Love at first sight, antibodies, and vaccines: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

The British government’s wants a fast Covid antibody test to use in mass screenings before the end of the year, and it’s focused on the test made by Abingdon Health, which uses blood from a finger prick, and is, Abingdon says, 99.4% accurate.

But Jon Deeks, a professor of biostatistics and head of the University of Birmingham’s test evaluation research group, says Abingdon hasn’t published enough data to show that the test can be trusted. Without that, no one can know if Abingdon gamed the system by selecting blood samples with high antibody levels. Doing that is sort of like showing someone the top line of the eye chart, the one with a single big letter. They may read 100% of the letters correctly, but that doesn’t mean they should be driving.

Other companies have antibody tests that UK universities have validated and that are selling around the world, but they can’t seem to get the government’s attention. It saw Abingdon across a crowded room, fell in love, and has eyes for no one else. 

I can’t offer you any statistics on how many of those relationships work out in the long term, but I’m going to claim that, after a few passionate and agonizing months they turn out to be the disaster that everyone else predicted.

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You know what this country really needs to raise morale as we face a season of shorter days and slowly rising infection rates? Another governmental fuckup. Because I don’t know about anyone else, but I have moments of madness when I ask myself, What will I write about if they start getting this thing right?

Those moments. They don’t last long, but they’re disturbing.

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Irrelevant photo: As we inch toward fall (or autumn, if you like), we have red and orange berries. So here are red berries. I have no idea what they are.

Reassuringly, as researchers, governments, and companies the wide world ‘round rush to find not just a vaccine but the vaccine–by which I mean the first vaccine–the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Vaccines Trial Expert Group warns that a bad vaccine could manage to make this mess worse.

Is that cheering I hear? Yes. Thank you. I will have no shortage of things to write about. All I need is time and energy.

So what’s the group’s problem? 

“Deployment of a weakly effective vaccine could actually worsen the Covid-19 pandemic if authorities wrongly assume it causes a substantial reduction in risk, or if vaccinated individuals wrongly believe they are immune, hence reducing implementation of, or compliance with, other Covid-19 control measures.” 

In other words, people will get the vaccine, think the pandemic’s over, and rush out to scoop up some virii and spread the little bastards. I’ve imagined myself acting in ways that would accomplish that. 

The group says any vaccine should be 30% effective to get approval, but it recommends at least 50% effectiveness. Allowing for 95% accuracy, that translates to 30% in practice.

Did that make any sense of you? Me neither, but then it involves numbers, so I wouldn’t expect it to. I’m a word person.

They point to the danger of governments pressing for quick approvals for their own political reasons rather than comparing vaccines and finding the best one–which may not be the first. 

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As parts of England face localized spikes and people are told to self-isolate (who invented that phrase and can I slap them?), the government has noticed that people still need money when they can’t work. At least they do if they plan to pay the rent and put food on the table. If they can’t do those things, they may be oddly reluctant to stay home. 

This is a step forward, but not a big one, because a trial program will offer people who meet certain criteria the princely sum of £13 a day. 

What criteria? They’re complicated. I sank. I do not get to pass Go. Or collect £13. 

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Human adaptability knows no limits. When forced to cope with the unnatural situation that we called lockdown, Britons bought boxed wine–300% more from the Co-op, 40% more from Marks & Spencer, 41% more from Sainsbury’s. 

Human credulity also knows no limits. A study by Avaaz (“a U.S.-based nonprofit organization . . .  [that] promotes global activism on issues such as climate change, human rights, animal rights, corruption, poverty, and conflict) reports that in April the top ten Facebook pages with false information and conspiracy theories had four times as many views as the top ten reputable sites.

A separate study in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found 2,000 claims about Covid on social media, and 1,800 of them were false. That covered 87 countries. 

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Boris Johnson spoke to schoolkids as part of his effort to appear to be doing something in the midst of the pandemic, and the Twittosphere noticed that the books behind him sent an interesting message. The titles included The Twits, Betrayed, Resistance, and Fahrenheit 451.

It turns out they did indeed send a message, but it wasn’t meant for Johnson. The librarian had set them up six months ago, when she resigned, and no one had noticed. 

Sometimes if you want to make a point, subtlety isn’t your best bet.

Johnson’s speech, standing in front of the books, wasn’t subtle but it was largely incomprehensible. He blamed a mutant algorithm for messing up the grades in a test the kids hadn’t taken because he hadn’t bothered to check how old they were, told them Harry Potter wasn’t sexist, blithered a bit about his own school experience, and made a passing reference to the supine stem of confiteor in order presumably, to let them know that he studied Latin and was better than them.

It’s a pointless story, which unfortunately doesn’t have a punchline, but then it was a pointless moment in the career of a politician who seems like a good fit for pointlessness.

Face masks, baronets, and a parallel universe: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

Britain’s subsidy on eating out is due to end this month, and it sounds like servers will breathe a sigh of relief. It’s brought money into pubs, cafes, and restaurants, and along with it, crabby, demanding customers. 

One server said, “Last week I had someone swearing at me on the phone. They wanted to book a party of 20. I tried to explain there’s no way we could book in 20, the only thing we could do is we have got tables outside. He told me I’d ruined his day.”

You know how it is: Nothing says “Let’s have a good day” the way ruining someone else’s does. 

I don’t know what it is about having part of your meal subsidized that puts people in a temper, but any number of servers report that it’s been horrible.

Irrelevant photo: It’s blackberry season.

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Having advised English secondary schools against using face masks when they reopen, the government has now changed its mind and is giving head teachers (if you’re American, that means principals) discretion over whether to require them or encourage them, although how much encouragement a mask needs is anyone’s guess. 

A fair number of schools had already said they were going to require (or encourage) masks anyway and the World Health Organization has said it’s a good idea. (Okay, I’ve simplified WHO’s advice, but we’re in the neighborhood.) So the government’s avoided the embarrassment of a showdown with the schools and instead is having a showdown with its own MPS, who are saying things like: 

“Masks should be banned in schools. The country should be getting back to normal not pandering to this scientifically illiterate guff. It is time to end the fear. And keep it away from our kids, thank you very much.”

“We need to embed Covid and proportionately live with it.”

My favorite is the statement that Boris Johnson–that’s our alleged prime minister–has been “reprogrammed by aliens.”

So yes, we’ve confused WHO and Dr. Who, but we’re on top of this. It’ll be fine.

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Speaking of our alleged prime minister: Dominic Cummings, who is Johnson’s brain and quite possibly his programmer, although I don’t think he’s an alien, already caused a lot of trouble by breaking his own lockdown rules, getting caught, and swearing blind that he drove 60 miles to make sure his eyesight was good enough to drive–.

Should we start that over? Dominic Cummings hasn’t been an easy presence in 10 Downing Street, and I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s united the country. Today, though, it’s his father-in-law in the news. He told a visitor (who told the world) that Johnson will be stepping down in six months because he’s struggling with the aftereffects of Covid-19, which he caught by being an idiot. 

Not that I blame people who catch the disease. Only the ones who think the rules of epidemiology don’t apply to them.

Johnson denies that he’ll step down. Number 10 denies that he’ll step down. The father-in-law’s in hiding. Cummings has stolen a tardis and is not available for comment.

The father-in-law’s a baronet. That’s not a weapon, it’s a title–the lowest order of hereditary title, and it’s available to commoners, so feel free to be snobbish about it. It gives you–or him, really–the right to be called sir. But only by people willing to call him that. Its rare female equivalent is a baronetess, and if you find one with your birdwatcher’s field glasses she will probably not want to be addressed as sir. Or siress. 

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The Oxford Vaccine Group says it just might have enough data gathered before the end of the year to bring its vaccine before the regulator for approval. 

And that doesn’t say the regulator will approve it. 

Anything leaning that heavily on the word might is a kind of non-news item, but it appeared in a large enough range of publications to make it look like news. Presumably they put out a press release. Maybe they decided we all need cheering up and a press release is cheaper and more practical than tea and cookies. Or maybe they’re afraid we’ll forget them and start looking to Russia and China for salvation. Either way, please join me in a cup of tea, a cookie, and a shred of hope.

Or a biscuit if you’re holding out for British English. I’m very nearly bilingual and happy to work with either version of good cheer.

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Okay, that’s enough with the good cheer. You knew it couldn’t last, didn’t you?

The world now has the first fully documented case of someone getting Covid a second time. The man’s 35 and was diagnosed in March and again in August. The two infections have some genetic differences, which says that this isn’t a single infection that hung around.

It’s not clear whether the genetic differences are enough to have made his body not recognize the second version. All anyone can say so far is that nobody should count on being immune. Beyond that, no one’s drawing sweeping conclusions.

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At least in Europe, the coronavirus is becoming less deadly, although it’s not clear why. 

If you divide England’s Covid deaths by its cases (and England follows the European pattern in this), you get a fatality rate of 1% in August but 18% in April. And if you take those figures too seriously, you’ll be misled, because deaths lag a couple of weeks behind infections and because testing has changed during that time. 

Still, something seems to be going on.  It could be that the disease is infecting a younger group, who are, wisely, less prone to dying to if. It could also be that hospitals are treating it more effectively. 

One set of scientists thinks a variant of the virus, known by its friends and family as D614G, is more infectious but less deadly. A second set thinks that’s not so. I think we’ll find out occasionally, so let’s wait and see. 

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For a while there, it looked like scientists in Antarctica might have found a parallel universe, created in the big bang right with ours. In it, left is right, up is down, and time runs backward.

Then it looked like they hadn’t found one at all, damn it. A new paper argues that the pulses that hinted at the parallel universe were reflections off the ice formations. 

Am I disappointed? Damn right. If time was running backwards, there’d be a way out of the pandemic. Not to mention climate change and anything else we’ve screwed up, although I’ll admit there’s an awful lot of stuff in the past to not look forward to. 

Education, chaos, and lawsuits: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

Way back when pandemics were nothing more than handy plot devices for weary writers or the nightmares of sensible scientists, I remember reading about a different nightmare scenario, the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause that was being negotiated into an assortment of international trade and investment agreements. It allows foreign companies to sue governments in what are always described as highly secretive tribunals (and I’m paraphrasing some slippery language, so I may not be hitting this next bit directly on the head) for money they lost, or might have lost, due to government actions. 

I read a lot of nightmare scenarios, and I try not to let them keep me awake at night. This one came from sensible sources, so I didn’t disbelieve it, but nothing happened (at least where I could see it), the world as I knew it didn’t end, so I went back to sleep. 

Sunday’s paper, though, brought the news that it’s time to wake up. Big-money law firms are shooting emails to their clients on the subject. One, Ropes & Gray, wrote that actions brought under investment treaties could be “a powerful tool to recover or prevent loss resulting from Covid-19-related government actions.” 

The fear of lawsuits may mean that governments will back away from decisive responses to the pandemic, or to its economic impact, for fear of getting sued. investor 

Just when you thought we’d hit bottom, right?

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New research suggests something we already know: that we still don’t know much about how actively kids spread Covid-19. Researchers in South Korea first suggested that kids from ten to nineteen are better virus spreaders than adults, but once people dug deeper into their it became less clear just who infected who. 

So the current best educated guess is that kids in that age group are at least no more likely to spread the infection than adults are. Unless, of course, they go out and act stupid, in which case they will, but not because they’re biologically better conduits.

But–and there’s always a but–kids do tend to have contact with more people than adults do, which would mean they could be great conduits, but for social rather than biological reasons.

I hope I’ve confused the picture sufficiently.

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Irrelevant photo: Virginia creeper getting ready for autumn.

A company in Cardiff has developed a quick test that spots Covid-19 T cells. T cells last longer than antibodies and have their own ways of fighting infection. They’re the things your body turns to when the first line of defense crumbles. 

The test may be useful in developing a vaccine.

It’s been possible to test for T cells before this, but it’s a slower process. The developer, Dr. HIndley, said, the new test  “stripped back everything to the bare bones” and a lab can get a result in 24 hours.

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England has been in chaos over A-level grades

A bit of background: A-levels are a standardized test that students hoping to go to university (if you’re American, substitute college) first take and then submit. But the tests were canceled this year because of the virus. 

What to do? Well, every year teachers submit predicted grades–an estimate of how well students will do–and students either prove them right or don’t.

Could the students use their predicted instead? No, that would be too simple. The government stepped in to prevent the horror of grade inflation by applying an algorithm to the grades and creating grade deflation, penalizing students from poor and minority backgrounds, from schools that don’t usually do well, and from larger classes in more popular subjects. It didn’t penalize students from affluent, non-minority backgrounds, good schools, and private schools. Or students who were in very small classes.

Some 40% of the estimated grades were downgraded.  

An assortment of students lost the university places they’d been offered because their grades had been downgraded.

Then when everyone started shouting, the government said, fine, your school can appeal your grades. 

Then the secretary of state for education, on behalf of the government, said the process was robust and fair.

Then the government said, okay, we won’t charge your school if it appeals your grades and loses, something it would normally do.

Then the exam regulator published advice which contradicted something the government had said about the appeals process.

Then the regulator withdrew its advice. 

Then several students filed a lawsuit against the regulator.

Then members of parliament from all parties got inundated with letters from their constituents and felt the need to make very-unhappy noises to the government.

Then Boris Johnson, our alleged prime minister, went on vacation.

Then everybody remembered that the grades for a different standardized test for somewhat younger students are due to be released on Thursday and all hell was going to break loose all over again. Or not all over again, because this particular hell hadn’t stopped breaking yet.

Then I finally understood why universities didn’t declare the whole system invalid and accept the students they wanted in the first place: The government had limited the number of students they can accept. Why did they do that? I don’t understand the logic here, so I’ll quote an explanation from March of this year:

Strict limits on the number of students that each university in England can recruit were imposed by the government in an effort to avoid a free-for-all on admissions, with institutions plunged into financial turmoil as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian has learned.

“A government source said each university would face limits on the number of UK and EU undergraduates it could admit for the academic year starting in September, in a move backed by higher education leaders. It will be the first such limit since the university admission cap was lifted in 2015.”

Exactly why extra students would be a problem when they’re losing international students I can’t explain, but it’s good to know that the government wants to avoid turmoil.

Then the secretary of state for education said he was really sorry and he hadn’t meant any of it. Everyone could use their predicted grades. And the cap on the number of students? They hadn’t meant that either. 

Then the universities were left to pick up the pieces, which you’ll find scattered on the floor of admissions offices all over the country, along with the admissions officers themselves, who are currently unable to haul themselves into their chairs.

And the kids–or former kids–who hadn’t been able to take the test get to pick up the pieces as well, because reversing the decision didn’t make everything snap back to the way it had been before their grades were lowered. Some kids missed out on scholarships. Programs with a limited number of places have already offered those places to other candidates. 

Scotland got itself into the same problem but made a quick u-turn, reverting to the grades the teachers had predicted. Why did England hold out for so long? Why, to wring the maximum amount of chaos out of the situation. Why look like a jerk by reversing yourself quickly when you can look like a world-class jerk and make scads of enemies by reversing yourself slowly? I’m a devotee of the mess as an art form–it’s underestimated, in my opinion–but really, guys, schools start again in September and I’ll have plenty to work with. You can stop anytime you like. 

Which reminds me to say that the government’s abolishing National Health England, folding it into the test-and-trace system. Since test and trace has been a disaster, they’re handing the two services to the person who’s been in charge of it, Dido Harding. We’ll catch up with that eventually.

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This final item has nothing to do with Covid, but let’s toss it in anyway: The Home Office refused a British lawyer a visa he hadn’t applied for. 

He got married abroad and applied for a visa so his wife to join him in the country, submitting hundreds of pages of documents and a fee that topped £3,000. The Home Office refused him a £95 visa for a visit. And he couldn’t appeal the decision because he hadn’t applied for that visa.

Do we summon up the spirit of Joseph Heller (that’s Catch-22‘s author) or Franz Kafka?

When a newspaper called the Home Office, presumably for a quote, they decided to consider the application the man had actually filed.

His brother, who also married abroad, was refused a visa for his wife on the grounds that his description of the family restaurant’s menu differed from his father’s description. The father said it served pizza. The son said it also served garlic bread, chicken wings, and ice cream.

It’s a good thing capital punishment’s been abolished in the U.K. or they might’ve been hung for that.

A judge overturned the Home Office decision and ordered them to pay the couple £140. They still haven’t gotten it.

The pandemic update from Britain, with half-dressed politicians and questionable databases

The European Parliament–unlike the British one–is meeting virtually, and an Irish member, Luke Flanagan (called Ming, after a character out of Flash Gordon) discussed agricultural policy, live and beamed to an unwilling world, while wearing a dark shirt and possibly underwear but nothing more than that. 

We know this because he set his iPad to portrait instead of landscape. And I understand that tastes differ, but I’m reasonably sure this isn’t the portrait you want hanging over your mantle. 

The EU’s translators could be heard fighting not to laugh as they (heroically) went on translating what he said into all the EU’s many languages. 

He now calls himself Ming the Trouserless. 

Irrelevant photo to give you some relief from the pandemic: a field with corn marigolds.

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Possibly for fear of an online dress-code rebellion, Boris Johnson backed down and will now allow Britain’s members of parliament to vote remotely if they have medical conditions that would make attending in person dangerous or if they have family members who etc. and so on and so on. 

As far as I can tell, that doesn’t include MPs who in spite of the virus have to travel from way to hell and gone to get to Westminster, and it’s anyone guess whether it includes black, Asian, or minority ethnic MPS, who are at higher risk from the virus than whites, for reasons that haven’t been figured out yet. 

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Since the MPs have come home to roost, chickenlike, in Westminster, the union that represent parliament’s staff is threatening to strike over conditions they consider unsafe. They haven’t been able to keep a safe distance from the MPs, they say. But (they didn’t say) they’re all dressed very nicely–not to mention from top to (and this is very important) bottom.

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Starting in mid-June, all hospital visitors and outpatients will have to wear masks, and all staff will have to wear surgical masks, the government announced. To which the National Health Service said, “Gee, it would’ve been nice if you’d talked to us about this beforehand, because it’s going to take a little planning.”

“Planning?” the Department of Impulsive Thinking said. “What’s that?”

The government also announced that a limited number of visitors will be allowed into hospitals, and I haven’t a clue if the hospitals were told about that in advance. Possibly, since they haven’t been heard to scream, “You want what?” in public. 

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A leaked email from the Department of Grinding Slowly has announced that Britain’s world-beating system of testing people for the coronavirus and tracing their contacts won’t be fully operational until September. Or possibly October.

It hasn’t ruled out the possibility of postponing September and October for up to 90 days so that it can make its target. 

But don’t worry, we’ll all be fine. Car showrooms are reopening. In no time at all, we’ll be able to get haircuts. (I’ve cut my partner’s hair twice now and we’re still together. She wanted to cut mine, but after what she did to the dog I thought maybe I’d let it grow.) You can meet people who are over 5’6” on Thursdays as long as you’re out of doors and the wind’s from the west. If they stand on your left. Children with birthmarks have returned to school. Children without birthmarks will have to wait until next month. 

That report is from the Department of You’ll Never Keep Track of It Anyway. 

Those of us who were born with a sunny disposition, along with any number of scientists, are waiting for a second spike in coronavirus cases. In fact, a group of scientists and medics have called for a public inquiry to prepare for it. 

Anyone want to place bets on whether they’ll be listened to?

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You might want to sit down before you read this next piece. Not because it’s shocking but because it made me dizzy, and I do have a habit of mixing me up with you, so I just assume you’ll have the same problem.

First we (and by we, of course, I mean I) learned from the Guardian that a small US company, Surgisphere, provided the data behind a couple of articles published in reputable medical journals that claimed Covid-19 patients taking hydroxychloroquine (I hate typing that word) were dying at higher rates than people who weren’t taking it. 

That led to tests of the drug ending early. It was too dangerous.  

But Surgisphere’s extensive database, from which the data was drawn, looked–

Is shaky a polite enough word? Questionable. Let’s settle for questionable. And possibly imaginary.

And Surgisphere, which had listed six employees before the story broke, suddenly listed only three. Some of them have no visible medical, scientific, or data background. The science editor seems to be a science fiction writer and fantasy artist. The marketing executive is an adult model and events hostess. 

An adult model? I’m not sure. It probably just means she’s over eighteen, although maybe she makes a living as a role model for adults. Or appears by video link in front of the European Parliament in her not-quite-altogether. 

Next we learned that the respectable medical publications withdrew the articles because the authors were no longer sure of their data. There were plans to resume the canceled trials of that drug whose name I hate to type. 

But wait: Before anyone had time to check my spelling, we learned that a randomized trial reported that the stuff is useless against Covid-19 and we can all forget about it.

May I never have to type its name again.

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If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve earned the right to whatever good news I can scrape together, and I did find some. Astra-Zeneca is going into high gear producing a vaccine before its effectiveness has been proven. It’s a gamble. If it works, they’ll have 300 million doses ready to go before the end of the year. If it doesn’t, they’ll have set fire to a significant amount of money. 

This involves partnerships with a range of groups that I won’t list, and it also involves a commitment to make 1 billion doses available to low- and middle-income countries.

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And finally, a Dutch study raises the hope that vitamin K might protect people against the worst forms of Covid-19. So eat your spinach, kids, along with eggs, blue cheese, and hard cheeses. You can put them together into a very nice omelette, and if you’ve been here for a while you know better than to ask me for a recipe.

Pandemic reports from the Departments of Health, Bad Planning, and Unlikely Allies

The Guardian interviewed past British health ministers about their experiences. The best bit of advice came from Kenneth Clarke: “Get the prime minister to take as little interest in the subject as possible.” The best demonstration of cluelessness came from Jeremy Hunt: “I was gobsmacked to find that 150 patients a week die in the NHS because of treatment errors. Then I discovered that this was actually true all over the world, it’s what happens in medicine.”

Ah, Jeremy, it does me good to see that you came into the job with a real grounding in the subject.

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Medical staff from the St. Peter Hospital turned out to meet Belgium’s prime minister, Sophie Wilmès. As her car rolled majestically between the two evenly spaced lines of people wearing scrubs, they turned their backs. It was to criticize staff shortages, low pay, budget cuts to health care, and the use of less qualified staff to do part of nurses’ jobs. I don’t know if it’ll change government policy, but it’ll sure as hell change the way the government organizes Wilmès’s public appearances.

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Irrelevant photo: These are called, um, something. I always forget. They’re wonderful to touch, though.

Britain’s wrestling with the question of whether to reopen schools in June. So what does science have to tell us? 

Not much.

Only a few useful studies have been done, and they point in opposite directions. An Italian one from the town of Vo, which had a major outbreak, didn’t find a single kid under ten who’d been infected, even though plenty of them lived with people who were sick. Studies from Iceland, Norway, and Korea have similar findings.

But.

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

A British Office of National Statistic study looked at 10,000 people and found that the same proportion of people tested positive for the virus across all age groups. Or at least it found “no evidence” of differences, which may or may not be the same thing. (There’s always an or as well as a but. Or there is around here.) If you’re willing to trust a non-professional’s translation of that–and I admit, it’s a risk–kids get infected at the same rate as adults.

A German study seems to back that up. 

So is it safe to reopen the schools? I have no idea. If serious testing and contact tracing were in place, they could make a better argument for it.

Has the government studied the situation? It’s not impossible, but studying the situation has a way of bringing out all kinds of inconvenient information, so I wouldn’t put a lot of money on it.

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So what’s happening with contact tracing? You would have to ask, wouldn’t you? A company that has a contract to recruit contact tracers emailed applicants to say that the jobs they were applying for had been put on hold because the government’s considering an alternative to the app that it had bet its chips on.

At which point the Department of Health said the email was wrong. The chips are still on the existing app. And the company that sent the email said it was all a miscommunication. 

So how’s the app performing on the Isle of Wight, where it’s being tested? Slightly under half of the population has downloaded it, although that may include people who downloaded it twice (that would’ve been me, but I don’t live there and don’t use a smartphone) or who are from the mainland and so don’t count. Still, it’s a better take up than in Singapore (20%) or Australia (25%). 

On the other hand, it’s an early, dumbed-down version of the app. It only asks about two symptoms. If a person’s answers send up red flag, their contacts get a warning. But there’s no way for the person to enter a test result (assuming that the government gets its testing centers working well enough for the person to get their results back in a reasonable time). So contacts get warned but then they’re left to wander around wondering what they should do. Isolate? Go to work? Write their wills?

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And now a report from the Department of Bad Planning: Not only didn’t the government talk to teachers’ unions before announcing that the schools would reopen, it didn’t talk to city governments before announcing that the lockdown would be loosened. 

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The Department of Unlikely Allies reports that a hundred people (or several hundred, depending on your source) demonstrated in London on Saturday, protesting (variously) the lockdown, 5G, the fake virus, contact tracing, and the vaccine that doesn’t exist yet, although to be fair they didn’t say that it did, they were just getting their licks in in advance. 

The protest was called by the UK Freedom Movement, which circulated a flyer on Facebook, saying, “We say no to the coronavirus bill, no to mandatory vaccines, no to the new normal and no to the unlawful lockdown.”

It called sixty mass gatherings around the country, but it’s not clear how many of them gathered. A dozen people micro-massed in Southampton. 

The group Hope Not Hate, which “uses research, education, and public engagement to challenge mistrust and racism,” said, “It is notable how diverse the people leading the groups appear to be, with some groups moderated entirely by vegan activists, others by committed Brexiteers and still others by full-blown conspiracy theorists.”

If I can translate that, these are people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other. Lockdown’s driving people to discover all sorts of new possibilities. Isn’t it wonderful?

Overall, a recent poll shows that the British public not only supports the lockdown but is uneasy about easing it.

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After the leak of a report indicating that the government was thinking about freezing public sector wages, Boris Johnson has said no one has had that thought, even in passing. I only mention that because I caught a few drops of the leak and squeezed them out here, so I thought I should mop them up. I should also get out of the metaphor before I drown in it.

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A new study makes singing look–well, nothing’s safe these days but as safe as anything else is. Anecdotal evidence had been pointing to it as a great way to spread little virii.

The anecdotes? A number of choirs popped up as virus hotspots, leading to the logical assumption that singing caused the spread. It’s common sense. Singers breathe deeply and exhale powerfully, so why wouldn’t they both spread and take in better than your average amateur breather? 

Well, because it doesn’t work that way–or it doesn’t seem to. I won’t rule out a contradictory report coming in next week. In the meantime, though, a specialist in fluid mechanics experimented to see how far singers and instrumentalists could shoot air, with all its virus-carrying droplets and aerosols.

Singers propel air about half a meter–maybe a foot and a half. His best guess is that the choir outbreaks came from socializing before or after singing, although the director of one choir swore they’d all been careful about both distance and sanitizing their hands.

The study also showed that flutes, oboes, and clarinets propelled air further than larger wind instruments. 

Stay away from people carrying flutes, please. They’re dangerous.

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The U.S. Navy reports that thirteen sailors who’d apparently recovered from Covid-19, testing negative, tested positive for a second time. The same thing has been reported in South Korea. It’s possible, but far from certain, that the disease becomes dormant in a person’s system and then reactivates. 

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The Department of Greed and Despair wishes to inform you that some of the protective gear that’s being sold comes with phony documentation. So as people return to work, they can’t know if they’re being handed workable protective gear or not. 

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And finally, from the Ray of Hope Department, two vaccine updates:

A vaccine being worked on in the U.S. shows that the vaccine did create antibodies in eight people in the test, although this stage of the test is about safety, not effectiveness. 

Another vaccine being tested in Oxford protected monkeys against pneumonia and the most severe symptoms of the virus, but it hasn’t been tested in humans yet.