Day: 21 May 2021

Government to Reveal If Lockdown Will Be Lifted on June 21st “by End of Month”

The Prime Minister has committed to announcing “by the end of the month” whether or not lockdown will come to an end on June 21st. At the same time, he will provide more details on plans for vaccine passports and mask-wearing rules beyond the fourth and final step of the “roadmap”. Boris says “I don’t see any prospect of certificates [going] into pubs”, though earlier today a Government insider hinted that the use of vaccine passports could be widened later this year due to fears about the Indian variant and a third wave of Covid infections. The Prime Minister has also said that he would like to scrap the one-metre plus” rule in hospitality settings on June 21st. Sky News has more.

Doubt had been cast on the last step on the roadmap out of the lockdown by the rising number of cases of the Indian coronavirus variant.

However, speaking on Friday, the Prime Minister said he had not seen any signs that he would have to “deviate” from plans to scrap all Covid curbs in England by next month, suggesting there was no need for so-called vaccine passports to be used to gain entry to pubs.

According to the Government’s current plan, it hopes to be in a position “to remove all legal limits on social contact” from June 21st.

It also intends to allow the reopening of premises that still remain shut – including nightclubs – and ease restrictions on large events and live performances.

Prior to this, the Government will have carried out a review of social distancing and other long-term measures that have been put in place to cut transmission.

Speaking on a visit to Portsmouth, Mr Johnson said: “We will be letting everybody know exactly what sort of arrangements to expect for June 21st.

“But what I can tell you, and just to stress that I am still seeing nothing in the data that leads me to think that we’re going to have to deviate from the roadmap – obviously we must remain cautious but I’m seeing nothing that makes me think we have to deviate.

“But on June 21st and vaccine certification – or Covid status certification I should say – people should bear in mind that I don’t see any prospect of certificates to go into pubs or anything else.”

Pressed on whether the public would continue to be asked to wear masks, Mr Johnson replied: “We will let people know as much as we possibly can by the end of the month about weddings, for instance.

“All the details we’ll try and let people know by the end of the month about exactly where we think we’ll be on June 21st, Step Four.”

Worth reading in full.

New Study From Harvard Shows “Systemic” Presence of Spike Proteins in Blood Following Vaccination

A new paper published this week in Oxford scientific journal Clinical Infectious Diseases has shown that the spike protein from an mRNA Covid vaccine is present systemically in the blood from the day of the jab and is not localised to the site of injection. The research team from Harvard found the protein in the blood of 11 of 13 nurses tested following vaccination. Here is the abstract:

SARS-CoV-2 proteins were measured in longitudinal plasma samples collected from 13 participants who received two doses of mRNA-1273 [Moderna] vaccine. 11 of 13 participants showed detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 protein as early as day one after first vaccine injection. Clearance of detectable SARS-CoV-2 protein correlated with production of IgG and IgA.

The Covid vaccines introduce genetic material into the body which give our cells instructions to produce the spike protein, which the immune system then learns to fight off and produces antibodies against. It had not previously been confirmed whether the spike protein was only produced locally to the injection site or could be detected more widely in the body.

The implications of this finding are unclear. As the authors state: “The clinical relevance of this finding is unknown and should be further explored.” However, it would seem to explain why side-effects potentially connected to the spike protein can occur throughout the body and are not localised to the injection site.

Boris Says He Wants to Scrap the “One-Metre Plus” Rule in Pubs on June 21st

Boris Johnson has told Conservative MPs that he would like to scrap the “one-metre plus” rule in hospitality settings when the last step of the “roadmap” out of lockdown is reached on June 21st. Doing so would help businesses damaged by lockdown to get back on their feet, the Prime Minister said. The MailOnline has the story.

The Prime Minister said eliminating the measure was the “single biggest difference” the Government could bring about in order to get Britain’s pubs back into action, and he was eager for the rule to be scrapped by June 21st…

As long as the rule is in force, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other hospitality businesses remain financially unviable, having to legally keep customers separated while using their premises, industry leaders have warned. 

Many have had to keep their doors closed throughout the coronavirus crisis. 

Britain’s daily Covid deaths have fallen by more than a third in a week as seven more victims and 2,874 positive tests were recorded. Yesterday’s infections were up slightly on the 2,657 last Thursday, a rise of about eight per cent, but the national case rate has remained stable since April.

More than 37 million people have now received one vaccine injection – the equivalent of more than 70% of all adults – and 21.2 million are fully inoculated.  

But the rise of the Indian Covid variant had sparked concerns that plans to end social distancing measures were in jeopardy, but on Wednesday Mr Johnson told the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs he was confident about abolishing the one-metre plus rule next month.  

He said: “We are hopeful we can do that at the end of the road map.” But Mr Johnson added that it depends on figures “continuing in the right direction”…

One MP who was at the 1922 meeting said: “[Boris] seemed very upbeat about removing the one-metre-plus rule next month.”

Worth reading in full.

It’s “Almost Certain” That Vaccine Passports Will Be Required for Large Events, Says Senior Whitehall Figure

Government insiders say it is “almost certain” that vaccine passports will be required in domestic settings, such as for events of more than 1,000 people, and that fears over the Indian Covid variant and a “third wave” of infections could be used to justify the use of passes being extended later this year. Such an extension could see pubs and restaurants requiring vaccine passports, despite this having supposedly been “ruled out“. The Financial Times has the story.

Under the plans, proof of vaccine certification, stored on the NHS app, may be used for events of more than 1,000 people once the U.K. enters the next and final stage of its road map out of lockdown on June 21st, when premises such as nightclubs are set to be reopened.

There has been some uncertainty over whether a domestic vaccine passport scheme would be adopted in England, with some arguing they would prove exclusionary to the young and minority groups. Others have questioned whether they have a clear public health value.

Those in favour of the proposal note that the pass will allow proof of a recent negative Covid test or prior infection from the virus as alternatives to vaccination, preventing discrimination. 

Legislation of some form is believed to be needed to allow a mandated domestic passport scheme to be brought in, and any such legislative move would have to be voted on in parliament.

The Government will soon move into the second phase of its evaluation of large events and the role of digital certification at a total of up to 10 events before June 21st – possibly including Royal Ascot on June 15th. For those unvaccinated, a rigorous testing regime will be required.

An individual briefed on the plans said phase two trials would include events with greater capacity to find “cracks in the system” and ensure “we are fully ready for the summer”. Some of the trials will include venues operating at full capacity.

A formal announcement on phase two of the trials is expected next week, which will include a mixture of events such as sports and music. One Government insider said: “The phase two trials will be bigger and better. We want to get crowds back safely in higher numbers.”

One senior Whitehall figure said: “The first phase of the trials has gone very well and it’s almost certain that vaccine certification will be required for large events.” The official added that passports for pubs and restaurants “have been ruled out”. 

Another Whitehall figure said that although no final decision had been taken, “our focus has been on big events and higher capacity venues”.

… One Government insider involved with the scheme hinted that use of passports may be widened if the U.K. suffers from a third coronavirus wave later this year. “It may be that certification has a role to play in other venues to stop closures in the autumn or winter if there’s a big surge.”

Worth reading in full.

Just Three Out of Britain’s 15 Indian Variant Hotspots Are Seeing a Rise in Covid Infection Rates

Fears about how quickly the Indian Covid variant spreads seem to have been overplayed as new data shows that 12 out of 15 variant “hotspots” in Britain are not seeing a rise in Covid infection rates. Boris is clearly right about the “gloom” having been overdone, so why the continued calls for tougher restrictions? The Times has more.

Cases in over 60s are not rising in any of the [“hotspot”] areas currently subject to surge testing outside Bolton, in what is being seen as an encouraging sign that the vaccines are protecting the most vulnerable.

Updated figures yesterday showed 3,424 known cases of the B.1.617.2 variant, up 15% on yesterday. But Boris Johnson has become more confident that the end of restrictions can remain on track as emerging data suggests that the strain is unlikely to be 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant…

Officials stress that efforts to assess the spread of the Indian variant are still preliminary, with firmer numbers not expected until next week. One member of SAGE said yesterday he was “very concerned” that the country was at the start of a third wave of Covid…

However, ministers have been cautiously encouraged that while cases have taken off in Bolton, other hotspot areas are not rising as fast. Ten per cent of all U.K. cases reported yesterday were in Bolton, where rates are seven times higher than a month ago at over 300 per 100,000. The increase in Blackburn is half of that, while Bedford is the only other area subject to surge testing where rates are clearly rising. All three areas have rates over 100 per 100,000.

Infections in Hillingdon, Hackney, Kensington, Kirklees, Leicester, Nuneaton, Redbridge and Redditch are flat or possibly falling, while in Burnley, Sefton, Hounslow and North Tyneside there are signs that cases might be starting to rise, but trends are not yet clear, with all having rates below 100 per 100,000.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up