I think I’m done with the sofa,
I think I’m done with the hall,
I think I’m done with the kichen table baby.
Let’s go outside,
Let’s go outside, in the sunshine,
I know you want to but you can’t say yes ..
Somehow this deeply ironic track seems to sum up today and much of this week for me. It seems people have grown bored of Coronavirus and the call of a sunny day defeats the immediate fear of an intensive care bed.
I recognise today’s post is going to be contentious but it’s a glimpse into how we might consider answering the question – why after nearly three months of quarantine are we still detecting between two and three thousand new infections per day? Importantly, what if anything does this tell us about the current viral spread and what the next few months might bring.
Before asking why we are still getting infections, lets recap where we are at present. In the next two graphs, the exact figures aren’t the concern, it’s the trend over time. In both cases, the UK is shown by the brown lines.
In the graph above, the interesting trend to note is the smoothing of the curve (the flattening out) for Italy, France, Germany and to a lesser extent Spain. However, the UK rate of new transmissions continues to climb and although the trend is down the rate of new cases still remains stubbornly higher than elsewhere. On this trend, we will overtake or equal Spain’s cases reported in just over a week. We have already exceeded them in terms of total deaths. Of course, it’s difficult to compare countries directly. For example, Spain and Italy are not consistently counting deaths in care homes. But to be fair until fairly recently neither were we.
Of course, we’re far from being in the worst position. The US has over 1.6 million cases and continues to chart a linear curve with no sign of slowing down significantly. They are of course also relaxing controls and quarantine on a state by state basis. We can only imagine how that may end.
Looking wider afield, we can see that Russia is growing with a steep linear growth curve. Today’s Office of National Statistics raises doubts about even these UK figures. According to their findings they estimate a weekly infection rate of approaching 60,000 cases which would mean we are only picking up about 30% of cases.
Given that we’ve been in quaratine for six weeks what accounts for this? Here are some possibilities.
- Confused messaging:
That may be due to a split in preferred direction in cabinet, a feature of the Prime Minister having been absent for a period of time, uncertainty over the developing science or a mix of the above.
Whatever the cause, the lack of clear and consistent tone and message has given the opportunity for some to say it’s too hard to understand or follow and others to dismiss for narrow political reasons.
I don’t level the cause of the confusion entirely at this governments door. Journalists have shown a professional irresponsibility in my view in two ways. Firstly, they hunger to extend develop and push their own news cycle agenda demanding things are tightened demanding steps are taken, creating artificial pressures then complaining when they don’t succeed, aren’t met or aren’t effective. Secondly, I don’t know about you but I’m thoroughly fed up of seeing reporters in yet another hospital, or at yet another clapathon, street-party or in a quiet street when there is no necessity for them to be there. There is plenty of stock footage of a care home, I don’t need a new cycle of journalists breaking quarantine where it isn’t valuable.
Finally (issues of devolution aside) I think we’re seeing that the response to a national pandemic is not something that should be devolved from a central national response.
Each time either England, Scotland or Wales make a move the press challenge the others to either match or exceed it. First ministers have (in my view) acted in nearly all cases with professional objectivity. However, there is always that slight edge of showing Prime Ministerial gravitas and demonstrating your capability. It isn’t necessary, helpful or doing anything to consolidate a single message. I would entirely support a concesus approach being agreed behind closed doors. However, the virus doesn’t respect non existant borders, the devolved bodies have neither the capacity or infrastructure to impose a significantly different approach and it simply dilutes the efforts being made while unnecessarily triplicating effort, messaging and actions. I believe this competency should not be a devolved one.
2. It doesn’t count if you’re special
As someone who’s been complying with the restrictions imposed by the new regulations for over seventy days, I’ve little sympathy for those who are just getting bored, can’t be arsed or haven’t seen enough deaths to retain their interest and consequent compliance.
It appears to me that we have three distinct groups of people who are frequently acting outside the restrictions. We have a professional cadre, a demographic cadre and a corporate cadre which could be contributing significantly to the continued infection rate.
Those wishing to account for the significant percentage of new tests coming from key workers may wish to consider a couple of these groupings.
Group A are those who mistakenly believe they are professionally immune from infection for reasons that have never been made entirely clear. Typically, it’s heretical to criticise emergency service workers or worse still the holiest of holies emergency medical staff for making poor compliance choices. We’re told professional experience and expertise is being used when the public, doctors, nurses, paramedics, old uncle tom cobley and all mingle outside the local hospital A&E, or on Westminster bridge. We’re told its somehow different because teams work together regularly or people understand the virus in their given environment. Each Thursday I continue to see prime time examples of non-socially distanced personnel who should know better and expect the public to work to protect them failing to protect themselves. The current science indicates the virus is far more infectious than we thought. Just one or two asymptomatically positive personnel need to be present for the whole group to be an avoidable risk. – But it’s ok because they are special cases.
I don’t say this to minimise the work of dedicated, hard working and committed professionals. I also acknowledge there are significant concerns (probably entirely justified) with regard to the provision of emergency protective materials. It is clearly the case that some spreading of the virus in NHS emergency environments is unavoidable. However, because some is unavoidable doesn’t mean it’s wise, appropriate or unimpeachable to take further avoidable risks. The professional immunity hasn’t prevented 49 deaths in NHS workers as measured by the department of health, the 165 as reported by the Guardian or the 260 as reported by health unions.
Group B are perhaps slightly more to be expected. This photograph was taken two weeks in south London, before the relaxed regulations. The focus of the shot was on the basketball court, but I could have taken similar photographs on the table tennis tables, football pitch, seating area or community orchard seating. All have been shut, locked and chained and all are clearly marked as being out of bounds in order to lessen the spread of the virus.
Today, I heard academics on BBC News 24 asking why the virus (specifically the virus in London) is more prevalent in black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and more prevalent in men than in women.
Certainly, were I asked that question based on those I see breaching the regulations daily, I could give them some useful data.
I rarely see any girls or women failing to comply with closed areas, restrictions or gathering for a quick netball, hockey or womens rugby match. Yet daily, young men, mostly but not exclusively black and minority ethnic men under 30 playing basketball, football, sparring, group running or similar. It’s clearly too simplistic to be the whole answer but it may well be a contributory factor.
As access to the fenced off area is limited, I regularly watch a group of 4, 8 or 10 vault or jump over the metal fence in the same place all touching the same part of the cold metal barriers – you know, that sort of cold metal surface on which the virus survives longest.
I’m sure it’s natural to have the certainty of youth that 30 seems ancient and anything over 35 is nearly fossilised. At twenty something we’re all immortal – right? Of course regrettably they’re wrong.
It is possible there is some reduced likelihood of serious illness at a younger age. However, even if that is true (and the science is still out on the matter) these twenty young men each go home to their twenty families, friends and doorsteps on which to clap and otherwise engage in daily life. Given a typical incubation period of 4-10 days, it’s clear this could contribute to further spread.
Group C is the corporate cadre (and in that I include professional and organised sport). Airlines plan to open flights without social distancing having been applied – because it’s impossible on planes. Indeed Ryanair has already been criticised for flights to Stanstead where no attempt to social distance had been taken.
Constant whining from professional football players, managers and corporate sponsors make special pleading for training to continue, for matches to carry on behind closed doors as they are special cases. I mean it couldn’t apply to sport could it. – The virus doesn’t care and it’s not necessary yet other than to keep football’s coffers well stocked.
In recent days, I’ve noticed a divide opening up. Those who have become more strict and those who have frankly given up all pretence and don’t think there is a problem any more.
The issue is history doesn’t support their position. No pandemic of the flu or coronavirus type has resolved in a single wave. The 1918 Spanish flu, SARS and MERS were more severe in the second wave.
We’ve stopped thinking in large part, many people just weren’t told no enough as a child and don’t like being told it applies to them too. In a sense I fear they will learn through Darwinism in action.
The virus doesn’t care if you’re a doctor, an emergency services worker, a professional sports player, a nationalist, of the left or the right. I’m afraid it’s not ok if its for a good cause or if it helps morale or if you think you’re immortal.
We have some loosening of the controls. That’s welcome and natural. However it’s a sliding scale of learning how to live with this virus until a vaccine is available. If we all just think it applies to everyone else we’ll just be back here in 3 months time.
Today’s post takes its title from a 1998 George Michael track which may be heard on the following control.