125 days

125 days since the red alert sent us home from work. 115 days since the lockdown order. There have been adjustments to open sector after sector over the last six weeks but our public and private lives are by no means returned. Lockdown measures are now differentially distributed between city and country, “hot spots” such as Leicester and others. The Leicester council is making an argument for even smaller, neighborhood-based lockdowns.

There have been more than 12 million tests in the UK. 189,438 people were tested yesterday, including regular tests of health workers. The number of cases discovered or confirmed by testing has reached 291,911. At least 45,053 people have died of coronavirus here, with reported daily counts lately fluctuating between 35 and 200. The virus is responsible for approximately 10,000 more deaths if other death certificate mentions are counted, and counting excess deaths means about 10,000 more can be attributed to the pandemic. (Public Health England / BBC)

Travel around England is now allowed and hotels, campsites and other holiday dwellings will be permitted to open under new rules. National Express coaches began operating July 1 on a reduced timetable. Trains have operated throughout, at an added cost said to be £100 per passenger per trip because of overcapacity. London transport is running at 20% of last year’s passenger numbers. Today’s Guardian reports on a “travel safe” campaign to “tempt people back” to transit. As usual policy is not about whether it is safe for people to travel, because we can’t calculate that, or how to make it safe, because we don’t know, but about how to sell them on it.

Government messaging remains fuzzy and the subject of many explainers. Face coverings on mass transit were made mandatory from 15 June, though National Express describes them as only recommended. NX does reserve the right to take customer temperatures before boarding. Masks in shops are recommended, but in the end have not been mandated. The 2m distance has been reduced to “1m plus,” although aerosol scientists think 10 feet (3 m) would be safer. It is hard not to reach the conclusion that proposed rules are dialed back as soon as members of the government realize how difficult they are to keep and how likely they are to be caught not keeping them. To use an Australian expression, measures that could save us get put in the “too hard basket.”

Dr Kimberly Prather, atmospheric scientist at UCSD, prefers 10 feet and says masks should fit snugly enough that you can see them move when you breathe. Also, pay attention to wind direction.

It is still not the case in Ipswich that you can walk into any general store and buy a mask, in the manner of umbrellas and flashlights and other regularly used protective goods. I have seen masks in the window of one tailor and dry cleaners. I am still looking for the ideal mask.

UK employment is down almost 650,000. The BBC and the Guardian are cutting hundreds of jobs. Universities have fired the first salvo of voluntary redundancy plans ahead of ugly restructures. Half of me wishes I had taken more strike days over the last three years and half of me is glad to have the money from the days I didn’t take. Thirteen universities will go broke unless they get bailouts, according to one report. The rout in small businesses is somewhat hidden in the regular erosion of the high street.

The attitude of other rich countries (G7, ANZ, China) seems to be, “We’ll pay what it takes to keep people isolated and worry about the cost later.” The US is the conspicuous exception, although I did get my single $1200 stimulus check automatically three weeks after filing my 1040, on which as usual I owed nothing. Thanks, first home country! (The UK feels it owes me no coverage – academic contract labor is not treated as self-employed – so I’m not double dipping.)

In news of the symbolic, the Queen has knighted the 100 year-old war veteran who raised funds for the NHS. Death counts for NHS workers stopped being published at circa 300, as far as I can tell. (FullFact seems like a useful fact checking site; bookmarking.)

It is still impossible for individuals to gauge their risk, unless they know they are in high risk groups and need to defiantly stay home. I know some people in that category, and at the other end some people who think the risks have been exaggerated as they have been going in to the office and so forth without ill effects. But it’s hard not to conclude that going in is working because everyone else is away. Teachers being ordered back are in a terrible position; think about how colds spread in a normal year. And I know at least one person who observed all the rules, worked from home, took deliveries, masked up, spoke only to one neighbor – did everything right, and now has the virus.

In the US, the Democratic National Convention is now planned as a multicentric event and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up almost all online. Octocon, the Irish science fiction convention in October, is cancelled.

A June folk concert I had a ticket for has been rescheduled for July 2021. I thought it was next week and was going through a crisis over whether to attend. I probably would have, with a mask, and it probably wouldn’t have been safe. The nearby pubs sounded dismayingly buoyant the last few weekends. Suffolk has had 2630 cases according to public figures, and 553 deaths to 12 days earlier. (This is not bad; in some places the ratio is more like a third than a fifth.) The smart money says to keep hunkering down if we can.

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
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