Day: 19 June 2021

Schools Told to Plan for More Remote Learning and for Return of Face Masks

The Department for Education (DfE) has instructed schools to be prepared for the reintroduction of face masks in classrooms and for the return of remote learning in case of “local outbreaks of Covid”. The Times Educational Supplement has the story.

In an email bulletin sent to schools this afternoon [by the DfE] they have been told to ensure they have management plans outlining how they would operate if any of the restrictions in the new Contingency Framework document were to be introduced in their area.

The updated framework also sets out how councils and public health directors can make decisions to introduce Covid safety measures at a single school or cluster of schools but where there is a need to address Covid across an entire area decisions will be taken by ministers.

The new framework tells schools to ensure they have plans in place for:

~ Reintroducing asymptomatic testing sites.

~ Reintroducing mask-wearing in communal areas and/or classrooms.

~ Limiting residential visits, open days, transition days and performances.

~ Limiting attendance to primary school pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

~ Limiting attendance secondary school students in Years 10, 11, 12 and 13, as well as vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

The document also says that schools should plan for the reintroduction of shielding but says that a decision to bring this back can only be done by the national Government.

In a daily bulletin sent to schools, the department says: “We have updated the contingency framework following the Government’s announcement on enhanced response packages to tackle the Delta variant in some areas.

“The contingency framework describes the principles of managing local outbreaks of Covid in education and childcare settings. It covers all types of measures that settings should be prepared for, which includes those that may be recommended as part of an enhanced response area.

“All education and childcare settings should have outbreak management plans outlining how they would operate if any of the measures described within the contingency framework were recommended in their area for any reason.

“Secondary schools and colleges should ensure their outbreak management plans cover the possibility that it is advised that face coverings should temporarily be worn more widely in settings in their area and that asymptomatic testing sites (ATS) may be required.”

It also says that additional guidance has been issued to the Directors of Public Health advising that they work in partnership with schools and colleges before reinstating ATS.

Schools had previously been told, earlier this year, that they must not implement any of the Covid containment measures without “explicit agreement” from the DfE but the new framework sets out how this can be done at local level if it only involves a small number of schools.

As we reported earlier today, London councils are also hoping to build “temporary body storage facilities” in the event of an “excess deaths situation”, largely due to concerns about the Indian Delta Covid variant. Just when we should be unlocking, the authorities appear to be gearing up for further restrictions.

The Times Educational Supplement report is worth reading in full.

The Flawed Reasoning Behind Vaccine Passports

We’re publishing an original piece today by a lecturer at a Russell Group university about the poor reasoning of those who advocate for vaccine passports. Here’s an extract in which he draws attention to the use of false dilemmas in an attempt to persuade people to embrace a Covid status certification scheme.

Debates about vaccine passports often involve people experiencing a false dilemma. Consider a professor at the Harvard Law School for whom the alternative to a vaccine passport system is “stay at your home, or don’t come to college, or don’t come to the employer at all”. For those who want to do such extravagant things as go out, continue one’s education, or go to work to earn a wage, there may seem to be no acceptable alternative.

Many people, it seems, see the debate as one between accepting vaccine passports or facing a punishing future of restrictions, social disruption and isolation, and all their social and economic harms – ones that disproportionality impact ethnic and racial minorities. Given just those two options, vaccine passports will doubtless seem the lesser of two evils. But those aren’t the only option: a false dilemma is imposed by obscuring alternative possibilities. Israel, for one, recently announced the early closure of its Green Card system, barely five months after introducing it, due to encouraging case data and vaccine uptake rates. One obvious alternative is therefore to study up-to-date data on cases, hospitalisations, and deaths and weigh these against vaccination rates and plausible collective immunity levels.

We’re often susceptible to false dilemmas: many of us tend to stick to the options given to us. It also takes expertise, research, and exercises of the imagination to identify alternatives. Moreover, many prefer simplified decision-making situations in which there’s a limited set of simple alternatives. Sometimes, artificially simplified options are acceptable: not all false dilemmas concern important topics (what shall I do tonight – watch Netflix or have a bath?). But vaccine passports raise important issues, so we must take more than the usual amounts of care when considering them. If there are other ways to ‘return to normal’, then vaccine passports are not the only way and perhaps not the best way.

Worth reading in full.

Westminster City Council Advertises Contract for Building of Body Storage Facilities in Case of an “Excess Deaths Situation”

Amid warnings of a third wave of Covid infections in the U.K., fuelled largely by the fear of the Indian Delta variant and, of course, the prospect of new variants, such as the one recently discovered in Russia, Westminster City Council has advertised a new contract opportunity for the construction of “temporary body storage facilities” in the event of an “excess deaths situation”. Here is some of the information provided on the Gov.uk website.

The Authority seeks to procure a framework agreement for temporary body storage in the event of an excess deaths situation for the 32 London boroughs and the City of London, led by Westminster City Council. The framework agreement will appoint a single provider and will be for a period of four years. This will be a contingency contract, only called upon in the event that an excess deaths situation arises in the future and existing local body storage capacity needs to be augmented.

The over-arching aim of this tender is to provide a single framework supplier that will be able to provide temporary body storage facilities to house deceased in the event of an excess deaths situation. The deceased will be stored with dignity and respect, at locations to be determined based on local London needs at the time and will require some design elements to accommodate local site conditions and constraints, while being capable of rapid deployment, construction and commissioning to an agreed standard. This framework will be procured by the Authority as the pan-London lead, but all London local authorities may call off against the framework.

This will be a contingency cover framework and as such, there is no minimum guarantee of any level of spend or call-off under the framework agreement.

The Council estimates that the total value of this contract (excluding VAT) will be around £6 million and it is not set for renewal. But how likely is it that this is just another local government overreaction?

Worth reading in full.

Government Considering Exempting Fully-Vaccinated Brits From Quarantine Rules after Contact with Covid Carriers

The gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated Brits is set to grow even further under new plans to exempt people who have received both doses of a vaccine from having to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with Covid carriers. Those who are exempt will have to abide instead by a strict testing regime and will still have to isolate if a test result comes out positive.

The Health Secretary is said to be “very keen” on this approach. All that is needed, according to reports, is for Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, to give his seal of approval. The MailOnline has more.

Britons who have received both jabs would be exempt from self-isolation for a 24-hour period after each negative test result. 

Tests would be required every morning for one week if a person is told by Test and Trace that they have been near someone with the infection.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is said to be “very keen” on the new approach which would help to lift coronavirus restrictions.

But the proposal can only go ahead after Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, is content with the outcome of a study of 40,000 people…

Initial results from the study are predicted to come in next month and the research is set to finish by the end of this summer. 

A Whitehall source told the Times: “The vaccines are extremely effective and we want to keep people safe whilst minimising interruption to their lives. 

“So of course it is an attractive option if shown to be safe.”

It follows 62,000 people having to self-isolate last week after coming into contact with Covid carriers. 

Another source added: “It’s obviously very appealing if it’s safe so we need to show that before we bring it in.

“Matt is very keen on it and there is a strong appetite in some corners.”

Worth reading in full.

NHS App Gains 2.7 Million Users Following Addition of Vaccine Passport

Almost three million people have signed up to the NHS app since the addition of the “NHS Covid Pass” section, showing a user’s vaccine status, as well as recent test results. The Guardian has the story.

The app, separate from the NHS Covid app, began enabling people to show proof that they had received the vaccine from May 17th, in order to travel internationally or attend sporting events, such as Wimbledon and Euro 2020 matches. The app already had other functions in order to access medical services, such as booking GP appointments.

Between May 17th and June 14th, almost five million distinct users logged on to the app, with the Department of Health and Social Care stating that more than six million users had been reached in total.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Technology undoubtedly plays a huge role in how we deliver healthcare now and in the future and it is great to see so many people downloading, using and benefiting from the NHS app.

“It is vital we embrace the momentum we have built-in using technology and innovation in the health and care sector over the last year as we look beyond the pandemic to improve treatment, care and the experiences of patients.”

While the Gov.uk website mentions only that the app allows users to show their vaccine status “if required for international travel”, the Chief Executive of NHSX (the digital arm of the health service) says: “It has been good to see it used to open up sporting events, facilitate travel, and encourage the use of NHS services online.” Last month, a senior Whitehall figure said it is “almost certain” that vaccine passports will be required in domestic settings, such as for events of more than 1,000 people.

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

News Round-Up