/ Home & Energy

Coronavirus pandemic: tell us your consumer concerns

We’ve been publishing key information around COVID-19. But in this unprecedented situation, you can help: what consumer issues matter most to you?

Get all the latest news and advice from our coronavirus hub

01/04/2020: The impact on your life

Thank you to everyone who took part in the polls on 17 March – the results help inform our research and shape our advice content.

Today we’ve added three more questions in the polls below. Please do let us know how the situation has impacted on your day-to-day life in the comments.

How often are you shopping for groceries during the lockdown? (either online or in store)
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Are you able to find all of your essential items when grocery shopping?
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Taking into account the government's announcements about financial support, how worried are you about your personal finances?
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Have you asked your bank, energy provider, or other service provider for additional help during the pandemic? What happened?

No, and I do not intend to (65%, 591 Votes)

No - I would expect them to contact me (18%, 160 Votes)

They proactively contacted me with what support they could offer (7%, 61 Votes)

Something else (tell us in the comments) (5%, 49 Votes)

Yes, but they were not able to offer me the support I needed (2%, 19 Votes)

Yes - they offered me the help I asked for (2%, 16 Votes)

Yes - they offered me some help, but less than I expected (1%, 8 Votes)

Yes - they were able to offer me help beyond what my expectations were (0%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 907

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17/03/2020: Are you clear on the latest advice?

Yesterday the government announced that everyone should avoid ‘non-essential’ travel and contact with others. But are you clear on what the new advice means for you?

Answer the questions below as we continue to address how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting people’s lives.

These polls have now closed.

13/03/2020: Tell us your consumer concerns

Experts from all corners of Which? have been putting their heads together to ensure we’re giving you the key information you need to protect yourself, protect your money and make important decisions.

You’ll find more information on how to manage the consumer impact of the pandemic across which.co.uk, including:

How you can protect yourself and others

What each supermarket is doing to manage and avoid supply issues

What the pandemic means for mortgages, savings, and other investments

What it means for your travel plans, or if events are cancelled

Guidance for parents whose children may be affected, including infant pain relief, taking a child’s temperature, and how to identify a rash

Which? Members can also get tailored one-to-one legal advice from Which? Legal

We’ll keep updating this list as more advice is added.

What questions do you have?

We need to know what you want to know. Tell us how the coronavirus is impacting you, especially:

Your travel plans: are you still planning your holidays? Had issues with rebooking for later, or perhaps have had to cancel?

Your experience of the pandemic: are you spotting price gouging, shortages, dodgy products, or other issues online or in shops that aren’t being reported?

Self-isolation: what problems or challenges are you coming up against whilst staying in doors? How are you managing your finances? What information would you find useful?

Any other consumer questions: what would you like to know that you haven’t found an answer for yet?

Comments
awjfk says:
17 April 2020

Crosse & Blackwell soup at ASDA a few weeks ago was 60p.
Now £1.07.

Barry Reynolds says:
17 April 2020

I am 87 on 13th May and cannot find out how to get delivery or click and collect. I have tried to contact two supermarkets by phone but are unable to.

You have to use the internet, and be very very patient. There’s usually no slots left at all. Supermarkets (Tesco anyway, unsure of the others) add the next day of slots at midnight, but you have to get in just before midnight as they put people in some weird queueing system starting about 10 to midnight. So log in about 20 to midnight, then go to the screen where it shows you what slots aren’t free, refresh the page every 10 seconds until it says “you’re in a queue”, then watch the screen until it gets you to the list, then hope you ended up near the front of the queue. Beat them at their own game!

https://www.tesco.com/help/priority-slots-faq/
The government have supplied lists of over 70’s to Tesco and they have emailed them to say they are on the priority list
I don’t know how it works though if Tesco don’t have your email address does the Government ? I think thats also unlikely so it might be they can only contact you if you have a Tesco club card because then they will have your email address ?

Mass panic buying is, in effect, another form of disease which only adds more pain to the original one. It’s a common reaction to feel some discomfort when the normal routine of life is disrupted and threatens to remove us from our comfort zones.

We need first to discover the cause of this panic buying, which has its roots in uncertainty and fear of the unknown. The overwhelmingly constant and repetitive mixed reports coming from our TV screens with politicians and professional scientists, aided and abetted by political persuasion, with their well rehearsed innuendos and evasive answers to questions from the general public and mass media, in an effort to cover up PPE shortages in NHS hospitals is adding to the anxiety and fear in many people, and despite admitting they know very little about a virus that has the capacity to kill so many people, still somehow manage to instil a myriad of well rehearsed conflicting messages to bewilder and confuse.

First hand washing was key, but it failed to stop the virus spreading, to self isolation followed by people shielding, which some people ignored anyway, to enforced lockdown with loss of hundreds of jobs and now to mask or not to mask is the latest question to hand, all this confusion resulting in a fear that paralyses all rational thinking processes causing mass uncontrollable anxiety and panic buying.

To gain some semblance of rationality in a time of much disruption, take a break from the constant and repetitive TV news channels. Accepting the present situation does not, in any way, mean surrendering to it. There is enough food for everyone but it may not be the same brand you are used to and compromise is inevitable and sometimes surprisingly pleasant. Keep a watchful eye on your elderly and vulnerable neighbours and offer or accept help whichever the case may be, all of which can hold the key to overcoming the shortages and the overinflated prices caused by unconscious selfishness and unnecessary panic buying.

Agreed, I saw no reason there would be a food shortage, so did nothing. I just continued as normal. Same as the “fuel crisis” when there was a strike at a petrol refinery. But now we have supermarkets making the shortages worse. So some folk want to buy three times as much, the supermarkets can’t stop this. They try to by limiting you to less items per shopping spree. So what do the moronic hoarders do? They just shop three times. Three times the contact, three times the queue, three times the virus transmission, what a farce. I’m quite enjoying this 3 month (or more?) holiday….

Why, oh Why, does ‘Nextdoor’ want to rummage through my private contacts, they are not attempting to want or need communication with my local neighbours, I am the one with provisional needs.

Elrond5, Your icon would indicate your ‘Nextdoor’ may have reason to be concerned for your welfare.

I think elrond5 is referring to Nextdoor that took over the forum Streetlife a few years ago. Streetlife was a really good way to keep in touch with local issues where you could stay anonymous and protect your privacy.

Nextdoor on the other hand was far too invasive and displayed your name and address to all and sundry.

We have one such organisation in my area alfa.
Their website is easy to contact @ nextdoor.co.uk.

I was a bit concerned about Elrond5 as his icon portrays someone who may be in need of some help at the moment, but may be resisting it. He says he is the one with personal needs but he maybe reluctant to let anyone in in case they rummage through his private contacts who paradoxically could be the very people he knows and trusts and could help him.

Reason….

My reply: ‘My Contacts’ have very little to do with me, as a person, a human is not made up with personalities that I might work with, agree with, provide sustenance both Mental & Financial, and in the end might disagree with. It, “Nextdoor” is I imagine is a volunteer force within a radius of 2Km to help other’s in this period of emergency.
It’s is not one supposes, an agent flogging insurance to the masses.
As to the Musketeer Icon, suggest you read my Profile, ‘active’ means active when requested, I am certificated and trusted by UK.Gov.

Nextdoor ruined streetlife it also put peoples identity at risk, the owner of next door was also a hit and run driver so there goes any trust i might have had with the company, i uninstalled streetlife and made it clear to nextdoor they may not have or use my information ever, it is one of the most concerning take overs i had ever seen.
personally i am shocked that it was allowed , but i am better off without this interfering dangerous american company.
I really liked streetlife but most i was in contact with all left along with me.
Join your local freegle or freecycle , long standing non profit companies

nextdoor is a profit making company based in america who do not care for you or your personal information unless they are making money out of it , they are intrusive and the owner did a hit and run a while ago , who is going to trust a company run by a criminal.
I would think that he is a victim of one of their sneaky lets have all your mates details so we can spam them all with s***e.
I have had several cards through my letterbox by local random people inviting me to join….this is a bad choice of groups it is not british it is offshore US and if anything did go wrong good luck getting it resolved!

Nextdoor saves scammers time by revealing exactly who needs construction work — and where they live. Nextdoor shares its users’ full names and addresses with other people in the neighborhood by default. (You can choose to display just your street name by clicking on your profile picture and going to Settings > Privacy.) Nextdoor is just a petri dish for low level crime in my opinion and some american write ups, which is where it is based , this is not british anymore people , do you really want to let an unpoliced party be privvy to your dirty washing?

You can’t judge someone by their icon ffs.

My pardon to you, I realize you are not party to my full profile, I can provide with references to find a better pigeon hole, for the me the person, as a widow the peace of being a singularity, I am well aware of.
For your peace, the icon is a picture of a tee-shirt and a careful viewing, 2 wisps of smoke are coming from the pan & muzzle. The musketeer is advancing up a breastwork onto level ground driving off the defender’s at the top, the story would follow you do not advance with a loaded matchlock musket, when entering into Club Musket Mode (the Dutch type matchlock being ideal with it’s fish-tail stock)

I feel the 17th century has a lot to offer at times like this.

Absolutely. The flintlock had no match.

Well, pretty well everyone in the first half was employed, masterless men/people were hounded out of the Parish, near everyone could be found work of sorts, old & young kept the vermin from the crop, and the right to ‘gleen’ after harvest. Puritan may have been stuckup ‘new born Saints’ , but the mistress of the house kept a large herb garden to heal the poor, and in many case educated their youth. It was only later in the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ that literacy dipped well below the 60% previously established before 1642.

Is’t thing, entering a village. – Enter every abode, take away the bed cord (parliamentarians gave an IOU slip)

You’ve convinced me, I’m dumping them, the few emails I’m party to, also point a more ensnaring gossip/blame orientation. (don’t need to know about a car parked for two days a Km away)

LOL!
thats taking things a bit too literally
I don’t have an icon wonder what that means ? I can’t quite make out what yours is Beryl Is it a woman in a kimono serving tea in a bowl
Just guessing
Elrond was an elf and one of the good guys in Lord of The Rings

John T
Yes you’re right.
It’s a Japanese Geisha serving tea at a Tea Ceremony.

Good to hear you are OK and coping Erond5.

Gave me an ‘in’ spreading a more individual History to the spell bound masses, I lean towards the “Living History” side (last redoubt of the short of breath), not just the bang & crash of mixed sex(& others) groupies.

Rob Denson says:
26 April 2020

I am 73 and have ischemic heart disease as well as mild asthma. What I can’t understand is why I haven’t had a letter yet to tell me to self isolate. The public health England web site only allows access if you meet the very vunerable criteria.I am self isolating but am aware that if I am not on a register of vunerable people I will have difficulty in accessing services and on line food shopping. A friend who has no underlying health issues but is 73 has received a letter to self isolate whereas another who has cancer and is also 73 has only just received a letter 5 weeks into lockdown

Are we paying the price for being a liberal society where we don’t like the idea of the government knowing everything about us in case they pass it on to commerce?

I am receiving supermarket deliveries in large plastic bags. I assume that these might have been infected by the delivery driver and remove the contents without touching the bags, which I then keep for a week before assuming they are safe to use as waste disposal bags. Is this assumption reasonable?

I then have the following classes of purchase, and, assuming that the picker/packer might have been infected too, handle them as described. It would be helpful if Which? could comment on whether these are known to be the best procedures, or on better ones, or if the assumptions are based on unknown details of COVID-19 behaviour and possibly unsafe.

Frozen food in plastic bags – place in freezer and do not touch for 24 hours, then assume safe. Are corona viruses destroyed by freezing, or preserved?
Perishables in plastic (dairy, meat, juice, etc.) – place on “isolation” shelf of rerigerator and do not touch for 72 hours, then assume safe.
Fruit, vegetables and baked goods in plastic wrapping – remove wrapping and isolate at room temperature for six hours, then assume safe.
Non-perishables in glass, metal or plastic containers (water, wine, jam, tinned food, raisins, etc.) – isolate at room temperature for 72 hours and then assume safe.
Non-perishables in paper or cardboard wrapping (without plastic film), unwrapped fruit, vegetables and baked goods – isolate at room temperature for six hours and assume safe.

Obviously there is multiple hand-washing after each possible contact with potentially infected wrapping.

From two collections I now have a dozen Tesco ‘bags for life’, which I will wash in warm soapy water and eventually reuse as shopping bags when it is safe to venture into a supermarket.

The number of viable virus particles on a surface will decline with time and viruses cannot multiply outside the body. It needs a minimum number of virus particles (the ‘infectious dose’) to cause an infection, though we do not yet have a figure. I’m not aware of reports of infections in people who have isolated themselves from contact with others, but it makes sense to take precautions.

Oh dear! I am afraid we are not as scrupulous as James and don’t take the same kind of precautions – although we do tend to wear nitrile gloves when doing things in the kitchen which I would expect to limit the risk of any infection transfer from the shopping to the body. Handwashing after doing anything is now a constant routine more than ever before and we are using a lot more hand conditioner in consequence.

We have a goods-in area for our once a week supermarket deliveries. Anything non-perishable with a washable surface gets cleaned with hot soapy water then moved along to another area to dry thoroughly. Items with non-washable surfaces stay in the goods-in area longer and might get transferred to another container. They will be put away for the next delivery. The dedicated cloth is washed thoroughly then dried for next time. Freezer items have to go straight in the freezer and hope for the best, fridge items either get removed from packaging or their packs get a clean first.

Carrier bags go into a big bag up in the loft ready to return to the supermarket when they accept them again.

The only time I use gloves is when cleaning with chemicals, other times it is just a lot of handwashing and the same as John, using plenty of hand cream.

Like James we are not sure if what we are doing is right, but it feels safer than doing nothing at all.

I’ve never used hand cream in my life, until recently. In my case it’s the combination of gardening and DIY with the hand washing. I found an unopened tube of E45 that had belonged to my mother, so it’s been worth keeping it for fifteen years.

You too? First time in my life I’ve ever used the stiff. Nice and soft it makes hands, though.

There’s also an old tube of Nutrogena, which I assume is a hand cream rather than a food supplement.

Dot says:
13 May 2020

I get deliveries it is with gloves tipped out of those plastic bags into boxes etc
The bags are stashed away fir a long time ,month.
The different things are treated by a ,washing withsoap and also unpacking and replaced in different containers i.e.the bread in foil after tipping it out of the wrapping
The glass and metal containers are timed as per it states on the internet how long they can hold the virus
It is a treble job and involves as you say hand washing ,and timing ,what is most tricky is plastic wrapping not much time info on that .
If I handle something not sure of wash hands again
Its tricky let’s hope
A,The virus eases ,everyone being out again to work etc sounds to soon
B. A vaccine is found with that we might be more ready to socialise a bit
Regards

Surely Bags For Life must be safe the clue is in the name

I pay £29 per month to my vet for Pet Plan insurance which gives us worming, tick and flea tablets for my 2 Cockerpoos, plus vaccines when required.
During the virus 🦠 pandemic the vet closed for non emergencies. When I contacted them to enquire re the monthly tablets I was told I would have to pay £5 postage to get the product which would have to come from the manufacturer due to government guide lines as they weren’t allowed to touch the tablets and I couldn’t pick up from the Vet. I agreed reluctantly and paid the £5 over the phones. When the tiny parcel arrived it had a large letter stamp £1.15 and had been sent from the vets practice. I was obviously annoyed by this and told them I was cancelling my Pet Plan and leaving the practice, I accused them of profiteering and lying to us and benefiting due to the Covid19 situation. Their reaction was one of a petulant child they left me a ranting voice message on my phone and have sent me a huge bill £480 due to the early cancellation of the pet plans which were in their 4th year anyway. Can I ask what you think about my rights please?

Don’t know the legal position but I think you can stand your ground
Two things though I think Pet Plan are an insurance company and you could try contacting them directly to say that you don’t want to cancel your policy because that’s where I think the charges might come from it’s difficult to see how that can be the case
Alternatively the vet may be trying to charge for all the medications supplied under the policy as if you had no cover don’t know where ther £480 comes from I definitely wouldn’t pay it
If there is a problem getting Pet Plan to help then there is an insurance ombudsman
Regarding getting medication Vets have a legal obligation to supply you with a prescription same as opticians etc if you want to buy medication from another supplier I don’t know about the vaccinations the insurance company will possibly have an alternative vet to suggest
The vet is the problem it would seem and you can probably report them trading standards

Sandra Smith says:
30 April 2020

I am a ‘vulnerable oap’ and am ‘shielding’ currently until mid June. Sainsburys came to my rescue with online shopping and deliver direct to my door. No complaints there.
However, why is it that their Basic range is not available online? I notice that my weekly shop is far more expensive and eats into my pension.

Yes I’ve noticed that too. I’m also an OAP and can’t go out for eg to Poundland which saved money, on branded goods. So yes my Sainsburys shop is also more expensive.

Diane says:
13 May 2020

I’ve just had an experience with pricing gouging.
Needed car insurance urgently, so rang up current company to add new car to policy. To cut a long story short, they wanted to charged me nearly 3times the price i got just 6 months ago. Had to have ins, so took it!. After looking on comparison site, i got it for nearly half the price as i couldn’t bring over my NCD’s. they told me that when current ins ran out to send over NCD’s and they’d reduce the premium.
Needless to say i rang back original ins.co 10 minutes later, and cancelled the insurance. They are a well known company too…Oh yes, says the dog as he skateboards around… Wont be going back there!!
I was dumbfounded at the cheek.

This is probably a naive question with a simple answer. There has been extensive criticism of the government for neglecting care homes in the early part of the crisis. As I recall, at that stage the prime aim was to prepare hospitals for a potential huge influx of patients with severe problems. However the basic precautions were known – avoiding close contact, isolating vulnerable people, using gloves, masks and other protective measures.

So, my question is, as care homes make money from looking after the elderly were they incapable of putting such precautions into action? Were they unable to think through the basic actions they could take to protect the vulnerable inmates who they are are paid to look after. PPE would, I would hope, be in their stores normally; clearly not in the quantities now demanded but everyone suffered from the shortage. And they are just as capable of trawling the market for supplies as are others.

I’m just wondering why they choose to blame the government when, as a specialised profit-oriented industry devoted to looking after particularly susceptible people, they seem to be ill-equipped to deal with their responsibilities.

I agree malcolm.

A friend’s Dad is in a care home and they put themselves into lockdown before being told. They organised their staff to live-in to care for the residents and have had no cases of the virus.

A news channel interviewed a care home owner who had got together with others in their area to acquire PPE. They said it had not been easy and it took effort, but they were managing to acquire all they needed. It was not what the interviewer wanted to hear, I thought the interview was terminated rather quickly and we wouldn’t hear from them again – doesn’t make good news stories does it.

Bad care homes have been in the news for a long time, there have been enough convos and comments about them here, so it is little wonder they are failing their residents now.

Flu annually claims many lives of which many will be in care homes so presumably staff should already be using PPE, if not why not?

Care homes make huge profits and they are the ones who should be held responsible for those in their care.

I agree, Alfa – but do not the local authorities who register care homes and place elderly people in them not have a responsibility to inspect them regularly and check that they are adequately equipped?

I think PPE stock levels might be an appropriate question for CQC inspectors to ask [under the ‘keeping residents safe’ category] in future.

The failure of successive governments to address all the ‘care in later life’ issues is coming home to roost now. Although the homes are generally privately owned and operated they are commissioned by social services departments to look after or accommodate people who can no longer manage in their own home on their own or even with domiciliary care, and a high percentage of the care home sector’s income is a direct result of public expenditure.

Unfortunately it seems that some nursing homes have been no better than residential care homes in having adequate PPE provision.

The CQC and local authorities do seem incapable of properly inspecting care homes. But that does not absolve the care home businesses from behaving responsibly; inspection should be an official check, not a necessary activity to make care home proprietors take the actions necessary to operate their businesses correctly and responsibly.

Theo Savvas says:
15 May 2020

Halfords have been absolutely shameless. Their Boardman mountain bikes have just been put up by 20 per cent today, amidst the demand for bikes during lockdown….

Simonne15 says:
16 May 2020

Businesses e.g. the physio I depend upon, trying to get PPE before they can officially open up again are we suspect being conned. Orders have been accepted then weeks later are cancelled, probably because someone else is offering a higher price. Then a highly inflated price is quoted to re-order. Where can this be reported, given that the goods are largely coming from China?

Lorna Gibbon says:
19 May 2020

Not exactly price gouging – but profiteering in my mind anyway

As well as price gouging I am having a major issue with renewal of My Sainsbury Delivery Pass. I have had a delivery pass for years and don’t usually set the thing to auto-renew since I might want to change the payment card details or the length of the pass depending what I can afford at the time of renewal. Sainsbury are saying that if you have set auto-renewal then it will be automatically renewed but if you haven’t, it won’t because they are not accepting ‘new delivery pass applications’. Someone in customer services set my account to auto renew, so they CAN do it (I got an email telling me it had been auto-renewed) and 2 minutes later it was taken off again. Excuse is that under GDPR regulations I have to opt-in – but I already told them in an email that I wanted to opt in to it. Other excuse is that they can’t ensure delivery slots – but as a vulnerable customer I am getting slots no problem. From mid-June I will now have to pay for delivery – which will cost considerably more every week. Seems to me to be a good way of getting more money from people – and prices, as others have said are going up hugely too. Plus – If those who have already got auto-renewal set up can still get that renewed, how can they justify saying that those passes are not ‘new’ registrations when mine (not set up for auto renew) is? Rip off it seems to me?

We have been Ocado costumers for years. During the lockdown, they have increased prices and cancelled special offers for several weeks, which has made our weekly shopping basket considerably more expensive. Now they informed us that our ‘smart pass’ will nearly double in price in less than two weeks, knowing that people have limited options these days because delivery slots from other supermarkets are difficult to come by and local supermarkets often lack products. As soon as things get back to normal, we are done with Ocado. We feel betrayed and used.

Laura – It seems that all the stores have been withdrawing promotions and special offers – especially on popular lines. Their purpose is to shift stock, but with the supply chain being short-staffed and lacking products, customers clearing the shelves, and extra costs from the expansion of the delivery service they see little need for discounts.

Although the rate of inflation may have dropped in April 202, this does not reflect the experience for people chiefly buying grocery and provision essentials or having to pay higher prices because their regular choices are unavailable.

To a large extent Ocado’s prices must reflect the prices set by manufacturers and other suppliers whose products they deliver. Not having large volume sales and a baseload store operation compared with the majors they are unlikely to be competitive overall. Their particular advantage was that they filled the gap between the other retailers and gave access to Waitrose products for which there were limited outlets. Largely in response to the present emergency, other stores have greatly expanded their delivery services, including Waitrose which I believe will end their close relationship with Ocado as M&S Food becomes the largest own-label component of Ocado’s offer.

June Russell says:
21 May 2020

As we are being advised to wear a mask when out among other people, where an I get a mask ? Not online. What kind.

Hi June – The current advice is to wear a mask if it is impossible to keep away from others or someone in the house is infected or suspected to be. Employers, shops. etc. should be doing their best to ensure social distancing.

10. Face coverings
If you can, wear a face covering in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas, for example, on public transport or in some shops.

Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.

Face coverings do not replace social distancing. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, and/or high temperature, and/or loss of, or change in, your normal sense of smell or taste – anosmia), you and your household must isolate at home: wearing a face covering does not change this.

A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of personal protective equipment. These should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings, like those exposed to dust hazards.

Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 2 or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly. For example, primary age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions.

It is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.

You can make face-coverings at home. The key thing is it should cover the mouth and nose.

Which? has provided the information and advice on how to protect yourself and other people. It and more can be found in the coronavirus hub accessed via the button at the top of this page –
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/05/coronavirus-should-we-be-wearing-face-masks/

There is bags of information there but it is not easy to find specific subjects because it is organised by categories and a number of topics [like the one I have referenced above] are sub-topics of other articles.

Which? has also provided comprehensive advice separately to members on all aspects of face masks. This includes advice explaining that people should not keep raising and lowering the mask according to the proximity of others or their location [e.g. in the open air or indoors] as that increases the risk of infection through the potential transfer of virus particles from the outside to the mouth and nose. Once put on the mask should be kept on until the wearer returns home and then they should wash their hands before removing it and again immediately afterwards. There is also advice for people who wear glasses and on other circumstances. The advice was issued in a weekly bulletin to members so I am not at liberty to provide a link, but Which? might be wiling to release it in the interests of public health.

I think there is still a lot of confusion over advice surrounding face coverings.

For example selectively quoting parts of the above advice, as quoted by both wavechange and by John:

“Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with… ….people should not keep raising and lowering the mask according to the proximity of others or their location [e.g. in the open air or indoors] as that increases the risk of infection through the potential transfer of virus particles from the outside to the mouth and nose.”

Sorry but if first part of my quote is true then the second part is silly, because if you’ve already got the virus you are not at any further risk of infection. Conversely, the second item does make sense if the first item is not true.

Given that we want to avoid entrepreneurs stockpiling and profiteering in face masks and we want to maintain supplies to key workers, I’m sure that a lot of the offical advice that been selectively edited to support these aims. Writing good clear and truly unambigous safety guidance is a job for skilled profesionals and usually is best accomplished as a team effort. In my last full time job, the company used daily safety messages, covering a different topic each week. I used to write some of those – with help from fellow team members – and we sometimes got interesting follow up questions from far flung corners of the company.

I do agree that the most significant effect of a face covering will be to protect others, if one already has the virus. But I fear that simple blanket statements like “wearing a face covering does not protect you” may be unduly simplistic. For example “wearing a face covering may not significantly protect you” might be closer to the truth.

In UK workplaces, PPE should generallly be available to assist with reduction of risks unless the cost or resulting inconvenience are grossly disproportionate in relation to the risks averted. For example, consider all those cheap hi-viz “gilet jaune” bibs now worn by our nation’s delivery drivers. I doubt there is any proof that they reduce workplace accidents, but, because they are simple and cheap to provide, it is easy for employers to hand them out anyway, just in case they might help.

So to give my views on June’s questions:

1) Where we cannot socially distance – e.g. on public transport – it is a good idea to use face coverings, to reduce the risk of passing infection on to others. As many of us can contract the virus but not display any symptions, we should probably all wear face coverings in all places where we cannot socially distance (expect perhaps if we know we have already had and have fully recovered from the virus).

2) if we cannot find suitable face coverings offered for sale, we can make our own. I’ve seen plenty of different ways shown on the internet, to suit all talent levels. I’ve got a few industrial ones knocking around at home, so I aim to get by with those for the time being. I certainly won’t be rushing off to the internet to pay ludicrous prices for any.

I think Wavechange might have been quoting government advice on face covering. I was referring to Which? guidance from its ‘coronavirus hub’ but did not quote it exactly word-for-word. I agree that trying to couple the two together does risk confusion.

The guidance issued to Which? subscribers in The Weekly Scoop [15/05/2020] was, in my opinion, comprehensive, extremely detailed, and very well-written. Overall it was a very good way of making the situation as intelligible as possible in real everyday life. I did not provide a link to that guidance but think it would be beneficial if Which? would publish it openly.

John – I wasn’t meaning to criticise either yourself of wavechange for quoting available advice.

I was just trying to illustrate conflicts between different sources of advice.

Not only are there different sources of advice but the advice is likely to continue to change. I forgot to include a link to the source of what I posted, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-safe-outside-your-home/staying-safe-outside-your-home

John – The Weekly Scoop email links to information on this page, which is not restricted to subscribers: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/face-masks/article/face-masks-where-to-buy-them-and-how-to-make-your-own?&utm_content=large-email-component&utm_medium=Email&utm_source=ExactTarget&utm_campaign=3984103-C_WS_EM_150520_Which_Switch

I didn’t take your comment as criticism, Derek. You were rightly highlighting the conflicts that have arisen, largely I feel because the government’s messages have been vague or not what people wanted. I think “Stay Alert” is a particularly meaningless command. The emphasis changes from day to day as well, which doesn’t help.

The government seems to be out of step with public opinion on going out, people generally not being so keen to start going into shops, on buses and trains, back to school, and so forth. I think the public’s reluctance is out of a sense of being let down by the government at the start of all this with inadequate preparations and readiness – PPE, testing, hospital capacity, shopping during lockdown, the impact on care homes – which have cumulatively added to the problems, hardships and deaths, so people don’t want to go back to normal prematurely for fear of a second wave. “We started late so we shouldn’t finish early” is the mood music I am picking up.

The UK death toll is a huge embarrassment, at approaching double the anticipated level, so I can understand why the government wants to move on a.s.a.p. The economy is already sunk – a few more billions won’t make much difference now.

I don’t see it as a criticism when either of you offers relevant and useful information. I sometimes start a reply and make coffee or answer the phone and when I have posted I find that one of you has already given similar or better advice. Sorry for that but I do like my coffee.

Thanks, Wavechange. I hadn’t realised it was the same article. There are two or three around with similar contents. The coronavirus hub desperately needs an index, or at least a list of contents by subject.

I agree, though I have sympathy during the present difficulties. It’s very good that staff are beavering away keeping the website up to date. Perhaps we should clap on Thursdays.

I would hazard a guess that many people have found they get more done working from home, with good software providing any necessary individual and group communication and discussion. Those in my family have; they have a good attitude to work but can work flexi hours to fit around family.

A big plus is the banished cost and waste of time in commuting. We need desperately to address the unnecessary overuse of public and private transport.

I hope we have learned from this experience and will, for appropriate people, recognise the advantages and arrange a good balance of home vs office. I wonder if Which? are examining this for their staffs’ benefit, both in time, cost and health given their polluted location.

It is interesting that official advice on facemasks varies according to country: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52439926

Until yesterday I have kept well away from other people, though I have been licked by a friendly cow. Yesterday I was waiting in a quiet car park for a click & collect session and an elderly lady stuck her head through the passenger’s window and proceeded to start chatting.

I think I have a couple of facemasks in the garage but unless instructed otherwise I will keep them for DIY purposes.

Your encounter with a cow sounds worrying, wavechange, as it wasn’t wearing a mask. https://hoards.com/blog-27387-cows-and-coronavirus.html It may also have licked the farmer who may also have been infected………

If you have a big car – like a Hummer – you were probably socially-distanced sufficiently. Was she wearing a masl? You have to wonder, though, why someone should do that? Do they pay no attention to what is said? This is the worrying thing about containing an epidemic – irresponsibility is hard to combat.

I suspect the only thing that might work to prevent infection is this:

No, it was a free range cow on the golf course, Malcolm. All it was wearing was a nice expression, and it was inquisitive. Maybe I should have doused myself in hand sanitiser or grabbed a bar of soap and washed for 20 seconds at the drinking trough.

Ian – I wonder whether wearing Darth Vader masks might encourage social distancing.

Sgt. Wilson says:
22 May 2020

The delays and conflicting advice around the wearing of face masks, seems somewhat reminiscent of the political dithering leading up to the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers, later Home Guard, in WWII.

People stuck at home and ineligible for military service felt vulnerable and helpless to influence the outcome of the war. They wanted to do their bit, and be seen to do so, to help ward off the potential threat of a N**i invasion (cf. Covid). Of course, the government at the time wanted none of it, as it would require equipment and logistics to be diverted from the regular army (cf. NHS).

Before gaining official support, LDV units cobbled together their own armbands and armaments – often bayonet-type weapons, a few shotguns and hand guns, but little ammunition.

It’s not a perfect analogy by any means. But the need to do something to feel less helpless, more in control, and wearing the badge of the home-made face mask, whether effective or not, fulfills the same kind of psychological and social need to say “we are all doing our bit” to help defeat a foreign invader.

That’s an interesting analogy, Sgt. Wilson. Hopefully no-one will run around saying ”Don’t Panic”.

There is just so much we don’t know about the coronavirus so many of us are taking various precautions such as treating letters as potential sources of infection, disinfecting door handles and avoiding going near shops. As you say, we feel the need to do something.

It’s estimated that one in six Londoners have been infected, many without knowing thanks to the fact that the disease can be mild. Maybe if the efforts had been devoted to testing and tracing the outcome would have been better.

We’re all doooomed.. Many seem to proclaim “do panic”.

I understand the resources for testing initially were, for whatever reason, inadequate to pursue a proper test, track and trace. Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe we could find the facts of the matter – is there any reliable source? I’m sure, as expressed in John’s dislike of crime fiction, some will work back from the end, in forensic detail, to the beginning. Sorry if I take your name in vain, John.

The aim to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed with infected people and the load on ICUs does seem to have been averted – for now. I expect that was no more than luck……..

As you say, Sgt., it may not be a perfect analogy but there are similarities. I do not think dithering is the right description when a situation is new with a number of significant unknowns. In WW2, what were Hitlers ambitions towards the UK, would France hold out, who should have the limited supply of weaponry – an attack force or a defence – and, in the event, the Home Guard were not needed in the form envisaged. But, as you say, for those left in the UK it gave the feeling they were playing there part. COVID-19 is also – still – full of unknowns with no clear method of attack, rather of assessing progress and adapting strategies in what seems the best way at the time. Historians will always point to poor decisions in WW2, and no doubt on dealing with COVID-19; they have a privileged viewpoint.

This crisis is certainly full of unknowns, a large number of which are unknown unknowns unfortunately.

The PM has tried to rally the bulldog spirit for the response to this epidemic and there have been some gratifying expressions of that in many ways, but many people do not trust the government. The excuses given on Friday for the decision on 12 March to cancel testing seemed designed more to fit the circumstances as they turned out rather than justified by any scientific evidence or sensible appraisal at the time. The Home Secretary’s explanation yesterday was not articulated when the decision was taken and seems rather too convenient for my liking. As in the well-worn analogy, the government uses science like a drunk uses a lamp-post – more for support than for illumination.

I’ve been enjoying these illusions to Dad’s Army. At first, I wondered if Boris Johnson might be a shoe-in for the role of Captain Mainwaring. But, in spite of his other obvious failings, I could not remember any instances where Mainwaring deliberately and wilfully lied to his men or evaded critcism by trying to dodge the issue. So in the Dad’s Army universe, BoJo is probably better represented by the patrician Captain Square, who continually resents Mainwaring, because the latter is only a grammar school boy and not a proper gentleman.

In WW2, everyone was expected to have gas masks, in case of urgent need. And the Government supplied them, as required.

I wonder just how much “trust” there was in government in WW2 when, clearly, news was manipulated partly to confuse the enemy but also to bolster the bulldog spirit. Just how did we view all the mistakes made (I doubt they were deliberate) – hindsight helps. We might have provided all the population with gas masks, using up valuable materials and resources, but they were never needed. Was that another government mistake or a reassuring gesture. Depends, perhaps, on your instincts.

I am told by the end of the war we were producing nearly 90% of our food needs. Whatever the figure the population rallied round to help grow and to harvest. Maybe we will do the same this year – plenty of people with time on their hands who could put them to good use.

In a just war, I think the majority of us willingly join ranks behind our Government. I’m not old enough to have first hand experience of WW2, but I do remember the Falklands war and the 1st Gulf war.

There is futility in war in so many ways – loss of life, maiming, destruction of families in both those recruited and the civilians. Huge material losses. For what? Often just political ends. Very different from tackling COVID19 where we seek not to put people deliberately in harms way.

In tackling COVID-19 it seems some want absolute freedom from danger – returning to schools and work for example – and playing on the emotions arising from the risks that are posed. They do not appreciate, at least publicly, that zero risk does not exist. We have to strike the balance at which a degree of risk is acceptable in the transition between lockdown and more normal life. Like going to work with the threat of an air raid.

The mechanics and science is not fully understood. My impression is from questions asked, criticisms made, alternatives given, in the press and other media, that attention is focused on the negatives rather than the positives because they feed some people’s desire to ascribe blame and exact retribution. And it makes better headlines.

Malcolm when one is travelling in unchartered waters as we are at present, it makes sense to pack a life jacket.

But not if you are on dry land, Beryl.

As the ships in the desert?

It’s not easy to quantify risk when there is good evidence that the consequences of Covid-19 differ so much according to age and certain health conditions.

I’m very glad that irresponsible behaviour such as people congregating in large groups or heading to tourist destinations has been soundly criticised. We know enough about the science to understand that this is putting lives at risk and it’s particularly tough for those at high risk who live in these areas.

I am all in favour of a rational, science-based approach, but it is also necessary to have regard to people’s perceptions of risk – however misguidedly they have been formed. It is a question of getting the balance right in order to carry the public along with the policy. After that, example can do much of the heavy lifting and neutralise the uncooperative, obstinate or perverse behaviour of a minority.

I just don’t want the sacrifices that people have made or suffered so far to be in vain, so feel that for a little bit longer the economy should take second place to public health and safety.

There is one daily newspaper, close to the hearts of many in the government party, that seems to be stoking up the lockdown fever issue in every main article and bull-dozing the reckless lifting of restrictions on behalf of pleasure seekers and the more parasitical elements of commerce. The popular tabloids seem to be much more restrained and responsible in their coverage and are putting public safety and welfare first, even to the extent of not clamouring excitedly for the restoration of sporting fixtures.

I see sporting fixtures, restaurants and pubs as well down the list of my priorites. I would certainly like my sport to be brought back to life but it would be irresponsible for now and I can live without it.

I think perception is often distorted by lack of knowledge. No reason to pander to misconceptions; we need to do our best to inform people.

Wavechange, we just don’t know enough about this virus to eliminate all the risks; how it originated, was it caused by Chinese unethical animal cultural practices or the consequences of laboratory malpractice, orchestrated to cripple other unsuspecting and unprepared global economies?

Why can some people carry the virus without showing any symptoms (asymptomatic), why some immune systems overreact to the virus and others don’t, and why children seem to be more immune than the elderly and how it is able to mutate and be resistant to antibiotics and most antiviral drugs.

Science will come up with answers eventually, they are already exploring the role T cells play in the body’s immune system and how they protect us from invading pathogens and why do some people have more of these than others which increases their survival rate.

We are very much in uncharted waters and until scientists come up with positive solutions such as vaccines and antivirals we need to proceed with caution. The onus at this very worrying time is on the politicians to find a balance between their conditioned and ingrained policies, their ability to govern, and the comprehensive welfare of the population.

Have we evolved sufficiently to learn the lessons of the past or are we prepared to continue to debate about who is to blame for inadequate preparation and readiness? Only time will tell.

It’s possible that we may never find the origin, Beryl. It’s being investigated and we can be sure that there will be films that are based on the pandemic.

There should be a good chance of gaining a good understanding of why some are affected so much more than others. We have a good understanding of the effect of allergies and anaphylactic shock but still don’t understand why people are so different. It’s dangerous to suppress the immune system but in some circumstances that could save lives.

Viruses are very different from pathogenic bacteria, fungi and protozoa. Like prions (relevant to BSE and CJD) they are not alive and cannot replicate without taking over the metabolism of a host cell to produce more virus particles – they are obligate parasites. Antibiotics are of no use whatsoever other than to treat a secondary infection. Trying to draw analogies with bacterial etc. infections may not be useful. I don’t know much about antiviral drugs but I will be surprised if we see a treatment as effective and specific as an antibiotic for certain bacterial infections.

A vaccine seems the best hope. We know that viruses mutate, hence the need to change the composition of the annual ‘flu vaccine. I’m not sure why we are still producing most flu vaccine in eggs because that is slow and some cannot tolerate it.

The scientists certainly don’t have all the answers and advice will change as we learn more. I suspect that the outcome of infections could be improved by better understanding of Covid-19 and minimising that the body causes to itself as a result of infection.

there will be films that are based on the pandemic.”. I hope it does not follow the same pattern. Police Academy (just as a frinstance) was funny but progressively deteriorated as it went through 2-3. on to 6. COVID is already at 19. Can it, too, only get worse?

As you say, we have a lot to understand about the virus, We must be a little considerate how we lambast all those involved in trying to make the best of it, from politicians to scientists to mathematicians and statisticians.

If I heard correctly – and my head may have made it up – when it was suggested on the radio news today by a reporter that his 250 mile excursion was not excusable while he was infected, to see more vulnerable people Dominic said he didn’t care what the reporter thought. But I’ll say no more as it may be fake news. Non-fake news is that it may be that taking hydroxychloroquine will increase your chance of death if you contract COVID-19. Has that any relevance?

It is encouraging to witness the extent of current research into Immunosenescence and its relation to the ageing process which explains the reason why COVID-19 took the lives of so many elderly people. See: en.wikipedia.org – T cells – Ageing and Immunosenescence

It is widely known the coronavirus is a parasite that needs a host in which to survive, therefore one can assume they are able to co-exist indefinitely in any host species that is asymptomatic.

A second, and perhaps more disturbingly, they are the result of a laboratory experiment that went tragically wrong and the genie was out of the bottle in an asymptomatic laboratory assistant or exploratory research animal such as a primate.

I am confident the truth will come out eventually and something or someone will be held to account,

Are you sure about the laboratory experiment, Beryl? Perhaps you could link to the evidence.

I did include the adverb ‘perhaps’ in my hypothesis Malcolm. If we had evidence someone would have to accept responsibility for the outbreak. Until we obtain that evidence we have to explore all facets in order to find the source of the outbreak and I remain cautiously
optimistic that we will. The future is not looking too bright otherwise 🙁

Here is an article that might be of interest: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2006761

Thanks for the link Wavechange. It’s always encouraging to read the input and findings from scientific immunology research and especially in relation to the connection between the microbiome and the immune system.

The current pandemic may do a lot to focus research and funding in these areas.

I’ve looked at some more articles, Beryl. This one (click on the pdf link for the full article) explores some possible reasons why a Covid-19 infection is usually more serious for elderly people: https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202004.0548/v1

The current money is on the first (unidentified) case being outside of Wuhan and which affected a man in his fifties who’d never been to Wuhan.

My own feeling is that this, and many other unpleasant diseases that have begun appearing over the past fifty years, has happened because we’re relentlessly exploiting more of the planet than ever, and it’s human activities that are driving animals away from their traditional niches and towards humanity.

I agree, Ian.

I have no scientific basis for thinking this but I have been wondering whether the increasing cross-fertilisation of human communities combined with international travel and the occupation of different territories and ecosystems have massively increased our exposure while at the same time greatly weakened our immunity.

It probably takes generations for the body to absorb and cope with significant changes to climate, diet, soil, water and the general environment but society has compressed these transitions into brief periods and also mixed them up. The unnatural conditioning of some interior environments must also have a part to play.

Just as housing density and insanitary living conditions were recognised in the 19th century as the causes of serious diseases in urban areas and their proliferation, the concentrated movement of masses of people must now be a significant contributory factor to infection.

Has excessive hygiene also lowered our natural defences? Probably not because the consequences of the alternative are far worse and life expectancy is far lower where unclean conditions prevail.

Is prolonged life in a care home a good thing? I’ll park that one and come back to it another day. It’s too sensitive at the moment.

In the past, certain bacteria have been responsible for diseases that have caused much suffering and loss of life. The development of antibiotics that have well understood modes of action has provided very effective tools for fighting these diseases, yet we have squandered these resources by inappropriate use and for commercial gain as growth promoters in farming. Some now die because of untreatable bacterial infections.

Viruses are much simpler structures than bacteria but pose a serious threat. Smallpox is officially eradicated 1980 but is still held in two laboratories. Now that few will have any immunity, perhaps it’s best not to think about what could happen.

Even simpler than viruses are prions. BSE is believed to have been caused by feeding waste meat products to cattle. The prion responsible is simple heat-stable protein. Understanding of the scientific basis of the problem has changed farming practices.

Elizabeth Bona says:
23 May 2020

Covid 19 is flu like and only as dangerous as flu. It’s not going away it’s added to all the other viruses, so why shut down the country and tell people to social distance? People aren’t going to wear masks forever and keep away from others, so there was no point at all starting all this.

Em says:
23 May 2020

There is a point. In a population with no immunity, an infection grows rapidly and there will be many unnecessary deaths. This is not because the infection is any more or less dangerous that other diseases you can name, but because so many people are infected at the same time.

Those that would have recovered with good medical attention (like Boris Johnson), cannot all have access to treatment at the same time, particularly if many in the NHS also get sick. Slow down the spread of infection initially and more of the population will survive, because more people can be treated effectively over a longer period of time. As immunity spreads in the population, the natural rate of infection will slow of its own accord. Social distancing and other precautions then become less necessary.

There is also the hope that, given sufficient delay, an effective vaccine can be discovered, saving the lives of those who would otherwise succumb regardless of the speed of infection.

It’s a mistake to state it’s “only as dangerous as flu”. Its unpredictable nature means it’s significantly more dangerous, and a quick glance at the mortality stats for the UK will tell you that in a bad ‘flu season we can expect 14,000 deaths. We’re now past 35,000.

“I am not a medical doctor” – maybe such a health warning should be made on relevant comments.

According to information up to 23 May there have been 338 612 worldwide deaths put down to COVID 19. How many more are not recorded as such?

According to Wiki, there are, worldwide, 250 000 – 500 000 influenza deaths each year. How many are not recorded as such.

The annual gov ‘flu survey for 2014-15 shows around 16 400 excess deaths in the ‘flu season, and we have vaccines for ‘flu (that may or may not well match the particular strain). We have no vaccine for COVID-19.

Yes, the unknowns of COVID-19 and lack of available immunisation do make it dangerous. But ‘flu is also dangerous, and more so than COVID-19 to younger people.

Marek says:
31 July 2020

I have just been told by my dentist that I have to cover the fees of PPE for me and for my hygienist in amount of £7 per appointment… Is this normal? When I said that I have a problem with this, I was told that they will raise the issue with practice manager.

cruimh says:
8 September 2020

Pet owners beware – it seems some vets are gouging