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Ifs Buts and Maybes

Ifs Buts and Maybes

light at the end of the tunnel

Wanna jet to the sun? Wanna bin your mask? Wanna risk a marriage? A weird week, charged with uncertainty. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, at least Boris Johnson looks set to deliver what most of us really really want.

July 19th. Freedom Day. When pretty well all Covid restrictions get junked.

With each passing day ministers have been sounding more confident it will actually happen.

Yes, there are worries about the Indian/Delta variant, and the variant of that variant. But the vaxxers seem invincible.

And the latest ‘grab-a-jab’ drive aimed at everyone over eighteen is closing the herd immunity loophole nicely.

Not like there aren’t still a fair few cases cropping up, with spikes in places like Cornwall.

But, daunting though the numbers can seem, it’s worth putting them in context.

It was reported last week that ten times as many deaths are now associated with flu and pneumonia than coronavirus.

That’s according to the Office for National Statistics, whose job it is to get these things right.

Also, the current toll is among the lowest since the pandemic began.

Perhaps to do with the fact that antibody rates are more than fifty per cent higher than the boffins initially dared hope.

Of course the gold stars go to the scientists who made the breakthroughs, and the NHS for delivering the goods.

But it was the now ex Health Secretary Matt Hancock who insisted the government bet its shirt on vaccinations.

How often he’s been taking off his own, and with whom, has, however, rather caught the public attention.

But if Boris Johnson had immediately come down hard on him, pardon the language, he’d probably have had to fire himself too.

He is after all no stranger to the odd bit of extramarital how’s your father.

Whatever the truth or otherwise of the salacious allegations, it’s a wretched time for Mrs Hancock. Sympathies due.

Perhaps less intense, but sympathies too over the travel travails facing folk trying to second-guess the new green-ish list.

Lots of fave destinations, like Mallorca et al, are now ok. But they’re mostly also on the so-called ‘watch list’.

Meaning at any moment people having a lovely time might find after all they’ve got to quarantine when they get home.

That’s if they get there at all, given that the EU might just say non, nein, não etc to the lot of us.

Travel companies are up in arms. Because, their champions in parliament point out, they need certainty, and ain’t getting it.

One thing that is looking like a dead cert, mind, is Labour losing this week’s by election in Batley and Spen.

Much of it down to Tory popularity on the back of its successful vaccination programme.

And things could take another turn for the better, now a machine’s being trialled that can detect Covid particles in the air.

About the size of an office printer, one’s been set up at Teesside International Airport, and another at a primary school.

Originally developed to screen for explosives or toxic gases, it seems to work just as well with the virus.

A potentially invaluable tool, then, in heading off problems in public transport, supermarkets and entertainment venues.

But, back to the Labour party’s problems, it’s facing its third crushing result in as many months.

Grumblings about Keir Starmer’s leadership are getting seriously serious, judging by what some of his own MP’s are saying.

‘Complete shitshow.’ ‘Shambles.’ ‘Like something out of the Emperor’s New Clothes.’ ‘A f***ing mess.’

Which is not very nice.

But with his top team depleted, he’s gone for a back-to-the-future failsafe, hiring one of Tony Blair’s spinners to steady the ship.

Matthew Doyle, not one to duck a ruck, has to beat back the taunt that Labour’s reduced to the bland leading the bland.

The Tories, he’ll counter, are the blind leading the blind.

Not that we aren’t all lurching a bit these days. Remember the wave of terror over AstraZeneca jabs and blood clots?

A bit clottish is how many doubtless felt when they realised it’s more dangerous to go on the pill or take a long-haul flight.

But experts say the reaction was only natural.

Studies suggest risk assessment is the preserve of a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex.

This kept humanity going, apparently, during the stone age, but is rather out of date now.

Psychologist Paul Slovic cites a saying: ‘Statistics are human beings with the tears dried off.’

His point being fear of the worst-case scenario often outweighs the relative likelihood of it actually happening.

In other words: ‘Risk resides in us mostly as a feeling, as opposed to a calculation. Our feelings don’t do arithmetic.’

And London School of Economics boffin Paul Dolan says during the pandemic the government has ‘weaponised’ fear.

According to Laura Dodson, who’s investigated its approach over the last year, this has created ‘a state of confusion’.

Meaning, she claims, people have become ever more reliant on the messaging.

‘Instead of feeling confident about making decisions, they end up waiting for instructions from the Government.’

Not that a Labrador named Harley needs any instruction to do his good deed for the day, every day.

His owner, John Evans, filmed him last week charging round the park in Pudsey in Yorkshire.

And, the camera can’t lie, he clearly loves picking up bits of litter, especially plastic bottles, and dropping them by the bin.

Amazing how helpful animals can be to humans, whether they want to or not.

Dozens of baby squid have been sent into space so scientists can see how they get on.

The thinking is the animals’ time spent on the International Space Station will help solve astronauts’ health problems.

Let’s hope they enjoy the trip.

Less exploitatively, researchers in the Czech Republic have discovered Mozart can help prevent epileptic fits and seizures.

However, the finding comes with a health (sic) warning.

Professor Ivan Rektor cautioned that while listening to Mozart can help, a lot, Haydn’s music has the reverse effect.

Details matter, clearly. In what you hear, and what you drink.

According to another bunch of boffins, up to four cups of coffee a day can help prevent chronic liver disease.

But the researchers, from Southampton and Edinburgh unis, do stress you’re better off with the real thing.

Ground coffee contains lots of Kahweol and cafestol. Which is why it’s better than rubbishy old instant.

Alternatively, if you prefer to be down the pub anyway, here’s why you’ll never really make the grade.

A study’s shown beer mats are aerodynamically unstable, which is why they hardly ever fly straight for more than half a second.

It’s all in a paper produced by physicists at Bonn uni titled: ‘Beer Mats Make Bad Frisbees.’

It seems gravity causes the air flow to tilt the mat up, pushing it off course. The curved edged frisbee doesn’t have that problem.

This, the first investigation of its kind, is possibly connected with holding a physics gathering close to Munich’s beer halls.

Still bonkers though, eh?

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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