Virus Isolation Day 7

So, my last day of isolation. No symptoms at all now, maybe a bit of a lingering cough, but that’s it. Maybe I’ve had nothing wrong with me. The danger of being at home is being drawn to the constant new cycle, and the even more constant social media cycle.

Social media as usual provides some great entertainment, as well as showing the best and the worst of people – have a look in today’s heroes and zeroes.

Looking back at the history of the virus, it’ interesting to see what we knew and when. In the last two weeks of January I was working in Egypt, and making plans for a trip to China in early March. On a daily basis in Egypt we saw the information coming out of China and the restriction from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stopping further travel to China. Travelling back through Cairo and London, people were already wearing masks, including on the tube. Clearly this was a virus that was going to spread, as globalisation means extensive travel, through a variety of different hubs – it’s all very well stopping direct flights to and from China, but every far east trip I have ever made was via a hub in the Middle East. So, we knew about this virus and its potential in January.

Let’s look at a timeline:

31/12/2019 China alerts WHO to cases of pneumonia
11/01/2020 China first death
13/01/2020 first case outside China
20/01/2020 China, 3rd death and 200 cases
22/01/2020 China 17 dead, 550 cases
23/01/2020 Wuhan and 2 other cities  under quarantine
24/01/2020 China 26 dead, 830 cases
25/01/2020 travel restrictions affecting 56 million
26/01/2020 56 dead, 2000 cases in China, cases confirmed in US, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and S Korea
30/01/2020 WHO declares global emergency
31/01/2020 first UK case
05/02/2020 China 490 dead, over 24000 cases
11/02/2020 over 1000 dead in China, virus named COVID-19
15/02/2020 over 1500 dead in China
03/03/2020 UK PM boasts of shaking hands with Coronavirus patients
10/03/2020 UK announces no need to limit major sporting events
12/03/2020 First PM announcement to country – “Herd immunity” plan hoping to let 60% of the country become infected, in contradiction to plans of other countries. Everyone does the calculation – 1% of 60% infected could die = 400,000
15/03/2020 Imperial College data suggests 100s of thousands will die following the government plan.
16/03/2020 Voluntary limits to social contact proposed by PM, pubs and bars still open
20/03/2020 Bars and restaurants to close immediately, stricter social distancing required
21-22/03/2020 Large numbers go out for a walk in the country or the seaside
23/03/2020 Strict controls announced regarding social distancing and limiting the freedom to go out. UK deaths now at 335
30/03/2020 UK deaths reach 1408

The spread of a virus is a scientific phenomenon, and epidemiologists have models to show how one will spread. However, the policies that an individual government will take to limit the spread are political, informed by the science and constrained by established societal norms in any particular country.

What does seem clear is:

  • We knew about the virus and its seriousness from January but did nothing until mid-March. Maybe it’s hard to get people to isolate and distance themselves when they can’t yet see the problem, but this will lead to unnecessary deaths.
  • We didn’t start stocking up on protective equipment for health workers when we could , who are now paying the price, again possibly leading to unnecessary deaths.
  • Other countries who have contained the virus, on the recommendations of WHO are testing many, many more people. Testing means those who are infected can be isolated and their contacts traced. Even now the UK failing to meet its planned 10000 tests per day, when countries like Germany far exceed this.

The UK approach seemed to be one of British exceptionalism – “we will take it on the chin” according the PM (I think he was thinking of one of his biscuit games from Eton) whereas those countries who are containing the outbreak have all taken a different approach

It’s hard to predict how many will die – that’s best left to professionals who have an increasingly rich dataset to model, and who can compare the effect of different policies and behaviours in different countries. What is clear is that the deaths in China appear to have been brought under control at 3305 as of 30-3-20. So a country of 1,400,000,000 has 3305 deaths. The UK with a population of 66,000,000 has 1408 an dis likely to reach the China figure in the next 7 or 8 days. Even if the deaths in China are under-reported, then the UK strategy may not have worked. In the inevitable enquiry that will happen afterwards, either formally or through the press, people will ask – did our government do enough and at the right times to prevent unnecessary deaths?

Heroes and Zeroes

Our hero award has to go to the Shropshire police twitter account, for totally owning this racist.

There’s a lot of it about – false claims just to spread a little hate around.

On a lighter note, there’s the goats who have taken over Llandudno



An Astrophysicist gets magnets stuck up nose while inventing coronavirus device – Australian Dr Daniel Reardon ended up in hospital after inserting magnets in his nostrils while building a necklace that warns you when you touch your face. Great stuff.

And finally

For those who’ve been reading this isolation diary, then let’s finish with what C P Snow wrote in 1921, in an essay to mark the centenary of the Guardian.:

“Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair. This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters is hardly given to man. Perhaps none of us can attain to it in the desirable measure. We can but try, ask pardon for shortcomings, and there leave the matter.”

Virus Isolation Day 6

I cannot imagine how people who need to stay home for 12 weeks are coping. Six days, and I cannot wait to be able to go out just for a walk.

I’ve started to wonder what the endgame is going to be. In the press briefing today (Sunday) the Deputy Chief Medical Officer suggested that it could be many more weeks of restrictions. At any point, the government, as indeed any organisation dealing with strategy, will be thinking about the endgame.

With limited information on how well the current measures are actually working, then it’s not possible to forecast when we will be able to change behaviours, but someone somewhere has to be modelling this.

Multiple scenarios exist. In one, we could wait until the number of deaths no longer rises and then allow more normal life to resume. This might lead to further outbreaks, and subsequent restrictions, but could be a way of keeping things moving. This seems to be the approach in China

In another scenario, we could end up with deaths continuing to increase, since the virus has already spread over all of the country, and so the current lockdown conditions continue for a significant time.

Alternatively, deaths could continue to increase, but the decision could be made to relax restrictions to ensure that businesses, in particular food production and supply can continue.

In all scenarios there are multiple factors to consider. What happens once too many shop staff, too many deliver drivers and too many food production staff are ill or dead? How resilient are our just-in-time logistics, and how well could the country cope with serious shortages? Already farmers are highlighting a lack of migrant and other workers to pick vegetables that are soon coming into season.  Social unrest will never be far from the minds of government, and shortages of food could lead to unfortunate behaviours.

As well as considering the short-term endgame – what we do to get back to business as usual– this could also be a time to reflect and consider what other changes we might want to see. What has been laid clear in this crisis is:

  • A realisation of the value of all workers, especially those on below average wages
  • A lack of resilience in our health service
  • The fact that experts are worth listening to
  • The importance of being prepared to change strategy when it is clear that a chosen one isn’t right.

Heroes and Zeroes

For today’s heroes how about three NHS doctors who have died of the virus

  • Amged el-Hawrani
  • Adel el-Tayar
  • Habib Zaidi

Bloody migrants, taking our jobs, coming to work in the UK, treating us when we are dying then dying in service, and even having families who are prepared to do the same.


The Mail on Sunday – blaming China for the existence of the virus, and the EU for the Prime Minister becoming infected.

Don’t forget that the Prime Minister was bragging of shaking hands with everybody only a couple of weeks ago, including Covid19 patients. And that he and others are meeting up with each other all the time. Dog-whistle journalism 101. In answer to the question “Did Michel Barnier infect Boris Johnson?”: almost certainly not, but if you had testing and contact tracing, just think what you would learn!

The Mail and its journalists will be spending a lot of time from now blaming “foreigners” and not paying critical attention to failings in the UK. Or “business as usual in other words.


Monday is the last day of isolation and maybe it’s time to look at a timeline of this crisis and the subsequent response.

Virus Isolation 5

The good news is that I am hardly coughing anymore, and even felt well enough to get on the turbo trainer for half an hour. Which just reminded me that:

  • Being at home constantly means you eat all the time
  • I haven’t exercised for a week
  • I hate the turbo trainer

So this means that on Tuesday I can go out into the big wide world and see what is left of it. Part of me expects a dystopian wasteland,

Although I suspect, based on the local Facebook group pages the problems will be nowhere near as bad.

Imagine – no branded groceries.

Today it was reported that the number of deaths exceeded 1000, which was readily [predicted by every exponential curve ever. However, this was a cue for a number of commentators to ask whether these are deaths of people from the virus, or did people die with the virus. We’re going to see a lot more of this – it’s a narrative that has appeared in the US and is now being seen here. It seems to feed in to yet another skirmish in the manufactured culture wars. The writers who are questioning this – and they are right to question, provided they have evidence to back up their claims – are the same ones who oppose the strategies that have been taken to minimise contact between people. The same writers are on the lookout for over-zealous police responses, just so that they can shout out that individual freedoms are being lost, and that this is becoming a police state (and look, the libs are quite happy with it this time!).

For example, look at Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet. He had previously tweeted that the virus may not be too much of a problem. Fast forward, and now that he has more facts at his disposal he changes his mind, and criticises the government’s response on Question Time. And right on cue, the accusations fly, saying he is an Extinction Rebellion leftie (I’m not sure how a view on climate change or party politics has anything to do with responses to a pandemic), and in choosing to identify him with ER and the left, the debate has been neatly shifted, from a point he was making about the current situation to a snap-portrait which is supposed to reveal everything that he thinks. This is the tactic – deflect and mislead. Just ask – why people want to stifle valid criticism?

It’s manufactured outrage, and it’s all for clicks and likes. I’m not going to give Brendan O’Neill and his crew a link, but they are loving the opportunity to write their usual contrarian views.

My view remains the same – as yet we still don’t know the mortality rate, and so caution seems like a good idea. Very strict lockdowns do seem to work, as we can see in China, although we may want to question the data they provide (again, I’m being even-handed, I’m not going to assume it’s automatically wrong).

Certainly looking at what is happening in the US, where the President wants business back to normal by 15th April, we can see that the lack of testing, the initial refusal to accept that the virus will affect them, and the lack of socialised medicine are going to hit hard.

Today’s Heroes and Zeroes


Lauren Laverne – her 6Music breakfast show is the antidote from rolling TV and radio news. Listen in, I guarantee it will make you feel better.

All the dogs of Twitter


Chartwells, who supply food to schools. This is what they provided for 5 days’ worth of lunches for those on free school meals. Let’s face it, if you’re rich or even just on an average income, and have a nice house, possibly with a garden, feel physically safe at home, you’re pretty much ok. But a lot of people won’t be.

A final thought.

Maybe this cartoon from today’s Observer is what we should start to think about – what happens when this is all over.

Uncertain future.

Virus Isolation Day 4

On Thursday night we saw people take to their doorsteps and windows to “Clap for our Carers”.

A fantastic sentiment, and I hope that those who over the last decade supported cutting the numbers of staff and keeping wages fixed had a massive shite into their hands before they started clapping.

I’m also not sure Clap for our Carers is the best slogan. I’m going to be promoting “Gonorrhoea for our Politicians”.

We look for light relief as we all sit at home, and for me this came from the inestimable Marty Beard in an interaction with the never over-estimated Douglas Carswell. I think this is called “have your arse handed to you on a plate”.

On a more serious note, some thoughts about data and interpretation of the differing theories provided. At the beginning the UK government promoted an idea of herd immunity, which led to everyone scurrying away and working out that if 60% of the population are allowed to contract the virus, and 1% die, then there would be 400,000 deaths. More detailed analysis by Imperial College put this at 250,000, which was a wakeup call to government who could see the need for reducing the death toll considerably by promoting policies such as the ones we have seen latterly regarding social distancing and curtailment of movement. A more recent paper from Oxford has again promoted the idea of herd immunity (which has not been peer reviewed and is being promoted by a PR company rather than the university press office). There’s a great write up of this in the FT ( where Tim Harford weights up the differing perspectives. As he points out, the data as yet isn’t very good, and so the best policy for now is stay indoors, expand health system capacity and test. He also suggests that some policymakers and individuals may come up with reckless responses based on this one report. For me, this is always going to be a danger. As we move through this crisis, there will be multiple papers assessing the current position and forecasting the future based on different strategies. My view would be that until data gets significantly better, we need to remain cautious. I’d also be questioning the motivation of the pundits who take papers such as the Oxford one and use this to suggest that the current measures aren’t worth continuing with. As with so many pieces of scientific work, it’s always good to get a wide range of analyses, but it’s better to follow the one where the majority agree. And when there is dispute, sometimes it’s worth asking who benefits. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that you could find plenty of evidence to say that smoking wasn’t harmful.

Tomorrow in this somewhat random blog, I’ll look at how some people are already using the coronavirus as the next battlefield in the culture wars as well as thinking about what the future might look like

Today’s Heroes and zeroes


Everyone who has starts drinking when the afternoon press conference starts

(by Modern Toss – always worth a read.)


Branson – asking staff to take 8 weeks without pay after previously suing the NHS and asking for a bailout for his airline

Mike Ashley having to apologise for wanting to keep sports equipment stores open and now trying to regain credibility by offering to lend trucks to the NHS

Tim Martin for his u-turn on paying workers but now not paying suppliers.

Who’d have thought these See-You-Next-Tuesdays didn’t have the best interest of their staff or the country uppermost in their minds? I, for one, am shocked. Shocked I tell you!


Virus Isolation Day 3


The disastrous news from this small North Shropshire town, is that Sainsburys have run out of wine, certainly the affordable gutrot (that is German for “good red” of course). When you’ve asked someone else to collect shopping for you, it is unreasonable to ask them to visit all the shops to make sure that you have this essential cooking ingredient. You’d just imagine they’d do it anyway, recognising the importance. Big shout out to my shopping helper! However, I now have all the other ingredients needed to produce haute cuisine (or hot food as we say in English)

Symptoms today: still coughing and not much more to report. Maybe I don’t even have this virus, and am over-reacting, but the whole point of social distancing and isolation is to remove this qualitative judgement. I was sad to hear that a former colleague is much worse than me – in hospital on oxygen and with no one allowed to visit him. This shit is real kids.

There are some fascinating articles being produced, many of which are strongly disagreeing with the Government’s current position of “lockdown”. There seems to be a 100% correlation between these and their organ’s views of Brexit, climate change and the role of the state. This is not to say that they are completely wrong, but I’d rather get facts from named scientists rather than pundits or journalists. Over the next weeks we are going to see more and more articles that argue with the data, the data models used, and the policies pursued by government. What is important to remember is that science provides us with the background information. As more becomes known about mortality, rates of infection, then the predictions that data scientists can make become better (better starting data = better forecasts). The danger is that pundits will look at early predictions, and dismiss all of science, whereas science is really about updating hypotheses based on best data and agreed ideas. Governments then set policies based on their interpretation of best available science.

Also from the sewers of Twitter– complaints that government is hiding or massaging the numbers who have died. All because Public Health England have changed the start and end point of the 24 hour period over which they count, and the time at which they report. Common sense will then explain why the data on Wednesday seemed low and that on Thursday seemed high. I expect this to settle down to its previous exponential curve. It’ll be interesting to see if the data today correlate with the predictions that I and others have modelled. Obviously I’m not sharing that model – I’m not an epidemiologist, I just do numbers for fun.

What will really be interesting, as more data becomes available, we get more experience, and we know more about immunity, is how governments decide what their exit strategy is going to be, as there is a balance between protecting citizens, maintaining civil society and having a functioning economy.

On the plus side, it’s been a productive day, teaching circulation and heart dissection to one student, then helping another to prepare for a test on evidence of evolution. My dad was a vicar, and in sermons looking down form the pulpit he would say “From where I’m standing it seems clear we are descended from monkeys.”

Today’s heroes and zeroes:


Disney + 7 day free trial, meaning unlimited Marvel movies

Dr Who giving us advice in this video

National Theatre broadcasting shows on Thursday evenings, starting with One Man, Two Guvnors.


Pretty much any company not allowing staff to stay away – call centres I’m thinking of you!


Virus Isolation Day 2

Well this virus is a right bugger, as they don’t say down south.

Coughing still, bit of a temperature overnight, very tight chest, massive lethargy and general grotty feeling.

Wednesday meant I had to do a bit of work, delivering a 2-hour revision class to one of my tutees. Tricky when talking is what makes me cough more, but the joy (!) of the gig economy is that if I don’t do it, I don’t get paid. Luckily, I can do this without needing to leave the house.

Other than that, feeling pretty crap. The local Facebook group is full of people writing about people treating shopping trips as a social occasion, taking their entire families, stopping to have a chat. This is how you get sick, people. Being cynical, by the time I recover, lots more of them will be ill and so I will have the shop to myself.

The afternoon’s entertainment was brought via Disney+ (I’m getting maximum value from the 7 day free trial), followed by the signal for the country to start drinking, aka the daily press conference.

And because I like playing with data and numbers, I’ve been taking the cases and deaths data for the virus, looking to see what the exponential coefficient is, and predicting how many deaths we will see. I’m not sharing that – it’s fucking terrifying. – as my maths may be wrong, even though it is producing similar results to outcomes in other countries.

If you haven’t got the message yet – don’t go out!

On to today’s heroes and zeroes.

Kudos to James Timpson. I’ve always been a fan of this company once I’d read of their support for ex-offenders.

Onto the zeroes. Obviously, Tim Martin of Wetherspoons had this coming.

I see he has decided to pay his workers now, maybe he realised that a lot of people wouldn’t be going to ‘Spoons again after this is over.

And finally I give you my MP. I’ve never been a fan, he is just a shill for American business interests, and an utter (sorry, WordPress won’t let me write that word).


Virus – self isolation day 1

Om Monday evening I took a walk through the park then around the edge of town, keeping myself away from people as advised. Looking into supermarkets as I passed I decided there were already too many people inside and decided not to drop in and pick up a bottle of wine.

On getting home, I put supper in the oven, then did quick session on the bike on a  turbo trainer. By the end of exercising I was very aware of a tight chest. By the end of supper, I was coughing repeatedly and deciding that this was the time to decide I might have this virus.

Of course, there is no way of telling if I have – throughout Tuesday I continued to cough, but my temperature appeared normal much of the time. The only other symptom appears to be lethargy, but that could just be laziness.

Coughing got much worse if I tried to speak. This became an advantage when you have insurance scammers calling you – a quick bout of coughing and they get off the line really quickly.

I’m going to be at home for the next 7 days: an advantage of living alone is that this doesn’t mean anyone else will need to be isolated for 14 days.

At the end of Tuesday, here’s the summary:

  • Symptoms: Still coughing, tired
  • Provisions – Enough food for 7 days, but very low stocks of alcohol
  • Reading – the latest Rebus novel by Ian Rankin
  • Crossword – completed just over half of the cryptic puzzle in today’s Guardian so far
  • Work – minimal, just some email and a look to check students have submitted assignments
  • Annoyance with people who ignored the need to keep social distance – high!

Last week, before stricter lock down measures were announced, I couldn’t believe how close people wanted to get in lines in the supermarket, or how they crowded together in entrances of shops for a chat.

Even more shocking, photos on Facebook of a pub in my town, celebrating “Great people” going out for a drink:

Hardly surprising when this man wanted to keep his pubs open and suggested that there is nothing wrong with socialising in a bar

And even the vice chancellor of a (not to be named) university tweeting about going to the pub (Happy Friday!) only an hour after the government had announced that pubs and bars should close (This was later deleted, after some pretty inevitable criticism).

Luckily the Daily Mash was on hand to provide a suitable commentary on people who don’t get social distancing.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Oh, and stay away from people!