Social distancing

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?

Four Million Vulnerable People Told to Avoid the Unvaccinated

Just after Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Britain should take a step “closer to normal life”, almost four million clinically vulnerable people have been told by the Government to continue taking “additional precautions” to protect themselves against Covid, including avoiding those who have not been vaccinated. The i has the story.

Updated Government guidance issued on Monday for the 3.8 million people identified as clinically extremely vulnerable stops short of telling them to shield again, but warns them to take extra measures “when Covid disease levels in the general community are high”.

It says: “As someone who is at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if you were to catch Covid, you may wish to think particularly carefully about additional precautions you might wish to continue to take.”

The guidance suggests people “limit the close contact they have with those they do not usually meet with” and “consider whether you and those you are meeting have been vaccinated”.

Those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable include people with some cancers, illnesses and severe respiratory conditions, who are deemed to be more at risk from Covid infection due to compromised immune systems.

Many are also not able to receive a Covid vaccine due to their health conditions. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament it was the “right time” to get the nation “closer to normal life” as he announced a relaxation of Covid rules for the non-vulnerable, but said a “new phase of continued caution” is needed as case numbers “sadly will get worse before they get better”.

Mr Javid said: “There are many people that are immunosuppressed or severely clinically vulnerable, and it is important that every stage of dealing with this pandemic that we are thinking of them and having them front of mind. 

“That is what I believe we have done. Of course, where the people in that category are able to take the vaccine, they should be able to do so.”

Critics have accused the Government of abandoning those most in need with the announcement, while charities said the situation for vulnerable people is “very concerning”. …

Rachel Winter Jones, who is clinically extremely vulnerable, said the changes made “no sense” for those who have children under the age of 18, for whom vaccines are currently unavailable. “What, so I can’t meet with my children?,” she told i. …

Previous rules on shielding were lifted in March, with the clinically extremely vulnerable told that “close contact with friends and family will be a personal choice” and that “it is important that you continue to be cautious when meeting others”.

Worth reading in full.

We Must “Proceed With Caution”, Says Boris Johnson As He Announces Lockdown Easing on July 19th

There’s was a particularly downbeat tone to the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday evening in which he said that the country can proceed with easing lockdown restrictions on July 19th, but “with caution”.

The mood was set by Health Secretary Sajid Javid earlier in the day, who confirmed Government plans to urge large indoor venues to implement vaccine passports. In his speech, Boris Johnson said he expects and recommends people to continue wearing face masks after “Freedom Day” and cautioned that “this pandemic is not over”. The Guardian has the story.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister urged “extreme caution” on Monday, as he gave the final confirmation that Step Four of the ‘roadmap’ would go ahead next week.

It will mean nightclubs can reopen, social distancing rules will be abandoned and mask-wearing will no longer be legally enforceable…

But in a marked shift of emphasis from a week ago, when he said mask-wearing would become a matter of “personal choice”, Johnson said he would “expect and recommend” that face coverings be worn in crowded indoor spaces, and people were advised to limit their contact with those outside their households.

He warned businesses such as nightclubs and theatres that it was their “social responsibility” to check their customers’ Covid status; and said he expected the return to offices to take place only “gradually”.

Government documents said that ministers will “consider mandating” the NHS Covid Pass if “sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection”. 

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, had earlier told MPs: “This is not the end of the road. It’s the start of a new phase of continued caution, where we live with the virus and manage the risks.”

Under questioning from the Health Select Committee Chair, Jeremy Hunt, Javid declined to rule out imposing new restrictions in the future, if ministers judged it to be necessary.

Government advisers expect about 1,000 to 2,000 daily hospital admissions over the summer as restrictions are lifted, and 100-200 deaths a day under what was described a “central scenario”. This would depend on how quickly the public’s behaviour returns to normal.

Minutes published by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) also highlighted the threat of a new vaccine-resistant variant emerging in the U.K., which they warned would pose a risk to the whole world.

Johnson said there would be an increase in cases whenever restrictions were lifted, and it was better to do so now, with the “natural firebreak” of the school summer holidays, than during the autumn or winter when the NHS is already under intense pressure.

“But it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution, and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over,” he said. “This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family. We cannot simply revert instantly on July 19th to life as it was before Covid.” …

Speaking alongside the Prime Minister, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said that while a rise in infections was both expected and inevitable whenever restrictions were moved, the scale of this, and the subsequent impact on hospitalisations and deaths, depended on the public.

He said: “If behaviour returns immediately to pre-pandemic levels, that would be a very, very big rise. If we go slowly and cautiously, that will be less of a rise.” …

[An official] document said the Government would, in September, review the country’s preparedness for the coming months “which will consider whether to continue or strengthen public and business guidance as we approach the winter”.

Worth reading in full.

Mask Mandate Should Stay After July 19th, Says Labour’s Kate Green

Labour believes mandatory mask-wearing should stay in place after July 19th so as to keep the rules clear and to provide people with a sense of reassurance about their safety.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green told Sky News yesterday that allowing people to choose whether to wear a mask would be a “recipe for confusion” and “confrontations”, and that it would be much “clearer” to keep rules in place for public places after “Freedom Day”.

She added that, when on public transport, wearing masks and seeing others wearing masks is “a source of great reassurance and people want to do it”.

Despite appealing for clarity, Kate has created more confusion by suggesting that Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has decided to keep mask mandates in the city’s metro – a claim Burnham’s team has denied. Manchester authorities are, however, “strongly urging people to wear face coverings”, as is the Government more generally.

And it doesn’t stop there. Kate also said Labour believes social distancing measures should continue “as far as is possible” and that Test and Trace should be more – not less – sensitive. Do they ever want this to end?

Pub Takings on Match Days Massively Lower Than Pre-Lockdown Levels

Around 17 million pints would be sold in pubs on Sunday during the Euro 2020 final if it wasn’t for the continuation of social distancing restrictions. Instead, nearly 13 million are expected to be sold, according to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), as pubs across the country struggle to break even. The Guardian has the story.

Billed as the closest thing to being in the stadium itself, sales in bars or pubs showing sport are usually 200-300% higher on big match days during a normal year. However, capacity constraints mean although sales during Euro 2020 are up about 60% on match days, that is only in comparison with poor takings over the past Covid-hit [lockdown-hit] year.

“We are seeing an uplift in drinks sales on match days but because of capacity constraints it is nowhere near as much as it would usually be,” said Kate Nicholls, the Chief Executive of industry trade body U.K. Hospitality. As a rule, pubs were only taking 70% of their usual sales which was not enough to break even, she said.

In Norwich, Dawn Hopkins said her pub, the Rose Inn, will be full, although at the moment that means just 30 customers. “We are obviously fully booked,” she said. “I’ve been turning away people for weeks who want to watch the football but social distancing and the need to be seated limits our capacity. I think everybody’s grateful to be trading again but it’s still very difficult.”

The BBPA estimates nearly 13 million pints will be sold on Sunday, with 7.1 million during the match itself. That total would be nearer 17 million but for Covid restrictions, which mean venues are at 50-60% of normal capacity.

Fuller’s, a pub owner in London and the south-east, said most of its 209 venues were fully booked on Sunday but it could have “taken a lot more” were it not for the “disappointing” restrictions. “It has brought people together though and pubs are the next best thing to being there,” the company added.

Greg Mulholland, of the Campaign for Pubs organisation, said the Euros had brought welcome extra trade but pubs were struggling, with table service challenging and costly. Some landlords said they had been warned by licensing officials they could be fined if fans got carried away, and he hoped the authorities took a “common-sense approach”.

Worth reading in full.

Boris to Declare End of Mask Mandate and Social Distancing Rules

The Prime Minister has signed off plans to end the legal requirement to wear masks as of July 19th, according to the Telegraph, saying that the link between COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations has been broken.

Mr Johnson is expected to lay out a blueprint for how England will live with the virus, as ministers prepare to replace swathes of legal restrictions with a call for “common sense” and “personal responsibility”.

As part of the move, the Government is expected to ditch the compulsory wearing of masks, along with the one-metre-plus rule that pubs and restaurants have warned is crippling them.

Announcing the changes this week, an increasingly bullish Mr Johnson is expected to cite recent data and modelling to declare that, while infection rates will rise as restrictions are eased, the successful roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines means that the numbers of hospitalisations and deaths are no longer rising at the same scale as before.

The latest data are believed to have given the Prime Minister the confidence that the legal requirement to wear face masks is among measures that can be lifted without the risk of the NHS coming under “unsustainable pressure”.

If true, this is a welcome move from the Prime Minister, who continues to come under pressure from various quarters to keep restrictions in place.

Exactly what life will look like after July 19th, and what guidance will remain in place that becomes essentially mandatory once lawyers and insurers get involved, remains to be seen. There are also questions about the future of international travel, which is sliding fast towards a system of privileges for the elite and preferential treatment for the vaccinated with no clear end point in sight. Then there is the uncertainty of what may happen come autumn and winter now that lockdowns have been established as an acceptable tool of infection control and healthcare management.

But for now it seems that things are finally moving in the right direction, with a rare show of spine from the once outspoken libertarian in Number 10. Let’s hope it stays that way.