Category Archives: Pandemic

Exit Opportunity

As both sides of the Covid restrictions debate put their cases to either end or extend it is clear that any choice will cause an outcry from someone.

The steady increase in new case numbers is ammunition for the extenders while the low hospital admissions and deaths encourages those hoping for an end to the restrictions. With five days to go until the decision day for England the current favourite looks to be a compromise that lifts some of the restrictions but keeps the politicians in control – and in the media spotlight. So most likely indoor venues such as theatres and cinemas will re-open as planned – but with face masks as a requirement until a further review in another five weeks.

gettingajob1Despite this easing overseas travel will remain problematic – since so many destinations are not ready to accept foreign tourists. An issue that the UK media seems to have gone quiet about in recent months. In fact many British sun-seekers seem oblivious to the conditions in their chosen destinations.

Some anti-government figures have expressed opinions that the UK Covid death toll is the worst in Europe because of government mishandling of the response. And it is true that 127,854 UK deaths is a shocking total. But after some digging into the international statistics the actual wider data is eye-opening.

Italy is recorded with 126,767 Covid deaths just one place behind the UK in the available statistics. While France is two places lower with 110,137 deaths reported. So in total reported numbers the UK is the worst nation in Europe. However … UK death statistics include cases where Covid was not the actual cause; a different approach to many other countries’ health stats.

If instead we look at deaths per million of population the national positions are much different. And the European counties with the worst figures are –

Hungary 3,101/million
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2,902/million
Czechia 2,815/million
Gibraltar 2,791/million
San Marino 2,647/million
North Macedonia 2,624/million
Bulgaria 2,589/million
Montenegro 2,541/million
Slovakia 2,276/million
Belgium 2,153/million
Slovenia 2,112/million
Italy 2,100/million
Croatia 1,985/million
Poland 1,967/million
UK 1,874/million

So relative to population the UK is far from being the outlier in Europe. It would, of course, be far better if the UK was more like New Zealand – with just 5/million!

At least our vaccination programme has mitigated the consequences of infection and greatly reduced the death rate. With almost 60% of the population (77% of adults) now having at least one dose the mass rollout of vaccine has broken the link between infection and serious illness. A programme that has also been successful employed by Gibraltar, Malta, Isle of Man, San Marino and Jersey, amongst others, to cut the risks for both the locals and tourists. In Gibraltar they have gone so far as to have vaccinated more than 100% of its population – by extended its coverage to the EU workers that commute in from Spain.

So will the UK nations be allowed the opportunity to exit from the Covid emergency powers? Or is that old observation that governments take emergency powers but never fully give them back still holding true? We shall soon see …

The Grass Is Greener

The EU’s Green Pass vaccine passport should be in place between 17-May and 1-June 2021 according to reports quoting Eurocrat Margaritis Schinas – the European Commission Vice-President assigned to the Promoting our European Way of Life Department (that is not a joke!). Being an EU scheme it does not cover the UK – or indeed anywhere else.

Get-Away-300So after the threats to block vaccine supplies are played out the next revenge move could well involve the EU requiring travellers to have one of their new passports – while making sure that all UK applicants are either restricted, blocked or forced to pay dearly for the privilege. A move that could make places like Israel, Gibraltar, Australia etc move further up every desirable holiday destinations list.

However quite how travel to the Irish Republic from the non-EU world would work is not clear – and could prove a further problem for the citizens of Northern Ireland. A part of the UK that is being forced to act as a purgatory between the evil UK and the heaven that is the EU. [Do I get my EU funding now?]

Meanwhile the UK news media report that a Covid Status Certificate is being considered for the UK. But also reporting opinions that any UK domestic vaccine passport would be discriminatory and that discriminating on grounds of jabs would be illegal.

Looks like travel companies will have to tread very carefully if they are to avoid expensive litigation …

Viral Threat 2021

Twelve months ago the new Wuhan virus was very much a Chinese problem. One that would not spread worldwide and, like earlier infectious, such as Ebola or SARS,  would be contained before it infected us in the UK. Wrong!

Man1We now have the prospect of UK Covid-related deaths reaching 100,000 before too long. And this is against a backdrop of almost 93 million cases and 2 million deaths world wide. But vaccines have been developed, approved, mass produced and started to be distributed – so deaths and serious infections should start to decline by summer time. If the promises hold true.

Then we, like many countries, will have to assess how our nation gets back to something approaching normal. This is going to be difficult after so much disruption to both the economy and our daily lives. If the Government spends billions to boost business then it could be a catalyst for a new Roaring Twenties. A period where the young and rich party like there’s no tomorrow, the stock markets boom and many old fashions are discarded.

But having already spent billions of borrowed money spending even more restarting damaged businesses might just burst the bubble. And the Roaring Twenties could be followed by an almighty crash … just like the 1920s.

Frantic Finish

It’s evening and the House of Lords has been passed a parcel. Not as a game to cheer up the holidays but in the form of that elusive deal with our former overlords – the European Union. They need to pass it on to our head of state for the final stage. And that needs to be quick so that the Queen can retire at a reasonable time – she is 94 after all.

Cunning_Plan_160Tomorrow should start out with all the legal steps completed and just one more day of transition before we are out of the EU. The predicted last-minute fait accompli bill did get through Westminster. But at least some of the politicians did make a big effort to search for any serious issues – and their green light helped it get through with a massive majority. Now for seeing how the deal works in practice … and how our European Friends treat us.

Just to add to frantic atmosphere reports of rapidly increasing Covid cases triggered the Heath Secretary moving all Tier 2 regions into Tier 3 – and many Tier 3 into Tier 4. While the Education Secretary rushed to push back the start date for school attendance back by one or two weeks. At least the other rushed announcement was good news – in that another vaccine had passed the approval process. And this one will be usable with room temperature storage …

So a lonely New Years Eve for most of the UK – but some rays of hope that summer 2021 will see the start of a new Roaring Twenties.

Nightmare On High Streets

It’s Halloween – and as darkness fell the latest political response to the Covid pandemic was being prepared for broadcast to the nation; with suitable scary effect.

BoJo2After repeated delays the announcement came of closures of all non-essential retail venues and we took another step towards our town centres becoming ghost towns. The aim is to improve the situation in time for Christmas – but in practice the four weeks of closure will blast a big hole in the viability of many retailers. It will, after all, fall in the pre-Christmas shopping peak – a time that would normally see them through a quiet February and March.

Restaurants, clubs and pubs will all be closed – despite them spending millions on providing extensive virus security measures. The office Christmas lunch is most likely cancelled. True the furlough scheme will be extended but that will not save many retailers from collapse.

However with schools, colleges and universities still open the virus still has a route out to infect new victims – and may prove to be a big gap in the lock-down plans.

This year has been bad but 2021 will start off worse ….

Going Downhill

At the beginning of the 19th century advances in medicine lead to the establishment of specialist fever or isolation hospitals to treat patients with infectious diseases – such as scarlet fever and smallpox. Early examples in England being the Liverpool Fever Hospital (1801) and the London Fever Hospital (1802). Such hospitals became common in England when laws were enacted requiring the notification of infectious diseases by public health officials.

The Catherine-de-Barnes Isolation Hospital was established in 1907 near Solihull in the West Midlands. It stayed operational into the 1980s – becoming the last in service when the six other remaining NHS isolation hospitals were closed down in 1981. But then in 1987 even this hospital was closed, fumigated and sold for luxury housing. An event that ended almost 200 years of putting patients with highly-contagious diseases in dedicated hospitals.

Back then it was thought that we would never need isolation hospitals again. All the world health challenges were either under control or far away.

NHSNightingaleNWBut in 2020 all the rules changed – to the extent that this year has already seen the Covid worldwide toll reach some 38 million infections and around 1,086,000 known deaths – over 43,000 of them in the UK.

Early in the outbreak the UK government raced to establish seven temporary hospitals for Covid patients – with no expense spared. A move that could have re-established the isolation model that had worked in the past.

But no!

Instead the approach has been to free-up space in existing hospitals so that infectious Covid patients could share resources – and viruses – with those too sick to be included in the bed-freeing-up strategy. The results of which were death sentences for care home residents, a lack of resources for other serious conditions, cancellations of elective surgery and a reluctance within the general population to go anywhere near a hospital.

According to the Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago NHS chiefs had already been urged to assign all Covid patients to isolation hospitals in order to curb the spread of the virus, but the scientists involved were told that the move – though adopted in other countries and used effectively here before – was “too difficult” for the current NHS to achieve!

So we are now facing growing numbers of cases being handled in a repeat of the same approach that caused so many problems before. While we have new, purpose-built hospitals sitting empty and unused since June …

The front line NHS staff have been working very hard – but the ability of their leadership seems to have really gone downhill relative to other countries and those 19th century pioneers.

The phrase lions lead by donkeys comes to mind …

It’ll All End In Tiers?

It’s autumn and already the supermarket shelves are being stacked with Christmas specials while the British media tries to generate the false impression that there are shortages of essentials due to panic buying. For this Grandad mince pies are high on the essentials list – but with the raw materials to make them already stockpiled there are no concerns on that front.

Man38However taking a somewhat broader view there are plenty of things that could go badly wrong for Britain. First the infamous, but non-existent, trade deal with the European Union is needed by both sides – but not at any price. And those that expected the EU to take a pragmatic and fair approach have been rudely shaken out of their dreams. We have to hope that the politicians can stop playing their political games and come to a sensible solution. But it’s not something that has happened very often, or very quickly, in the past – and the EU has a worse than average track record; mainly because there are so many different countries trying to come to a common consensus. What suits Spain does not suit Germany, etc, etc.

With just three months remaining before the end of transition and just a few weeks before the next final deadline any businesses relying on importing or exporting across the Channel must be crying out for definite border policies and procedures. The optimistic view is that exports from the EU to UK will be VAT free and cheaper but the pessimistic view is that something as simple as buying an item on Amazon will involve extra processes that increase the final price significantly. Who knows? Certainly not Joe Public. And most probably not Joe Public’s member of parliament either.

Then a close second comes Covid-19 – or rather the various attempts by our leaders to solve a health pandemic by issuing random rules, laws and slogans. Today’s news that even if a vaccine is found and approved by early 2021 it will take all of next year to treat most people. So we face starting 2021 with both Covid lock-downs and massive hold-ups at all the ports. But our government has things under control, it says, and is looking to make things clearer by putting Covid restrictions into three tiers …

Some distance behind these two we have threats of political rebellions in Scotland and Ireland – plus even within Scotland – and an increasingly unstable situation within British royalty. With the head of state being in a high-risk age group, the heir apparent being past retirement age, the Duke of York being tangled up in US litigation and Harry, formerly known as Prince, having become a minister of the Woke-ist religion there is a minefield of potential disasters not far ahead for the House of Windsor.

Interesting times …

Equinoxe

The day counter on the Daily Mail web site is showing 183 days so that’s half of the year spent living under constantly changing restrictions. From the Spring Equinox to the Autumn one the whole country has been subjected to an unprecedented torrent of instructions about our daily lives from on high. Even the Queen has been severely restricted by advice and laws which supposedly protect us, our economy and our health service from the terrors of Covid-19 infection.

Man37But today’s announcement to parliament by our Prime Minister (and Covid victim), Boris Johnson, set out not just more rules to be followed but also the prospect that they will be in place for a further six months.

Quite what will have improved the infection rate by then is not at all clear. One assumption is that there will be an effective, economic and safe preventative vaccination by then. But that’s a big ask when the common cold corona virus still has no vaccine after decades of attempts. Plus there are reports that natural antibodies to protect us from Covid-19 only have a limited life – so calling into doubt the value of any mass immunisation programme even if a vaccine is found.

The current picture suggests that nothing will actually remove the Covid-19 virus from the planet by then. Government measures can restrict its spread but the virus is like some invisible flood water that will break into anywhere that is unguarded. And even New Zealand’s success cannot guard every one of its citizens all of the time.

But it is also clear that after six more months of restrictions the national economy will be in a terrible state and those bountiful government handouts for everything from overseas aid to winter fuel payments; from high-speed railways to child benefits; from arts funding to state pensions will be facing the axe.

Messers Whitty and Vallance may have been painting an extreme scenario with 49,000 cases per day by 13-Oct-2020 but it seems more likely that by 2021 our high streets will be ghost towns and their civil service pension funds will be facing collapse or at least a major devaluation. Then they may have to concede that Sweden has played the hand dealt to it by fate much better …

What’s Going Wrong?

As a fan of cycle racing the virus restrictions have meant that so far this year there has been no chance to watch hours of live TV from around a variety of scenic European venues.

CaptainBlogsBut today it was back to normal with Eurosport showing live coverage from Tuscany of races rescheduled from Spring. With a packed programme scheduled for the coming months being trapped at home will be a bit more bearable – despite the threats of infection from second waves and the constant stream of new rules to restrict our behaviour.

So how did Tuscany cope handling a sports event within the pandemic restrictions? No problem – the crowds were just as dense as previous years. No one in the crowds or amongst the officials was seen wearing face coverings. And the competitors were definitely breathing heavily by the finish. True it was outdoors which might help but the sheer numbers packed into the centre of Sienna meant that social distancing was non-existent. However it seems that no one was breaking the rules. Tuscany is functioning pretty close to normal. And based upon this afternoon’s observations the financial impact on this part of Italy will be far less than it will be in the UK.

Back here we have the Chief Medical Officer warning that restrictions cannot be relaxed as we have reached the limit of what can be allowed. The government are reversing the lifting of some restrictions with very little notice – and there are threats that pubs will have to shut in order for schools to reopen after the summer break.

What’s going wrong? Italy was hard hit at the start of the pandemic – so how come it is the UK where the restrictions are much worse and the financial impact greater? Clearly there are serious problems – but whether these are caused by the Goverment, the public servants, the medical professions or simply a stupid, non-compliant public is anyone’s guess …

Just The Facts Ma’am

Back in the day this time in July would be when whole towns went on their annual holidays. And even though the days of mass employment in a regional manufacturing industry are long gone people still feel the need to take a break now.

JoeFriday1But this year there are some unique economic clouds to add to those in our summer skies. At the bottom end the over 75’s are facing the cost of a BBC TV licence being deducted from their pensions in August. While at the top end around 9 million furloughed – and government funded – staff are waiting to see what happens when employers are required to start contributing next month. The expectation is that many companies will simply make many of them redundant – with plenty of companies folding to avoid paying their debts.

Trying to get an accurate picture of employment this autumn – based upon realistic projections about thousands of employers – is almost impossible. Instead we have just best guesses. But even the most optimistic observers expect that unemployment will rise – quite possibly by a lot. A view that does not seem to be reflected in the recent story that unemployment could hit 3 million.

Given that there are 9 million on furlough – and that some sectors such as tourism, hospitality and entertainment are predicting up to 90% of them will become redundant – the figure of 3 million unemployed seems too low. For that to be the case a large percentage of the 9 million need to return to work.

Perhaps that is the government plan – but what ever is being calculated behind closed doors it would be much better for Whitehall to give us the unvarnished facts .. just the facts.