Can I take time off from being snarky and welcome a moment of sanity? Any minute now, the British government’s expected to announce a hotel quarantine on returning travelers.
Travel in the age of Covid
Up to now, we’ve had a do-it-yourself quarantine: You go home, you add water and shake vigorously, you take a Covid test or two, then you wait ten days or until the world’s ready for you to emerge blinking into the sunlight.
Or you do none of that. Who’ll know?
And that’s the problem with the do-it-yourself system. Some unknown percent of arriving travelers go home, have a nice shower, and since they’ve added water consider the thing done, so they go out and buy groceries. And, of course, even the people who take the quarantine seriously have to get home, leaving a viral trail from the airport to wherever they live.
The noise accompanying the expected change is all about the newer, scarier Covid variants from Brazil and South Africa, so it’s not clear yet whether the quarantine will apply to everyone coming into the country or just to people coming from countries known to have the variant.
If it’s limited to a few countries, it’ll be the policy equivalent of wearing your mask underneath your nose and pretending you’ve done your bit to battle Covid. Most countries don’t do enough virus sequencing to know which variants they’re dealing with. In other words, the variants are circulating in more countries than we know about.
In another moment of startling good sense, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said it was “far too early” to talk about people booking summer holidays.
The travel industry is not happy about any of this.
Moderna reports that its vaccine is effective against both the British and South African Covid variants, although it’s not as effective against the South African variant as they’d like. The company will test a second booster shot, making a total of three shots, with the third one designed specifically for the South African variant.
If you’ve been reading stand-your-hair-on-end stories about people in Europe dying after getting a Covid vaccine, go find your comb and get your hairdo in place: There’s no evidence that their deaths had anything to do with the vaccine.
In most countries, early vaccinations have focused on the elderly, and–well, the thing about old people is that we develop the habit of dying. In larger numbers than other age groups. So the vaccinated group included a lot of people who weren’t well to start with. And they died, but their deaths haven’t been linked to the vaccines.
I subscribe to, among other things, a conspiracy-inflected newsletter, and it’s been counting the dead gleefully, without hinting that there might be extenuating circumstances.
It helps me remember how crazy the world’s gotten lately.
The fear that Covid will mutate until it’s beyond the reach of vaccines has kept the news–and I assume sensible scientists as well–focused on Covid’s new variants. So let’s talk about variants:
They happen by accident. Mutations are random–they have no plan and no goal. If you’re not a fan of evolution, this is the time to change the channel, because what I’m talking about is evolution at work, but speeded up enough that we can see it happening. Some of the variations are disasters for the virus and they fall off social media. Some don’t matter–they don’t have good publicity agents, they post on Twitter but no one likes or retweets them, and we never hear about them.
Some, though, work well. I’m taking that from the virus’s point of view, remember, so that means they’re more infectious or they change clothes so the vaccine-primed immune system stops recognizing them. They’re the Kim Kardashians of the virus world.
The reason I’m dragging you through all this is that the more times the virus mutates, the more chances it has to hit on a winning formula. So the more people become infected, the greater the chance the virus has of becoming even scarier.
In people with suppressed immune systems, it may get to mutate even more freely.
Could it mutate enough times to become less scary? Of course. The process can go in any direction. But we can’t know which one it’ll take. It’s not a bet I’d like to make. If you hear someone saying that no one is safe until we’re all safe, this is what they’re talking about.
Bjorn Meyer of the Pasteur Institute said that with vaccination and the distancing and cleaning measures that are in place around the world, the virus’s successful mutations are more likely to affect how easily it’s transmitted rather than how lethal it becomes. I have no idea why that should be true, so I’ll just have to take his word for it and skip merrily on to the next item.
A joint Swiss, Czech, and Italian effort has developed a second-generation double antibody that protects against Covid.
I know. Me too. Think of it as an arranged marriage. The researchers introduced two natural Covid antibodies that target separate sites on the virus and fused them into a single artificial molecule. As long as they both may live or until one of them has an affair with some other antibody, whichever comes first.
In pre-clinical trials, the artificial antibody neutralized Covid and its variants and kept the virus from changing its structure. If it changes its structure, remember, the antibody has to close its eyes and count to seven while the virus hides.
The antibody stands a good chance of both preventing and treating Covid but it still needs to go through human trials before. If it does go into use, it looks like a single injection will reduce the viral load in the lungs and minimize inflammation.
Politics, economics, and interviews
I don’t know about you, but I was impressed that England had instituted a £500 grant for low-income people who test positive for Covid and have to self-isolate. It didn’t sound like enough, but it was better than nothing. Until I found out that three-quarters of the people who apply for it are turned down.
Local governments say they’re having to turn people down because the criteria are too narrow.
Thanks, guys, you’ve renewed my faith in the incompetence of the current government.
Speaking of which: Britain’s work and pensions secretary walked out on a TV interview when she didn’t like the interviewer’s paraphrase of what she said.
Okay, it was a Zoom interview. It’s hard to walk out them with any flair, but she did turn off her camera.
It started when Therese Coffey said Britain’s death rate was so high because it had an obesity problem and an older population. To translate that, it means, None of this is the government’s fault.
The interviewer, Piers Morgan, turned it so the seams showed. So the public was too old and too fat, then?
“I think that’s a very insulting thing that you’ve just said,” Coffey answered. “I also have to point out that you started this interview late. Unfortunately I have to go to other broadcasters as well, and I wish we had more time.”
“It was you that boycotted the programme,” Morgan said. “Please don’t play the ‘we haven’t given you enough time’ card, because we gave you eight months and you didn’t turn up.”
A recent report tells us that the wealth of the world’s ten richest people has increased enough during the pandemic to pay for the planet’s entire population to be vaccinated. And enough pocket money will be left over to make up for the income the poorest of them have lost.
So how much is that in numbers? It’s £400 billion. Of course, if you have to split that with nine other people, all you get to take home is £40 billion.
The almost obligatory snippet of good news
I’m not doing well on the good news front, but research from the University of Illinois reports that the psychological problems of lockdown tend to fade with time as people adjust to the new normal.
Sorry–best I could do today.