Day: 7 September 2021

News Round-Up

‘Traffic Light’ Travel System Could Be Scrapped Next Month – Only to Be Replaced by New System Based on Covid Vaccination

There’s good news and bad news on the travel front today. The good news is that the ‘traffic light’ travel system could be (partially) scrapped next month under plans being drawn up by ministers. The bad news is that officials have been told not to allow a return to normal but to create a new system based on Covid vaccination instead. The Telegraph has the story.

Officials have been told to develop a new system based on the vaccination status of travellers rather than the Covid rating of the country they are visiting.

It is likely to mean ‘Amber’ and ‘Green’ will disappear as separate categories, although ‘Red’ will continue with travellers still required to quarantine in hotels on returning from high-risk destinations.

Double jabbed holidaymakers can already travel to Amber countries without having to quarantine on their return after the Government ditched the requirement to self-isolate.

It means that for fully vaccinated travellers, visiting Amber or Green countries is exactly the same, requiring only pre-departure tests and then a PCR test within two days of returning to the U.K.

The proposed new two-tier system is only likely to have an impact on those who are not vaccinated. It is unclear, however, whether they would be required to continue to quarantine or face a more intensive testing regime on returning to the U.K.

The rethink of the traffic light system has been triggered by the Government’s promise to review it by October 1st when it was originally unveiled earlier this year.

It also coincides with the completion of the vaccination roll-out with all adults aged 18 and over offered both their jabs by the end of September.

Worth reading in full.

Matt Hancock Sparks Laughter and Derision from MPs and Ridicule Online as he Speaks From the Backbenches

Matt Hancock tried to make a modest re-entry into public life this afternoon in the House of Commons debate about the Government’s National Insurance hike. It didn’t go well. MailOnline has the details.

Matt Hancock was booed and heckled by fellow MPs this afternoon as he spoke in the House of Commons for the first time since resigning.

The disgraced former Health Secretary stood up to speak from the backbenches in Westminster in support of Boris Johnson during a debate on social care reform.

The 42 year-old Conservative was forced to quit the Cabinet on June 26th when CCTV from his Whitehall office was leaked of him kissing his married aide Gina Coladangelo in breach of his own COVID-19 social distancing guidance.

And today, he congratulated the Prime Minister following his statement on social care – which will see a £12 billion-a-year tax raid to address the funding crisis – and called for the sector to be integrated with health “properly”.

It comes after friends of the couple claimed over the weekend that Mr Hancock is pushing his “shattered” long-Covid hit wife Martha to “breaking point” with a list of break-up demands and is being a “complete a” to her.

Mr. Hancock was last week spotted on a romantic Alpine break with his new lover, with Mrs. Hancock left feeling “very low” at the family home while “desperately trying to keep it together” for their three children.

Worth reading in full.

Confusion Over Reported Plans for October ‘Firebreak’ Lockdown

There is some confusion today on recent reports that the Government is planning a potential October ‘firebreak’ lockdown. A senior Government scientist told the i that an “extended peak” of Covid ‘cases’ and hospitalisations could push ministers to impose another lockdown next month, but BBC News today quotes from both the Department for Education (DfE) and the Prime Minister’s spokesman who have denied this report.

“It is not true that the Government is planning a lockdown or ‘firebreak’ around the October half term,” [the DfE] said in a tweet.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman also denied the report. He said plans had been kept for a range of scenarios – “but these kind of measures would only be reintroduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on our NHS”.

“I think we’ve been clear throughout that we will take action, and indeed we have done when necessary to protect our NHS,” he said.

But the spokesman pointed out that when rules were brought in the past, the U.K. did not yet have the protection from vaccines.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has, however, been a little less clear in his denial of reports. He is reported in Sky News as saying that we can “continue on this sort of one-way road” towards reopening “if we do [the booster vaccine roll-out] well” (emphasis added).

Speaking to Kay Burley on Sky News, Mr. Zahawi did not confirm or deny whether he would endorse an October ‘firebreak’ if hospitalisations for Covid remain high. …

He added: “So the booster programme that we have had interim advice from the JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] on is my absolute priority.

“That will protect the most vulnerable to serious infection – that will absolutely help us to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status.

“The important thing is that we get that right, because I think if we do that well, we can continue on this sort of one-way road towards sustaining the opening of the economy and, by next year hopefully, transitioning the virus from pandemic to endemic and dealing with it on an annual basis.”

Later during his Tuesday morning broadcast media round, Mr. Zahawi added that he had seen no plans for an October ‘firebreak’ lockdown if cases rise this autumn.

It is worth noting that, on the basis of the impending introduction of vaccine passports despite Zahawi’s previous claims to the contrary, an October lockdown could be on the cards even if the Vaccines Minister had ruled one out.

The BBC News and Sky News reports are both worth reading in full.

Join Us For Forthcoming Debate: Did the Lockdown Cause More Harm Than Good?

Below is a guest post by one of the editors of the Modern Review, a new Indian-backed but British-based cultural and political magazine that will be launching this autumn. To mark the launch, the editors have organised a lockdown debate in which I’ll be participating, alongside Professor Carl Heneghan and Luke Johnson.

If the eruption of Covid united us in common grief and shared suffering, the Government’s response to it – often characterised by improvisation and incompetence – has divided us. Many are grateful that the lockdowns saved lives; others complain that they destroyed livelihoods. The hospitality sector suffered the worst job losses in history, and the travel and tourism industries stand devastated. Many among us reconciled themselves to the lockdowns as an unavoidable necessity; others have come to see in their prolongation the seeds of authoritarian governmental control.

Wherever you stand, the ramifications of the lockdowns extend beyond health and safety: they will shape our economics, politics, and ways of life for at least the next decade. Or will they?

Join us at what promises to be an edifying and entertaining event. Bringing together individuals who are credentialled and contentious, it will be a no-holds-barred debate. There will be no shying away from discomfiting facts, no suppression of fiery opinions. And best of all: you can have your say with a vote at the end.

The event will be held at The Londoner, the capital’s newest luxury hotel in the heart of the West End. It will open with a drinks reception at 6.30pm, followed by the main event at 7pm.

Tickets are £30 and can be obtained here.

Debaters include, among others:

Toby Young
Author, broadcaster, Associate Editor of the Spectator, Founder of dailysceptic.org

Dr. Carl Heneghan
Epidemiologist and Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford

Luke Johnson
Businessman, chairman of Risk Capital Partners, owner of Gail’s, and former head of Channel 4

Dr. Sonia Adesara
Medical doctor, former National Medical Doctor’s Clinical Fellow, and former Director of 50:50 Parliament

Oliver Kamm
Columnist and leader writer, the Times

Dr. Dominic Green
Author, historian, and editor of the Spectator‘s world edition

Number of Children Referred for Foster Care Increased by More Than a Third Over the Past Year of Lockdowns

There was a time when commentators seemed obsessed with telling their readers that they rather enjoyed being locked down – avoiding lengthy commutes, spending time with family in the garden and rediscovering forgotten hobbies. Needless to say, this joy was not universal. Others (likely those without the gardens or without the funds for hobbies) found lockdown to be particularly difficult, as is reflected by figures showing that family breakdowns led to a surge in the number of children referred for foster care in the year up until July 31st, 2021. The Telegraph has the story.

The 36% increase in referrals to Barnardo’s, from 14,130 to 19,144 in the 12 months to July 31st, 2021, prompted an urgent appeal by the charity for foster parents.

Barnardo’s is targeting foster parents who would be willing to care for siblings left without a family after a 31% increase in their numbers.

Lyn Perry, Joint Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, said job losses caused by the pandemic combined with mental ill health had contributed to the sharp rise.

“The pandemic and lockdown measures have piled pressure onto struggling families with job losses, deepening poverty and worsening mental health, contributing to family breakdown,” she said. …

In England the rise in the total number of children referred to Barnardo’s fostering services was 40%, in Wales it was 5% and in Northern Ireland it was 20%. In Scotland, however, there was a decrease of 17% in total referrals.

Worth reading in full.

Evolutionary Insights on Lockdowns

One aspect of the pandemic that’s received comparatively little attention is the impact that ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ have had on pathogens other than SARS-CoV-2.  

All the things we’ve been doing over the past year and a half – lockdowns, voluntary social distancing, frequent use of hand sanitiser – are highly unusual. And they may have reduced our exposure to many different viruses and bacteria.

The potential consequences of this reduced exposure were discussed in an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last November. That article – which represents the combined efforts of a dozen scientists – lists 10 ‘evolutionary insights’ on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second insight listed is that members of ‘generation quarantine’ may lack critical microbial exposures. As the authors note: “Quarantine has temporarily halted the regular exposure to novel pathogens that is characteristic of human social interaction.”

While most adults have already been exposed to many pathogens at least once, children may not have been. And proper cognitive development, the authors note, “requires adequate and diverse microbial exposure”.

They cite experimental evidence that animals deprived of normal microbiota during critical windows “develop into adults with altered cognition and anxiety”, as well as evidence that disruptions to the microbiome are associated with some neurodegenerative diseases.

Lockdowns and social distancing, the authors note, will result “in a generation whose neurodevelopment will have been influenced disproportionally more by the microbial environment of their natal family in quarantine than by the outside world”. And the long-term effects of this are “unknown”.

This year, New Zealand has already seen an unusually large outbreak of RSV (a respiratory virus affecting children), which doctors have attributed to an ‘immunity debt’ caused by lockdowns last winter. We may have to wait months or years to get a full picture of the impact on children’s health and development.

All 10 of the ‘evolutionary insights’ listed by Benjamin Seitz and colleagues are interesting, and the paper is worth reading in full.

At the Tip I Found a Public Sector Still Living in Lockdown and in No Rush to Change

I finally went to the tip on Sunday to clear out the junk and defunct household items that had been accumulating since March 2020. I’d been putting it off because since the first lockdown the local tip had introduced an inconvenient booking system and all manner of the usual ‘Covid safe’ nonsense. Bear in mind that this is a facility that exists entirely outdoors and so where the risk of transmission is minimal.

I was waiting for the restrictions to be lifted so that I could just turn up, in the handy, old-fashioned way, and not be harassed by the tiresome ‘safetyist’ propaganda. This had taken considerably longer than I had anticipated, however, and now ‘Freedom Day’ had come and gone, and still the booking system remained stubbornly in place. The rest of the country may have lifted restrictions, but not the tip.

So when the microwave gave up in quick succession to the coffee machine and I faced the prospect of a garden filling up with broken small electrical appliances, I finally admitted defeat and booked myself in for a slot. It was, as predicted, irritatingly inconvenient, as having made the arrangement for three o’clock on the Sunday I now felt bound by it and had to arrange my day around it. The fact that the weather turned out unexpectedly summery and we ended up at a classic car show only meant that, come the hour, I had to drag my two small children away from the enticing bungee bounce in order to be able to make my time.

On arrival at the recycling centre (as the tip is now styled) it was like stepping back to April 2020. Large illuminated signs warned the approaching visitor of the dangers of Covid and reassured them there were numerous measures in place for their safety and to prevent the spread. Staff would not be able physically to help with disposing of items, the signs declared. That’s a noble sacrifice on their part, was the unkind thought that went thought my head.