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2020

Last Sunday, one of the large panes of glass in our french doors exploded. There wasn’t any external impact. It just gave up on life. That, I thought, just finishes the year perfectly. A final fuck you from 2020.

Many words have been written and will be written, about what a crap year 2020 has been. For me, putting aside externalities, it hasn’t been as bad as it could have been. I’ve missed the get-togethers, cinema, museums and country houses. But there was also much to be glad about: our eldest daughter moving away to university, getting a job and revealing that she can function as a human without our input or opinions; switching jobs and recovering some sanity, building a space of my own, driving less and walking more.

Coronavirus changed our lives in ways that were unimaginable twelve months ago. New behaviours are so entrenched that our youngest daughter remarked on how strange it is that none of the characters on Animal Crossing practice social distancing, or wear a mask. I’m looking forward to the new normal being replaced by the old normal.

I’m hugely grateful to the bloggers that plug away at their sites week in, week out. I’m grateful for the brief glimpses into your lives and the knowledge that while we’re all going through same thing, we deal with it in our own ways. I’ve made an effort to reach out and tell you that. I’ll continue doing the same in 2021.

I have no willpower and fragile self-esteem, so there are no goals or resolutions for next year. What will be, will be, and it will be enough.

All the best.

Merry Christmas

Good evening, from Plague Island.

Europe has decided that we are persona non grata, and thousands of lorries are holed up in a Kent airfield, waiting to cross the border. I imagine that there are a lot of lorry drivers that badly need the toilet.

Britain is on the brink of crisis. It’s a word that has lost all meaning, but it’s still true. COVID-19 roams the island unchecked. The tiered system of local restrictions has failed, primarily because we don’t have a useful test and trace system, and ’restrictions’ peppered with holes large enough to drive a lorry through. There is not a single metric that says we are doing a good job. In fact, we are doing a terrible job.

So, it defies common sense for the PM announces that people can mingle at Christmas for five days – as well as the statutory guidance. Chris Witty, with a face that said ‘this is fucking mental’, stressed that it would be unwise to get together unnecessarily. What we have to do, essentially, is complete a risk assessment. Because we’ve shown that we’re good at that up to now? What the hell are they thinking?

The Christmas super-spreading event has reluctantly been reduced to a single day, because, I assume, the country will rise up in rebellion if they can’t share a turkey dinner. That’s fine by me, but it’s time to give up the laissez-faire approach; otherwise, disaster looms in January.

Christmas seems to get larger every year – peeking over the horizon from October and climaxing on December 25th. Not so much this year. We are relaxed. The usual frantic rush never appeared. For me, a smaller Christmas will be a time to enjoy the little things – boxes of Quality Street, mince pies and a series of terrible Christmas films.

Enjoy yours, whatever you are doing. Try not to kill your grandma. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Merry Christmas

Indoor Dining

Another fascinating study on the perils of indoor dining, this time from South Korea.

In this case, a single person infected two others, one of them being 6.5 meters away and in the same room as the infected person for only five minutes.

What’s particularly fascinating about this study is the lengths that the researchers went to confirm the chain and method of infection; making use of CCTV, personal location data, and even computer modelling of the airflow inside the restaurant.

Whilst this research throws some doubt on the usefulness of the two-meter distance rule; it reinforces that rapid airflow is essential and that being in an indoor setting without a mask for any length of time puts you at increased risk of infection.

There’s a great write-up of the study here.

Aerosol Transmission of COVID-19 in Indoor Settings

El Pais has an interesting visualisation of how aerosol transmission works in indoor settings. It’s one of those things that you read and then wish you hadn’t because it makes the world just a little more terrifying.

Aerosol transmission is different from droplet transmission. The latter happens when someone coughs or sneezes at you. The droplets generally don’t travel far but infect if they come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Aerosol transmission is by way of tiny particles, which are light enough to travel in air currents. They can stay in the air for hours, floating around and increasing in concentration until they are dispersed (or inhaled).

Silent / Talking / Shouting

It’s always seemed to me that aerosol transmission is understated in the UK response to COVID-19. Bars and restaurants have been allowed to remain open, and many people are now working in offices again – albeit with reduced numbers and preventive methods such as barrier screens and temperature checks. But if you’ve got an infected person in a room with 20 other people, with poor ventilation, none of the standard prevention makes any difference. The air will be full of aerosol droplets.

There’s still a couple of unknowns. We know that aerosol transmission happens, but we don’t know how much it is contributing to the wider spread. We know that ventilation helps, but we don’t know whether HVAC systems help or not.

The mitigation is straightforward:

  • Don’t stay anywhere indoors longer than you need to, ideally no longer than an hour
  • Make sure your destination is well ventilated, preferably through open windows/doors but at the very least through mechanical ventilation
  • Wear a mask when you can
  • Try to do things outdoors instead

London Protests

People are protesting in London today. It was sold as a peaceful protest against lockdown measures, but it all seems a bit mental to me.

Here are some quotes from the website of the organisers:

ID2020 is an implantable digital chip being developed by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, proposed for all 7 billion humans to have, in collaboration with Gavi, the Gates Foundation Vaccine Alliance.

We are living in a state of authoritarian control.

5G is necessary for the infrastructure of 24/7 Surveillance Tracking & Implantable Microchips.

I’m reasonably confident that none of this is true. Interestingly, most of the ’sources’ used are videos on YouTube – which is clearly doing a phenomenal job in preventing the spread of disinformation.

Yesterday, mixed in with the crowds, was a smaller group calling themselves ‘Freedom for the Children UK’. They carried signs emblazoned with ‘SAVE THE CHILDREN’ and ‘WHERE ARE ALL THE CHILDREN?’ – which sounds innocent enough until one of them opens their mouth:

Friends of mine have been on about the new world order for years, but I was asleep. It’s lockdown that woke me up. There are thousands of children being held in tunnels. A lot of them are underneath London. We have Trump to thank for everything that is coming out.

Mentalist, UK

This is the message of QAnon – the most batshit-crazy conspiracy of them all – that Donald Trump is leading a secret war against a network of satan worshipping child trafficking rings. Donald Trump, of all people. Give me strength.

Anti-vax and 5G conspiracy theories are not new to the UK. Andrew Wakefield became the father of the anti-vaccine movement when he wrote a paper suggesting links, which were later shown to be fraudulent, between the MMR vaccine and autism. The rise of QAnon in the UK is new, and it’s very worrying. It comes from the same line of anti-logic used in the middle-ages to justify tying up innocent women, throwing them into ponds and then burning them if they floated.

Years ago this crazy talk would have been limited to the local pub, or the crazy uncle at your annual Christmas gathering. Now it plays out to millions online, and pulls people in. Not just the gullible, but also people who are scared – people who want to believe that there are simple solutions to complex problems.

Logic, reasoning & science once gave us herd immunity against stupid ideas, but our immunity is being eroded by social media, and now the stupidity is spreading faster than coronavirus.

R = 1.2

Kings College London and ZOE are performing large-scale research on COVID-19 symptoms among the general population. I’ve been taking part for a couple of months. It’s not that hard, you just answer a few questions each day, the boffins do clever stuff with the data, and in return they send you updates on what’s going on.

They estimate that R is now at 1.2, which is.. bad news.

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It means that the virus is beginning to spread exponentially again. What that actually translates to is something I don’t clearly understand. We already know that an increase in infections doesn’t necessarily mean more hospitalisations & deaths. That’s probably because we know how to treat it better, and social distancing measures mean that people aren’t getting huge doses of the virus – but with kids returning to school and young people heading off to university, we might well be in a bad place in a couple of weeks time.

You can participate in the Kings College study by downloading their app: https://covid.joinzoe.com

Misinformation is dangerous

A study in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene states that 800 people have died, 5,876 have been hospitalised, and 60 have gone completely blind – due to the myth, spread by social media, that concentrated alcohol will kill the Coronavirus.

What a world we live in.

Link: COVID-19–Related Infodemic and Its Impact on Public Health: A Global Social Media Analysis

Wired interviews Bill Gates

Stephen Levey’s interview with Bill Gates in Wired is something. Any interview with Gates is worth reading. He’s smart, and doesn’t talk about something unless he knows a lot about it. He is careful with his words, which makes his bluntness about the failure of politicians to get to grips with the most significant economic and public health crisis of our lifetimes all the more surprising.

On vaccine sceptics:

Yeah, you’re right… They do it in this kind of way: “I’ve heard lots of people say X, Y, Z.” That’s kind of Trumpish plausible deniability. Anyway, there was a meeting where Francis Collins, Tony Fauci, and I had to [attend], and they had no data about anything. When we would say, “But wait a minute, that’s not real data,” they’d say, “Look, Trump told you you have to sit and listen, so just shut up and listen anyway.”

On the quality of US testing:

The majority of all US tests are completely garbage, wasted… When we tell them to change it they say, “As far as we can tell, we’re just doing a great job, it’s amazing!” Here we are, this is August. We are the only country in the world where we waste the most money on tests.

On the CDC:

We called the CDC, but they told us we had to talk to the White House a bunch of times. Now they say, “Look, we’re doing a great job on testing, we don’t want to talk to you.” Even the simplest things, which would greatly improve this system, they feel would be admitting there is some imperfection and so they are not interested.

The full thing is worth a read: Bill Gates on Covid: Most US Tests Are ‘Completely Garbage’