332 - Covid in January | Scoins.net | DJS

332 - Covid in January


December's prediction of higher levels of restriction surfaced on the evening of Jan4th, ably assisted by the recognition of the new, faster-spreading variant of the virus. Of course, if we restrict the spread then the normal levels of mutation will drive those to displace the less successful variants. We forget just how very much virus is in circulation in normal times. As a result of the announcement on Jan 4th, we had the PM iterating his mantra that 'schools are safe' on Sunday (true, they were closed for the weekend), while in the very same interview accepting a few minutes later that we will have more restrictions, including the closure of schools. Then on the Monday immediately following many primary children went to school, but were back 'off' on Tuesday.  Among the things I wondered regarding this is whether the PM has been taught that a slogan must have only three words or fewer whenever possible and that these slogans themselves come in threes. 'Wash your hands, protect the NHS, save lives.' It would seem that a four word slogan fails to meet the criteria for being followed. ¹

We have reached a position where what the PM says is the opposite of what will occur. He is not the only current politician with this problem. It is seen as demonstration of a lack of grip; the strategy that would, it is implied and muttered, work better would be to have a general policy (with a slogan, no doubt) upon which is then hung all the reasoning for actions. However, Follow the Science has the big problem of being reactive, where what we need is proaction. No doubt the senior politicians are telling themselves that proactive is what they have been. But we could have some simple standards, for example To me, the moment any utla ² passed the 1000 per 100k mark was already late for wholesale lockdown and I'd far prefer restriction levels to be set locally, with guidelines based on case count rates, where say tier 1 was under 100cpht, tier 2 under 200, tier 3 under 300 and so on, with warning levels set at the half-stages and constant worrying about change rates. At 07Jan we have a dozen or so utlas with current case rates over the 1000 phut, which is the 1% mark; we have many hospitals at capacity and we're looking at overflow soon, which is when we have trolleys in corridors and treatment in ambulances. Which presumably means that the next round of cases are not collected, so we might expect the extreme triage that occurs in war zones. That is the step too far that the gov't has been trying to avoid.

New cases last week per million sums the week ending that date and divides by population and is not a trend line, so that it responds to surges but not individual days. Be aware that the y-axis is a log scale, so that it is quite easy for one line to exhibit twice the case rates of its neighbours. Poland seems to be doing particularly well. The horizontal line at 1400 was what governed whether there were travel restrictions between nations earlier in 2020, at 200 per million current 7-day average. Ho hum. Of course, counting cases must relate to the amount of testing being done, so that, if asymptomatic people are not tested they won't show in the figures. This is one of the inherent inconsistencies in comparing nations. It may be that the graphs show more about the social politics of health than they do about infection.

I read on the Monday 4th Jan that the DfE is distributing laptops and tablets (when? how many are needed?) to schools so that online learning can occur. Of course, that assumes success at a known failure, universal broadband, which we've known we needed to be pan-nation for around three years. Yet again this will be selective and bungled and yet again the disadvantaged will be the same as the left-behind. Public exams within Britain are largely abandoned, but that is not as simple as it is made to sound. We make huge income from selling qualifications around the world, so what happens to IGCSE or to all the international A-levels? [they're on, [3]) What happens to things like IB or BTEC? [IB on, BTEC unclear]. What happens to university course examinations? One understands that in many cases the attribution of grade can be made locally and then moderated, but we will probably yet again have a dramatic inflation of grade, which serves no-one. The issue internal to Britain is the growing gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged.  [3] 

The matter of school and schooling has demonstrated (again) is that our politicians do not understand any position with a lack of privilege; yet that is what they are there for, to represent the people – which strongly implies an understanding of the people that they represent. Of course, one then decides (from observation of how they act) that they often only represent their party members in their constituency, a self-selecting group. That is not the democracy we think we have. [2] gives a broader view. Yes, we are missing some education, but children are only 'behind' if the system is so utterly inflexible that its programme is allowed to be set in concrete. Moving deadlines by the odd week or so is easy. Moving a target by a whole term would be doable—there are many possibilities  what is unclear is exactly what we think the purpose and objectives of education is. We seem still to be caught up in chasing qualifications; I see the current situation as an opportunity to broaden the wider objectives.The third UK lockdown began on Jan04, all four nations doing the same that day. We might expect this to run beyond half-term in mid-February. Of course, we must expect case counts to continue to rise and hospitalisations to rise for another week, such that hospital occupations hit a peak through to mid-Feb, whereupon we hope that those figures will peak because some effects of vaccination begins to bite. My graph on November's page is relevant, small copy hereabouts with a log₂ scale y-axis.

Looking a little less close to home, one wonders the extent to which the new variant will hit other countries. On 20210107 I found the first signs or case count rises in Portugal, Italy and Spain but these might be seasonal effects to do with holidays or data failure rather than the more infectious new variant. I found a report suggesting that the UK plans—to extend the period between 1st and 2nd jabs—gaining credence elsewhere and expect that the UK progress will be closely observed by our neighbours; across Europe we're in much the same position, vaccine deliverable, heavy demand on medical services and a surge in cases just as we see respite on the horizon.

I put comment on roll-out of vaccine on page 328.

10th Jan it looks as though this lockdown version is not strong enough to curb the hospital cases. That suggests that too many are sending their kids to school, that the definition of who is a key worker is too wide and that, still, far too many are not taking the restrictions seriously enough. Maybe we need to shut down construction for three or four weeks too. That might conveniently coincide with some very cold weather. One of the significant issues within the health services is the number who are isolating and/or ill. I wonder (in a cynical way) whether any of those are protecting themselves in honesty, much as the teachers who demand that they work from home do the same. One doesn't get paid danger money, nor is one's work sufficiently wonderfully rewarding to put the rest of one's life at risk. I have no doubt that the rush to produce vaccine and get it delivered into arms is going as fast as it can, but (i) it cannot be fast enough and therefore (ii) there is a good argument for pausing while it catches up.

Idly wondering about QE and MMT as in December's page, I wondered whether there is a point at which the Bank of England, which is printing money to order politically, is therefore losing its independence. Surely there is a moment at which this money production fails in exactly the same way as any other currency that collapses? Doesn't money—at some point—have to be backed by value, or os this part of the modern monetary theory? If so that is way too close to the King's new clothes for my liking.

I also noted over the weekend of 10th Jan that Brexit is not quite as free of costs as advertised. For a start, VAT to be paid to the UK is not longer handled at a EU bureaucratic level, so if you want to export to Britain you need to register for VAT (or perhaps you need a middleman who does that). The reverse process has similar issues. Quite a few traders have simply said 'too hard' and 'too hard right now' and stopped the cross-border trade until further notice. This has hit Northern Ireland in ways that the media love, where 'normal' purchasing is suddenly difficult (but surely no more difficult than buying from China? Maybe it is, given that in Europe the authorities do tend to catch up for their missing taxes). I also noticed that this was described as not being tariff free, but that is untrue; the tariff of VAT was always applied, just handled differently. 

11th&12th Jan the figures by region (November's page, the regional figures table and chart) all show improvement, being data for the 3rd&4th Jan. This may be a temporary position, since one would expect there to be a surge showing about then. I am hoping to remove this statement.

14th Jan. Death rates rocketing, hospital occupancy astronomic - and both these two measures expected to rise for another three to four weeks, deaths perhaps for five or six. All very much bad news; iteration from the media but really this is too late; we needed to be told this before Christmas, so that now we could be told "We told you this would happen if you didn't behave". But no, that is not how we choose to behave. I say this is not leadership; it may well be office-holding, bit not leadership.  I am embarrassed that my reaction to this is  that I am very bored. It was perfectly clear what was going to happen, and it is happening. This may be a bit Darwinian, but that is of no consolation at all to those who work in the care services, especially those who have agreed to take on all idiots.          I notice that the dip in the regional figures has proved just that, only a dip. EU figures on the rise, but as nothing compared to UK figures.           I watched quite a bit of parliamentary tv yesterday and I am largely unimpressed with the behaviour, though I did catch the PM actually answering a couple of questions, he tended not to answer what was asked. Is this because the tv was watching? The behaviour I saw looked to me as if performed for camera and, as such, a waste of time. If we're going to be shown the process, let's see that; if the politicians are only prepared to perform the dance they'll leet us see, don't bother showing it. Honesty alone says they should be doing this - we need them working, not performing. Alternatively, just cut to the chase of what it is agreed will be said. Instead there were far too many words with little or no content. I'd very much rather have a problem explained, perhaps with possible routes to solution. I don't need the solution, though. For example, the NI/GB not-border was discussed and it was good to hear of problems identified and ironed out (seed potatoes, for example); it was good to hear that there is no shortage of capacity for goods transport, it was okay to hear that companies are being cautious and so trading less while they work out what it is they have to do additionally, but that the extra might be 15 minutes at the border crossing, seemed to me acceptable. perhaps I'd like variability, comment on queueing, capacity for handling surge in demand and so on - evidence of forethought would be really good. I wondered whether these are the right people to share information at all.

15th Jan: Last night the French introduced a curfew nationwide, in response to the growth figures. A new variant in South America causes travel to the whole continent to be stopped between here and there, plus Portugal, whose relative figures passed ours in the last three days as shown above. Turkey and Spain are showing surges in numbers; my chart shows the change over the last seven days, so the trends are genuine.
The entirely predictable clamour (me-me-me) to have a vaccine before one's turn is of course based upon (me-me-me) elitist thinking à la Cummings. There is a principle and it could be applied with rigour; one might even argue that the whole will be done faster without the clamour at all (so shut up, stay away and wait to be called, because you're slowing the whole process for everyone, which is offensive in a specially selfish way). ³

New graph added, of hospitalisation figures, from here. NHS published data, not already graphed in the spreadsheet. Next data push Feb 11th. Will continue to try to find published sources of missing data meanwhile.

18th Jan: Spread of infection largely reducing (Blackpool is a rare exception), R rate suspiciously high still, case numbers actually reducing - all of these say we know how to do lockdown in general. I doubt we've cured any underlying problems, I'm sure we've created some future problems in health and society and to the economy. Inoculation (vaccination remains the used but wrong word) is going at a rate that suggests we'll have the top 4 classes of at-risk jabbed at least once by mid-February, which makes it possible to believe we'll have done every adult by September. Would that take us 'back to normal'? I expect that many of us think so. I'm not at all sure whether we have not changed some things permanently.

19th Jan. Somehow there are suddenly enough days of change in the same direction to convince, though the weekend blip in the figures will be visible only tonight. So the curve shown far above is read (news media Monday 18th  as encouraging, where it wasn't quite that on Sunday (it was, but they weren't daring to call it, which is probably a good thing). Noticeably, government ministers are saying cautious things instead of the habitual over-enthusiasm – maybe the Comms branch inside No10 has at last got a grip. On the PM, principally  so by the balls, no doubt. I note that Spain's figures are rising to match ours, that Portugal is suffering, perhaps from a hit of the Brazilian strain. Sweden's figures are mostly guesstimated, since they seem to do an update only mid-week. France's figures are remarkably stable and Germany and Italy seems to have a good grip (well done Italy). Poland's figures are so much lower I wonder if they're measuring the same things. Turkey's figures I find hard to believe.

21st Jan. New cases going down as hoped but only becasue we're in lockdown. New hospialisations going down but that doesn't mean hospitalised p[atients has yet hit a peak. One expects deaths to peak a little later.

22nd Jan. Spain has revised its figures all the way back to September, adding the odd 50k or so, as shown here. I have modified the old graphs with the new information.

25th Jan. Expecting change in reporting tomorrow, with the weekend figures on display. Frustrated a little at not finding the NHS absence numbers, but that is as nothing compared to Sweden's very short weeks, where update of data occurs so maybe twice a week (or updates to Worldometers are that rare). Immensely bored by much of this situation, but at the same time do not want this light version of lockdown lifted until it is safe to do so, which I think ought to be much nearer Easter than the mid-Feb being discussed. Many things which could be and should be fixed remain not done; for example the position with people told to isolate who simply cannot afford to do so—I found reports that this applies to the DVLA, a huge government department in Swansea, which only serves to demonstrate how the elite attitudes prevent somehow the people in charge from being aware of what causes their policies to fail. 

The white paper on education (21st, in this month's snippets at the moment) produced a reaction in me that I'm embarrassed about; there is a load of money promised as allocated to education but my reaction in tune with current events saw that as going to the nearest tory crony, not to where it is needed (the disadvantaged who need to raise their education from level 2). Such is the level of distrust, of manipulated news and of failure of oversight.

27th Jan Well, the case count has certainly turned a corner, so we can assume that—if we maintain the current regime—we have reduced the R number below unity. Now we wait for hospitalisation and then deaths to also peak and drop. HMG seems at last to have learned a few things, but the test will come when they decide to open schools again – I am hopeful they leave them as they are (key-workers' children as per the current definitions) for the whole of the term. We clearly need to get on top of this properly, since any de-restriction is going to prompt another surge of infection, so we need to be pretty sure infection doesn't lead to hospitalisations. 

A grim milestone last night, passing 100k deaths. Guardian comment on UK.gov claiming to learn and to have minimised these losses. That has two meanings, one of which they claim is valid. [No long-term strategy; no border policies much of the time; abandoned community testing; no isolation payments nor improved sick pay arrangements; inappropriate PPE; remarkably poor leadership and messaging.]

29th Jan An upward blip in the UK figures today suggests to me that there has been relaxation as a direct consequence of optimism in the media. We have recognition of the need to inoculate the bulk of the world population and until that has happened it would be wise to curtail international movement. I suspect that the demand for economic activity will nullify that sensible attitude (humans chasing economic advantage don't much carte about risks to others, because inherently they're risk-takers already). I am sorely disappointed at the MPs continually howling for more activity, quite near to being covid-deniers. May they rot in ignominy, penury and soon, please.

There is a growing spat (but it may be growing only because the press has noticed) between Astra-Zeneca and the EU over supply of vaccine. There was a hiccup in Belgium; there is a significant (depending on who you are) gap between the UK order and the EU of some months. Who owns what is due for delivery? Who says where it goes? Who can apply pressure to affect that decision? Quite clearly the nation that hosts any part of the production process feels they have a say in the matter and has abilities to apply pressure or threats. The perceived urgency to process mass inoculation has several potential restrictions, one of which is supply (and with that, future supply and security of that supply), but another is the ability and preparation to actually do the vaccination. One of the factors that is being pointed to is that the UK made the order and got on with the jab-planning; the EU is currently leaping up and down demanding but the media have been quick to point out that the jab-planning is quite clearly still months behind that of the UK. We have only just passed the point at which UK inoculations are now fewer than all that of Europe. Meanwhile, the pursuit of scarce resource—vaccine in this case—means that the relatively rich countries throw their weight around, no doubt promising their people and other nations that they'll share, just as soon as there is spare resource. I don't object to this only because I understand it; democracies are answerable to their electorates and the electorate is generally selfish (what I want); generosity follows later, when "I'm alright' applies. The strong argument for sharing is that we need to suppress all covid-like disease everywhere or new variants will continue to crop up, eventually swamping us all over again. But that also means sharing eventually. The only good thing is that the progress in vaccine development means that modification of the existing models will be quick, even by the new standards of what quick means. The March 2020 essay pointed to how slow the development of a vaccine was then; now we know it can be done inside a year, some ten times faster, we will have a new expectation that this is repeatable, conveniently forgetting the global threat that made the acceleration possible. In turn this means that the caution exerted by the approval mechanisms needs to be very strong, while political pressures will always be driving to reverse that (which is a Bad Thing).

30th Jan. Two more vaccines, Janssen and Novovax, make it to the news as being in some sense approved just as the EU puts border restrictions on the movement of the A-Z one. Novavax is made to some extent in Teesside so one can imagine how assumptions are jumped to, including some ideas on movement across borders. Neither Jannsen nor Novavax will be available for use anytime soon; I'm sure there'll be a lot of horse-trading given the degree of perceived urgency. The smart move would be to license expansion with a date like the autumn in mind for planet-wide inoculation; do we do smart?



1  Take Back Control v Let's take back control; Strong and Stable v For the many not the few. List of sorts. List of political slogans of varying lengths, so you can see what you recognise and so judge for yourself.   Inspiring phrases in four words.

2 utla - upper tier local authority. Paired with ltla, lower tier local authority. Blackpool is a utla, Cambridge is an ltla, within the utla of Cambridgeshire. The tables are somewhat confused and the term's definition seems to be vague; The utlas are in both lists.

3 Mock the Week picked up on this, that the clamour seemed to be a requirement for action, so they postulated a scruffy fisherman, one who picks clams for market, approving government policies – passed by clammer.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/12/pandemic-year-two/617528/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=atlantic-daily-newsletter&utm_content=20201229&silverid-ref=NTE3MDgxNDgxMDUyS0

[2] https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/edutech/brief/how-countries-are-using-edtech-to-support-remote-learning-during-the-covid-19-pandemic  A round-up of who is doing what about education through the pandemic. I'd like to have seen an entry for the UK or the US so as to perhaps compare the level of enthusiasm over content.

[3] https://www.cambridgeinternational.org/news/news-details/view/statement-following-uk-government-announcement-on-june-2021-exams-20210105/  says IGCSEs go ahead, dated 05Jan21. This applies to all Cambridge International exams.

[4] https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/campaigns/pearson-covid-19/rest-of-world-covid-19-coronavirus-update.html Pearson's take on the same position as [3] . This page needs updating in 2021. Try this one; https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/campaigns/summer-2021-exam-support.html   OFQUAL needs an update, too, even if only something that says "We're consulting". Closest thing I found.

Related Pages:  (faulty links updated 20201202)

Essay 291 - Effects of an outbreak  what it says, effects, but some description of what we have (and not)

Essay 293 - Covid-19 charts  charts published daily reflecting concerns and issues.

Essay 295 Long-term Distancing        consideration of spatial restrictions

Coronavirus (Y10+)   modelling problems

Epidemics                  more general theory

Infectious disease      looking at the 2020 problem, particularly effects of the reproduction number changing.

Essay 298 Covid Consequences       Surprisingly prescient, considering when it was written.

Essay 299  Covid in April

Essay 300  Covid in May

Essay 303 Covid in June

Essay 304 Covid Disparities              A report on the report, including what it doesn't say.

Essay 305  Risk

Essay 306 Covid in July

Essay 311 Covid in August                 International charts updated

Essay 316 Covid in September          European comparison charts updated

Viruses are very small                        Worth reading, I think. (But I would, wouldn't I?)

Essay 317 Covid vs Influenza   

Essay 318 Covid in October                Charts updated through November

Essay 322 Covid in November            UK Regional chart and table through Lockdown Two

Essay 325 Covid in December            Updated graphs of rate and prevalence, plus US charts.

Essay 328 Vaccine progress               What it says on the tin.

Essay 332 Covid in January                 This very page.

  Email: David@Scoins.net      © David Scoins 2020