Day: 30 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?