A Driving Instructor's Blog

COVID-19

An email alert from DVSA states that all theory tests booked from 20 April are off until Friday 8 May.

Key worker tests will still be conducted. All those affected are being contacted.

I’m sure the rumours will start imminently, but 8 May is just a current future point. Depending on what happens over the next few weeks will govern whether or the lockdown is extended again, so further cancellations are still possible after that.

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Money vs morals seesawPeople are continuing to whinge about the extension to the lockdown the government has just announced.

I also note that although many have wised up, and are expressing the same concern I have had since all this started, many haven’t.

My concern is this: precisely what happens when the lockdown is lifted?

You see, I am a carer for my elderly parents, and both of them have COPD. There is no way on this Earth I am going to go back to work while the virus is still circulating out there to such an extent that me becoming infected is a significant possibility.

I don’t care about me – I’d probably survive. I care about my parents (and other people’s, come to that).

They could lift the lockdown tomorrow, but I would certainly not begin lessons again. And right now, the same will still be true if they lift it in May. Or June. And probably July. However, if people could, for once, look beyond their own financial concerns, they would see that this lockdown provides an alternative way out while a vaccine is developed.

If the current infection burns itself out – which the lockdown is likely to help achieve if people do as they’re f***ing told and stay inside – it is no longer actively circulating. That means there is much less chance of catching it. Of course, it also depends heavily on the idiots in Westminster doing something to stop it being ferried in again once any lockdown is eased – little things like testing to see if people coming in have actually got it before even being allowed out of Customs – but it is possible.

I would certainly be prepared to start teaching again if I knew with reasonable certainty that infections were not increasing and were very, very low numerically. But while there are over 1,000 active cases and rising in Nottingham, there’s absolutely no chance.

Remember: abiding by the lockdown means there is a way out of it sooner. Behaving selfishly means there isn’t.

Also remember that it doesn’t matter what other countries are doing. Just because Denmark or Spain is lifting restrictions doesn’t mean we are either going to or, indeed, should. Not yet, that’s for sure. Isolation does significantly reduce COVID-19 spread. Are people really so stupid that they put money above all else, and form their opinions on such information as this? It isn’t a stupid game – science is involved. While COVID-19 is spreading and killing people in the UK, what Denmark is doing is f***ing irrelevant.

If I knew that going back to work would kill just one person out there, I wouldn’t do it. A frightening number of instructors (and people in other jobs) apparently would.

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Virus imageI want to clarify what many people have read in the media over the last few days, but appear to have misunderstood. Here’s one media reference to the subject.

It concerns a promising candidate for a vaccine for COVID-19 being developed at Oxford that is just entering human trials. The confusion amongst people who have seen it appears to stem from what one of the scientists working on it has said:

“Vaccinologist at Oxford, Professor Sarah Gilbert, has said she is 80 per cent sure the vaccine will be a success.”

She is saying that she is 80% certain the vaccine she’s working on will work. Nothing more. In other articles, she is quoted as saying that if everything runs smoothly – and absolutely nothing goes wrong – the vaccine could be ready by the Autumn.

To clarify, she is 80% certain they have a candidate that will work, and the earliest they would be able to say ‘yes, it does’ is in the Autumn.

She is not saying everyone will be able to have the jab in the Autumn and go back to normal. Nor is she saying the vaccine will only be 80% effective (something else I keep seeing people posting).

Once they have a vaccine that works, it has got to be manufactured on a large scale and distributed. Then, tens of millions of people have got to get the jab. That is going to take time (and if what we’ve seen with PPE and medical equipment is anything to go by) it is likely to run into shortages of ampoules, vials, bungs, over-caps, or pre-filled syringes – the containers it is probably going to be put into.

In normal times, it can take anything up to 60 years to develop a vaccine (and yes, historically, that is how long some have taken to develop). Typically, it takes at least 3-10 years to get one, but that is when there is no major hurry and the very detailed clinical trials are carried out, analysed, and documented as is required by the various Health Agencies in different countries.

Even in this extraordinary situation we find ourselves in, a vaccine that became approved for use today might still take as long as 12-18 months to distribute and deploy. Hopefully, a target of 6 months might be met, but meeting targets isn’t something which has been demonstrated to any significant degree during this pandemic when you look at how many tests for COVID-19 the UK has managed to achieve.

Remember that if the UK government did manage to provide 100,000 vaccinations per day (based on its target of 100,000 tests), it would take 500 days to cover the entire population. And that is around 18 months. Yet we are nowhere near meeting that testing target.

The same issue arises with the manufacture of the vaccine. My guess is it will likely be deployed in pre-filled syringes (but I could be wrong, as they are probably the slowest and most likely to run into shortages way of delivering it). But an ampoule filling machine – those are the glass bottles you snap the top off to use – can fill at up to several hundred ampoules per minute. There aren’t that many of them installed in the UK in the first place, and of the ones that are, most run much more slowly. Even if we assume 1,000 machines running at 200 ampoules per minute, 24 hours a day, it would take 10 days to produce enough vaccine for the whole country. In reality, the UK has a fraction of that number of machines available, a fraction of the number of companies who can handle vaccines at all, running at a combined fraction of that filling speed, and only capable of running for a fraction of the maximum available time. Producing the vaccine would take months, and I haven’t even mentioned the manufacturing process for the bulk (which is unknown, as yet).

It is definitely very good news about the vaccine at this stage. But there is still a long way to go.


Update 17/4/2020: The latest to this – two days after I wrote it – is that the scientists involved in the Oxford trial are so confident it will work that they plan to manufacture 1 million doses while the trials are still ongoing and hope to be ready by September.

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Virus sepiaPeople keep asking (or criticising) DVSA over concerns about their badges. The ADI’s ‘badge’ – often called the ‘green badge’ – is their licence to teach. It costs £300, which has to be paid every 4 years in order to remain on the Register. I had one such query this morning.

Understandably – up to a point, and usually until it becomes offensive, which with some ADIs it does after about two seconds – during the COVID-19 Pandemic people are asking if they will get an extension to their ADI registration.

The situation we are in is extraordinary. Nothing like it has ever happened before. And it is a Brand New Situation. It’s only been in progress for barely more than two months, and in that time extraordinary actions have been taken – such as the plan to pay people 80% of their income out of government coffers. I would also point out that the number of people who have died (and who are likely to die) is also rather extraordinary, but this seems to keep falling on deaf ears for many.

Right now, there is no clear light at the end of the tunnel, and no one can be certain about when this will all be over and we can return to work.

ADI registration is, I believe, a situation that is governed in Law. It isn’t something DVSA can just change whenever it feels like it, because it doesn’t have that power – only the Law does. Therefore, in order to extend registrations, the Law would need to be amended. Right now, there are far more important things we need to worry about.

Phoning up DVSA is not going to get you anywhere, except angry (if you’re one of the kind who refuses to understand the situation, and blames DVSA for everything). All they can possibly say is what I have said above: that registration lasts for a fixed four years and cannot be extended.

However, the longer this situation continues, the more of an issue it is likely to become. DVSA itself will almost certainly be thinking the same thing, even now. And from what I can see, they are already being lobbied by professional groups of angry people who blame DVSA for everything to look at extensions. If you are really concerned, maybe you could join one of these groups and add your voice.

So just bear that in mind. My own opinion is that if this does go beyond three months, an emergency amendment to the Law to extend ADI licences at some point is likely. Or a partial refund, maybe. Or a discount on the next renewal. I’m only guessing, and have no inside information. The only thing I am certain of is that whatever they do, someone somewhere will still be unhappy about it.

I’m just being realistic instead of angry.

But what about learners and their theory tests?

The same still applies. It’s the Law. Right now, DVSA can only tell you what the Law is, and they have no power to decide differently. And they don’t, no matter how angry you are.

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Virus imageI keep seeing people saying we’ll be back working as instructors by the end of May, or in June or July. I do not see how we possibly can be.

COVID-19 is still there. You can still catch it. You can still spread it. People can still die from it. And there’s still no vaccine to prevent it or ‘cure’ it.

None of that is likely to change by June.

Something new has got to come up before we could realistically start working again. If it turns out most of us have had it, and didn’t realise, but now have immunity, then that would be a game changer. But there’s no valid reason to pin our hopes on that right now.

Maybe a vaccine will be found much, much quicker than we think. But there’s no valid reason to pin our hopes on that, either.

Maybe COVID-19 will do as Donald Trump suggested barely a month ago, and just ‘go away’. And there’s no valid reason to expect that.

The simple fact is that if people start teaching again in June, the situation will be approximately the same (worse, actually, since there are more background infections) as it was a few days before the lockdown – an active virus, ready to jump between anyone who has it and anyone who doesn’t, and with the same potential outcome for anyone who develops symptoms that we have right now. If relaxing the restrictions too soon results in just one person being infected who otherwise wouldn’t be, it could easily result in dozens of others subsequently dying once they pass it on – and I’m thinking of examiners and test candidates.

Simply because DVSA is moving tests back to June and July is a meaningless detail when it comes to ‘getting back to normal’. It has no bearing on how the pandemic develops in any way whatsoever. The virus isn’t going to stop infecting and killing people just because a few thousand driving tests were cancelled in March and moved to July. There’s every possibility that when we get to July, they’ll be pushed back to September or October. Or even further.

Far too many people don’t appreciate how serious the problem is, and can only see it from the financial angle. And while that is most definitely understandable, it is not a sound reason to ‘get back to normal’ regardless.

But DVSA said tests were only cancelled for three months

Yes. And the day before that they were only cancelled for two days. And the day before that they weren’t cancelled at all.

Look, this is a developing situation – and an extremely serious one at that. When DVSA said ‘three months’, at that time it was a conveniently distant time point to push back to. Even two weeks in from the initial announcement, it should be absolutely clear to most people that three months is optimistic at best. Virus cases are still increasing, as are virus deaths.

It doesn’t matter how many people tell you they’ve had a cancelled test ‘rearranged to June’. Whether or not that test goes ahead in June is not governed by the fact it is currently on that date. It is governed by the pandemic and how it develops.

So why have I got a test date in June (or July)?

Absolutely no one knows what is going to happen next, and that includes DVSA. All they have done is move tests back according to government timelines – and that’s the timelines as they stood three weeks ago! You can see for yourself (or, I would certainly hope you can) how bad the situation with COVID-19 has become. Can you honestly see things changing in such a way that by June we’ll all be going about business as though nothing happened?

Open your eyes and look at what’s happening. Something totally unlooked for is going to have to happen for us to be ‘back to normal’ in June or July.

I need to get back to work

We all do. But the virus isn’t interested in that. It kills people. And that is far more important than the need to work.

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The reality of COVID-19 spreadingSince the Coronavirus pandemic started, one of the most annoying aspects of it has been how all the self-professed ‘experts’ have squirmed out of the woodwork and offered their takes on it.

I am repeatedly pointing out on various message boards that when the entire scientific world is treating this as a Very Serious Problem, the likelihood of some wanker who is getting through boxes of tissues because of being shut up in their room for too long hitting on an alternative and more correct interpretation is similar to that of winning the lottery by not even doing it.

In other words, it isn’t going to happen.

There are the conspiracy theorists, who claim it is manmade. There are those who think it is a hoax, and not as bad as is made out. And then there are those whose heads sound like pan-pipes when the wind blows past their ears.

It was bad enough two weeks ago when people were doing it. And back then, others were agreeing with them.

But to see someone post the same comment today – that China has had 20,000 deaths because of COVID-19, but it has 20,000 a day from other causes – is beyond stupid. Light years beyond stupid.

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Jolly Roger pirate flagI’ve mentioned recently how hard it is to buy certain things because of panic buyers. In many cases, these people aren’t buying for themselves – they’re doing it to try and make a quick buck on eBay or on street corners.

Take hand sanitizer. The usual price of a bottle is around £5, give or take (I don’t buy it often). Right now, comedians like this seller on eBay are selling a single bottle for £24.99. Or this private seller listing a bottle a fifth of the size for £36.99 – and it is shown as ‘used’, as he has actually had some out of it!

Then there’s toilet rolls. My dad buys packs of 10 for about £4 in normal times (I think he goes to Wilkos). That’s about 40p a roll. This clown on eBay is selling them for £1.99 each – and that’s a sponsored listing. And this one is selling them for £8.99 per roll, albeit a bigger than usual one. But this one isn’t – £18.10 (including postage) for four rolls of cheap stuff, so £4.50 a roll.

Out in the real world, last week my local newspaper ran a story (and make sure you have an adblocker if you go here, because local news websites are basically just advertorials with a bit of news squeezed in) where one shop was advertising toilet paper at £1 a roll, and 50mls of hand sanitizer for £8 – 50mls is the same size as a double whisky, which would cost maybe £6 tops in most pubs.

The shop, CBD Gift Shop, claimed it was ‘a joke’. Yeah. Big laughs, eh?

In the same article, Murat Food Centre was advertising a £2.49 bottle of Dettol at £19.99. When challenged, it was apparently ‘a one in 1,000 mistake’. But one which had gone far enough to have signs or labels printed.

A couple of days ago, the BBC ran a story where the chemist Jhoots was listing 100ml bottles of Calpol at £9.99 and 200ml bottles at £19.99. Whoever did it couldn’t even get the maths right, since the bigger bottle was actually more expensive per ml than the smaller, which isn’t how it usually works. In Asda, a 100ml bottle of Calpol is £3.50, and an online pharmacy has 100ml/200ml bottles at £4.99/£6.99.

When challenged, Jhoots said it was ‘a communication error at branch level’ (aka it was someone in the shop’s idea). It must have been the same communication error that led the same shop to try selling Paracetamol tablets at £9.99 a pack, when they were listing them at £1.39 the week before. Even £1.39 is overpriced – you can buy the same number for 30p in most places.

It’s as the title of this article says.

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First message on GOV.UK test bookingRegarding the three-month driving test suspension, be aware that the rearranged dates in June cannot be changed right now.

One of my pupils texted me tonight and said the time on the new date she’s been given isn’t convenient, but she couldn’t change it. I asked her for the booking reference so I could have a look and even on the first page the message above makes it clear you cannot do anything right now. If you do try to proceed further, you get this message.

GOV.UK main messageIt’s fairly clear. The entire DVSA is effectively closed as far as test bookings etc. go.

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In an earlier post today, I said I wouldn’t mention any more about earnings just yet. The reason I said that was because I was hoping beyond hope that the few dim bulbs out there who are still ‘working normally’ would finally see sense and realise that COVID-19 is only going to get worse if they insist on giving lessons.

Boris Johnson has just declared that everyone must stay at home unless they are key workers. The actual wording is:

…except for shopping for basic necessities, daily exercise, any medical need and travelling to and from essential work.

It took less than two seconds for certain of the dim bulbs I mentioned to declare that they are still ‘going to work’ as driving instructors. A fair number of them, too.

How much f**king more has to be done to make you realise that you are making it worse. The spread of COVID-19 is far, far more serious than your bills. Really, it is.

If you made the effort, you’d be able to manage the financial situation. Christ, when I lost my job all those years ago I had over £30,000 of debts and initially a tiny, tiny income, but I dealt with them – or got someone to help me deal with them – and now I have none. If I can do it, you can do it. And you can if you get off your arse and try, so stop looking for what seems the easy way out.

You’re not doing yourself or your kids any favours whatsoever by going out mingling with people. More importantly, you’re not doing the rest of us any favours, either. You don’t know if the people you’re teaching are carrying – and quite frankly, if their desire to take lessons is as mercenary as your desire to give them, some of them wouldn’t bloody tell you if they had been near anyone who was ill. That is why this virtual lockdown has been applied.

You are not exempt unless your pupils are key workers, and no matter how hard you try, them stacking shelves in Tesco doesn’t come under that.

Stop giving lessons. For everyone’s sake.

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Animation of COVID-19 spreadA further example of how the Coronavirus pandemic isn’t a game, and that people need to wake up to the seriousness of it.

And feel free to use that animated GIF everywhere. The more people who see it, the quicker we’ll all come through this.

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