Unlocking

Cry Freedom: Nearly All Covid Rules to be Ditched on July 19th

Almost all Coronavirus rules – including limits on the number of people who can meet together, the wearing of face masks, and social distancing in pubs and bars – will be ditched as part of step four of the roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions in England. Sky News has more.

The Government expects to push ahead with step four of its lockdown-lifting roadmap on July 19th, when Boris Johnson wants to move away from ministerial edicts for managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, people in England will be encouraged to use their personal judgement on the risks of infection – with the Prime Minister wishing to see a new way of living with the virus.

A final decision on whether to go ahead with the last phase of the roadmap will be taken in a week’s time, following a review of the latest data and if the government’s tests for removing restrictions are being met.

Should step four proceed on 19 July, it will see:

• No more limits on social contact to allow people to gather in groups of any size

• The removal of the “one metre-plus” rule in almost all settings, apart from specific places such as airports

• All remaining businesses, including nightclubs, able to re-open

• No capacity caps on large scale events, such as sports matches or concerts

• No more regulations on wearing face masks in shops or on public transport

• The Government will no longer require people to work from home

• No more limits on the number of people who are able to visit care home residents

The Government has also chosen not to impose the use of domestic COVID “passports” for people to demonstrate their vaccination or testing status when attending pubs, bars and restaurants or other venues.

There will be further announcements this week on whether schools and colleges will continue to have to “bubble” pupils, as well as on whether double-jabbed people will still have to self-isolate after contact with an infected person or on their return from an “amber list” country.

However, under those rules being retained, it will still be a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19, the one-metre plus rule will continue in specific places such as airports to prevent passengers from different destinations from mixing, and infection control measures will remain in place in care homes.

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.

Sajid Javid: “We Are Going to Have to Find Ways to Cope With Covid, Just as We Do With Flu”

Signalling a change in tone and perhaps strategy, new Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that “we are going to have to learn to accept Covid and find ways to cope with it, just as we do with flu”. Writing in tomorrow’s Mail on Sunday, according to a preview tweet from Freddie Sayers, Javid says that while the economic arguments for reopening are well known, “for me the health case is equally compelling”, pointing to record NHS backlogs that are getting worse.

In a possible nod towards the “new normal”, he adds: “We need to build on the changes we’ve all embraced in the pandemic.” However, the examples he gives are not contentious for sceptics: improving the delivery of healthcare using NHS 111, the NHS app and pharmacies.

It’s certainly an encouraging message from the new Health Secretary, and better than anything we ever heard from Matt Hancock. Now for the hard bit: putting it into action, against the doom-mongers on SAGE, the vested interests of those profiting from the emergency, the psychological comforts of those who seem to like the idea of permanent restrictions, and the unions for whom no imposition on others is too great to achieve a slight reduction of risk.

Already there is the notable absence of the promised review of the lockdown extension in time for a possible July 5th reopening, which was supposed to appear on June 28th. Boris Johnson appeared to rule it out last week but there has been no official announcement and July 5th is this Monday. It seems that we are just supposed to assume it isn’t happening.

Unlocking Postponed Due to New Variant – in 2039!

We’re publishing a short story today by the historian and regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor Guy de la Bédoyère, set in Britain in 2039. Needless to say, the country still hasn’t unlocked due to the weekly appearance of ‘new variants’. Here’s an extract:

“That’s a shame”, said Jo as he sat munching on his breakfast staring at a screen. “The final unlocking’s been postponed for another fortnight”.

“Why this time?” said his wife Elizabeth.

“There’s been an outbreak of the new Antarctic variant, this time with the hybrid Finnish-Tierra del Fuego mutation, and apparently cases have soared by 100% from one to two. Both have been thrown into jail.”

“That’s what they said last week – and the week before, in fact the year before,” came Elizabeth’s retort.

“That’s not fair,” said Jo. “Everyone knows the king is doing his best for Britain and it’s not his fault if these variants keep appearing.”

“He became king 15 years ago”, said Elizabeth, “and he’s promised to unlock every week since. In fact, he was promising that every week before he became king. And he never said anything about prisons before – oh no, sorry, he called them lockdowns, didn’t he?”

Worth reading in full.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid Says He Wants the Country to “Return to Normal as Quickly as Possible”

New Health Secretary Sajid Javid appears not to have got the memo about the ‘new normal’ and perpetuating restrictions on flimsy pretexts as in his first full day in office he has said he wants the country to “return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible”. The Telegraph has more.

Sajid Javid has said his “most immediate priority” will be getting the country through the coronavirus pandemic, as he took up the job of Health Secretary.

Speaking to the media for the first time since he took over from Matt Hancock on Saturday, Mr Javid said he recognised the “huge responsibility” which faced him.

And he pledged to “do everything I can to make sure that I deliver for this great country”.

This comes amid Mr Hancock’s shocking departure from his role as Health Secretary after he faced mounting pressure to quit for breaching his own social distancing guidelines in early May.

Mr Hancock was pressured into resigning after CCTV footage emerged showing him kissing his close aide, Gina Coladangelo, in his ministerial office.

Mr Javid said on Sunday that he wants the country to “return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible”, leaving the new Health Secretary with a tight deadline to deliver on England’s July 19th ‘freedom day’.

The lockdown zealots on SAGE won’t be happy and are presumably already plotting how to bring him round to more correct ways of thinking.

If Javid really wants to make his mark and show he is serious he could start by ensuring the country reopens on July 5th rather than July 19th. But either way, dropping the mask mandate and ending social distancing – including as guidance, which can be no less hampering for businesses and organisations for whom guidance is practically mandatory once insurers and lawyers get involved – must be a priority for any return to normality.

SAGE Models Wrong Already: Hospital Occupancy is HALF What they Predict. Here’s What they Get Wrong

The models the Government is relying on to justify continuing lockdown have not got off to a good start. The projections of the huge summer wave should “freedom day” not be delayed are, as of June 21st (so before any delay could make a difference), almost twice as high for hospital occupancy as the actual number of Covid patients in hospital (see graph above).

Here’s a similar graph from the Spectator with the hospital admissions data superimposed on various SAGE projections (keep track of it here).

Fraser Nelson at the Spectator seems to share our scepticism at Lockdown Sceptics about Government modelling, reminding readers of the notorious SAGE autumn projections that envisaged up to 4,000 deaths a day by early December, but which were inaccurate the day they were published.

However, he then endorses scarcely less pessimistic modelling from Bristol University, which predicts that “hospitalisations peak at just over 900 on August 20th”.

While he admits that “no scenario points to the NHS being overwhelmed” since “Covid patients would occupy 2.5% of hospital beds” (at most), nonetheless he thinks the Government was right to delay the end of restrictions. This is because:

“You Can Never Exclude the Possibility that There Will be Some New Disease,” Says Boris Johnson as he Warns of “Rough Winter” Ahead

Despite talking of the U.K.’s long, slow lockdown easing as “irreversible”, the Prime Minister today told reporters that an anticipated resurgence of Covid, flu and other diseases means there may be a “rough winter” ahead. Noting that hospitalisations and ICU numbers are up around 30%, Boris Johnson said:

You can never exclude the possibility that there will be some new disease, some new horror we haven’t budgeted for or accounted for… but I think it’s looking good for July 19th to be that terminus point. Things like flu may come back this winter, we may have a rough winter for all sorts of reasons – but that is all the more reason to reduce Covid cases now, give the NHS the breathing space it needs now.

His comments suggest that the reason for the hugely costly decision to defer ‘freedom day’ for a month was to “reduce Covid cases” and “give the NHS the breathing space it needs”. That raises the alarming possibility that restrictions might be re-imposed whenever some pessimistic, unverified modelling suggests the NHS might come ‘under pressure’ during the winter – despite the fact that the NHS comes ‘under pressure’ almost every winter.

There are many criticisms that could be made of this, including that there is no real-world evidence that lockdowns make any significant impact on the course of a COVID-19 epidemic, and that it shows a very narrow and warped sense of priorities when it comes to managing public affairs and public health.

But besides that, even on its own terms it makes no sense to “give the NHS breathing space” by continuing or re-imposing restrictions. Since the main reason experts are so worried about flu this year is they are concerned that lockdowns and social distancing have successfully suppressed flu and other pathogens and left people unexposed to them and thus more vulnerable. In addition to this, Matt Hancock warned last week that the backlog in the NHS of people in need of elective procedures such as hip, knee and eye operations is now estimated to be as high as 12.2 million, resulting in the NHS facing the “biggest pressure in its history”.

But where is this pressure coming from? By the Government’s own admission, the backlog is caused by people staying away from the health service. So how can re-imposing restrictions and stoking panic be the solution to pressure caused by the very restrictions and panic that led people to avoid seeking medical treatment? The only way to break out of this vicious circle is to accept that lockdowns cause more problems than they solve.

America is Open, So Why Aren’t We?

Lockdown Sceptics received a fantastic response to our call for news from the reopened states in America with which to shame our own timid Government as it delayed reopening for yet another month. We published the first as a taster on Wednesday. Now we bring you the rest.

A Road Trip to Florida and Texas

Mark – a Brit who lives in Connecticut and recently visited Florida and Texas – writes:

I spent the start of the pandemic in Manhattan, NY, where the initial response mirrored the U.K.’s. It was frightening, and to me seemed possibly OTT, but given the explosion of terrifying news and the predicted Armageddon I definitely didn’t consider myself a lockdown sceptic. There was no particular turning point, more just the steady stacking up of evidence that whether or not lockdowns ‘worked’ in terms of a non-zero reduction in R, they very clearly didn’t justify their extreme costs. By the time we got to May and police would harass me for not wearing a mask walking alone down a near-empty street while politicians across the world were getting exposed on a daily basis flouting their own rules, I was a resolute sceptic and found your site one of the few places that would keep me sane while L.A. was filling skateparks with sand the Spanish were disinfecting beaches.

My first trip to Orlando, Florida early in 2021 felt like I’d entered a parallel universe – it was hard to believe I was in the same country as the Northeast, coming from a micromanagement regime that treated me like a leper even once restaurants had their ‘opening’ with the full Monty of plexiglass, 25% capacity, digital menus/ordering and drink-only bans. To be clear, some Covid theatrics remained in Florida, particularly with corporations, but they were largely unenforced – think masks in hotels, six-foot queue marks in banks etc. Although there were no legal restrictions on mass gatherings, there weren’t a huge number of gigs or comedy shows, and the basketball was at pretty limited capacity. Although I didn’t agree with it, I still appreciated what it showed – if individuals or a business took a different view of the risks to me, they were free to limit their own behaviours or capacity without arbitrary rules forcing them to, and I could spend my money in busy venues with a better atmosphere.

Possibly the biggest difference was the attitude of people. In Connecticut and New York many people feel Covid entitles them to a level of rudeness about non-conformists that would’ve been unimaginable pre-pandemic, and even more, like the U.K., seemed to almost enjoy the constant discussion of Covid news. In Florida it certainly wasn’t ignored, but people treated one another like regular humans, and Covid was an aspect of life rather than the aspect. I felt welcomed and had a great trip.

If the above is a good example of how much better life can be when Covid is still very prevalent and other countries imprison people in their homes, my experiences on my recent trip, with Texas and Florida’s approaches now fully justified and cases far lower, highlight the absurdity of the current state of the U.K.’s lockdown-lite when Covid levels are extremely low.

In Texas we enjoyed packed nightclubs, unrestricted baseball games, and had an amazing night in Dallas on May 8th watching the sold-out boxing in front of 70,000 fans (see snap above).

Masks aside (more on that later), in most places Covid effectively didn’t exist. People with symptoms isolate and get tests, and if positive they warn their recent contacts – everyone else gets on with their lives and from my perspective is far happier because of it. Florida – theme parks excepted – was much the same. I challenge anybody who supports anything close to the U.K.’s current approach to visit Texas or Florida and still defend it.

“Four More Weeks to, Er…” – The Weakest Excuse for a Lockdown Yet

What justifies a lockdown? That’s the question which, 16 months after the policy was introduced into Western democracies as a draconian tool of disease management, we still don’t have a clear answer to. First sold to the public as a way of mitigating peak health service demand during the initial pandemic wave (and thus supposedly saving lives by ensuring more people could get treated – ignore the irony that the overuse of ventilators during those first few weeks likely increased the mortality rate), the justification has evolved over time. In November it was a “circuit breaker” to save Christmas, though Christmas was not saved. In January it was to buy time to allow the most vulnerable to receive at least their first vaccine dose, though it turned out that was not enough to restore our freedoms.

Yesterday the Prime Minister and his scientific flunkies Chris Witless and Patrick Unbalanced unveiled the Government’s latest excuse to keep the restrictions going. “The objective of this short delay,” said the Prime Minister, “is to use these crucial weeks to save thousands of lives, of lives that would otherwise be lost… by vaccinating millions more people as fast as we can.”

Sir Patrick elaborated on three benefits to the delay:

  1. Some protection for over-18s as they will have been offered one vaccine by July 19th.
  2. More protection for over-40s as more of them will have had both their vaccine doses.
  3. Reopening will be near to the school holidays when no mixing in schools will take place.

What none of the three explained was why these benefits justified four more weeks of restrictions, which hospitality leaders have said will mean a £3 billion loss to the industry during what should be one of its busiest trading periods.

The vaccines are “not 100% effective”, Vallance said, as though anyone had ever suggested they were, “and therefore avoiding a very large peak is very important. Realistically, if we ever got a very large wave, there would be a very large number of people in hospital”.

But would there? If the vaccines are as good as they are reported to be at reducing serious illness – Vallance described them yesterday as “spectacularly more effective than we ever could have hoped for” – then even if there are lots of cases in the young, why should hospitals get overrun?

Vallance explained that it was only because of the vaccines that they weren’t already looking at new lockdown measures: “If we didn’t have the vaccinations we’ve got, we would be looking at what lockdowns would be needed.” This is despite him also acknowledging that: “This is a virus that’s going to be with us forever.” Together these statements imply that lockdowns, too, are going to be with us forever, hanging over us, threatened whenever over-zealous public health advisers can persuade a risk-averse Prime Minister that the latest variant or virus is going to, well, what? As I say, that’s the question that still hasn’t been answered.

The latest restrictions are intended to “reduce the peak by 30-50%”, Vallance said. But will it be a big peak or a small peak? “Thousands of lives” will be saved, said the Prime Minister. But how many thousands? After all, thousands of lives are lost in the U.K. to contagious diseases every year – mostly though not exclusively among the very frail and otherwise unwell. If restrictions on social interaction are justified merely to save “thousands of lives”, why not impose them every winter? Or keep them in place permanently to prevent people getting too close and spreading their germs? That’s the logic of this mad, totalitarian approach to disease control (even if we allow, for the sake of argument, that lockdowns are effective at controlling COVID-19, a theory for which there is no real-world evidence).

The Prime Minister made much of a recent “doubling” in Covid hospital admissions, though on the Government dashboard hospital admissions are still short of doubling.

The End is Not Nigh: Unlocking Definitely Delayed by Four Weeks

Boris will definitely announce that the lifting of lockdown will be delayed by up to four weeks at the Downing Street press conference on Monday evening. He’s going to spin this as a necessary delay to ensure the end of the lockdown is “irreversible”. Yeah, right. The Times has more.

Boris Johnson will appeal to the nation to be patient tomorrow as he announces that the June 21st easing of lockdown restrictions will be delayed by up to four weeks.

The prime minister will use a press conference in Downing Street tomorrow evening to set out the delay as the government attempts to hit its target of offering all adults at least one dose of a vaccination by the end of next month.

A government source said that Johnson views it as the “final stretch” as he seeks to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before lockdown rules are eased. The prime minister has repeatedly argued that the end of restrictions must be “irreversible”.

In an attempt to mitigate criticism he is expected to lift the 30-person limit on weddings and allow for more seated outdoor sporting and cultural events to take place with large crowds.

The four-week delay was signed off by the quad group of senior ministers – Johnson, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Matt Hancock, the health secretary – after a briefing by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.

Asked for his views, Sunak is said to have joked that they were already known after they were leaked to a newspaper last week. All four men supported the delay.

Some cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs are concerned that the new deadline of July 19th could slip further if cases and hospital admissions continue to rise. The Times has been told that planners in Whitehall initially considered delays of two or five weeks.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, told Times Radio he could not provide an “absolute guarantee” that lockdown restrictions would be eased by the new deadline. Asked if there was confidence that restrictions could be lifted by August, Raab said: “I don’t think there are any absolute guarantees.”

Johnson declined to comment when asked if he would guarantee the new timetable for easing the rules.

Worth reading in full – although preferably with a bucket in hand.

Of course Boris can’t guarantee we’ll reopen on July 19th – how could he, when he’s delegated the decision to SAGE? And the boffins are bound to come up with another reason why it’s not “safe” to reopen then. Or, indeed, ever.

The only way we’ll get our freedoms back is if we take them back.