Day: 26 June 2021

Hancock Quits; Sajid Javid to Replace Him As Health Secretary

Following Matt Hancock’s resignation, the Prime Minister has appointed former Chancellor Sajid Javid as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. BBC News has the story.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, [Hancock] said the Government “owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down”.

Boris Johnson said he was “sorry” to receive the resignation.

Former Chancellor Sajid Javid has been confirmed as the new Health Secretary, Downing Street said.

Mr Hancock had been under increasing pressure to quit, after the Sun published pictures of Mr Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, who are both married with three children, kissing. The newspaper said they had been taken inside the Department of Health on May 6th.

Fellow Tory MPs, as well as Labour and the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice group, had called for the Health Secretary to be sacked.

BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg said Number 10 had stressed that it had been Mr Hancock’s decision to go and that he had not been pushed out by the Prime Minister.

She said Ms Coladangelo was also leaving her role as a Non-Executive Director of the Department of Health.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Hancock said: “I have been to see the Prime Minister to resign as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.”

“I understand the enormous sacrifices that everybody in this country has made, that you have made, and those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them and that’s why I have got to resign.”

Hancock’s full letter of resignation to the PM can be read below:

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: According to MailOnline it’s a love match between Matt and Gina and the ex-Health Secretary told his wife on Thursday evening that the marriage was over and he intended to leave her.

£1,750 for This! “Prison-Like” Conditions Persist at Government-Approved Quarantine Hotels

It would appear that conditions at quarantine hotels – where travellers from “Red List” countries must self-isolate for 10 days, costing them £1,750 – have not improved since they were accused of being “prison-like” last month. Then, some guests complained of a deterioration in their mental and physical health while being forced to stay in these hotels. Now, many of the problems persist, as the MailOnline reports.

President Hotel, in Guilford Road, London, is described on its own website as the “perfect base” that allows guests to enjoy “all that London has to offer”.

But for some travellers who are spending their 10-day quarantine period there after arriving from Red List countries, it has been a “nightmare” as they complain of the “prison-like” conditions that are being enforced…

Garikayi Madzudzo made an official complaint regarding the quality of food to Imperial London Hotels, the company behind the three-star President Hotel.

He says he has been forced to order food and drink from other outlets as what was offered to him did not meet “acceptable food standards”…

Garikayi, along with several other travellers, shared pictures of the food they were provided by the hotel – including a small muffin, baked beans, lunchbox-sized carton of apple juice and a single hash brown for breakfast…

Guests have been left to question why they have security guards posted outside of their rooms for large parts of the day, and insist they are only allowed out for 15-minute exercise slots in the barricaded hotel garden…

[One] couple who have been staying in President allege the hotel forgot to bring them two meals on occasion – meaning they resorted to sharing one small dinner between the pair of them.

After just four days of quarantine, Thomas Cookson said the staff had managed to lose his suitcase – leaving him without clothes or toiletries…

A spokesman for Imperial London Hotels said: “At this stage we have no comment.”

Worth reading in full.

40% of Brits Say Their Favourite Pubs Are Still Closed Due to Ongoing Restrictions

The Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) warns that the continuation of restrictive measures – especially relating to social distancing – in the hospitality industry means pubs are having their post-lockdown recoveries trashed before they’ve even begun.

40% of Brits say their favorite pubs are still closed because of these restrictions, according to a new survey. Despite this, the Government is considering introducing more measures, with vaccine passports in pubs seemingly back on the table. The MailOnline has the story.

In a survey of 1,000 adults, 40% said their favourite pubs are still behind locked doors.

It comes after the BBPA said the restrictions must be removed if the industry is to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic.  

“The current restrictions on pubs are flatlining their recovery before it has even had a chance to begin,” Chief Executive Emma McClarkin said.

“Pubs and licensees are struggling to recover with the current restrictions they face and debts are accumulating. Every week the current restrictions stay and uncertainty continues, the likelihood of pubs being lost forever increases.

“The countdown to freedom is on in England for pubs on July 19th, but the Wales and Scotland Governments must give more certainty to publicans.”

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Covid passports could be used to keep pubs and restaurants open this winter under plans being drawn up by ministers. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned although it is “looking good” for the lifting of restrictions on July 19th, Britain could still face a “rough winter” if cases surge.

Plans for the widespread use of so-called Covid passports were put on the back-burner earlier this year following a backlash from MPs and parts of the hospitality sector. 

But a review into “Covid certification” led by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove is now examining whether they could be used to enable venues like pubs, restaurants and theatres to remain open if cases rocket later this year. 

Worth reading in full.

Tens of Thousands March for Freedom in London

A huge crowd has descended on central London today to make their feelings known to the Government about the endless restrictions we have been living under since March last year. They are also calling for Matt Hancock to resign following revelations that he kissed an aide despite regulations banning intimate contact being in force at the time. MailOnline has the story.

Tens of thousands of anti-lockdown protestors marched in central London today calling for freedom and an end to COVID-19 lockdown regulations. 

Maskless anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters were seen marching along Oxford Street in central London on Saturday as they called for the end to all Covid regulations after Freedom Day was delayed from June 21st.  

As well as demanding the end to Covid lockdown rules, protestors also brandished placards that demanded police “arrest Matt Hancock” after he was caught breaching Covid safety regulations by kissing his married aide.

The crowds of protestors marched through Oxford Street, Regent Street, Hyde Park and Northumberland Avenue as they held placards reading “freedom is not for trade”, “no to Covid vaccine” and “no to Covid passport”.

If you’re there, why not send us your photos.

Read MailOnline‘s report in full here.

Stop Press: BBC News has actually covered the protest, although it describes the number of protestors as “thousands” and is at pains to point out that the numbers aren’t just made up by anti-lockdown protestors: “Whether it was austerity or Palestine, lockdown or the NHS, campaigners of all ages and backgrounds wanted to make their voices heard today.”

Stop Press 2: The Evening Standard covered the protest in a surprisingly balanced way. The Guardian, on the other hand, did not.

Hancock Facing Calls to Resign

At least one Conservative MP has publicly called for Matt Hancock to resign today, as pressure mounts on the Health Secretary. Duncan Baker, the MP for North Norfolk, told the Eastern Daily Press that people in public office with positions of responsibility “should act with the appropriate moral and ethics that come with that role”. The Independent has more.

Mr Baker told the newspaper the health secretary should resign and said he had made his views known to Boris Johnson’s administration.

It comes after the prime minister attempted to save his beleaguered cabinet minister — declaring the matter “closed” on Friday — but questions have continued to mount over Mr Hancock’s conduct in office, after he was filmed embracing in his Whitehall office with a longtime friend he placed on the government payroll.

The Daily Telegraph also reported Conservative MPs were telling the prime minister to “pull the plug” on the health secretary, but, until now, have resisted from making their views publicly known.

Speaking on GB News on Saturday, Esther McVey, a former Tory cabinet minister also added to the intensifying pressure on Mr Hancock, saying: “If it had been me, I would have resigned myself.”

She added: “I’m hoping that Matt Hancock is thinking the same thing that he doesn’t have to have it pushed upon him it will be viewed far more admirably if he comes forward reassessing it and that’s what I’d like to see.”

I said the same thing on Twitter last night, arguing that he should resign for self-interested reasons.

Bill Clinton’s aides had a ’10-day rule’, meaning that if a politician manages to cling on for 10 days after a scandal breaks he can then survive because the media will inevitably get bored of the story and move on to something else. Alastair Campbell amended this to 11 days on the grounds that British journalists had a slightly longer attention span than their American counterparts. Eleven days from the Hancock story breaking in the Sun would be Monday July 5th. If I was a betting man – and I am – I’d say he’ll be gone by then.

Cabinet Reshuffle May Be Brought Forward to Give Matt Hancock a “Dignified” Exit from Role

With the first Tory MP having broken ranks to call for disgraced Matt Hancock to resign, there are rumours that the next Cabinet reshuffle could be brought forward to give the Health Secretary a “dignified” departure from his job. The Mail has the story.

Boris Johnson has been toying with a planned reshuffle for months, but had recently decided to postpone it until the autumn.

However, a Tory source said the shake-up could be brought forward to next month to allow the Prime Minister to move Mr Hancock to a lower-profile role.

The Health Secretary was mercilessly mocked on social media yesterday after admitting he broke his own social distancing rules during a passionate clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo. Senior Tories fear revelations of his hypocrisy will undermine public support for continuing lockdown measures, making it “imperative” that he is moved to a new job.

One said: “I think you will see the Prime Minister bring forward his reshuffle quite quickly now. Hancock doesn’t want to quit and the PM doesn’t want to sack him, but it is quite clear that a dignified way has to be found to move him on.

“Hancock is going to find it very hard to persuade anyone to take him seriously on Covid now. But it’s clear the PM wants to reward his loyalty so another job, preferably out of the public eye, is possible.

“It was always quite likely that he would be moved from health when the reshuffle came anyway, but now it’s imperative.”

Michael Gove and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden were both tipped for a move to the Department of Health yesterday morning before the Prime Minister decided to stand by Mr Hancock. Mr Johnson has also considered Trade Secretary Liz Truss for the role.

Some Tory MPs were pushing for Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi to get the job after orchestrating the successful jabs rollout.

Mr Zahawi yesterday backed his boss to stay, telling reporters: “The Secretary of State has apologised and has said everything he needs to say.” Former Tory leader William Hague also backed the decision to keep Mr Hancock in his post for now.

Worth reading in full.

Young People Told to “Grab a Jab” Without Needing to Make an Appointment This Weekend

The drive to get all British adults vaccinated against Covid is being boosted this weekend with young people being told to “grab a jab” at one of the hundreds of walk-in vaccination clinics across the country without having to make appointments. Some sites, such as football stadiums, are even offering free tours to those who get vaccinated in an effort to increase turnout. BBC News has the story.

Sites will be publicised locally so people can choose the location best for them, or they can type in their postcode to the NHS website to find their nearest site.

Sporting grounds involved in the vaccination drive include the Newcastle Eagles basketball arena, Watford’s Vicarage Road, Birmingham’s Edgbaston cricket ground and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

People who get a vaccine at the Emirates Stadium between now and Monday are being offered a free tour of the stadium as part of their visit.

In addition to mass vaccination centres, there will be buses offering jabs in Dudley, Colchester, Ipswich and several other towns.

Latest Government figures show 43.87 million – 83.3% of the adult population – have received a first dose of a coronavirus jab and 32 million – 60.9% – have had two doses.

The Prime Minister says he hopes two-thirds of the adult population will be fully vaccinated against Covid by July 19th, creating a “wall of immunity” against the virus. If this target is not met, it is possible that the easing of restrictions could be delayed again, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned:

Unless sufficient numbers of Londoners have the jab it makes it more likely that we won’t be able to fully reopen on July 19th. 

I’m determined to have not only as many Londoners [as possible] fully protected but for us to reopen on July 19th. 

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

The UEFA Decision Shows the Government is Making Things up as it Goes Along

Following pressure from UEFA, the Government will allow several thousand football VIPs to attend the Euro 2020 finals in Britain without having to quarantine. Meanwhile, ordinary Britons and other NVIPs (Not Very Important Persons) will still have to quarantine for 10 days if they arrive in the U.K. from amber list countries.

This absolutely flagrant double standard – one rule for thee and another for VIPs – has united everyone from David Davis to Caroline Lucas in condemnation of the Government. Davis said the decision was “morally inconsistent”, while Lucas called it “deep hypocrisy”.

How has the Government attempted to justify the decision? Well, as one source told The Telegraph, “It’s important to be able to host international events such as the Euros, and there will be strict mitigations for those attending in order to protect public health, similar to those used at the G7.” 

To be fair and reasonable to the Government’s position, this makes absolutely no sense. On 14th June it was announced that the full re-opening would be delayed by four weeks due to a supposedly alarming rise in cases. Here the Government’s top priority was keeping cases down, even if that meant cancelling weddings, concerts and other live performances.

Now the Government is saying, “It’s important to be able to host international events.” But why isn’t it important to be able to host weddings and concerts? I suspect some of these events even have had international guests (you know, people travelling from abroad to see their friends get married).

The Government’s position seems to be: it’s of course very important we don’t do anything that could risk another epidemic, unless that thing happens to be an “international event such as the Euros” in which case it’s of course very important that we host it. You’re keeping up, aren’t you?

But it gets better. The VIP exemption was negotiated by Dan Rosenfield, the PM’s chief of staff, who happens to be “an avid football fan”. So now policy is decided based on the hobbies of political appointees? “Sorry your concert’s been cancelled but our chief of staff doesn’t really listen to music.” 

How can the Government get away with simply making things up as it goes along? I guess it’s down to the lack of any real opposition. In the vote to extend lockdown, almost every Labour and “Liberal” Democrat MP again voted with the Government. And it’s hard to hold a party to account when there aren’t any other options.

Stop Press: Ross Clark has made a similar argument in the Sunday Express.

News Round-Up

Indian Variant Infectiousness Falls Again, PHE Data Shows – Just 10.7% of Contacts Become Infected. So Why Isn’t COVID-19 More Infectious?

The latest Public Health England (PHE) Technical Briefing on the variants of concern is out, and it shows that the infectiousness of the Delta (Indian) variant has dropped again, so that it is now at the same level as the Alpha (British) variant was at the end of March.

Data from PHE

The Delta variant secondary attack rate (SAR – the proportion of contacts an infected person infects) is down to 10.7% this week, from 11.4% a week ago (see graph above). That means that around 90% of the close contacts of people infected with the Delta variant are not infected by them. Once again, this shows how claims that the Delta variant is “60% more transmissible” or similar fail to make clear that transmissibility changes and often declines over time, and that even if the Delta variant is currently more infectious than the Alpha variant it is still less infectious than the Alpha variant was when it first appeared on the scene.

You might be wondering, though, how a disease that only infects 10-15% of close contacts, even at the height of an epidemic wave, can be called highly infectious. And indeed, how such a disease can cause an explosive epidemic wave at all, and why those waves crash down as quickly as they arise despite not exhausting the pool of susceptible people.

If you do wonder that, you would not be alone. A famed epidemiologist called Robert Edgar Hope-Simpson spent his life observing the idiosyncrasies of seasonal influenza and summarised some of his thinking in a 1981 article entitled “The role of season in the epidemiology of influenza“. More recently, in 2008, a group of scientists took up Hope-Simpson’s investigations (which were inconclusive) and summarised seven conundrums of influenza that he identified, all of which apply equally to COVID-19: