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Archive for July, 2021

Mass infection is not an option: we must do more to protect our young

Original here

As the third wave of the pandemic takes hold across England, the UK Government plans to further re-open the nation. Implicit in this decision is the acceptance that infections will surge, but that this does not matter because vaccines have “broken the link between infection and mortality”1.

On July 19, 2021—branded as Freedom Day—almost all restrictions are set to end. We believe this decision is dangerous and premature.
An end to the pandemic through population immunity requires enough of the population to be immune to prevent exponential growth of SARS-CoV-2. Population immunity is unlikely to be achieved without much higher levels of vaccination than can be reasonably expected by July 19, 2021. Proportionate mitigations will be needed to avoid hundreds of thousands of new infections, until many more are vaccinated. Nevertheless, the UK Government’s intention to ease restrictions from July 19, 2021, means that immunity will be achieved by vaccination for some people but by natural infection for others (predominantly the young). The UK Health Secretary has stated that daily cases could reach 100,000 per day over the summer months of 2021.2

The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness. We have previously pointed to the dangers of relying on immunity by natural infection,3 and we have five main concerns with the UK Government’s plan to lift all restrictions at this stage of the pandemic.

First, unmitigated transmission will disproportionately affect unvaccinated children and young people who have already suffered greatly. Official UK Government data show that as of July 4, 2021, 51% of the total UK population have been fully vaccinated and 68% have been partially vaccinated. Even assuming that approximately 20% of unvaccinated people are protected by previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, this still leaves more than 17 million people with no protection against COVID-19. Given this, and the high transmissibility of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, exponential growth will probably continue until millions more people are infected, leaving hundreds of thousands of people with long-term illness and disability.4

This strategy risks creating a generation left with chronic health problems and disability, the personal and economic impacts of which might be felt for decades to come.

Second, high rates of transmission in schools and in children will lead to significant educational disruption, a problem not addressed by abandoning isolation of exposed children (which is done on the basis of imperfect daily rapid tests).5 The root cause of educational disruption is transmission, not isolation. Strict mitigations in schools alongside measures to keep community transmission low and eventual vaccination of children will ensure children can remain in schools safely.6,7,8 This is all the more important for clinically and socially vulnerable children. Allowing transmission to continue over the summer will create a reservoir of infection, which will probably accelerate spread when schools and universities re-open in autumn.

Third, preliminary modelling data9 suggest the government’s strategy provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants. This would place all at risk, including those already vaccinated, within the UK and globally. While vaccines can be updated, this requires time and resources, leaving many exposed in the interim. Spread of potentially more transmissible escape variants would disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged in our country and other countries with poor access to vaccines.

Fourth, this strategy will have a significant impact on health services and exhausted health-care staff who have not yet recovered from previous infection waves. The link between cases and hospital admissions has not been broken, and rising case numbers will inevitably lead to increased hospital admissions, applying further pressure at a time when millions of people are waiting for medical procedures and routine care.
Fifth, as deprived communities are more exposed to and more at risk from COVID-19, these policies will continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalised, deepening inequalities.

In light of these grave risks, and given that vaccination offers the prospect of quickly reaching the same goal of population immunity without incurring them, we consider any strategy that tolerates high levels of infection to be both unethical and illogical. The UK Government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.

Instead, the government should delay complete re-opening until everyone, including adolescents, have been offered vaccination and uptake is high, and until mitigation measures, especially adequate ventilation (through investment in CO2 monitors and air filtration devices) and spacing (eg, by reducing class sizes), are in place in schools. Until then, public health measures must include those called for by WHO (universal mask wearing in indoor spaces, even for those vaccinated), the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ventilation and air filtration), and Independent SAGE (effective border quarantine; test, trace isolate, and support). This will ensure that everyone is protected and make it much less likely that we will need further restrictions or lockdowns in the autumn.

REFERENCES
1. Morton B. Covid: Boris Johnson upbeat about easing lockdown in England on 19 July. BBC News, July 4, 2021.

2. Wright K. Covid: Self-isolation to be scrapped for double-jabbed and children in England. BBC News, July 6, 2021

3. Alwan NA, Burgess RA, Ashworth S, et al. Scientific consensus on the COVID-19 pandemic: we need to act now. Lancet 2020; 396(10260): e71-e2.

4. ONS. Prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the UK: 1 July 2021, 2021.

5. Gurdasani D. ZH, Greenhalgh T, Roberts A, Yates K, Haque Z, Michie S, McKee M, Pagel C, Hyde Z, Bassani DG, West R, Reicher S, Deeks J. Daily contact testing trials in schools are unethical and extending them to include the delta variant puts everyone at risk. BMJ Opinion 2021.

6. Gurdasani D, Alwan NA, Greenhalgh T, et al. School reopening without robust COVID-19 mitigation risks accelerating the pandemic. Lancet 2021; 397(10280): 1177-8.

7. Lessler J, Grabowski MK, Grantz KH, et al. Household COVID-19 risk and in-person schooling. Science 2021.

8. The ABC Science Collaborative Final Report for NC School Districts and Charters in Plan A, 2021.

9. Gog JR HE, Danon L, Thompson R. Vaccine escape in a heterogeneous population: insights for SARS-CoV-2 from a simple model. MedRxiv 2021.

What Bad BT Engineering Looks Like

Previously in this mini-series: Part I, Part II

A few months ago BT broke my home network, using an automatic update that took over a month to correct/undo. I reported the issue to BT (over the telephone, so that took quite a while!), but they did nothing about it. They didn’t even get back to me. No follow-up. It was at that point that I considered just moving to a custom Free software router instead of these unpredictable BT hubs, which change all the time without users’ consent (remote updates). I wrote about this at the time; it was a breaking point.

Today I looked a little closer at the internals of the BT Hub, a “smart” (read: spy) one nonetheless, and decided to share something that might amuse geeks.

BT told me that they do not support OpenWRT in any way. Yet worse, one BT person told me I’d need to change to a new hub (for fibre-optics, the new modem notwithstanding), whereas another person from BT said the exact opposite. The person from Openreach, who had an appointment (in-person meeting) said it would not be necessary but regardless, I’ve decided to just keep the hub settings backup up (in case a restore is needed). It can otherwise take hours to reconfigure again (from memory/scratch).

So I’ve just made a full backup of BT Hub settings. This is what the corresponding section looks like:

conf-page

When you press backup it should generate a .conf file but it is all garbled and messy when I tried it. Maybe to protect passwords? But who from? The person who made such a backup and knows those details regardless? Anyway, I’ve blurred some contents just in case something meaningful can be derived from them (the image below). Amazing:

conf-bt

Either way, this looks like awful engineering/design. The file is an unreadable mess. 4KB with something like pure binary (I did this twice just in case, but the same file was regenerated, not by mistake). No XML, no flat file with a setting per line.

Whose idea was this?

The United Kingdom Lacks Responsible Leadership

We’ve found our own ‘Bolsonaro’, Borisnaro Johnson

tories-covid

BEFORE even starting, an important disclaimer: I am a vaccine proponent, but I also acknowledge the limitations. Moreover, vaccines aren’t an excuse for spreading a lethal specimen to millions of people; survivors can suffer long-term harms. Eradication should be the real goal, or at least containment of the threat/hazard.

Another clarification: This post won’t be dealing with “the economy” and politics associated with organisation of wealth, labour etc. Not because those things are irrelevant but because I wish to focus on other aspects. Not the profiteering associated with abundant testing, patent/monopoly aspects etc.

I previously spoke about first-hand experiences of friends of mine who took the AstraZeneca jabs (or just one; some were harmed so badly by the first that they chose not to get the second). All of them, bar one (female, about 34 years old), say they regret taking the jab because of severe or permanent damage caused. I’m not kidding and I don’t mean to scare people; those are the stories of people I’ve known for a very long time and they’re not lying. My friend who’s a professor in a medical field told me yesterday that his swollen knee (he has struggled to walk for a while) was definitely the result of the jab and professionals/specialists he met told him the same; they saw a surge in such cases after the vaccination. It inflames the already-sensitive tissue. I can say with sincerity that every friend of mine who took it got side effects, in one case not severe enough to cause regret. Nevertheless, there are still risks associated with AstraZeneca’s products and efficacy will vary based upon mutations/variations, genetics, among other factors. Masking and social distancing are good for those who can afford it, depending on their jobs and lifestyles. Those can change and adapt sometimes. We need to at least consider the possibility. My wife and I stopped going to the gym. We exercise outdoors and at home instead. Depending on the weather/season…

Vaccine scepticism and hesitancy, no matter the context, are nowadays all being caricatured/stigmatised as “anti-vaxx”, a rejection of science, “conspiracy theory” and so on. That’s putting aside ethical issues associated with patents of AstraZeneca. Again, not the subject of this post (it merits a separate discussion). There are also business aspects that deserve rejection; a patent waiver is well overdue.

There’s no doubt that taking a vaccine — almost irrespective of whose — will improve one’s chances of surviving COVID-19. My friend told me that had the government taken DNA samples from millions of people before the pandemic and then analysed those statistically, they’d know a lot better whose genetics would likely be more vulnerable to this virus and should be vaccinated as a matter of utmost urgency.

With new numbers in, of of 4PM yesterday, another ~55,000 new COVID-19 cases were added to the tally. In one day! Deaths are up 50% in one week, obviously with a ‘delayed effect’ or correspondence between cases and deaths (people take a few weeks to die once they contract the thing; they fight back for a while). The media and Borisnaro Johnson don’t want to tell us that, but we’re doing vastly worse than last summer. What do the medical professionals say? Here’s a new article: “1,200+ Scientists Denounce Boris Johnson’s Plan to End UK Covid Restrictions”

I was a bit angry, not optimistic, to see what I saw yesterday. There’s a heatwave, so more people go outdoors and reject face covers. People here have quit distancing and few are wearing masks (you have to dodge people as they don’t respect distance). It probably won’t be long before we have a quarter million new COVID-19 cases per day and our blowhard ‘Bolsonaro’ (Borisnaro Johnson) just says nonchalantly (surrounded by flames): “THIS IS FINE!”

They don’t find this alarming and they plan to open everything, putting at risk those who choose the freedom not to get infected.

What’s generally happening is, some people listen to our totally reckless government instead of using common sense.

It’s past 3AM here and the people across the street from us have loud parties. No isolation and no masks. This is the lessons taught by Borisnaro Johnson, our reckless superspreader, who basically wants people to think that even a million cases a day would not be a cause for concern. This sort of insane approach was tried elsewhere already… and we know what happened as a result. I hold our government fully accountable for all the superspreaders I saw yesterday in town, including the ones across the road having a party right now. There are many more parties to come next week. Will the rest of us be their ‘collateral damage’?

Two years ago we acted similarly and we know what happened months later. Then came ‘Brexit’ for no net benefit other than a shallow sense of nationalism. And now? Now we’re supposed to think that winning against a bunch of football teams is more important than defeating a virus that paralyses our economy. Forcibly reopening everything like there’s no tomorrow is economic suicide for temporary and short-term gains.

My advice to people is, do get vaccinated if your job requires meeting many people; otherwise, isolate as much as is feasible. Generally speaking, we’re nowhere near defeating this pandemic. We’re only pretending here in the UK; wait a few more weeks to see hundreds of deaths per day; wait until winter and we’ll be back to over a thousand casualties a day. “THIS IS FINE!”

As a side note, even if corporate media uses numbers like “90%” for vaccination rates remember that only 35,732,297 people (out of almost 70 million in total) got two shots; some never intend to get a second one.

The Optical Fibre Experience — Part II

Previously in this mini-series: The Optical Fibre Experience — Part I

BT sent me an E-mail this morning (not specifying much in it, it was just a template with a reference number), asking me to phone them when I am ready to do so. It’s toll-free (0800). So within less than an hour I phoned and had to answer a bunch of security questions. Fair enough, security first. To BT’s credit, they didn’t put me in a queue or anything; after diversions through a voice menu I was directed or passed directly to an advisor, who was nice and spoke with clarity. She had sufficient knowledge of the nature of the work, not merely a person following a manual or templates.

We discussed what happened days ago (see Part I, link above) and she was understanding. She offered an apology and more. I clarified that I was misled about the complexity of the task (fibre, in my case, is not quite available in my area, except very very recently). I told her that we didn’t have to get another router, but she insisted that for fibre it’s another kind of router, so we would need to swap over. I wasn’t told this on the phone by their sales people who were just eager to sell this product. So we will have to change routers and reconfigure everything again (I checked if it’s possible to import/export settings, or detach an external card with settings on it; I was too optimistic) . I checked whether I can still have a public-facing IPv4 address; Openreach said it would be possible, but BT did not know. Strange…

BT really needs to know such finer details.

Anyway, they ended up agreeing to reimburse about 45 pounds for the trouble and disappointment (a compensation for the loss of time mostly), albeit only after 55 minutes on the phone.

I said I would need a bag sent for the old router to be returned; why didn’t they send one in the first place? Openreach said they would not accept such returns on behalf of BT. This seems like a case of miscommunication, which causes unnecessary confusion.

The call to BT involved an Openreach escalation; they really seem eager to just resolve and close our case, so probably some time this Tuesday the job can be completed.

I’m glad to say that the way BT handled this situation this time around was reasonably good. They apologised and also reimbursed. Hopefully Part III will be about the connection itself, not getting it set up.

I could say lots more, but maybe that can be spared until future parts. My experience is documented here because we need some vocal critics; that may help the voiceless, whose agony is easier to suppress. Getting fibre installed isn’t the picnic they tell you about; they just want you to agree to some contract and assure you — probably falsely — that copper would be phased out within 3-4 years. It is a marketing strategy of inevitability; the same tactics are used by pushers of so-called ‘smart’ meters.

The Optical Fibre Experience — Part I

BACK in January I wrote many articles in this “Web log” (or blog) about network capacity issues. Half a year later BT contacted me out of the blue, offering fibre. I was baffled. Only months earlier they had told me explicitly that it wasn’t available where I was, so clearly something has changed since then. And, as it turns out, I’m the first person in my area to be offered this. It was confirmed to me on the day (based on physical evidence; in fact, the cords did not exist yet). Is it possible that my experiences motivated BT (or Openreach) to extend this service to this area? Without me applying or formally expressing interest? Was it a combination of factors? That does not matter much. But they seemed desperate enough to move me to fibre — to the point of offering considerable discounts — following escalation to management — after 40 minutes on the phone (they initially failed to convince me to become an early adopter and were evasive when I asked some questions about it; I told them I preferred something predictable and familiar).

In any event, yesterday I had an appointment with Openreach. A nice person a lot younger than me showed up and started working on setting up fibre for our home (he showed up on time but failed to reach by phone beforehand, maybe due to incorrectly-supplied landline number). I underestimate the complexity of the task, seeing everything had to be set up almost from scratch, drilling deep holes through our wall (about 40 cm thick), installing boxes with panels both indoors and outdoors, then having to extend a new wire through the entire row of houses. The investment in this is likely high (costly), so I appreciated it. Days earlier they also shipped a new router — one that we neither needed nor asked for. No worries, we can return spares and maybe keep one. It’s hard to recycle or re-purpose such proprietary equipment.

We unfortunately could not complete the migration to optical fibre on the day; BT did not tell me they’d need to ask for permission from all the neighbours (consent strictly needed to install new wires). We managed to get permission from all except one (not at home at that time). Basically, they need to climb a ladder for this (in people’s garden) and also drill a small hole for the ladder, as a matter of safety regulations. So it’s not a small job and although the holes would be filled later they would still leave a mark.

To BT’s credit, they did offer all this for a reasonable price. But they made it sound a lot simpler than it actually would be. Hopefully we’ll be done soon; they can all get it finished next week. I scheduled downtime for yesterday’s work, but there was no downtime as there was no switchover. Cable/copper would remain as ‘failsafe’ regardless.

I’m not upset, but I was given some false expectations (they said it would take one hour or less, but after 2 hours it’s not even done yet). We could not complete the last step. I’ll need to ask for bags to help recycle old routers (we have many), I’ll try asking for a static IP (at no extra charge), and in Part II I’ll hopefully be able to tell my experiences with this new service (in our area). I am particularly interested in improved upload speeds.

Greetings From Manchester

Nice to meet you, I'm not meat
He’s no meat, he has feelings

A year ago Rianne became fully vegetarian (we had both been gradually stepping in that direction for about 3 years already) and last month we got to meet some adorable highland cows and sheep at the outskirts of Manchester.

Highland cows and sheep
Rianne feeding the sheep

Highland cows and sheep
That calf is truly adorable and he was bullied by the sheep

On Wednesday we went for a long walk in nature (about a mile from home) and passed by the construction site (less than half a mile from us) where there would soon be a new facility for sports and entertainment, right alongside the famous Manchester City Stadium. Mock-ups below.

Massive new music and sports arena next to the Etihad Stadium
Looking from our home’s direction

Massive new music and sports arena next to the Etihad Stadium
Looking towards our home

Tories (or Our Government) in Denial About Coronavirus

Gate of bricks

A DAY BEFORE the Euro 2020 final against Italy I wrote about the wrong message the match’s high attendance rate was sending, seeing that citizens were denied access to essential services while Tories packed up (almost) an entire large stadium. The contradiction was just astounding and it’ll vertebrate for years to come. It was a policy choice. A misguided one. Compared to stadium capacity/attendance in Italy (Ukraine match) with distancing and masks.

At this point we must therefore assume that our government is reckless, incompetent, nihilist, and maybe even intentionally malicious. You cannot trust anything it says about COVID-19; and what I mean by that isn’t that it hypes it all up but the exact opposite. It’s downplaying an ongoing problem. A few hours ago, or at around 5PM, today’s (or Sunday’s) figures were released, less than a day after we had lost the Euro 2020 final (now we lose the battle to contain this virus).

Almost 35k new cases were confirmed across the UK (very high, especially for a Sunday!) and deaths/hospitalisations rose about 60% in one week. This past week alone! But our government is acting all ‘cool’ about it. As if given mass vaccination we’ll all be fine (this is still partly experimental; with no strong evidence to back most of it, not at this scale).

We seem to be governed by monarchs. Kim Yong Un would rather say nothing about North Korea’s COVID-19 situation/handling (one form of denial), whereas our foolish Pry Minister (Henry VIII) pretends to be a COVID-19 expert because his foolishness caused him to contract it. Now he’s willing to see lots of otherwise-preventable deaths and the spread of this plague doesn’t bother him when ignorance helps distract the ‘peasantry’ with football.

As I said last month, ignore our government’s advice. Stay home (we had done this a month earlier), avoid outside interactions if possible, wear masks when shopping for food, and assume this thing will last for at least another year. That’s not what everybody wants to hear, but realistic expectations don’t hurt.

It’s kind of sad when one’s government becomes the science denier and the general population needs to educate a business-centric (greedy) regime that doesn’t think ahead.

Henry VIII and Kim Yong Un

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