Lockdown: The Country Scale Experiment

One thing about how humanity has dealt and is continuing to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak is that it’s really a huge experiment with country scale populations. Some really interesting effects are being seen, I’d say that the research hasn’t even really started yet. There’s all sorts of questions that could be examined, from mental health effects to lack of traffic and cleaner air.

Two that caught my eye so far are related to pollution in the air we breathe. I hope that things like these will really bring home to people just how much impact that invisible air pollution has on our health.

Two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the British Lung Foundation.

Guardian: “Cleaner air during UK lockdown relieves asthma for millions

Back in the day, I remember our science teacher telling us that asthma was on the increase, and at the time we considered smoking as a possible cause, but now I’d point the finger at air pollution. While Dublin had cleaned up the very visible smog, the fine particle pollution was on the increase, as it is today.

Another fascinating one is the fall in pre-term births:

An “unprecedented” fall in pre-term births in one of the country’s largest maternity hospitals is being credited to the effect of positive lifestyle influences during the lockdown.

The number of underweight babies fell dramatically in University Maternity Hospital Limerick in the first four months of the year, a trend researchers believe is due to reduced stress and healthier lifestyles brought on by the Covid-19 restrictions.

There was a 73 per cent reduction in the number of very low birth-weight babies born in the hospital, compared to the average for the same first four months of the year in the preceding two decades, a study has found.

If the same finding is replicated nationally for the first four months of the year, there could be up to 200 fewer very-low-weight births this year, and several hundred more if the effect were to last to the end of the year.

Likening the unique conditions of the lockdown to “nature’s experiment”, lead author Prof Roy Philip said the improvements were due to a mix of self-imposed behavioural changes by mothers and externally imposed socio-environmental changes.

These include: reduced work; stress; commuting and financial strain; increased family support; reduced environmental pollution; better infection avoidance; improved sleep and nutritional support; adequate exercise; and reduced exposure to tobacco and illegal drugs.

Irish Times, “Positive lockdown influence credited with fall in pre-term births”

The real research here will be picking apart the confounding factors, some of the changes noted above for example – I’d guess that lots of mothers experienced more stress, perhaps worse family support (relatives couldn’t visit) for example. I hope more research gets done on this.

What’s really wrong about Dom’s lockdown trip

Fintan O’Toole nails it:

So why does his odyssey during lockdown produce a whole different kind of emotion? Because it reaches into the innermost experiences of millions of people. It cuts right through to the pain of a loved one dying alone, of grandchildren growing distant, of precious human bonds being forcibly severed. It grabs hold of that torment and it squeezes the meaning out of it.

We endure these things individually because we understand ourselves to be also enduring them collectively. Cummings’ actions – and, even more, Johnson’s valorisation of them – strip away the second part. The big, communal and institutional structure that gives a value to the millions of individual sacrifices has been kicked away – in Johnson’s defence of Cummings, the only value is the individual “instinct” of the members of the ruling caste. To use the Blitz analogy that England apparently cannot escape, it’s fine to leave your lights on during the blackout if you’re an important person with documents to read.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/26/cummings-contempt-lockdown-rules-public-catholic-church-ireland#maincontent

Flour

10kg flour bags
Aw yiss

With everyone stuck at home, flour has tended to be in somewhat erratic supply since the lockdown started. Especially strong flour, which I haven’t seen in weeks. Anyway, Tesco are trying to get ahead of the demand curve with these ten kilo bags.

Probably as restaurants and bakeries aren’t buying these sizes there’s a surplus. Good value of you’ve somewhere to store it!

Lockdown helps eradication battle against other diseases too

Every cloud:

Having already lasted seven weeks, the lockdown also mitigates one of the biggest challenges usually facing sexual health clinicians: it can take up to a month from potential exposure to HIV for current tests to return a definitive result. “If nobody has had sex which has put them at an HIV risk for at least four weeks,” says McOwan, “there will be nobody in this blindspot who might otherwise be missed.”

When taking regular treatment, people who are HIV positive have an undetectable viral load and therefore cannot pass on the infection. New HIV infections had already been dropping nationally, in part because the NHS is increasing public access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. In 2012, there were an estimated 2,800 new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men in the UK. In 2018 the figure was down to 800, a 71% fall.

“If we can now find the remaining people with HIV through testing and put them on treatment,” says McOwan, “we could remove anyone who is infectious from the population with long-lasting effects. We won’t get this two-month window of no sex again.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/13/covid-19-crisis-raises-hopes-of-end-to-uk-transmission-of-hiv