Day: 10 December 2021

News Round-Up

Downing Street Christmas Party Pictures “Will Inevitably Get Out”, Says Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings, who previously served as Boris Johnson’s Chief of Staff until he was sacked in November 2020, has tweeted that “there’s lots of pictures of the parties which will inevitably get out”. The former Government adviser also said that most of the public’s attention should be focused on a party which he claims took place in the Prime Minister’s flat last year on November 13th. The Express has more.

Johnson has already lost one senior member of staff over the ongoing Christmas party scandal, and is facing calls to sack others – as well as to resign himself. But his former aide insists that the worst is yet to come.

The Government is under fire over reports of numerous parties held in Downing Street and elsewhere late last year, despite official Covid rules.

Video footage of the Prime Minister’s then-Press Secretary, Allegra Stratton, joking about a Christmas party in December 2020, just days after it is said to have taken place, emerged earlier this week.

This footage, featuring remarks Stratton said she would regret “for the rest of my days”, led to her resignation.

If footage from after the event has produced such a significant backlash, Downing Street will be horrified by the prospect of footage emerging from the party itself – or from any other party, from that matter.

That footage will emerge is, according to Cummings, “inevitable”.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “There’s lots of pictures of the parties which will inevitably get out.

“And invite lists beyond Number 10, to other departments…”

Some, but not all of the parties which are believed to have taken place in November and December last year will now be subjected to an official investigation.

In a separate post on Thursday, Cummings said “[our] focus should be [on the] actual party in the Prime Minister’s flat on November 13th”.

The party – or ‘gathering’, as officials would prefer to put it – which has been at the centre of this week’s controversy took place on December 18th.

The BBC has reported that Jack Doyle, Director of Communications at Downing Street, is believed to have been in attendance at the party.

He is accused of having given out a number of light-hearted awards amid party games, food and drink in an event that went on past midnight.

Worth reading in full.

Fines for Attending House Gatherings Were Dished Out on Day of Downing Street Christmas Party

Last December, on the day that the Downing Street Christmas party took place, three women were fined for attending house gatherings in London. The Times has the story.

The Metropolitan Police has ruled out an inquiry, saying there is no evidence and that it did not retrospectively investigate Covid breaches.

Last week Ami Goto, from west London, was fined £1,100 plus court costs after Westminster magistrates’ court found that she had, without reasonable excuse, participated in a gathering in a flat in Holborn, central London, on December 18th. Ebru Sen, of Sittingbourne, Kent, was fined for being at the gathering.

In a third case, Emilia Petruta-Cristea, of Wanstead, east London, was also fined £1,100 for being part of an illegal gathering at her home. An alleged house party in Ilford, east London, was among dozens of prosecutions considered by the magistrates’ court yesterday.

Sir Hugh Orde, a former President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that the video of Downing Street staff, including Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman at the time, joking about the No 10 Christmas party was “prima facie evidence” of a Covid breach and that the Met should investigate. Orde told the Times that the police would not find evidence without looking.

The Met has come under criticism for its stance. In a statement on Wednesday night it said that it had examined the video and a “significant amount of correspondence” sent to police. “Based on the absence of evidence and in line with our policy not to investigate retrospective breaches of such regulations, the Met will not commence an investigation at this time,” the force said.

Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary, said it was “simply implausible for the police to argue there was no evidence parties took place”. He said: “The police ought to be knocking on doors, taking statements and investigating people in No 10 in the way they would my constituents or anyone else in the country. They’ve got to pursue this investigation without fear or favour and treat the prime minister and his staff as they would treat anyone else. It can’t be one rule for the prime minister and another for everyone else.”

Orde, who was also chief constable of Northern Ireland, said that Dame Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, faced a difficult decision and a hard tightrope to walk but the public perception was that ordinary people had been fined for breaches. However, he said: “You don’t do a mock interview for something that hasn’t happened.”

The Met did not rule out acting if more information emerged and said it would consider “any evidence” from an inquiry by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary. Orde said he suspected that the cabinet secretary’s inquiry would root out more evidence and that the Met would be forced to make a move.

Worth reading in full.

Another Study Finds That Natural Immunity Protects Better Against Infection Than the Pfizer Vaccine

At the end of August, a study was published showing that natural immunity provides much better protection against infection than the Pfizer vaccine. It was described by UCL’s Francois Balloux as “a bit of a bombshell”.

Subsequent studies have compared natural and vaccine-induced immunity at the cellular level. One found that infection-induced antibodies “exhibited superior stability and cross-variant neutralisation breadth” than vaccine-induced antibodies, suggesting that people who’d already been infected had better immunity against the then-novel Delta variant.

However, as I noted in my write-up of the “bombshell” study, its findings still needed to be replicated. After all, certain datasets or methods of analysis can sometimes yield quirky results, which don’t survive independent empirical tests.

Encouragingly, the findings now have been replicated – by another team of Israeli researchers, using a different dataset.

In the latest study, Yair Goldberg and colleagues tracked all the individuals in their dataset (of people in Israel) who had tested positive or received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine before 1st July, 2021. They then compared the number of infections in previously infected versus vaccinated individuals from August to September of 2021.

The researchers also examined the number of infections among those with so-called ‘hybrid immunity’ – i.e., previously infected individuals who got vaccinated.  

For each of the three groups, they counted the number of infections and the number of days ‘at risk’ (i.e., the total number of people multiplied by the number of days on which they were ‘at risk’ of becoming infected). Adjustments were made for age, sex, ethnicity, calendar week and a measure of risk exposure.

Results are shown in the chart below. Each bar corresponds to the infection rate per 100,000 ‘risk days’. The reason the researchers used ‘risk days’, rather than just ‘people’, is that the composition of each group changed over time. For example, some previously infected people chose to get vaccinated.

Notice that the labels for the horizontal bars are not the same for each group. Since we want to compare apples with apples, look at the bars labelled “Recovered 6–8 months” and “Vaccinated 6–8 months”.

This comparison shows that, 6–8 months after the corresponding event, infection rates were more than six times higher among vaccinated individuals – 89 per 100,000 versus only 14 per 100,000 among previously infected individuals.

The chart also shows that infection rates were lower still among those with hybrid immunity, which is consistent with what the earlier study found. However, the difference between the hybrid group and the recovered group was relatively small. For example, infection rates at 6–8 months were only 20% higher in the recovered group.

Goldberg and colleagues’ study confirms that natural immunity does wane, though much more slowly than vaccine-induced immunity. Anyone claiming the contrary now has to contend with not one, but two, high quality studies.  

English Football League Calls for Segregating Players Based on Vaccination Status

In response to the Government’s new measures intending to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, the English Football League (EFL) has reportedly given new guidance to its clubs, consisting of all Championship, League One, and League Two professional football teams, advising that players should be segregated based on their vaccination status. The EFL has suggested this policy in order to prevent transmission and avoid the emergence of Covid outbreaks, which would have the potential of disrupting fixtures over the busy Christmas period. MailOnline has the story.

The 72 clubs across the Championship, League One and League Two are being instructed to think about how they split up their players when travelling to and from matches to try to reduce possible transmission, according to the Telegraph. 

The report also claims that the EFL’s guidance is that goalkeepers within its divisions should not train together to lessen the chance of becoming a “close contact” should there be a positive Covid test and therefore reduce the likelihood of disruption.

The EFL have reportedly sent all of its members new guidance to consider until the end of next month in a bid to prevent matches being postponed over what is a typically jam-packed festive period. While the Premier League has also contacted all 20 top-flight clubs to re-impose their emergency Covid measures, and both football bodies strongly advise against Christmas parties this month. 

EFL players have also been instructed to bear in mind contact “outside of their bubble”, social distancing while at work, including not all sitting down for meals at the same time.

The news comes after Tottenham’s Premier League clash against Brighton, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed due to the Covid outbreak within the camp. Spurs also saw Thursday’s European Conference League match against Rennes called off.

As Covid continues to take grip of English football, top-flight officials have sent a memo to all clubs informing them of the decision to revert back to emergency measures.

Teams have been forced to abide by a stringent set of protocols since the return of football in June 2020, including social distancing and the use of PPE at training grounds, but those have slowly relaxed in recent months thanks to increasing vaccination rates among players.

But the Premier League have told all 20 teams that the long-standing emergency measures are now back in place.

Worth reading in full.

Achtung! Papers Please! If You Thought ‘Plan B’ Was Bad, Wait Until You Hear About ‘Plan C’

Care homes could be slapped with fresh restrictions in the run up to Christmas and masks and vaccine passports made compulsory in pubs and restaurants under a tougher ‘Plan C’ being considered by ministers. MailOnline has more.

Controversial vaccine passports could also be extended to more venues under the suite of measures being floated within Downing Street if the Omicron super variant proves to be as dangerous as scientists fear.

A Government source said it was “very likely” care home residents could be banned from seeing more than three visitors over Christmas, with the hopes of preventing another explosive outbreak in the sector.

But campaign groups warned the plans could be “devastating” with many residents forced to pick family members on what could be their last Christmas.

Other curbs include having to ‘check in’ with the NHS Covid app again to go to a pub or restaurant, using face masks in all indoor spaces, and having to show a vaccine passport at even more venues.

The first part of the Government’s Plan B came into force today with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches.

New work-from-home guidance will come into effect on Monday, and MPs will vote the next day on the introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and large venues.

Labour said today it was prepared to back the Plan B measures despite a suggestion that many opposition MPs could vote against the plans in protest against ongoing accusations that No10 held a number of lockdown-breaking parties last winter.

Worth reading in full.

Our best hope now is that the Government’s ‘Plan B’ proposals are defeated in the House of Commons next week. But if that is the final straw for Boris and he resigns, the risk is that his temporary successor might be a full-on lockdown zealot.