Day: 25 September 2021

Dutch Protest Against Vaccine Passports

Demonstrations against vaccine passports have been taking place across the world over the weekend, including in the Netherlands, where people protested against the “medical apartheid” barring those who haven’t been vaccinated or tested for Covid from bars, restaurants and theatres. The Guardian has the story.

Hours after the requirement to show the pass or a recent negative coronavirus test took effect, the Government of caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte sacked a cabinet minister who had publicly questioned the measure.

Rutte’s office said Deputy Economic Affairs Minister Mona Keijzer had been dismissed because her comments went against cabinet policy on an issue “of such importance and weight”.

In an interview with the Telegraaf newspaper, Keijzer questioned whether the requirement was justified. “If we end up in a society where we have to be afraid of each other unless we can show proof, then you really have to scratch your head and ask yourself: is this the direction we want to go?” she was quoted as saying. …

Several hundred protesters gathered in The Hague, the seat of the Dutch Government, to march through the city centre.

Most Dutch people support the introduction of the admission pass, but it has drawn criticism from the hospitality sector.

More than 40% of bar and restaurant owners do not plan to ask clients for the vaccination certificate, said Koninklijke Horeca Nederland, the country’s hospitality industry association, citing a survey of its members.

It said many businesses saw the requirement as a “political tool” aimed at boosting vaccination take-up.

“It is not only impossible to enforce, but will financially damage a sector that is just starting to recover,” the association added in a statement.

Worth reading in full.

Kenya and the U.K.’s Dog’s Breakfast of a Vaccine Passport Scheme

We’re publishing a guest post today by Aidan Hartley, a former war correspondent, award-winning author and the owner of a cattle ranch in Kenya. He is dismayed by the introduction of a vaccine passport scheme for travel between Kenya and the U.K. that is such a dog’s breakfast it is damaging relations between the two countries. Incredibly, even if you’ve been double jabbed in Kenya with AstraZeneca donated to the country by the U.K. Government, you still have to quarantine on arrival in the U.K., unlike those who’ve had the U.K.-administered AstraZeneca jab.

A joint statement on 21st September by Jane Marriot, Britain’s High Commissioner to Nairobi, and Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, announced plans for a “system to mutually recognise each other’s vaccine certificates for a vaccine passport programme for travel”. Unfortunately, since the U.K. refuses to recognise vaccine certificates issued by Kenya, travel between the two countries is cumbersome and needlessly expensive.

In Kenya we heard with great relief that from September 22nd, my home country in East Africa was being moved off Britain’s travel red list. Since early April the travel restrictions had divided families and severely disrupted international businesses, including my own. All non-Britons from Kenya, unless they were U.K. residents, were banned from entering the U.K., while qualifying arrivals to Heathrow or Gatwick faced 11-day incarcerations in squalid quarantine hotels at a cost of £2,250.

The U.K. imposed such extreme measures with the excuse that a “significant” number of passengers arriving in the U.K. from Nairobi had tested positive for a variant of concern – from South Africa. It later transpired that, in fact, only 17 out of 2,993 passengers from Kenya in the six weeks prior to the red-listing had tested positive for the South African variant.

When the red-listing was first introduced, the measures so infuriated Nairobi’s Government that all British passport holders were banned from entry to Kenya, even if they had made their homes here. All other nations were exempted from these sanctions. Later, Kenya mirrored Britain’s measures and decreed that U.K. arrivals would have to quarantine in a Government-approved facility in which conditions were so grim that last year one woman hanged herself while incarcerated. Like other poor countries, Kenya blamed its slow progress against the pandemic on the rich world’s “vaccine apartheid”.

Stranded Britons got no help from the FCDO – known as “Fuck-Do” to its own employees here in Kenya – who told them to ask the Kenyan authorities for guidance. The GOV.UK website copied and pasted a Kenyan airport authority’s poorly drafted statement about sanctions against U.K. citizens.

During one of her elbow-bumping meetings with Nairobi officials, Jane Marriot promised that Kenya could come off the U.K.’s red list when the African country had vaccinated more people and improved its national capacity to carry out genomic sequencing in order to identify new Covid variants. In July, to coincide with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to London, Britain announced that a donation of 817,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were on their way to its former colony. Uhuru and Boris also agreed a new programme to send up to 20,000 unemployed Kenyan nurses over to work for the NHS.

After several months and apparently thanks to lobbying by dozens of British mothers desperate to bring their children home for the summer holidays rather than the FCDO, Kenya announced that Britons were welcome to fly into the country without quarantine restrictions.

In the post-Brexit world, Kenya is a pillar of good relations in the Commonwealth, a key trade partner, base for dozens of MI6 agents and host for the largest British Army infantry training exercises anywhere overseas. Kenya was among the countries that took part in phase one trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine last year. Up to 30,000 Britons live in this former colony and British companies are among the top investors and taxpayers. Until Covid, the U.K. was the second most important source of tourism income to Kenya’s safaris and beach holidays. In the eyes of many Kenyans, the travel restrictions have damaged relations.

Even celebrations at Kenya’s removal from the red list – alongside Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman and Bangladesh – were cut short. To this day, the U.K. refuses to recognise certificates of vaccination from Kenya – even if, like me, you’ve been jabbed with one of the 817,000 AstraZeneca vaccine donated by Britain to Kenya. Passengers from Kenya to the U.K. must still take a pre-departure PCR test, then self-isolate after arrival with day two and day eight tests (unless released after a day five negative PCR).

Kenyans have understandably become suspicious, wondering whether the U.K. is dumping dodgy batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Africa. Why else would vaccinated Kenyans be treated differently by the British authorities to arrivals from other countries? Many Kenyans are already reluctant to submit to any type of Covid jab – and less than 2% of the population has been injected. An additional irony is that there are so many medical personnel now on their way to the U.K. that there’s a good chance the nurse who jabs you in the NHS will be a Kenyan national anyway.

The September 21st joint U.K.-Kenyan statement about plans to introduce vaccine passports was issued to “clear up any concerns on vaccine certification”. Nairobi has previously said that from 2022 all citizens will have to obtain a vaccine passport if they wish to travel overseas.

Passengers en route to the U.K., meanwhile, are at risk of incarceration on arrival due to contradictory information on the GOV.UK website – even if they’ve been double-jabbed in the U.K. I have just heard about the case of a retired British police officer who visited Kenya to work on a brief contract for the United Nations. She had an NHS double vaccination certificate and her flight home was booked via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, timed to land at Heathrow on the morning of 22nd September, by which time Kenya would be off the red list. Despite Ethiopia still being on the red list, the woman assumed she was in the clear because the GOV.UK website advised that “transiting passengers are exempt from the current quarantine restrictions for COVID-19”.

While in transit in Ethiopia, the former police officer was thrown off her connecting flight to London and told the only way she could get home would be if she paid up front for a quarantine hotel package at Heathrow and filled out a new red list passenger locator form. On arrival at Heathrow, “border force refused to accept their own Ethiopia specific guidance… Despite having travelled from an amber country, with proof of NHS issued vaccinations, and following FCDO issued advice, I find myself facing a £2,250 hotel bill simply because FCDO cannot issue coherent advice to its nationals or ensure that border force and immigration have clear guidance”.

Welcome to the post-Covid world, where you cannot travel between countries without a vaccine passport and even if you’ve got one you’ll be incarcerated in a quarantine ‘hotel’ anyway.

Decline in Flu Immunity Due to Clampdown on Socialising Has Led to ‘Worst Colds Ever’

Some Brits say they are suffering from their “worst cold ever” as scientists warn that the decline in flu immunity during continued lockdowns could lead to a difficult winter. The Independent has the story.

For Rebecca London, 24, from Bournemouth, a usual cold would mean “a runny nose, sneezing, a bit of a sore throat and feeling a bit rundown”.

“Nothing like this,” she told the BBC, saying she could barely sleep during her illness, which numerous lateral flow tests confirmed was not Covid.

Others have spoken of being “floored” by their colds, some of which lasted for more than a month.

Dr. Philippa Kaye, a GP in London, told the broadcaster: “We’ve actually been seeing a rise in the number of coughs and colds and viral infections.

“We are mixing in a way that we haven’t been mixing over the past 18 months.

“During those first lockdowns, we saw numbers of other [non-Covid] infections fall. We think that that was primarily due to the restrictions on meeting up.”

In more positive news, the World Health Organisation’s latest influenza update suggested that global cases were “at lower levels” than predicted for this time of year, despite fears of mass outbreaks.

However, with winter approaching, the situation could get worse, as Professor Anthony Harnden, the Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, has warned. He said that low flu immunity “could be potentially a bigger problem this winter than Covid”.

Worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated Brits Could Be Barred from Royal Albert Hall Performances If Event Organisers Demand Vaccine Passports

The Chief Executive Officer at the Royal Albert Hall says the venue will be willing to turn away unvaccinated concertgoers if event organisers tell them to do so. “We have to respect that,” he says: “They are hiring the venue.” The Telegraph has the story.

Craig Hassall… admitted that event organisers were still free to limit tickets to those with two jabs if they chose to do so. …

Mr Hassall said the Hall was trying to find a “middle ground that will upset the least amount of people” in terms of Covid restrictions.

He added: “It will depend on the promoter, so some promoters might have stronger rules on this. A promoter has the right to say to us, if they’re hiring a venue ‘if we ask you to check someone’s status and they don’t show it then they will be asked to leave’.

“It’s a strong position but it is a position some promoters may choose to take, and we have to respect that. They are hiring the venue.”

The Royal Albert Hall is due to host concerts by Cliff Richard, Nick Cave and Rick Astley in coming months, as well as the Champions Tennis tournament. It is not known if the organisers of any of these events will insist on two vaccinations.

The BBC insisted on proof of two vaccines from those with tickets to this year’s proms, which was one of the first major events to be held without social distancing.

Lawyers suggested other venues and event planners may choose to follow suit.

Richard McKeown, a partner at Kennedys, said: “It could happen more widely on the basis that venues and those that hire venues can set the entry requirements deciding the basis upon which they are prepared to grant permission to enter within their venue specific Covid risk assessment.”

Worth reading in full.

Covid Cases Fall After Schools Reopen In Spite of Widespread Predictions to the Contrary

Covid infections have plummeted despite fears that the new school term would fuel an autumn surge, according to the latest ONS data. The Daily Mail has more.

One in 90 people in England had the virus last week, with around 620,100 infected in total, testing by the Office for National Statistics revealed.

This is down 18% from a fortnight earlier, when one in 70 tested positive and estimated total infections stood at 754,000.

The weekly ONS survey, based on random swab testing of 150,000 people, is seen by the Government as the most reliable measure of the epidemic.

In a further boost for hopes that the pandemic may be over, Government scientists said the R rate – the average number infected by someone with the virus – may have dropped below one for the first time since March. R is between 0.8 and 1 in England, meaning the epidemic is shrinking.

ONS study leader Kara Steel said: ‘Infection levels have decreased in England for the first time in several weeks, though rates remain generally high across the UK.

‘It’s encouraging that infection rates have continued to decrease among young adults, possibly reflecting the impact of the vaccination programme.’

Infections are highest in secondary schoolchildren, with around one in 35 testing positive, reflecting the fact that many in this age group are yet to be jabbed. But the ONS report shows cases have decreased or remained flat in every other age group.

Worth reading in full.