COVID19 update, November 1, 2020: UK on 4-week lockdown; vitamin D, once more with feeling; Israel reopened 2nd stage; German spy chief warns against excessive dependence on China

(1) So UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced England is going into a 4-week lockdown.

I’m  afraid no responsible Prime Minister can ignore the message of those figures. When I told you two weeks ago that we were pursuing a local and a regional approach to tackling this virus, I believed then – and I still believe passionately – that was the right thing to do. Because we know the cost of these restrictions, the damage they do, the impact on jobs and on livelihoods and on people’s mental health. No one wants to be imposing these kind of measures anywhere. We didn’t want to be shutting businesses, pubs, restaurants in one part of the country where incidence is very low when the vast bulk of the infections were taking place elsewhere. And our hope was that by strong local action, strong local leadership, we could get the rates of infection down where the disease was surging and address the problem thereby across the whole country. I want to thank the millions of people who have been putting up with these restrictions in their areas for so long. I want to thank the local leaders who stepped up, and local communities. 

Because, as you can see from some of those charts, the R has been kept lower than it would otherwise have been. And there are signs that your work has been paying off and we will continue – as far as we possibly can – to adopt a pragmatic and a local approach in the months ahead.
‘We’re not going back to the full scale lockdown of March and April… But, I’m afraid, from Thursday, the basic message is the same: stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’

(2) Dr. John Campbell again hammers on a simple, cheap, and essentially risk-free intervention, now that the winter season is upon us:

I cannot resist plugging this paper once more: (1) Merzon, E.; Tworowski, D.; Gorohovski, A.; Vinker, S.; Golan Cohen, A.; Green, I.; Frenkel‐Morgenstern, M. Low Plasma 25(OH) Vitamin D Level Is Associated with Increased Risk of COVID‐19 Infection: An Israeli Population‐based Study. FEBS J. 2020287 (17), 3693–3702.

I know for a fact that dietitians in my HMO (a competitor of the one whose data the study was based on) were told to advocate vitamin D supplements across the population, not just if the patient/client has low vitamin D levels in the blood or otherwise presents with deficiency symptoms.

(3) Israel reopened grades 1-4 of its schools today, plus synagogues (quorum of 10 people inside, outside prayers already allowed). One-on-one services such as hairdressing, driving lessons, and personal training are now also allowed. To the exasperation of many small business owners, small clothing, footwear,… businesses are still excluded (slated for reopening November 8 — stores selling food and household necessities were open all along). If you understand Hebrew, here is a sob story of a woman from the chareidi sector who is about to lose the jewelry store she built up from scratch with her own hands (on Kanfei Nesharim/Wings of Eagles street in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Shaul), had it be a lucrative business for 17 years (“it paid for the education and weddings of my eight children”). Now she’s on lockdown for over a month for the second time (in between, business was meager, as you can expect), she has used up her cash reserves, and both her business and home landlords are after her.

A different segment altogether, likewise in Hebrew, is how COVID19 will change the face of the synagogue. Don’t forget that the Hebrew name beit knesset (and its Greek translation, synagogue) literally means “house of assembly”: just how does that work in an era of social distancing? The Reform and Conservative movements (which in Israel are niche phenomena, with maybe 10K and 20K members, respectively) have in the main embraced distance prayer via Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms, but even in Orthodox circles, some voices are going up for permitting this on a “for the duration of the emergency” basis lest people lose touch with the synagogue and with Judaism. (Orthodox halachic authorities all agree that active use of electronic devices on the Sabbath and holidays is forbidden. And even on a weekday, can electronic presence be counted for the minyan/prayer quorum of ten? Questions, questions.) Against this, others stress the power of solitary prayer, and point out this crisis will be over one day.

(4) Tangentially COVID19 related: Germany’s former spy chief warns Angela Merkel “China is close to world domination”.

In an interview with the Times on Sunday, Mr Schindler detailed how Beijing approaches international relations, and sounded alarm for Europe over its reliance on China for exports.

He added: China is going about things very cleverly, very quietly, but all the same with an astonishingly consistent strategy, and it is a concern that we in Europe hardly notice this dominant behaviour.

“Our stance towards China has been dominated by business relations. We need to reconsider that. We are partly dependent on China, for example with our car industry.

“But you can’t ease this dependence by becoming more dependent; we should strive to be less dependent.”

He went on to point to Huawei as a major example of China’s influence, claiming the telecoms firm’s technology was so much more advanced than its European rivals Germany could no longer tell if “back doors” existed in its 5G network.

He added: “It’s as though an engineer specialised in steam engines were supposed to assess an internal combustion engine.

“If Huawei were to build [5G network components] we would have no idea what they were building.

“You can imagine where we are in a crisis and the threat ‘We’re going to turn your communication network off’ would influence our decisions.”

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