Since this is the news from Britain, we’ll start in Florida: The commissioners of Palm Beach County voted that people (with a few reasonable exceptions, such as babies) have to wear masks in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. But before they could vote on that, they had to listen to people telling them that they’d be throwing out god’s wonderful breathing system, that they were obeying the devil, and that they were imposing a communist dictatorship and dishonoring the American flag.
I tell you, it makes me proud to be an American.
Here in Britain, we’re also at our best. We had a heatwave, and–
I have to interrupt myself here. In Britain, you know it’s hot weather when you wear short sleeves. If you do that for two days in a row, you’re looking at a heatwave.
So we’ve had a heatwave and it hit just after lockdown eased up.
“Our hibernation is beginning to end,” the prime minister told us jubilantly.
What did he mean, though? It wasn’t all that clear, but that’s okay because ever since his external brain, Dominic Cummings, broke his own rules on lockdown by driving 30 miles to make sure he could still see well enough to drive (no, I didn’t make that up; he did), people have been a little skeptical about the rules anyway. And the more lockdown has eased, the hazier we’ve gotten on what the limits are and how seriously we take them.
So what happened? In the first couple of days, people flocked to parks, beaches, and rivers, jamming in together because what the hell they’d be outside and the virus was on the wane and the lockdown was over, sort of, and we’d all be fine.
Or maybe they flocked to all of the above because they figured no one else would and they could enjoy the beauty of the British countryside in safety, but once they found a few thousand other people had done the same thing they didn’t want to turn around and go home. Or maybe it was because they’d been cooped up since forever and were understandably losing their minds.
Or all of the above. It’s easy for people who have elbow room to criticize. But there were problems. One was that public toilets aren’t open yet–or at least a lot of them aren’t–so some people acted like a litter of eight-week-old puppies. Minus the paper on the floor.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, beaches were packed. Forget keeping two meters from each other, and forget one meter. People were everywhere. Drinking was involved. Fights were involved. Broken glass was involved. A few stabbings were involved. If singing was involved, no one’s mentioned it, but it’s hard to separate singing and drinking in Britain.
When people went home, their trash–which, being responsible citizens, they’d instructed to follow–stayed behind, because who wants to leave the cooling sea breeze? So the beach was a mess when they left. And even at a beach where the toilets were open, people still had that litter of puppies problem. I’m not sure why. It might have had something to do with the drinking, but there’s me, speculating again.
Cleaning crews complained that they were being abused and intimidated for trying to empty overflowing trash cans.
As I type this, the weather’s turned, so the problem at the beaches might just be a two-day glitch. If it had stayed hot, though? I wouldn’t bet on it.
In Brixton–a mostly black area of London–a street party ended in violence when police moved in to break it up. On the evening news, a resident noted that the police hadn’t moved in that aggressively on overcrowded beaches with mostly white crowds.
As far as I can tell, he was right.
Yeah, it all makes me proud to be British as well.
Enough about people. They’re a difficult species. Let’s talk about science.
A small and still tentative survey of Covid-19 antibody tests in use around the world shows that their accuracy seems to depend on when they’re done. In the first week after people develop symptoms, they spot only 30% of infected people. Between eight and fourteen weeks, they spot 70%. After that, they catch 90%.
I’m not sure why I think you need to know that, but you just might.
Long term, the tests will give some indication of whether having had the disease means a person is immune.
Last month, the British government bought 10 million antibody tests. They were going to play an “increasingly important role,” someone or other said. I’ve lost track of what they were going to play an important role in has been lost, but that’s okay because most of us don’t take the bloviating seriously.
Oh, wait. They’d play an important role in understanding the spread of the disease.
I’m not questioning that whatever data they gather will help scientists understand the beast we’re facing. What I doubt is that science had any impact on the government’s actions. Forgive me, but pretty much everything’s politics, perception, and possibly a cousin in the business.
So the government sent the tests out and asked–or told; I’m not sure how much weight their words carry–medical organizations and care centers to have staff use them. But in a letter to the BMJ (which I think used to be the British Medical Journal but is now just the BMJ–it could stand for Beautiful Mango Jam for all I know)–
Sorry. Should we start that over? Fourteen senior academics published a letter in the Beautiful Mango Jam to say that the tests are burdening the National Health Service while proving fuck-all.
They didn’t say “fuck-all.” These are senior academics. They only talk that way in private, when they think their mics are off.
They did say that since we don’t know whether having antibodies isn’t the same as having immunity, you can’t change your behavior based on the test results. So the test offers no benefits to either the staff or the organizations they work for. It does, however, give the government a chance to brag about how many tests they’ve sent out.
Sweden’s handled the virus differently than most European countries. It didn’t go into lockdown. It took a few steps–discouraging gatherings of more than 50 people, for example–but basically it advised people to keep some distance from each other and trusted them to have good sense.
I don’t know about you, but I’m losing whatever faith I once had in humanity’s good sense.
Any chance that had of working was undercut by the government’s early advice, which implied that people who didn’t show any symptoms weren’t contagious. If someone in the family’s sick, they said, a kid showing no symptoms can still go to school. No problem.
The country also had the usual lack of protective equipment, and government guidelines for what to use and how to use it kept changing, depending on what protective equipment was available.
The rate of testing has been low and contact tracing has been pretty nearly abandoned.
According to Anders Bjorkman, a professor of infectious diseases at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, “They did not want to put it bluntly, but seeking herd immunity was always inherent in the Swedish strategy.” In other words, let the disease spread, let some people die, and wait for herd immunity to build in the population that’s left.
By most estimates, it takes 50% to 60% of the population becoming immune for the herd to be protected. It also takes a disease that people become immune to, and it hasn’t been solidly established that Covid-19 is cooperative enough to fall into that category.
Sweden now has the highest number of Covid cases in Scandinavia (the other Scandinavian countries went into lockdown), and the highest number of deaths. For one week at the end of May and the beginning of June, its mortality rate was 5.29 deaths per million inhabitants per day–the highest in Europe. The UK limped in a sorry second with 4.48.
Our prime minister just hates it when someone comes in ahead of us. He likes world-beating systems.
So how’s Sweden doing with herd immunity? In Stockholm, 7.3% of the residents had developed covid-19 antibodies by late April. In the rest of the country, the numbers were lower.
A day or two after the street party in Brixton was broken up, Liverpool won the Premier League game. I think that’s football, but my sports allergy kept me from watching the actual game. Or knowing anything about it. What matters is that it made people in Liverpool happy.
So happy that they gathered in a huge honkin’ crowd to celebrate, to throw bottles at the police, and to throw fireworks at the Liver Building, setting a balcony on fire.
They know how to have a party in Liverpool.
[Late addition: The next paragraphs were based on the assumptions that (a) because the Liver Building is in Liverpool, it would be pronounced like the city and (b) because the Liver Building is spelled like liver it would be pronounced like liver. Silly me. It’s pronounced Lye-ver.
[Well of course it is. It’s a place name. This is England. Take nothing for granted. My thanks to April Munday for catching that. I’ve left it all in because why should I pretend I know what I’m doing here?]
Why does Liverpool have a building named after the organ that cleans the blood? I can only answer that by asking why Liverpool’s named Liverpool.
According to WikiWhatsia (I can’t be bothered going any deeper), Liverpool’s “name comes from the Old English liver, meaning thick or muddy, and pol, meaning a pool or creek, and is first recorded around 1190 as Liuerpul.”
I don’t want to piss off anyone from Liverpool. I’m sure your city’s got a lot going for it. All I’m saying is that if you’d run the name past a focus group before making any impulsive decisions, you might’ve come up with something entirely forgettable.
But we were talking about the building, which isn’t called the just Liver Building, thanks, it’s the Royal Liver Building, so it was named after a monarch’s liver, not yours or mine. I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse about it. I don’t like to think much about my liver, but then I don’t like to think much about anyone else’s either.
It was built between 1907 and 1911 as offices for the Royal Liver Group and still houses the head office of the Royal Liver Assurance.
And it gets worse. Each tower is topped by mythical Liver Birds.
I might just jog up north and throw some fireworks myself.