Day: 16 December 2021

UNISON Calls for Schools to Be Allowed to Close Early to Fight Omicron Spread

The trade union group UNISON has said that allowing schools to close early will halt the transmission of the Omicron variant. While the union has stopped short of demanding that schools be closed, it has called for more measures to be imposed on the classroom, such as mask mandates. The Express has the story.

Schools have been at the centre of countless restrictive measures over the past two years, with pupils suffering major disruption to their education thanks to decisions made by the Government and promoted by key unions. The emergence of the Omicron variant has reignited calls for measures that would further such disruption.

UNISON insists that schools should be allowed to close early “without the fear of Government criticism” to reduce the spread of the variant.

It has argued allowing schools to shut ahead of schedule in the run-up to the end of term would benefit both parents and teachers.

It said: “Allowing schools to close early this week would reduce the risk of Omicron transmission, make Christmas less stressful for families and give staff more time to get their boosters.”

UNISON claims to represent more education staff than any other U.K. trade union.

A spokesperson for the group told the Express that while “we don’t want to see schools close”, new measures are needed to prevent further disruption.

It has called for the return of face masks in secondary school classrooms, as well as the return of “bubbles”.

The union is also pushing ministers to send air filtration devices to all schools before the New Year to help temper the spread of the virus when – or if – pupils return to the classroom.

UNISON’s Head of Education, Mike Short, said in a statement: “Stopping the virus in its tracks and keeping pupils and communities safe should be a top priority.

“Action now will help cut family stress levels this Christmas.”

Short added that, along with the other measures proposed by the union, the return to schools after Christmas should be staggered.

He said: “Bubbles must come back, and pupils shouldn’t all return at once on the same day in January.”

This came as England’s Chief Medical Officer branded Omicron a “really serious threat”.

Chris Whitty told a press conference on Wednesday: “The how big a threat – there are several things we don’t know, but all the things that we do know are bad.”

Worth reading in full.

France Bans Non-Essential U.K. Visitors in Response to Omicron Spread

From Saturday, France will prohibit all U.K. visitors travelling for non-essential reasons (unless they are French or E.U. citizens) in an attempt to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, which is quickly becoming the dominant strain within the country. The ban will apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated Brits. MailOnline has more.

The French Government said no non-essential travellers from the U.K. will be allowed in from the weekend.

It is a hammer blow to those desperately hoping to be able to get away or go skiing over the festive period. 

Ollie James said online: “Based on the latest Covid news, that’s my snow holiday cancelled because the French are banning people from the U.K.”

“Infuriating for me, but I feel for the hospitality industry in the mountains who will be losing a huge amount of money now. Our chalet was £12,000 for the week.”

A French Government spokesman confirmed there will be a “requirement to have an essential reason to travel to, or come from, the U.K., both for the unvaccinated and vaccinated”.

He added: “People cannot travel for touristic or professional reasons.”

They insisted French citizens and EU nationals could still return to France from the U.K.

Delta remains the dominant variant in France, but Omicron is spreading so fast in Britain that it’s raising concerns across the Channel.

French Government Spokesman Gabriel Attal said on BFM television that tourism or business trips from Britain to France “will be limited”, though French citizens will still be able to make the journey. 

All those arriving from Britain will need to have a negative virus test less than 24 hours old, and to test again upon arrival and isolate “in a place they choose” for at least 48 hours pending the result, Attal said.

Paul Charles, Chief Executive of Travel Consultancy the PC Agency, said: “Blanket country measures are a damaging backwards step and never work. Omicron is already in France and other EU countries.

“Why should the millions boosted be treated the same way as those unvaccinated, and prevented from entry?”

Health minister Gillian Keegan was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for her reaction to the French travel restrictions.

She said: “Well, actually, my first thought is ‘I’m glad that I cancelled my trip to France’, because that’s where I was supposed to go for Christmas.”

“But, of course, every Government is dealing with Omicron, every Government has to make their decisions and has their response to it, you know. It is obviously going to alter people’s plans, which is very unfortunate.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he has spoken to his equivalent in the French government, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, and agreed that hauliers will be exempt from the new restrictions.

A Spokesman for ferry operator Brittany Ferries said: ‘These new measures are a hammer blow to our Christmas season.”

Worth reading in full.

Lionel Shriver Hails Daily Sceptic as Vital Lifeline

In the Christmas issue of the Spectator, Lionel Shriver has thanked her anti-lockdown allies in the media and elsewhere for helping her to “maintain my sanity and my faith in humanity”. In particular, Shriver has applauded the Daily Sceptic – and has an unbreakable habit of combing through our daily newsletter during her morning routine.

Beginning the second week of the U.K.’s original lockdown, our own Toby Young has doggedly put out a free daily newsletter, which is still the first thing I read when I get up. Lockdown Sceptics has now morphed into the more broad-based the Daily Sceptic, but under both titles the newsletter has encapsulated new scientific studies at odds with stock narratives, excerpted dissenting articles and provided a forum for isolated prisoners of quasi-police states like Australia. The bulletin has furnished hyperlinks to thousands of blogs, interviews, podcasts and essays that collectively reassure us not everyone is a robot or an idiot, and civilisation isn’t, or not completely, kaput. That newsletter is meaty enough to last through a large, strong coffee and compelling enough that some mornings the coffee gets cold.

Shriver has also heaped plenty of praise on the Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, the Spiked team, and many others.

On the Telegraph podcast Planet Normal, Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan have managed a beguiling balance of hard-hitting commentary and jocular repartee. They’ve never let up on NHS neglect of non-Covid patients and disappearing face-to-face GP appointments. Through my headphones in the kitchen, their congenial company has seen me through mounds of chopped onions, bulbs of peeled garlic and bags of individually shelled pistachios, even during the long months when asking friends over to help me eat all this stuff was against the law.

Former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption has tirelessly advanced the case that subjugating democracy to public health tyranny puts the West in a grave political danger bound to persist beyond the pandemic. Ever temperate, articulate and urbane, Sumption bears a faint resemblance to my husband, who never twigs that I mean the comparison as a big compliment.

Every week, professional curmudgeon Peter Hitchens has given grumpy, disgusted and deliciously disdainful interviews on Talkradio. He’s even appeared in legacy media, in the rare instances a discouraging word about illiberal, epidemiologically inane Government policy is allowed on mainstream shows. Hitchens’s primary shortcoming is a belligerent conviction that he’s the only person standing up to the new authoritarianism. Look around you, Peter. You may spurn the helping hand, but you have confederates.

The crew at Spiked, among them Brendan O’Neill, Fraser Myers and Tom Slater, have remorselessly produced Covid content against the grain; ditto the faux-naïf self-styled nerds at Triggernometry. True to its name, UnHerd has consistently run pieces that contest received coronavirus wisdom, and I’d particularly commend terrific recent essays by Paul Kingsnorth (‘How Fear Fuels the Vaccine Wars’) and Matthew Crawford (‘The New Public Health Despotism’). Along with many other freelancers, Ross Clark, Matt Ridley and Douglas Murray have swum against an exhausting tide of ideological uniformity.

The oncologist Karol Sikora has warned about the dire consequences of blinkered obsession with Covid for cancer patients. Epidemiologists such as Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan have put reputations on the line to interrogate ‘known facts’ in their profession. Shockers, even a handful of British politicians have stuck up for their constituencies’ civil rights, including MPs Steve Baker and Sir Desmond Swayne (“Masks are about sending a message — well I don’t like the message!”).

Worth reading in full.

One Million Brits May Spend Christmas Day in Self-Isolation

Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, combined with the rules put in place to tackle its spread, the Government suspects that up to four times as many people will have to self-isolate on Christmas Day compared with last year. Furthermore, current statistical forecasts predict that close to one million Brits will be forced to stay at home come December 25th. RT has more.

Anyone in the U.K. who tests positive for Covid from Wednesday onwards will have to spend Christmas Day in isolation under current Government regulations. The rules issued by the U.K. Health Security Agency demand that anyone who gets a positive test goes into quarantine for 10 days. If that person then develops any Covid symptoms during this period, they will have to spend another 10 days in isolation, starting from the day the symptoms first appeared.

The Government believes there might be four times as many people self-isolating this Christmas Day than on December 25, 2020. The total number of Omicron cases reported in the U.K. rose from 4,713 to 5,346 over the past 24 hours, with 633 new infections linked to the highly transmissible new strain.

The overall number of new daily infections amounted to 59,610 and has gone up by more than 30% in just a week. This is the highest such figure since January, when almost 60,000 new cases were reported. At this rate, the U.K. may see some 100,000 people infected with Omicron on Christmas Eve, and around one million Brits isolating the next day, media projections say, using the Government data.

Omicron appears to be “the most significant threat we have had since the start of the pandemic”, Dr. Jenny Harries, CEO of the U.K. Health Security Agency, told MPs on Wednesday, adding that the time taken for the number of new Omicron infections to double “is shortening”. Earlier, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, also warned that the new strain is spreading “unbelievably fast”.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Calls For Vaccination of Children to Keep Schools Open – But Why When Almost All of Them Have Had the Virus?

Boris Johnson yesterday called for all children to be vaccinated in order to keep schools open. He told a Downing Street press conference: “We know how crucial it is to keep children in school, so let’s all make sure our children and young people are vaccinated before they go back next term.”

But why is this a good idea when most schoolchildren have had the virus already and have natural immunity? According to the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, nearly half of children in England under 15 caught the virus between the beginning of September and mid-October, bringing the total infected at that point to 76%, with more having caught it since. These estimates, while modelled, are also broadly in line with ONS Infection Survey estimates, which show a large outbreak in schoolchildren this autumn.

Noah Carl has highlighted three recent large studies which show that immunity via infection is much stronger and more durable than immunity via vaccination. In the chart below from a Danish study, the green line is protection over time from vaccine only, the orange line is from infection only and the yellow line is from infection plus vaccine.