Living in extraordinary times

I was about to write about the reaction to the Covid-19 situation, and then I read this:

The weirdest part of living through the #COVID19 pandemic is this strange mixture of normalcy and emergency that we’re all experiencing. I constantly feel like I’m either over- or underreacting, or really both at the exact same time. It’s surreal. The level of uncertainty is such that, depending on what happens tonight, tomorrow, next week, all of our actions, both individually and collectively, might soon look foolish. This makes the whole situation extremely hard to process, intellectually and emotionally.

Which I think sums it up quite nicely. As individuals, communities and as a society, we literally don’t know what is coming next, be it this time next month, next week or even tomorrow. You suddenly realise that all your subconscious decision-making processes rely on a mixture of prior knowledge and predicting the likely situation in the near future. We don’t have either of those things right now and suddenly, the rug has been pulled from beneath our collective feet.

I was chatting to the kids about the situation this morning, and I pointed out that while my wife and I are doing our best to make the correct choices and do the right thing, we have also never experienced this before. It’s unprecedented, unsettling and downright weird. It’s omnipresent – the constant elephant in the room – and while you want or need) to know the latest news so that you can make informed choices, equally, you’d really rather not hear anything more on it, at all.

As I’m sure I have said before, a measured, sensible approach seems to be the safest course to take at the moment. (I’m talking about us as individuals in South Africa, not commenting here on guided government policies – although of course I have my feelings on those as well.) There are those who are so blasé about the whole thing that they will actually present a genuine risk to others when they are infected (and at some point in the future, all of us will be infected by this virus). And then at the opposite end of the scale, we have those who are unnecessarily limiting what little scrap of normality we have left before everything changes.

Attempting to delay the inevitable might not be seen as a bad idea, but ignoring the inevitable really is. Much as Canute failed to stop the tide on the beach at [citation required], their actions are equally futile. Key here is the need to behave responsibly once you think or are sure that you have the infection. You’ll live (although it might not feel that way for a few days), but not passing it on to vulnerable groups is hugely important. This is where Blasé Brad’s approach becomes so hazardous: Brad will continue to klapp gym boet and go about his normal business, not letting the illness get the better of him, and shedding virus everywhere he goes.

There is a ray of hope. The first steps towards a viable vaccine have been taken, and there’s a real opportunity for companies to work together to produce decent numbers of vaccines to protect those who are most at risk of complications from infection. I’m surprised that this hasn’t got more press, but then good news never sells papers.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Be sensible.

God to call in overseas power company

I have news. Huge, if true.

While the rest of the world was worrying about some microbiological thing or other, SA has been in the grips of a huge bout of loadshedding after jellyfish blocked an inlet pipe at our local nuclear power station.

Actually, this happens more than you might think. 1.73 million results can’t be wrong, right?

But I don’t care about Canada or Sweden or Japan. Our issue is with Koeberg, just up the road. And it seems that we’re likely to get our 980MW back into the grid by Sunday. But will that be soon enough?

Because suddenly, God’s on the job:

I wouldn’t normally believe this sort of nonsense, but this was said with authority – and not just anyone’s authority, but with authority in the might name of Jesus Amen and Amen.

I’m not sure if this is a different Jesus to the one we learned about at school. I think he was called Jesus Christ and not Jesus Amen and Amen. But that was a long time ago and I think it was all made up anyway.

Anyway, given that Mighty God and Jesus Amen and Amen are omnipresent and omnipotent, I think that questions should be asked about whether they had anything to do with the swarm of jellyfish that blocked our power station and prompted this overseas takeover of our power generation. I’m not saying that things were all rosy before, because they really weren’t, but this convenient squishy invertebrate plug being applied to the inlet pipe just up the west coast has certainly paved the way for their sponsored coup, hasn’t it?

Get what I’m saying?

Follow the money. Just saying.

I don’t think that Adele has anything to do with this. She just seems like the spokesperson for the cult on this particular issue.

I’m not big fan of the Mighty God and JAaA, but if this theist-led company sweeps in from overseas, I won’t miss the loadshedding. And if it goes well, then maybe  they can make a start on sorting out this virus thing as well.

Spicy protection

Homeopathy is rubbish. Completely made up. Nonsense. Woo woo.

Utter quackery.

Herbal medicine however – despite also being widely practiced by hippies – can be different. In many cases, modern medicine looked at what herbalists did way back when, found out what chemicals were in there, isolated and refined them and made… well… modern medicine.

Thus, I never write off a herbal remedy at first sight, like I – entirely justifiably – would with homeopathy.
I’ll always give it a second look.

But then, aromatic spices for Coronavirus…? Really?

Ye, apparently cloves are the way forward in treating this infection.

Who knew? Not me.

There are a lot of new research papers out there as the scientific community scrambles to learn more about SARS-CoV-2, but I’ve yet to score a hit on PubMed by adding “cloves” to my search terms. Maybe it’s coming.

And not just any cloves, but “surgical cloves”. These are obviously cloves which have been raised in aseptic conditions with the sole aim of being used in operating theatres and other medical situations. Just grabbing cloves from your spice rack is wildly foolhardy – who knows what risks you may be taking in not using surgical cloves for treating your sniffles.

This is the deady coronavirus we’re dealing with here, not bloody Glühwein.

At present, I have no evidence that surgical cloves offer any sort of protection against this new respiratory virus, but my research has indicated that pharmaceutical cinnamon sticks were once used (with limited success) in the treatment of malaria, and that medical-grade star anais has absolutely no effect on Ebola.

It’s time to ask yourself: Is your local council doing all it can to protect you against Covid-19? Free masks and spices seem to be the way forward, but Jacqueline is right – there’s no point simply stockpiling these things in the local mask and spice depot: they need to be supplied to the community and people to protect our selfs.

From this Virus 😉

Actual footage

The first case of Covid-19 in South Africa was confirmed yesterday afternoon.

Being a microbiologist, and having contacts within the healthcare and diagnostic pathology communities, I have managed to get an exclusive actual picture of the test which was used to confirm the infection.

Let me take you through what’s going on here, and how testing for Covid-19 works.

First, you take a purple-topped tube with EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) added. This additive acts as a potent anti-coagulant and immediately ruins any chance of you getting any viral serology result.
The lab won’t waste their time on it and will send you a sarcastic message.

Anyway. Let’s pretend it might still work. (It won’t.)
Fill the tube with blood from the patient and send it off to your local micro lab.

At the lab, the first thing they’ll do is to take a big sticker with a generic and meaningless name of a family of viruses on it, and apply it to the tube.

Once this is done – and before any blood has been removed from the tube – the most junior member of the lab (generally the only one who still has enough enthusiasm to own a red pen) will be asked to look at the blood in the tube and see if s/he can see any viruses. If they can see past the big sticker and there are viruses in there (or if the lab staff have sensibly invested in hand sanitiser stocks and need some extra cash in hand), then the patient is clearly infected.
If not, then there’s still the chance that the patient might have the virus, but that the lab assistant had a bit of a heavy night the night before and thus can’t really focus on the task at hand.

With such a binary decision laid down before us, it’s time to toss a coin.

Heads is positive and tails is negative.

(Or is it the other way around?
I never can remember – it’s been a long time since I had a red pen.)


When this has been done, the lab rat will tick the appropriate box on the label, take a photo with the tube and then phone the Department of Health.

Depending on the result, chaos may ensue.

By not taking any of the useless blood out of the tube, there’s no danger of any laboratory staff getting infected while processing a specimen which you put in the wrong tube anyway. The patient gets their result – confirmed with a tick on the outside of the tube – together with a potentially fatal viral infection to go along with the happier memories of their recent holiday in Italy.

Everyone’s a winner.