Sunday, 1 August 2021

July update: no end in sight for the pandemic

The pandemic still rages on, fueled in England by mass gatherings, such as the G7 summit in Cornwall in June (posting of 1st July) and July's major sporting events in London. The 2-week Wimbledon tennis tournament was watched by thousands, while at Wembley Stadium the semi-finals and final of Euro 2020 were attended by tens of thousands of football fans. There were egregious scenes inside and outside the stadium during the day of the final, where thousands of ticketless louts broke down barriers and entered the stadium, swelling the anticipated 60,00 attendance who watched England, in their first major final since the World Cup in 1966, lose on a penalty shoot-out to Italy. Days after the match it was reported that swathes of England fans had tested positive for Coronavirus

The final was part of a Government trial to test the safety of large events, allowing 60,000 fans to attend with no social distancing or masks after producing a negative test result. However, this did not allow for the thousands more who congregated outside and the dozens of ticketless fans who stormed the stadium.

Fans leaving Wembley stadium during Euro 2020

Despite Covid infections having risen to their highest level since early February, one of the highest in the world, hospitalisations and deaths are low, thanks to the NHS and the impressive vaccine roll-out, over 65% of adults in UK being fully vaccinated by the middle of the month. PM Boris Johnson therefore declared a very contentious 'freedom day' on July 19th, where virtually all Coronavirus restrictions were lifted, and we mere mortals were advised to behave sensibly and to make our own decisions on wearing masks, social distancing etc.

Crowds behaving sensibly during Euro 2020

Ironically two days before 'freedom day' the new Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Coronavirus, and Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak were both contacted by the NHS Track and Trace but decided not to self-isolate as it was said that they were taking part in a pilot programme where daily tests replace self-isolation, once more strengthening the feeling that there is one rule for the elite... Three hours later, amidst a tide of criticism, they decided that self-isolation was indeed the right thing to do!

Johnson's lifting of restrictions has been widely condemned worldwide, health experts calling it "a threat to the world", some experts worrying that the UK could become a breeding ground for variants. Even England’s chief medical officer, Prof. Chris Whity, conceded that the number of people in hospital with Covid in the UK was doubling about every three weeks and "could soon reach quite scary numbers”. He said “I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast.” Having said that, there was a puzzling and rapid decline in infections on the last week of the month, giving rise to cautious optimism that the third wave of Covid might have turned the corner in the UK. The next few weeks will tell.

No matter what happens, the world is still a long way off opening to international travel and even some easing of restrictions hasn't reduced the nightmare of border control where people have been queuing for hours to show they are Covid-negative.

Although there have been a number of hybrid conferences- a mixture of online and face-to-face activities- none have been truly international, and it is likely to be a very long time yet before this happens. All MEI Conferences this year have been online, as will November's Flotation '21, originally scheduled for Cape Town. Comminution '22, also scheduled for Cape Town, has been postponed for a year, and Physical Separation '22, IntegratedMinPro '22 and Sustainable Minerals '22 are all online. Who know what will happen after that?



  1. While this post makes for discouraging reading, as a historical milestone it is realistic. It is summed up well in the statement: "The final was part of a Government trial to test the safety of large events, allowing 60,000 fans to attend with no social distancing or masks after producing a negative test result. However, this did not allow for the thousands more who congregated outside and the dozens of ticketless fans who stormed the stadium." Clearly this was a misadventure in public policy. At best, this "trial" was premature; but a more accurate adjective would be "cavalier", likely motivated more by ticket sales than public health. In my opinion as an epidemiologist and public health specialist (retired), to overcome Covid will take a culture shift: even higher rates of vaccination must be achieved to prevent serious outcomes and to reduce (not eliminate) transmission, and social distancing measures (a form of personal and collective hygiene) need to be maintained for the foreseeable future. There will continue to be some secondary benefits, such as more innovative forms of e-commerce and communication, and gains achieved in preventing other respiratory transmissible diseases. Even as we achieve relative control in some settings we must recognize that the global pandemic remains on the ascendancy, and new strains will continue to emerge. Perhaps comparable to some aspects of climate change, we must adapt to this as the new normal. Thanks for the post Barry.

  2. Excellent Blog touching on the "mindset" of people. Equally valuable comment from Franklin--son of my first GURU in n Australia,Prof.White --my heart beats with pleasure and admiration when I look back at my career.. In fact Don described the role and details of Prof.White's unique qualities and contributions during Don's short talk at J.K. during J.K's 50th Anniversary day event--the reverence and respect;reading Franklin's very knowledgeable comments took me to the era of Prof.White.

  3. The dilemma is obvious: we are undergoing a transitional phase of the pandemic in which some societies/regions are adequately vaccinated (thanks to a great effort by research and manufacturing teams), and others, not. I call this "The Divided World", which will be the New Normal for the next 5-10 years or so. In this transition, there will be active crossovers between the two types, at the same time giving ground for the virus to mutate and spread even more. It is rapidly becoming the battle of "Vaccination vs Variants", or put more directly "Vaccination vs the Anti-Vaxxers". For this interim, then, we have to adjust our businesses to function sustainably, whatever that takes. Let's not hold our breath for a sudden breakthrough here. Best regards.

  4. I agree with what you say Franklin and Norman. We are going to have to adapt and live with Coronavirus, as we do with 'flu. The world of the 'new normal' is likely to be very different from that of 2 years ago.


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