Well, damn. As the only one in my immediate family never to have had it, I really thought I was going to get away with it.

    A lateral flow test for COVID-19,showing  positive result.
    Positive

    Boosted

    Just got my booster vaccination. I now have a dose of Moderna sloshing around my veins. So we’ll see how that interacts with the previous two Oxford-AstraZeneca doses.

    Yes, we should be sending all this extra vaccine to poorer countries, because that would be the right thing to do, the moral thing. But even for self-preservation, we should be doing that. Every infected person is a mutation factory, so the fewer infected people there are in the world, the less chance there is of a mutation that’s vaccine-resistant or worse.

    That’s self-preservation on a societal scale. But that same sense, at a personal level, lets me say, if they’re offering it here, I’m going to take it.

    Not So Quiet

    Just over a year ago I was posting, in passing, about ‘the quiet of early lockdown.’ Actually that particular phrase was a quote, but I was definitely aware of how quiet things were outside.

    Including – particularly, in fact – in our back gardern. We live in a terrace, which means there are other people’s back gardens in all directions around us, and quite close. A year ago it was quiet, not just from the lack of cars in the distance, of planes overhead, but also because no one much was in their gardens.

    Today, it’s a cacophony: music playing, dishes clattering, children shouting… I guess it’s part of our return to ‘normal’ – or toward ‘normal,’ at least. But it’s strange. It suggests that, last year in spring and early summer, people were scared to go out, not just into the streets, into shops, but into their own gardens.

    No one caught Covid over a garden fence. Or so I imagine. At the same time, it didn’t hurt to be cautious.

    Two Weeks

    They say the vaccines give maximum resistance ‘two to three weeks’ after the second dose. I hit the two-week mark yesterday, and now consider myself ‘maxinated,’ more or less.

    So I’m going swimming later today. It has been approximately fifteen and a half months since I last swam. Back in February 2020 and the preceding months, I was going two or three times a week, most weeks. So I’ve missed it.

    I had hoped to go to London Fields Lido: start outdoors, to keep things maximally safe. But it’s all booked up till Monday, so I’m going to the much closer, but less busy, King’s Hall, my local pool.

    Both, predictably, require bookings, so there’s little chance of them being crowded.

    In other covidian matters, remember back in March last year, when I shared a video of someone showing how to clean your shopping? And then I quickly walked it back, on better advice? Well, at that point we were already wiping down all items arriving in the house, much as the guy in the video was doing. And we continued to do it. I’ve used more antiseptic wipes this last year than I’ve owned in any previous year.

    Yes, we soon learned that Covid was almost entirely transferred by air, and hardly by surfaces at all (though we also learned the word ‘fomite'). But the idea that anything crossing the threshold was a potential infection vector burned deep, and remained.

    Now, post vaccination, post maxination, will we keep on doing that? Probably not. It’d be nice to get the time back when bringing the shopping home or receiving a delivery. But I don’t know, it could take a while to stop feeling suspicious of things that have come in from out there.

    Covid has made germophobes of us all.

    Vax 2

    Got my second dose of the vaccine today, just about an hour and a half ago. Down to a local pharmacy, fifteen minutes early for my appointment, and home before my actual appointment time. It was empty! Worryingly so. Why aren’t people queuing up to get their jags?

    Me with the pharmacy in the background
    Me, after vaccination, with the pharmacy in the background

    Saw a guy in a shop just now and his ‘face covering’ was a bandana. That was me a year ago! Get up to date, jimmy!

    Astral Zen

    Phase one complete, for me. I’m not long back from the vaccination centre (a vacant unit at the Westfield shopping centre, slightly weirdly) where I got my first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. I can feel my immune system surging, boosted with superpowers, and a strange, unearthly calm descend upon me.

    I exaggerate. But it feels pretty damn good to have taken this step. I don’t get the next one until June, and it’s not like we’ll be out of the woods even then; not even personally, and certainly not the country or the world. Especially given the panic over a statistically meaningless set of blood clots, and the news today that the UK’s supply is going to be temporarily constrained.

    But considering that it’s only just over year since we learned about this virus and the terrible disease it brings, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate the scientists and doctors who were able to develop the vaccines so quickly. Not to mention all the NHS staff who are getting it to people.

    A Year Passes Like Nothing

    It’s exactly a year since I last went out to an event.1

    I referred to ‘being out on a cold, virus-infested night’ to see Glen Matlock in Leytonstone, and it seems really weird now that I did it.

    What were we thinking? Gathering together in a small hall, where people were singing and shouting. And not a mask to be seen! Masks? who had masks? How would we have drunk our beer while wearing a mask? You probably wouldn’t have been let in if you had turned up wearing a mask.

    Although I had good social distancing at the start, when I was almost the only one there.

    Memory, eh?


    1. I actually thought it was on the last day of February 2020, which was the 29th, not the 28th, making it hard to hit the exact anniversary, but my blog and calendar both tell me I was wrong. ↩︎

    These days I double-mask
    These days I double-mask -- as well as using tape

    Endings

    Well, this year of infamy is finally lurching towards its end. I don’t think too many of us will be sad to see the back of 2020.

    With it, though, we have to also say a final goodbye to Britain’s membership of the European Union. I don’t think too many of us will be happy about that. Even people who are pleased about it now will realise over time that leaving is a huge mistake.

    At least with the exit agreement in place, we shouldn’t see the immediate shortages and queues at the ports that we feared. That agreement is problematic, though.

    To get an example of its dangers, I refer you to David Allen Green’s Law and Policy Blog. Yesterday’s post is entitled ‘The Bill implementing the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is an exercise in the Government taking power from Parliament,’ and in it he says:

    The draft bill is complex and deals with several specific technical issues, such as criminal records, security, non-food product safety, tax and haulage, as well as general implementation provisions.

    Each of these specific technical issues would warrant a bill, taking months to go through the normal parliamentary process.

    But instead they will be whizzed and banged through in a single day, with no real scrutiny, as the attention of parliamentarians will (understandably) be focused on the general implementation provisions, which are in Part 3 of the draft bill.

    […]

    This provision will empower ministers (or the devolved authorities, where applicable) to make regulations with the same effect as if those regulations were themselves acts of parliament.

    In other words: they can amend laws and repeal (or abolish) laws, with only nominal parliamentary involvement.

    There are some exceptions (under clause 31(4)), but even with those exceptions, this is an extraordinarily wide power for the executive to legislate at will.

    These clauses are called ‘Henry VIII’ clauses and they are as notorious among lawyers as that king is notorious in history.

    Again, this means that parliament (and presumably the devolved assemblies, where applicable) will be bypassed, and what is agreed between Whitehall and Brussels will be imposed without any further parliamentary scrutiny.

    – David Allen Green, The Bill implementing the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is an exercise in the Government taking power from Parliament

    The whole piece is worth reading (and note the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy references).

    Take back control, right enough: take it back from the elected representatives of the people, and give it to the executive.

    2020 made 2016 look like 2012. 2021 offers hope to the world as the Covid vaccines roll out, and hope for America as Trump is rolled out of the White House. But things still look decidedly dodgy here in the UK.

    Yesterday I tried removing my taped-on mask slowly, and it was actually much better. So I rescind my advice from the day before about removing it quickly.

    Stop Your Glasses Steaming Up by Sticking the Top of Your Mask to Your Face Using Micropore Tape

    The problem

    If, like all sensible people, you wear a mask over your mouth and nose when you go out these days; and if, like me and millions of others, you wear glasses; then you will have experienced your breath causing your glasses to steam up.

    The cause is a fundamental flaw in mask design: the mask fabric makes a straight line from our cheeks to the bridge of our noses, leaving a gap between face and mask seam. Most of our out-breaths are directed that way, just by taking the path of least resistance.

    Some masks have a wire insert that lets you mould the top section around your nose. I find that improves things, but is still imperfect. There are always gaps.

    The Bigger Problem

    This means that the masks are not as effective as they should be for their primary purpose. All that warm, damp air that’s condensing on our glasses is also the air that might be carrying virus particles.

    So while this solution helps with the steamed-up glasses problem, it also helps to make masks more effective, by ensuring that more of our potentially-poisonous breath goes through the fabric.

    The Solution

    It’s quite simple: apply a strip of micropore tape to the section of the mask that goes over the bridge of your nose, and seal it down well.

    A COVID-19-type facemask lying on a surface alongside a roll of micropore tape.
    Mask and Micropore

    Micropore tape is normally used for fixing dressings on wounds, so it’s designed to stick to skin and come off with minimal fuss (though see below).

    The roll we had when I thought of this is quite wide, so I’ve been folding a piece over and attaching it to the inside of the mask (at @FranChats’s suggestion).

    A COVID-19-type facemask with a piece of micropore tape attached.
    Mask With Micropore

    As you can see, it’s not attached very tidily, but we’re not in this for the aesthetics.

    A balding man (the author) wearing a COVID-19-type facemask and glasses.
    Martin With Mask With Micropore

    And it’s not actually visible when the mask is on.

    The New Problems: Removal, and Sensitivity

    Taking the taped mask off is the worst part, in my experience. I’ve been doing it quickly: take off my glasses (otherwise they might go flying across the room); unhook the ear loops and take a firm grip of them; close my eyes; then tug sharply forward.1

    It can make your eyes water, but honestly, for clear vision outside on these cold days, it’s worth it.

    Removing it slowly might be better for some people. And the whole thing will not be for some. If you have very sensitive skin, or get a reaction to the adhesive, then this won’t be for you. But if you can take it, I highly recommend it.

    Lastly, my pictures show a reusable mask, but it works for disposables too.


    1. Though see my later post. I think I’ll be doing it slowly from now on. ↩︎

    Covid Track

    This is one of our local parks. Look at that desire-line track, fading into the distance (click or tap on the picture to see it bigger).

    A footpath worn in grass across a park.
    A path made by many people, avoiding each other

    The paved footpath is off to the right. That track – a simple, direct route, that avoids the footpath – wasn’t there a year ago. The novel coronavirus changes the landscape.

    People Still Aren't Getting It

    I got back on the bike today. First time since I came off back in April. Both because I felt the need to add some variety to my exercise regime, and because so many people are riding these days. And also because I missed it.

    It was good. Nice to be back on the bike. A bit annoying the way the mask makes your glasses steam up, but nothing that a bit of slipstream couldn’t clear.

    But it was very disappointing regarding people’s behaviour. I cycled around central Hackney for half an hour or so from about 9-9:30. It was pretty busy.

    I counted 11 people wearing masks (and two chin-wearers, so they don’t count). I must have passed about 500 people? 700? That’s just a guess, but it was a lot.

    Eleven masks.

    My mask was protecting all of them: why weren’t they protecting me, and each other?

    I mainly blame the government, of course. Incoherent messaging and absence of care. But… some of us have learned what’s best, even given the government.

    A Reply From the Masks Petition

    That’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve had a reply like this from a UK parliament petition before:

    Dear Martin McCallion,

    You recently signed the petition “Make it mandatory to wear a face mask in public during Covid-19 Pandemic”: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/304397

    The Petitions Committee (the group of MPs who oversee the petitions system) have considered the Government’s response to this petition. They felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition and have therefore written back to the Government to ask them to provide a revised response.

    When the Committee have received a revised response from the Government, this will be published on the website and you will receive an email. If you would not like to receive further updates about this petition, you can unsubscribe below.

    Thanks,
    The Petitions team
    UK Government and Parliament

    – The Petitions team, Make it mandatory to wear a face mask in public during Covid-19 Pandemic

    That’s from the one I linked to a week ago.

    It’ll be interesting to see if we get anything more back. In the meantime, it’s still at just over 14,000 signatures: keep signing.

    And keep wearing a mask.

    What Must Be Said

    I hope I don’t need to say this. But silence is complicity, so:

    Black Lives Matter.

    My daughter went to the London demo on Wednesday (note: there was no riot, contrary to some bullshit hashtag that was trending yesterday morning). I am so proud of her. Her whole generation seem so thoughtful, so engaged.

    Why didn’t I go? To be honest, it’s because I was scared. Not of the demo, or anything that might have happened there. I was scared of the virus. Of the close contact that was sure to happen.

    I gave her a lift to her friend’s house. They walked for two and a half hours to Hyde Park. I picked her up in Camden afterwards. But part of me wishes I’d gone myself. She said it was a much younger crowd than the Trump or Brexit demos. Sure, it was a weekday, but more of us olds – me included – should have been there.

    How Iceland Beat the Coronavirus

    Great piece in The New Yorker, by Elizabeth Kolbert, about how Iceland handled the coronavirus. Which is by actually being guided by science. The experts decided what needed to happen, and it happened, without interference from politicians.

    Of course, it’s a country of less than 400,000 people, so the scale is different from even the UK, never mind the US. But it does make you dream of what might have been.

    We Have No Idea How Many of the Deaths Attributed to Covid-19 Really Were Due to the Disease

    Dr John Lee, writing in The Spectator (paywall, but free access to a few articles), explains what pathologists do, and goes on to say:

    We are still struggling to understand coronavirus. I can think of no time in my medical career when it has been more important to have accurate diagnosis of a disease, and understanding of precisely why patients have died of it. Yet very early on in the epidemic, rules surrounding death certification were changed — in ways that make the statistics unreliable.

    – Dr John Lee, The way ‘Covid deaths’ are being counted is a national scandal.

    We’ve moved from needing two doctors to certify death, to only one if the cause is believed to be Covid-19. And sometimes the ‘cause’ is decided from a statement from care-home staff, who are not usually trained medical professionals.

    So at a time when accurate death statistics are more important than ever, the rules have been changed in ways that make them less reliable than ever. In what proportion of Covid-19 ‘mentions’ was the disease actually present? And in how many cases, if actually present, was Covid-19 responsible for death? Despite what you may have understood from the daily briefings, the shocking truth is that we just don’t know. How many of the excess deaths during the epidemic are due to Covid-19, and how many are due to our societal responses of healthcare reorganisation, lockdown and social distancing? Again, we don’t know. Despite claims that they’re all due to Covid-19, there’s strong evidence that many, perhaps even a majority, are the result of our responses rather than the disease itself.

    – Dr John Lee, The way ‘Covid deaths’ are being counted is a national scandal.

    It sometimes seems like we’re trying, as a country, to handle this whole thing as badly as possible.

    Strange seeing this tweet from the London Cycling Campaign:

    Cycling is up all over, apparently. Yet I stopped cycling for fear of putting extra strain on the NHS.

    Lying Sack

    Nice to see the gentle description of Mary Wakefield in Wikipedia this morning:

    The start of Mary Wakefield's Wikipedia entry, this morning

    In case you don’t know, Wakefield is married to Dominic Cummings. She works for The Spectator, and wrote the now-famous piece about her and Cummings’s experience suffering from Covid-19. All without mentioning their drive across the country.

    Hence the delightful opening – now removed, predictably – in Wikipedia, describing her as “a lying sack of potatoes”.

    This Is No Time to Unlock

    Boris Johnson’s update to Britain’s – or in fact, only England’s – lockdown conditions has confused people. But even if it hadn’t, it’s too soon for us to be opening things up again.

    By “us” I mean everyone: the human race as a whole.1 Everywhere in Europe, to go by the papers, there’s talk of easing lockdown conditions. In Australia people can meet in groups of up to ten.

    But the virus hasn’t gone away. It’s still out there, being breathed out and in. Waiting for our preventative measures to fail. Not to anthropomorphise it.

    It’s not over. It’s not close to being over. It won’t be over till there’s a vaccine. Or a cure, but a vaccine seems more likely.


    1. Don’t get me started on how politicians, at least here and in the US, have been referring to a “national emergency,” when it’s so much more serious than that. ↩︎

    No More...

    Sad to hear of the death of Dave Greenfield from Covid-19. The Stranglers were not really like other punk bands. But they were the band that got me into punk. I heard ‘No More Heroes’ on the radio one weekend, after hearing my school friends talk about punk, and I never really looked back.

    I never saw them live, and I didn’t follow their career after the first three or four albums; but there’s a lot of good stuff in those early ones.

    Greenfield is, I think, the first musician of that generation to die from the pandemic.

    Out to the supermarket today, because we were running low on a few things and our next delivery isn’t arriving till Monday. It’s the first time I’ve been out – except to the back garden – since the bike incident. Admittedly that was only four days ago, but like everything now, it feels a lot longer.

    And I felt some trepidation about it. The world’s a dangerous place: the very air is dangerous, depending on who you get close to. And some you can’t avoid, because pavements have a finite width, and some people still walk blithely two-abreast, or on their own but down the middle… honestly, people, keep your distance.

    In keeping with my recent exhortation, I wore a mask. Just a bandana, but as I said there, anything is better than nothing. And hey, it reminded me of The Clash in the “Bankrobber” video.

    Sainsbury’s was fine. A spaced-out queue of about ten people outside, one-in-one-out, and maybe only five people in the shop at once (it’s one of the small Sainsbury branches, I should note). All very well handled

    People with and without masks – some kind of face covering, at least – I’d estimate at around 30/70. Some with were also wearing gloves and looking very overheated.

    But there’s a feeling of society – there already, and that I think might grow – when you’re masked: you see someone who isn’t, you shy away; while when you see another mask wearer you make eye contact. A small nod passes between you: we’re different. We’re connected. We’re doing something they’re not. Or maybe just, we have the same fears.

    On the way back I passed a bus stop, where the only person waiting was an NHS worker on her way to a shift at Homerton Hospital (I assume, because that’s where the bus goes). A month ago I’d have wondered why people wear their staff passes outside of their work. Today it’s a badge of honour.

    The Last Bike Ride

    I came off my bike today. Don’t worry, I’m not hurt, beyond a couple of scrapes. But as I was going down – you know how people say things go into slow motion? It wasn’t quite like that, but I did have time to think, “Shit, I hope they don’t have to call an ambulance.” And once I was down and realised that nothing was broken, I thought, “I hope no-one comes running to help, cos I’ll have to wave them away.”

    No-one came to help, of course – mainly because there was no-one around. But all this is ironic, given that I read a piece a week or so back by a keen cyclist, saying he wanted to ride, but wasn’t going to, because if he got hurt then he’d be taking much-needed resources from the NHS.

    “That’s very noble,” I thought, and then proceeded to completely ignore the implied advice.

    No longer. From now until this is over, I’ll be exercising indoors, or at most, in the garden. It’s a shame, because I do love to get out on the bike, especially in the spring. But everyone has to put up with limitations during this, and this is a pretty minor one.

    Wear a Mask! And Celebrate Your Immune System

    Yesterday’s XKCD “Pathogen Resistance” turns things round and shows the current crisis from the point of view of the virus. It is genius. And even has a Watchmen reference in the mouseover text.1

    But more importantly, and unrelated: it turns out that wearing a mask — any kind, even just a scarf– will help to reduce the spread of the virus. This is contrary to what we were told initially, but it makes complete sense even without technical analysis. Anything coming between someone else’s droplets and your lungs, or your droplets and someone else’s lungs, is better than nothing coming between them.

    It’s like wearing a cycling helmet: I’ve always thought that something between my head and the ground, should I come off, is better than nothing.

    And there are designs online for making masks out of any old cloth. I feel #blessed that my daughter has an A-level in textiles and a sewing machine.

    On the question of masks, though, something has been confusing me since this all started. And to an extent, before that, really, when I’d occasionally see people out and about wearing what appeared to be a hospital-style mask. Which is, where did people get such things? How did they come to have what looked like professional medical supplies in their private possession? Aren’t these things controlled?

    Clearly not, for the last one. And I wondered why? Why did people have them? Now, that seems like a foolish question. And it ignores the cultural differences, whereby in parts of Asia it’s considered rude not to wear a mask if you are sick. Makes sense, though I always wonder how horrible it is if you sneeze while wearing one.


    1. “We’re not trapped in here with the coronavirus. The coronavirus is trapped in here with us.” 
Older Posts →