Social distancing

Rotherham School Defying Government With Strict Covid Rules

Children at the Wales high school in Rotherham can only dream of returning to normal school life, with mask-wearing outside of the classroom and a ban on different year groups mixing continuing into the future. “We’ve got to remember that Covid is still here,” says Headteacher Pepe Di’Iasio. The Guardian has the story.

Rotherham… is currently one of the most infected areas in England and Di’Iasio is worried that the cases will increase with the beginning of the academic year, as university students return to Sheffield. “There is going to be an influx of people to the area that has one of the highest rates in South Yorkshire,” he said. “And so we wanted to establish some routines that can be maintained for the next three or four weeks. If things go well, we will scale those routines back rather than bring new routines in.”

Di’Iasio said that the stricter measures have been met with support from staff and parents, but he thinks it will be a learning curve for the pupils, especially those arriving from primary schools who did not have to wear masks before. “When students have to have a mask on all the time it is an easy rule to maintain, whereas now they have to remember to put their mask on when they leave the classroom,” he said. …

“With the face masks during lessons it was harder to learn the names or tell who is misbehaving. Many pupils would be agitated towards the end of the class,” said Grace Stansfield, a languages teacher at the school. “And especially when teaching languages, it is useful for the children to see you speak.” Like other staff members, Stansfield hopes that the school’s current measures will prevent a return to the stricter regime from last year.

The Guardian throws its weight behind the enforcement of strict measures at the school by quoting from a number of students who seem to be happy to carry on wearing face masks.

“The masks can be irritating, but they are there for protection,” said Alistair Daoud, a year 12 pupil who has lost his grandmother due to the virus. “I would rather wear a face mask than lose 12 days of valuable learning time for isolation.” However, Alistair is glad that he will only have to wear a mask outside the classroom, as he found it distracting during lessons. Many of his teachers agree with him.

Worth reading in full.

Victoria Playgrounds Were Closed to Stop Parents Meeting, Not to Stop Covid Spreading Among Children

Much has been written on the damage of playground closures on young children during lockdowns. To add insult to injury, a Victoria health official has admitted that playgrounds in the state weren’t closed because children were spreading Covid – for which there was (and still is) no evidence – but to stop parents from being able to meet. The Mail Australia has the story.

Victorian children who have spent months living in fear of becoming infected at their local playground have finally been told there was no real evidence they were going to catch Covid playing on the swings. 

In a stunning admission sure to enrage Melbourne families, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton admitted  on Wednesday the parks were banned for the last month to get at parents. 

It is not the first time Professor Sutton has taped-up Victorian playgrounds because of their supposed threat to children. 

Last year he closed them for months during Victoria’s second deadly wave, which killed more than 800 after leaking out of his own bungled hotel quarantine scheme. 

On Wednesday, the Professor told long suffering Melbourne parents the actual reason he closed playgrounds in the first place was because of them. 

“My advice on playgrounds originally was because we saw that people were using it as a loophole to have de facto meetings across households, neighbourhoods, families,” he said. 

“In allowing playgrounds to open again, absolutely with the wellbeing and considerations of kids in mind, but we’re going to have QR codes as a mandated requirement.”

Melbourne parents had pleaded with Premier Daniel Andrews to introduce such a scheme back on August 16th, when he announced for the second time the only avenue of enjoyment many kids had would be banned. 

Their calls had fallen on deaf ears at the time as Professor Sutton claimed he was acting on evidence that playgrounds were a serious transmission risk to children who played at them. 

“We are investigating a potential transmission in a playground,” he claimed.

“It is not definitive and maybe we will not be able to make it definitive but it looks like there has been transmission in a playground.”

He backed-up the cruel plan with news the Delta variant of Covid had been spread between children walking home from school.  

The next day, playgrounds across Melbourne were taped off under threat of serious fines if children attempted to use them. 

On Wednesday, Professor Sutton said he would allow just one parent or guardian to attend playgrounds with their kids. 

He warned those parents not to even contemplate removing their masks while there. 

“You will not be removing your mask to eat or drink because that’s when transmission occurs, It’s been said across Australia this virus moves with people. If we don’t have those human interactions, we can’t infect others'”

When pressed again for any scrap of evidence to support transmission of the virus at playgrounds, Professor Sutton could provide none. 

“We have suspicions about transmission maybe occuring at playgrounds, but you don’t have to jump to specific instances to know how transmissions have occured [sic] indoors and outdoors between adults, between kids round the world,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

Assembling Covid Jigsaw Pieces Into a Complete Pandemic Picture

by Anthony Brookes

Abstract

  • A series of SARS-CoV-2 variants have arisen, many of which possessed a transient selective advantage that led to a wave of infection that peaked some three-to-four months later. Several such variants have spread globally, though different successful variants have arisen simultaneously in a number of countries. The result is a three-to-four month wave pattern per country, which is also apparent globally.
  • Seasonality affects variant transmissibility. Colder seasons accelerate the growth and increase the size of waves, but the continually changing environment may also differentially affect the relative transmissibility of competing variants (i.e., negatively as well as positively), thereby helping to terminate previously dominant variants and promote the growth of new ones. 
  • Overall there is a minimal positive impact from quarantine policy, isolation requirements, Test and Trace regimes, social distancing, masking or other non-pharmaceutical interventions. Initially, these were the only tools in the tool-box of interventionist politicians and scientists. At best they slightly delayed the inevitable, but they also caused considerable collateral harms.  
  • Immunity created by SARS-CoV-2 infection, layered on top of pre-existing immunity due to cross-immunity to other coronaviruses, provides good protection against infection, severe disease/death, and being infectious. Immunity created by vaccination also helps protect against serious disease and death, but does little or nothing to provide protection against infection or being infectious (which completely negates the case for vaccine ID cards). 
  • Population immunity stems mainly from natural infections, with vaccines adding only slightly to this (and only in recent months). Population immunity is created by societal waves of infection and is somewhat variant-specific. An emerging new variant is able to infect (or re-infect) some fraction of individuals and this serves to top up and broaden the scope of our population immunity to also protect against the new variant. 
  • This empirical and data-driven understanding of the pandemic allows us to make predictions. Such predictions don’t look good for some of the U.K.’s new Green List countries. But in these and all other places the ongoing arms-race between viral mutations and growing human immunity will always eventually be won by the human immune system. The virus then becomes a low-level endemic pathogen in equilibrium with its human host species. If this were not the case all humans would have been wiped out by viruses eons ago!

For the past one and a half years, experts and amateurs alike have been trying to understand the Covid pandemic, hoping to be able to defend against it and predict how it will develop and end. A multitude of uncertainties has led to an environment of fear, and regrettably, that fear has been exaggerated and employed to justify policies that may or may not have been effective but were uncomfortably authoritarian. Perhaps it had to be this way, given that no one had a working crystal ball (not least the computer modellers) and yet people at all levels needed to feel they had some degree of control over the situation. The sad truth, however, is that our leaders, scientists and the public have basically been stumbling through the Covid quagmire, challenged by complexities of subjective data interpretation, imperfect modelling, political machinations, hidden agendas and unhelpful human egos.

Here, I attempt to pull together an empirical and rational summary of the underlying driving forces behind the whole pandemic. This is aided by the fact that modern genetic technologies have enabled extensive virus testing and variant detection, while vaccines and lockdowns have been applied to very different degrees in different countries thereby giving us many alternatives scenarios and empirical observations for direct comparison. From this, it becomes increasingly clear which factors did and did not truly drive the dynamics of the pandemic.

A central conclusion has to be that despite all our efforts, this SARS-Cov-2 virus has done what it was always determined to do. It spread across populations via waves of infection, and like ripples of water from a dropped stone these waves have been remarkably evenly spaced (by three-to-four months). This repeating pattern of rises and falls in virus prevalence has remained sufficiently synchronised across the planet to be apparent in the global death chart.

To make sense of this picture we need to consider the box of jigsaw pieces from which it can be constructed – that is, the range of factors that are driving (alone or in combination) the ability of the virus to spread well for a while before then losing that ability (operationally even if not innately), with uncanny regularity.

First up has to be the ‘virus variant’ piece of the puzzle. Time and time again we have seen new variants emerge which progressively displaced the previously dominant variant(s). As soon the ‘Wuhan’ variant began spreading around the globe, the forces of mutation and natural selection created an array of more transmissible strains that quickly supplanted the original strain. Many countries saw numerous variants competing with each other to achieve dominance, and several of these variants spread between countries. But within less than six months this initial ‘battle of the variants’ settled down to a far smaller number of the most transmissible variants which started to spread and dominate worldwide. Obvious examples include the Spanish variant (20A.EU1) of last summer/autumn, followed and displaced in many places by the U.K. variant (Alpha) just three-to-four months later over the autumn/winter/spring. And now three-to-four months after that, the Indian variant (Delta) has been establishing itself as the major variant almost everywhere. It is thus apparent that waves are being driven by variants that have some selective advantage(s), but critically we need to understand what the mechanism is that creates this advantage.

One big clue comes from the fact that each variant wave, regardless of location, continues to respect the noted three-to-four-month time period. Theoretically, replacement sweeps could entail variants that possess no or very little transmissibility advantage over other/previous variants. However, given the way some variants have been seen to spread between countries and then replace whatever previously dominant variant(s) existed in those other places, we can conclude that increased variant transmissibility is a large puzzle piece in the overall Covid picture. But saying that some variants have a significant transmission advantage at certain time periods and settings does not mean that this advantage is an inherent or a permanent property of that variant. This is because transmissibility depends on many other pieces of the puzzle.

One such additional puzzle piece is seasonality. Seasons change significantly over the timeframe of a few months, which is compatible with the rate of change for Covid waves. This makes seasonality a good candidate as a second large section of the Covid picture. Seasonality is widely accepted to have helped truncate the first U.K. wave in spring 2020, as the weather warmed up from mid-March. It is also notable that variants that arrive in a country during winter lead to new wave peaks in a far shorter time frame than they do in summer. But variant-driven waves occur in all the seasons, including in warmer periods (e.g. the Delta variant arose in India and spread to many other summer localities). So the seasonality puzzle piece might partly work by differentially changing the effective transmissibility of each variant. Specifically, as the seasons change, an initially dominant variant might find itself no longer especially compatible with the altered environmental conditions (and/or the associated changes in human behaviours). Conversely, one of the myriad background variants being repeatedly re-created by random mutation (or recently imported) might instead now be most suited to the new seasonal conditions. This new variant would then inevitably embark on a rapid replacement sweep. This rather obvious model of how evolutionary selection must work in a changing environment also fits perfectly with the observation that the secondary attack rate (SAR) of a new variant is initially higher (~15% according to PHE) but then reduces over a few months (<10%), even though the genome sequence of that variant is constant.

Several additional factors could contribute to making a dominant, highly transmissible variant less transmissible and less prevalent. Lockdown supporters would undoubtedly rummage through the box of Covid jigsaw pieces for anything having the appearance of a quarantine policy, an isolation requirement, a Test and Trace regime, a masked face, or some social distancing behaviour. Objective evidence indicates that such Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention (NPI) measures may together have had a marginal net effect on the rate of viral transmission, but overall they completely failed to halt the progress of the pandemic (see here, here and here). Instead, by slightly reducing the ease with which infections occur, they simply slowed the average rate at which people became infected (e.g. even a 50% reduced exposure would mean it simply takes four instead of two visits to a crowded environment to become infected). We know they did something because the incidence of all other respiratory viruses has reduced dramatically over the course of the pandemic wherever such measures were applied (even in Australia, where Covid is all but absent). Most respiratory viruses have Ro values of less than two, and so suppression measures need only be mildly potent to push these Rt values below one. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 has a far greater Ro (typically estimated as three-to-four, or even more) and so those same suppression measures will not so easily push the covid virus Rt below one. Furthermore, people instinctively act more defensively when they know the virus is spreading rapidly, and so there may be very little added benefit of lockdown-related measures over just letting people respond naturally. This would then explain why there is no obvious impact of lockdowns in any curves of virus prevalence over time, why studies are yet to convincingly demonstrate any significant beneficial effect of lockdowns or masking, why virus prevalence began falling in the U.K. before the November 2020 and before the January 2021 lockdowns, and why we witnessed nothing whatsoever of the pessimistically-predicted massive ‘Exit Wave’ after the U.K.’s ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19th, 2021. So perhaps we allow NPI jigsaw pieces to have a token role as supporting edge pieces in the jigsaw, so long as we never overlook the enormous collateral damage they also impose (past, present and future).

That leaves just one final type of jigsaw piece – population immunity. Building on pre-existing cross-immunity to other coronaviruses, immunity due to SARS-CoV-2 infection is superior to immunity generated by vaccination in that it defends against a broader range of variants and engenders good protection against infection, illness and infectiousness. By contrast, vaccines do little to stop a vaccinated individual from becoming infected or being infectious (see here and here) and whatever small benefit they may provide in terms of reducing transmissibility will merely delay the occurrence of infections, as explained above for NPIs. Vaccines are, thankfully, very good at reducing serious illness, hospitalisation and death, and so on that basis they are only well merited for use in old and vulnerable individuals. It is critical that the very significant limitations of vaccines regarding infection and transmission control are now widely advertised and understood, as this makes the idea of vaccine ID cards completely nonsensical in scientific terms – as well as highly discriminatory and illiberal. Vaccine safety profiles are an additional consideration.

Nevertheless, to some degree, the combined effect of vaccines and natural infection generates our overall level of population immunity, and this must be playing some role in terminating each variant wave every three-to-four months. Substantial population immunity in the U.K. was achieved by the initial Covid waves of spring 2020, as evidenced by its impact on the development of second waves later that year. The peaking of each Covid wave in all places has little or nothing to do with lockdown measures (as explained above). It also cannot have much to do with immunity generated purely by vaccination, given that the vaccinated individuals still catch and pass on the virus, and that many waves ended in 2020 before vaccination campaigns got underway. This leaves only population immunity as an explanation, working in concert with the seasonality effects described above. 

To fully understand the role of herd immunity in wave termination, one must recognise that while the level of population immunity achieved at any stage may be sufficient to suppress the spread of a dominant variant (whose SAR may also be falling due to seasonality effects), it may not be sufficient to restrain the next emerging variant (whose SAR would be temporarily high owing to partial immune evasion or seasonal advantage). The new variant may also arise and spread in somewhat different sub-sections of society (age, ethnicity, geography, etc.) than did the previously dominant variant. Thus, herd immunity would be expected to have to be topped up and broadened by a wave of further infections and re-infections in society, in order to bring each subsequent wave to an end. This seems to be what is happening, with each sequential wave being generally smaller and ending naturally despite fewer suppression measures being enforced as populations tire of having their lives and freedoms excessively restricted. This also fits with the fact that over 95% of U.K. adults and 80% of 16-24 year-olds now have detectable Covid antibodies, much of which comes from natural infection. Others will be immune without detectable levels of antibodies, and from prior infections and cross-coronavirus immunity. 

So overall we can be pretty sure that population immunity is now contributing to (and possibly directly causing) the ending of each wave of Covid infections. It certainly has lowered the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) down to or below that of influenza for society as a whole, meaning that the vaccination of the young cannot now be medically or ethically justified (especially given the substantial known and unknown risks imposed by these novel genetic technology vaccines). A scientific consensus on herd immunity will presumably begin to emerge, as the data and jigsaw pieces all continue to fall into place. Indeed, even lockdown champion Professor Neil Ferguson recently confirmed that because we have now released all lockdown measures in the U.K., this latest wave “will peak because herd immunity has been reached”. And it has indeed now peaked!

Finally, with an essentially complete Covid jigsaw picture now assembled using an empirical data-driven approach, we can offer up some testable predictions. The first is that current Delta waves unfolding in different countries will reach natural peaks around three-to-four months after this variant arrived in each location. For example, considering countries recently added to the U.K.’s Green List, we would expect: Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania (where Delta arrived little more than one month ago) will see their nascent summer waves grow further and peak in about two months’ time; Latvia (where Delta has only just arrived) will face a multi-month wave starting very soon; and Austria, Germany and Norway (where Delta has already been present for several months) will likely see their summer waves peak around the end of August. NPIs will do little to change this, and neither will vaccines (see Israel for evidence of this).

The really big question, however, is whether or not Delta is the last major variant we will all have to deal with. SARS-CoV-2 and the human immune system are basically in an arms race. Population immunity increases and targets the latest variant, causing new variants with different immunological profiles and transmission advantages to rise in abundance, which in turn further strengthens and broadens our population immunity. Vaccines merely help accelerate this arms race. But the end of the war is always the same – the virus runs out of strategies a long time before the highly adaptable immune system runs out of defences. The virus then gives up and resigns itself to becoming a low-level endemic pathogen in equilibrium with its human host species. If this were not the case all humans would have been wiped out by viruses eons ago! What we do not know is whether Delta is that last throw of the dice for Covid, or whether one or a few more guises of troublesome variants will yet come along. If they do, from what we now know we should probably place more trust in our immune system than we have in previous waves. And in either case, we can be very sure we are far closer to a permanent and natural end of this pandemic than we are to its beginning.

Anthony Brookes is a Professor of Genomics and Health Data Science at the University of Leicester.

Universities to Continue Holding Online Lectures and Will Tell Students to Wear Face Masks and to Follow Social Distancing

Many students hoping to begin a normal university term this autumn will be disappointed to find that, while the Covid figures give cause for restrictions to be abandoned, very little will actually change from last year.

Almost all of the leading Russel Group universities have indicated that a proportion of their teaching will continue to be held online while students will still be expected to wear face masks on campuses and to continue social distancing. Not to mention the impending introduction of vaccine passports. The Sunday Times has the story.

The universities’ decision coincides with a clear fall in Covid cases. Even normally cautious scientists, such as Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, said that lockdowns and other restrictive measures were unlikely to be needed again.

Of the leading 24 Russell Group universities, 20 said that a proportion of undergraduate teaching will continue to be held online.

Lord Baker of Dorking, the former Conservative Education Secretary, said the universities stance was “outrageous”, and that they must return to normal as a matter of urgency this autumn. “Pubs, cinemas, theatres and football matches have all opened without restrictions,” he said. “What’s different about universities?”

University College London, the London School of Economics, Imperial College, Cardiff and Leeds all said that lectures would continue to be held online.

Warwick, Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh said they would offer “blended learning” – a mix of online and face-to-face teaching for classes, seminars and lectures – but were unable to guarantee how much in-person teaching students would receive. Nottingham said it hoped to restart full face-to-face teaching next year, “subject to the course of the pandemic”.

Demands that free masks and free PCR tests be handed out to students and used are being led by the Universities and Colleges Union, which is also demanding social distancing on campus and that students get double jabbed. …

Cambridge said most teaching would be in person, but that some would be online, with details to be confirmed. Oxford said it planned most learning in person “enhanced by online teaching” and said some exams would continue to be held online next year.

Students at Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool have already launched petitions calling for a full return to “normality in terms of teaching” and demanding fee refunds. At Manchester, where some of the strictest lockdowns took place, nearly 10,000 have signed. Many students are still waiting to hear details of how their degree courses are to be taught when term starts next month. …

The Department for Education said: “Education providers are able to shape their courses without restrictions on face-to-face provision.”

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.

Clubs and Bars Packed Out in First Friday Since Easing of Restrictions on July 19th

People should stick to the behaviours that have become “second nature” over the past year of lockdowns, such as mask-wearing in crowded spaces, according to the latest Government ad campaign. But if clubs and bars are anything to go by, many people would much rather return to normal.

Thousands of punters packed out venues across the country on Friday night – the beginning of the first weekend since ‘Freedom Day’. But with the introduction of vaccine passports in sight, it is unclear how long this will be allowed to last. The MailOnline has the story.

In major party hubs across the U.K., from London to Liverpool to Leeds, tens of thousands of young people descended on packed – and sold-out – events on Friday night.

Pictures taken at the stroke of midnight show huge queues forming outside venues in Newcastle, and hundreds of young people partying in Portsmouth.

Approximately 100,000 punters are expected to let their hair down across the country as partygoers dance the night away without major Covid restrictions for the first time in 16 months. …

Furious hospitality chiefs, MPs and civil liberties campaigners have slammed Boris Johnson’s plans to make vaccine passports compulsory in clubs come September.

And with fears growing of a staffing crisis in pubs, clubs and bars, sparked by the record-breaking number of alerts sent to workers thanks to the ‘pingdemic’, hospitality staff will not be exempt from self-isolation rules despite major concerns from industry leaders.

Venues are gearing up to host thousands inside packed – and largely sold-out – clubs, pubs and bars across the nation throughout the week after most legal restrictions on contact were eased on ‘Freedom Day’.

Several club nights advertised the long-awaited return of freedoms, such as face coverings no longer being required and social distancing measures shelved – with many setting lofty targets of pulling in more than 1,000 patrons a night.

On popular online ticket selling platforms such as Fatsoma and Eventbrite, there are over 200 clubbing events lined up in big party cities across the U.K., including London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. …

Using numbers shared on ticket sales websites, there could be close to 70,000 revellers enjoying club nights in major party hubs across the U.K. if the venues operate at full capacity and can attract punters in droves.

Worth reading in full.

Mandatory Face Masks and Advice to Work From Home Should Be Reintroduced to Keep Figures “Under Control”, Say SAGE Scientists

Just how final was the July 19th “terminus date“? If Government advisers in SAGE have anything to do with it, then not at all. Some have argued that a number of restrictions, such as mandatory face masks and advice to work from home, should be brought back at the beginning of August if hospitalisation levels increase to keep the figures “under control”. And it’s hard to imagine the Government standing firm against this pressure, given that both a minister and the Chief Medical Officer have said Brits will “of course” face a new lockdown if the NHS comes under further pressure. The i has the story.

Scientific advisers have warned that Boris Johnson should be prepared to act in the first week of August to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed by the end of that month.

Modelling has suggested that the central case for U.K. daily hospitalisations at the peak of the third wave – expected at the end of August – could be between 1,000 and 2,000, with deaths predicted to be between 100 and 200 per day. …

Last week Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said hospitalisations were doubling roughly every three weeks. 

This would suggest close to 1,500 admissions by the end of the first week of August, well above the trajectory for the central case scenario for the third wave. It would point to 3,000 at the peak by the end of that month, which would match the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

Insiders stressed there is a lot of uncertainty in the modelling, and the picture will change all the time depending on vaccine take-up and people’s behaviour after July 19th.

But if admissions are outstripping the central estimates, SAGE scientists have advised that some non-pharmaceutical measures should be reintroduced, such as mandatory face masks and advice to work from home, in early August, halfway between the July 19th unlocking and the predicted peak at the end of August.

This early intervention, they argue, would prevent the NHS becoming swamped in a late summer crisis. …

Last week, when the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for the fourth and final stage of the roadmap in England, he accepted that some restrictions may have to be reimposed if the situation worsened.

A source said what was needed was “less of an emergency brake and more of a gear change” in readiness to keep the third wave “under control”.

While mandatory face masks would be the “easiest” route to curb transmission, with minimal impact on the economy if it were kept to public transport and essential settings like supermarkets, this would have to be weighed against the “totemic” impact it would have on the public if they were ordered to cover up once again.

But others are arguing that the Government should be prepared to take tougher action.

Professor Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health for Blackburn, said: “Any return to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to control spread would have to focus on those that give the biggest suppression effect. 

“Essentially we might expect a reverse through the lockdown lifting steps with each ‘reverse step’ being introduced to match the scale of the surge in cases.”

Worth reading in full.

Man Calls for Introduction of Arm Bands That Show Wearer Has Weakened Immune System and Would Like to Keep Distance

It was revealed last week that the BBC is offering white lanyards to staff who are returning to the office but would like to continue ‘social distancing’. The Corporation has since exceeded itself by publishing an article highlighting “calls” for the introduction of wearable symbols showing that the wearer has a weakened immune system and would like to keep a distance.

There’s just one call mentioned in the article, actually, from a man who would like the system to become an “accepted way of people identifying themselves”.

Neil Collingwood, 64, from Leek, Staffordshire, said the ending of England’s lockdown rules on July 19th was not good news for people less able to fight off Covid. 

Even people with two vaccine jabs were not completely without risk, he said. 

He has made a prototype armband.

It “is bright orange and uses the universal symbol for first aid”, Mr Collingwood explained. 

He has it in mind for adults with weakened immune systems, or who are immuno-suppressed, and less able to battle infections naturally. …

“There are about half a million people in the U.K. whose immune systems are not effective,” he said. 

Recent studies suggest they do not receive as much protection from Covid vaccines as other people.

Mr Collingwood, who has chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a form of blood cancer, as well as type one diabetes, leaves the house only to exercise and occasionally take photographs as part of his work as a historian and author. …

“I’ve already had people who have refused to get out of my way,” he said, “with one person shouting ‘grow up it’s not going to kill you.'”

“Some of the people in my situation may be 10 or 12 years old, they will never – as things stand – be able to have normal lives,” said Mr Collingwood. 

“I probably don’t have all that long left, but I’m damned if I want to sacrifice what time I have got left because of stupidity, and the fact we are not being considered as a very important vulnerable group.”

Worth reading in full.

BBC Offers Lanyards to Staff Wanting to Continue Social Distancing When Returning to the Office

Having recognised that a sizeable proportion of its workforce does not want to return to normality just yet, the BBC is offering white lanyards to staff who are returning to the office but would like to continue ‘social distancing’. Employees are also being asked to disclose their vaccination status, but they have been told they will still be able to come to offices if they have not been vaccinated against Covid. The Telegraph has the story.

A memo sent to BBC employees on Friday by Bob Shennan, the BBC’s Managing Director, said the organisation “knows that some of you are anxious about returning to the office” in September.

“To address this, we are introducing a new white BBC lanyard to indicate that the wearer wishes to be given extra space. If you see a colleague wearing this lanyard then please respect their position,” he wrote.

He told staff the white lanyards would co-exist with their “sunflower” equivalents used by people with hidden disabilities. 

BBC staff were also informed that the number of people allowed to use office lifts simultaneously would rise as more employees return to the office. 

Some signs restricting the amount of toilet facilities that can be used would also be removed, Mr Shennan wrote.

A BBC spokesman said: “We’re taking some simple and effective steps for staff safety and to ensure that critical public services remain on air.”

The Government has endorsed homemade badges made by the “Distance Aware” initiative that read “please give me space” and encouraged people to print them out at home if they were worried about a lack of social distancing.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A reader has been in touch with details of an email sent to the staff at his local gym containing instructions from the Government to “set a good example” by continuing to wear face masks.

Just been to my Nuffield gym in Kingston, chatting to the trainer and he showed me the email to all staff from the CEO. Apparently, all the big health clubs and gyms were ordered in to see the Government and were told they must “do their bit” from July 19th. That means all staff carrying on wearing masks in order to “set a good example”. So, this is coming from the Government, not the health clubs and you can bet if gyms were ordered in so were supermarkets, etc. Say no more. Not really freedom is it?

Covid Rules at University of Oxford to Remain Unchanged After July 19th

The number of settings in which life will continue as it is now after ‘Freedom Day’ keeps growing. Most recently, students at the University of Oxford have been told that rules on mask-wearing and social distancing will remain unchanged after July 19th due to high infection rates in the county.

The number of positive Covid tests in Oxford has been on the up in recent weeks, but deaths remain low, with zero deaths having been recorded in seven of the last 10 weeks and no more than three deaths recorded in the other three weeks.

Graph from Oxfordshire County Council.

University leaders haven’t let this stop them imposing tough lockdown restrictions. In an email sent to staff and students on Tuesday (and kindly forwarded to us at Lockdown Sceptics by a reader), Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, the Principal of Somerville College, said measures would remain “until further notice”.

Please note that, whilst the Government has confirmed plans to lift Covid restrictions on Monday, July 19th, the University’s policies on social distancing, face coverings and working from home will not change due to the high rates of Covid in Oxford. We will therefore continue with our Covid restrictions in College until further notice and, for the moment, we will not be allowing visitors.

On its website, the University warns that “Covid remains a real threat to many people in our community and… the pandemic is not yet over”. Students are instructed to continue following these measures:

  • Continue social distancing – assume two metres within University buildings unless told otherwise.
  • Keep washing your hands.
  • Keep wearing a face covering (unless you’re exempt).
  • Get tested – twice a week, with Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs); and take a PCR test if you have symptoms or have received a positive LFD test result or have been advised that you are a close contact of someone who has a PCR-confirmed case of Covid.
  • Continue to follow the self-isolation guidance.

If we can’t banish these restrictions from one of the country’s – the world’s – most learned institutions, what chance have we got of scrapping them from pubs and restaurants?