Business as usual, or is it?

Obviously, to slow the spread of COVID-19 cases and reduce burden on NHS, we need people to stop interacting as much.

TLDR; governments have given five different messages about going to work, from yes you can, to only key workers, shutting down the economy almost entirely, with no clear message. It is causing confusion and will cost businesses and livelihoods.

The message from the government last night seemed clear...

Don't go out, but you can get food, medicine, and importantly you CAN GO TO WORK. Ideally, you work from home if you can, but all that was being shut down is the face to face shops and places where people gather and spread the virus a lot with other random people. Indeed, stopping all contact probably does not help as the spread just comes back as soon as you relax the lockdown - this is all about statistics - reduce contact enough to allow the NHS to cope.

It was, otherwise, for all those offices and factories and businesses that keep the economy going - business as usual (working from home if you can).

Now, assuming this is enough to slow the virus, that is great, well done UK government.

So, yes, please follow advice, stay at home, let's slow this spread enough for the NHS to still work.

My issue, however, is the horrible mixed messages from the government, which is really causing a lot of confusion.

First the message was, you can go to work, but try and work from home where possible.

Then, No10 twitter tweeted (image below) that you can go to work (if you're a key worker).

Now that is a massively different message. That is shutting down the whole UK economy in one go over night with no notice. That is HUGE!

They deleted the tweet, and changed so you can go to work (but work from home if possible) as per the speech. OK, good.

This was however a massive mis-direction and confusion by a tweet that was up for a while last night.

But it gets worse, a document about the lock down (here) says, in bold and underlined: "Non-essential businesses and premises must now shut!" We think this is meant to be a heading, and wording like "Non-essential businesses and premises that must now shut:-" or some such, but that is not what it says.

Again, confusing and mixed messages.

But now they are SMSing everyone with a link to gov.uk/coronavirus which says not to go outside except for "essential work", which is yet another unclear term, and again suggests a complete UK economic shutdown.

So what the hell is the message meant to be - is this business as usual apart from shops, or what?
Why the hell are the government not giving a CLEAR MESSAGE?

P.S. Obviously offices and factories have some duty of care, so things like people being able to keep apart and hand sanitisers and so on are an important step as well.

P.P.S. as per final image below, they have now changed the web site to say "work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home)". This is a total shambles!

P.P.P.S. the BBC have yet another, subtly different wording: Travelling to and from work, but only if it is "absolutely necessary", which is not clear either, is it necessary for you to still be paid, or is it "necessary work", i.e. key worker stuff?

P.P.P.P.S. as of this morning (25th) they have finally changed the PDF guidance document. That is three separate bits of government information that have changed now, having initially given misleading or wrong information.

Here are the messages:-


  1. It is a massive muddle.

  2. My interpretation is that "essential businesses" are those which are listed in the "Exceptions" column of the following table, with all others being considered "non essential". But as you say, it is very unclear, because there are entire areas of business that aren't mentioned in the table at all.

    For example, are plumbers and electricians still allowed to work? I saw a comment from (I think) Michael Gove suggesting that building work in people's homes would be "inappropriate", but surely some of this work is actually essential? Electrical problems can cause fires, or the complete loss of all of your stockpiled frozen food. A burst pipe or blocked toilet could lead to a loss of essential drinking water or unsanitary conditions that could cause disease. It seems to me that work in people's homes is actually the type that matters most right now, but it is not mentioned in that document.

    1. Replying to myself, but it seems that my confusion about plumbers and electricians has been addressed by the revised document:

      "Work carried out in people’s homes, for example by tradespeople carrying out repairs and maintenance, can continue, provided that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms.


      No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so."

      So hopefully we don't need to worry that we will be potentially stuck with non-functioning water or electrics for the entire duration of the lockdown.

  3. I couldn't have put it better myself, I am so confused as to what we are supposed to be doing.

  4. You are right that it's a complete mess. I assume AAISP can mostly work from home though right? If anyone have access to telephony, connectivity, and VPNs etc it's you guys! With perhaps an absolutely minimal skeleton staff for physical hardware access requirements.

    1. We have it down to one person now, which is pretty safe, scanning post and shipping equipment. Everyone else working from home. I have to congratulate my ops and management teams for their work on this in such a short time.

    2. Could I second that? After various tests an intermittent fault on my router was diagnosed and a replacement was posted the same day by 24 hour tracked. Unfortunately the Post Office took 72 hours to deliver but they must be overwhelmed so I cannot really complain.

  5. Ok replying to myself, I've now read 230320_-_Revised_guidance_note_-_finalVF.pdf fully.

    My interpretation is, "Non-essential businesses and premises must now shut" is the title, whereas "The following businesses and premises must remain closed" is clarifying the businesses in detail, reaffirming they must remain closed until instructed to do otherwise.

    1. Indeed, if it has "that", e.g. "Non-essential businesses and premises that must now shut:-" it would be more obviously a title.

    2. The document has now been updated, with the offending title/instruction removed and additional guidance added.

      The left hand column is the types of business that *must* close, with exceptions to those on the right. Any businesses not listed in the left column can continue to trade, as long as they're working to PHE guidelines?


    3. Finally. Took them long enough.
      last-modified: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 00:56:32 GMT

  6. Did you think about signing up for the NHS Volunteers scheme announced tonight?

    I have read the scheme's T&Cs. No way I can go anywhere near that scheme.

    Taking responsibility for life-saving drugs, handling and transporting cash payments, requirement to follow THEIR instructions if a vehicle collision occurs while volunteering. Got to get my car insurer's permission before starting. Time and temperature sensitive drugs to be couriered to homes of high-risk and vulnerable people.

    And I didin't see a single mention of the extent and nature of any limit on liability. Maybe I missed that clause.

    Woah. I can't risk going near any of that.

    I could be in a Court battle for the next 10 years if something goes wrong.

    1. If you're the sort of person who worries about your potential legal liability when looking at a volunteering effort to save hundreds of thousands of lives, I'd suggest that you are not the sort of person the scheme is aimed at.

    2. Indeed, many of this government's actions are clearly aimed at reducing its liability for anything that goes wrong. The sort of people they want for this scheme are people who won't read the small print, and will carry the can while the MPs get richer.

      Every time this government does something potentially good, it's fed through the filter of "but reduce our potential expenditure, after all we've still got Brexit to get away with after this".

    3. @Nick what if you're the kind of person that thinks to write a document moving the liability away from yourselves when making a volunteering effort to save hundreds of thousands of lives, and then takes the time to do it?

    4. I don't know which document you read, but this is what I found on the T&Cs section on the GoodSAM website:

      "NHS Volunteer Responders undertake voluntary "Good Samaritan" acts in good faith as members of the public undertaking voluntary action. NHS Volunteer Responders will not have any liability for loss or damage of any kind resulting from actss or omissions undertaken by them in their capacity as NHS Volunteer Responders. NHS Volunteer Responders will also not incur any liability if they are unable to provide support or assistance. This exclusion of liability does not, however apply to any criminal liability.

      Volunteer NHS Responders are, however, expected to act in accordance with the training provided to them and instructions issued by Royal Voluntary Service and/or NHS from time to time. You may be removed as a Volunteer NHS Responder and your permission to access the NHS Volunteer Responder App removed if you do not act in accordance with such training and instructions."

      It seems pretty clear that they are NOT attempting to hold you liable for anything other than actual criminal acts, and that the worst that will happen if you fail to follow their instructions is that you will be removed as a volunteer.

  7. Here's what really annoys me about the whole situation.

    In the cold war there was a plan for a potential nuclear war. I say was, but the plan still actually exists. When the National Archives reopens you can go and hold the "War Book" for yourself. It had a list of basically every policy needed to effectively shut down the state and put it on a complete war footing, organised by severity. The Public information campaign was written, including TV ads and flyers for newspapers.

    Now don't get me wrong, the whole plan wasn't going to actually work. They did war game the thing and realised they couldn't get it all done in time (that report is also in the National Archives) but at least there was a plan, a structure to work from. Protect and Survive, for all of the mockery it rightly deserves is pretty damn clear about expectations.

    Why in all this time has nobody seemingly thought to write a "Pandemic book"? Why is everything thats happening so on the hoof?

    1. They did. The previous CMO (Sally Davies, who basically handpicked the current CMO) spent some time a couple of years ago on a plan for what I believe they called 'son of SARS'. It's the herd-immunity plan that was backed away from so fast last week... because (AIUI) it was believed that the infection curve wouldn't be remotely as bad as it has turned out to be, and that the NHS's capacities wouldn't be overwhelmed nearly so fast: in that case, the plan would have produced rapid population-wide immunity.

      Modelling that came out only last week invalidated it, destroying the plan -- and then, well, I don't think we can really fault them for not coming out with *two distinct* plans for son-of-SARS, but it has more or less left us looking at what other European countries are doing and frantically copying them. The problem with *this* approach is that it has no real exit condition for years (until we have a vaccine, basically): we'll have intense limitations until R is well below 1, then more of the same until the number of cases drops to zero... and then we'll have to keep quarantines in place for *every arrival* from other countries who has at any time recently passed through any country which has not reached the same state. Miss just one and it all restarts again. (In the presence of cheap antibody tests we may be able to reduce the quarantine length, so that it is only long enough that they are producing antibodies, but this is risky: the test won't be perfectly reliable, and the amount of time it takes for people to produce an antibody response to a new pathogen is wildly variable. So I suspect long quarantines will be the norm for a long, long time.)

  8. The thing that's really annoying me with a few places I've got friends working is this "can work from home" bit. The work that they are doing can be done from home (it's just moving bits around on a computer) but the boss has said that they can't work from home, end of discussion. Obviously the boss isn't in the office (as the whole pandemic has shown, it's not the people at the top who are actually useful on a day to day basis, it's the shelf stackers, the delivery drivers, the patient-facing healthcare workers)!

  9. Well spoken Rev. Certainly is a lot of mixed messages from the gov and media. On a pedantic note they keep saying stand 6ft(2m) away from people. Well 2m equates to over 6.5ft. Probably doesnt matter that much, but maybe an extra half a foot makes a difference?

  10. When the Derbyshire Police play with their shiny toy drones and get it so stupidly wrong, the whole campaign is completely undermined.

    Exercise is good for mental and physical health (10,000 steps per day and all that, helps to prevent Type 2 diabetes) and those they pilloried were far away from everyone else, so what's the problem? The walkers weren't climbing Ben Nevis at night in a blizzard.

    Should they have cluttered up the narrow pavements of Sheffield's roads and streets instead?

  11. Do you see any need at the moment for internet rationing as has been mentioned in a few places in the media? Is network usage increasing exponentially and is their any rational basis for restricting the internet to 'essential' services whatever they might be?

    1. "The internet" and providers (BT, Andrews & Arnold etc.) are not struggling. Some places are trying to portray it as being so, up to now it isn't true.

      EE/BT reported a 5% decrease in mobile data usage!

    2. Things are becoming very strange. I hope we try to resist arbitrary and unnecessary internet rationing. It seems there is much misrepresentation going on at the moment. I don't know if links are permitted here but there much interesting information here about what we are facing. Certainly worth reading: https://swprs.org/a-swiss-doctor-on-covid-19/

    3. I don't understand the Internet rationing comments, or even how that would work. The Internet has always (well, since TCP was created) had means to adapt to congestion. Video streaming services have means to adapt by changing resolution, for example. The load is not breaking things, at least in the UK. The growth in streaming video has been challenging for ISPs over some years, but that is not magically way worse due to this lock down, honest. I can only assume other countries are not fairing so well for this to even be an issue.


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