Scientists and MPs are jointly calling for changes to the isolation rules, precipitated by the recent track and trace confinement of Boris Johnson – despite his likely post covid immunity. In a recent fiasco he and another 11 MPs are presently isolating after coming into contact with fellow MP Lee Anderson. MPs have declared this isolation policy `not fit for purpose,` saying it would be far more sensible to offer rapid testing to those at risk, rather than T&T. Now while I’m inclined to say that such an executive offer is always going to be offered to the big guys, I’m not sure those of us further down the food chain will be given such leniency, as it’s not perceived as being in the public interest to have US tested expeditiously. Instead we can likely self isolate, repeatedly or forever and a day. 

The opposing MPs have said the situation demonstrated the need to stop T&T and introduce rapid testing, with Professor Tim Peto, professor of medicine at Oxford saying, “there’s a simple way to take a belt and braces approach. We should be operating a system which allows the PM to take a rapid test, to be back at work the next day.” Looking on the silver lining side, Boris may now have additional home time to spend with his son Wilf, although trouble in No 10 is potentially still only a few metres away, with his fiancee Carrie Symonds inter-meddling as his unofficial advisor. It must be so tempting for her to want to bend his ear, but this is not how our elected representatives are to govern. He has a cabinet of ostensibly well educated ministers surrounding him, and clearly they don’t like him being guided by their former press officer (2009) who worked her way up to Head of Comms in 2018. She subsequently stood down from this role, and is now advising the environmental rights charity, Oceana. Nonetheless, it is easy to see how she is building a sub-court of allies within the PMs extended circle, and similarly we can, and are, watching these complicated dynamics playing out. Some would argue she should stick to her maternal and spousal roles, and stay out of influencing political decisions. I am female, and not chauvinist, and would agree. 

Other news around coronavirus focuses on the rising deaths…. Woah! Let’s back up a minute, folks. The recent daily rise in deaths is +168, give or take a degree of variance. This could actually (partly) reflect the seasonal rise in deaths from flu, something many GPs have argued. Several have reported to me, that they are being harangued into putting ‘covid-related’ death on the death certificate when the deceased illness had a respiratory basis; but they argue the patient (often elderly) had seasonal flu, not covid. This looks like this tactic plays into the hands of proponents for campaign ^Vaccinate UK,^ where one size vaccine will fit all of us, just in case. 

We are creeping towards the end of the current lockdown, which Boris promised was only going to be for 4 weeks till December 2nd. Matt Hancock has now said it’s too early to know if current restrictions have been effective, but it raises the unpleasant spectre of the holiday season effectively being cancelled, with hospitals potentially gearing up for a rise in covid admissions. Hancock indicates there could be an open door for an extension of lockdown, or instead a resumption to increased tier classifications, which must in turn be approved by Parliament. Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor to NHS said ‘even if lockdown ends in England, a further tier system will likely be needed to replace it.’ Similarly an announcement from Nicola Sturgeon confirmed she has put 11 councils into Tier 4, (including Glasgow) which means a return to near full lockdown and a travel ban for 2 million Scots. Santa Sturgeon has said this is for the common good, although businesses not classed as essential will grudgingly have to close. A £30 million fund has just been made available to local authorities to help businesses. This is intended to pave the way for easing up of rules (there) in December.

Elsewhere our seasonal plans are still ‘on ice’ as Mr Hancock has refused to rule out making vaccinations mandatory, saying that they could consider this if the initial uptake is lower than expected. The UK has ordered 350 million doses (combined) from pharma companies: GSK/Sanofi, Janssen, Valneva, Novavax, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Whilst the scientists are promoting the efficacy and nominal side effects of these vaccines, we still don’t know what the scale of side effects could be. For people like myself with significant underlying health conditions to take something else, (tested only on a minority of volunteers) which may cause additional risks to our health, rather than just aiming to avoid covid-19, is not something I’m willing to take up at this point. I’ve just reluctantly and scarily gone back on chemo, with the nasty range of side effects loitering patiently in the wings, waiting to envelope me in their toxic cloak. Typically my treatment on this occasion started several hours late, because the nurses a) couldn’t easily access the port, and then b) because my consent form (signed by me in the clinic on Friday) was nowhere to be seen. The remedy included an off-site phone call, someone else signing a new form as the representative physician, scanning and sending it through to the offsite chemo facility, and then me signing it (again). Only then could we begin. Every time I go for an NHS appointment there’s a time delay worthy of the Doctor’s tardis – you couldn’t make it up. Although to be fair, some weeks back I was sent for a private scan and the facility wouldn’t let me in, despite my having a letter with me, and the consultant inside, waiting for me. I saw him a few weeks later and he was both mystified and mortified by this lapse of manners. And that wasn’t even the NHS. 

School exams are under the microscope again with at least 2 devolved parts of the UK (Wales and Scotland) announcing they’re not going to run formal exams at the end of the year, instead of which they will use teacher assessments. 

In the same way that it’s perceived now as completely convenient to have one’s medical appointments over a telephone – save anyone the bother of you going into a surgery or a clinic, we could just as easily run zoom exams or no exams, and save the schools and the unions the hassle of opening up a building, supervising meticulously and maintaining social distancing and sanitary measures, so that kids can be marked on the gold standards they’ve always had. 

Chief executive of AQA has also noted that special consideration could apply to students in the areas hardest hit by covid, that would be for people whose schooling has been ‘severely disrupted’ and for them to be graded more generously. It’s very difficult if they’re going to try and level the playing field without any properly moderated final exams, and this kind of political tinkering could see two schools in the same district, let’s say one is a private school whose students are given no such grading consideration, whilst the state school next door with its high percentage of free school meals and attendant social needs, could see their students outperform the others, in the same exams, by virtue of applying ‘special considerations.’ 

My son who is working for GCSEs might tell me ‘one teacher always marks him down’ and another gives what he perceives as ‘credible, fair marking,’ but remember he’s only one of millions of people, in thousands of schools. This essentially means that – aside from science or maths subjects – these teachers are often marking papers subjectively. How can that be fair? 

This is a precarious thin end of the wedge here, because aside from covid lockdown and perennial zooming, which we could see run for a virtual infinity, we risk setting a precedent that will never be altered. Every year such students will be able to claim previous years got ‘preferential’ treatment. 

Related news shows that Universities running ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree courses face being fined up to £500,000 under plans by the watchdog OfS, to stamp out this bad practice. They want to crackdown on degrees with high student dropout, low graduate employment as well as those universities showing significant grade inflation. This is welcome news for a generation of youngsters now having to pay extortionate fees, accruing a lifetime of debt to no real avail and with no career likely at its end. I think a serious review of degree courses nationally is long overdue. 

Over the pond, Trump is refusing to concede defeat in the election, which although perceived as well overdue, might now be understandable as several US states have the legal authority to take many extra weeks or months, to tally up their postal votes. Whilst it  seems anathema, it is a legally binding arrangement, and he may just have a point here. All we ask is for him to behave presidentially, like our revered members of the Royal Family {with Princess Anne, Princes Charles & William and HM the Queen instantly springing to mind} 

Lastly, a huge shout-out for Lewis Hamilton, who has just won his seventh world title, equalling the record of Michael Schumacher. Calls are being made for him to be knighted, although the date for official New Year 2021 nominations has currently passed. Let’s wait and see if Boris can deliver, although maybe it’s a task for Carrie-on-Sir-Lewis. 


Jacqueline x