A third wave already?

Thursday 14 May 2020

Mass gatherings are clearly crazy (Jeff C)

Mass gatherings are clearly crazy (Jeff C)


In Switzerland, we’re not bothered by a second wave,” said my colleague. He was looking tired, although I was even more so. It had been a long videoconference. I had planned on 30 minutes and it had lasted over three hours.

“In UK we are,” I replied. “Our government is now telling us about the risk daily.”

“In Switzerland,” my colleague continued, “we are worried about a third wave, and a fourth. Who knows, there may even be a fifth.”

Mass gatherings are planned for throughout the country

Mass gatherings are planned for throughout the country

He was right, as presently there is no assurance the boffins will find a vaccine for Covid-19. Meanwhile there is a steady rise in irresponsible activities gathering momentum around the UK. Not only are commuters now squashing themselves onto commuter trains, but an organisation called the UK Freedom Movement is encouraging mass gatherings all over the country on Saturday. At least eight locations have been identified, with the police saying there are contingency plans in place to deal with the problems.

Mass gatherings are clearly more than crazy right now. The only consolation is that such events will provide light relief for the bulk of the UK population, who are still remaining in lockdown. The televisions will be streaming endless reports of protesters being carried off and, with luck, locked away. I have met plenty of odd people in my life to date, so thought I had seen most things. Clearly, I have not met individuals who think mass gatherings are a good idea.

Mind you, with the conflict that will likely occur, this may bring much needed work back to the nation’s Accident and Emergency Departments. Attendances are now at their lowest levels since records began. Before the pandemic, roughly two million patients would visit Accident & Emergency each month. That number has now dropped to slightly less than 920,000. The population is terrified of going anywhere near a hospital.

Every morning I look at the global statistics for the pandemic and see no evidence of the thing settling. For a long time, the Johns Hopkins chart, which keeps a track of numbers, had claimed that only 187 countries were affected. This morning, without any announcement, that number leapt to 188. The tiny African mountain kingdom of Lesotho had recorded its first case. The country had sent off 81 tests to a laboratory in South Africa, to check people coming to the country from there, and from parts of the Middle East. Lesotho has a very porous border with South Africa, so people come and go freely. With roughly 11300 cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, and presently more than 200 deaths, it is perhaps surprising that Lesotho has stayed free of the disease for so long.

Afriski in Lesotho, where one day I will ski (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty/The Atlantic)

Afriski in Lesotho, where one day I will ski (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty/The Atlantic)

I am especially sad, because the country has a ski slope in a place called Afriski, and down which I have always intended to slither. I understand that although there is now a drag lift to take skiers to the slope’s summit, in years gone by the climb was undertaken by donkey. I have a bucket list of one, and Lesotho is on it. Up the mountain by donkey, down the thing on skis. Now I must wait until after the pandemic.

I am becoming unsettled by Covid-19 and children. The party line has been that children are generally exempt the disease and cannot act as virus carriers. This is one of the reasons why strong arguments have been made to support schools reopening. Children, in the unlikely event that they catch the disease, will tend to either be asymptomatic or have only a mild infection. In South Korea, when they looked at their first 7755 cases, children under the age of nine years accounted for just 1% of laboratory-confirmed diagnoses of Covid-19. Children between ten and 19 years of age accounted for 5.2% of cases.

In respect of disease severity, a Chinese study, which looked at 2135 patients, found that only 5.4% of children with Covid-19 experienced severe disease, compared with 18.4% of adult cases. Thankfully, very few children have died. The current reported death rate is 0.01%, which is way below the death rate for adults.

It appears that there have been about 100 cases of severe disease in young children in the UK, and that the peak number of children’s cases synchronised with the peak number of adult cases. Both are now declining. Other countries have found the same pattern. The children do not necessarily present with pneumonia, but with abdominal pain and gut symptoms, as well as inflammation of the heart muscle. This is seriously worrying for parents, who will now be seeing Covid-19 around every corner, threatening their youngsters. Take heart, the odds of full recovery are more than good.

As today is a Thursday, the nation now traditionally stands outside its open front door, maybe on a balcony, at 2000 hours in the evening, and claps for those working in healthcare. That happened again this evening, but I sensed there was less enthusiasm on this occasion. I do not know why, but it may be related to a feeling that lockdown is coming to an end. I agree with the Prime Minister, who said only a short while ago that we are now at the moment of maximum danger. For people to think that all is over will be an error. Despite the subdued clapping, one advantage of this so-called Clap for Carers is that it brings people out of hiding and I see some of my neighbours for the first time. We wave to each other, smile and shout, but without any idea of each other’s names. London is generally a large and unfriendly place, however bold its architecture. It is perfectly possible to live next door to someone for more than a decade and still not know properly know them. Lockdown is beginning to reverse that.

There are some who have no access to the ground level and are confined to upper storey apartments. That is serious self-isolation. At least I can open a front door and within a few steps be on the pavement. As I clapped, feeling guilty for my lack of enthusiasm, I made a mental note to introduce myself to my neighbours. It is daft to live so near to people and yet not know who they are.

I felt doubly guilty about my waning interest, as earlier today I was talking with the head of a care home in North London. With a deadpan face, if such things are ever possible at a videoconference, she related how 29 of her patients had perished in the last 30 days. How anyone can take such stress escapes me. I may be supposedly solid and have been to plenty of conflicts in my time, but she nearly had me in tears.

I had to carry a food parcel in my arms for a good mile (fineandcountryfoundation.com)

I had to carry a food parcel in my arms for a good mile (fineandcountryfoundation.com)

I helped out with some food deliveries today. A charity was seeking some muscle to carry donated bags of groceries to the elderly who are living in self-isolation. I was summoned to a church about a mile away from my apartment, so I walked there to enjoy the sun and breathe in some fresh air, at least as fresh as Lockdown London can make it. At the church there was a group of a dozen people, all volunteers, who were being asked to take a bag of donated groceries to houses and apartments nearby. There was a woman in her early forties, masked up, gloves on, who was organising the group of assembled worthies, of which I was now one.

“Will this one do?” she asked, thrusting a small strip of paper in my hand. I glanced at the strip to see a name, address and telephone number.

“This is fine,” I replied, recognising the location instantly.

The woman nodded, I could not see if she smiled, handed me some rubber gloves and a ten-ton bag of goodies. There was so much food in the thing that the handles were too flimsy and would have broken in a flash. I pulled on the gloves and then picked up the bag as if it was a small baby cradled in my arms, although very much heavier, and set out on foot to my allocated address.

The location? Fifty metres from my own apartment and ten metres from a supermarket. I had walked a mile to collect the bag and retraced my steps with it. It would have been simpler if I had gone shopping for the self-isolator.