Month: June 2021

England Fans Told Not to Travel to Rome for Quarter-Final Match

Thousands of UEFA officials have been given a free pass to avoid travel quarantine rules when travelling to the U.K. to watch Euro 2020 matches, but fans are given no such leeway. England supporters have been told not to travel to Rome this weekend to watch the quarter-final match against Ukraine, with a minister saying in a teacher-to-pupil-like fashion stay home and “challenge [yourselves to make the players] hear us from Rome”. Sky News has more.

The Three Lions beat Germany last night to set up a showdown in Rome with Ukraine but travel restrictions mean most England fans will not be able to soak up the atmosphere and the summer heat in the Eternal City.

Italy is on the U.K.’s “Amber List”, and all U.K. arrivals in Italy currently have to isolate for five days.

Speaking to Sky News, Government Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan called on England fans to “watch from home and to cheer on the team as loudly as you can”.

“Obviously it is very difficult not to smile just to see all those wonderful flags waving, it just makes you so proud of our team doing so well last night,” she said.

“But really, the ask is to watch from home and to cheer on the team as loudly as you can.

“I think the challenge is can they hear us from Rome? And I’m sure we’ll take up that opportunity to be as supportive as we can of our amazing England team.” …

Those visiting Italy must have proof of a negative coronavirus test taken in the 48 hours before they travel.

Upon arrival, all passengers from the U.K. must fill out a passenger locator form before completing five days of isolation.

If they have proof of a negative Covid test, a traveller can be released after those five days.

However, this means even if fans board a flight to Italy on Wednesday, they will still have to isolate until at least Sunday likely having to watch the game from a hotel room.

The Government’s travel rules mean fans would have to isolate again upon returning to the U.K..

Worth reading in full.

If any England fans are planning to make the trip, and have thought of a cunning way to get into the stadium, please email us here.

School Bubbles Could Be Scrapped on July 19th, Says Gavin Williamson

Education Secretary Gavin Williams says he expects to announce the scrapping of the school bubble system as part of the end of lockdown on July 19th. The Government is facing pressure from schools and parents alike (and, more recently, from the media), with Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Business Minister, saying this morning: “My postbag has quite a lot of frustrated parents wondering why the whole class has been sent home.” Sky News has more.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Williamson said he wanted to see restrictions on schools and colleges – including the bubble system – removed “as quickly as possible along with wider restrictions in society”.

“I do not think it is acceptable that children should face greater restrictions over and above those of wider society especially since they have given up so much to keep older generations safe over the last 18 months,” he added.

“Further steps will be taken to reduce the number of children who have to self-isolate, including looking at the outcomes of a daily contact testing trial, as we consider a new model for keeping children in schools and colleges.” …

Trials have recently been held on using daily contact testing for children as an alternative to an entire school bubble made up of a class or even whole year group having to self-isolate if one of their number is infected.

Mr Williamson said ministers were expecting a report from Public Health England on those trials “in the coming weeks”.

But the Education Secretary signalled changes to coronavirus measures for schools would not come prior to the end of the summer term. …

Asked if children would not have to return to bubbles in the autumn, Mr Williamson later replied: “I don’t want to be pre-empting the decision of cross-Government in terms of the next stage. …

“[But] will be very much expecting that children would not be facing that in September.”

Worth reading in full.

A New Direct Democracy Initiative for Those Fed Up With Two-Faced Politicians

David Seedhouse, Honorary Professor of Deliberative Practice at Aston University and a contributor to Lockdown Sceptics, is launching a new direct democracy initiative called Our Decision Too. In an article in today’s Conservative Woman he explains why it’s needed.

If someone were to ask me: “Excuse me, friend, how do we bring about meaningful democracy in 2021?” I would also say: “Well, sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.” 

I wouldn’t start from a system where every few years millions of citizens have just one opportunity to vote for a single individual who must represent not only their views about policy but the views of every other constituent as well. This is quite obviously an impossible task. 

I would not start from a system where MPs are obliged to vote in line with their party’s mandates.  

I would not start from a system where political parties publish gleaming manifestos only to ignore them as soon as they win power. 

I would not start from a system where a cabal of bureaucrats with their own interests to advance advise MPs who can know only so much. 

I would not start from a system where lobby groups, cronyism, inter-party fighting, blatant corruption and the personal interests of politicians create an unbridgeable chasm between government and the people. 

In fact I would not start with a system where there are political parties at all. Tinkering will not bring about meaningful democracy. The political elite will not endorse meaningful reform in a million years. So we need to do what they do to us – ignore them and make our own decisions. 

Lockdown Sceptics featured the project two months ago when it first started out. Now it has been given its own website and David wants to grow the membership from its current level – over 1,000 – to many more.

Fertility Rate in 2021 in England and Wales Could Be Lowest Ever Recorded in 2021

Lockdown restrictions in 2020 did not lead to a baby boom – perhaps due, in part, to increased financial uncertainty and family fallouts – and data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that 2021 could see the lowest fertility rate ever recorded. Sky News has the story.

Fertility rates for December 2020 and January 2021 showed “relatively steep decreases” compared with the equivalent month the previous year, down by 8.1% and 10.2% respectively, according to the ONS.

Live births in these months would have mostly been conceived in the weeks after the first coronavirus lockdown came into force.

However, couples got busy when restrictions lifted in the summer months.

Figures show a 1.7% year-on-year increase in the fertility rate for March 2021 – which “mostly translate to live births conceived when lockdown restrictions were beginning to be eased in summer 2020”, the ONS said.

The total fertility rate is the average number of live children a group of women would bear if they experienced age-specific fertility rates throughout their childbearing life – and could end up being the lowest ever recorded this year.

According to ONS data, for the first three months of this year, the rate for 2021 is estimated to be 1.53 children per woman.

This is down from 1.92 children per woman in 2011.

Data also shows live births in England and Wales in 2020 fell for the fifth consecutive year.

[However,] the stillbirth rate for January 2021 was 4.7 – the highest for any calendar month since March 2018.

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Economy Shrunk More Than Previously Thought in First Quarter Thanks to Third Lockdown

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revised its GDP figures for the first quarter to show that the economy shrunk more than was previously believed as the third lockdown hit hard. The MailOnline has the story.

Data published by the ONS showed that U.K. gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have decreased by 1.6% in the period between January and March. 

That is up slightly on the original estimate of a 1.5% reduction.

It means that the level of GDP now stands at 8.8% below where it was in the fourth quarter of 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic hit, revised from an initial estimate of 8.7%.        

Despite the economic dip in the first three months of 2021, household saving levels again returned to record highs. 

The household saving ratio – the estimate of the amount of money that households can put away – increased to 19.9% in the first quarter. 

That is the second highest ratio ever recorded and compares with 16.1% in the final three months of 2020…

The ONS said that household spending fell in the first quarter of this year as lockdown prevented families from spending money in restaurants and non-essential shops. 

Spending in restaurants and hotels dipped by 37.2% on the previous quarter.     

The ONS said that the dip in GDP was largely driven by contractions in the education, wholesale and retail sectors caused by the tightening of coronavirus curbs. 

The closure of schools and the return of pupils learning at home hit the economy particularly hard. 

Education output shrank by 14.7% in the first quarter of 2021 which “reflects the relatively low level of school attendance in January and February because of the closure of schools as part of the Government response to the coronavirus pandemic”.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Does This Explain Why COVID-19 is Normally so Puny But Occasionally Goes Bang?

I wanted to come back to the question of what causes COVID-19 occasionally to have explosive outbreaks. We’ve had two in England so far. Using the graph below (produced by Imperial’s REACT study using symptom-onset reports from their antibody survey, so no PCR tests involved) we can see when they occurred. The first occurred from around February 25th to March 19th 2020, ending after about three and a half weeks, as abruptly as it began. The second got going around December 2nd, and ended – once again abruptly after three and a half weeks – on December 25th. As the lines below indicate, these starts and stops bear no relation to when lockdowns were imposed or lifted (the red and blue lines respectively).

Given that (as we can see) Covid was around in England throughout the winter of 2019-20 (arriving in November according to this graph) and was also simmering away in the autumn of 2020 without taking off, a key question is what triggers the beginning and end of the more explosive outbreaks?

Another way of putting the same question is: why does COVID-19 occasionally, Jekyll and Hyde-like, transform from a relatively gentle, not very infectious disease into a super-infectious disease for a few weeks, before suddenly returning once more to its largely benign form?

Perhaps surprisingly, Covid in England has only been in ‘Hyde’ form for about seven weeks in total so far, with the R rate (the speed at which the epidemic is growing) only going significantly above one (indicating an exponentially growing epidemic) for around three and a half weeks in February/March 2020 and three and a half weeks in December 2020. The rest of the time it’s been up and down in different regions, particularly in the autumn, but there’s been no nationwide surge. What, then, on those two occasions triggered the disease to become briefly so much more infectious across the country?

Ministers Expected to Shelve Plans for Covid Vaccine Passports in All Domestic Settings – But Venues Will be Able to Enforce Their Own Schemes

Finally, some good news! The Government is expected to announce that vaccine passports will not be required at mass gatherings from next month and says that we should learn to “live with Covid”. The good news, however, ends there, as venues will be told that they can run their own certification schemes. Plus, vaccine passports could be back on the cards this winter when an inevitable new variant becomes the latest cause of concern. The Mail has the story.

Ministers are set to shelve plans for the mandatory use of ‘Covid certification’ after Freedom Day on July 19th. Plans for pubs and restaurants had already been put on the backburner following a backlash from MPs and the hospitality sector.

The Mail can now reveal that ministers have also dropped the idea of imposing them on mass events. Organisers will, however, be permitted to run their own schemes, with the Premier League among those expected to introduce some form of certification to prove those attending football grounds do not pose a Covid risk. …

[Boris Johnson] told the Cabinet yesterday that our vaccination success means Britain will be able to “live with Covid” because the link between virus cases and hospitalisations has been broken.

“We need to get used to the idea of treating Covid more like flu,” [a Government] source said. “People have the flu vaccine, which helps reduce serious illness, but we still get large numbers of cases and significant numbers of deaths.

“When we get to July 19th, cases look like they will be potentially very high, perhaps as many as 30,000 or 40,000 per day. But that is not in itself a reason not to go ahead, provided hospitalisations and deaths remain at relatively low levels.” …

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Cabinet agreed that once we have completed the roadmap, we will be able to live with Covid in the future – even if cases continue to rise – thanks to the protections provided by the vaccine.”

In what appeared to be a coordinated series of interventions, Michael Gove said people will have to live with Covid in “the way that we live with flu”, which claims thousands of deaths each winter but does not require society and the economy to be locked down. …

Whitehall sources told the Mail that [vaccine passports] will be shelved for domestic use, despite ongoing trials at Wimbledon and Wembley. Pilot schemes have controlled access to mass events by requiring those in attendance to supply proof that they have been vaccinated or tested for Covid.

Ministers now believe that the success of our vaccination programme means such measures will not be required across Britain this summer, avoiding another potential clash with MPs.

“It is looking unlikely that we will have to make Covid certification compulsory, even for mass events,” a source said.

“It will be needed for foreign travel and some events may choose to run their own schemes, but it does not look like we will need legislation at this stage.

“The work has not been wasted. It will be needed for travel and we will have a system in place which could be used if we need it in the winter.” Indeed, plans for widespread use of the passports could be revived in the event of another major wave of Covid. This would allow venues to stay open even if cases soar dramatically. Number 10 said the PM was “increasingly confident” there would be no need for further delays to lifting curbs on our freedoms.

Worth reading full.

Man Dies from Blood Clot after Taking Moderna Covid Vaccine

Cases of blood clotting after vaccination have mainly been associated with the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine over recent months, but an American man, aged 65, has now died 12 days after his second dose of the Moderna vaccine in what is being reported as the first known death from blood clotting linked to this vaccine. The Sun has the story.

After getting the coronavirus jab, the man experienced pain in both legs, difficulty breathing and was diagnosed with thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) two days before he died.

Three days into his stay at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the man developed cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, according to a report published on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.

This is a rare type of blood clot blocking the brain’s sinus channels of draining blood, which could lead to hemorrhages. 

Doctors searched to identify other causes behind his TTS including Covid, other viruses or thrombotic thrombocytopenia purport, a rare disorder that causes blood clots throughout the body.

The man had chronic underlying conditions including high blood pressure and hyperlipidemia, which presents itself when high levels of fat particles are in the blood.

Despite “rapid and exhaustive” treatment eliminating all other options, a solution could not be found leaving investigators believing the blood clots were caused by the vaccine.

Previously, research showed that the “rare but life-threatening” condition only occurred in individuals who received Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca vaccines.

Both vaccines combine genetic material taken from the coronavirus and genes of the adenovirus, producing an immune response.

The findings show that the side effects can also occur when someone gets a vaccine that has messenger RNA (mRNA).

Because blood clots do occur after vaccinations, the report claims, “it should not dissuade people from getting the Covid jab”.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it would add a warning to the Moderna vaccine – as well as the Pfizer vaccine – after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there is a “likely link” between them and cases of heart inflammation, particularly in children and young adults.

The Sun report is worth reading in full.

Sajid Javid Has “Worsened” Prospect of All Freedoms Being Returned on July 19th, Says Steve Baker

Allies of Sajid Javid are keen to point out that he will be much less “nanny state-ish” as Health Secretary than Matt Hancock has been over the past 15 months. But Javid failed his first test by ruling out unlocking the nation on July 5th and he is now accused of being unclear about whether all restrictions will be removed when ‘Freedom Day’ finally arrives.

Conservative MP Steve Baker has told Sky News that Javid has actually “worsened” the prospect of all restrictions being lifted on July 19th by being ambiguous over whether or not guidelines on social distancing and testing will end at this time.

Baker’s comments on the likelihood of Test and Trace continuing to play a large role after July 19th are particularly fitting, given that the Government has just awarded Serco and Mitie new testing contracts – worth up to £687 million collectively – to support this system. These contracts could run for up to 18 months.

The Deputy Chair of the Covid Recovery Group says that maintaining some restrictions after Step Four of the lockdown “roadmap” would risk creating a “hollow and haunted society”. Sky News has more.

Asked by Sky’s Deputy Political Editor Sam Coates whether he welcomed the fact Mr Javid described July 19th as “irreversible”, Mr Baker said the claim did not go far enough.

He said: “I am very pleased he doubled down on it, but I would just observe he has doubled down on the existing Government line to take. In fact, in a sense, he has worsened the position.

“The impression which Matt [Hancock] was happy to create in the Commons was that once we got to Step Four there would not be regulations – freedom from regulations – now that’s difficult to reconcile with what’s now going on with events with Covid certification being trialled, with social distancing and test and trace – what actually is the world going to look like when we get our freedom back?”

Mr Baker said guidance on face masks and the one-metre rule should all be removed next month to ensure businesses do not feel pressured to follow them by default…

“I’m very conscious that even voluntary measures will be interpreted by the Health and Safety Executive and businesses and could effectively be compulsory. So until the Government stops recommending these things, too many businesses will become unviable.”

Worth reading in full.