The Government Response to Covid-19 and Some Numbers

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I wasn’t going to write anything on this subject, since there is hardly a shortage of articles everywhere you look, but some of the things I have been reading online have prompted me to put this up. This post concerns the measures put in place by the UK government for the protection of the public. But first, a caveat. It is a commentary on the UK response ONLY. I do not know enough of the details of how other governments have reacted to comment fairly on those.

And please understand also, this is not any sort of commentary on the financial aptitude or ineptitude of their response, which is another kettle of worms entirely.

The prime difficulty of any measures taken is that there is not one immediate and obvious action that can be taken to protect the public. The issue, of course, is that we need to meet, as far as possible, two opposing objectives. First, we need to develop as much immunity in the wider population as possible and second, we need to protect from infection those who are recognised as vulnerable. And to satisfy the first objective, we need to expose large numbers to the virus but to satisfy the second, we need to shield as many as possible from it.

And these objectives are so different that it is impossible to meet both at the same time, but are both so important that each needs to be addressed. Like many things in real life, there is no perfect solution and the best that can be put forward is a compromise of some sort.

And each person’s opinion on which is the more important will be coloured by their own circumstances. Those with vulnerable relatives, or who fall into that group themselves, will likely favour protecting the public as far as possible for as long as possible. Some others who may not have those concerns, may be more likely to favour ‘getting it over with’. Although most will, naturally, want to meet both objectives at once.

It is no wonder that the government has been caught in two minds over how to react, and I rather doubt any other make-up of government would have either found it any easier or managed to square that particular circle.

And what is incredibly unhelpful is a strong partisan approach on social media especially, to the way it is being dealt with. There is always a tendency for the extremes of one side or the other of the political spectrum to denigrate any decision made by the other, and to exaggerate or invent motives for them, and I am seeing this more and more on social media. I may not agree with a particular course of action taken by the government, but to ascribe that action to a policy of deliberately killing the vulnerable, to name just one opinion I’ve read, is both ridiculous and highly insulting to both the government and the public. And hardly conducive to encouraging people to support the measures put in place.

Their response has been hampered not only by trying to find the impossible – a solution that accomplishes both the goals just mentioned, but also by having no real idea for some while how many infections there actually were. It was recognised the figures were under-reported, due to the inability to test the entire population for infection, but no one seemed to really know what they were and, for a while, what the infection rate was.

But how many people are currently infected?

The published figures may actually give a false impression of both the virus’s spread and how lethal it actually is. Depending on how effectively authorities gather the data, there is always going to be under-reporting of the infection rates. Those who self isolate are not tested, nor are they included in official figures. Even those displaying definite symptoms are not tested unless they satisfy various criteria, such as being admitted to hospital, or in a position where testing is seen as necessary, such as high profile involvement with the public. It is even reported that front-line NHS staff are not necessarily tested if they fall ill.

A far more realistic picture might be gained from extrapolating from the death rate. If we take the, admittedly still vague, official estimate of between one and three percent mortality rate for the virus, and perhaps making a judgement call on the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system in place in that particular country, we may get a closer figure. As of yesterday, the UK figure was 55 deaths which would equate to somewhere between 1,800 and 5,500 people infected, most likely closest to the higher figure in the UK. Sadly, the higher the figures, the more accurate the extrapolation is likely to be.

But even these figures are probably far lower than reality, since those who die will have been infected with the virus for some time, so those figures probably lag around a week behind. And on the basis that known infections are doubling approximately every four days, that figure of 5,500 is probably closer to 22,000 and showing no sign of slowing down.

Wishing everybody well.

Bob on Holiday

Just in case you were wondering where he was, Bob has been on holiday. He’s back now, though.

And actually, he’s rather cross.

Now, lot’s of people return from holiday having had a wonderful time and feeling a bit tetchy that they have to come back to the daily grind, but it’s not like that.

No, Bob thinks we’ve all been lied to.

He went away to a holiday enclave in a West African country – or so he says. Bob’s sense of geography being what it is, I wouldn’t be too certain of the destination without checking his passport stamps first. And I wouldn’t do that. So I’ll take his word for it for now.

‘Now, I’m no fool,’ he said, looking at me.

‘No, of course not, Bob,’ I replied. ‘Absolutely not. Anything but. In fact, anyone who says…’ My words died away as I heard Bob’s wife, Gina, laughing somewhere behind me. ‘Go on,’ I ended, lamely.

‘Well, we read all the time that this is one of the poorest countries in the world,’ he continued, ‘yet I’ve never been to a nicer place! The hotel was really luxurious! Food was brilliant. All the staff were wonderful – they were smartly dressed and they couldn’t do enough for you! There were masses of security men all around the perimeter, mind you, but I don’t know what they were there for. And the beach was fantastic!’

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‘Was it just you on the beach?’

‘No, there were dozens of us.’

‘Any local people?’

‘No, they don’t go there, apparently. They don’t like sitting around on the beach like we do.

‘Did you go outside the hotel grounds at all, Bob?’

‘Yeah, we went to a village to see local artists at work. I loved the village. It’s such a minimalist lifestyle. They don’t waste time or money on all those pointless things that we think are so essential in the west.’

‘Like what?’

‘All that rubbish we don’t need!’ he said, heatedly. ‘They live a simple, healthy, lifestyle, and what matters to them are the things that are really important.’

‘Like what?’ I repeated.

‘Well, simple food, for example. It’s much healthier, you know. You don’t come across any of the locals there who are overweight.’

‘What is this diet, then? Do you know?’

‘Well, mostly they make a sort of porridge out of some local grain, apparently.’

‘Is that it?’

‘Oh, no. Of course not! They usually have it with, er beans. And onions.’

‘It doesn’t sound very exciting.’

‘Food doesn’t need to be exciting! It’s there to keep you alive!

It was a side of Bob I’d never seen before, and, to be honest, it was a bit scary. I never realised he could be so evangelical. At least, not about things like that. I’m used to him banging on about how wonderful a new beer is that he has discovered, or about his favourite pizza topping (which I’m not going to talk about here, but…pineapple on pizza…how could you?), but now he had all the fervour of a fresh convert to some extreme religion.

‘And then there are the houses they live in,’ he continued.

‘The houses?’

‘Yes. Gloriously simple and uncomplicated!’

‘As in small and built of odd pieces of driftwood and plastic sheeting?’

‘Exactly!’ He smiled warmly. ‘I love the way they make use of what’s locally available to build with. It keeps the costs down, and reduces the environmental impact of transporting thinks like bricks from far away. Simple.’

‘But would you want to live in one of those?’

‘I wouldn’t mind. I mean, what else do you need? Just some sort of bed in there and, oh, a table, I suppose. And a couple of chairs.’

‘But you just told me how luxurious the hotel was, and how much you enjoyed it.’

‘Well, I wasn’t going to turn it down, was I? But apparently it’s because us Westerners are all just so soft and pampered. The native people don’t live like that at all.’

‘So you say. Does this mean you’re going to change how you live, then, Bob?’

‘Well, I don’t think it’s particularly practical in the West.

‘I suppose not. Tell me about the artists you went to visit, then.’

‘Ah, yes. Mainly carvers. Lovely wood; mainly animals and masks. I bought a couple. Look, that’s one of them.’ He pointed to a beautifully carved and polished elephant in black wood, standing on the mantelpiece. ‘It cost the equivalent of about two pounds in our money.’

‘That seems very cheap.’

‘I know, but it’s a lot to them. And it’s putting money into the local economy.’

‘Who did you give the money to? The chap who carved it?’

‘No, there was a bloke who showed us round. Nice guy in a suit. Looked very smart. We paid him.’

‘I don’t suppose the carver was in a suit.’

‘Of course not! You wouldn’t wear one of those while you were working, would you?’

‘Describe him, then.’

‘Well, he was wearing a pair of shorts.’

‘What else?’

‘Nothing else. That was it. they could have done with a wash, though, I must admit.’ He put his head to one side and stared into the distance. ‘And a bit of sewing.’ He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘Really, he could have done with a new pair of shorts. They were pretty ghastly.’

‘Maybe the nice man in the suit will buy him a pair.’ Bob smiled happily.

‘I’m sure he will!’

The Path Less Travelled. Or More Travelled. Or Whatever. The Point is, it’s a Path.

Last week, I posted that it was important to take journeys.

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For the last nine weeks, I have been unable to get around a great deal, having had an operation on my foot to correct a few bits that were, sort of, pointing in the wrong direction, and painful when I put my foot down, and, er, lumpy where they shouldn’t be lumpy…

I’m sure you get the picture.

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What it means is that I have been desperate to get out of the house and do a decent walk. I have managed to walk an average of a mile or so a day, just to try and keep reasonably fit and, I guess, supple, but it’s been quite hard work with the plaster and bandage on my foot and a stick to help me get around. Going uphill especially.

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But the plaster comes off in a couple of days, and then I am going to do some walking. Boy, am I going to do some walking! Because I’ve been so frustrated at being unable to just get out there and walk the way that I’m used to doing.

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I’m gonna walk!

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And I’m so grateful that I’m still able to. God knows what I’ll do if I ever lose that. It really doesn’t bear thinking about.

The Travel Bug Bit Me – part 2

There never seems to be a better time to set off on a journey, especially a walk, than first thing on an early autumn’s morning. It is late enough in the year to have a proper sparkling dew, usually covering cobwebs draped across bushes, and ideally there will be some bright sunshine, a hint of sharpness and the colours of leaves beginning to turn, berries in the hedgerows, and still an abundance of flowers. This is another hark back to my teenage years, I’m sure. It all seemed quite magical then, and it still does today.

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I suppose, at the time, it could be said that I had a head full of hobbits. Of my contemporaries at the time, those with itchy feet tended to be either those who read and re-read Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and those who did the same with ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I fell squarely into the second camp, never really discovering the appeal of Kerouac. I guess they were largely the crowd who enjoyed ‘Easy Rider’ and wanted to travel Route 66. Later, I read Laurie Lee’s ‘As I walked out one midsummer’s morning’ and found the same atmosphere there. I walked from the London suburbs, where I lived at the time, with a friend down to Hastings. On the way we stopped at a couple of youth hostels, and had a couple of nights wild camping in woods. And everything did seem magical, although apart from the distance in time, I do not know why this should have been. All of the fields and woods, hills and hedgerows, seemed somehow to fill my head and assume a greater importance than anything else in my life at that time. Otherwise I would hitch hike down to the coast, or the West Country, and this would satisfy my sense of adventure, never knowing where I would end up and forever feeling as though I was travelling through an undiscovered land.

I don’t think, as a teenager, that I was ever happier than when I was off for a long walk with friends, or even on my own. I still get that same sense of pleasure when I arrive at my destination after a day’s walking, whether it be the spot that I’ve chosen for my wild camp on a mountain side somewhere, or a bunkhouse or hostel on the edge of a village where I know I can stroll to a nearby pub for a meal and a few pints in the evening. My chosen destinations then tended to be youth hostels, and I remember an awful lot of them fondly, still today. I think that my favourite, then, must have been Land’s End. I wonder how many people now remember the awesome murals that they had over most of the walls, inspired, of course, by Tolkien! The days were spent, whilst strolling through lanes and along footpaths, learning to recognise wild flowers and trees, butterflies, but not so much the birds. Even in those days my eyesight was too poor for that!

‘Rambling’ is used extensively as an insult by many of the climbing fraternity, yet it means no more than long distance walking, at a fairly relaxed rate. My dictionary defines it as walking for pleasure, with or without a definite route. This would seem a fair definition, and includes hill walking, trail walking, any type of walking, in fact. I think that the intended barb is that it is ‘soft’, yet people who would think of themselves as ramblers include very elderly people whom I have observed galloping over the fells at a rate to put roughtie-toughtie young climbers to shame. Its popularity, at least in Britain, stems from the last century when it was taken up by factory and mill workers in the north of England, in particular, as a healthy and cheap form of sport and entertainment. There is a point, in fact, where it merges into climbing, having passed through the scrambling and mountaineering stages.

Is it a coincidence that it seems that most of the best trips that I’ve read about in books have been done by solo travellers? If they have not been strictly alone, then they are using porters or guides who have been employed specifically to help the explorer along his chosen route, rather than suddenly say ‘Ooh, no. I don’t fancy that anymore. Let’s go back now.’

 Most of my own distance walking has been done in my own company. This always has the advantage that I can decide when and where I travel, when to stop for a break, when to go off on a diversion to see a particularly interesting (to me) village or hill or something. I do often miss the company of others when I walk or travel, and enjoy it when I do get it. I find it good to travel with somebody for a while, and then to move on again by myself when we begin to disagree over the route, or want to move at a different rate (or politics or religion intervenes, of course!). I suppose that this is also not entirely disconnected with my love of solitude. When hill walking, especially, I almost resent meeting other people. Especially large groups. Amongst the list of things that I positively hate coming across in any wilderness area, such as discarded lunch wrappers, people bellowing into mobile phones (‘Yes, I’m on the summit, now!’ – do some people have these damn things surgically attached to their heads?), music, for God’s sake – why would anyone want to hike out somewhere remote, where the predominant sounds are bird calls and the wind in the grass, listening to a bloody i-pod? – comes the large group of walkers.

There is no logical reason why I should, and it is certainly not due to a feeling that they have no right to be there. I just crave solitude in those situations. If I was asked to name my favourite day out walking in the hills of Britain, I think that I would unhesitatingly mention a November’s day some years ago, when I walked the Carnedd Horseshoe in North Wales. This particular circular route starts at the village of Bethesda and heads up a gently rising valley onto a ridge until it reaches the mountain of Carnedd Dafydd, where you then amble up to the summit. From there, there is a ridge walk to Carnedd Llewelyn, a shorter ridge to Yr Elen, then gently back down to Bethesda. The day was unusually warm for November, with sunshine and a beautiful clear sky throughout. And although Carnedd Dafydd is the second highest mountain in Wales, after Snowdon, it sees far less traffic of human feet than most other parts of North Wales. Consequently, I had a day’s walking in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, in fantastic weather conditions, without meeting another soul. Perfect.

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I always used to do this with photos to make up panoramas – it’s a lot easier today!

Some people, although they would prefer to travel in company, choose ‘alone’ because they become good at doing ‘alone’.

I’ve heard it said, and frequently read it, that there is nowhere left on the planet to explore, anymore. I suppose that if what is meant by that is that there are no longer maps of whole countries or continents published that have ‘unexplored’ or ‘here be dragons’ printed over large, blank areas, then, yes, that is so. But if I go anywhere that I have not been to before, especially if I have read little or nothing about it, then I am exploring. I may not be contributing anything towards the sum total of human knowledge, but I am making discoveries for myself.

Thank heaven, though, that there are still areas of the Earth that are wildly beautiful and lawless, where outsiders, especially westerners, fear to tread, and life is cheap but the landscape is breathtaking.

A Tax on Sugar

In a surprise move yesterday, the British Chancellor announced in the Budget that there would be a sugar tax introduced on soft drinks that carry a large amount of that substance.

The shock that the public, and indeed many of his own political party, received from this announcement was as nothing compared to the shock received by those in the industry.

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A nice cup of tea with no sugar in it and an apple that doesn’t have a great deal either.

In an interview earlier this morning, I was privileged to speak to the anonymous CEO of a major soft drinks company, Mr Satan Moneyglutton. Weeping copiously, he explained to me:

‘For long years we have been told that what people want are chemical compounds devoid of any nutritional merit, packed full of sugar, and now I feel that we have been stabbed in the back.

‘On the best advice from the governments of the day, we undertook our duty, I would almost say our mission, which we take very seriously indeed, to create a nation of fat people with poor health and rotten teeth.

‘And now the accumulated wisdom of years is being ignored. If these drinks are now said to be so bad, then why are they so effective at causing children to lose concentration and run up the walls of classrooms and become disruptive?

‘If they are so bad, then how come we manage to get such a large proportion of the public addicted to them? Our products are industrial success writ large.

‘This is nothing more than an attack on enterprise and the free market. Why no tax on water? Or tea or juices? I suppose the Chancellor prefers fine teas to a nice bottle of ChemoSludge *TM.

‘And it is socially divisive! This will hit the poor the hardest, since this is where we make most of our profits. We know that the poorer the family, the less likely they are to be well educated, and then the more likely they are to purchase our elixirs. This is where this horribly unfair tax will hit.

‘We were given no warning, no sign of this change of mood. Where will it all end? First they try to destroy the reputation of our lovely healthy tobacco industry, and now this. Honestly, I fear that the government’s next target might even be our ObeseBurgers *TM.’

At this point, the line to the Cayman Islands went dead.