The pandemic news from Britain: cats, profiteers, rule-breakers, and the Dunkirk spirit

People in Belper, Derbyshire, are dealing with Covid-19 isolation by going to the window or doorstep at 6:30 every evening and mooing. The instigator, Jasper Ward, said he figured it would last a day or two but after six weeks folks are still crazed enough to think this is a great idea.

My thanks to Autolycus for pointing me in the direction of this important information. My life would be poorer without it. And so would yours.


In Hong Kong, the zoo’s giant pandas are coping with coronavirus isolation by mating for the first time. Pandas aren’t thrilled about mating in captivity, and artificial insemination doesn’t have a great track record, so zookeepers are delighted, even though the last time I checked it wasn’t clear whether a little pandalet was on the way.

We can assume the pandas are happy as well.


Britain’s Tesco supermarket chain is also making the best of things. It got a £585 million tax break from the government in emergency coronavirus support (I’m not sure why since food stores seem to be doing very well, thank you, but what do I know?). Then it announced that it would pay out £635 million in dividends to its shareholders–a total of £900 million for the year.

Tesco’s chair, John Allan, said it was the right thing to do.


Cats and their people were in a frenzy for a day or three over bungled advice to keep all cats indoors during the pandemic. A tiger in the Bronx Zoo had caught the disease from a keeper, leading the world to realize that cats and ferrets (but not dogs) are susceptible.

So the British Veterinary Association (apparently–there seems to be a lot of confusion involved in all this) advised people to keep their cats in.

All cats. All the time.

The website got so many hits that it crashed. Just to be on the safe side, our cat, Fast Eddie, spent the night outside. He knew which side of the window he wanted to be on if it closed forever and he knew that enough other cats were on the internet to keep that website crashed.

The next day, our veterinarian’s office sent an email saying they don’t recommend keeping all cats in and cats are not suspected of transmitting the disease to humans, although they could transmit it to other cats.

Eddie came back inside. It was time for breakfast anyway.

Daniel Kuritzkes, head of infectious diseases at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said the information that’s available does support “the recommendation that people who are with COVID-19 should be distancing themselves, not only from other household members but also from their household pets, so as not to transmit the virus to their pets, particularly to cats or other felines.”

That’s good news for cats–and for the government, because it had made no moves to keep its prime ministerial cat, Larry, indoors. Even when the prime minister and some good portion of his cabinet came down with the virus, Larry strolled around outside Number 10 Downing Street as imperturbably as only a cat can.

No, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of telling him he couldn’t go out, but if Eddie’s expected to stay in while Larry’s out for a stroll–well, I don’t want to be in charge of that conversation either.


Speaking of creatures who don’t want to stay in, the housing secretary, Rober Jenrick, got caught driving to his parents’ house after he’d made public appearances telling everyone else to save lives by staying home. It was okay, though, because he was bringing them food and medicine–something at least one newspaper reports that community members were already doing.

That was worth a couple of days of flapping before it was forgotten. It’s not like the thing with the cats, after all.


The prime minister himself is now out of the hospital and recovering not where he lives, above Number 10, where Larry has been doing his frustrated best to advise him, but at Chequers, the grace and favor country residence that prime ministers get to pretend is theirs for as long as they can stay in office.

Sorry about that “residence” bit, but when a building’s expensive enough you end up using words like that. It’s all the fault of real estate agents–called simply estate agents in Britain, possibly because the British don’t believe they’re real.

He’s at Chequers because he’s the prime minister, and because his government’s been telling everyone not to travel to their second homes.

It will, I’m sure, surprise you to hear this, but not everyone in Britain actually has a second home. Or a first one.


But we were talking about cats. They’re more interesting than prime ministers and they have fur..

Veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and veterinary dentists have been recruited to help out in hospitals to help alleviate the shortage of medical personnel. Their training will include the suggestion that they not offer patients their hand to sniff.

Across the land, cats breathed a sigh of relief.


In Shetland, the hospital’s communications officer, Carol Campbell, posted a note on social media that staff were running out of scrubs–the clothing they wear and change out and wash endlessly to prevent cross-contamination. Across the island, volunteers broke out their sewing machines, found patterns, and started cutting up every piece of cloth that wasn’t currently on somebody’s body. Hospital staff have been running around wearing floral patterns, cartoon characters, and the giant faces of the band One Direction.

Other groups around the country are doing similar work, but without, as far as I can establish from the safety of my couch, the nifty graphics because the hospitals they’re giving them to are holding out for regulation colors. One group has a GoFundMe page, Helping Dress Medics, to raise money for fabric. That effort was started, appropriately enough, by the costume designer for His Dark Materials, Dulcie Scott, and involves costume makers from the film and theater world.

But the larger story isn’t all Dunkirk spirit and lovely people with pinking shears. Hospitals are running out of protective gear of all sorts. A group of nurses made do with bin bags. All later tested positive for the virus. Government ministers say it’s a distribution problem. Everything will be arriving tomorrow.

Okay, but it’ll be there over the weekend.

Or possibly next week.

After a where’s-the-home-secretary campaign on social media (which may or may not have affected anything but did make me aware of her disappearance), Priti Patel finally took center stage at the daily Covid-19 briefing and said, “I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that.”

So that’s very, very clear. Especially the “if” and the “feel” part.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “There’s enough PPE to go around, but only if it’s used in line with our guidance.”

In other words, stop playing football with the stuff, you reckless idiots.

The British Medical Association says supplies are at dangerously low levels around the country and lives are at risk.

Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a doctor who went on Facebook pleading with the prime minister to provide protective equipment for front line staff and to ensure that healthcare workers get tested for the virus, has died of Covid-19.

I’m having a hard time being funny all of a sudden. I heard his son interviewed on the radio. He asked people to remember his father’s name.

Refugee doctors whose accreditation comes from other countries are asking to be fast tracked so they can help alleviate of the shortage of doctors and nurses. The British accreditation process, they say, is long, difficult, and expensive. RefuAid says it has gathered copies of the qualifications of 230 doctors, which come from their home countries

The health secretary said he’d discuss the proposal. He didn’t say who he’d discuss it with.


On a cheerier note, the Faroe Islands, with a population of 61,000, haven’t yet had a single death from the virus and have only one person hospitalized with it. They’re getting ready to reopen schools.

What did they do right? They listened to a veterinary scientist, Debes Christiansen, who warned them that the virus was coming.

Christiansen’s lab is set up to test salmon for viral infections, but he bought the supplies he’d need to test humans and 10% of the population has now been tested. The contacts of people who tested positive were traced and quarantined. Christiansen said it was easy to adapt his lab and to get hold of the materials he needed. He could, he said, use a wider range of suppliers than hospitals could.

No, I don’t understand that last bit either, but he could do a thousand tests a day if they were needed.

So why is the UK having such trouble testing people? See that bit neither of us understood about the range of suppliers. It probably means something along the lines of “We have regulations and we’re not going to abandon them just because people are dying.”

Or possibly not. I’m in the dark and making guesses at where the door is.

An opposition MP praised not just Christiansen but also the government for setting up a drive-in testing facility and quarantine facilities at an airport hotel.

The Faroes, in case this is useful information, are a self-governing territory of Denmark.


And finally, the spacecraft BepiColombo made its closest approach to Earth on April 10, took a good look at the mess we’re in, and headed off to Venus. Can’t say I blame it.

Stay safe, be careful, and try not to let it make you crazy. We’re hiding from things we can’t see. It’s easy for that to tip a person over the edge.