Coronavirus Laws May Be Scrapped in Weeks

The Government is drawing up plans to repeal emergency coronavirus laws including the legal requirement to self-isolate when testing positive for COVID-19. However, before you get too excited, this would be replaced by official guidance which encourages people to behave in certain ways. This means while the legal penalty may be gone, the tyranny of the risk-averse insurance companies, trade unions and public officials may well remain. Also, to further dampen the excitement, it won’t happen for weeks or even months, even though the virus is clearly no longer causing a public health crisis. And in the meantime the mask mandate is set to stay beyond January 26th. The Telegraph has the story.

The Telegraph understands Boris Johnson wants to permanently repeal emergency coronavirus laws which have governed how the public can live for almost two years.

Instead, official guidance would remain in place which encourages people to behave in certain ways, but would not result in fines or legal punishment if ignored.

The plans will be worked up over the coming weeks, with an announcement being penned in as early as the spring – although no final decisions have been taken.

It would also mean there would be no legal requirement to isolate after contact with someone who has Covid or to wear face masks in certain settings.

A senior Government source told the Telegraph: “Lots of legal requirements were put in place during the pandemic. As we come into a stage where things are more manageable and those legal restrictions may no longer be necessary, we will look to remove them promptly from the statute book. The Prime Minister is obviously determined to get back to normal as soon as we can.”

The move comes as hope grows that this winter’s Covid surge triggered by the emergence of the Omicron variant is easing, with daily case numbers continuing to fall. …

Downing Street is looking at three different drives to ease pandemic restrictions, some short-term and some long-term.

The so-called Plan B restrictions are expected to be largely lifted on January 26th, the review date that the Prime Minister set when he imposed them last month.

That means that the legal requirement for Covid passports – proof of full vaccination or a negative test – to be shown before entering large crowd venues is set to be dropped.

So too is guidance that urges people to work from home. However, a requirement to wear face masks on public transport, in shops and in other settings is likely to stay beyond January 26th.

A second drive is easing restrictions on travel. The need to take a lateral flow test on the second day after arriving into the U.K. is expected to drop.

A third drive is longer-term changes, with Government ministers believing the U.K. will move out of the pandemic and into a phase where Covid continues circulating but less frequently.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet has made clear that an approach of “learning to live with Covid” must be adopted, given scientists say the virus will never disappear completely.

Supporters of the move compare it to the approach for other viruses – such as flu – in which people are encouraged to behave a certain way but not legally compelled to do so.

Depressingly, however glacial and disappointing the Government’s plans are, they will almost certainly be better than Labour’s.

Self-Isolation Cut By One Day

Self-isolation is to be cut to five days in England, as Ministers start to relax Covid rules at the glacial pace we’ve all become accustomed to these past two years. The Telegraph has the story.

Under the new rules, from Monday those isolating after testing positive for Covid, or showing symptoms of it, will be freed from the start of their sixth day, as long as they have a negative lateral flow result that day, and the day before. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced the latest change in the House of Commons today, after weeks of business leaders calling for quarantine periods to be reduced, amid warnings they were crippling major sectors of the economy. 

He said data from the U.K. Health Security Agency shows that around two thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five

“We’ve made the decision to reduce the minimum self isolation to five full days in England, from Monday, people can test twice before they go, leaving isolation at the start of day six.”

The new system is similar to that of the United States, where isolation lasts five full days – allowing exit at the start of day six.

Until now, the first point of exit has been day seven, which also depends on two days of negative tests.

The Government still hasn’t addressed, though, why it is still requiring isolation periods at all, given that there is clearly no medical emergency anymore and there are only excess deaths at present for reasons other than Covid.

U.S. Government Drops Requirement to Test at End of Self-Isolation Because PCR Tests Produce So Many False Positives

The U.S. CDC has finally acknowledged that PCR tests produce false or cold positives following infection and dropped the requirement to be tested at the end of self-isolation, bringing American practice in line with the U.K.’s. ABC News has the story.

The newly updated CDC guidelines don’t require testing at the end of isolation because PCR tests can stay positive for up to 12 weeks, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told “Good Morning America” Wednesday.

“So we would have people in isolation for a very long time if we were relying on PCRs,” Walensky said.

What’s baffling is that this is only now being acknowledged, when it has been a known issue since the beginning of the pandemic. How many people have had to remain isolated as PCRs have kept coming back positive? How much has this unnecessary isolation cost them and the wider economy?

This is tantamount to an admission by the CDC of gross incompetence, as the agency doesn’t even claim anything has changed or been newly discovered. Its experts either knew this information previously and didn’t act on it or didn’t know and have only just come across it even though it’s been highlighted as an issue for over 18 months. Either way, it is incompetence.

Cut Self-Isolation Period to Save NHS, Boris is Urged

The Prime Minister is facing pressure to stave off an NHS staffing crisis by reducing the coronavirus self-isolation period to five days. The Times has more.

Health service chiefs warned that staff absences caused by the requirement to isolate for seven days after a positive test risked causing a bigger problem than the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospitals.

Scientists, health professionals, hospitality chiefs and Conservative MPs have urged the government to copy the US, which has cut the self-isolation period to five days. Last week Johnson’s government reduced it from ten to seven days.

Up to 800,000 people are estimated to be in isolation, causing widespread disruption to public services from bin collections to rail services and to businesses across the country.

The number of people going into isolation is growing, with another daily record of 117,093 cases in England yesterday. Wales recorded 12,378 new infections, adding up to a new UK daily record of 129,471, even though Scotland and Northern Ireland were yet to report their figures.

There are fears that schools will face a chaotic start to term next week if infection rates continue to rise.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the isolation period in Britain would have to be cut further. He said Covid would become “effectively just another cause of the common cold”, telling the BBC: “We’re going to have to let people who are positive go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold.

“I think the whole issue of how long are we going to be able to allow people to self-isolate if they’re positive is going to have to be discussed fairly soon, because I think this is a disease that’s not going away.”

Worth reading in full.

South Africa’s ‘SAGE’ Tells Government: End Contact Tracing and Self-Isolation for Covid Because It’s Not Worth It

South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid, a similar body to SAGE, has written to Health Minister Joe Phaahla recommending that all contact tracing and self-isolation of contacts for Covid be stopped because it is unnecessary and ineffective. South Africa is the original epicentre of the Omicron outbreak so this advice should be a strong signal to Boris Johnson and the rest of the world that the panic about Omicron is unwarranted.

The Committee’s experts write:

We propose that quarantining be discontinued with immediate effect for contacts of cases of Covid. This applies equally to vaccinated and non-vaccinated contacts. No testing for Covid is required irrespective of the exposure risk, unless the contact becomes symptomatic. We further propose that contact tracing be stopped.

They explain:

Crucially, it appears that efforts to eliminate and/or contain the virus are not likely to be successful. Therefore, it is critical that the role of containment efforts like quarantine and contact tracing is re-evaluated.

They add:

The inability of the current testing strategy to identify the bulk of cases is illustrated by the high SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity rates seen across multiple provinces in serosurveys, implying that only a fraction of cases (perhaps one in 10, or even less) are ever diagnosed.

It stands to reason that if the vast majority of cases are not diagnosed, then the vast majority of case contacts are also not diagnosed. This means that quarantining and contact tracing are of negligible public health benefit in the South African setting.

The Daily Sceptic has been sent a copy of the memo, which is reproduced in full below.

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.

Unvaccinated Close Contacts Must Self-Isolate Under New Rules, Which The Double Jabbed Can Avoid If They Test Negative

Under new rules, which will be implemented by the Government this Tuesday, double vaccinated close contacts of Covid cases will not have to self-isolate if they receive a negative test – an option which isn’t open to the unvaccinated. In addition, those who are double jabbed but initially test negative will be recommended to take daily lateral flow tests for the next seven consecutive days. BBC News has the story.

Those who test positive, develop symptoms, or are unvaccinated should self-isolate for 10 days.

But people will not need to isolate if the tests remain negative and they have had at least two vaccine doses.

It means people in close contact with suspected or confirmed Omicron variant cases no longer always need to isolate.

NHS lateral flow tests – which are available in boxes of seven – are free from pharmacies or via online order.

The Government said the change in guidance “aims to reduce pressures on people’s everyday lives by replacing the requirement for Omicron contacts to isolate for 10 days”.

Anyone who has a positive result from a rapid test should take a confirmatory PCR test to verify the result, as well as continue to self-isolate.

They do not need to continue taking rapid tests during the isolation period.

If the PCR result comes back negative, contacts can leave self-isolation but should continue to take rapid lateral flow tests for the remainder of the seven days.

This change follows a significant rise in Omicron cases across the U.K. with the new variant expected to become the dominant strain by mid-December.

The latest Omicron case numbers on Sunday show 1,239 new daily cases, bringing the total number of Omicron cases in the UK to 3,137 – although the real number is estimated to be much higher.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are taking this proportionate and more practical measure to limit the impact on people’s day-to-day lives while helping to reduce the spread of Omicron.”

The Government says this new advice will be in guidance rather than law initially, but this will be kept under review.

Worth reading in full.

Nearly a Third of Arrivals between March and May Suspected of Having Broken Quarantine Rules

Close to a third of people arriving in England and Northern Ireland between the months March and May are believed to have broken quarantine rules, but the Government can’t say exactly how many cases have been proved. BBC News has the story.

More than 300,000 cases were passed to investigators between March and May, according to figures seen by the BBC.

The Government was not able to say how many of these were found to have broken the rules or could not be traced. 

The Home Office has said it aims to pay home visits to all travellers suspected of not following the rules. …

From March 17th to May 31st more than a million people arrived in England and Northern Ireland from ‘Amber List’ countries. 

Figures for this period obtained under Freedom of Information laws show a total of 301,076 cases were referred to investigators for checks on whether they were self-isolating.

During this time, the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus – first detected in India – was spreading rapidly through the country.

Call handlers employed by the Department of Health and Social Care were tasked with contacting arrivals to check they were obeying the self-isolation and testing rules. 

Cases where the contact ended the call, refused to co-operate, indicated they would break the quarantine or testing rules, or could not be contacted after three attempts were referred to investigators at the Border Force Criminal Justice Unit and the police. 

Officers would then attempt to visit the contact at home to check they were following the rules. 

After April 26th, the Home Office hired private contractor Mitie to carry out home visits to international travellers required to isolate, from contacts supplied by NHS Test and Trace.

“We visit over 99% of the cases referred to this service by NHS Test and Trace,” a Government spokesman said. …

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, said the quarantine system “very much relied on the honesty of people to do the right thing, rather than any type of meaningful enforcement”.

Worth reading in full.

Fewer Cars Produced Last Month by British Factories Than in Any July Since 1956

Demand for new cars may not have fallen too far over the past year of lockdowns, but staff absences caused by the ‘pingdemic’ and problems in supply chains means car manufacturers have recently been struggling to keep up. In July this year, the U.K. car industry produced fewer cars than in any other July since 1956. The Guardian has the story.

U.K. carmakers made 53,400 vehicles in July, a 37.6% drop when compared with the same month in 2020, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the industry’s lobby group. …

Manufacturers around the world have struggled to keep producing because of problems in their supply chains, most notably in the months-long delays to computer chips, or semiconductors, that are used to control everything from windscreen wipers to electric car batteries within the car.

Some analysts expect the chip shortages to last until next year, holding back the recovery of the car industry.

U.K. production over the course of 2021 is up by 18% compared with the first seven months of 2020, when car factories were shut for long periods during the first national lockdowns. Yet at 552,400 units, it is 29% below the 774,800 it reached over the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.

No large carmaker has been spared, and buyers are being forced to wait months for some new cars. German carmaker Volkswagen last week warned that it may have to scale back production further, after Japanese rival Toyota said that it would cut output by 40% in September.

Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan, the two largest manufacturers in the U.K., have both previously been forced to cut production because of shortages.

During June and July manufacturers also had to contend with increased levels of employee absences, as more and more workers were ‘pinged’ by their NHS apps when they had come into contact with people who later tested positive for coronavirus. …

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s Chief Executive, said U.K. carmakers still faced “extremely tough conditions”.

“While the impact of the ‘pingdemic’ will lessen as self-isolation rules change, the worldwide shortage of semiconductors shows little sign of abating,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

Students Need Help Addressing “Socialisation Issues” Following More Than a Year of Lockdowns, Says University Official

Having been cooped up in their bedrooms for much of the past 18 months, teenagers who are about to begin university need help addressing “socialisation issues”, according to an English university official. Universities will also have to give catch-up sessions to help make up for the amount of learning lost during school closures. The i has the story.

Last month, the London School of Economics and the University of Exeter estimated that pupils lost nearly a third of their learning time between March 2020 and April 2021 because of school closures and coronavirus disruption.  

With many schools unable to complete the full A-level curriculum, students were only assessed this summer on the topics they had covered. 

To make sure students will be able to complete their undergraduate courses, universities are therefore having to step in to bridge the learning gaps. 

The elite Russell Group of universities has teamed up with the Open University to launch ‘Jumpstart University’ – a free resource designed to help students settle into university. 

The platform – which is open to students in all universities – has subject-specific courses, and modules on study skills, student life, wellbeing and mental health. …

An official working for a university in the South of England told i that they were expecting to deliver “remedial work with a lot of students”.

“They cannot help but have had some of their intellectual and other development hindered by being at home for two years at such a critical part of their education. 

“We certainly noticed at the start of last year, some students had problems typical entrants didn’t have.” 

With the 2021 cohort experiencing disruption over two school years, catch-up would have to be provided “across the whole year” to make up for the amount of learning lost, they said. 

The source said universities would have to address “socialisation issues” as well as academic study. “If you’re locked away from age 16 to 18… if we’re back to normal by October, you’ve gone from a period of being locked down for almost two years, to something like as much freedom as you’re ever likely to get.” …

With student unions planning traditional freshers’ week activities for the first time since 2019, there are also concerns some students may over-indulge after two school years in which socialising was strictly limited.

Worth reading in full.