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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 5 September 2020
05 September 2020 @ 09:50

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

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  

Covid 19  

More good news.

Months ago, I reported the stress being placed on the viral load you were hit with, as distinct from fleeting contact with someone with the virus. Experience has confirmed the critical importance of this. Perhaps explaining why many more people haven't come down with it, despite its high R rate. The first article below addresses this issue.


1. As I was saying about thosr naughty kids . . .

2. The reaction of the Galician government:-

3. If you live in or travel to Madrid, you’d best familiarise yourself with the new rules.

Portugal: The traffic light country . . . Green, Red, Green, threatened Red, still Green. It would be funny if it weren't so serious.

Living La Vida Loca in Spain and Galicia 

The second article below is a nice one on why you might find yourself being stared at here. Totally accurate, in my experience.

Rio Tinto means Red River and there is one, of course. Dowmn inm Andalucia. Here's an article on its possible relevance to space travel.

Don't open those packages from China . . .

A sourish note . . . I was thinking, as I brewed my coffee yesterday morning, that things here just don't happen the way they should. In truth, you can 'smell' inefficiency here, just as you can 'smell' efficiency in The Netherlands and France (except for some lazy waiters/waitresses in the latter case). Right on cue, 2 hours later, the ITV operator called me to postpone an appointment for my annual car-check by a week and to say the payment I'd made on the internet hadn't gone through. So, could I ignore the new system of no face-to-face contact and go to the office to pay the fee before my new time slot.

María's Dystopian Times, Day 21   


Insanity unravelling?

Text  here.  

The backcloth, from a very left wing perspective. But is the prescription as valid as the description?     

The Way of the World

I heard the TV ad of a company this morning in which it claimed to have thousands of 5 star reviews. I noted they didn't say 'genuine reviews'. So, wasn't surprised to hear just now that Amazon had deleted 20,000 such reviews. Of course, one can also pay for 1 star reviews of a competitive business.


Another (less well-known?) refrán:-  

- A pound of care won't pay a pound of debt: Pesadumbres no pagan deeds. [Nice again]

Finally . . . 

White floor tiles are great. And so is sunshine. But the combination certainly shows up the dust . . .


1. Viral load: How much of the virus does it take to make us sick?  Growing evidence suggests the dose of the virus determines how ill we become. It may also help explain why deaths no longer track cases: By Paul Nuki

How many people outside of your family have you had a sustained face-to-face conversation with – at close quarters – over the last six months?

If you are anything like me, it’s not many. I’ve had several meals sitting opposite friends but all were outside or in well-ventilated restaurants. I can recall just two prolonged conversations with strangers in the street which started within handshaking distance but, in both instances, we took a step back within a few seconds. And the last time I was indoors shouting over music, hugging strangers and sharing drinks was in Alpine bar in early February, just a few weeks before the world closed down.

Only an Alp or two away in Ischgl, Austria, similar scenes resulted in one of Europe’s largest super spreading events; a tragedy that helped propel the virus across Europe and which killed at least 30 people, most of them healthy men like me between 50 and 70.

The change in our behaviour – replicated all around the world – has not only reduced our chances of our coming into contact with SARs-CoV-2 but has reduced the probability of being exposed to large amounts of it. Put another way, we are not just having fewer interactions but the intensity of those interactions has dramatically faded.

Scientists are now wondering if this phenomenon – one which likely reduces the “infectious dose” of the virus people are exposed to – may help explain why hospitalisations and deaths are not tracking confirmed cases as closely as they were in the Spring. 

If they are right, it has important implications not just for epidemiological modelling but how we assess our own risk and behaviours. Where to wear a mask, when to return to the office and even which bed you sleep in are all questions it could inform. 

“The initial dose of virus and the amount of virus an individual has at any one time might worsen the severity of Covid-19 disease,” speculated members of the Oxford Covid-19 Evidence Service Team in March. “The amount of virus exposure at the start of infection – the infectious dose – may increase the severity of the illness and is also linked to a higher viral load [in infected patients]”.

Hard evidence is now building to support this view from animal, human and modelling studies, new and old. 

First, a clear link has been established between the amount of virus patients have in their system – their viral load – and the severity of illness. Studies from China have shown viral load is higher in patients with more severe disease. And a large American Study published in The Lancet last month found that “viral load at diagnosis” was an “independent predictor of mortality” in hospital patients. The higher the load, the greater chance of dying.

But what about the infectious dose? Does the amount of virus you are initially exposed to make a difference to the chances of catching the bug and, more importantly, surviving?

Here the evidence is less clear cut but it is mounting. A study published in May by scientists at Public Health England’s National Infection Service at Porton Down, Salisbury, gave ferrets varying doses of Sars-Cov-2 and found a clear difference in outcomes. 

Animals given high and medium doses contracted the virus and suffered many of the same ailments as humans. But a low dose “appeared to result in infection of only one ferret”. It also escaped the worst effects of the disease, with no scarring of its lungs or fatigue reported.

In many ways, we should not be surprised if the infectious dose of SARs-Cov-2 we are exposed to increases the risk of severe disease. As the geneticist and epidemiologist, Francois Balloux points out: “There are loads of examples in the literature for symptom severity being dose-dependent for plenty of [other] bugs.”

The most obvious is the flu. A major 2010 study of influenza A concluded that there was a clear relationship between the infectious dose of that virus and patient outcomes. “Low dose exposure may lead to infection, due to the high infectivity of the virus, but of those infected only a small proportion may become ill,” said the authors. In contrast, “exposure to high doses of virus results in most of the infected subjects also becoming ill”. 

So how much of the Covid-19 pandemic might the infectious dose of the virus end up explaining, and what lessons might we reasonably take from the research as it stands?

The answer to the first part of the question could be huge. For instance, one retrospective study of the 1918 Spanish Flu finds the much higher fatalities seen in its second and third waves can be explained entirely by people being exposed to a larger infectious dose rather than a mutation in the virus, as has previously been assumed.

As for practical measures, they should probably be steered by the principle of keeping interactions fleeting rather than intense. This may translate, as the government wants, into people having greater confidence in returning to the office and other well-ventilated environments, assuming they are well spaced.

In the home, in contrast, you should probably distance more, especially if someone has the virus. Don’t share a bed with an infectious partner or child and, as suggested by the BMJ in May, “isolate an infected household member as far as possible”. 

Masks and handwashing are the obvious go-to in more crowded environments. As the flu study mentioned above prophetically predicted when it was published in 2010: “When exposure to airborne virus is reduced, for instance by population-wide use of face masks, the relative decrease in numbers of illnesses is expected to be greater than the relative decrease in [viral] transmission”.

Last, steer clear of packed bars, Alpine or otherwise. The infectious dose of the virus will, unfortunately, be just as high there as it has ever been.

2. 10 reasons why a Spanish person might be staring at you   [Note that the young(I guess) writer eschews fullstops/periods, at least some of the time]

Planning a trip to Spain involves a lot of sightseeing—mostly of Spanish people staring at you.  The Spanish stare is deliberate and undisguised, and while it might be off-putting for foreigners used to turning their gaze as soon as they’re caught, it’s just another quirk of the curious people of this country. Spend enough time in Spain and you will probably catch yourself staring at people too.

1. You’re wearing a summer dress before it’s at least 30C (86F) outside.

2. If you’re eating on the go. Meal times are sacred in this country—a time to sit down with friends, talk about everything except work, and savour food and a copa or two of wine. If you’re running to work with a sandwich or eating lunch at your desk be prepared to receive some confused looks.

3. It’s 21C (70F) and sunny and you aren’t wearing a scarf. Scarves in the winter. Scarves in the fall. Scarves in the spring and scarves in the summer. Hit the streets without one and the elderly women who are walking their little dogs will be very concerned for your well-being.

4. It’s 4:29 on a Wednesday and you are walking down Gran Via and haven’t you figured out Spanish people just like to stare?

5. There’s a 3%  chance of precipitation and you didn’t bring an umbrella or a heavy rain coat. Lack of preparedness will result in having to pay for a €12 umbrella at Sol that will last you 20 minutes at most.

6. You are out having dinner before 8:30 PM (and even then, you’re early)  Spanish meal times defy all logic, but if you try to show up early for dinner you will find that most restaurants closed or empty. Don't even try to make a reservation on weekends before 9pm, that's just weird. Once you get used to this schedule eating dinner at 6pm is unthinkable.

7. If your “night out” starts before midnight  Spanish nightlife is not for the fainthearted. With dinner starting anywhere between 9pm and 11pm, you won’t find anyone out before midnight or 1am. Best part about the late start times? In just a few hours the metro will be open and you can pocket the cab money for early morning, post-party churros. 

8. You make plans and you arrive on time  Again, Spain runs on its own clock (literally, Spain has been in the wrong time zone for seven decades).  Always plan to show up at least 10-20 minutes after the time you agreed on. 

9. If you head out to a sobremesa with your friends and don’t agree split the bill evenly  This is one of the more logical ones. The social life here revolves around food whether it’s meeting up for tapas before dinner or for a long sobremesa on the weekends. It’s the norm to split the bill evenly making the waiter’s, and your own lives, easy. That, or take turns picking up the tab. Much simpler than trying to figure out who owes those extra €3.

10. If you’re yelling loudly, in English, for no reason  


* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.  

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