“The perfect virus for our times”

Ian Betteridge writes about COVID-19:

Never has a culture been less prepared for a pandemic, and never has a virus had a better chance to become endemic in a population. COVID almost seems tailor made to capitalise on every single weakness in our culture, from expert denial and anti-vaccine madness to our lack of experience of pandemic to the way our economy is structured.

Bullshit Health Hell in a handcart

The writers who want your granny to die

Peter Geoghegan and Mary Fitzgerald in The Guardian on the “lockdown sceptics“:

It is no surprise that so many professional contrarians are paid-up lockdown sceptics. They are products of our distorted media ecosystem, which invariably privileges heat over light. For them, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about – even if what you are talking about amounts to social Darwinism.

But the lockdown opponents are not just media “personalities”… How long before a British parliamentarian goes full “plandemic” and wonders aloud if Covid-19 is all a conspiracy?

Bullshit Health

Cherries, condoms and coronavirus

During the AIDS epidemic, some people who didn’t want to wear condoms claimed that it wasn’t because they were selfishly putting other people at risk; it was that the virus was so small that it could pass through microscopic gaps in the material condoms were made from, so there was no point in people wearing them.

During the coronavirus pandemic, some people who don’t want to wear masks are claiming that it’s not because they’re selfishly putting other people at risk; it’s that the virus is so small that it can pass through gaps in even the fabric of medical-grade masks, so there is no point in people wearing them.

Both groups of people were wrong, because viruses don’t travel by themselves; they need a host. In the case of AIDS it was bodily fluids; with coronavirus it’s droplets. And in both cases, the hosts are much, much bigger than the virus – so condoms prevent the spread of AIDS and masks reduce the spread of coronavirus.

This is technically known as the fallacy of incomplete evidence, although we know it as cherry picking. It’s when you carefully choose evidence that appears to support your position and ignore or discount anything that contradicts it. You’ll find it in climate change denial and creationism, anti-trans activism and racism and pseudoscience of all kinds, and it’s been with us for millennia.

Or at least, all the evidence I choose to believe says it has been.

Bullshit Health Hell in a handcart Media

Ill communications

When you’re trying to keep people at home over what’s likely to be a hot and sunny bank holiday weekend, it’s hard to imagine a worse headline than this.

It’s from today’s Daily Mail (in England; the Scottish edition has Nicola Sturgeon saying the lockdown can’t be lifted yet). The Mail of all papers should be wary about headlines with “Hurrah” in them.

The Mail is one of several tabloid newspapers who are promising an end to lockdown starting Monday and publishing it on their front pages the day after the UK death toll became the highest in Europe. There are officially more than 30,000 people dead; the real number is believed to exceed 50,000.

Let’s see what the papers have to hurrah about.

Has the UK reached its own testing target? Nope: the much-promised 100,000 tests per day hasn’t been achieved at all. The government attempted to pretend otherwise by counting 40,000 tests posted but not received; that worked for one day, but the daily number is back down to 80-something-thousand.

Do front-line NHS workers have adequate PPE? Nope. The much-lauded order of PPE from Turkey is being sent back today because it doesn’t meet NHS standards.

Do we have enough testers and trackers in place to know where the virus is and where to target resources? Nope.

Do we have a trace, track and isolate system in place? Nope.

The official stats are online. We are currently recording over 6,000 new cases a day.

All of these things together mean that the lockdown shouldn’t and won’t be lifted on Monday in England; we may see some very minor changes, such as stopping the cops from shouting at sunbathers, but it isn’t safe to change things yet.

That’s not what the papers are suggesting, though, and as a result we’re going to have a weekend of people flouting the lockdown because hey, it’s going to be lifted on Monday anyway.

Apparently the government are deeply concerned about this; what I thought was a deliberate leak to distract tabloids from the death toll is reportedly an unsanctioned leak that’s been blown out of all proportion to produce front pages like this:

If it’s true that this isn’t what the government wanted, it’s clearly a case of reaping what you’ve been sowing: this is what happens when you don’t communicate clearly with a country, when you share policy and plans not with Parliament but with your pet newspapers, when your government cares more about PR than PPE.


It’s not me, it’s you

I’m careful when I shop. I wash my hands thoroughly before I go out, I use liberal amounts of hand sanitiser before I go in, I wear a mask at all times, I try not to touch anything I’m not sure I’ll buy and I go crazy with the hand sanitiser again when I come out.

The mask isn’t for me; it’s for you. If I’m asymptomatic and potentially a spreader of the virus, the mask can catch the droplets that might go into the air. It doesn’t stop them altogether but the combination of masks and social distancing can reduce viral spread considerably.

What a mask doesn’t do is protect me from the people who don’t wear masks and who don’t keep their distance in the supermarket. There are lots of them. They ignore the one-way aisles, pay no attention to the 2m distancing, barge in front of others and stand in the centre of the aisles so it’s impossible to get past while staying a safe distance away.

I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m currently self-isolating with a temperature of 103.

This is the problem with the people demanding “freedom” from virus restrictions. If they were campaigning for the freedom to blow themselves up in an empty car park somewhere, I’d be all in favour. But that’s not how this works. The people who won’t stay home, who won’t keep their distance, who won’t conform to even the most common-sense instructions are dangerous not just to themselves, but to the rest of us too.

Bullshit Health Hell in a handcart

Give me liberty and give me death

Media Matters:

Right-wing groups are using the same playbook against COVID-19 measures they’ve used to fight LGBTQ rights.

…Influential right-wing and anti-LGBTQ groups have responded to stay-at-home orders put in place to protect Americans from the coronavirus by pushing for exemptions for churches and pastors, including by filing lawsuits, pressuring local and state governments, and working with the Trump-Pence administration.

The names are awfully familiar: the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Church Council, the Heritage Foundation and the Christian Broadcasting Network, among others. It’s been clear for many years that they don’t care about the lives of LGBT+ people; this suggests that they don’t care about the lives of any people.

Health Hell in a handcart

Money keeps you safer than masks

Yet more evidence that we really aren’t in this together: the Office for National Statistics reports that the Covid-19 death rate in England is more than double in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.

In the most deprived areas the death rate is 55.1 deaths per 100,000 population; in the least deprived, 25.3. In Wales it’s similar: 44.6 to 23.2 deaths per 100,000.

That’s partly because poorer people tend to live more closely together, partly because poorer people tend to have worse health, and partly because poorer people are more likely to be in jobs classed as “essential” that they can’t do from home.

Health Hell in a handcart

This is not a lockdown

It’s May Day, the day when we celebrate international workers’ day. But in England many workers have nothing to celebrate: what the papers call a lockdown isn’t stopping employers from forcing people to come in to work non-essential jobs.

Caroline Molloy, in OpenDemocracy:

we don’t actually have a lockdown. The government has allowed people to continue to go to work – and allowed bosses to make people continue to go to work – far more than we’re being led to believe, and far more than most of the media seem to have noticed.

And as openDemocracy has just exposed, across large sections of the economy, many workers in ‘non essential’ jobs are being forced to show up to potentially dangerous workplaces. And some have already got sick. And some have already died.

51% of the people currently working are not working from home.

In England, unlike in Scotland and Wales, the government has not even introduced any new legal sanctions if offices, call centres, factories, construction sites, warehouses, and so on, don’t enable social distancing in the workplace. English bosses are expected to “make every effort to comply” with social distancing, but not legally mandated to do anything. Indeed, as “lockdown” progresses, the non-binding guidance has been watered down

It’s hard to disagree with Molloy’s argument that the reason the media isn’t highlighting this is yet another example of a myopic media class: if they can’t see it, it can’t be happening.

The baristas and bookshops aren’t there, and who really knows anyone who works in a call centre, factory, or warehouse?

Health LGBTQ+

Hormone treatment for Covid-19

I’ve mentioned before that coronavirus appears to be deadlier to men than to women, and that because of that difference some anti-trans bigots have been deliberately hounding trans people with the virus and wishing them dead.

The trans women may get the last laugh, because it’s possible that the hormones they take are helping them battle the virus. Here’s the New York Times.

Men are more likely than women to die of the coronavirus, so scientists are treating them with something women have more of: female sex hormones.

…Last week, doctors on Long Island in New York started treating Covid-19 patients with estrogen in an effort to increase their immune systems, and next week, physicians in Los Angeles will start treating male patients with another hormone that is predominantly found in women, progesterone, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can potentially prevent harmful overreactions of the immune system.

Nobody’s suggesting that estrogen and progesterone are the only factors here. Men take more risks, are more likely to smoke, wash their hands less, and so on. And as the article points out, the difference is also evident among women who are decades past menopause. But it’s interesting nevertheless.

Books Health Hell in a handcart Media

Using coronavirus for a culture war

Rachel Shabi in The Guardian:

the key issue in the right’s current culture war is the lockdown, which is being presented as a freedom-sucking con – much like the EU. Mirroring the dynamics of climate denialism, those challenging the overwhelming consensus of global expertise cast themselves as lockdown “sceptics”. And cleaving to a rightwing populist script, these sceptics say their legitimate concerns are being silenced.