21 October 2021: Spanish grinding: Stinging motorists; Kitchen shenanigans; UK panic; Uppity Poles: Away with the fairies; & Swiss magic.

Covid 

See the article below on the key issue which doesn’t seem to have been properly addressed – How many Covid deaths can we live with?

Cosas de España/Galiza 

Well, it really does seem that Spain’s energy crisis is even worse than the UK’s, despite the non-existence of a Spexit. .

Spain has asked – pleaded* – for EU-wide measures to ameliorate the energy situation but has been met only by nice words. Possibly because Germany is OK at the moment, what with its connections to Russia an’ all.

* Pled or plead in American English, I believe.

The government is trailing (i. e. guaranteeing) road charges from 2024, having suddenly discovered – after 100 years of motoring – that ‘it’s unfair to make non-users contribute to their upkeep’. I wouldn’t have thought there was anyone in the country who doesn’t benefit from the transport of stuff around the nation. And then there’s the annual car tax that owners already pay. So, sophistry to excuse resorting to the easy, low-hanging-fruit option. 

Spain’s ruling class is fearful as ‘The Technician’ goes on trial, says Politico here. The Kitchen case and Villarejo . . . Be prepared to hear/read these words a lot during the decade the court(s) will be occupied with a scandal that makes Watergate look like child’s play.

The UK 

A picture speaks a thousand words:-

The not-so-bad news is that death rate rise is not as steep as that for cases. Or ‘shadowing it’, as we now have to say.

Two questions arising . . . How much of this reflects waning protection from vaccination? And: If this factor is significant, will other countries experience a later upswing because they lagged 3 or more months behind the UK with this?

One thing is very clear – There’s now a high risk of the re-imposition of measures in the UK, most obviously the compulsory wearing of masks indoors. And an important question arising is: How many countries will now follow Morocco’s example in suspending flights from the UK?

Poland

Nasty words and threats continue to be directed towards troublesome Poland, the largest beneficiary of Northern European taxpayers’ largesse. Unfortunately for Brussels, There is no legal way to kick a member state out of the EU and Poland’s PM faces no domestic pressure to trigger Article 50 [re exit from the EU] because most Poles support EU membership. Instead it can simply ignore EU rules it doesn’t like and continue to bank the cash from Brussels. In contrast, the UK paid far more into the EU Budget than it received back in funding. 

Galician/Spanish 

Galicians boast that their language is closer to Latin than Castellano – as if that were truly impressive – and cite, for example, forno instead of horno and formiga instead of hormiga. And now I’ve seen another one: fada instead of hada – oven, ant and fairy, respectively.

Finally  . . .

Talking of fairies . . . William Dalrymple writes: I don’t believe in ghosts, spirits, djinns, demons, witches or fairies, with one notable exception: the Sock Fairy. The Sock Fairy inhabits, or hovers around, every washing machine in which my wife or I ever put my socks. He, she or it manages somehow to turn what were 6 perfectly matching pairs of socks when put into the machine into (say) 3 pairs plus 3 odd socks. He should be so lucky; I have 18 ‘orphan socks’ and every time I get a new one I’m reminded of a German friend saying, snottily: Vee never haf dat problem wit German washing machines.

Another stunning and beautiful – boogie player. From Switzerland, of all places . . .

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

 THE ARTICLE   

Lockdown sceptics were right about one thing. We’ve been dodging a question that should have been answered months ago: how many Covid deaths can we live with?:  Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

What if no one had developed a vaccine? In the past couple of weeks we have resumed the discussion about scientific advice given to the government at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. At the time the policy of delaying lockdown seemed to many people to be wrong, and in retrospect it certainly was wrong. But that’s before you consider this question: what if no one had developed a vaccine?

It’s a question worth asking as we decide what to do next. In March last year, as other countries introduced restrictions on movement, this country took a different path. The government was advised, and did not question the advice, that people would be unwilling to live with restrictions for long.

To prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, it was important to introduce the curbs at the right time. We therefore determined to wait before introducing any sort of lockdown.

Quite quickly it became clear that the hospital admissions and death rates would be so great and happen so quickly that the government could not wait any longer. And a policy of allowing everyone to get the disease, but in a manageable way, would, even if it worked, involve too many deaths to be morally acceptable. So we reversed the policy. And it turned out that the hypothesis that people would quickly get fed up and ignore restrictions was wrong.

Yet if no one had developed a vaccine or treatment would we have carried on with severe restrictions indefinitely? How tenable would it have been for the government to carry on borrowing money to furlough people, paying the wages of a large proportion of workers for three or four or five years with no end in sight? And once people began to lose their incomes, would they really have gone on supporting restrictions and complying with them?

If no vaccine had emerged, then some version of the phased restrictions that we embarked upon would have been the right approach. Not because the consequences would have been anything other than grave but because it would have been impossible to prevent grave consequences.

The best argument against the government’s policy is that it assumed there would be no vaccine, an unnecessary assumption that turned out to be wrong. I think this was a culpable mistake. But I think we would be looking at things rather differently if the assumption had turned out to be correct.

The reason this is worthwhile discussing now is not because it helps in allocating blame, in so far as that is useful at all. It is because considering what we might have done without a vaccine can help us with the problem we face now.

The UK has opted for a pretty libertarian approach in the past few months. And we have higher hospital admission and death rates than comparable western European countries. The relationship between these two facts may not be a direct one; we may simply be suffering earlier from waning vaccine immunity because we got going with vaccines sooner. But it certainly raises a question about how much of a problem we consider Covid-19 deaths to be and how far we are prepared to go to stop them.

Naturally even one death from Covid-19 is a tragedy for the person concerned and their family. This would end the argument if it were not for the obvious problem that there are trade-offs. Seeking to prevent a single person from dying of Covid-19 involves a massive economic cost with a potential impact on life expectancy. It restricts freedom with an impact on quality of life and mental health, and it may divert the attention of health professionals from treating or preventing other dangerous conditions.

Yet we have never had any proper discussion of what these trade-offs are and how we would make them. On this point the lockdown sceptics were surely right.

The sceptics made so many poor arguments it was sometimes hard to take them seriously. They clung to the absurd idea that the coronavirus was not really that bad. They advocated a policy — shielding the vulnerable — that would obviously not have worked. They argued, in the face of the evidence, that lockdowns did not reduce spread when even common sense would suggest they did. They pressed their point about economic trade-offs even at the moment when there really weren’t any, because Covid-19 was so bad that people would have stayed at home even if they weren’t told to. And they argued that lockdowns prevented cancer treatment when fast-spreading coronavirus would have overwhelmed the NHS.

It is a shame that these bad arguments led the sceptics to be largely ignored when they were making a serious point of huge importance. They were right to argue that we need a proper calculation of the costs of lockdown and a national debate on how many Covid deaths we are willing to live with.

Because we never had to face the dilemma of what to do if we did not have a vaccine, we have avoided considering how many Covid-19 deaths we are willing to live with. And this is a question we can’t even begin to answer without a much clearer idea of what it will cost us — financially and in every other way — to achieve different levels of death and hospital admissions. Yet no one seems to have it in mind to provide one.

The policy seems to be to hope that the coronavirus level doesn’t get too high and then try not to mention it again. I can’t think, after all we have been through, that trying to forget the whole thing is a satisfactory ending. If we are planning to live with a disease that is roughly as fatal as a bad year of flu then we may be talking about more than 20,000 deaths a year. We have had huge government inquiries into events with fatalities of single figures. And we are planning a national inquiry into past Covid deaths. Are we really intending to fall silent about future Covid deaths?

I know why there is resistance to the discussion: it involves accepting that deaths happen and acknowledging that trade-offs exist in which some people are allowed to die because the cost to others of preventing it is too high.

In other words, it involves accepting some pretty obvious truths and trying to establish some basic facts. And this always seems to me a good place to begin.

One comment

  1. Of cpurse, it could be just that Gallego is closer to French – four, fourmis, and fée. Just saying!

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