Toby Young

Boris Holds His Nerve – For Now

Boris Johnson said today that there is “absolutely nothing to indicate” there will be another lockdown this winter, in spite of mounting pressure from NHS bigwigs and trade union barons. MailOnline has more.

The Prime Minister said a national shutdown is not ‘on the cards’ as he was grilled about rising coronavirus case numbers.

His comments came after Tory MPs and hospitality chiefs urged the PM to resist calls from health bosses to trigger the Government’s COVID-19 ‘Plan B’.

Conservative MPs fear going ahead with the fall back strategy of telling people to work from home and to wear face masks would put the nation on a “slippery slope” towards another lockdown.

They are adamant there should be no return to draconian curbs, claiming that the Government must not be “bullied” by health leaders into imposing new rules.

Meanwhile, hospitality bosses have warned against reimposing restrictions, telling the PM that many pubs, bars and restaurants would “go to the wall”.

The hospitality industry is concerned that even light touch restrictions could hit bookings and put “Christmas at risk”.

The Government has insisted the triggering of ‘Plan B’ is not imminent, with the focus currently on rolling out vaccine booster shots.

But ministers struck an ominous tone this morning as they said the blueprint is “there for a reason”.

Health bosses have called on the Government to introduce ‘Plan B’ measures as they warned the NHS is currently heading for a winter crisis.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: SAGE is backing Boris’s decision not to implement ‘Plan B’. The latest modelling from SPI-M concluded that admission rates “are unlikely to get significantly higher than those currently seen” if vaccine protection does not wane much further than has already been observed. The Telegraph‘s Sarah Knapton has more.

A winter Covid wave is likely to be mild compared to last year even without ‘Plan B’ measures, Government scientists said as they warned that restrictions may not work as well as in previous waves.

The latest modelling, released on Friday, suggests that unless there is a rapid increase in transmission rates, coupled with the repeated waning of protection from Covid jabs, hospital admissions will be nowhere near the highs of January.

Worth reading in full.

A Surgeon Writes…

An NHS surgeon who’s contributed to the Daily Sceptic before has sent us an email offering us his perspective on the current NHS ‘crisis’. It’s a reminder that even though the current pressure on the NHS cannot realistically be attributed to Covid hospital admissions – which remain at around 5% of the total – that doesn’t mean that the NHS isn’t under strain.

There are various debates about whether or not the NHS is under pressure with pundits rightly pointing out that the NHS is not under pressure due to Covid-related disease. I think at this stage this is an unhelpful diversion. The fact is there is a big problem and trying to disprove it by just looking at Covid is missing the bigger picture.

The NHS is under a lot of pressure due to processes unrelated to Covid workload. While hospitals are not yet full to the brim, the overall activity levels are higher than usual for certain regions (whether this is due to the catch-up effect, neglect, the iatrogenic effect of recent non-pharmaceutical or other interventions/measures, etc.). The main crisis is related to staffing. This labour shortage has been noted in many sectors of the economy, but the staffing crisis (mainly non-doctoral) in the NHS has been chronic and worsening for years. This year tipped the balance (psychological exhaustion, physical exhaustion, sickness absence, track and trace, etc.). In our region hospitals are routinely cancelling (relatively non-essential) surgery due to lack of staff required to either run operating theatres or wards/ancillary services. Hospitals are routinely running extra activity on Saturdays to try and catch up on cancer work. This is a weekly occurrence not limited to the place I work. Factor in the very long (self-created) waiting lists and the winter (which has not even started), and the crisis could become unmanageable.

I am pessimistic. Regardless of the Covid workload, the Government may use a real crisis in the NHS to justify more pointless non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccine passports (complete nonsense from a medical, ethical and social perspective) out of desperation, misconception, or both.

Psychology Student Looking For Non-Mask Wearers to Interview For Dissertation

A student at the University of the Highlands and Islands has got in contact to ask if I can put her in touch with people who have not complied with any mask mandates since March 2020. This is for her dissertation on threats to identity. If you’re interested in participating, you can find out more about the research and complete the survey here.

If Another Lockdown is Imposed, or Vaccine Passports are Introduced, the Government Will Use the Almost Unlimited Powers Granted to it by the Public Health Act

We’re publishing a guest post today by Daily Sceptic regular Dr. David McGrogan, as Associate Professor in Northumbria Law School, about the Government’s reliance on the Public Health Act 1984 to railroad through all the Covid restrictions of the past 18 months and which will almost certainly be invoked to justify vaccine passports if and when they’re introduced. He applauds the Covid Recovery Group’s efforts to reform the PHA, but thinks they’re unlikely to succeed because our supine MPs quite like the current arrangement for self-interested reasons.

In a recent piece, Toby accurately laid out the basic legal position with regard to almost all of the various Covid-related restrictions brought in since March 2020. That is, although there is such a thing as the Coronavirus Act 2020, and although some of its original contents permitted the Government to do things that were quite draconian, it has not been the source of any of the restrictions that have been imposed. These have more or less all come through secondary or delegated legislation under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, making the Coronavirus Act 2020 a bit of a red herring. I thought it would be useful for readers of the Daily Sceptic to understand what this is all about, why it is, frankly, an outrage, and why the Covid Recovery Group of MPs are focused on repeal of the 1984 Act rather than the 2020 one.

It is important to provide a bit of background on this for readers without a background in law or politics. In U.K. constitutional arrangements, only Parliament can create law, which it does through primary legislation: an Act of Parliament. Only Parliament can create law, because only it comprises (in the form of the House of Commons) the elected representatives of the people, who are sovereign. In practical terms, of course, most Acts originate as bills put forward by the government, but governments cannot simply make laws by decree – they must pass through the legislature.

However, it has long been thought that getting Parliament to pass Acts for every piddling thing a government might wish to do would be time-consuming and get in the way of efficiency and expediency, and hence there has evolved a system of delegated legislation. Delegated legislation is, basically, law that is created by a government minister or other public body through powers granted them by an Act of Parliament. Parliament passes an Act (primary legislation) which specifically grants the power to a minister to make certain orders or regulations, and the minister thereby creates legislation lawfully because Parliament has said he can. Usually this is done for fairly trivial and/or technical matters that it is not worth spending parliamentary time on.

No ‘Plan B’ – For Now

Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave the Downing Street press briefing today – the first one in five weeks. The headline news is that the Government isn’t implementing ‘Plan B’, although Javid did add the ominous words “at this point”. He said the NHS was not under unsustainable pressure, the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths had been weakened by the vaccines and announced that the Government has spent considerable sums on some “game-changing” treatments developed by Merck and Pfizer. MailOnline has more.

Sajid Javid today batted away demands from NHS bosses for the Government to revert to its Covid winter ‘Plan B’ amid surging infections and a sluggish booster vaccine programme.

The Health Secretary insisted ministers would not reintroduce face masks and WFH guidance “at this point” as he addressed the nation from the podium at No 10’s first Covid press conference in a month.

Mr. Javid said that while the NHS was seeing ‘greater pressure’, he was confident the pressure was not ‘unsustainable’. He said ministers would ‘stay vigilant’ because cases could still rise to 100,000 a day this winter.

The decision by the Government to hold its nerve on restrictions will anger NHS leaders who claim hospitals are already buckling under the weight of Covid, flu and backlogs caused by the pandemic.

Mr. Javid used the press conference to urge Britons to come forward for their booster jabs in a bid to speed up the sluggish vaccine campaign — which has only seen a quarter of care home residents revaccinated.

He said that the country was still ahead in the race against the virus thanks to the initial Covid vaccination effort, but claimed that waning immunity meant that lead was “narrowing”.

Pleading with the country to get their booster, Mr. Javid added that not only would a booster save lives, it would also “protect our freedoms”. “Boosters could not be more important,” he said.

Daily infections are currently on the brink of passing the 50,000 milestone for the first time in months. Department of Health bosses today recorded 49,139 positive tests, up 15% on the previous week.

Meanwhile, hospital admissions rose by 15.3% week-on-week to 869, while deaths jumped by nearly a third to 179. Both measures lag behind case numbers by a few weeks, due to the time it takes for someone to become seriously unwell after catching the virus.

Mr. Javid also announced the U.K. has bought hundreds of thousands of “game-changing” pills that can be used to treat Brits with Covid at home this winter.

The U.K. has bought 480,000 antiviral molnupiravir pills made by US pharmaceutical company Merck and 250,000 PF-073 courses from Pfizer. They still need to be approved by the U.K.’s medical regulator before Britons can get their hands on the drugs.

Worth reading in full.

It’s good news that the Government is resisting the mounting pressure from various public health panjandrums to start reimposing Covid restrictions – for now. Let’s hope Boris can hold his nerve.

Anti-Lockdown Protester Facing Multiple Prosecutions Needs Money to Pay For Legal Defence

Debbie Hicks, the anti-lockdown protestor who was arrested after filming an apparently empty ward in Gloucestershire Royal Hospital at the end of last year, is facing four separate prosecutions in Magistrates’ Court – mainly for participating in anti-lockdown protests – and she needs to raise more funds to pay for her legal defence. The first case is due to be heard on November 16th and all four will be heard this winter. She has set up a CrowdJusice fundraiser that you can contribute to here.

Debbie’s solicitor plans to move on to the High Court if she loses in the Magistrates’ Court, or if the Magistrates’ Court says it doesn’t have the jurisdiction to consider her cases. That could be expensive, but the cause at stake could not be more important. Here is an extract from a note her solicitor sent to me:

These really are important cases in respect of Freedom of speech and Freedom to protest as:

  • Success at the High Court will set a precedent that protest is not, and never has been, completely illegal during the pandemic – even under lockdown.
  • Debbie suspects that the prosecution’s ultimate aim is to obtain a criminal behaviour order against her thereby chillingly curbing her ability to protest in the future.
  • There are still a large number of other citizens across the country who are being ‘unlawfully’ prosecuted or have been convicted – a successful outcome at the High Court will lead to a landslide of other cases crumbling and open avenues of appeal to others already convicted.
  • While the Crown Prosecution Service may try and quietly drop the odd case here and there after defence representations and arguments are filed, this will only occur when a prosecution lawyer reviews the case reasonably and objectively and properly analyses the law which is confusing and opaque – and, as Debbie has found, this is not easy to achieve. Success at the High Court will mean the CPS will have to blanket review all such cases and, with a legal precedent set, this will force the CPS to discontinue all remaining prosecutions.
  • Many ordinary citizens without a previous blemish on their record will currently have criminal records because they’ve been convicted of these types of offences. Success in the High Court could lead to an avalanche of appeals and convictions being overturned.
  • Success at the High Court will add clarity to the law that protesters have a reasonable excuse to gather and are not therefore committing an offence and cannot be directed to disperse or leave by the police.
  • While the prohibition of protests has now been dropped, legislation can always be amended again in the future. Who knows if further lockdowns are on the horizon. We only have to look to Australia as an example of a government completely abusing its powers against its own citizens. Success at the High Court in Debbie’s case will make it harder for our Government to suspend the right to protest again.

Once again, if you’d like to make a contribution to Debbie’s fundraiser, you can find it here.

Six Questions to Ask Before Deciding Whether to Comply With Mask Mandates

We’re publishing a guest post today by Dr. Gary Sidley, a retired clinical psychologist with over 30 years’ experience working for the NHS. He sets out all the reasons why mask mandates shouldn’t be reimposed and urges people to join the Smile Free Campaign, which advocates against masking.

On the July 19th 2021, England removed almost all its legal mandates that required healthy people to wear face coverings in community settings. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, however, opted to retain their mask mandates, as did London on its public transport system. Ominously, the Government’s Covid strategy for this winter includes the prospect of a ‘Plan B’ that could see the return of compulsory face masks in indoor settings in England. After a few months of bare-faced normality, how will the general public react to future directives to muzzle up?

Smile Free – a campaign group seeking the permanent removal of all mask mandates – urges each person to consider the responses to the following six questions before deciding whether to hide your face again.

Q1. Do masks help reduce viral spread?

Although some studies claim otherwise, the real-world evidence strongly suggests that masking the healthy does not significantly reduce the spread of respiratory viruses for neither the wearer nor others. Key reasons for this lack of efficacy are likely to include the improper use and storage of masks in the real world and the growing recognition that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19) is spread via microscopic aerosol particles that are far too small to be kept at bay by face coverings.

Q2. Will wearing a mask cause me any physical harm?

If worn only for short periods, significant physical harms from wearing a mask are unlikely. However, there is evidence that long term use can lead to a number of negative consequences, including: headaches, skin irritation, fatigue and dehydration, reduced heart and lung efficiency and eye irritation. In addition, face coverings may put elderly people at more risk of injury from falls.

Q3. Do masks cause any social or psychological harms?

The social and psychological consequences of hiding our faces from other people are profound. Humans are social animals. We need to interact with others and communicate to sustain our wellbeing. Face coverings are dehumanising, inhibiting all forms of emotional expression and social interaction. Individuality minimised, identity hidden, the masked population appear broadly the same as they trudge along in their social vacuums. The impact of a masked population on children is even more problematic, denying them access to facial expressions that are so crucial for their emotional development.

Q4. Will wearing a mask help to reassure others who are anxious?

Most definitely not. Acting as a crude, highly visible reminder that danger is all around, face coverings are fueling widespread anxiety. Fear is underpinned by a perception of threat and being masked is a blatant indicator that we are all bio-hazards. Furthermore, continuing to wear masks while we gradually try to return to normality will act to keep fear going, as the wearer may attribute their survival to the mask rather than conclude that it is now safe to return to everyday activities. To recommend face coverings as a source of reassurance is akin to insisting people wear a garlic clove around their necks to reduce their fear of vampires.

Q5. Under the law, do I have a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a mask?

In general terms, if wearing a mask is likely to cause you ‘severe distress’, or put you ‘at risk of harm or injury’, you are legally exempt. Mental health problems (such as anxiety, depression, and paranoia) and physical health problems (such as asthma and other respiratory difficulties) are sufficient and lawful reasons not to wear a face covering. Furthermore, you are not obliged to disclose your specific reason for exemption to anybody other than an official enforcement officer (usually a police officer); any other person who challenges you about not wearing a face covering is likely to be acting unlawfully and thereby risking prosecution. Indeed, a service provider has been fined £7000 under the Discrimination Disability Act for denying access to a woman without a mask.

Q6. Do I risk being fined if I don’t wear a mask?

While it is possible that a fine could be imposed for not complying with a mask mandate, such an event seems rare. Thus, in the four-month period June-to-September 2020, only 89 fines were issued (61 on public transport, 28 in retail settings) across the whole of England and Wales. Furthermore, if you are unfortunate enough to receive a fine and decide to contest it in Court, it is highly likely you will succeed; according to figures produced by the Crown Prosecution Service, all charges under the Coronavirus Act have either been withdrawn in Court or quashed after innocent people were wrongfully indicted.

In conclusion, mandating masks for healthy people in their communities is irrational, counterproductive, unethical and ultimately unenforceable. To help continue the fight against legal requirements to wear face coverings, please consider joining our Smile Free campaign.

Postcard From Vienna

We’re publishing a new addition to our long-running series ‘Around the World in 80 Lockdowns’. This time it’s a “Postcard From Vienna” from our regular travel correspondent Russell David. Here is an extract:

It’s no surprise most people aren’t booking holidays at the moment. In the 10 days leading up to the flight I received five emails from Ryanair, four of which were identical, headed ESSENTIAL REMINDER FOR YOUR TRIP in bold, capital letters, red and underlined. A couple of lines down it said: “Failure to comply with local travel requirements may result in you being fined or denied boarding or entry into your destination.” That too was in bold and underlined. There was then reams of copy about the E.U. Digital Covid Travel Certificate, passenger locator forms, masks and tests, until it returned to its theme: “Failure to produce required forms/negative Covid test results may result in boarding/entry to your destination being denied and may also result in very expensive, on the spot fines.” By this point you’re thinking: “Christ, should I really have booked this holiday? Is it worth the pain and stress?”

It didn’t start too well. At the Ryanair departure gate at Stansted, already a whirlpool of anxiety and hassle thanks to the staff’s incessant cries of “are you double vaccinated?” and “your bag’s too big, you have to pay extra”, I was called forward, unmasked as ever, clutching my exemption letter from my GP, and came face-to-mask with, well, let’s call her Eva. She peered at my letter for a long time before drawing herself up.

“I’ve let you on this time,” she said with the imperiousness of the Empress of India, “but this is out of date”, and she pointed to “July 30th, 2021” on my letter.

Worth reading in full.

How Outraged Should We Be By Yesterday’s Renewal of the Coronavirus Act Without a Parliamentary Vote?

There was plenty of outrage on Twitter yesterday from lockdown sceptics about the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020 without the House of Commons being given an opportunity to vote on it. For instance, Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted: “What kind of democracy do we live in when a six month extension to emergency powers to control every aspect of our lives can just be nodded through without any vote?”

But I’m a little more sanguine about this than others and have written a comment piece for Mail+ explaining why. Here is an extract:

Yes, the Act, as originally passed in March 2020, is an illiberal measure that grants the Government all sorts of sweeping powers. For instance, the ability to close businesses and schools, and restrict social gatherings.

But there are two reasons why its renewal should not set off alarm bells.

First, all the most draconian powers granted to the Government under the Act have been removed. The remaining clauses give ministers powers they would need to use in the event of another lockdown but which, by themselves, don’t enable them to impose one, such as allowing them to financially support businesses affected by COVID-19 and to stop landlords evicting tenants for unpaid rents.

However, the removal of these sweeping powers should not be a cause of comfort – which brings me to the second reason.

The last three times the Government imposed a lockdown, it didn’t need to rely on any of the authoritarian clauses in the Act. That’s because it has all the powers it needs under the Public Health Act 1984 and, unlike the Coronavirus Act, that piece of legislation doesn’t have to be renewed every six months.

That’s why Steve Baker, Conservative MP for Wycombe and Deputy Leader of the Covid Recovery Group, abstained in yesterday’s vote but didn’t call for a division of the House. He rightly understood that the renewal of the Act was small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

I go on to say that for opponents of further lockdowns the focus should be on reforming the Public Health Act, not repealing the Coronavirus Act.

If we’re going to make it harder for the Government to lock us down again without carrying out a cost-benefit analysis – which it didn’t bother with on the previous three occasions – the critical thing is to reform the Public Health Act. That is what the Covid Recovery Group is campaigning for.

Of course, reforming the act wouldn’t prevent the Government from imprisoning us in our homes again. But it would mean that in order to do so, in the absence of any kind of risk assessment, it might have to pass another act of Parliament. That would at least give MPs and peers the opportunity to scrutinise and debate the merits of another lockdown.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: For those unconvinced by this argument, you can sign a petition urging the Government to repeal the Coronavirus Act here.

Lockdown Made Prevention of Terrorism Harder

Lockdowns have made the fight against terrorism even harder, according to Raffaello Pantucci, a Senior Associate Fellow of RUSI. The Telegraph has more.

Countering radicalisation is a social activity. Most anti-extremism programmes are based on engagement with individuals, seeking to steer them back onto a path away from extremist ideas. This also applies to the efforts to get people to the attention of authorities.

The system relies on contacts and people noticing those who might be going in the wrong direction. So if human contact falls, the number of opportunities to notice radicalisation also declines. In the first months of lockdown, counter-terrorism police raised the alarm, noting that Prevent referrals had dropped by as much as 50%. There seems little question that the pandemic and lockdown have made the fight against terror and extremism that much harder.

Prevent referrals are a random bunch, but the majority (according to the Home Office for the last available year) were either from police or the education sector. This is police officers, teachers or others who, in the course of their work, come across people who are exhibiting some sort of behaviour which might be indicative of radicalisation. Having noticed this, they flag it up and then an investigation is done to understand if the concern merits further attention. In the last year of reported data, 6,287 referrals were made, 1,424 merited deeper engagement, and 697 were adopted as part of a programme called Channel.

We have no idea where the suspect in the murder of Sir David Amess may have come on this spectrum after his Prevent referral five years ago. But we can be sure that many of the other societal contact points which are usually relied upon to generate these referrals disappeared during the pandemic. Repeated lockdowns, school and youth centre closures, and other restrictions will have made it harder for those watching out for these potential problems to come into contact with those veering in the wrong direction.

Worth reading in full.