Monday, 29th November, 2021

[Day 623]

The cold weather snap continues today and the weather remains raw. Judging by the appearance of cars parked outside, we had another dump of snow during the night so some of this was removed by the old trick of a watering can of warm water trickled onto the windscreen. Some time in the past, I had invested in one of those more specialist watering cans that had an especially long spout and it is incredibly useful on occasions like this. With having porridge every morning for breakfast, we have been running down our milk supplies so I popped into town by car to pick up extra supplies of milk and porridge – whilst parked nearby, I popped into Poundland for one or two little items that I needed.

The news today has been dominated as might have been expected by the increasing concern over the Omicron variant of COVID. As we write, the number of reported cases has risen to 11, with a cluster of 6 cases in Scotland. Judging by the speed of the government’s response so far, it indicates a degree of worry within Government circles that this variant could wreak massive damage if it evades the vaccines currently on the marketplace. The government is evidently playing for time as the scientific community is desperately seeking answers to various questions asked of the new variant such as how virulent is in in transmitting itself? Does one get seriously ill with this version of the virus? To what extent has the virus got itself embedded at the community level (i.e. there is no evident link with any of the South African bearers of the virus). To illustrate this degree of concern and also so that the government can get to grips with the scientific analysis that it being rapidly undertaken, then the following steps have been announced by the government:

• Booster jabs for everybody over the age of 18 • Shortening the gap between a second jab and a booster from six months to three months • Giving a second jab to children aged between 12 and 15 – again after no less than three months • Severely immunosuppressed people given access to another booster – meaning for some, a fourth dose this winter • Boosters consisting of either a Pfizer vaccine or a half dose of the Moderna jab

All of this is quite a marked change of gear. There is quite a lot ot talk about ‘saving Christmas’ but a thought that must be in the back of the Government’s mind is the pressure that placed on the NHS which is already practically overwhelmed as it attempts to deal with the backlog of patients not having been seen or treated during the first 18 months of the COVID provisions. The tentative knowledge that we have do have at the moment is that the Omicron variant might prove to be highly transmissable but so far it appears that this strain is not more virulent than others and it may even be that the effects are that it is even milder. The analogy being used is that of a race between the virus and the vaccine manufacturers. So far, the virus had undoubtedly got a headstart because it might be out there in the community (and perhaps as many as at least eleven countries so far). In the meanwhile, we have to tweak a vaccine, manufacture it and then get it into the arms of a population which must take a matter of weeks and/or months by which time the virus might have infected even more and mutated yet again. Scary stuff.

There is a crisis in the British pig industry but the stories have been entirely relegated in the news media because of the migrant crsis and deaths in the English Channel first and then the mergenec of Omicron second. The slaughter of healthy pigs has begun on British farms, with farmers forced to kill animals to make space and ensure the continued welfare of their livestock, amid an ongoing shortage of workers at slaughterhouses. Pig farmers have been warning for several weeks that labour shortages at abattoirs have led to a backlog of as many as 120,000 pigs left stranded on farms long after they should have gone to slaughter. Practically all of this is, of course, caused by Brexit as many the more unplesant jobs in our abbattoirs were performed by workers from Eastern Europe who have been ‘encouraged’ to return home. The COVID pandemic has added a twist to this labour shortage, of course. One always has to add that the British population as a whole voted for this to happen, so if that is what people wanted, then why should we be surprised when it actually happens? However, now is the time when surely we could do with thousands of additional nurses – one estimate is 50,000 are needed immediately. One estimate is that we need an additional 1.1 million nursing and social care staff by the year 2031 and where are these to come from?