Day: 3 July 2021

Boris to Declare End of Mask Mandate and Social Distancing Rules

The Prime Minister has signed off plans to end the legal requirement to wear masks as of July 19th, according to the Telegraph, saying that the link between COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations has been broken.

Mr Johnson is expected to lay out a blueprint for how England will live with the virus, as ministers prepare to replace swathes of legal restrictions with a call for “common sense” and “personal responsibility”.

As part of the move, the Government is expected to ditch the compulsory wearing of masks, along with the one-metre-plus rule that pubs and restaurants have warned is crippling them.

Announcing the changes this week, an increasingly bullish Mr Johnson is expected to cite recent data and modelling to declare that, while infection rates will rise as restrictions are eased, the successful roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines means that the numbers of hospitalisations and deaths are no longer rising at the same scale as before.

The latest data are believed to have given the Prime Minister the confidence that the legal requirement to wear face masks is among measures that can be lifted without the risk of the NHS coming under “unsustainable pressure”.

If true, this is a welcome move from the Prime Minister, who continues to come under pressure from various quarters to keep restrictions in place.

Exactly what life will look like after July 19th, and what guidance will remain in place that becomes essentially mandatory once lawyers and insurers get involved, remains to be seen. There are also questions about the future of international travel, which is sliding fast towards a system of privileges for the elite and preferential treatment for the vaccinated with no clear end point in sight. Then there is the uncertainty of what may happen come autumn and winter now that lockdowns have been established as an acceptable tool of infection control and healthcare management.

But for now it seems that things are finally moving in the right direction, with a rare show of spine from the once outspoken libertarian in Number 10. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Sajid Javid: “We Are Going to Have to Find Ways to Cope With Covid, Just as We Do With Flu”

Signalling a change in tone and perhaps strategy, new Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that “we are going to have to learn to accept Covid and find ways to cope with it, just as we do with flu”. Writing in tomorrow’s Mail on Sunday, according to a preview tweet from Freddie Sayers, Javid says that while the economic arguments for reopening are well known, “for me the health case is equally compelling”, pointing to record NHS backlogs that are getting worse.

In a possible nod towards the “new normal”, he adds: “We need to build on the changes we’ve all embraced in the pandemic.” However, the examples he gives are not contentious for sceptics: improving the delivery of healthcare using NHS 111, the NHS app and pharmacies.

It’s certainly an encouraging message from the new Health Secretary, and better than anything we ever heard from Matt Hancock. Now for the hard bit: putting it into action, against the doom-mongers on SAGE, the vested interests of those profiting from the emergency, the psychological comforts of those who seem to like the idea of permanent restrictions, and the unions for whom no imposition on others is too great to achieve a slight reduction of risk.

Already there is the notable absence of the promised review of the lockdown extension in time for a possible July 5th reopening, which was supposed to appear on June 28th. Boris Johnson appeared to rule it out last week but there has been no official announcement and July 5th is this Monday. It seems that we are just supposed to assume it isn’t happening.

300 Italian Health Workers Launch Legal Action against Government over Mandatory Vaccination

300 healthcare workers across Italy have launched a “democratic battle” against mandatory vaccination in the form of a legal challenge against their Government. Barron’s has the story.

The case, brought by professionals throughout northern Italy, will be heard on July 14th.

“This isn’t a battle by ‘anti-vaxxers’ but a democratic battle,” Constitutional Lawyer Daniele Granara, who helped build up the case, was cited as saying in the Giornale di Brescia newspaper.

“We force people to take a risk under threat of no longer being allowed to exercise their profession,” he added.

Granara is also defending dozens of caregivers who have been suspended from work for refusing to be vaccinated.

Italy passed a law in April obliging anyone working in public or private social health positions, including in pharmacies and doctors’ offices, to get vaccinated against Covid or be suspended without pay, unless their employer can reassign them to a less sensitive position.

After the elderly and vulnerable, caregivers including teachers were the first to be vaccinated in Italy.

While the British GMB Union has warned that more than a third of its members in social care would consider quitting if vaccines are mandated, the Government has not yet been faced by legal action on the matter.

Worth reading in full.

Unlocking Postponed Due to New Variant – in 2039!

We’re publishing a short story today by the historian and regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor Guy de la Bédoyère, set in Britain in 2039. Needless to say, the country still hasn’t unlocked due to the weekly appearance of ‘new variants’. Here’s an extract:

“That’s a shame”, said Jo as he sat munching on his breakfast staring at a screen. “The final unlocking’s been postponed for another fortnight”.

“Why this time?” said his wife Elizabeth.

“There’s been an outbreak of the new Antarctic variant, this time with the hybrid Finnish-Tierra del Fuego mutation, and apparently cases have soared by 100% from one to two. Both have been thrown into jail.”

“That’s what they said last week – and the week before, in fact the year before,” came Elizabeth’s retort.

“That’s not fair,” said Jo. “Everyone knows the king is doing his best for Britain and it’s not his fault if these variants keep appearing.”

“He became king 15 years ago”, said Elizabeth, “and he’s promised to unlock every week since. In fact, he was promising that every week before he became king. And he never said anything about prisons before – oh no, sorry, he called them lockdowns, didn’t he?”

Worth reading in full.

Cancelled Job Offers Prompt Recent University Graduates to Enrol on Masters Programmes

With many work placements and internships cancelled last year due to lockdown, and a good deal of employers not bothering to get back to failed applicants, thousands of recent university graduates have rushed to study “panic masters” courses. The Observer has the story.

Universities including UCL, Cambridge and Edinburgh, told the Observer they were seeing substantial increases, ranging between 10 and 20%, in the number of U.K. students applying to study for postgraduate degrees in the autumn.

Mary Curnock Cook, an admissions expert who is chairing an independent commission on students, said the rise is due to “a collapse in confidence in the graduate employment market”. There is a backlog of applications from graduates who struggled to secure roles last year or whose placements were cancelled, she said.

“That’s what’s causing this idea of the panic master’s,” she said. “A lot of what I’m hearing is people getting stressed about making tons of applications and not even getting acknowledgement. It’s a stain on employers that they’re not treating their applicants with common courtesy.”

Curnock Cook added that while master’s degrees are usually worthwhile investments since they are favoured by many employers and result in higher average salaries, she advised against “making decisions in a rush for the wrong reasons”, particularly since loans available for postgraduate study does not cover living expenses.

Dan Barcroft, Head of Admissions at Sheffield University, said postgrad study has been especially popular among undergraduates planning to remain at the university, with application numbers rising by 35%. “People are choosing to stay in education at a time of economic turbulence,” he said. …

Last year top graduate employers cut vacancies by nearly a half, although some jobs have been reinstated this year. There are particular shortages of entry-level roles in the industries that have been worst affected by the pandemic, including travel, hospitality and retail.

recent survey of more than 2,000 students by advice service Prospects showed that over a third of university finalists are changing their career plans due to the pandemic, while two-thirds who are planning postgraduate study are choosing to do so to switch career path.

Nearly half of university students said they felt unprepared for the job market, citing a lack of experience, vacancies and their skills as the main barriers. 

Worth reading in full.

A Political Theory of COVID-19 or Hobbes’s Coviathan

We’re publishing an original essay today by Dr. James Alexander, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey, in which he sets out the rudiments of a political theory of COVID-19, drawing heavily on Hobbes’s Leviathan. This is how his essay begins:

Political theorists have been mostly silent about COVID-19, as far as I have seen. There was Georgio Agamben, who, early on in 2020, suggested that what was going on bore out his view that the exception was now the norm. For thirty years or more Agamben has gone on, to great applause from admirers and publishers – he is one of those writers for whom every lecture in Italian becomes a handsomely bound book in English – in a paranoiac metaphorical erudite leftist manner. But now events have borne him out. And since he was willing to say that something bad was going on, we have to give him credit, not only for that – saying so – but also for having worked on a theory which, no matter how irrelevant it seemed in the old days (except, perhaps, to Guantanamo), now has something to say to everyone.

Apart from him there is no one I know of. They continue in conference and on Twitter while the world burns. So I asked myself which of the great political philosophers would have approved of the government-corporation-media response to this novel coronavirus (and the apparently necessary consequence that all discussion, debate or disagreement be suppressed, avoided, deplatformed)? And the answer was bare, to say the least. Plato might come to mind, because he advocated rule by the wise, and because he mentioned “the noble lie”: but the lies told this time around have been ignoble; and, anyhow, it is far from obvious that our philosopher-kings (Whitty, Vallance, Cummings, Hancock, etc.) know what the good is. In addition, Plato was not in favour of extending life by the use of medicine. He might not even have granted citizenship to modellers and behavioural scientists.

Other political theorists could not have approved of the rigmarole of distancing, masks, lockdown and vaccination. Not Aristotle, who was moderate in almost every respect, including in seeing both sides of every question. The polis for him had good reason to be aristocratic, but was also, emphatically, a place in which citizens were equals, so that they ruled and were ruled in turn. Not Augustine, who said that Rome had originated in injustice, and that one should opt out of it and think of oneself as a member of a societas perfecta, a city not of this world, the civitas Dei. Not Aquinas. Not even Machiavelli, despite all the force and fraud, because he was, in the end, a good republican, a believer in vivere civile e politico, civil and political life. Not Locke, of course, the father of liberalism. Not Rousseau, not Kant, not Hegel – not without distortion. Not Burke. Not Paine. Not Bentham. Not J.S. Mill. Not John Rawls. No. They all valued something which would have disqualified them, whether it was truth, tradition, reason, utility, liberty, or justice. Not Marx, of course, since he was concerned with emancipation, and was against alienation. Most modern thinkers, from Heidegger, through Adorno, Schmitt and Foucault to Habermas, have been opposed to technical or instrumental rationality. So it is actually quite hard to think of a theorist of this brave new world.

The only obvious candidate is Hobbes…

Worth reading in full.

Quarantine to End for Double-Jabbed Brits within Weeks

The Government has all but confirmed plans to end the requirement for fully vaccinated Brits to quarantine after coming into contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid. Ministers are concerned that some people could “game” the system, but are set to announce that the rules will change within weeks nevertheless. The Times has the story.

In the clearest sign yet of ministers’ plans to replace virus restrictions with a focus on personal responsibility, they intend to drop all legal requirements on those who have had both jabs if they encounter a confirmed case.

Despite acknowledging that unvaccinated people may also start ignoring quarantine rules and could “game” the system, ministers want to introduce the proposals next month.

Official estimates suggest that infections will increase by as much as 26% under the plans but the Government is likely to accept the risk to avoid further disruption to businesses, schools and public services. The change would bring England into line with other countries such as the U.S. and Germany. …

It is understood that at a meeting of the Covid operations committee on Monday ministers are expected to sign off a plan that will mean the fully vaccinated will be “advised” to take daily tests but not be required to do so.

Cabinet members believe that changing the system could allow them to focus financial support on people who test positive, after repeated complaints that infectious people and their contacts were not isolating properly because of a lack of compensation.

However, Government scientific advisers have warned that most people will refuse to take daily tests and that the change will mean compliance with quarantine guidance will go “out the window”.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Professor Tim Spector Calls for Vaccination of Children ‘Because Delta Variant’

King’s College London Professor of Genetics Tim Spector dismayed many of his Twitter followers yesterday by calling for the vaccination of older children. The reason? Because the Delta (Indian) variant means we now need 85% of the population vaccinated to reach herd immunity, he claims.

Professor Spector, who leads the ZOE Covid symptom study, was replying on Twitter to Israeli scientist Eran Segal, who tweeted: “Before Delta, Israel reached herd immunity or close to it. To regain herd immunity, we need to vaccinate as many of the 1.2 million over the age of 12 who have not yet been vaccinated.”

Spector wrote: “In the U.K. with delta we need to get near 85% of the population – which also means vaccinating older children.”

In calling for this, Prof Spector appears not to be concerned about the worries of many scientists including members of the JCVI about the benefit-versus-risk balance for teenagers in having the vaccine, or the ethics of suggesting children should be given a vaccine with no long-term safety data not for their own benefit but for the benefit of others.

The notion that a threshold of herd immunity will only be reached if 85% of the population is vaccinated also bears no relationship to real-world data. It’s not entirely clear what Segal and Spector mean by herd immunity in these tweets, but if they mean that without an 85% vaccination rate the Delta variant will continue indefinitely to cause mass hospitalisations and deaths, then perhaps they would like to explain why India’s test positivity rate entered a sustained plummet nearly two months ago, despite the Delta variant being dominant and the country at that point having only 2.5% of its population fully vaccinated? (The figure now stands scarcely higher at 4.3%.)