Australia Uses Helicopters and the Army to Enforce Lockdown Rules

The enforcement of lockdown rules in Australia has jumped to another level, with the army knocking on doors to check that people who have tested positive are self-isolating and helicopters blaring the message: “This is public health order – do not break rules – you will be found and fines issued.”

Police are also checking IDs to ensure that citizens are not outside their ‘exercise radius‘, and those not wearing face masks are being hit with $500 fines. MailOnline has more.

[On Sautrday], up to 1,300 police officers swarmed Sydney and set up a network of roadblocks in a massive show of force to avoid a repeat of last week’s violent anti-lockdown protest.

Some 250 fines, each worth $500, were issued across the city today, with one man arrested after travelling on trains outside his local Government area without a reasonable excuse.

It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison had launched a four-stage plan back to freedom but said 80% of adults would have to be vaccinated before the border can begin to open.

Sydney’s five million people are under a strict stay-at-home order because of a worrying surge of nearly 3,000 infections since the middle of June.

Authorities have this week outlined even tighter restrictions for some worst-affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors. 

From Monday, some 300 army personnel will help police go door to door to ensure people who have tested positive are isolating. 

New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told a news conference: “The sheer volume of increase over the last week, the level of compliance has gone from hundreds into thousands.”

The military personnel will not be armed and will be under police command, he said. …

[Australia] is faced with the spread of the much more infectious Indian variant that is proving able to overcome lockdown measures. Many highly vaccinated countries are now re-opening, but Australia is sticking to its ‘Zero Covid’ strategy while its vaccine drive lags behind the rest of the world.   

Sydney’s latest surge of cases has been traced back to an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver who got infected last month. Since then, Australia’s biggest city has reported 13 deaths.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Positive Covid Tests Drop Week-on-Week for 10th Day in a Row

Positive Covid tests fell again today, both compared to yesterday and compared to last Saturday, making it the tenth day in a row reported infections have dropped week-on-week. MailOnline has more.

Covid cases have fallen week-on-week for the tenth day in a row, in another sign of hope as the pandemic appears to be shrinking — but experts warn the drop off could be down to less [sic] people getting tests.  

Department of Health bosses posted 26,144 infections today, down 17.8% on last Saturday’s figure of 31,795.

And the number of people dying with the virus has fallen to 71. The number of victims decreased 17.4% from 86 last Saturday.

The baffled Government scientists, whose gloomy predictions continue not to materialise, have now come up with another reason why positive test reports might be dropping: people are avoiding being tested because they don’t want to self-isolate.

I suppose some will be, with holidays approaching. But the ONS breakdown by age also suggests there’s a difference in the infection rate between people under 16 and over 16, with the latter having peaked while the former had not as of July 24th. That in itself is a bit confusing, as children under 16 don’t live on their own, but it does suggest that some of the drop in positive tests reported by PHE might be because parents have stopped testing their children.

Boris Johnson Faces Rebellion on Vaccine Passports From Within Cabinet

The number of Tory MPs who say they will vote against the Government on vaccine passports has increased slightly to more than 50. Even more encouraging is that criticism of Boris Johnson’s plans is coming from within Cabinet, with one member saying: “It’s not who we are.” MailOnline has the story.

Mr Johnson is facing a fresh headache, with some of the opposition [to vaccine passports] reported to be coming from ministers in his own Cabinet, who believe the policy was “railroaded” through by Michael Gove.

One told the Times: “I’m not comfortable with the Government being able to use health information to cut off access to certain parts of society.

“This is the kind of thing that Dominic Cummings would endorse. It’s not who we are. Once you start doing these things where do you stop? We need to tread very carefully here. There are concerns across the cabinet about denying people their freedoms.’

Another added: “My concern is that this is destabilising the party. A carrot approach is far better than a stick approach. We shouldn’t be taking people’s liberties away, we should be encouraging them.”

Dominic Raab and Grant Shapps are among the senior members of the cabinet to praise businesses who have not allowed unvaccinated staff to return to the office, amid concerns the Government is encouraging a ‘jabs for jobs’ policy.

Experts have warned companies doing so may face legal action, with fears of a host of discrimination claims sparking calls for ministers to outlaw such policies. 

A worker who is forced to have a jab would be suffering an “intrusion” on their body, advice from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development claims.

As a result, firms “cannot forcibly vaccinate employees or potential employees” unless legally required to do so, according to the group, which represents HR professionals.

Care home staff is the only sector that so far is subject to mandatory Covid jabs, although reports suggest the Government has been looking in other areas too. …

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also advised against blanket ‘No Jab, No Job’ policies, according to the Sun, particularly given medical reasons prevent some people from getting the vaccine.

But huge firms in the U.S., including Facebook and Google, have already insisted employees must probe [sic] they’ve received doses before going back to work.

Worth reading in full.

“You’d Have to be Crackers to Book a Holiday”

A raging battle has erupted in the Cabinet over plans for a danger list of countries that could see destinations like Spain and Italy suddenly move to red. MailOnline has more.

The plans for a new ‘amber watch list’ sparked outrage in Whitehall as some ministers believe it could ruin the holiday hopes of millions of Britons.

The idea, which was agreed in principle this week, would see holidaymakers warned that while they are abroad certain amber countries could go straight on to the red list.

This would leave them facing compulsory hotel quarantine on their return, at a cost of £1,750 a head.

Spain and Italy both featured in talks about countries that could be put into the new category – as soon as next week – amid fears about the Beta variant, which first emerged in South Africa.

Senior ministers, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, are said to have reservations about imposing further disruption on the beleaguered travel sector.

Mr Shapps urged people to “ignore speculation” ahead of decisions next week. But behind the scenes a battle is raging.

One Whitehall source said: “You would have to be crackers to book a holiday to a place knowing that it could go on to the red list at any moment.

“If you have already booked to go there you are going to spend your whole holiday worrying whether you are going to have to make a dash to the airport to get home.

“The decision next week will basically be in place for August. It is peak holiday season – are we really going to cause that much disruption to this many people?”

Worth reading in full.

Plans to Bar Unvaccinated University Students From Lectures and Halls Shelved

Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told university students they would have to wait until September to find out whether they would be required to show proof of vaccination to attend lectures and to live in halls. But the plans, which have received heavy criticism from the University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS), have now been shelved, according to reports. BBC News has the story.

The idea of making vaccines compulsory for university students… was not ruled out by either Education Minister Vicky Ford or Downing Street when asked about it earlier this week.

And asked whether vaccination would be mandatory for students returning to halls of residence, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said a decision would be taken in September. 

“We will certainly make sure university students have advance warning, of course we’re going to be mindful of this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.

But now the idea of requiring students in England to show proof of vaccination to attend lectures or stay in halls of residence has been shelved, the BBC has been told.

The Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own coronavirus rules and education policy. 

Unions have been critical of making vaccines mandatory for university students. 

The UCU previously said this would be wrong and “hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated” as well as for international students. 

And the NUS had called the idea “appalling”, accusing the Government of “lining students up as scapegoats”. …

From the end of September, ministers have said people will need proof of full vaccination to attend nightclubs and other crowded venues in England. 

The full details of the plan are yet to be seen but an NHS Covid Pass – which you can obtain electronically or as a letter – will be used as proof.

Worth reading in full.

Pop-Up Vaccine Clinics Opening at Festivals to Persuade Young Brits to Get ‘Jabbed’

Music festivals, football stadiums and circuses are among the venues encouraging attendees to get a Covid vaccine at pop-up clinics in an attempt to combat lower vaccination rates among the young. BBC News has the story.

Spectators and passers-by at the Circus Extreme in Halifax were being offered a jab outside a tent of jugglers, acrobats and stunt performers.

John Haze, Circus Director, said: “It may not be the normal thing you expect to see when you enter the Circus Extreme Big Top, but we are really proud to be supporting the NHS Covid vaccination programme.

“We had no hesitation in letting the NHS host a walk-in clinic in the tent so that more people can get their jab at a convenient time, and we hope lots [of] people will take up this offer.”

Two festivals in London hosting walk-in clinics include a bus parked at the Summer of Love Festival in Holland Park and a four-day vaccine event with live music in Poplar. 

Burnley FC in Lancashire and the Goodwood Racecourse in West Sussex, which is hosting the Stewards Cup, were among other venues being used in the vaccine push with football fans being offered Pfizer doses.

GP Dr Nikki Kanani, Deputy Lead for NHS England’s vaccination programme, said more than 2,000 sites had already taken part, including Thorpe Park in Surrey. …

She said more than 70 million doses had been delivered with “87% of adults having had at least one dose, and seven in 10 now fully-vaccinated”.

But the latest figures show nearly a third of young adults aged 18 to 29 in the country have still not had one jab.

Judging from the poor response to the offer of free food alongside a ‘jab’ by a vaccine clinic at an East London festival this weekend, this form of “coaxing” isn’t working very well. “Vegan burgers, mac ’n cheese and Chinese dumplings were enough to tempt [one unvaccinated festival-goer], but others who are unvaccinated were not taking the bait,” the Sun reports.

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

Quarter of Older Adults in U.K. Less Fit and in More Pain After Lockdown

The physical and mental health of millions of older Brits has deteriorated over the past year of lockdowns, with more than a quarter saying they can no longer walk as far as they used to and almost a fifth feeling less confident leaving the house alone, according to new research.

The Charity Director of Age U.K. says that encouraging older people to remain in their homes, away from their families and from the wider community, has left “deep physical and emotional scars“. The Glasgow Times has the story.

People reported being less steady on their feet, struggling to manage the stairs and feeling less independent since the start of the crisis, according to polling for Age U.K.

Some 27% of adults aged 60 and over said they could no longer walk as far, while 25% said they were in more pain.

It also found evidence of accelerated cognitive decline, with more than a fifth (22%) of respondents saying they were finding it harder to remember things.

The charity fears the adverse effects may prove long-lasting and in some cases be irreversible, heaping pressure on NHS and social care services over the coming years.

Some 1,487 people aged 60 and over in the U.K. were polled by Kantar Polling between January 28th and February 11th, during the third national lockdown.

Extrapolated to the U.K. population, the findings suggest that millions of older people have seen their health decline following multiple lockdowns, social distancing measures, the loss of routines and support and limited access to services.

The charity also found that some people living with a mental health condition saw their symptoms exacerbated, while others were feeling depressed or anxious for the first time.

More than a third (36%) of respondents said they were feeling more anxious since the start of the pandemic, and 43% said they were less motivated to do the things they enjoy. …

People also gave more detail about their struggles through an online survey, which received 14,840 responses.

They spoke of crying daily due to loneliness, feeling like a prisoner and having had their confidence and purpose “sapped”.

Caroline Abrahams, Age U.K.’s Charity Director, said it may take some time for older people to rebuild their confidence, urging people to “keep supporting the older people in your lives”.

She said: “Our research found that earlier this year, immobility, deconditioning, loneliness, and an inability to grieve as normal, were leaving deep physical and emotional scars on a significant proportion of our older population.”

Worth reading in full.

A Question for Chris Whitty

I haven’t watched any of the Government’s COVID-19 press briefings since the early weeks of the pandemic. The scientific parts seemed to be mostly concerned with projections from rather dubious epidemiological models, and the political parts were even less informative.

As I understand it, the Q&A that follows whatever Boris and the boffins have said often involves journalists demanding to know why there aren’t more restrictions in place (more rules, more limits, more penalties).

Ironically, these questions tend to come from people who a few months before the pandemic might have compared Boris Johnson’s Government to certain mid-20th century political movements that we now associate with authoritarianism.

What questions would I ask Boris and the boffins? There are many I’d like to raise, including: “Why hasn’t the government published a cost-benefit analysis of lockdown?” Such analyses are routine in policy-making, and you’d expect that something as far-reaching as a national lockdown would justify one.

Another query I’d like to make is: “What specific evidence led the government to change its advice on masks?” Back on 4th March 2020, Chris Whitty told Sky News that “wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all”. And as late as 3rd April, Jonathan Van Tam said “there is no evidence that general wearing of face masks… affects the spread of the disease”.

However, the question I’d most like to ask – of Chris Whitty in particular – is as follows.

Professor Whitty, on 5th March 2020, you told the Health and Social Care Committee that “we will get 50% of all the cases over a three-week period and 95% of the cases over a nine-week period”. You said that we are “very keen” to “minimise economic and social disruption”, and mentioned that “one of the best things we can do” is “isolate older people from the virus”.  

This all sounds rather similar to the Great Barrington Declaration. Why then, in an interview with The BMJ on November 4th, did you describe that document as “wrong scientifically, practically, and probably ethically as well”? You said that the Great Barrington Declaration is “really a pretty minority view”, but it appears to have been your view as recently as eight months earlier.

As I’m sure you’re aware, there is a document titled “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011”, which was published by the Department of Health. It says that attempting to stop the spread of a new pandemic influenza “would be a waste of public health resources and capacity”.

And as late as 2019, the World Health Organisation published a report titled “Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza”. This document classifies “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended in any circumstances”.

Given that the WHO, the Department of Health and you – as recently as March 2020 – have rejected suppression as a strategy for dealing with respiratory pandemics, why did you describe the alternative focused protection strategy as “wrong scientifically”? Thank you for listening, and I look forward to your answer.

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