Wednesday 8 April 2020

Back to the land!

The government has announced that furloughed workers are allowed to seek alternative additional work with a third party. Or at least, they can so long as their existing contract allows it, and as long as the worker doesn't work on a project that benefits their main employer.

This relaxation should free up a large body of people to work for pay where they're needed. In areas of the local economy such as farms, market gardens and plant nurseries, where there are said to be some 80,000 vacancies as the new season gets underway. Obviously the job will have to be within easy reach of the home, as travel restrictions are still in place.

Friday 3 April 2020

Stoke council on allotments

News just in from our local council:

"the council has received a 120 per cent increase in demand for allotments since the outbreak, and council teams are working to match people with available pitches. Allotment holders must follow national heath guidance on social distancing, handwashing for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching their face and not holding communal gatherings."

Presumably some applicants are assuming that the crisis will go on well into the summer, and that a possible lack of paid pickers in the fields will affect their fruit and greens supply.

Though if that's all you want it will probably easier to grow a bit of fresh greens indoors in tubs by windows and on patios/balconies, and get a store of fruit in in the form of tins. Though you'd need to convert an entire south facing back-bedroom into a rotating racked garden, if you want really substantial supplies without going outside.

There will also likely be a boom this summer in "pick your own" in the countryside, assuming that travel restrictions are eased in June and that seasonal workers are not allowed to come in from abroad (for fear of triggering a second lockdown).

But good for the allotment applicants, if they really want do want to put in the heavy work that a new allotment is likely to need.

Also (my advice, not the council's) be wary of uncooked fruit and seasonal fresh veg that people may have talked over and picked up / put back. This is especially the case of unwrapped supermarket veg that goes straight into the fridge at home without being washed. The virus lasts far longer on surfaces at general fridge temperatures. It's heat that viruses don't like, not cold.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

On 8.2%

An update on my initial virus post, "Notes on the virus" (6th March 2020, updated 10th March). I had concluded that post by estimating a 3 to 5% chance of a 'severe' reaction for a healthy 50-something male allotment holder, on catching the virus. But now there is new data on this age group.

The seemingly reliable new study is from Imperial College, London and is based on data rather than computer models. The press release states a rate of hospitalisation ['severe'] of 8.2% in 50-59 year-olds known to have the virus. That's a one-in-twelve chance of needing to go to hospital.

However, this is across both non-healthy / healthy people in that age-group. Thus it's not to be imagined that all 50-59 year-olds have a uniform 8.2% chance of being hospitalised, if they catch the virus. They don't. It's far more likely that it's hospitalising mostly those in the 50-59 year-old group who already had underlying health condition (of a type that puts them in the danger category).

Further, on looking at the published paper from Imperial College one finds that their age-group data is actually from "mainland China", rather than from the UK. Thus my initial caveats about heavy drinking and smog-damaged lungs in urban China still apply. Such things would surely increase the risk. There's also the Chinese habit of conjuring with and censoring their statistics to consider. And that's presumably why the Imperial College paper can't state what the % risk is to otherwise healthy 50-59 year-olds. They presumably can't determine that because the Chinese didn't release that bit of the data, in the file on the 3,665 cases being tabulated by the report. Otherwise Imperial College would surely have reported the breakdown within the age group.

Thus "8.2%" sounds like a big juicy bit of new data, re: the risk to 50-somethings of hospitalisation. It will no doubt make for screaming newspaper headlines tomorrow, and scare half of Stoke witless. But it turns out it isn't very useful. It could actually be positive news for the healthy 50-something (i.e. there could be a negligible possibility of being hospitalised if a healthy 50-59 year-old), or it could be gloomy news (perhaps a 3-4% possibility of being hospitalised if a healthy 50-59 year-old). The latter is about the 3-5% chance I'd initially suggested in my initial post.

But, amazingly, it seems we still don't know what the actual % risks are for this age group, when properly split between the healthy/non-healthy, fat/normal, male/female and smokers/non-smokers. It should be relatively easy for such distinctions to be made, so why are we only hearing misleadingly broad statistics on this? I mean, if smokers are 80% more likely to die then we should know that ASAP and not at the end of pandemic.

Some extra background on this, from other sources on China. STAT reported that, across all age groups, having a pre-existing risk condition "increased risk of dying by 2.5 times". But that the "fatality rate in patients who reported no other health conditions was 0.9%".