Friday, 18 December 2020

Join the club

The tier system in England as at 19 December 2020

Going back a couple of months to October, although it seems much longer ago, many people in the North were aggrieved that they seemed to be being singled out for much harsher treatment than the South in terms of Covid restrictions. Even two weeks ago when the second lockdown ended, London seemed to have been excluded from Tier 3 restrictions on very flimsy evidence.

This week, though, the boot was on the other foot, with London and large swathes of the South-East being plunged into Tier 3 at very short notice. However, tempting as it might be, it would be wrong to engage in Schadenfreude over this. “I’ve been stuffed, therefore you should be too” is not really going to help anyone.

Indeed this kind of dog-in-the-manger attitude has been a feature of the whole Covid crisis, with too many people apparently far keener to wish misery on others rather than protesting about their own predicament. A prime example of this is people in hospitality complaining about shops not being required to operate track and trace, something that would be completely inappropriate and impractical.

What is particularly infuriating about the latest round of restrictions is that the rise in infections clearly cannot be laid at the door or hospitality, as the sector was entirely closed during the lockdown that ended less than two weeks earlier. Yet closing or opening hospitality is the main difference between Tiers 2 and 3. It seems that, yet again, it is being used as a sacrificial lamb. The government’s approach is that of a one-club golfer and, what is more, a club that doesn’t even succeed in hitting the ball.

It is also completely unreasonable to impose closures on businesses with a mere twenty-four hours’ notice. This might be justifiable as a one-off action in a dire emergency, as was arguably the case back in March, but it is no way to treat business on an ongoing basis. Just think of all the food and drink that had been bought in for the busiest trading week of the year, and will now end up being thrown away.

It seems that people in government severely overestimate the extent to which lockdowns actually succeed in influencing the spread of infection. A seventeen-day “circuit-breaker” was imposed in Wales a couple of months ago, which was held out as an example that England should have followed. Yet Wales currently has the highest growth in cases in the whole of the UK, and is heading back into a fresh lockdown of indeterminate length immediately after Christmas. As Einstein is reputed to have said, but probably didn’t, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

On one level, the cartoon by Bob Moran above is pointing the finger at the willingness to impose restrictions on areas that are physically and culturally remote from the seat of government. But it is also highlighting the pre-Enlightenment view that Covid is a threat that has to be propitiated by human sacrifice.


  1. Why should London and south east be any different? We need to build a wall from just south of Carlisle to Middlesborough, straight line, to keep all southern poofs away. And rebuild Hadrians wall then declare independence. Lord Matt Ridley the King and then we'll do God's work and fight the French!

  2. It's so frustrating to see the supposed "scientific advice" our government's receiving remains stubbornly unchanging and apparently unchallengable, even when it's shown to be invalid. Even though scientific principles state that a theory can't survive unchanged when it's contradicted by experimental evidence, we see that the core beliefs of the "Lockdown Cult" continue to enjoy the support of the same group of "esteemed scientists". Science these days seems to be all about never having to admit you were wrong! More practically, until they learn a little humility, they'll have no alternative other than to offer us is more of the same.

  3. There's an 1861 Act - Offences Against The Person - which makes it illegal to recklessly cause spread of a communicable disease. It was much quoted during the HIV pandemic of the 80s and 90s. Government might reasonably issue some guidance to magistrates on what constitutes reckless behaviour in 2020, and we're done. Jail a few of the super-spreaders and the message will sink in.
    All these pathetic restrictions on reasonable and cautious behaviours for something the law has got covered. It's driving me to drink.

    1. I think to bring that into play the accused has to be aware they are carrying the disease, which is unlikely to be the case with Covid. Vanishingly few will be deliberately spreading it.

    2. Words fail me. How would anyone who supposedly recklessly spread covid be identified? Think about it.

      This guy never got named, but he was sure a superspreader, his behaviour was reckless, somebody worked out who he was, and any penalty for his actions has so far been substantially less than the consequences.

    4. “Andy Burnham revealed he had heard reports of a 'super-spreader' in the town who had gone out drinking after returning from holiday”. Other than that, he wasn’t a super spreader because he doesn’t exist, his behaviour wasn’t reckless, because again, he doesn’t exist, no one worked out who he was, and the person who doesn’t exist has had no penalty.

  4. The Stafford Mudgie19 December 2020 at 17:04

    T'other Mudgie,
    How can shops "being required to operate track and trace" be "something that would be completely inappropriate and impractical".
    If pubs can do it so too can shops.
    My wife would spend more time in Sainsburys than I would be likely to in a pub and she would pass dozens of shoppers going up and down the aisles while, after going to the bar, I would just sit alone at a table - so that proves shops are more dangerous than pubs.
    And I've heard the Asda is even worse with few of their customers acting any differently from last year - so that proves that track and trace is needed more in shops than pubs.

    1. It's generally reckoned that you need to be in close proximity to another person for fifteen minutes for the virus to be transmitted, which is very rarely the case in shops. If it was spread just by brushing past people, vast numbers of people would be contracting it in shops.

      The sheer numbers of people involved are of a different order of magnitude to pubs - just imagine people queueing up to sign into shops, and the effort required in record-keeping.

      And if we took the view that everybody had to self-isolate if they had been in a shop at the same time as someone who later tested positive, then the entire economy would grind to a halt.

      So it would be completely inappropriate and impractical.

      Indeed, the sheer scale of the infection is considered by scientists to have rendered the system ineffective anyway. It is only really suited to diseases like ebola which are less easily transmitted but much more deadly in individual cases.

    2. The Stafford Mudgie20 December 2020 at 19:13

      T'other Mudgie,
      If you need to be in close proximity to another person for fifteen minutes for the virus to be transmitted then pubs have been perfectly safe with the measures they've had in place since early July, with track and trace unnecessary, but I think we all know that.
      Shops mainly selling food have had the advantage of knowing they're "essential" and so have needed to take only the same basic measures as anywhere else open to the public, so there's been no need for them to make use of all the data about their customers they hold or to think of flashing a Tesco Clubcard on entry to avoid queueing up to sign in.

    3. You don't need to be in close proximity in an enclosed indoor space. The virus spreads by aerosol transmission. In an enclosed space like a pub the droplets will slowly spread in the air. If one person is infected then they will slowly fill the room with aerosolised droplets containing the virus. They will spread out in the air. Yes the closer you are to them, the faster they will reach you, but in an unventilated room they will reach you eventually even if you are on the far side.

      In a supermarket, it is highly unlikely that just walking past an infected person in an aisle will allow you to catch it. It is possible, but unlikely unless you spend a lot of time around that person. Plus most people will be wearing masks in a shop. If an infected person is wearing a mask, it will prevent most of the droplets from becoming aerosolised in the first place.

    4. Yet even PHE's own figures suggest that hospitality venues are low risk - 2% of people who visited one tested positive in the following days - whereas the figure for supermarkets was 18%.

    5. But surely all that tells us is that a lot more people visit supermarkets than pubs, especially during the current period when the trade of pubs has been suppressed. And it doesn't mean that people contracted the disease in either pubs or supermarkets - it's correlation, not causation.

    6. The Stafford Mudgie22 December 2020 at 08:24

      Surely 2% of PEOPLE WHO VISITED a hospitality venue tested positive in the following days whereas 18% of PEOPLE WHO VISITED a supermarket tested positive in the following days suggests that supermarkets are NINE times more dangerous than pubs, that's assuming the same regularity of visits, e.g. pub once a week and supermarket once a week.
      That's much more significant than 2% of people who visited a pub tested positive and 18% of people who visited a supermarket tested positive because the risk is the same and nine times more people visited supermarkets than pubs.

    7. No, if you think about it, that simply cannot be true. It is unquestionably the other way round. The overall rate of positive tests is only about 2%, so it isn't remotely credible that 18% of those who have recently visited a supermarket tested positive, nor is the disparity with pubs. Plus a substantial proportion of those who have visited pubs will also have visited supermarkets.

    8. The Stafford Mudgie22 December 2020 at 14:14

      I believe that my comment this morning was a logical conclusion from what 'electricpics' had posted last evening.
      However I have now found a report that "Supermarkets are the most common places that people have visited in the days leading up to a positive coronavirus test reported to the Test and Trace app in England" with the "proportion of all common locations reported in PHE data: Supermarket - 18.3%, Secondary school - 12.7%, Primary school - 10.1%" and "Pub or bar - 1.6%" towards the bottom of the list. From that it's probably reasonable to conclude that supermarkets and schools were visited far more often than pubs rather than that supermarkets and schools are each more than ten times more dangerous than pubs.
      Do you own shares in Tesco ?


    9. "From that it's probably reasonable to conclude that supermarkets and schools were visited far more often than pubs rather than that supermarkets and schools are each more than ten times more dangerous than pubs."

      Which surely is exactly the point I'm making.

      In any case, all these figures do is prove a negative. They don't show where people *have* been infected, but where they can't have been because they never went there.

    10. The Stafford Mudgie23 December 2020 at 12:03

      Yes, supermarkets and schools might each be ten times more dangerous than pubs but we can't prove it.

    11. Professor Pie-Tin23 December 2020 at 12:55

      It's estimated that 30,000 people have travelled to Ireland from the UK in the past fortnight including our two kids who got on one of the last flights out to Dublin.
      Today, the leader of the Green party in the Irish government's ruling coalition has said in view of the Superona in the SE of England every single one of them should now be self-isolating in their bedroom and not attend family Christmas lunch.
      And he's serious.

    12. "Do you own shares in Tesco?"

      That comment is unworthy of you, Paul.

  5. Professor Pie-Tin20 December 2020 at 19:38

    Woke up early Saturday morning to clear hints in the media of a Tier 4 lockdown in London and my gut feeling told me the Irish government would make a rapid reponse.
    Rang youngest college son in the Isle of Dogs and got him on a lunchtime coach to Bristol to stay with elder son, re-arranged flights from there to Dublin from next Tuesday to this afternoon and got both offspring into Ireland a short time ago ahead of the midnight ban on arrivals from the UK.
    All very chaotic but even more ludicrously it's perfectly legal to fly from GB to Northern Ireland and then travel down into the Republic by land.
    I wonder if Ireland is beginning to regret insisting so strongly on no border checks as part of the Brexit deal...


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