21 September 2021 

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life isn’t always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain

Covid

See below an overview of the UK challenge from MD of Private Eye, as of mid August.

Cosas de España/Galiza 

Good News: As its 5th wave wanes, Spain’s overall 2-week incidence rate has fallen to 83 per 100,000, the lowest for over a year. In contrast, the UK’s 3rd wave continues to gain strength, I believe. Mostly down to Delta, I think.

Bad News: Spain’s young are yet again losing out, as in every crisis of the last 2-3 decades.

I read recently that Galicia is the Spanish region least likely to suffer from earthquakes. I imagine that’s even more true of volcanic eruptions and lava flow. Which is a relief.

The UK

Bad News: Something of a mismatch. Richard North Today yesterday, The government has said that: “there is absolutely no question of the lights going out or people being unable to heat their homes.” The thing is that, even if we wanted to believe this, from the same man we also heard: Our security of gas supply is robust, but it is the case that the UK is still too reliant on fossil fuels. Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to strengthen our energy security into the future.” Given that one of the significant causes of the crisis is the under-performance of the wind fleet, this generation strategy is dangerously unbalanced and, increased reliance on renewables would simply add to our problems. The point here is that the problem has been widely foreseen for well over 2 decades and, despite repeated warnings from a number of sources, the government has de chosen not to intervene in the storage market – a stance based on a number of assumptions that have not proved to be valid. The government is being substantially less than honest. The security of the UK’s gas supply is not robust. Since we are no longer self-sufficient, producing less than 40% of our annual consumption, we are entirely dependent on imports to keep the lights on. The UK’s gas supply situation extremely fragile. It will be dependent on the willingness of Russia to keep Germany and its other European customers supplied, which in turn will determine how much gas can be released to the UK through the interconnectors. So, the goernment’s assurances are reliant on 2 factors which are entirely outside its control – the weather, and an early resolution of a Russian-EU dispute. And there is a 3rd – the availability of top-up supplies of LNG. With the stiff competition from the Asian market, this looks increasingly unlikely. Ominous. But nowt to do with Brexit.

Good News: Despite/Thanks to Brexit . . . As regards investment in technology: Britain has outperformed its European rivals this year and stands 3rd behind the USA and China in start-up funding. The £13.5bn invested in the sector was more than double that achieved in Germany, the next biggest market. British companies secured more funding than Germany, France and Israel combined.  

France

The view from Britain of excitable M Macron, who’s not exactly been a friend to the UK for the last 5 years and has big ambitions about France regaining La Gloire through dominating  a militarised EU that Germany, understandably, wants almost no part of:-

The Way of the World

Assisted dying: A letter to The Times from a consultant physician: Professor Chris Parker has met a number of patients who’ve survived many years after being told that they had a few months to live. In my 51 years (and counting) of working in the NHS, I’ve looked after thousands of patients dying in abject physical and psychological misery despite the very best that my dedicated palliative care colleagues can provide. Palliative, social, psychological and spiritual support and care have limited benefit to the person dying from the terminal effects of motor neurone disease or Huntington’s. We need to move towards advanced directives and living wills made by informed, educated, rational people with the help of their nearest and dearest before the crisis arises. Hear, hear. My daughters have my ‘Living Will’ on this.

English/Quote of the Day

Multicultural London English (MLE): Those who speak this way or with other glottal stop-scattered styles are surrounded by invisible barriers to success, yet we as a nation are too squeamish to say anything about it. Anyone going near the subject is likely to be slammed as an incorrigible snob. Just listen to how anyone under 40 says ‘hospital’  on British News channels . . . Or ‘total’. Or ‘battle’.

Spanish

Noria: Ferris wheel, eg the London Eye.

Galego/Gallego/Galician

Reader María came to Pontevedra yesterday, allowing me to finally find a Galego-falante who knew the world eiva . . . As you’ll recall, it means a defect but none of my local Galician friends knew it and even poo-poohed my claim that I’d seen it in the Diario de Pontevedra.

Finally  . . .

I entered 1920s in Spotify yesterday and was treated to an awful lot of stuff from feisty, defiant women of that Roarin’ decade. Most of the songs are long gone but these are some of those still around after 100 years:-

That’s my weakness now

Makin’ whoopee

If you knew Suzie (like I know Suzie)

Me and my shadow

I’m sitting on top of the world

Button up your overcoat

Happy days are here again

Puttin’ on the Ritz

Second hand Rose

Five foot two, eyes of blue

Show me the way to go home

Sweet Georgia Brown

Yes, sir, that’s my baby

Nobody’s sweetheart

Yes, we have no bananas

Alexander’s ragtime band

Ol’ man river

Hardhearted Hannah

Are you lonesome tonight?

And here’s an odd one you can get on Youtube: Masculine women and feminine men

Note: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here

A COVID OVERVIEW

Is the UK government’s decision to remove or relax pandemic restrictions as the Delta variant spread exponentially madness or a masterstroke?

ARGUMENTS FOR: 

1. It’s now or never 

Basing your strategy on an Elvis song is high risk but the argument goes that things are likely to get worse in autumn and winter, so let’s at least have a summer of relative freedom, when schools are out and citizens are outdoors, rather than try to relax when schools return, indoor spread accelerates and the NHS also has to contend with influenza. respiratory syncytial virus. icy pavements, hypothermia and other seasonal delights. 

2. Vaccination success 

FIFTY-TWO percent of the population, including the vast majority of people at highest risk from Covid, are double-vaccinated, and it provides very good protection from serious illness and death. Unlucky double-vaxxers, the semi-vaccinated and unvaccinated – including children _ will just have to take their chances for now and, when offered, should take their vaccines. 

3. From legal to personal 

“WE WILL move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions as to how to manage the virus,” the prime minister said on 6 July. People don’t like being ordered around, and Boris Johnson doesn’t like giving orders. Instead, he is passing the buck to corporations. institutions and individuals to make up and enforce their own Covid rules. 

4. It will make little difference 

AFTER 18 months, people have made their minds up about which rules they choose to follow, irrespective of the law. From former aide Dominic Cummings and ex-health secretary Matt Hancock to singing, mask-less football fans on public transport, a significant minority will carry on ignoring restrictions, and those who comply out of courtesy and common sense are likely to carry on after 19 July. 

5. Goodbye herd immunity 

HERD immunity is a lovely idea. It simply means there are enough immune people in a country, or preferably the world, to prevent microbial transmission – even if some individuals are still susceptible. In such a world, anyone can travel anywhere without risk of infection or restriction of movement 

With the Alpha variant, which spread across the world from Kent, we may only have needed 70 percent of the population vaccinated to reach herd immunity (we’re on 52 percent in the UK). The Delta variant, alas, is far more transmissible and some models suggest that 98 percent vaccination may be required with current vaccines, or lower levels with even more effective vaccines next time around. In the meantime, we either have to accept significant death and disease from Covid, or significant restrictions (or both). 

6. Hello hybrid immunity 

HYBRID immunity is the current favoured hypothesis in Whitehall. It aims to get community immunity levels as high as we can over the summer by double-vaccinating as many adults as possible, while simultaneously allowing everyone else (including children] to get infected (and hopefully develop some immunity) as we relax during a summer surge 

This model allows the government to smooth over the calamity of importing so much Delta variant and triggering such a big wave. This is repackaged as a “good idea”, getting Delta over with in the summer. There will inevitably be more Covid deaths (100-200 a day by the government’s modelling) and considerably more acute complications and long Covid, but not as much as if it hit us hard in the autumn. The hope is that school holidays and outdoor play will put enough of a brake on exponential spread not to overload  the NHS and further delay the 5m waiting for non-Covid treatments. 

7. Death and disease happen 

WITH herd immunity a distant mirage, people will have to accept disease and death from Covid – greatly reduced by vaccines, but not eliminated. Annual boosters will be required. Covid will join the long list of things that kill us every year, and it even kills us at roughly the same age as other things kill us. 

8. Resuscitating the economy 

MANY businesses are in a terminal state, some have died but others could be resuscitated – at least temporarily – with some summer traffic. The level of government borrowing and debt is staggering. Time to get people back to work in travel, hospitality, sports. beauty, arts and entertainment. It should also improve the mood of the nation, and we might one day have an entire news broadcast that doesn’t mention Covid. 

9. Irreversible U-turn 

THE prime minister has quietly ditched his promise that the roadmap out of the pandemic is irreversible – something MD has long advised. This is now only an aspiration, which was always the correct call given how unpredictable the virus and human behaviour is. However, it conveniently allows Johnson to blame the public if we don ‘t enjoy our new freedoms “cautiously and sensibly”. It may yet take some months after 19 July before we can all safely pleasure ourselves in the way tens of thousands of football supporters did on Wembley Way on 11 July. 

10. Populism wins elections 

POPULISM won the last election, and freedom remains a popular message even if the reality is anything but, especially for the clinically vulnerable. Johnson will be confident that, even with another 10,000-20,000 Covid deaths, his re-election chances remain rosy, particularly if there is no public inquiry report to derail the bluff and bluster. 

ARGUMENTS AGAINST

1. Vaccine-resistant variants 

IF YOU wanted to create the ideal petri dish environment to allow a vaccine-resistant variant to mutate and select, then combining high levels of vaccination with uncontrolled Delta spread should just about do it. Variants of the Delta variant are already emerging. Expect some of them to find a way to escape the vaccines. 

2. Childhood experiment 

SHORT-TERM data for paediatric death and harm from SARS-CoV-2is encouraging. but we don’t yet know enough about the virus, or the Delta variant, to see what the long-term effects of letting it run free among unvaccinated children will be. I am seeing children – and sometimes whole families – affected by long Covid in my clinics, but not yet in huge numbers. 

The government may be hoping that allowing widespread infection will negate the need, risks and costs of vaccination, but many parents would choose to vaccinate their children if offered, both for Covid protection and (hopefully) the freedom not to be sent home from school every time a classmate is infected. Some children are old enough and wise enough to make up their own minds. Some countries are vaccinating children already, but in the UK the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is still waiting to gather more data to determine if benefits outweigh risks. Time will tell. There is a good case now for vaccinating the most vulnerable children. 

3. ICU angst 

NHS workers, many bearing physical and mental scars from the pandemic, were also hoping for a summer free from Covid. This looks increasingly unlikely, On 15 July. there were 48,553 cases of infection and 100 more patients in intensive care units with Covid-19 than five days previously. The knock-on effect on non-Covid emergencies is immense because Covid stays in ICU are unusually lengthy. The median stay for, say, cardiac or major cancer surgery is one or two days. For a Covid patient who doesn’t need ventilation, it’s five days. If ventilated, it’s 20 days. If they develop renal problems, it’s 32 days. 

If ICU is full, a single Covid patient requiring ventilation cancels 10-20 cardiac and cancer surgeries. Thus far, 60 percent of the 37,500 people admitted to ICUs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have needed ventilation. Add in the government’s prediction that infections could hit 100,000 a day, and just a small percentage getting seriously ill could gum up the NHS and exhaust staff. 

4. Unvaccinated adults 

A STUDY of 73,197 adults of all ages across 302 UK hospitals in the first wave of Covid found that four in 10 of those aged between 19 and 49 developed problems with their kidneys, lungs or other organs while being treated. Given that many such adults have yet to be fully vaccinated, letting the Delta variant run free will undoubtedly cause significant Covid complications, and later long Covid, for many under-50s. 

5. Off messaging 

Freedom means different things to different people. For some, it will mean ditching the app and ditching any memory  that Covid is still out there. The one intervention with the greatest benefit for individuals and the herd is vaccine and yet some younger adults may now decline vaccines if they see them as no longer essential to freedom. 

The hasty reintroduction of threats of vaccine passports to allow young people to enter venues and travel abroad might redress the balance. Masks indoors make a difference to spread -particularly in crowds – but if compliance dips below 70 percent, the difference may be marginal. And for 3.8m vulnerable people in the UK, more freedom for the healthy is likely to mean more isolation and anxiety for them. 

6. Can’t get the staff 

THE UK has one of the largest Delta waves in the world, with 50,000 cases a day sparking a pingdemic of millions of people asked to isolate as potential contacts, by the Covid app or Test and Trace, despite having no symptoms, negative tests and full vaccination status. As some of them work in essential services – police, fire, NHS, care homes – alongside retail and transport, the side effects could outweigh the benefits. Double-jabbed workers may be excused isolation come August, but that depends if, in chief medical adviser Chris Whitty’s words. “the numbers get scary”. Without the staff, the grand reopening of everything can’t  happen. But it’s not the fault of the app or Test and Trace, it’s because we’ve lost control of the virus again. 

7. The illusion of control 

HYBRID immunity has a certain logic, but if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that you can’t control the timing, depth and duration of waves of infection. We tried to control the first wave to keep deaths down and prevent a second wave, and ended up with a huge first wave and, thanks 10 variants, an even bigger second wave. 

The best we can hope for is a sensible summer of outdoor fun and then be prepared for all manner of winter scenarios, some of which may involve U-turns and restrictions. However, complete vaccination remains our best hope of near normality. 

8. Delta variance 

THE Delta variant is spreading fast all over the world, and it’s not all Boris Johnson’s fault. Eighteen months into the pandemic, governments are adopting widely different strategies for dealing with it, tailored to uncertain science. national culture, political ideology, risk appetite and level of vaccination. 

Scotland promoted zero Covid a year ago, and has ended up with one of the highest rates of infection in Europe. Which is perhaps why first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Wales’s Mark Drakeford are being more cautious than Johnson. Australian states are still locking down on the basis of a few dozen cases. The country’s combination of zero tolerance on Covid and slow vaccination could keep it in restrictive measures and isolation until 2022. 

The US, Israel, France and Spain have either begun vaccinating children aged 12 and over or are about to start. In Holland, prime minister Mark Rutte apologised for easing Covid restrictions too early as daily infection rates rocketed to peak levels. “A judgement error was made. What we thought we could allow, we could actually not. We are upset about it and we apologise,” he said on 12 July, while reimposing restrictions. 

MD predicts that the UK will follow suit, but without the heartfelt admission of error. I have been wrong before and hopefully I am wrong again. In the meantime, keep getting vaccinated, mask up indoors in crowds and go wild outdoors. 

5 comments

  1. I have become friendly with an English-as-a-foreign-language teacher, who has the misfortune to come from a part of the country which carries a ferocious and impenetrable accent. I smile and nod a lot when in his company. My worry is that his very very best students will end up sounding something like him.

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  2. First we had the Ever Given, part of the Evergreen fleet, causing serious disruption, next is Evergrande.

    North Americans have a propensity to mangle the spelling of English words, as if they believe they invented the language. Examples would the the loss of “u” in colour, “i” in aluminium & worst of all is the loss of “a” in roasted maple caramel colour. It’s not carmel, which is derived from karmel (Hebrew: כַּרְמֶל‎) meaning “fertile land”.

    What puzzles me is how dʒæɡjuər in the UK became dʒæɡwɑːr in North America & what’s with this “erbs” instead of herbs? Dropping aitches (not haitches) is unsound & not knowing that Me is a personal pronoun & Myself is a reflexive pronoun, is beyond the Pale. When the speaker is the object of a verb. but not the subject performing the verb, use Me.

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  3. Jaguar???

    Years ago, I was in New Orleans with a friend who lived there. He said ‘en masse’ as if it were English, not French but called herbs ‘erbes’ in the French fashion. I thought it was amusingly inconsistent.

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  4. Years ago, I was staying in a a B&B in Ireland run by a woman I could hardly understand. At breakfast, to my astonishment and horror, she told me she taught English.

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