The pandemic update from Britain: protective gear, black holes, and dead rats

Some days the government gives me so much to make fun of that it’s just embarrassing.

Not so many days ago that we’ve forgotten about it yet, the government announced with great fanfare and many imaginary trumpets that it was buying protective equipment from Turkey to make up for the shortfall it had created. 

Okay, they didn’t say it that way. It was something about the shortfall that mysteriously created itself in spite of our government working day and night to procure the best equipment that our heroic frontline staff needs.

Anyway, a shipment was on its way. Along with a few more notes from the trumpets. 

After mysterious delays, the shipment limped into the airport and turned out to be less than a tenth of what they fanfare’d. 

Now the story’s worse than that: The 400,000 surgical gowns that did arrive are unusable. Or possibly most of them are unusable. I’ve heard the story both ways from different news outlets, probably because the trumpets are interfering with reception.

Either way, the gowns would expose the users to infection.

Stop, people. It’s not Christmas. I have more than enough to work with. 


Irrelevant photo: A gerbera daisy.

Speaking of protective gear, Robert Jenrick, the housing, community, and local government secretary offered an explanation of why we’re having so much trouble getting protective gear where it’s needed: “Supply . . . in some areas is in short supply.”

Once you understand that, you can be more sympathetic.

Apologies for a messy link here. The quote’s in there, but you’ll have to dig around a bit.


Forgive me for recycling something I already put on Twitter, but our cat, Fast Eddie, brought dead rats home for two nights running, and he has me worried: If this keeps up, who’s going to run the country?


Now, about that tracing app that People Who Know These Things say may not work: Here’s the problem–or here’s the part of the problem I understand. The app relies on a kind of herd immunity. Not the kind that, if enough people die of Covid-19 and enough people get it but don’t die, will protect the people who did neither. This is virtual herd immunity. It relies on some minimum number of Android users in an area signing up for the app. If they don’t, it won’t work. 

The root of the problem is that Android phones aren’t allowed to stay connected to Bluetooth for long once they’re minimized. Basically, they hang up. Once that happens, the phone won’t register contact with an app on a nearby phone. So if one of the people carrying those phones is infected or needs to be told that the other person is? Even if when they passed each other they fell into each other’s arms and kissed with 46 minutes worth of passion, the apps on their phones would ignore each other. 

The only way to keep the app awake on an Android is for its owner to pass by a whole bunch of other Android owners who are all using the app. If that happens, their phones will chastely brush electronic feelers and the app will send the information to a central database.

Australia tried something similar in its app and now says the app “progressively deteriorated.”

The UK government is now “open” to the possibility of ditching the app and using a different one.

No, I don’t know how much that detours cost either.


Astronomers have found a black hole a thousand light years from Earth. That’s close if you’re an astronomer. It’s in (or “among,” and I haven’t figured out what the difference is in this context) the beautifully named HR 6819 system.

What’s that got to do with the pandemic? The black hole is where all the missed targets are being shipped. And the missing protective gear? It’s there too. That’s why supply has been in short supply in undersupplied locations.

A new shipment of bad news has been launched in its general direction but will probably miss by a few dozen light years.


I’m always a day or three behind the actual news here. It’s one of the many reasons I recommend reading actual newspapers. The real ones (as opposed to the bottom feeders) are better at this than I am. Even when they’re not funny.

Stay well, everyone. Even when it starts to feel delusional to hide from something invisible, remember that it’s real.

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.