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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: 15 February 2021
15 February 2021 @ 12:06

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

Below is another fine overview - albeit with a  UK bias - from MD of Private Eye. The highlighting is mine.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain 

Ignoring what happened to the big boys who are pro or anti independence*, the most interesting news from the Catalan regional elections of the weekend is that the far-right wing Vox party now has 11 seats (from none), while the the centre-right party fell from 36 to 6 and the the not-so-far-right PP party fell from 4 to 3 seats. Ciudadanos ,which started out claiming to be centrist but moved to the right, really does seem to be on its way out as a political force for the good. I'll post a wider and deeper analysis when I come across one.

* Basically: The pro-independence bloc grows to a majority, despite a narrow Socialist win.

I knew the French had helped the Americans with their War of Independence but hadn't been aware - or had forgotten - that the Spanish did too. Especially one Bernardo de Gálvez, the Governor of the Spanish province of Louisiana, who organised free black men into 2 militia companies to successfully defend New Orleans. He then defeated the British in the  1779 battle of Baton Rouge. In which he re-took that city from the British, who'd seized it from either the French or the Spanish. It's all a tad confusing but you can read about him here.

I might have posted this video on 11 Things You Should Never Do in Spain from this nice couple a year ago but it bears a re-show.

The UK

Scotland: In what must be a unique political phenomenon, not a single word of criticism about Nicola Sturgeon's  Covid restrictions has ever been heard from her 60 MSPs at Holyrood or the 46 MPs at Westminster. Does that mean that they all agree with her or, rather, that the SNP is the most docile, even supine, bunch of politicians ever? More likely obsessed with independence. A one-party, single-issue 'state'. With a poor record in health and education which is being ignored. Like ¨Cataluña??

The phenomenal success of the TV show The Masked Singer has no doubt been a symptom of enforced confinement. The image of a bored nation slumped recumbent, accepting any imbecilic nonsense, is hard to disregard. BUT . . Perhaps it won’t have done much for the nation’s IQ, but watched with younger ones this series will have made for a happy living room. You could hardly ask for more during our winter of discontent. A shame I missed it? Not really; no family to sit with . . . Inter alia.

Germany

The most influential dictionary in Germany has irritated traditionalists and some linguists by issuing guidance to make the language more gender-neutral. Critics say that the edict results in cumbersome and artificial phrases that are far removed from the way most people speak. . . In recent years councils and politicians have often tied themselves in knots as they try to adapt to the linguistic demands of a more liberal age, using exotic hybrids that combine the masculine and feminine forms with asterisks, forward slashes or underscores.

Thank god we stopped using the Old Norse/German of the Anglo Saxon invaders/settlers. Thanks, it's said, to the later Danish invaders

The USA

Senior Republicans drew battle lines against Donald Trump at the weekend, as he sought to use the acquittal in his impeachment trial to reassert control over the party.

Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, stating the obvious: We’re going to have a real battle for the soul of the party over the next couple of years. 

Republicans need Trumpism without Trump. But will they get it?

Spanish

Twice yesterday Spanish friends used 'alive'(con vida/vivo) instead of 'live'(en directo). An easy mistake, of course. I'm sure there are equivalent traps for English speakers in Spanish.

English

I'm used to seeing the (American) criticism of 'you/he/they suck' but had never seen 'They blow' until last night. Is this really in use or just a bit of praise from a foreigner being linguistically logical? As with a Spanish friend who wrote, coincidentally, yesterday of 'my youthhood'. Which, in fact, I think would be a nice addition to the language.

Finally . . .

After hearing a loud bang, my sister went down to her newly-cleaned kitchen to find their plumber had dismantled the garbage disposal machine and it was in bits all over the place:-

What are you doing?

There's nothing wrong with your garbage disposal, Terry.

I could have told you that but why are you here?

Your husband's name is Harry, isn't it?

No, it's Franklyn.

Fuck me, I'm in the wrong house.

The could only happen to my unfortunate sister, who's never had a friend in Lady Luck.  . . 

COVID REVIEW: ‘MD’, Private Eye

Not up to the task 

A year since our first known infection, and I 05,571 deaths later, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the UK was simply not up to the task of controlling Covid without vaccines. We need a swift public inquiry so lessons can be learned before the next pandemic arrives. A key one is flexibility. We were expecting influenza and we got coronavirus. Prepare for another coronavirus, and we'll likely get influenza. 

When you've seen one pandemic . . .

Preparing for the type of virus only gets you so far. Each one is unique. When you've seen one pandemic ... you've seen one pandemic. 

MD made the early error of assuming the Sars-CoV-2 virus would be similar to its 2003 cousin (Sars-Co Y-1), causing a very unpleasant disease in a limited number of people that was relatively easy to spot and contain. It does indeed do that, but in addition it evolved to spread silently - asymptomatically, pre-symptomatically and with minimal symptoms - so it was everywhere on our hyper-connected planet before we realised it. And although an individual's risk may be reassuringly low, the law of large numbers means that a whole population exposed to a small risk will result in a large number of deaths (more than 2.2m globally). 

Vaccines v variants 

More vaccines are coming on board; but exotic viral variants are on the rise - from Brazil, South Africa and Kent - which may, or may not, spread faster, be more virulent and evade some vaccines. 

We must do trials to see if our gamble to ignore the manufacturer's schedule and give as many high-risk individuals a single dose of vaccine provides better protection than giving half the number both doses 21 days apart. Everyone should get a second dose in 12 weeks, if supply can keep up, but we may need to change tack. No matter how many times we tweak our vaccines, the virus will do its best to outfox us. Such is the wonder of evolution . . .

The Red Queen 

The Red Queen hypothesis of evolution is simple: predator and prey co-evolve in an escalating cycle of complexity. If foxes run faster, rabbits are selected to run faster still, forcing foxes to run even faster. If a fox's eyesight improves, rabbits are selected to blend better with the environment, so foxes need even better eyesight. Antibiotic and vaccine resistance are good examples. As Lewis Carroll's Red Queen explains to Alice: "It takes all the running you can do, just to keep in the same place." 

Fortunately, the virus doesn't need to kill us to feed on us. It exists solely to reproduce and many people peacefully co-exist with it on board, as we do with many other viruses. Death of the food source is no use to the virus, though variants that cause more severe disease force people into homes and hospitals where there are more chances to spread. So we need to ventilate the buildings as much as the patients. Stuffy, ventilation-free indoor spaces can be a Covid trap. 

Thinking outside the school 

The longer we cut our education provision, the more we harm our children and our future. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that schools should be last to close, closures should be as brief as possible, and they should be first to open. 

Some children have spent just 60 days in school in the last year. Laptop provision for home schooling has improved, but too many children can't afford or can't access decent broadband and many parents are exhausted. Children have always been at the lowest risk from Covid and the highest risk from lockdown. Their welfare is supposed to be paramount but those under 18 are not even allowed to ask questions at the government's Covid briefings. 

Lateral flow tests may quickly pick-up pupils and staff with the highest viral loads, but falsely reassure those whose infections are missed. Higher risk teachers and school staff should be vaccinated. But the biggest problem may be schools themselves. Most are currently open but at 20-30 percent capacity. When they return to full capacity, classrooms will be overcrowded, and many are poorly ventilated or hermetically sealed. Alternative venues could be safer. 

Inverse Covid laws 

Life is full of risks if you're obese, old, disabled and/or poor, but even more so in a pandemic. The inverse Covid laws apply. Those most at risk from Covid are least able to escape it. Those who most need to isolate can least afford to do so. Those most likely to die are least likely to access help. If you plot a graph of poverty v Covid deaths in the UK, or indeed any deaths, it makes unedifying viewing. 

We can either blame people for being sitting ducks or help them put nutritious food on the table and reduce their risk of premature disease and death. Lockdown is a blunt tool with horrible side effects, and there's a limit to how much any country can harm its young to protect the rest. But if you don't control infections with border quarantine, social distancing and a functioning test, trace, isolate and support system, there is no other option. 

Preparing for the worst 

At the start of a pandemic, when you can't be sure what you're dealing with, the countries that did best adopted the precautionary principle. Those previously scarred by Sars picked up on social media warnings from Wuhan whistleblowers before they were deleted, assumed China was covering up again, took rapid pre-emptive action and largely protected their citizens and their economies from Covid. The rest of the world waited for the WHO, which was being led a merry dance by the Chinese government. 

Anticipating the science 

Following the science is all very well, but if you wait to assemble all the facts in an exponentially growing pandemic that started in a country that covers up, you're too late. In the UK, we could not stop the virus arriving but as soon as we knew, in early March, that it was spreading so rapidly we didn't have the testing capacity to keep track of it, we should have locked down. 

Instead, we lied about the reasons we had stopped testing, flirted dangerously with herd immunity, dithered, U-turned, locked down late and set a pattern of poor management that cost many lives. 

Global inquiry 

Could the pandemic have been prevented, or at least severely curtailed, at its origin? A global inquiry is under way, and most countries will wait until it reports to the World Health Assembly in May before launching their own, perhaps to pin as much pre-blame as possible on the Chinese government and the WHO. 

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPRR) was set up by the WHO to independently and impartially criticise anyone (including the WHO), but in diplomatic terms. It can't compel witnesses to appear but has interviewed more than I 00 frontline pandemic experts. 

The second report of the IPPR came out last month and declared: "The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose ... Critical elements of the system are slow, cumbersome and indecisive. The procedures and protocols ... leading up to the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern seem to come from an earlier analog era and need to be brought into the digital age ... This technical updating must be accompanied by a political step-change in the willingness of countries to hold themselves accountable for taking all necessary actions as soon as an alert is issued."

Ground zero, evidence zero? 

A WHO team is in Wuhan, 14 months after the outbreak, to gather evidence on the precise origin. Good luck with that. They spent the first fortnight locked in a room in a quarantine hotel where every shred of waste has to go into a bio bag. The WHO does not have the resources for an independent investigation and is entirely reliant on the evidence and witnesses the Chinese authorities choose to share with them. 

We many never find when and where Bat Zero met Pangolin Zero before meeting Human Zero. But we do know that cramming several species of petrified wild animal into a small crate, transporting them across continents as they shit, swap and spread virus everywhere, before being slaughtered in a crowded live market, taken home and eaten is high-risk. If we allow this to happen anywhere in the world, we all pay the price. But how do we stop it? 

Chinese lessons not learned 

China delayed owning up to Sars in 2003, and did so again this time. It delayed admitting to the outbreak, and when it did, it denied the strong likelihood of human-to-human transmission, disciplined frontline whistleblowers who said 

otherwise, and had to be bumped into releasing the viral genome by a brave scientist who was then disciplined. The delay broke international law and caused chaos at the WHO, which didn't want to upset its second biggest funder without more proof, but could sense another Sars unfolding. 

The WHO kept the risk at "moderate" - fooling MD and many others - and delayed announcing a public health emergency until 30 January 2020, even though Wuhan had locked down on 23 January (8 weeks after the first known infection). The best chance of preventing the pandemic was already lost. 

China did control its own Covid, and was commended by the WHO. Releasing the virus's genetic sequence allowed PCR and vaccines to be developed. But its initial cover-up did cost lives. When doctors and nurses in Wuhan were contracting the virus - proof of human-to-human transmission - they were initially forbidden from wearing masks to avoid promoting panic. So much for the precautionary principle. 

Speed matters 

IF you have, say, a heart attack or stroke, the sooner you act the better your chances of survival. The same is true in public health emergencies, and no one knew this more than Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies programme and an Ebola expert. 

The Press Association obtained recordings of WHO meetings in January 2020 of Dr Ryan incandescent that China was withholding information that could be the best chance to prevent global spread. The WHO issued stern warnings from 30 January, with clear instructions on how to manage the outbreak, but many countries - including the UK and US- didn't act. On 11 March, the WHO belatedly used the call-to-arms word "pandemic". Still many countries didn't act. 

On 13 March, Dr Ryan delivered the impassioned speech the world had needed in early January: "You need to be prepared and you need to react quickly. You need to go after the virus. You need to stop the chains of transmission. You need to engage with communities very deeply. Community acceptance is hugely important. You need to understand the impact on schools, security and economics. You need to be coordinated and coherent. Be fast, have no regrets - you must be the first mover. The virus will always get you if you don't move quickly. 

"If you need to be right before you move, you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management. Speed trumps perfection. The problem we have... , is that everyone is afraid of making a mistake; everyone is afraid of the consequence of error. But the greatest error is not to move. The greatest error is to be paralysed by the fear of failure." And, in the UK, paralysed by the fear of your spartan backbenchers and their champions in the press. 

Staff are still dying 

DR Gamal Osman, a frontline BAME consultant in his sixties, died from Covid last month on 28 January. His brother had died from Covid in September, but he refused to stand down, rallying his colleagues at North Bristol NHS Trust by saying: "This isn't a time for cowards." His trust could have insisted he stood down, but many hospitals and care homes would collapse if all their high-risk staff were removed from front-line care. Frontline staff must get their second vaccine doses, and have variant-proof PPE. Dr Osman was the sole-earner for his wife and 7 children. Colleagues have set up a GoFundMe page to support them. 



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