Covid surging in Europe

BBC – Covid rules: What are the latest three-tier restrictions?

Northern Ireland has imposed new restrictions to try to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The announcement comes on the back of England’s new three-tier system, announced earlier this week.

Every area of England now falls into three categories – medium (Tier One), high (Tier Two) or very high (Tier Three), depending on the local rate of infection.

Guardian: Wales to ban visitors from Covid hotspots elsewhere in UK

People who live in Covid-19 hotspots in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are to be banned from travelling to Wales, the Welsh first minister has announced.

Mark Drakeford said he had asked for the “necessary work” to take place to allow devolved powers to be used to prevent people from travelling into Wales from “high prevalence” areas.

The Welsh government is likely to stop people who live in tier two and three areas of England from travelling to anywhere in Wales. Residents of the whole of Northern Ireland and the central belt of Scotland are also set to be banned.

Stuff: As virus surges in Europe, hospitals in Milan, Italy, are under pressure again

Coronavirus infections are surging anew in the northern Italian region where the pandemic first took hold in Europe, putting pressure again on hospitals and health care workers.

At Milan’s San Paolo hospital, a ward dedicated to coronavirus patients and outfitted with breathing machines reopened this weekend, a sign that the city and the surrounding area is entering a new emergency phase of the pandemic.

Months after Italy eased one of the globe’s toughest lockdowns, the country is now recording well over 5000 new infections a day – eerily close to the highs of the spring – as the weather cools and a remarkably relaxed summer of travel and socializing fades into memory.

Italy is not the only European country seeing a resurgence – and, in fact, is faring better than its neighbours this time around. Italy’s cases per 100,000 residents have doubled in the last two weeks to nearly 87 – a rate well below countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Britain that are seeing between around 300 to around 500 per 100,000. 

Clever Neanderthals

‘Neanderthal’ has been used as a derogatory term in the past, but we now know that our closest-co-species interbred with us and we all retain some of their genes – we are part Neanderthal, and share a common ancestor.

A piece of string found in France that could only have been used by Neanderthals is over twice as old as the oldest piece of twine connected to humans.

National Geographic: Why Am I Neanderthal?

When our ancestors first migrated out of Africa around 70,000 years ago, they were not alone. At that time, at least two other species of hominid cousins walked the Eurasian landmass—Neanderthals and Denisovans. As our modern human ancestors migrated through Eurasia, they encountered the Neanderthals and interbred. Because of this, a small amount of Neanderthal DNA was introduced into the modern human gene pool.

Everyone living outside of Africa today has a small amount of Neanderthal in them, carried as a living relic of these ancient encounters. A team of scientists comparing the full genomes of the two species concluded that most Europeans and Asians have approximately 2 percent Neanderthal DNA. Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans have none, or very little Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors did not migrate through Eurasia.

On one level, it’s not surprising that modern humans were able to interbreed with their close cousins. According to one theory, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and all modern humans are all descended from the ancient human Homo heidelbergensis. Between 500,000 to 600,000 years ago, an ancestral group of H. heidelbergensis left Africa and then split shortly after. One branch ventured northwestward into West Asia and Europe and became the Neanderthals. The other branch moved east, becoming Denisovans. By 250,000 years ago H. heidelbergensis in Africa had become Homo sapiens. Our modern human ancestors did not begin their own exodus from Africa until about 70,000 years ago, when they expanded into Eurasia and encountered their ancient cousins.

New Scientist: Oldest ever piece of string was made by Neanderthals 50,000 years ago

A piece of 50,000-year-old string found in a cave in France is the oldest ever discovered. It suggests that Neanderthals knew how to twist fibres together to make cords – and, if so, they might have been able to craft ropes, clothes, bags and nets.

Neanderthal string

String under a microscope
M-H Moncel

“None can be done without that initial step,” says Bruce Hardy at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. “Twisted fibres are a foundational technology.”

His team has been excavating the Abri du Maras caves in south-east France where Neanderthals lived for long periods. Three metres below today’s surface, in a layer that is between 52,000 and 41,000 years old, it found a stone flake, a sharp piece of rock used as an early stone tool.

“It is exactly what you would see if you picked up a piece of string today,” says Hardy. The string wasn’t necessarily used to attach the stone tool to a handle. It could have been part of a bag or net, the team speculates.

The string appears to be made of bast fibres from the bark of conifer trees, which helps establish that it isn’t a stray bit of modern string, because “nobody at the site was wearing their conifer pants at the time”, says Hardy.

Reuters:  Ancient string provides further evidence of Neanderthals talents

Neanderthals used plant fibers to create string more than 40,000 years ago at a site in France where they hunted reindeer, further evidence according to scientists of the ingenuity and cognitive capabilities of our closest extinct human relatives.

The string dates to an occupation by Neanderthals at the Abri du Maras archeological site in southeastern France, 30 miles (50 km) north of Avignon, between 42,000 and 52,000 years ago, where they apparently hunted reindeer during seasonal migrations.

Other studies have shown Neanderthals used complex group hunting methods, may have used spoken language, used pigments probably for body painting, used symbolic objects and may have buried their dead with flowers. They disappeared a few thousand years after Homo sapiens swept through their Eurasian homelands roughly 40,000 years ago.


It is unclear when Neanderthals split from modern humans; DNA studies have produced results ranging from 182 kya to more than 800 kya. The time of divergence of Neanderthals from their ancestor H. heidelbergensis is also unclear. The oldest potential Neanderthal bones are dated to 430 kya, but the classification is uncertain. Neanderthals are known from numerous fossils, especially from after 130 kya. The type specimenNeanderthal 1, was found in 1856 in the German Neander Valley.

Neanderthals were capable of articulate speech, though it is unclear how complex their language would have been.

Sites where Neanderthals have been found:

I see one site from an area some of my ancestors came from – The oldest people in Wales – Neanderthal teeth from Pontnewydd Cave

Excavations at the cave by Amgueddfa Cymru between 1978 and 1995 unearthed a total of 19 teeth, discovered found deep inside the cave. These have been identified by experts at the Natural History Museum, London as belonging to an early form of Neanderthal.

Study of the remains found at Pontnewydd found that these teeth represent the remains of at least five individuals.

That’s not where my lot came from, the dot can’t be accurate.

The teeth were not found on their own inside the cave. Alongside them were stone tools and animal bones, some of which show signs of butchery – evidence that these were the food remains of these early Neanderthals.

Reconstruction painting showing Early Neanderthal Man

Reconstruction of one of our ancestors (actually of a Croatian Neanderthal at the Zagros Palaeolithic Museum):
A Neanderthal man with olive skin, long black hair going down to his shoulders, long eyelashes, brown eyes, some chest hair, and a 5 o'clock shadow


Rugby World Cup finals

On Friday night New Zealand beat Wales 40-17 to finish the Rugby World Cup with the bronze medals. The All Blacks played very well generally, bouncing back from their disappointing performance against a fired up and focussed England team in the semi-final. Wales played well at times, scoring two tries, but looked like they had run out of steam, and had lost some key players through injury.

Some of the players that missed out on the semi-final squad stepped up in their final game for the All Blacks, Ben Smith in particular who had been a surprise omission from the big games. And Sam Cane showed why he should have started the game last week. Selection mistakes may or may not have been costly against England – they played so well last week any All Bl;ack line-up would have struggled.

Last night in the final South Africa wore down England. It was a bit of a kick fest for most of the match, but they scored two very good tries in the last quarter with both wings touching down to win the final and their third world cup, beating England 32-12. They had an easier path through the play offs and had enough energy left.

England were warned they may have played their ‘final’ last week and that’s how it looked, they couldn’t lift themselves to the same heights last night. That’s not a surprise, near perfect performances usually don’t happen very often in any team sport.

England coach Eddie Jones was hailed as a hero last week, but couldn’t get his team over the final hurdle.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus wins the plaudits this time, having turned a struggling team around in a year to take the big four yearly prize.

So congratulations to South Africa, who clearly deserved their win, and became the first team to lose a pool match and go on the win the final. The draw may have helped, but that’s sport.

Rugby World Cup semi finals

Big games for four teams in the Rugby World Cup in Japan this weekend.

Tonight (Saturday) at 9 pm (NZ time) England will play New Zealand. It will be broadcast live on TV1.

Obviously this could go either way. At their best the All Blacks will be very hard to beat, but if England get their tactics and execution right, minimise mistakes and keep the ABs under pressure they are a real chance. Both countries had very good wins in their quarter final matches, so this should be  very good game.

I’d like the ll Blacks to win, but if England are good enough on the day to beat them then good on them.

Tomorrow night at 10 pm (NZ time) South Africa play Wales.

It’s hard too predict how this game will go. South Africa lost their first pool game (against the All Blacks), and haven’t really been tested since then. Japan put up a real fight in the first half last week but couldn’t get over the line to score, and succumbed to the power of the Springboks in the second half.

Wales did well to beat Australia in their pool, but they didn’t play very well against France last week. A red card reduced France to 14, and Welsh tenacity got them the win, just.

Another game that could go either way. As it should be.

I’m looking forward to both games with anticipation.

UK & Europe



I did a search for news on ‘Wales’ and it’s all sport on page 1.

BBC: Wales business and council leaders ‘lack diversity’

Major decisions are being taken which are not reflective of Wales’ diversity, an Equality and Human Rights Commission report has said.

It looked at politics, local government and the private sector to assess whether those in charge were representative of all those who live in Wales.

It found just 6% of chief executives at Wales’ top 100 businesses were women.

Disabled people made up only 3.7% of the public appointments in 2015-16.

The report, coinciding with International Women’s Day, found 12% of chief and deputy chief constables in Welsh police forces were women, 14% of council chief executives and 26% of councillors.

It gets worse closer to my ancestral roots – Anglesey Council shamed on International Women’s Day as worst in Wales for slashing gender pay gap

Anglesey is the worst place in Wales for equal pay, new figures released today on International Women’s Day have revealed.

According to a Freedom of Information request 557 female public sector workers are still awaiting compensation for being underpaid over the years because of their gender.

My mother’s parents and most of her siblings came from Wales, but, while she wouldn’t have seen herself as a feminist (I didn’t) she bloody well did what she wanted and stuff any man who thought she shouldn’t because she was female.

Southern hemisphere semis

A slightly surprising win to Argentina and a near shock loss to Australia has resulted in an all southern hemisphere semi final in the Rugby World Cup.

The semis will be:

  • South Africa versus New Zealand – 4 am Sunday 25 October (NZ time)
  • Argentina versus Australia – 5 am Monday 26 October (NZ time)

Results from the quarter finals:

  • South Africa beat Wales 23-19

The Springboks ground out a win against a weary looking Wales without wowing. They are still in the hunt but surely have to lift and show more enterprise to match it with the All Blacks in their semi final.

Wales were gallant and kept close but looked like they ran out of gas after some punishing pool games and an awful injury toll.

  • New Zealand beat France 62-13

The All Blacks bltized Les Bleus as individuals and the new Zealand team came into form at the business end of the tournament. The question will be whether the ABs can repeat this sort of performance again next week. And if they win that whether they can lift to that level again. They are well prepared and may, but sport does funny things sometimes. They must now be favourites.

France battled well in the first half but couldn’t match the ABs and couldn’t keep up in the second half. They have serious questions to ask about their coaching and club system.

  • Argentina beat Ireland 43-20

I didn’t see this game but the Pumas pounced after showing promise in pool play and ended up with a decisive win.

Ireland had lost some key players to injury after a punishing clash with France last week, which turned out to be both teams’ peak.

  • Australia beat Scotland 35-34

Scotland nearly had a shock win over the Wallabies with a late intercept try putting them in front but a controversial penalty two minutes from full time let Australia rescue what would otherwise have been an embarrassment.

Scotland played very well an deserve much credit. That penalty was a huge blow but they bumbled the lineout that led to the penalty. And then after the Wallabies took the lead Scotland kicked off deep, Australia took it and played out the remaining seconds. Why on earth didn’t Scotland kick short so they could contest possession instead of giving possession to the Aussies on a plate?

Australia managed to do what counts, they won, and they scored five tries, but they didn’t have a very good game in many respects. They looked lacklustre. Their scrum fell to pieces. Scotland may have beaten them on turnovers. And Foley missed his first three kicks (but nailed the one that really counted at the end).

The Wallabies will have a big battle against Argentina next week and will have to up their standards.

Already this World Cup has been a major disappointment for the Northern Hemisphere, with four teams from the south filling all semi final slots.

RWC and All Blacks versus France

The business end of the Rugby World Cup started this morning. I’m writing this during half time of the first quarter final, between South Africa and Wales.

It’s been an even first half with South Africa punishing Welsh mistakes clocking up 12 points in penalties, but the Welsh kept in touch with a penalty, a very good try and a drop goal right on half time to give them a one point lead – 13-12.

At 8 am this morning New Zealand time (7 am if you want to sit through a big bunch of Sky advertising and 7.55 am if you want to catch the anthems and haka) the All Black campaign to win back to back world cups gets serious with a knock out match against France.

The French have been predictable in their unpredictability in the lead up, with rumours of squabbling in the squad and dumping their coach, but this is nothing new from them.

The All Blacks will be very well aware that anything can happen playing the French, including getting a beating, so this will test their mettle.

UPDATE: South Africa 23 – Wales 19

South Africa ground out the second half in typical fashion, dominating much of it but trailing Wales until a well executed scrum move led to a good try in the corner. They got away with several missed shots at goal.

Wales hung in but looked jaded and lacking the passion that beat England. They led well into the second half but finally leaked a try and just didn’t have enough in the tank or in their heads to take the lead back.

Wales should be credited with a gutsy World Cup considering their difficult pool and a number of major injuries, some to key players, but it goes down in the record books as a quarter final exit.

South Africa did just enough to win this. They will be a difficult opponent in the semi final against either France or New Zealand but they look quite beatable, this is not one of the best Springbok sides – unless the win the cup perhaps!

Now the countdown to the All Blacks versus Les Bleus.

Wales wow!

South Africa are back on track with a decisive win against Samoa in the Rugby World Cup.

But Wales – wow!

England played well in the first half and Wales struggled to make headway apart from through a few penalty kicks.

But through the second half Wales worked hard and despite adding to their horrendous injury list they came out on top. Just.

England could have gone for a penalty shot for a draw but that would have been risky in a very tight pool. I think they made the right decision going for a win (their coach looked like he may disagree with that) but they couldn’t pull off a try from a lineout – Wales out thought and out muscled them in a drive and held out.

England face a precarious existence.

Apart from England it was a very good game for the World Cup.

And especially, a very good game for Wales.

Sunday diary

1.00 Argentina v Georgia
2.00 NSW cup final
3.30 ABs v Canada
4.00 Toyota Cup final
6.00 Wales v Fiji
7.30 NRL final
8.30 Ireland v Italy
10.30 mow the lawn

What election?

Why do Kiwis support “anyone but England”?

Last night’s rugby world cup match between England and Scotland demonstrated strong support for “anyone but England”, in this case Scotland. This is partly support for the underdog, and it partly demonstartes a strong Scottish cultural influence in New Zealand. But there is also a strong English cultural influence in the old colony.

Both Scotland and Ireland get strong support from Kiwis. There are many Kiwis with Scottish and Irish ancestry, but that’s only part of the reason – there is a lot of English ancestry here too. There’s even a few Kiwis who still support maintaining links with the Queen of England.

Why do many Kiwis have little or no support for old mother England?

I really don’t know. And I’m an example of this phenomenon.

On my father’s side of the family my grandmother came from Chelsea, a great grandfather emigrated from Liverpool, and a great grandmother was part of the very English emigration to the Canterbury settlement. But I don’t feel like I have any connection with England apart from a historical curiosity. I don’t feel any empathy with England.

I don’t have any known Scottish or Irish heritage (but my granddaughter has a cool Scottish dad!) – but I would normally side with them over England. I don’t know why.

My mother’s parents came from Wales, arriving in New Zealand a couple of years before she was born. However my Welsh empathy only  amounts to a little more historical curiousity  than my Englishness.

My mild natural support for Wales over England is on about the same scale as my natural wish for Ireland or Scotland to beat England.

What has England done to deserve this? A Kiwi disdain of the English arrogance and self appointed superiority? Many UK immigrants to New Zealand wanted to get away from the English class system, maybe it’s a residual of that feeling. Kiwis are more likely to have a favourite “working class” football team than they are a more toffee rugby club (not me though).

England, we don’t hate you, maybe we just like to feel our independence as Kiwis and “anyone but England” is one way of doing this.