Covid-19: Carelessness Costs Lives

“You are stupide!! Nous sommes en guerre! Nous sommes en guerre!

President Macron, slightly paraphrased.

We will fight Covid-19 in the supermarkets…

Last time I went in a supermarket – last Wednesday, 18th March, so I’m probably in the early stages of scurvy by now (anyone want to trade their fresh vegetables for a pack of Pilgrim’s Choice Extra Mature cheddar cheese?) – I stupidly spent £31. And that amount of course meant I had to touch the keypad, since my spend exceeded the £30 contactless limit and my PIN was therefore required. Luckily, I had a bottle of surgical spirit and some cotton wool balls in my rucksack – aka my survival kit – and was subsequently able to sterilise my hands. After removing my disposable gloves, of course!

So it’s encouraging that someone has identified the problem and determined that the contactless limit will rise to £45 on 1st April. That is a whole week away, though, so you have to wonder what sort of IT systems the banks and supermarkets are running. Changing a parameter like that should take 5 minutes, and 4 minutes 55 seconds of that would be finding the right password.

Thing is, though, keypad contamination is only one of the many risks of going to the supermarket, which is why I haven’t been for nearly a week. Apart from the other people breathing and maybe even clearing their throats in the store, there are the touchsreens and the trolley and basket handles, which are highly likely to be spreading the virus. And somewhat lower risk is food packaging. And is any prepared food guaranteed safe? In case it isn’t, I’m abstaining from my usual healthy M&S salads, for now.

But all that’s just off the top of my head. What’s needed, perhaps, is a Safe Shopping Taskforce, making recommendations to government at a level with the power to mandate them.

And on public transport…

It’s time to break up the text with a picture – I presume I’m allowed to use this one, since I pay my BBC licence fee and this blog is also free-to-air and not just not-for-profit, but also generates no income:

Crowded train at Leytonstone
Central Line, Monday 23rd March (credited to George Mann by the BBC)

The crowded London tube is causing a lot of angst here in the Smoke. Quite right, too. I raised this as a concern on Feb 4th:

“…the steps taken so far seem ad hoc, and inadequate. In particular, we seem to be ignoring the inconvenient fact that modern airplanes are flying disease incubators and public transport is not much better.”

Email to MP, published in full in a previous post on this blog (excuse the Americanism – at the time I thought “aeroplane” had vanished from usage, but that’s not in fact the case – there was some post hoc debate of this point chez Joslin).

What annoys me in particular is that, fairly obviously, we should not be cutting back public transport services unnecessarily.

Here’s what I wrote to the PM on 28th February:

“Public transport service provision should be maximised, to reduce crowding, but used only for necessary journeys, with all staff and passengers wearing face-masks.” [stress not in original]

Letter to Boris Johnson, sent as hardcopy (how quaint) and published in full in a previous post on this blog.

The reason I mention this letter is not because I expect the Prime Minister to have read it (though I hoped perhaps an assistant to an assistant to an adviser might have done so), but to highlight the point that I, a mere private individual, with zero resources, was able to work this out. So why couldn’t Downing Street’s army (or at least platoon) of civil servant graduates from elite universities do the same?

How many lives will that mistake cost?

We will fight it on the beaches and in the parks…

And did anyone notice the slip up at the government’s daily press conference last Saturday (21st)? I didn’t, but my other half was more attentive and pointed it out.

About 3:33 into the Facebook video of the conference, a journo asks a question about supermarkets limiting the amount customers can buy (it was panic-buy weekend here in the UK, apparently, which is one reason I haven’t shopped for nearly a week) and, as “a supplementary question”:

“Many people will be out and about today for a walk with their families and will see parks absolutely packed with other people. Is that safe. and should people be taking further measures to distance from others in public spaces?”

Good question, no? (I’m giving in to this usage of “no”, now that even Tom Hanks is doing it!), Especially as park crowding rapidly replaced panic-buying at the top of the coronavirus issues UK chart.

So what was the answer?

There wasn’t one!

The meeting Chair, George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said he’d let Stephen Powis, NHS England National Medical Director (thanks to the Braintree and Witham Times for helping me identify the guy) to answer the supplementary question.

And then he forgot!

Why didn’t Powis point this out? Or the journalist who asked? Or any of the other dozen or so reporters in the room? Tycho Brahe Bladder syndrome, I suppose.

How many lives would have been saved if Powis had actually answered the question? It might have been picked up by the media on Saturday night/Sunday morning (to coin a phrase) and fewer people might have crowded into parks on that aptly named (it was a pleasant sunny day, in case I’m being too obscure) Mothering Sunday.

In this war, carelessness costs lives.