2021 October

Beowulf manuscript
Where does Beowulf meet Covid?

The “Word Hoard”
One of the most beautiful and resonant concepts we have derived from the Old English saga of Beowulf is the “Word Hoard”. I love the idea of a deep chest full of valuable, almost mystical words that we can open and use. And of course we can also add to the language “Word Hoard” as time passes and new events happen.
So it is time to pause and take stock.
We have new and resonant words to add to our “Word Hoard”

The world has changed so much and so fast over the last (almost) 2 years. Yes – it was November 2019 when we began to hear of an outbreak of a new viral infection in Wuhan, China, that had authorities there worried. We didn’t know that labs at Wuhan were working on bat viruses – the coronavirus family – that could jump species barriers and infect humans. Initially it was just called “novel coronavirus” and in the West we thought that like Sars (SARS-CoV-1) and MERS it would not substantially affect our daily lives, and our society.
Looking back, how naive and complacent we were!

Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has so many names now, as it mutates and continues to outwit attempts to control or eradicate it.
The virus was first confirmed to have spread to Italy on 31 January 2020, though more recent tests have discovered cases in November 2019 – so Covid-19 is the best general name, as 2019 was when it emerged.
The last pandemic to touch our Western consciousness was the flu pandemic of 1918. There were blueprints for dealing with another more virulent outbreak of influenza – but basically no-one in our UK government looked beyond that. Surely a modern technological society could handle a viral outbreak?

How the Word Hoard has changed:

Pandemic – not a new word, but it has jumped into prominence and acquired a new and frightening significance.
Coronavirus – most of us hadn’t heard of the word, but now it is in daily circulation (much like the virus itself) Covid or Covid-19 are the most common terms used.
Mutations – We now have Alpha (Kent), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil) and Delta (Indian) Variants.

PROTECTIONS
PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. It came to the fore as medics needed to be protected from the virus while treating those infected with Covid-19.
Hand sanitiser – a protective liquid to rub into your hands – in this case alcohol-based (typically between 60 and 95 percent alcohol). I found online recipes to make up my own gel hand sanitiser which I still use!
Face masks – entire books could be written about different types of face masks, which is best for particle-spread infections, and which best for airborne. We have all become mini-experts! Nose guards? Filters? How and when to clean and wash them? How often to re-use them?
Bleach – especially at the start of the pandemic when Covid was thought to be a particle-spread infection we were advised to wash all incoming deliveries in dilute bleach.
Lock-down – the ultimate protection was to close down all but essential activities within the entire society. Only leave home for essential purposes such as food shopping!
Shielding – the most vulnerable people were totally confined to home. No straying beyond the garden gate!
Self-isolating – if you contracted Covid you were (and still are) obliged to isolate yourself from everyone for a given length of time. Food delivered to the door. No person-to-person contact with anyone.

MITIGATIONS – especially now it is known to be airborne. And ‘mitigations’ has itself become a new buzz word! But broadly it is things we can all do to help minimize the spread of the virus.
Bubbles – The idea that a small group of people (maybe a household or a school class) who are in regular contact could relax the rules, in order to support each other, or to function in a necessary way.
Hand sanitiser – still, in October 2021 placed at every entrance to a shop or indoor public place (such as a library) here in Scotland (though England may be different and more relaxed.)
Face masks – (no mask no entry) still essential for shopping trips, and indoor public meeting place. Again this is here in Scotland (though England may be different and more relaxed.)
Social distancing – originally the rules were to keep 2 metres/6′ apart, with guide marks on the floors of shops or queues, and a one way in and one way out system. Now it is a little more relaxed, though people do try to keep a reasonable distance apart.
Ventilation – this has become increasingly important as the implications of Covid as an airborne virus has sunk in! Best to meet outside,and indoor spaces should be well-ventilated. Even at home keep doors and windows open if possible! Crowded indoor spaces with circulating (recycled) air are the ones to be avoided.
WFH – we are still encouraged to Work From Home as much as possible, to avoid public transport and enclosed office spaces.
Remote Learning – originally something only used for geographically remote students in the Highlands and Islands – this became the norm for most school and college/university students throughout 2020 and well into 2021. Using broadband links and computers, tablets or smartphones it is still a part of most children’s world, especially as they are now the ‘super-spreaders’ (as cases fall during holiday times, and rise again when schools re-open!)
Furlough – a term for employees who have to be laid off due to Lockdown – but who are kept afloat by having most of their wages paid by the government.
Zoom – became the most popular and widely used video chat link app for people to keep in touch with friends and family, or for business conference calls.
PCR test – as testing for Covid became available, taking a test became obligatory in many circumstances. A negative test could allow for travel, for example. The test has to be sent away for laboratory processing, and there is a waiting time for results.
Lateral Flow test – this self-administered test is not as reliable, but is used more often as a guide to whether it is safe to enter places like schools.

VACCINES – we have been amazed at the speedy development to vaccines to protect against severe Covid. They do not protect against catching or spreading Covid, but do protect against severe infection and death. “Vax” has become the OED word of the year 2021
Brand names – we have a growing number of named vaccines. In the UK the main 2 are Pfizer and Astra Zeneca. They are designed to be used in 2 doses at least 8-12 weeks apart. Moderna is more used in the USA, along with Jannsen (single dose).
Efficacy levels – these are constantly monitored as it appears that the protection they offer will wane after about 6 months.
One dose – a single does is being offered for younger children now, and has been the starting point for us all. The protection level takes at least 2 weeks to develop.
Two doses – most vaccines require two doses, so to be ‘fully vaxxed’ takes several months.
Booster jabs – As time has passed the level of protection from the vaccines has waned, so autumn 2021 has seen the roll-out of booster jabs. Initially for the most vulnerable groups (over 70s and immuno-compromised, along with health and social care staff). The preferred method has been to mix vaccines. Most Scots had Astra Zeneca for the first 2 doses, and now Pfizer for the booster. Again the race is on to get as much protection in place for the population before winter sets in.
‘Flu vaccine – This was made widely available last winter as ‘flu on top of Covid was a frightening prospect. As it happened the extent and success of Lockdown and mitigations such as mask wearing lead to almost no ‘flu over the winter! Indeed many winter infections were greatly reduced! This year the fear is that we might lost the ‘herd’ protection against ‘flu – so the ‘flu jab is being administered together with the Covid booster jab! Two arms, two jabs!
Covid pass or passports – These are being developed so you can have proof of your vaccination status when entering a ‘high risk’ environment such as a nightclub, a concert or travelling abroad. Its use can be extended to pubs, restaurants and other indoor social venues … depending on number of cases being reported.
Anti-vaxxers – There are many vocal groups against the vaccination policies of many governments. Some tout conspiracy theories, some claim Covid doesn’t even exist, and others demand the righ to remain unvaccinated, but free to roam throughout the country.

TRACKING THE VIRUS, collecting data and advising goverment
Spike – this is something to look out for as an early indicator that Covid may be getting out of control.
Mapping – this is done increasingly, to learn where the virus is most active. We can follow the statistics for Scotland as a whole, or each administrative area. We can even dig down to the local areas we are planning to visit, as well as where we live.
Hotspots – as the term suggests, these are places where spikes have been seen, and infection numbers are rising quickly.
Daily statistics – this is part of our daily routine. The statistics come out at 2 p.m. each day. They refer to the picture of 3 days ago – the lag is due to the time it takes to collect and correlate the data. They are still the most helpful guide to what is happening locally and nationally.
R number – the R number should be 1 for the virus to be stable. Below one and it is retreating, above one and it is increasing. Currently Scotland’s R number is between 0.9 and 1.1 so we are on a knife-edge!
Numbers per 100.000 – this is another way to quantify the numbers infected, and indicate when cases are rising or falling. Currently Scotland’s 7-day positivity rate is 382.4
Hospital numbers, ICU and Deaths – these are daily and weekly figures collated by the various UK ‘Governments’ which are intended to offer accurate (but with a three-day time-lag) information as to the current impact of COVID-19 on the NHS as the primary organisation attempting to treat patients whose illness is severe enough to require hospitalisation.
When placed alongside daily and weekly numbers of ‘new’ infections as revealed after tests it is clear that the vaccination programme has had a powerful positive effect in reducing these numbers. More worryingly, it is increasingly also clear that an increasing – even dominant – proportion of the people who are identified as seriously ill enough for hospitalisation, and then need ICU intervention, and then who die nonetheless are unvaccinated.
SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) – or the ‘Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ as the acronym stands in the UK is described by the gov.uk website as: ‘SAGE is responsible for ensuring that timely and coordinated scientific advice is made available to decision makers to support UK cross-government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). The advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.’
SAGE bases its advice from a huge range of sources – experts from academic, public sector, industrial and commercial communities provide research and current information.
Independent SAGE – as described on its website, this is a group of scientists who are working together to provide independent scientific advice to the UK government and public on how to minimise deaths and support Britain’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. It is independent of government and does not answer to it. It does however share its work openly with the government as well as with the public.
JCVI – this is the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which holds 3 main meetings a year. JCVI comprises several sub-committees relating to specific areas: COVID -19; Pneumococcal; Travel; HPV (Human papillomavirus); Varicella; and Influenza.
In December 2020 JCVI published its advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, and since then it has been the ‘gate-keeper’ whose go-ahead is needed before vaccination of any group(s) is given the green light.
NERVTAG – New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group
This group advises the government on the threat posed by new and emerging respiratory viruses. Covid is proving a difficult virus to track, as it is mutating all the time, and is worldwide in its reach. So there are many potential new threats to study and report on.
Herd immunity – Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely, The key to herd immunity is that, even if a person becomes infected, there are too few susceptible hosts around to maintain transmission.
Many people wondered if this concept was behind the puzzling slowness of response by the Westminster government when the Covid virus was first detected in the UK. Was it only as the death rate rose that they began to deny it was a part of their strategy?

This is just a quick look at some of the new words phrases and acronyms that have entered our daily vocabulary since November 2019. There are so many more that I haven’t included! But the sheer volume does indicate the many ways that Covid has turned our ‘normal’ lives upside down!

So – on to November, and the third winter approaches.
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