A Longer Haul


To nobody’s great surprise today we received official confirmation that there will be no face-to-face teaching for the rest of the semester at Maynooth University; teaching had been go on until early May. This news also made it into the Irish Independent. The previous announcement was that classes would not resume until 29th March (this Friday), now they won’t resume until the next academic year begins, in September. There will also be no in situ examinations, with all assessments being switched either to homework or remote assessments. We were pretty sure this was coming, as there is no sign yet of a reduction in the spread* of Coronavirus in Ireland, so we are as prepared as we can be for this contingency, although we now know we’re in it for a longer haul than originally announced.

Today I’ve been setting up a laboratory session for my module on Computational Physics. Instead of working in our computer lab under supervision, the students will have to work through a set of Python coding problems on their own. They’re doing numerical integration this week, by the way: being a bit old-fashioned I like to call this quadrature. The demonstrator and I will however be available (via Microsoft Teams) to deal with queries. This isn’t ideal of course but the software does allow participants to share screens, as well as audio and video chat so, I’m quite optimistic that it will work out reasonably well. I’m planning to deliver a lecture to the students on this module on Thursday which, given that the group is reasonably small, should also work reasonably well.

Update: I had a big problem uploading files to Microsoft Teams, which I couldn’t fix. I need to get that sorted out or it won’t be possible to share plots, graphs, etc. Hopefully it’s just a temporary glitch, but it’s very annoying.

My early experience with Microsoft Teams wasn’t marvellous, which led me to tweet:

I have to say though that it is perfectly functional (so far), once you get used to it. I still prefer Zoom, though.

My only other gripe is that working from home seems to have made some colleagues a little bit trigger-happy with the `ReplyAll’ button on their email.

Anyway, it seems that last night, on the wrong side of the Irish Sea, Boris Johnson finally got around to reading out the statement Emmanuel Macron dictated to him last week and the United Kingdom is finally having some form of discipline imposed. We await possible announcements of further strengthening of the restrictions already in place here in Ireland, but for the time being we carry on pretty much as before. There are few people around and about in Maynooth and many of the shops and all the pubs are closed, but it’s still possible to shop without experiencing a feeding frenzy.

On top of all that, it’s a lovely sunny day!

*I’ve put a page here tracking the daily increase in number of COVID-19 cases in Ireland.

3 Responses to “A Longer Haul”

  1. Some further restrictions in Ireland announced, including the closure of tennis courts. Eek, while I agree that clubhouses etc should be closed, I would have thought that one can maintain a decent social distance in singles no problem

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Just how bad is this virus, biomedically speaking?

    The US professor of epidemiology John Ioannidis


    points out that it is necessary to test an entire population, not self-reporting persons, to get reliable statistics for Covid-19 fatalities, and that the only population so far to have been tested comprised the passengers and crew of the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess. Of the 700 who tested positive, 7 died (1%) and the rest are out of danger, and the average age of that population was far above that of the USA as a whole. Correcting for that by using the proportions of people who have died in differing age cohorts, Ioannidis estimates a case fatality rate of 0.3%. That is about ten times less than the figure quoted by the Imperial College team (and ten times less than for the ‘Spanish flu’ at the end of World War I):

    Click to access Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf

    Is it the case that quite a few people experience it as being like a common cold and, because they are under the impression it lays you flat for weeks, they assume they haven’t got it (and continue infecting others)? Yet it takes some people badly, leading to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which is ghastly to have and frequently fatal; that is how Covid-19 kills. We badly need to know what proportion of infected people experience it mildly and acutely.

    Also, it seems that the bodies of all who die in Italy at present are tested for Covid-19, and if they test positive then it is given as cause of death even if they died of something else:


    When a person is dying, their immune system is invadable by every opportunistic infection in the hospital – which at the moment includes Covid-19, which then in Italy (at least) gets logged as cause of death. These factors might explain the high Italian fatality statistics. 99% of them did indeed have co-morbidities:


    So, if you are totally healthy, your chance of dying from it if you catch it is about 0.01%. That is an average over all ages, but this percentage deserves to be stated as it is most heartening. On the other hand its small size might be due in part to modern medical intervention, which did not exist during the Spanish flu and which won’t exist if the NHS gets overwhelmed – so slowing everything down given how infectious it is might indeed be a good move. Information is also needed on how long the people with those pre-existing conditions were expected to last if we are to determine reliably the effect of Covid-19. After the epidemic is over we might see considerably lower death rates than before it, showing that its main effect was to hasten death of very ill persons by a few months. That notion was behind the heartless (but logically accurate) comment by a medic that this might clear out some bed-blockers.

    On the other hand, Italy might be suffering a more virulent mutation; or its population might have fewer people with genetic predisposition to mild symptoms. I am surprised that genetic tests on samples from people who have it round the world are not being reported in the news. Base sequencing is very rapid nowadays.


    In the USA a man who died of a head injury while falling was found to have it and Covid-19 was logged as a secondary cause of death.


    Was this entered in more coarse statistics as a Covid-19 fatality? Just how good are our statistics? More information is needed, and I am complying with UK law. But I think it might turn out not to be as bad as many believe.

    • telescoper Says:

      One of the difficulties in comparing the statistics from different countries is, I believe, different reporting methods. It may indeed be that Italy is overestimating deaths from Coronavirus but its equally likely that the UK is under reporting.

      I don’t know about the science of this but it does seem possible that different groups may have different susceptibilities, quite apart from age.

      It seems to me that the fact that so many who are exposed to the virus show few if any symptoms has contributed massively to the spread of Coronavirus as well as the fact that it seems intrinsically more communicable.

      From what I understand in a small fraction of patients the virus triggers some kind of extreme immune response which triggers a respiratory system failure that is very difficult to reverse. In the world statistics it is notable how few are “recovered”, suggesting that anyone who reaches this state is going to be very ill for many weeks.

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