phrase catch and release popped up in every third article. It’s the noble act of hauling a fish out of a water by its lip, pulling the hook out of the hole you’ve made, and putting the fish back in the river, all for your own damn amusement, since the fish doesn’t find the process at all amusing. Yes, the fish survives as long as you didn’t hook it too deep and if you didn’t exhaust it and if you remembered to wet your hands before you touched it. But the fish isn’t what you’d call a willing participant.
I agree: Every vegetarian should work for a hunting and fishing magazine for at least five minutes. I lasted until the magazine sank under the weight of its own advertising department, which rumor insisted was run by the owner’s sons.
Anyway, that’s not what test and release is. No hooks, no lines, not even any anglers. I only threw it in because I hear its echoes every time I read about test and release. And, of course, for its sheer irrelevance.
The test and release plan involves travelers arriving in Britain having a Covid test that would shorten their quarantine.
Hooray. Everyone wins.
Except, it turns out, the people who gambled on it working. A man traveling from the Netherlands to see his mother–who, irrelevantly, has dementia–took the Eurotunnel to London and found himself stuck in a hotel room not for the five days he’d counted on but for what will be either the full quarantine period or damn close to it.
First he couldn’t find the list of approved test providers. Then he found it but couldn’t book a test with any of them. Not one. The scheme, he said, was “just hot air.”
I know. You’re shocked. So am I. Who’d have expected such a thing from this government?
Eleven providers got government approval. Airports, which already had testing centers up and running, weren’t among them. Instead, you have to get hold of one of the approved providers (assuming that you can, and assuming they have the capacity to deal with you) and ask for a test to be mailed to you. Then you mail it back. (Does that mean breaking your quarantine? Probably. Don’t worry about it. It’s Christmas. It’ll all be fine.)
You’ll get your results within 48 hours–I think of the company receiving it, not of you sending it. That would probably cut your quarantine from ten days to eight, although the program was promoted as cutting it to five.
An airport source said (with only mild incoherence but impressive accuracy), “The rapid test is not yet approved but would cut self-isolation to five days–that’s what we hoped would be the situation. Unfortunately, the government hasn’t even managed to get a list of who could do it in eight days. Given the small number of passengers traveling now, you’ve got to question the procurement.”
The U.S. has approved an over-the-counter Covid test. It costs around $30, uses a swab, and gives a result in twenty minutes. Initially, supplies will be limited.
It’s most accurate in people who have symptoms but it’ll miss some cases in people who don’t. In other words, if it tells you that you don’t have Covid, you don’t get to run out and hug everyone, because, damn it, you could be either pre-symptomatic or an asymptomatic carrier.
As I read recently, testing alone does nothing. It’s what you do with the information once you have it. I’m not sure quite what this test will contribute to the fight against Covid.
Triumphantly irrelevant news
In the spirit of irrelevance that animates us here at Notes, I offer you the following news item:
The mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey, is auctioning off the chance to blow up a former Trump casino. The city hopes to raise upwards of $1 million and will donate it to the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City.
The casino closed in 2014 and is already partially demolished. The auction’s winner will get to press the button that makes whatever’s left go ka-blooey.