The pandemic update from Britain: lockdown, lunacy, and a mention of Minneapolis

A pilot flew a private plane from Surrey to an airfield belonging to the Royal Air Force. That set off an emergency response involving the Ministry of Defence and fire crews, who (I’m reading between the lines here) wanted to know what the hell he thought he was doing.

He wanted to go to the beach, he said. 

Since the airfield is in Wales, that was a breach of the lockdown rules, which are different in Wales than in England. Or it’s believed to be a breach, since the rules don’t specifically mention landing your private plane on an airforce base so you can go to the beach. 

I think I can safely say that he’ll be in trouble with multiple agencies. I’m reasonably sure that lockdown will be the least of his troubles.

To put the situation into bureaucro-speak, the police are ‘considering’ whether there were ‘potential breaches’ of coronavirus legislation. And the Civil Aviation Authority has been alerted. It will be demanding a note from his parents.

So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that Dominic Cummings was on board. And if you haven’t followed who Dominic Cummings is, just follow the handy link, which will take you to a post by that noted expert, me, which will explain all. Or enough, anyway.


England’s contact tracing campaign continues to be a mess, with many tracers not able to log on. Some recruits have set up support groups on Facebook and WhatsApp, pooling their knowledge about what the hell they’re supposed to do, and how. One contact tracer reported (anonymously) that the app wouldn’t work with his or her microphone. Another had been working for three weeks and been asked to do nothing more than join an online training session. A third says he or she has learned to juggle with three balls. 


Some of England and Scotland’s coronavirus testing centers aren’t matching test results to either people’s National Health Service numbers or their addresses, which means their doctors aren’t told about coronavirus patients on their caseloads and local authorities can’t track outbreaks in their areas.

Back in March, the devolved governments–that translates to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland–told Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary, that the system he was setting up had problems, and Northern Irland and Wales insisted on changes. Scotland and England went ahead. 

Wales and Northern Ireland get to play a satisfying round of I-told-you-so. 


An NHS trial is giving Covid-19 patients blood plasma transfusions from patients who’ve recovered, and the trial’s set to expand. The hope is that the antibodies will help them fight off the disease. 

To date, it’s only been tried on patients in intensive care, but it may be more effective if it’s used earlier. Stay tuned.


Back in April, the British government’s science advisory group noted that only half the people who came down with Covid-19 symptoms followed the government’s advice to self-isolate for fourteen days. It recommended doing some quick research to figure out what it would take to get people to follow the guidelines. 

As the lockdown eases and the government’s betting its rapidly diminishing stack of chips on testing people, tracing the contacts of anyone who tests positive, and isolating the cases they find, people actually isolating themselves becomes crucial.

Not going into isolation when you should is apparently now known as doing a Cummings. 

Some members of the science advisory group are now warning that easing the lockdown now will lead to a second wave of cases. In England, 8,000 people a day are still becoming infected, and that doesn’t count people in care homes or hospitals. That data’s collected separately and the two data sets aren’t speaking. You know how it is in some families. 

It also doesn’t count cases in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.

One advisor, John Edmunds, said, “If you look at it internationally, it’s a very high level of incidence.”

The current R rate–the rate at which the virus spreads–is between 0.7 and 0.9. At anything above 1, the pandemic grows. At 1, it stays the same, which at a rough guess means 80 deaths a day.

John Edmunds’ colleague Jeremy Farrar tweeted, “Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England. Agree with John & clear science advice. TTI [test, trace and isolate] has to be in place, fully working, capable [of dealing with] any surge immediately.”



England’s chief medical officer said, in a carefully worded statement, that the country’s at a very dangerous moment. It wasn’t a clear criticism of the government, but a listener could be forgiven for thinking it was.

He also said, mentioning no names, that England’s lockdown rules applied to all.


MPs’ inboxes have been swamped by messages about Dominic Cummings, most of them critical. So what does an overwhelmed MP do? Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall gave his responses the personal touch by hitting Send before he remembered to delete the part that said, “insert if there has been a bereavement.” 

He is, he said, incredibly sorry. He remembered to delete the part of the script that said, “Don’t get caught again.”


I don’t write much about American politics. Even though I’m American, I live in Britain. It’s not the best seat to watch the show from. But I have to go off topic and say something about what’s happening there, even though it’s happening in the wrong country and it’s not pandemic related.

I lived in Minneapolis for years, and a lot of you will know what’s happening: A few days ago, a white police officer killed an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by kneeling on his neck for seven minutes. On camera. While Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.”

What had Floyd done? Tried to buy something at a local food store. The clerk thought he’d paid with a counterfeit bill and called the police, because that was store policy. No one claims that Floyd knew it was counterfeit. At this point I don’t know if anyone cares whether it actually was.

First there were protests. Then there were riots. A CNN reporter was arrested while covering them, even after he showed  his i.d. He’s black. Yes, that’s relevant. 

Rumors are flying every which way. I can’t confirm them, so I’ll stick to what’s in the papers.

My old neighborhood’s been on fire. The post office, the library, and a whole lot stores have burned down, along with the police station where the officers involved in the killing were based.  

At a gym in another part of the city, a white man threatened to call the police on some black men because the gym was restricted to the tenants of the building and they couldn’t possibly have a right to use the same gym as he did. That was after demanding that they prove they had a right to be there. 

In Kentucky, police targeted a news crew covering a protest about a black woman who was killed by police in her own home. “Targeted” means they shot the reporter with pepper bullets. 

In Detroit, someone shot into a group of protestors from a car, killing a 19-year-old. 

In several cities, cars have driven into crowds of protestors.

I’m not using the word protestor to mean rioter.

Sorry–I’m supposed to be funny here, or to at least try. That’s the agreement we sort of made.  So to those of you who are in the U.S.: Guys, I know racism runs deep in our national DNA. If there’s such a thing as national original sin, that’s ours. But I also know that racism’s not the whole story, that there’s more to us than that. So I’m looking for you to sort this out, okay?

Don’t make me come over there. 

Pandemic news from Britain: conspiracies, opera, and where the flour went

Unemployed air crews have opened a first class lounge in several hospitals so they can give National Health Service staff a break. One of the organizers, Dave Fielding, says the crews offer tea, coffee, snacks, and “fifteen to twenty minutes of escape from the decisions they have to take everyday, because coronavirus has increased the pressure on them so much.” 

In spite of what the lounges called–and to everyone’s credit–they’re open to doctors, nurses, and support staff equally.


The conspiracy theory du jour links Covid-19 to 5G masts. At least 20 masts have been attacked in the UK since the crisis started, including one serving a hospital. 

As far as I’ve been able to figure out without doing a deep dive into this particular swamp, the idea is that Wuhan was the first place 5G technology was tried, it weakened people’s immune systems, and that boosted the virulence of the common cold, creating Covid-19.

The fact-checking site FullFact reports that Wuhan seems to have been one of the early cities where 5G was rolled out, but not the only one. There’s no evidence that 5G has any effect on the immune system. It’s carried by radio waves, which are non-ionising–in other words, unlike x-rays and UV rays, they don’t affect our DNA. And Covid-19 isn’t a variant on the common cold anyway. 

Other than that, though, the theory’s solid.

You don’t have to dive very deep before you find claims about a link between 5G and mind control. I found them while I was looking for something else, but my mind was being controlled by outside forces and I didn’t click the link although I so wanted to. 

According to newspaper stories, if you dive deeper than I did you’ll find claims that the Jews are behind it all. The far right, apparently, just hates 5G–and, of course, Jews. 

Which brings me to what I want to know about all these Jewish conspiracies: How come no one ever lets me in on them? I’m Jewish. I can keep a secret. And who’d listen to me if I did tell?


South Korea has reported that a group of people who recovered from Covid-19 later tested positive again. Some had no symptoms, others got sick. It’s not clear if they were reinfected or if the virus stayed active in their systems, but either way it raises troubling questions about immunity. And a vaccine.


A hospital in Wales is injecting blood plasma from patients who recovered from the virus into patients who are struggling with it. It’s the first trial. If you don’t hear any more about it, assume it didn’t work. 


One of the mysteries of these Covid months is where all the flour went

The answer is that it didn’t go anywhere. It’s still out there, but it’s not on your supermarket shelves. With so many people stuck at home, the retail demand for flour almost doubled (that’s in the four weeks before March 22 in case you care). The problem is that suppliers can’t move easily from selling it in bulk to selling it in small bags. That involves production lines and machinery and packaging. And, inevitably, money. If you want a tankerful of the stuff, you can probably arrange for a truck to pull up in front of your house. The problem’s going to be storage. 

It’s also easily available in bags, but we’re talking about the kind of bags that weigh 16 kilos or more. In pounds, that’s 16 x 2.2, which equals more than your back’s going to be happy with since it comes in an awkwardly shaped, and possibly floppy, package. Flour mills may not be quite as happy to send a truck out with a single bag, and it won’t amuse your neighbors for nearly as long as a tanker.

Have I mentioned that flour’s flammable? Or not just flammable: explosive. If you decide you need that tankerful, do be careful. I don’t have so many readers that I can afford to lose any.


A doctor who changed careers and became an opera singer has returned to medicine to help out during the crisis. (What the hell–who’s staging operas these days anyway?) In quieter moments, he sings to the staff–through a mask. A co-worker filmed him

He’s a tenor. And only drawn to careers that take years of training.


Have I mentioned lately that humans are a difficult species? So who-all’s getting blamed for Covid-19? In China, African students and expatriates are getting tested repeatedly–not to mention evicted and turned away by food stores because they’re assumed to be carrying the virus. 

Incidents of online, off line, and presidential blaming of Asians who just might be Chinese are too numerous to count in both the UK and the US–and for all I know elsewhere.

In India, Hindu extremist groups blame Muslims. 

And of course there are 5G masts, Jews, and the Chinese government–a natural alliance if there ever was one. 

As long as we have someone to blame, we can face anything.


I wrote last week about Britain’s shortage of protective gear for medical and social care workers, and of course you memorize every word I write. It’s the shortage that lovely and creative volunteers are moving mountains to make up for. The shortage that’s helping spread the disease, especially to health and care workers and the people they treat.

That shortage. 

It turns out that Britain had three chances to buy masks, gowns, and gloves in bulk. But it would have meant buying them along with the European Union, so the government didn’t do it. Because, hey we’re leaving the EU. And what really matters, after all?

Brexit. That’s what matters.

Or possibly it was because they forgot to read the email. Or because the dog ate their homework.

And, what the hell, as long as I’ve depressed us all, I’ll toss this in: Some hospitals are so short on equipment that they’ve stopped using the usual way of checking staff members’ masks to see if they fit safely. It involves a chemical spray and they’re having trouble getting hold of it.


We’re going to skip lightly over some pandemic stories because they’re either too heartbreaking or too frustrating, but I do want to mention a few very briefly. The one about the Home Office refusing to take unaccompanied child refugees from the Greek camps, which are overcrowded, undersanitized, and disasters in the making. The one about foreign doctors living in Britain who aren’t allowed to work here because the General Medical Council is too busy doing whatever it’s doing to register them. One particular group were at the final stage of accreditation when their final exams were canceled. Because, of course, of the virus.


After Boris Johnson recovered from the coronavirus and left the hospital, he had high praise for the NHS, mentioning two nurses by name. He didn’t mention that he voted against listing a long-standing cap that had kept nurses’ pay from going up.  

One of the nurses he mentioned is from New Zealand and the other from Portugal. Anyone from the EU working in Britain pays £400 for the privilege. For every member of the family. Per year. After Brexit, that’s due to go up to £625. I believe that’s the amount non-EU workers pay, but I haven’t verified that. 

But hey, we are grateful to them. What, they want better pay too?

Britain has a shortage of 40,000 nurses. 

None of those figures are connected in any way.


Britain’s on track to test 100,000 people a day for Covid-19 by the end of the month. The fact that halfway through the month we were only testing 18,000 a day has no bearing on anything. 


Sorry–we’re getting a bit grim here. Let’s lighten things up. A ninety-nine-year-old World War II veteran decided to raise £1,000 for the NHS–the National Health Service–by walking laps around his back garden, which is what Americans would call a yard, but a yard in Britain is someplace junky, so he was in a garden. Last I checked, he’d raised £3 million. He uses a walker and is doing ten laps a day.

Britain does have a national religion: It’s the NHS.


In London, a couple of actors staged the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet from their  windows. A neighbor played the sax, flute, and cymbals. Probably not all at the same time. 


Someone who was missing his regular pub quiz set one up on Facebook and accidentally made it public. Again, it was a fundraiser for the NHS. The next thing he knew 30,000 people had signed up. 

It’s become a regular thing, with 150,000 people involved, and it’s raised £93,000.

Pub quizzes? No, I don’t understand them either. They’re a British thing and people here just love them. Or people who aren’t me do.