Journal of a plague year

The Great Visitation of CoViD-19

health virus immunity risk resilience Angus Soutar

A journal of a plague year

From the diary of Angus Soutar

with apologies to Daniel Defoe.
Being Observations or Memorials of the most remarkable occurrences, as well public as private, which happened in Lancashire in the United Kingdom during the great visitation of SARS-CoV-2 in 2020 and shortly thereafter. Never made publick before.

January - 2020: The news from China does not look good. There is an outbreak of a new virus that looks like a variation of the one that caused the previous SARS outbreak. These viruses are from the coronavirus family and are tricky ones to deal with. Grainy videos emerge of people falling over in the street and massive contruction projects building pre-fab hospitals within days. It seems that the Chinese authorities are taking this seriously. From the start, it has been difficult to get information about what is really going on. So, from our permaculture perspective, the precautionary principle must apply.

It looks like disruption is imminent. At home, we add to our stockpile of emergency supplies, and order a consignment of P3 dust masks. When atttempting to order more masks for friends and family we come up against a supply problem. It seems that the entire health sector is short of emergency PPE.

"It is too early to declare a pandemic".

The risks of a "mystery virus"

Febrary 2020 Borders not closed and the disease is coming into the country. Things are looking bad in Italy where a lot of our local teenagers have gone on half-term trips. With some nervousness, I allowed the new course at Bury to go ahead. Almost immediately, I postpone all course days until we understand what the risks are. We can't afford the reputational damage from holding a "spreader" event. We offer to continue on-line.

virus risks in meeting up maintain health at courses
Course starts at Bury February 2020

President Trump mentions that the pandemic is airborne, but nobody takes any notice because he is always bad and wrong. UK Government advises against shaking hands and hugging.

"We are two weeks behind Italy, but don't panic."

March - April 2020 Strict lockdown imposed on UK. At home, we are ready. We are well-stocked and have pre-empted the national scramble for toilet paper. We are allowed out to collect our weekly vegetable bag from Pennine Cropshare. If we are going to die, then at least we will die well-fed.

I resist any temptation to feel smug because although we are ahead of the curve, things could easily get much, much worse. It's only at times like this that we realise that we are still poorly prepared for emergencies. I am glad that this one still feels like a rehearsal.

Although we are under house arrest, we count our blessings. The weather is good, we have a small garden and can spend unlimited time outdoors there. Venturing out under the concessions, the roads are delightfully clear and, after a few weeks, the skies are much clearer too. If we get through the the next ten years, I hope that the environment would be more like this.

mystery virus health crisis

I have numerous plans to renovate the house, plant the garden, reorganise my hard disk etc but I am working long hours converting the entire Northern School business to working via the internet "for the duration". In spite of our team's herculean efforts, many current students have no desire to spend extra screen time with us becuse they are "working from home". I fully sympathise with them. We struggle on with those brave enough to keep us company.

Out in the wider world, the UK authorities say that testing and tracing in the wider public are "no longer appropriate". What has happened to our excellent local Public Health system? We are still flying blind.

"Six weeks to flatten the curve".

Our resilience is tested

May 2020: I have stopped both surgeon-style hand-washing and biological warfare on innocent surfaces. The disease is clearly spreading via aerosols and there is no evidence that the virus remains viable on surfaces outside the body. Contrary to public belief, the disease does not seem to be particulary deadly and the emphasis is shifting towards protecting hospitals and older people

"Wash your hands - sing Happy Birthday twice".

June 2020 Restrictions begin to be lifted. We are running just ahead of two PDC cohorts to deliver our emerging on-line course. I welcome the opportunity to go out for extended walks, but I am still finding it difficult to get away from the screen. Finally, I venture out into Nature, seeking a calming antidote to my struggles with technology. I find that the nearby moors are on fire.

The risk of moorland fires The health risks of smoking
Darwen Moor June 2020

It's becoming clear to me that healthy people (even healthy older people like me) can surive the disease and our first line of defence is given by our own immune systems. (Just as the moorland will recover after a fire, so will humans recover after a virus attack) I write an article about immunity for Northern Edge.

Good news is emerging from front-line doctors who are having good results from early treatment for those having trouble throwing off the virus. NHS doctors seem resistant to these innovations. Perhaps it's the "not invented here" syndrome?

I am no longer scared of dying, it's going into an NHS hospital that scares me.

"Stay at Home - Save Lives - Protect the NHS"

July 2020 Our first fully on-line PDC begins with a great delivery team pulling out all the stops.

NS 3 NS 4
NS 5 NS 6

I am invited by my old alma mater to participate in the REACT study - a major national survey into the prevalence of the virus. This involved 20 minutes of carefully studying instructions then shoving a swab up my nose as far as it will go and then a bit further. The swab is to be collected by Yodel who are due at any time after 7am on the day.

After my worst early morning experience for a long time, Yodel fail to turn up. I enter into an extended internet chat with a Yodel rep, who says all the right things but after two days they still haven't collected my swab (which remains carefully packaged according to the detailed instructions). I supect that I have been "chatting" to a robot.

I discover an interview with Karry Mullis, the inventor of the PCR test, saying that the technique was not designed to detect any particular type of infectious disease. Can't someone come up with a better test?

I do research into specificity and sensitivity, looking at the design of tests and the potential for false positives. I have not taken a CoViD test since. I hate plastic waste and besides, I continue sulk about my rejection by REACT.

I do feel for hospital workers and the toll that this is taking on them. However, much of their current discomfort is caused by a failure to implement the recommendations from Exercise Cygnus which was carried out (at significant cost) to prepare the NHS for exactly this eventuality (one predicted by the 2016 study). I can't help thinking that the sacrifices that we are all making on behalf of the NHS would be far less if the authorities had taken notice of their own study, rather than labelling the results as "too terrifying".

"Come out and clap for the NHS"

Along the plague highway

August 2020 Local restrictions still in place. On a walking meeting on the West Pennine Moors we reflect that we are only a few miles from the A666. This road, from Blackburn to Bolton, has become a plague highway, connecting those towns with the highest incidence of the virus in the whole of the UK. This is an area of extreme health inequality.

It's an interesting observation that the "heat maps" for virus damage and those for poverty and deprivation seem to coincide frequently. Up here on the moors, all that seems very far away.

A colleague says he is ready for a further lockdown this winter, maybe just in time for Christmas?

Despite the offer of incentives, I decline an invitation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to support the hospitality industry.

"Eat out to help out."

September - October 2020 In our part of the world, we only seem to have had a handful of weeks this year without restrictions of some sort. A "Rule of six" is introduced, scuppering any thoughts that we might have had about getting back to face-to-face training. We advertise the next course at Bury to start in February 2021.

Greater Manchester moves to "Very High Alert" level. I've been alert from last February, but how do I stay alert to an invisible dread? Will it creep up on me while I am asleep?

Lots of news about cases everywhere. Nobody I talk to is sure what a "case" is, or whether deaths are "of CoViD" or "with CoViD". Am I the only one who thinks that these distinctions are important. How can we trust the figures?

health crisis
"Hands - Face - Space".

November 2020 Locked down again. The health regime for avoiding long-term effects (such as death) by this virus is becoming clear. Avoid over-exposure - sharing confined spaces with infected people for prolonged periods. Pay great attention to optimum nutrition (as I wrote about at the time]. Get lots of exercise and fresh air, plenty of sleep and low levels of stress. Personal resilience cannot be reduced to simple slogans. But, instead of encouragement to keep healthy, we get brainwashing instead.

"A scotch egg could constitute a substantial meal - if there were table service."

Keeping positive - mental resilience

December 2020 I am now shaking hands with people, exchanging hugs with friends but I continue to avoid crowded spaces. Christmas gathering with neighbours takes place, but outdoors.

Krysia is ill with a nasty, persistent 'flu-like disease. The government website will not allow her to have a test, because her symptoms do not match their algorithm. A friend later points out that she has been penalised for her honesty. Apparently, the trick is to say that you have lost your sense of taste and smell.

Whatever it is, I am exposed to it persistently. I remain well: we are rarely both ill at the same time.

The "Oxford" vaccine is on the way. In August Oxford University pledged that it would be open to qualified manufacturers to produce without paying royalties, and priced either "at cost" or at a small profit. The vaccine was 97 per cent funded by us taxpayers and charities. Now. the "open licence" agreement seems to have been quietly dropped. But at least it is British, and the technology does not look quite as scary as those experimental mRNA shots from Pfizer and others.

"Stay alert" - control the virus - save lives."

January - February 2021 Locked down again. Postponed the next start of our Bury course.

End-of-course presentations continue over t'Internet for those who started their PDC's "in person". The standard of work remains high, but the opportunity to celebrate it is muted.

resilience in our on-line course
A surprise compliance check for the on-line PDC
Sooty declares an on-line picnic: fixed penalty notices issued

In my quieter moments I ask myself how many of us who are able to work from home are doing jobs that are essential to the economy or to daily life. Are our jobs really necessary?

It's all fine for the Laptop Class who set the rules, but will compulsory lockdowns be another case of the medicine that is worse than than the disease?

"Get your shot and get back to normal".

March 2021 I succumb to appeals to be a good citizen and take my first shot of the AstraZeneca, preferring to wait to get to my GP surgery rather than drive miles to a vaccination factory.

Somehow, "AstraZeneca" doesn't sound as comforting a "Oxford". I feel a bit crap for a few weeks afterwards, but I always do at this time of year.

"Vaccines are safe and effective"

No shortcuts to immunity?

April 2021 I am called for my second shot of AstraZeneca. I turn up and have the shot - something I now regard as my biggest mistake of the year.

The night following the injection, I become very ill. The next day I could hardly move and I had a blinding headache that exceeded the worst hangover that I have ever had, ever.

I am too ill to even cancel my appointments. Over the day, I take 5 grammes of Vitamin C. I have nothing else to hand, being unable to source "early treatment" medications. By evening, I am able to send out apologetic e-mails.

About five years earlier, I had a nasty dose of winter flu' which left me with a catalogue of symptoms that lasted for months. Now, following my acute reaction to the AZ shot, my body went though a weird re-enactment of those chronic symptoms, with the addition of a few more, persisted for several weeks:

  • tingling/numbness in left arm (bad in the little finger)
  • apain between the shoulder blades
  • night sweats
  • tachycardia
  • dizziness, specially after bending down
  • tinnitus
  • blurred vision
  • mouth infections
  • sinus problems
  • skin rashes
  • headaches
  • debilitating lethargy
immunity by vaccine

Some have said to me "It's OK, it just shows that the vaccine is working." But I would say that I have had a lucky escape.

I find it ironic that I remained pefectly healthy during the plague year and now I am laid low by the thing that is supposed to stop all the trouble.

Meanwhile, out in the region, restrictions are easing, We confirm that the Bury course will go ahead next month - outside. I hope I will be fit enough.

It's healthy outdoors - we re-eneact the Spanish Flu pandemic response

May 2021 This year's Bury course starts outside at Manchester Road, Bury. To comply with regulations, we work outdoors under a gazebo.

fresh air and resilience
Course starts again at Bury - May 2021

Most participants are relaxed about masking and social distancing. The instructors start off with face shields to avoid inadvertantly spitting at their audience. We discus safety in the context of permaculture appraisals and risk analysis, considering generic patterns of dealing with pests, predators and diseases. We all agree on a simple protocol that if anyone is showing symptoms of anything, then they stay at home. Otherwise, we press on with the course.

"Hands - Face - Space - and Fresh Air"

June - August 2021

Since I am not "testing", I make sure that I am allowing 4-5 days between meetings and outings, to see whether I develop any symptoms. Afer being out, I gargle and use nasal sprays, using saline solution if I don't have anything else suitable.

Virus vaccines and definitions

It is now becoming clear that vaccines aren't stopping the spread of the disease. So, they are medical treatments, not vaccines?

"Vaccines help prevent serious disease and death"

September - October 2021

We start our PDC at Warland Farm. We are indoors, but well ventilated. Although I have largely recovered from the "vaccine", my immune system is responding to exposure to the outside world by leaving me with "the sniffles" as a side effect of going out and about.

Our first Northern School social event since 2019 takes place on a fine day in the garden at Summerbottom. Slowly, collective fears of being close to other people are subsiding.

NS 5 NS 6
At last, a chance to give out certificates September 2021

There now appears to be a pandemic of testing, which confines people to home whether they are ill or not. I get overloaded while my associates are sitting at home and, most of the time, nobody gets ill. I can't find any decent evidence to back up the idea of asymptomatic spread.

The darkest hour

November 2021 Talk of further restrictions at Christmas. The economy here is on its knees. Our School finances, and the general well-being of our associates, has been hit very hard already. Meanwhile vast sums of money have been spread around as compensation for lockdown, but we have seen none of it.

The predominant mood locally seems to be that re-imposition of restrictions will be met with open defiance.

December 2021 At last, some good news from South Africa. A new SARS2 variant (Omicron) emerges, somewhat mysteriously, in South Africa. South African doctors report that it is spreading rapidy, is highly infectious but has lower morbidity. It looks like everyone will get this eventually, and that all previous measures to counter the virus are increasingly ineffective.

This is particularly good news for my unvaccinated friends as it gives them a safer route to acquired immunity (should they not have that already). They have been treated despicably this year.

Resilience and the human immune system
No thanks, I'm good

Despite much doom and gloom in the UK, where the authorities are reluctant to accept that South African doctors know what they are talking about, we have a fairly normal Christmas holiday. We attend family events, just leaving "precaitionary" gaps to see if we develop any symptoms.

The PDC course is finally driven indoors at Manchester Road, more due to darkness than temperature level. Our common-sense safety protocols are holding up well, even with the absence of mask-wearing. People report in sick and then later test positive. No-one becomes seriously ill.

January 2022 I am increasingly concerned about the use of mRNA treatments on healthy people. They are not proper vaccines and there do appear to be risks. Worse, the more I try to get good statistics, the murkier the "science" becomes.

Chris Martenson reports on vaccination efficacy
Watch the video with Chris Martenson here.

I decline the offer of a booster shot. Just about everyone I know who took the booster has been ill over Christmas. I have avoided any infections so far. (Memo to self: don't tempt fate.)

A plague of information

In spite of all the dire warnings, the "plague year" seems to be coming to an end. But I still don't know whether I have:

  • been infected with the virus
  • am at a particular risk of suffering severe effects if I do catch it
  • have natural immunity
  • have acquired immunity
  • whether the AZ vaccine has caused me any long term harm.

I would have expected some answers to at least some of these questions by now. I live in a technically advanced country that prides itself on its scientific and technological excellence and its world-leading National Health Service.

The pandemic has exposed some underlying weaknesses in our society. While fighting an invisible enemy, we seem to have shot ourselves in the foot. The economic damage is now plain to see, both out there in my local community and in the Northern School of Permaculture's bank balance. We did everything asked of us. Eye-watering sums of money have been spent spent during the pandemic but none of it has come our way.

This is only part of the societal damage that is left as the pandemic recedes. For the last two years I have been looking for information that will keep myself and our enterprises thriving, through managing the risks. (What are the risks?) I have a scientific training, I have experience in research. As a permaculture designer, I am always working with imperfect information. But this pandemic has been something else. No wonder there are so many conspiracy theories, nothing seems to add up.

By now, we should have developed our collective knowledge of the situation through observation and scientific enquiry. Instead, "science", and scientists, seem to have been co-opted into a demonstration that decisions taken by both government and industry during the pandemic have all been the right ones. Research studies have been designed and manipulated to achieve the desired results. Glaring gaps in the information have still not been addressed.

Gradually, I have become apalled at the suppression of scientific enquiry as the pandemic unfolded, to see it replaced by blatant propaganda from authorities that tolerate no deviation from the party line. This is worthy of an article in itself, so I will return to this for the benefit of those who are still hestitant to believe that this suppression could happen. I can, and will, present evidence

All of this is far more disturbing than the virus itself. We have just been through a pandemic of willful ignorance. We still have a plague of conflicting information, statistical manipulation and, worst of all, the suppression of any discussion about the growing body of evidence.

David Holmgren interview

The pandemic and beyond

I have had some good conversations with David Holmgren in the past and I recognise him as a leading authority on permaculture thinking and action, a quality that he has demonstrated thoughout his long career. Some of you may like to hear his views on the current situation.


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