Wednesday 30 September 2020

Day 198 of self-isolation - Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb

Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb

71 deaths and 7143 new cases. It's rising horribly fast. 7143 is the worst number we've ever had. There's a lag between new cases and deaths of 2-3 weeks, and the number of new cases we had then was about 3000. So this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Spain and France are also seeing disappointing numbers.

And the rules are so complicated that even our oven-ready Boris can't get them right. Does it have to be so complicated that people can't understand what they're supposed to do?

I accept that we're in a difficult situation, and we can't do a simple "lock down for everyone" like we did last spring. But how about this.

Set up seven different sets of rules, and make them as simple as possible, These different sets of rules would be for the various situations that can apply in various regions of the country.

So you have defcon 1 (no restrictions) up to defcon 7 (total lockdown). Defcon 2 to 6 would have various restrictions, carefully spelled out on the government web site.

Then you would simply announce "Camberwick Green is now at defcon 3, but will move to defcon 5 from Friday." And there would be an app, and a map on the government web site, that showed the defcon levels for each area. So, if Boris visits Camberwick Green, before he goes he checks out the defcon level, and when he's asked, he can answer using the defcon number, and if anyone wants them explained, he refers them to the government web site.



Tuesday 29 September 2020

Day 197 of self-isolation - the second wave in Israel

The second wave in Israel

Israel did very well in the first wave of Covid, experiencing less than 10 deaths per day at the peak, and 600 new cases per day.

Not so good in the second wave. The seven day moving average of deaths per day now is 30 with new infections per day at 6000.

So the deaths per infection in the first wave was 1.7%, and in the second wave 0.5%. This is the same thing we've been seeing elsewhere; the second wave is a lot less deadly than the first, because we've learned treatments that ameliorate the disease.

Monday 28 September 2020

Day 196 of self-isolation - a million deaths

A million deaths

Today, the total dead from Covid-19 reached a million; this is six months into the pandemic.  Seasonal flu kills 300,000 to 650,000 each year.

The flu season starts soon - ladysolly and I are getting our flu jabs next week, because we would rather not be one of the 300,000 to 650,000.

But there isn't a vaccine for Covid-19 - yet. I'm still hopeful that the Oxford University vaccine will be available soon, and I'm hoping to be in the second wave of vaccinations (the first wave will be healthcare workers and others in the front line).

But what you really don't want, is to get both at once; that will double the awfulness.


Sunday 27 September 2020

Day 195 of self-isolation - Florida, app, resistance

 Florida, app, resistance

Florida, where there are still more than 100 Covid deaths per day and around 3000 new cases per day, has decided to reopen bars and restaurants. Why?

Florida needs your money. If you spend a week in Florida, they get your money, and the infection that you picked up there, won't manifest until you've gone home, and it becomes someone else's problem.

The UK app

A third of tests can't be linked to the app. Our oven-ready government can't IT it's way out of a paper bag.

But only 18.2% of those who developed symptoms in the last week actually reported self-isolating.So maybe it doesn't matter that the tracking app is so poor.


Some thousands of people protested in Trafalgar Square against the measures to control the virus. One popular speaker was David Icke, the guy who claims that the Royal Family are lizards (he has many other fantasies).

Saturday 26 September 2020

Day 194 of self-isolation - Dogs


Dogs have very sensitive noses. I was once part of an experiment to see if dogs could sniff cancer. I was one of the non-cancer subjects. I don't know what the outcome was.

But I do know that dogs are used to sniff out drugs at airports, and also money. There's some very heart-warming videos on Youtube - when the dog finds a stash, it's rewarded with a game of "fetch".

Now dogs are being used to sniff out Covid-19. The test takes just a few seconds and, according to the report, is nearly 100% accurate. You wipe your neck with a cloth, put it in a can and the dogs sniff it. There are four dogs in Helsinki airport sniffing at passengers. If the dog says you're positive, you're then invited to take a standard nasal swab test. The dogs are called ET, Kossi, Miina and Valo.

Dogs are faster and cheaper than laboratories, and they don't get infected.


Kossi the Covid sniffer dog

Friday 25 September 2020

Day 193 of self-isolation - Test and trace

Test and trace

Hurrah! The world-beating "NHS Covid-19" app is now available. So as a keen supporter of the fight against Covid-19, I rushed to install it.

It needs IOS 13.5 or above.

I run an iPhone 6 plus, using IOS 12.4.8. I tried to update it, but Apple says I'm already up to date. I suspect that the problem is, my iPhone can't run IOS 13.5 because it isn't an iPhone 6S or above. I'm one iPhone version too short.

I don't know how common this problem is, but if an anti-Covid enthusiast like me can't run the NHS app, that doesn't bode well.

It's great that they translated it into ten languages, with more to follow. And I understand why you can't run it on an oldish iPhone 6 plus. But it would be good if they mentioned that on the NHS web site (and presumably there's a similar problem for Androids).

After diving deep into the web site, I discovered that it needs Android Marshmallow (v6.0), or IOS 13.5 or above.It also needs Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 4 or above.

The Scotland app needs IOS 13.0 or above, which wouldn't work for me either, but I wonder how they were able to do better than the world-beating NHS England app?

New models of Huawei smartphones launched from May 2019 will not be able to use the app, as the app uses Exposure Notifications. 

There's a list of phones that will work here.

Thursday 24 September 2020

Day 192 of self-isolation - Bayes theorem

Bayes theorem

I did my PhD on this, you can see it on my web site. It is applicable in many situations, and it often leads to results that are surprising.

Let's look at Covid testing. The commonly used test in the UK gives about 0.1% of false positives (specificity, says you are infected when you are not) and 5% of false negatives (sensitivity).


The tests being used in the UK are (I think) Abbott and Roche. So the sensitivity is 95%, specificity is 0.2%. I've heard reports that sensitivity is 80% and specificity is "under 1%" but I can't see where those numbers cam from. I've given the source of my numbers.

Now, imagine that 100,000 people are tested per day (that's the government target). We're seeing about 6000 positives per day, so there's about 94000 negatives. But if you test 100,000 uninfected people, you would get 200 false positives (0.2% specificity). 200 false positives out of 6000, means 3% of reported infections might be false positives. That's a very small number, abd contradicts some numbers that are circulating amongst innumerate journalists who claim that 91% of the positives are false positives. The mistake that such people make, is that they don't know about Bayes Theorem, and so they don't factor in the prior probability.

So here's the wrong calculation:

1000 people turn up to be tested, only one has Covid, specificity is 1%, so 10 test positive. so nine out of ten are false positives, and so you deduce that 90% of the positives are false, and over-estimate of cases that is tenfold! Awful!

And here's the right calculation. The wrong assumption is that only one of them has Covid. But why did they go for testing? Because they have symptoms. So the chances are, more than one of those thousand had Covid. A lot more!

We call this number, the guess about how many had Covid before we do the test, the "prior probability". So here's Bayes Theorem. The probability of the event A, given that B is true, is equal to the probability of the event B, given that A is true, multiplied by the probability of A and divided by the probability of B.


So, let's suppose that of the 1000 turning up for testing, 100 have Covid. The 95% sensitivity means that 95 of them are confirmed, and the 1% specificity means that 10 more are flagged even though they are clean. So there are 105 flagged as infected when the true number is 100, which means that the over-estimate of cases is 5%.

The truth is somewhere in between. It's more like of those 1000 turning up for testing, 25 are infected. 95% sensitivity means that 24 are confirmed, and 1% specificity means that 10 more are flagged. So the number flagged is 34 where the true number is 25, an over estimate of cases by 36%. If we apply that to the current number of 6178, then that would mean that the true number is 4543. So, there might be some overstatement of cases, but it isn't a tenfold over-estimate.

But the specificity isn't 1%, it is more like 0.1% (see source above). so in the case above, you get 24 cases confirmed and 1 false positive. and the number flagged is 25, which is (hurrah) the correct number.

Any statistician knows about Bayes Theorem, but I doubt if many journalists do. And doctors? Maybe, but I doubt if the medical training of most doctors extends to sophisticated mathematical analysis.

Wednesday 23 September 2020

Day 191 of self-isolation - Christmas is cancelled

Christmas is cancelled

 - or is it? We can't gather in groups of more than six, but there are exemptions, such as grouse shooting. So, this Christmas, we're going to have an indoor grouse shoot, using plastic grouse and catapults.

Seriously, though. Today we got a bundle of new measures.

1) Work from home if you can. This cancelled the previous "Go back to the office", which was always a stupid idea.

2) A 10pm closing time for pubs, restaurants, clubs etc. I'm not sure how closing a couple of hours early is going to make much difference; people will just go out a couple of hours sooner, and have just as much interaction. Maybe "Eat out to help out" wasn't such a great idea.

3) Staff have to mask in pubs etc. I can't understand why that wasn't always a requirement

4) The fine for not masking is doubled to £200

5) Wedding numbers are down to 15, but funerals can still be 30. I don't see how they worked that out. Grouse shoots can be 30.

6) The rule of six will now apply to all indoor sports.

Will this work? I doubt it, but we won't know for a couple of weeks. meanwhile, our daily death number has reached 37, new infections 4926. We're back where we were six months ago,

But it isn't all bad. Now we are much better at treating Covid, we also understand the vulnerability of care homes (which was obvious at the time, but now it's well known) and we are six months closer to having a vaccine.

The main thing, in my view, is masking. That fairly simple, really cheap and quite effective measure will have a big impact, especially if nearly everyone follows it. Mask when indoors. It's just like "If you drink, don't drive". Both of these are limitations on our freedoms.

And one of the biggest blunders our oven-ready government made in this whole story, was six months ago when they told us not to mask, that masking was useless, and they KNEW it was a lie because healthcare workers masked. They were trying to protect scarce N95 masks. But they could have told us "make yourself a cloth mask". So now people find it hard to believe that this simple, cheap precaution could be a major weapon in the fight against the pandemic, even though our world-beating government has changes sides on this.



Tuesday 22 September 2020

Day 190 of self-isolation - the Autumnal Equinox

The Autumnal Equinox

Night and day are the same length, and the days are shortening faster than any other time in the year. 

It's also the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and Guy Kewney (RIP). This I know because one of the trickiest (and full stealth) viruses did its thing on this date, and Guy told me that it was also his birthday. It put a Trojan on your boot sector that displayed "FRODO LIVES!" when you start up.

Winter is coming, and thoughts have already started to turn to Christmas.

Usually, each year we spend a few days in central London, where daughters.[1 and 2] live, and we go for a major nosh-up at a London Hotel with all the family. But this is the Year of the Covid, so we won't.

Instead, we're planning a smaller family get-together at the home of daughter.1, who has offered to do the cooking. Pigs in blankets! Christmas pudding! Mince pies!I don't know the exact date just yet, but we'll drive down for the festivities and drive back very late at night, which means no booze for me, but I shall legally eat myself silly.

We don't have firm plans, but the outline plan we have means we can be very flexible, and make a final decision at the last minute, because it might depend on the state of lock down in London at the time.

Monday 21 September 2020

Day 189 of self-isolation - the tea trolley

The tea trolley

When I started work at Marconi, the highlight of the day was the arrival of the tea trolley at about 11am. It meant a tea break, but more - cheese rolls. The cheese rolls were fat, crusty, buttered and cheesy. One for the 11 o'clock gap, and two more to be eaten for lunch. 10p per roll. And the tea trolley came round again in the afternoon, with more tea. It was at that time that I discovered that tea and coffee tasted different, because I gave up sugar and found that what I'd been tasting before in both beverages, was the sugar.

Onwards to IWS, and the tea trolley came round morning and afternoon, but no cheese rolls. I got used to that by bringing in my morning snack on the way in to work. A pound of sultanas worked nicely, but I got some strange looks. Better than those smelly cigarettes, I would reply. That was back in the days before people even asked if it was OK to light up, they just did it. Although several years later when it became the convention to ask "Is it OK?" while waving a fag, people were always surprised when I said "I'd rather you didn't".

But then, to the horror of all workers everywhere, the tea trolley was abolished, and replaced with a machine, which (if you punched the right combination of buttons) would deliver up a tepid plastic cup of something that was not completely unlike tea. Nasty. You could also add "milk", which wasn't milk, it was some sort of white powder that was NOTHING like milk. And you could also specify that it be "whipped", which did nothing. This was all in the name of saving money, and a worse economy was never dreamed.

Now - full circle. There isn't actually a trolley, but I get a personalised service from ladysolly, even if it's just a shout of "Make your own coffee!". But the milk is real milk, and I still don't take sugar, and cheese rolls are a luxury of the past, no longer available to the careful weight watcher.

Sunday 20 September 2020

Day 188 of self-isolation - a moonshot

A moonshot

This is Boris's latest Cunning Plan. As usual, he hasn't thought it through.

The idea is to do ten million tests per day. Which sounds great - it means that we could all be tested once per week. Or the more frontline people could be tested every day, the rest of us less often. The estimated cost would be 100 billion pounds. For comparison, the whole NHS budget is 140 billion. So that's a lot of money. A LOT of money. 

The problem, though, isn't just the high cost. It's also the results.

Our current test are 70% sensitive, and 2% specific. That means, 30% of tests will give false negatives, 2% will give false positives.

So let's consider the false positives. 10 million tests per day will give 200,000 false positives. So every day, 200,000 people will be told "You're infected, self-isolate for two weeks". And the rest of their family will want to get tested, and their contacts. That's 1.4 million people each week.

And the false negatives. 70% of infected people, will be told they're uninfected.

I'm sorry, but this seems to me to be "Look, a squirrel!" It's a diversion, to pretend that there's a possible way out of this mess. But I don't think it can work.

There is something that works. A vaccine. But we don't have one yet, or rather we do, but it's still being thoroughly tested, and we won't see it for at least some weeks.

Meanwhile, there is something else that works. This virus mostly transmits through the air, in the droplets that we all breath, cough or sneeze out. Masking blocks most of that. So, when we're in public places in buildings, we all need to mask. That means that pubs and restaurants will have to be takeaways, or dining outside (tough in winter). But most other economic activities should be OK, if we're all masked and the indoors is well ventilated.

Saturday 19 September 2020

Day 187 of self-isolation - Printer problems

Printer problems

My lovely HP Laserjet 6p stopped working.

I bought it on February 1998, which is only 22 years ago. It's built like a tank, weighs a ton, not like the fragile balsa-and-string that's on offer today. So why did it stop working?

So I got it down from the shelf, took out the paper tray, opened up the top and removed the toner cartridge (which I recently refilled with a cheap bottle of toner, £10). No paper jam. But when I put it all back, still no printing. I power cycled it - no luck.

The printer is quite elderly, as explained above, and it has a parallel printer port, which was how all printers worked in those days. But today, most computers don't have a parallel port, and my current HP xw6600 boxes don't. So I print via a "Jetdirect 170x" which has an ethernet input and a parallel output. I power cycled the Jetdirect, no joy. But the status light was blinking, and when I googled the manual, is said that one likely cause is "not able to attach to network". So I followed the ethernet cable to the ethernet switch, and immediately noticed that all the LEDs were out. So I checked the power by plugging it in to a known good power cable, and that didn't help. 

So I had found the fault - a dead ethernet switch. That is easy to fix - it's a 16-way switch, and I have a few spares of those. I swapped out the switch, and checked - the Jetdirect status light was giving an occasional flicker; looking good. So I tried to print a page on the Laserjet, and it worked. Hurrah.

My 22 year old laser printer is still working fine.

Friday 18 September 2020

Day 186 of self-isolation - Baroness Bungle

Baroness Bungle

Dido Harding has just announced that demand for testing is greater than supply by "three or four times".

Baroness Bungle has been head of Test and Trace since May 7th. It should have been obvious that the need for testing would shoot up in September with children going back to school, and with "Eat out to help out" and the easing of the lock down.

She has a poor history on such things. When she was head of TalkTalk, they lost four million customer details to a hack which was probably a SQL-injection, one of the simplest kinds of hacks. The testing app of a few months ago, had to be abandoned when it was noticed that it did not, and could not, work.

And now she has bungled again. The "test and trace" system doesn't work, because we don't have enough tests by a factor of 300%, and we don't have a tracing app (by the way, they do in Scotland, which makes me think that maybe we should just use theirs, on payment of a suitable fee). 

She holds a board position at the Jockey Club, which is responsible for several major horse-racing events, including the Cheltenham Festival, the four day, crowded event that gave the pandemic such a good start last March.

And when we do have a tracing app, that is only going to lead to more people needing to be tested, which means ... even more testing will be needed. I wonder if Baroness Bungle has thought of that yet?

Throughout this sorry saga of the pandemic, our oven-ready world-beating government has been surprised again and again by things that should have been obvious to anyone with any sense. From early March, when major sporting events such as Cheltenham gave the pandemic such a huge boost, all the way to now, it's been like watching a pantomime. You can see the hazard and yell "It's behind you!!!" but the cast of clowns can't see it. And there's a hole in the bucket. And our world-beating oven-ready government buys the Magic Beans again and again and each time is surprised when they turn out to be useless. The Forty Thieves are making hay..

"Eat out to help out" was obviously going to help the restaurants a bit - and was at the same time, going to lead to an upsurge in the pandemic. Back to school - likewise. Back to the office - the same.

And now most of North-east and North-west England is under heavy shut down, about 10 million people. Bars and restaurants have a 10pm curfew, so you can only spread the virus before 10pm, and why anyone thinks that this will curtail the virus spread is beyond me because I can't imagine people in bars and restaurants drinking and eating while wearing face masks.


Thursday 17 September 2020

Day 185 of self-isolation - 4000 new cases

4000 new cases

On Tuesday, we had 3991 new cases. The numbers are rising, but already we've reached the level of late last April/early May. Ring a ring o'roses, a pocketful of posies, atishoo, atishoo, all fall down. Maybe this rhyme isn't about the Great Plague, but it describes our experience of Covid-19 rather well. The ring of roses is the lung damage, the pocket full of posies are the ineffective measures taken by our world-beating government and the rest is obvious.

Deaths aren't rising as much as they did last March, which is excellent news and we hope that continues.

So what is our oven-ready government going to do? Probably nothing. The test and trace system has broken down over the fact that the pandemic is surging, a fact that could have easily been forecast by anyone with two uninfected brain cells. Dido Harding, who is in charge of this, has been as visibly absent as the test/trace system.

People are being told to travel to Aberdeen for tests; I suppose that's the nearest test site that isn't swamped. Obviously they should have installed major capacity on Rockall, which would be certain to remain unused.

And with this second wave, will our oven-ready government order another lockdown? I don't see how they can. The magic money tree has been harvested, so how would you pay people? And if you don't pay people, they face the choice of starve or defy the lockdown.

Deaths in Spain have surged to 239, and new cases to 11193. France is also looking very bad.


Wednesday 16 September 2020

Day 184 of self-isolation - Test, trace and bungle

Test, trace and bungle

Wouldn't it be nice if, when someone got infected with Covid-19, they could tell everyone they might have infected? So they can avoid infecting others?

That's what test and trace is all about.

But we don't  have enough testing. Who could possibly have predicted that when the kids go back to school we would need a lot more test capacity? Anyone could, except our world-beating government. So people needing tests, are being sent hundreds of miles to be tested, and getting the results back up to a week later. Apparently, the problem is in the testing labs. Surprise surprise - we have enough cotton swabs. It's analysing them that is the bottleneck.

Last March, we were caught by surprise. We bought a load of useless testers, we didn't have enough of anything. It was so bad, we bought useless equipment from Trotters Independent Traders (no income tax, no VAT). But now we're six months older and wiser. And we still got surprised by the fact that, hey, you need lots of testing.

And then there's tracing. Last April, we bought a world-beating (Boris told us) tracing app from Trotters Independent Traders (no money back, no guarantee) which turned out to not only not work, but could never have worked (as many people told them at the time) because smartphones just didn't work the way they hoped. So that app was scrapped (no money back) and we fell back on phoning people and asking "Do you remember everyone you met in the last week?".

And now we've got another app, which will arrive in a couple of weeks (we're told), but won't be world-beating (I think Boris has learned not to use that phrase, along with oven-ready). We're yet to see A) if it works, and B) if people install in and use it. But if it works, and people do install it, let me be the first to point out that this will lead to a huge surge in the demand for testing, a point which I suspect hasn't been anticipated by the Big Brains of Downing Street.

And will people who are notified, actually self-isolate?

I might be the only person saying this, but I don't think that test and trace will ever work. And I wonder if our benevolent government thinks it will work. Because surely, if they thought that it could work, they'd actually have made it work some months ago?

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Day 183 of self-isolation - the Few

Never was so much owed by so many to so few

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, where Britain stood alone against the Nazi aggressors, and defeated them in the skies over our islands, using a well-organised system of defence with the newly-invented radar at the front line.

Today we are fighting a different battle - against Covid-19. We won the first battle, but the second is starting now. New infections are up to 3000 per day, and the R-number has reached 1.7, which will lead to a doubling of infections each week. If that keeps up, then by the end of September, we'll see 12000 per day, and by the end of October, 200,000 per day. For comparison, last March/April we were recording 5000 per day. We can't let it get that bad, but it's difficult to see what our government, once more focussed on Brexit, can do about it.

But we won't have as many deaths as we had last time. Now we have treatments that we didn't have then, such as dexamethasone, and other steroids to prevent the cytokyne storm. Also, we are doing a lot more testing now, so instead of just knowing about cases as they entered hospital (and by then were already severe), we now know about more mild infections. Another good thing - the idiotic advice not to mask, has now been replaced with advice to mask. Masking will lead to fewer infections than without, and many of the infections that would have been severe will be mild, because of the lower infecting dose of virus particles.

On May 10, 1940 Churchill said “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

That wasn't quite right. We had radar, and the RAF. He also said "You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."

Same here. We have to beat this virus to get back to some sort of normality, and to do so, we will be using the newly-developed Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine, a vaccine that uses a completely new vaccine development technique. We don't know exactly when the trials will be complete (they were put on hold a few days ago, but are now back on track). Unlike radar, we couldn't develop the vaccine before we needed it. I'm hoping that it will be available in the next few weeks.

Until then - blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Monday 14 September 2020

Day 182 of self-isolation - Breaking the law

Breaking the law

Apparently, I'm about to break the law. Or rather, my country is.

 We spent four years running in circles over how to leave the EU, and eventually, we came to an agreement in parliament, and with the EU, on the leaving treaty.

But there was a problem all along. Right from 2015, the problem was obvious. If the Republic of Ireland is a member of the EU, and we are not, then there is a land border between the EU and the UK. But the Good Friday Agreement that ended the Irish Troubles, promised that there would not be a hard border between the North and the South.

So what's the answer? You could have a customs border in the Irish Sea, which puts a customs barrier between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the rest of the UK. Not acceptable. Or you could have a customs union between the UK and the EU. But we aren't doing that. 

The "solution" was to have no hard border, but some kind of magic technology that meant that somehow, we could have a customs barrier between the UK and the EU without having an actual border. Maybe we'd issue customs inspectors with X-ray spectacles. It turns out that the magic spectacles haven't been invented yet.

So what we actually did, was put the problem into the "too difficult" drawer, the place where everyone puts things they can't handle right now. 

Boris is now proposing to renege on the agreement we made less than a year ago. We're a sovereign nation, so we can break our promises. But what would be the consequences?

1) We wouldn't get a trade deal with the EU. 

2) We wouldn't get a trade deal with the USA

3) Anyone thinking of doing any deal with the UK, will remember how quickly we can renege on a deal, making getting a deal much harder.

4) Food imports from the EU will face a tariff of 22%.

How come we made a deal less than a year ago that we now have to break, because we only just now realised the consequences? Or was it that we did realise the consequences, and knew all along that we'd be breaking it?

And what will happen if parliament refuses to break international law?

How did we get into this mess?

Who are these idiots in Westminster?


Sunday 13 September 2020

Day 181 of self-isolation - the Oxford trial resumes

The Oxford trial resumes

One participant in the trial had become unwell. This was investigated by an independent committee, who have now reported back that the trial is safe to resume. That's just as well, because the number of new cases has increased again, to 3497.

In other news - we have been without television for some weeks now. Yesterday the audiovideo expert arrived, and after much toing and froing, fixed everything. So we can now get Freeview and Sky on all our TVs. This hasn't been a problem for me; I use internet radio, and Youtube. But it's nice to have TV back, it means we can watch "All creatures great and small" version 2.



Saturday 12 September 2020

Day 180 of self-isolation - the contact tracing app version 2

The contact tracing app version 2

After the debacle of the "world-beating" contact tracing app trialled in the Isle of Wight last May, then hurriedly abandoned when it turned out to be useless, we now have version 2 to be launched on September 24, two weeks from now.

Businesses will display a QR code for people to scan in, and your smartphone will use the Google or Apple method to detect other smartphones - so it at least stands a chance of working.

But will people install and use it? We'll find out in a month or two.

Meanwhile, the number of new cases per day is ramping up; the latest number (for Thursday) is 3539 (but only six deaths). Deaths ramp up a few weeks after cases. France is now seeing 10k cases per day, and Thursday's death number was 80.

In the UK, the R number is between 1 and 1.2, meaning that the number doubles each week. This means that the numbers get very very big, very quickly. From Monday, we have the "rule of six", meaning that in social settings, you can only have up to six people gathering.

For me, the key question is, when will the vaccine be available. Because as soon as it's approved, I think it could be distributed very quickly, and jabs could be available at hospitals, clinics, GPs and pharmacies. It's looking to me like a race between the vaccine and the second wave that has started now.

Contact tracing will help, but given our government's track record in IT projects, and Dido Harding's track record at managing IT companies, I'm not optimistic.

Friday 11 September 2020

Day 179 of self-isolation - Americans won't vaccinate

Americans won't vaccinate

American trust in their government has become so weak, that only 21% of them will get a vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

This is what happens when you're unlucky enough to have a president like Trump.

The Woodward book reveals that he knew how awful the pandemic was going to be. Five times as deadly as influenza, and much more infectious; spreading through the air you breathe. Yet he deliberately downplayed it, with his eye on the coming election. "It's like flu", he said "and one day it will just go away", he said. "With the warm weather," he said. "Inject disinfectant," he said. "What have you got to lose?" he said.

200,000 death, and many more permanently scarred. That's what America had to lose.

Shouting "FIRE" in a crowded theater, is very irresponsible - unless the theater really is on fire, in which case it would be grossly irresponsible to pretend that there is no fire, everything is under control, the fire will be out in a few minutes and the smoke and flames that you're seeing are just a hoax.

He is obviously keen now, to announce a vaccine as soon as possible, and before November 3rd, election day. Knowing that he has that as his objective, why would anyone take his word for it that it has been tested adequately? Or take the word of the federal agencies that he has under his thumb.

In the UK, we are very lucky to have a non-political NHS. I have trust that when the NHS says it's safe, then it will be. And I'll be one of the ones who will get vaccinated as soon as possible, because it isn't only the possibility of dying from this virus - 20% of people who get infected, suffer from "long Covid", where you are ill for many months, and perhaps you are permanently scarred by it.

Thursday 10 September 2020

Day 178 of self-isolation - a hitch

A hitch

The leading candidate for a vaccine is the one developed by Oxford University, being manufactured and tested by AstraZeneca called AZD1222. It is currently in third stage clinical trials in the United States, Britain, Brazil and South Africa and additional trials are planned in Japan and Russia.

One of the trial volunteers has an unexplained illness, so the global trial has been paused while this is investigated by an independent committee. The volunteers is expected to recover. It isn't clear at this time, whether the vaccine is linked to the vaccine.

This is good news and bad news. It's good news because it shows how seriously they are taking safety. It's bad news because it might delay the vaccine - or even cancel it.

However - have you heard of variolation?  It's the method that was first used to immunise against smallpox. The idea is that you give someone a small dose of the disease, which is large enough to stimulate the production of antibodies against that disease, but small enough that the body can easily deal with it. It's not recommended today, because we have good vaccines against smallpox.

We know that for viruses, the inoculum (how much of it you take in, in the initial infection) deterines how bad your symptoms are. This is generally true for viruses, and has been tested for Covid-19 on hamsters. Wearing a face covering reduces the amount of inoculum if you are exposed, so could lead to variolation. In other words, until we have a vaccine, one of the beneficial side effects of masking, will be to reduce the severity of infection if you catch the disease.

Obviously, don't organise "pox parties". Don't deliberately expose yourself to harmful pathogens. But if you wear a mask whenever you are out in public, especially in enclosed spaces, that could lead to a beneficial effect if you do get infected - a milder set of symptoms.

Wednesday 9 September 2020

Day 177 of self-isolation - Here we go again

Here we go again

UK new deaths are up to 32, new cases 2460. That's the third day with a higher number of cases, so I think we're seeing a surge. 

Bolton is under strict lockdown now. All hospitality outlets are takeaway only and meetings with different families are not allowed. Bolton has 1200 cases per million (compared to a UK average of 40 per million).

In the rest of the UK, social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal, whether indoors or outdoors. Weddings, funerals, schools, workplaces and team sports are exempt.

Spain new deaths are up to 78, new cases 8964. France new deaths are up to 38, new cases 6544. Italy is still looking OK. You could call this the "Second wave" that people were worried about, but I'm more concerned about when the cold weather comes.

In the summer, people are outdoors; in the winter, we huddle indoors. Huddling indoors is what this virus loves, because it's transmitted via our exhalations.


Tuesday 8 September 2020

Day 176 of self-isolation - the first Ocado

The first Ocado

We've been staunch Waitrosers, plus Cook (frozen stuff). But once-per-week deliveries come with problems; the expiry date. And lettuce isn't too clever after a week. So we're diversifying. On Tuesday, we're getting our first Ocado.

I foresee more lockdown - if not for the whole country, probably for the oldies. This is because we have now had 3000 new cases in two days running, and the trend is upwards. Children going back to school, and an outbreak of non-maskers will make that worse.

In other news - my weight got down to 16 stone 2 pounds, my eye test was fine and my blood test came back normal.

Monday 7 September 2020

Day 175 of self-isolation - More bad news

More bad news

The number of new cases in the UK, was nearly 3000 yesterday. 

It's been rising slowly, as you can see, but now it's taken a dramatic upturn. Maybe this is only one day - but children are going back to school, and it's really difficult to stop kids from mingling. And anything they catch, they bring home to parents and grandparent. It's not looking good.

Curretly, deaths are under 10 per day, but if the number of cases goes up, the number of deaths will follow, after a few weeks.

And some good news

But on the bright side, we've seen the first clinical double-blind trial of the efficacy of vitamin D. It was done in Span, and it's only a small sample.

They used calcifediol, which is a kind of "instant D". The pills you get in supermarkets are just as effective, but take several days to have an effect. They looked at 76 patients who were in a bad way, and gave them all the standard treatment of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. Some were given calcifediol, some were not.

Of the 50 given calcifediol, only one needed admission to the Intensive Care Unit, that's 2%. Of the 26 untreated patients, 13 needed ICU (50%).  And two of those died.

I've been taking 2000 IU per day of vitamin D for the last six months. I think it's time for a much larger clinical trial.

Sunday 6 September 2020

Day 174 of self-isolation - More good news

More good news

Trump is still claiming that there will be a vaccine really really soon. He's half right - there are 150 vaccines right now, but they're still all under test.

You have to test a vaccine really really carefully, because you're going to be giving it to billions of people. So even a tiny percentage of bad outcomes can hit many people, and we all remember the thalidomide disaster. If you don't remember that, go look it up.

Vaccines are tested in three stages. The first stage is to check that it really does something; stimulates antibodies, for example. That test could be on animals, or volunteer humans. The second stage test is on several dozen healthy young people, to see if there are any negative consequences (apart from a mild reaction), and to confirm that it stimulates the immune system. Then the third stage, where you do a double-blind randomised trial (neither the patient nor the doctor administering the vaccine, knows whether this is the vaccine, or a placebo). And then you expose several thousand people to the virus, and measure the effects. It would, of course, be unethical to deliberately infect people, so this is done in a location where they are very likely to be exposed to the virus in their everyday life; a country where the virus is widespread.

The Russian vaccine, which has been claimed to be operational, has actually been tested on just 76 healthy young people. That isn't a stage three trial. Let's wait till that's happened. But China and Russia have gone ahead with limited approval without waiting for the phase three outcome.

There are currently nine vaccines in phase three trial. Moderna, started on July 27, as did Pfizer. The University of Oxford vaccine phase three trial started at the end of May, and will total 50,000 participants. The BCG vaccine is very old (I had one many many years ago) and it's now being tested to see if it also protects against Covid-19. All the other vaccines are Russian (one) or Chinese (four).


Research has shown that wearing a mask doesn't only protect other people from your virus shedding, it also protects you. The mask isn't 100% effective (not much in this life is), but even in an environment laden with virus particles, it reduces the number that you inhale, thereby reducing your viral load. And viral load is a predictor of mortality. So, if you breathe in fewer virus particles, you're more likely to be asymptmomatic, or have mild symptoms.


Corticosteroid treatments (such as Dexamethasone) reduce mortality in critically ill patients, from 41.4% deaths (without the treatment) to 29% with the treatment. Dexamethasone is one that has been tested; there are others. These can be taken by inhalation. And they are cheap and widely available - I was prescribed corticosteroid when I had a heavy chest wheeze, and I'm still on that.

Vitamin D is still on the table; there is some research that links D-deficiency to higher death rates. I'm on 2000 IU per day, because I had a blood test several months back, and the doctor prescribed 10,000 IU per week. Another blood test several months later showed that my D levels were fine, so I've stayed on D supplements since then.

Saturday 5 September 2020

Day 173 of self-isolation - a busy day

 A busy day

The day started with a visit to the blood test clinic for my regular quarterly test. This came out positive, but I was chatting with the nurse while she did the "sharp scratch" stuff, and she told me that she was leaving. She's reached retiring age (she looked to me like she had plenty of mileage left) and she was fed up with the situation. I asked her what situation she meant, but she gave me a vague answer.

It's clear that her morale is low, and I suspect that it isn't just her. My guess is it's the "clap for carers" thing; each Thursday people came outside to clap, bang pans, and so on, in gratitude to our NHS. The reason why this would give me low morale, is that if this is supposed to be a substitute for better pay, I'm not impressed.

The day continued with a visit from the TV man. We have four TVs, and a Sky box, and Digital, and I don't know what else (I rarely watch TV). and not only was none of it working, but even the clever house-wide radio system wasn't working.

The TV man turned out to be a bit young, but so is everyone these days. So that didn't bother me. But three hours later, he hadn't fixed the problem. The radio was working again, and he had no idea why. He'd replaced the video distribution electronics, but none of the TVs worked. He seemed to have run out of ideas, so I suggested tracing the signal, to see where it failed. This, apparently, was a new idea to him, and wouldn't work because he didn't have any test equipment. "Yes you do," I explained, and loaned him a TV that would perform that function.

With the aid of this, he got one of the TVs working, but not the other three. Eventually, he left, and we phoned his company to tell them of our disappointment. They said they'll send someone else on Monday. Hopefully, not an apprentice straight off the cabbage patch.

As this was winding down, the Waitrose van arrived, and we went into our routine of fetching the groceries in, unpacking the bags and spraying with alcohol.

So the upshot is, we how have house-wide radio, and don't need the Roberts that we just bought. Also, the hob is still hobbled, and we're using the portable hob that we got for just such an eventuality.

Friday 4 September 2020

Day 172 of self-isolation - wireless


Wireless has changed. Several decades ago, I made a crystal radio, that let me listen to the Goon Show and much more. No batteries, and an aerial that went up to the top of a tree.

Today, ladysolly's new radio arrived (they're called radios now). And talk about bells and whistles! I had to connect it our wifi (so it's still a wireless!) and it does FM, DABS and internet radio, plus other services that I haven't heard of before. It has a USB port, and bluetooth, and you can control it with Amazon Alexa (we have Google Home). But since there's only one channel that we usually listen to (LBC) all these frills will probably never be used.

One feature I've never seen before - inside the battery compartment (six AA batteries) there's switch to go between NiMh and Alkaline; that's to tell it what voltage to supply to charge them. Clever.

We have wifi all over the house, but it isn't just one access point; there are four. That's going to be a problem. With the computers and tablets, I give them the password for all four, and the tablet picks up whichever one is nearest. But this radio doesn't seem to have a way to store more than one wifi. First world problems.

Thursday 3 September 2020

Day 171 of self-isolation - a cooker

A cooker

Our Miele cooker hob stopped working.

It stopped with prejudice - the breaker tripped. When I reset it, the hob still didn't work. It's showing an error message. Various key combinations and resets didn't help - there's something wrong deep inside.

So ladysolly called Miele. They said that they can't attend until September 18, which is more than two weeks away. After some discussion, she called them again; no change, except that if there's a cancellation, they'll fit us in.

That's terrible. Miele is supposed to be high quality; they certainly have high prices. So what do we do meanwhile?

Ladysolly remembered that we have a portable electric hob; she went up to the top room to find it, but the expedition failed. So she called a local electrical shop, and bought a new one. Then she tried the top room again, and this time, there it was! So she was able to cancel the new hob.

So for the next two weeks, cooking is hobbled by the use of a lesser hob.

Wednesday 2 September 2020

Day 170 of self-isolation - how to pay the bill?

How to pay the bill?

We have spent a truly huge amount on fighting Covid-19. This has been funded, in the short term, by borrowing. But how are we going to repay the loan?

There are two possible ways. One way is to reduce public spending, but that is unwise in the middle of the worst recession in a very long time, and it will be hugely unpopular. The other way is to raise taxes.

First, we should soak the rich. I think a "mansion tax" would be a good idea, but there is a limit to how much you can get by squeezing the rich, on account of there really aren't that many rich people, and on account of if you make taxes high enough, they will flee to countries with lower tax rates. My favourite bolt-hole would be Ireland.

Then we have to raise a lot more in tax. There's a proposal to raise corporation tax from 19% to 24%, and that would help. Another route would be to raise the rate of taxation on capital gains, perhaps to the same level as the taxes on income.

 People also talk about a tax on the internet companies that seem to do a lot of business in the UK, but seem to pay very little tax, and they do so perfectly legally, because the taxation systems of different countries are different, and the international company is able to organise things so that the profits that they make, are made in low-taxation countries.

But that doesn't get them out of paying VAT.

So here's my proposal. Let's have a VAT on internet sales, which could be the same as ordinary VAT, but payable over and above that rate. So, if you bought a TV over the internet, instead of paying 20% VAT, you would pay 40% VAT.

What would be the effects? Food and children's clothing is zero-rated, so no effects there. Companies like Amazon and Google would have to pay a lot more tax in the countries where they are actually operating, and would have less to shuffle around to low-tax countries. It would level the playing field between High Street sales (where the shops are paying a building tax (called rates)) and internet sales, where the warehouses are in cheap locations.

Currently, internet sales are 30% of total retail sales and the long-term trend is upwards, so we are talking about a large chunk of revenue. Individuals could easily avoid the internet tax by buying locally, or benefit from the convenience of internet shopping by paying the extra.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Day 169 of self-isolation - a flight of fancy

A flight of fancy

A flight from a Greek Island to Wales had several people infected with Covid-19 on board - 16 people have now tested positive. And, of course, many people went unmasked. The flight was by Tui, flight TOM6215 from Zante to Cardiff on Tuesday, and they did not enforce mask wearing.

And no-one told the passengers to self-isolate until a week after the flight had landed, so even responsible people could have spread the virus by now.

I've been on many long distance flights, and I've usually picked up an infection. How? Because I was breathing in the air that other people had breathed out. It's pretty obvious, really. But back in the days when the worst you could expect was a bit of a cold, it was a risk I would take. But now?

The airlines all claim to be "Covid-safe". Clearly, if they don't enforce their own rules on mask-wearing, they are not. And I don't understand. If they can enforce the rules on seatbelt wearing, and on lack of luggage in the aisles, why can't they also enforce the rules on masks?

Maybe they should also reconsider the serving of food. I, for one, am able to go for two, three or even five hours without eating. And maybe the only drinks they should serve, could be bottled water. Yes, I realise that can eat into their profits.

So, because of the "selfish covidiots" on that flight, 200 people are being told to self-isolate, and since many of the people being told to self-isolate are those same covidiots - they won't. Because that isn't enforced either.

If you were thinking of travelling by air, think again. There are plenty of covidiots.