Day: 14 June 2021

Boris Announces Extension of Lockdown by Four “Crucial Weeks” – Noting “Possibility” That a “Far More Dangerous” New Variant Could Cause Further Delays After July 19th

Boris Johnson has announced that lockdown will be extended until July 19th. At a Downing Street briefing, the Prime Minister said that four more “crucial weeks” of restrictions were needed to prevent the virus from “outrunning” the vaccine and to prevent “thousands more deaths that could otherwise have been avoided”.

The PM hopes that “easing off the accelerator” will allow enough time for two-thirds of the adult population to be fully vaccinated against Covid, but warned that “a proportion of the elderly and vulnerable may still succumb [to the virus] even if they have had two jabs”.

Weddings and wakes with over 30 guests will be permitted after June 21st, so long as social distancing guidelines are followed, and there is a possibility that restrictions could end after a two-week extension on July 5th. The chances of this are, however, very slim. Boris said:

[We must] wait another four weeks – or maybe as little as two weeks. But let’s be realistic, [it’s] probably more likely [to be] four weeks.

Whereas June 21st was a “not-before date”, the PM is “pretty confident that July 19th will be, as it were, a terminus date”. That is unless yet another “new variant” emerges.

At that stage [when, by July 19th, the vaccine roll-out has created a “wall of immunity”]… I am confident that we will be able to go forward with the full… opening. That, of course, doesn’t exclude the possibility… that there is some new variant that is far more dangerous – that kills people in a way that we currently cannot foresee or understand. That’s obviously the case.

As before, Boris maintains that the roadmap to freedom should be “cautious” but “irreversible”. You can watch the full briefing here.

Stop Press: Sam Coates of Sky News says that “Labour will back the four-week delay to lockdown lifting step four”.

They will characterise it as a consequence of Boris Johnson’s mishandling and criticise [the] lack of economic support.

Stop Press 2: According to YouGov, 71% of English adults support the unlocking delay.

Stop Press 3: GB News has reported on the lockdown protesters marching outside Downing Street today.

The people are really angry. “Enough is enough” was the message that [came] from there – people wanting to just have the choice now to get out there and live their lives again.

If Not Now, When? Tory Backbenchers Rage at the Delay to Lifting Restrictions

The Prime Minister will have to put the delay to the lifting of lockdown restrictions to a vote in the House of Commons before the end of June – a vote which he will likely win (thanks to support from Labour), but not without a swell of opposition from his own MPs. Tory backbenchers, including Sir Charles Walker, are particularly irked by the idea that “Freedom Day” could be pushed back not just by four weeks but into the month of August, and that the roadmap could later be “reversed”. The MailOnline has the story.

Mr Johnson is set to offer an olive branch to some industries that will be worst-hit by the delay, including lifting the cap on the number of guests who can attend weddings. He is also expected to permit more outdoor seated spaces at sporting events.

The concessions come as Tory MPs join hospitality and other business leaders in venting their fury at the postponement, warning it will cost firms millions of pounds.

Vice Chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench MPs Sir Charles Walker said that “existing isn’t living” as he raised concerns that the Government’s roadmap could be reversed.

“Eventually, if you say you are going to live with Covid, ultimately at times you are going to have to tough it out. Existing isn’t living,” the MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme. 

“So I just have an overwhelming sense of pessimism now. If you can’t lift restrictions at the height of summer, and we are in the height of summer, then you almost certainly are looking at these restrictions persisting and tightening into the autumn and winter.

“I don’t think the July 19th date will be met. If it is, it will be met for weeks before we enter further lockdowns.”

New analysis by Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that 29% of Covid deaths from the B.1.617.2 Indian strain had received two injections. And, in a further blow, the PHE report suggests the Delta variant has a 64% increased risk of household transmission compared to the Kent (Alpha) variant.

However, some hardline anti-lockdown Tories are furious about any delay at all, as they wanted the lifting of lockdown to be faster than it has been…

Former minister Steve Baker channelled classic war film The Great Escape in a message to Covid Recovery Group MPs last night, according to Politico, saying: “It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. 

“If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.”

And theatre impresario Sir Howard Panter warned the industry will suffer “significant damage” if the final lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England is put on hold. 

Worth reading in full.

All Welsh Adults Offered First Dose of Covid Vaccine

All adults in Wales have been offered the first dose of a Covid vaccine. This event has occurred six weeks ahead of schedule, according to the Welsh Government. BBC News has the story.

Data published by Public Health Wales on Monday showed 2,216,031 people have been given a first vaccine dose – 70.3% of the population.

Wales’s vaccine roll-out is ahead of every world nation with a population of more than one million people.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said reaching the milestone before the original July target was “remarkable”.

Wales remains ahead of the other U.K. nations in the total proportion of the population given a first jab.

Clinics are now accelerating second doses amid growing concerns about the spread of the delta variant.

While all those who are most vulnerable to Covid have been offered the vaccine in Wales, and take-up has been high (90% among the over-50s), Baroness Morgan says the country should not become “complacent” about its vaccine roll-out efforts. “We are keen to see 18 to 39 year-olds vaccinated and hope to reach our milestone of 75% take-up in this age group by the end of this month.”

Meanwhile, zero deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test were reported in Wales on 10 of the 13 first days of June, yet a range of restrictions remain in place.

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

Lockdown Could Continue Past July 19th, Says Health Minister

The Prime Minister has yet to formally announce a four-week delay to the end of lockdown in England, but Government figures have already hinted that the imposition of restrictions could be extended beyond July 19th and even into the month of August. The Sun has the story.

Health Minister Ed Argar said it is “of course possible” that a longer delay will be needed to get the Indian variant under control.

But he said the hope is to use the month-long window to get 10 million second jabs into arms, extending full protection to 75% of Brits.

The PM is set to announce Freedom Day is being pushed back by four weeks to July 19th during a Downing Street press conference at 6pm.

He’ll include a break clause, meaning the lifting of restrictions could go ahead on July 5th if hospitalisations don’t significantly rise.

But some ministers fear that with cases spiralling the health situation could go the other way and curbs will need to stay in place for longer.

Asked about that possibility, Mr Argar said: “Were there to be a delay of course that’s possible.

“But I and the PM and the Health Secretary want to see restrictions removed as soon as it’s safe to do so, and any delay as short as possible.

“We’ve got to recognise vaccination is the key. This disease will become endemic and we’ve got to learn to live with it.

“We will not get to a zero Covid. Vaccination is the way to get to the point where we can live with this disease.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also warned he couldn’t provide an “absolute guarantee” restrictions will definitely be lifted on July 19th.

But Mr Argar was adamant that there will be no rolling back of the roadmap and return to the previous lockdown.

He said: “The key thing the PM has always said throughout is the dates set out in the roadmap were the earliest possible date it could happen.

“He’s been clear each step is irreversible, that is why he’s considering now whether or not to delay step four.

“The reason the gaps between stages are five weeks and the reason it’s staggered over a number of months – I know people would’ve wished it to be faster – is because he believes on the basis of the advice he’s received that means it can be irreversible.”

Worth reading in full.

Excess Deaths Have Been Running Much Lower Than Official COVID-19 Deaths in Europe

Many commentators, not to mention Government spokesmen, are still relying on ‘COVID-19 deaths per million people’ as a measure of the disease’s lethality. However, we know that excess mortality – the number of deaths in excess of what you’d expect based on previous years – provides a more accurate gauge of the pandemic’s death toll.

Unlike ‘COVID-19 deaths per million people’, this measure does not vary with factors like testing infrastructure or the criteria for assigning cause of death. (Though the best measure to use is age-adjusted excess mortality.)

In the U.K. and some other countries, excess deaths ran much higher than official COVID-19 deaths in the first wave, due to a lack of testing. However, since the start of this year, they’ve have been running much lower than official COVID-19 deaths in Western Europe.

As I noted in a previous post, Ariel Kalinsky and Dmitry Kobak have collected all the available data on excess mortality in one place. (Note: they use a linear trend over the last five years as the baseline, rather than a simple average, which yields more accurate estimates of excess deaths.)

The latest version of their study includes a chart showing excess deaths and official COVID-19 deaths over time in sixteen different countries:

In Peru, Mexico and South Africa, excess deaths have been running substantially higher than official COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic. By contrast, in all but four of the European countries, excess deaths closely matched official COVID-19 deaths up the end of 2020.

However, since the beginning of 2021, excess deaths have been running lower – often much lower – than official COVID-19 deaths in every European country. In Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K., excess deaths have been negative (i.e., below the baseline) for multiple consecutive weeks. 

Some of these disparities could be due to reporting delays for all-cause deaths. However, the authors “excluded the most recent data points whenever there was an indication that the data were substantially incomplete”, so such delays are unlikely to be a big contributor. And in any case, the largest disparities between excess and official deaths are not seen in the most recent weeks. 

Overall, Kalinsky and Kobak’s findings indicate that excess deaths has become untethered from official COVID-19 deaths in Europe, and the latter measure is now substantially overstating the pandemic’s death toll. 

News Round-Up

The End is Not Nigh: Unlocking Definitely Delayed by Four Weeks

Boris will definitely announce that the lifting of lockdown will be delayed by up to four weeks at the Downing Street press conference on Monday evening. He’s going to spin this as a necessary delay to ensure the end of the lockdown is “irreversible”. Yeah, right. The Times has more.

Boris Johnson will appeal to the nation to be patient tomorrow as he announces that the June 21st easing of lockdown restrictions will be delayed by up to four weeks.

The prime minister will use a press conference in Downing Street tomorrow evening to set out the delay as the government attempts to hit its target of offering all adults at least one dose of a vaccination by the end of next month.

A government source said that Johnson views it as the “final stretch” as he seeks to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before lockdown rules are eased. The prime minister has repeatedly argued that the end of restrictions must be “irreversible”.

In an attempt to mitigate criticism he is expected to lift the 30-person limit on weddings and allow for more seated outdoor sporting and cultural events to take place with large crowds.

The four-week delay was signed off by the quad group of senior ministers – Johnson, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Matt Hancock, the health secretary – after a briefing by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.

Asked for his views, Sunak is said to have joked that they were already known after they were leaked to a newspaper last week. All four men supported the delay.

Some cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs are concerned that the new deadline of July 19th could slip further if cases and hospital admissions continue to rise. The Times has been told that planners in Whitehall initially considered delays of two or five weeks.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, told Times Radio he could not provide an “absolute guarantee” that lockdown restrictions would be eased by the new deadline. Asked if there was confidence that restrictions could be lifted by August, Raab said: “I don’t think there are any absolute guarantees.”

Johnson declined to comment when asked if he would guarantee the new timetable for easing the rules.

Worth reading in full – although preferably with a bucket in hand.

Of course Boris can’t guarantee we’ll reopen on July 19th – how could he, when he’s delegated the decision to SAGE? And the boffins are bound to come up with another reason why it’s not “safe” to reopen then. Or, indeed, ever.

The only way we’ll get our freedoms back is if we take them back.