Fandango’s One Word Challenge (22 October 2020)

for Fandango’s One Word Challenge(FOWC), alleviate.

There is this really strange story going on in the UK for about the last week. I’ll just report it briefly, and you can form an opinion for yourself. You can imagine several alleviates going on, so I feel justified in using it to answer the prompt.

COVID in the UK is getting worse, and the government has announced a three-tier system, with restrictions increasing, tier on tier. There are arguments about how useful this system is, but that is beside the point today.

The government (who hold both the numbers and the purse-strings) have decided that some areas are so bad, they should go from their current tier to the next one up.

The areas are pushing back. In particular, Manchester.

Why? Because, to each area, the government is offering a compensation package in return for greater restrictions. The areas are saying “it’s not enough”.

Now, I have no idea whether it is or isn’t enough. The one thing that was reinforced was that it is all about money.

Meanwhile, the virus marches on.

image from the UK government web site, https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/

Coming Out

I don’t pretend that this will be a particularly interesting post, but I just wanted to get these ideas down on paper somewhere. I’m sorry for boring you, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about. Please just skip if not your cup of tea.


The map I use to look at my COVID numbers is quite finely-grained. It splits the UK into about 7,000 zones. The zones vary in physical size, seem to be driven more by population. I estimate that London has about 1,000 of these zones, real examples include South Hampstead or Central Westminster. What we might think of as a “suburb” generally splits into 2 or 3 of these zones.

Out in the countryside, where I am, my zone covers this village and the next. A far bigger area than Westminster or Hampstead.

I’m obviously talking about the UK, but there’s nothing really stopping other countries applying this too. My friend in Australia says he knows COVID data to the postcode level, people in the US say they know at the county level. The point is, it’s quite finely-grained.

On my map, each of these areas has a number of cases, confirmed within the last week. They fuzz up the numbers when they are very low, just because there might be 1 or 2 residual cases, presumably because those few cases are not statistically significant. But 100 cases in that zone, we’d see it!

I don’t think that’s a bad start, but I would sooner see a count of the number of active cases. We can calculate rates just by looking at how these numbers vary over time. I think there is currently an issue that somebody who tested positive eight days ago, who might still be infectious, drops off the official numbers. And I wouldn’t fuzz-out any data, because the agency’s role should be collation and presentation, not interpretation.

And, how do we decide when a case is no longer infectious? On that, I’d take advice.

My idea starts with that kind of granularity. By all means, disseminate these numbers, but I would just use two headline colours to describe one of these zones – “Red” and “Green”.

I see a Green zone would be no COVID cases. Or, very few. There would probably need to be a time element in there, too, like “no cases for the last 4 weeks”. Again, I’d take advice on the exact length of time.

Also, to qualify as being Green, all of the zone’s immediate neighbours should also be Green. Just because it is inevitable that people will travel at least to the next zone.

Inside a Green Zone, shops and businesses open as usual. People can move about their green zone. Masks (and distancing) are optional – neither is necessary if the place is virus-free. If people want to travel, that is up to them, but if they travel into a Red Zone, they should mask up.

A Red Zone, on the other hand, is one where there are COVID cases. Or, has a Red neighbour. Again, because people will move about.

Inside a Red Zone, the advice is to discourage mixing. This might mean people staying home, and some shops and businesses closing their doors, if they cannot operate without mixing.

And, because the goal is to discourage mixing altogether, any rules like “no more than 6” or “no more than 10” go out of the window. Same household only. Quite a grim scene, something looking like March more than September. Travel outside of the zone should be minimised and any excursion to any destination, Red or Green, requires a mask.

It’s a pity, pitting people’s mental health against their physical health, but physical health wins out, because of the “infectious” aspect. If someone might have COVID, even though it might help their mental health if they can see other people, they cannot be allowed to spread it. Put in those terms, it becomes a no-brainer. With some things, we just have to say “tough”.

In terms of whether a zone is Red or Green, I’d see those values being calculated daily (numbers are already recorded daily in the UK), everywhere. It’s not as if we require a human to make a decision – it is simply applying a formula, can be recalculated in seconds. A zone is Green or Red because of…. some definite criteria, not somebody’s judgement. And, it is possible for a Green Zone to become Red, as well as the other way around. End dates? Are really for the virus to decide. Right now, a reasonable end date seems “forever”.

There are a million more details to iron out, but those are my top-level thoughts.

First among those details, we need to be sure that the numbers which drive these decisions are as accurate as possible. So, that means lots of testing. Test enough, and we could even scale this down to the Red/Green Household level.

Second, we’re again telling businesses that they must close, telling people to stay home from work, so there are financial implications. I don’t think that locking down automatically means dire financial consequences, as we are all in the same boat. If everybody loses a billion dollars, nobody really loses anything. The difference is that a nation’s approach will dictate the speed at which it comes out of this and gets its economy back on track. And that speed *will* make a difference.

Third, it seems clear to me that, whatever plans we have, we have very little enforcement, at least in the UK. The police were a prime target during austerity. It is far too late this time around, but we should be asking ourselves whether we want enforcement in the future. That might be a pandemic, or it might be something else. And if the answer is “yes”, shouldn’t we be doing something about it? Another pandemic? No way? Well, how many once-in-a-lifetime events have we seen in recent memory?

Viewing Habits

I think I’m going to have to stop watching what was my favourite news programme.

I started watching the show tonight, as normal, and the main stories are virus-related. The focus tonight was on universities – in the UK they are just about to start up again, several of them are able to implement their own testing (they have their own labs, after all), and several of them have already detected virus outbreaks. Some universities are implementing a “no going out” policy, else they will kick you out. I’m not sure how that would work because universities have no jurisdiction over day-to-day life.

Anyway, a UK tradition is Freshers’ Week. Basically, a week of socialising for new students. Every university has one. When I was at mine, I was not sober for a week.

This year, of course, this is all curtailed.

And they interview a new student. “It’s not fair”, she complains, “we don’t get a Freshers’ Week like they did in other years”.

And I’m sitting here, just thinking: “Fair? For fuck’s sake, it’s not fair that people out there are dying because of this, let alone you being unable to have a piss-up”.

So, my BP goes up a notch.

A few minutes later, they talk to some other students, about this out-of-bounds rule. The two students are studying for Master’s degrees, rather than standard degrees. So, they’re not sure whether the rule applies to them.

Another FFS moment, I’m afraid. They clearly have no idea that these rules are put in place to discourage people from meeting other people. Of course you’re fucking included!

I don’t need to be watching these idiots. What’s on the other side?

Cheap

Just watching the News here. The main items, of course, are UK news.

Boris Johnson.

They knew about him before he became mayor of London. They certainly knew about him afterwards. Like his cousin in the US, former advisors made small fortunes with their revelations. Unable to grasp the detail. A bit of a buffoon.

But he has charisma. Oh, the applause he received when he promised to lie in front of the bulldozers if they started digging at Heathrow Airport.

When he happened to campaign on the right side in the Brexit referendum (and it was a margin call) he became impossible to ignore. He was promoted to the cabinet, and was a part of the government which… approved the new runway at Heathrow. But no matter, talk is cheap. Say one thing, do another. Talk is cheap.

But he has charisma. Conservative MPs elected him their leader. He has charisma. He unified the party. With a straightforward message on delivering Brexit, he won a General Election. Decisively. He has charisma. He’s now trying to row back on the original Brexit agreement, but no matter. Talk is cheap.

COVID. Takes us all by surprise. We appreciate the value of Test and Trace. We will test some more. 10,000 per day, by the end of the month. We miss that target. So we increase the target to 25,000. We miss that target, too. Early on, Johnson promises a “world-beating” Tracing App. Nothing materialises, world-beating or otherwise. But no matter, talk is cheap. But over the months, testing increases, quickly at first, but more slowly between May – September. The “second wave” has been promised since July.

Testing is being shown as woefully inadequate. “Nobody could have predicted the need”, says a Johnson supporter. “We predicted it in March”, say the WHO. But no matter, talk is cheap.

But it is worldwide. Peru’s president: we will defeat the virus. Echoes of Winston Churchill. I bet their public love them for it.

Now tell us how. Talk is cheap. India has a says it has a refreshingly low death rate. Because it isn’t counting them all. Talk is cheap.

Beats Me

I’ve seen a few posts in recent days which strike me as weird.

One post, the other day, was a grandparent wishing to meet with their grandchild, just before their country’s rules on meeting people became stricter.

The other thing was posted by Caramel overnight, who came out of work Saturday to see people dressed up as if going to a party. Turns out, they were going to a party – our country too has introduced tighter rules about gatherings, and these people were getting together in order to beat the deadline. I should add that Caramel’s sentiment was that this was a bad idea, and I’m with her 100%.

I can see why our government is saying “we must do this” (e.g. wearing a mask) and then adding “but by the way, we will only make it compulsory next Tuesday”. It is to give people time to prepare.

The virus is not going to behave one way until midnight Monday, then start behaving differently on the stroke of midnight. Those future deadlines are to give us time to adjust to it, not the other way around.

So given that there will be no discernible difference in the harmfulness of the virus in just those few days between the announcement and the enforcement, shouldn’t we be trying (as best we can) to meet the new requirements as soon as possible?

It just seems dumb to me. A new rule is coming in Tuesday so let’s make sure we all meet up Saturday. Is the virus aware of days of the week?

Incidentally, my own village has been virus-free for 3 months, yet on Monday four new cases were reported. I realise that four cases probably represents a single household, and there are maybe 1,000 households in our village, but I cancelled my coffee this week, just in case. Not only is it most likely riskier for me, it’s riskier for my buddy, also. I’m not too hung up on exactly what the UK’s new rules are – my own rule is just to be in close contact with my wife only, which probably covers my bases. I still worry a bit about who she’s in contact with, but generally, she’s pretty sensible too.