Zero-Covid

Leaked Whitehall Document Reveals That the Government Intends to Dramatically Scale Back Its Covid Response Early Next Year

A leaked Whitehall document has revealed that, early next year, the Government will reduce its direct involvement in fighting the virus, scaling back some of the measures it has introduced as it now considers the disease to be endemic. These include removing the legal requirement for those who test positive to self-isolate for 10 days, shutting down the ‘Test and Trace’ system, as well as various other changes. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

In the documents, experts say Covid will remain at “endemic” levels for years and that mutant strains of the virus will also “remain a very real risk”. But, crucially, the Government’s central planning assumption, described as the “leaving soon'” scenario, predicts there will be “no winter resurgence” of the virus.

The revelations come as the number of new Covid cases plunged by more than a quarter in just over three weeks, from 52,009 a day to 38,351, and more than 12 million people have had their booster vaccines.

The leaked ‘Rampdown’ plans will be hailed by business owners and families exhausted by Britain’s two-year battle against the virus.

Professor Robert Dingwall of Nottingham Trent University, one of the U.K.’s leading sociologists and a former Government adviser, said: “I very much welcome the fact that people are planning for the end of the emergency and the restoration of everyday life. Treating Covid like any other respiratory infection should encourage people to dial down the fear and anxiety that have bedevilled the country for the past couple of years.”

But one Whitehall source has told the Mail on Sunday that some systems for monitoring the spread of the disease have already been shut down, sparking alarm among top Government scientists.

Another source also said large numbers of health experts who have led the fight against the virus for 18 months are “just walking away” from the Government, resulting in a huge “loss of knowledge”.

“It’s totally over, in the minds of Ministers,” the source said. “But what happens if a new variant arrives and they have just shut down the whole national infrastructure? Are we retaining enough knowledge from the £37 billion investment over the past two years? I really don’t think we are.”

The ‘Rampdown’ strategy is being hammered out as part of a six-week review of the Government’s ‘test, trace and isolate regime’ by officials at the U.K. Health Security Agency, a new body headed by former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jenny Harries.

The documents reveal that the officials are examining “what activities can we start ramping down before April?” and what the “end state” of Britain’s response to Covid should be after April.

Their conclusions are due to be finalised by Dr. Harries and other key officials this weekend before being submitted to Health Secretary Sajid Javid. It is likely the Government will unveil the plan by the end of the year, unless there is a resurgence of cases caused by an unmanageable new strain of the virus.

Crucially, the documents reveal that Ministers are set to abandon attempts to stop Covid spreading “at all costs”.

Instead, health officials will judge future policies against the same kind of cost-benefit analysis used to decide whether the NHS can afford expensive new drugs.

“We will no longer be prioritising the previous objectives of breaking chains of transmission at all costs,” one document stated.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Tesco Christmas ad strikes quite a defiant note, albeit with some concessions to vaccine passports. A sign that the public’s appetite for being imprisoned in their homes is ending?

Australia is Falling Apart

We’re publishing an original essay today by historian Guy de la Bédoyère, a regular contributor, about the possibility that Australia may actually break apart as a result of its political leaders’ hopeless mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. Having gone all in on the disastrous zero-Covid approach, its political class – and public health establishment – has had no choice but to implement more and more draconian lockdown measures, destroying the economy, alienating the business community and transforming working class citizens into seriously pissed-off dissidents. Can the country survive? Probably, but whole scale political collapse is a possibility that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Here is an extract:

My fear though is that Australia, of all the developed modern democratic states, has set out down a path that could in extremis result in the country breaking apart. Let’s not beat about the bush (a more appropriate term for Australia than anywhere else). This is a country that already teeters on the brink of viability. Natural disasters have the potential to destroy large swathes of Australia’s agriculture on a permanent basis. The country has never developed industry to a level that could serve it properly, preferring to rely on selling natural resources to China to make into things that get sent back to Australia. The national infrastructure is ramshackle. It was already the case that the individual states are more interested in their own futures than the country’s. That’s especially evident in WA, marginalised by Australian national politics.

Australia is to some extent only a nation in name. Western Australia, one of the least populous states, is also the largest. Apart from air travel, it is connected to the rest of Australia by a few scrappy roads, easily taken out by a single cyclone, and one railway. For years its colossal mineral resources have bankrolled the country’s wealth. That has caused no end of frustration to Western Australia which benefits less than most states from any federal handouts. Few Australians from the rest of the country ever bother with going to WA. There is little love lost between WA and the eastern states.

There is therefore an incipient sense of nationalism in Western Australia. It’s no more than a conceit at the moment, but Covid is accelerating the sense of frustration. Only now is the federal Government getting it together with the vaccine rollout and desperately trying to roll back the terrible mess it’s made. The chaotic response exhibited until recently has not been Australia’s finest honour. The fiasco has ridden on the back of the zero-Covid fantasy, a Land-That-Might-Have-Been.

Worth reading in full.

Where’s Cromwell When You Need Him? Australia’s Leaders Need to be Told: “In the Name of God, Go!”

We’re publishing another of Steve Waterson’s peerless rants today. Waterman is the Commercial Editor of the Australian and one of the country’s finest columnists. This one’s a humdinger.

It’s tedious for the youngsters, I know, but we of more advanced years love to reminisce about the olden days, when nobody was permitted to shirk from home and we had to try a little harder to get ahead. You’d put in the hours and a dab of sycophancy to climb the corporate ladder; even career criminals had to work their way up from petty crime to probation to a spell in prison.

We have it much easier these days: just ask Trong Duc Nguyen, the 31 year-old Cabramatta man who has gone straight to jail for two months after committing the hitherto unknown crime of travelling by train and bus from Sydney to Tenterfield. Small mercies, though; at least he didn’t travel the other way then write a mawkish song about it in New York.

Trong’s punishment this week for breaching a public health order was entirely reasonable, according to police, who said “it indicates the level of seriousness of the matter”. Lucky for Trong he didn’t have the virus. I may be mistaken, but I think that might carry the death penalty up Armidale way.

Enjoy this taste of what awaits us as the police state tightens its grip on our liberties. To drive home the seriousness of “doing the wrong thing”, the NSW Police Commissioner decided on-the-spot fines for health disobedience needed to be bumped up to $5,000.

My sense is that $1,000 was already enough to put people off going without their masks, but I suppose if you’re on $649,500 a year it does seem like a trifling sum. Doing the wrong thing isn’t a problem for his officers, however. “We have to shape the behaviour of people,” he told them in a recent video. “If you write a ticket and get it wrong,” he added, “I won’t hold you to account for that.”

New Zealand Covid Response Minister Concedes Zero-Covid Policy No Longer Viable Following Delta Outbreak

Who could’ve predicted this? New Zealand’s “zero-Covid” policy hasn’t succeeded in suppressing the virus, as an outbreak of the Delta variant continues to spread across the country. Even Chris Hipkins, the NZ COVID-19 Response Minister, has said the elimination strategy may need to be rethought. The Journal, an Irish newspaper, has more.

Hipkins reported a further 21 cases in a virus cluster that emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run of no local cases and sparking a national lockdown.

Hipkins said Delta’s highly transmissible nature was making this outbreak more difficult to contain than others, raising “big questions” about the elimination strategy.

“The scale of infectiousness and the speed at which the virus has spread is something that, despite all the best preparations in the world, has put our system under strain,” he told TVNZ.

New Zealand’s widely praised COVID-19 response – which has resulted in just 26 deaths in a population of five million – centres on eliminating the virus from the community.

It has relied on strict border controls backed by hard lockdowns when any cases do slip through, but Hipkins said Delta may force a rethink.

“(Delta’s) like nothing we’ve dealt with before in this pandemic,” he said. “It does change everything, it means that all of our existing preparations begin to look less adequate and raises some pretty big questions about the future of our long-term plans.”

Neighbouring Australia has also pursued a “Covid zero” strategy and been similarly frustrated as its Delta cases continue to spike.

Worth reading in full.

Zero-Covid Disaster Continues as New Zealand Extends its Lockdown and Sydney Places Residents Under House Arrest Until October

Advocates of zero-Covid have a lot to answer for. New Zealand PM Jacinda Arden has just announced that the three-day lockdown imposed earlier this week in response to one coronavirus case – you read that correctly – is being extended for a week, following a rise in positive test results to a whopping 31. Meanwhile, Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier of New South Wales, announced that Sydney would remain in lockdown until the end of September. In certain parts of the city, a 9pm to 5am curfew will be imposed and outside exercise restricted to one hour a day. New Zealand has seen only 26 Covid deaths in a population of five million, while Australia has chalked up 974 in a population of over 25 million – yet the insane zero-Covid policy means just one positive case can prompt a lockdown, as we saw in New Zealand earlier this week. MailOnline has more.

Ardern, who is trying to sustain a zero-Covid strategy through strict border controls and lockdowns, initially announced the national shutdown would last three days but on Friday had to succumb to the inevitable and extend it to at least a week.

Vast swathes of Australia are also under zero-Covid lockdowns and residents of Sydney were told they will have to stay home until at least October under strict lockdown rules that will not be lifted until at least 70% of the population are fully vaccinated.

When it hits that vaccination target, the restrictions will be lifted under a “freedom roadmap” similar to the one implemented in the U.K. months ago.

New Zealand initially brought in its lockdown over one case but Ardern said that officials were still trying to assess the scale of the outbreak, which emerged in Auckland this week and has now spread to Wellington.

“We just don’t quite know the full scale of this Delta outbreak. All in all, this tells us we need to continue to be cautious,” she said.

Worth reading in full.

Daily Sceptic contributor Ramesh Thakur, Emeritus Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, has an excellent piece about Australia’s descent into an authoritarian dystopia in the Japan Times. Here’s an extract:

Australia has morphed from being the envy of the world last year for its incredible pandemic management to international incredulity at the brutality of its authoritarian measures to “crush and kill the virus”.

In America, popular conservative TV host Tucker Carlson calls Australia a “COVID dictatorship”. With unconscious irony, the video clip was removed from YouTube. His colleague Laura Ingraham was incredulous at learning that soldiers and police helicopters were patrolling Sydney’s streets and skies to enforce the lockdown.

The premier of Australia’s largest state said on Aug. 14th, at a time when the Taliban were making lightning advances across Afghanistan, that this current pandemic is “literally a war”. The U.K. Telegraph said in an editorial, “How has it come to the point that Australia needs to call up the military to eradicate a virus that is now endemic in the world?”

Beijing is enjoying a moment of schadenfreude. In an article in Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, Lu Xue recalled comments from Foreign Minister Marise Payne that were critical of China’s aggressive pandemic management. “Some countries,” she said in June 2020, “are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy to promote their own more authoritarian models.” Lu added, “Now, quite ironically, it turns out that Canberra plans to send its military personnel to help enforce social lockdown.”

The authoritarian streak has seen various instances of what some people would call inhumane treatment. At a time of zero active cases in Canberra, a woman was denied permission to fly to Queensland to see her dying father. A mother from across the border in New South Wales lost her baby last year after being unable to get timely treatment in Brisbane because of the time it would have taken to fill out the paperwork to cross the state line and enter the hospital to receive emergency care.

A fully vaccinated Sydney grandmother was also recently denied a permit to go to Melbourne to help care for her grandchildren while her daughter battles advanced breast cancer. And in a country town in February, a pregnant woman posting on Facebook to support a peaceful protest against Victoria’s lockdown was handcuffed and arrested in her house in the early morning hours, still in her pajamas.

Worth reading in full.

Australia and New Zealand’s Zero-Covid Dilemma

We’re publishing an original piece today by a senior executive at a pharmaceutical company setting out the choices facing Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to their misguided pursuit of zero-Covid, there are no good options. Here is the opening section:

There is a moment in one of the Mad Max films where Max and his band of tagalongs have successfully escaped from their pursuers and are striking out through the post-apocalyptic Outback in search of The Safe Place, a haven of security where they hope to live out their lives in peace. After much struggle, they crest the top of an enormous dune only to see an endless desert stretching out beyond the horizon. It is as this point that the true nature of their predicament becomes clear; do they continue on alone into the unending sea of sand in what may be the forlorn hope of reaching The Safe Place, or do they stay where they are until their pursuers inevitably catch up with them, or do they turn around and head back into danger but to somewhere where they know there is water and shelter?

In many ways, this is an apt metaphor for the situation Australia and New Zealand now find themselves in with respect to Covid. Having apparently successfully escaped from the pandemic, what should they do now? Do they plough on in the hope of reaching some kind of Safe Place, which may or may not exist, or do they instead attempt to re-join the rest of the world?

Worth reading in full.

Zero-Covid ‘Hermit’ Economies Heading For Economic Slump

Countries that have permanently shut their borders in a misguided effort to reduce Covid infections to zero are heading for economic catastrophe, according to Matthew Lynn in the Telegraph.

Controlling Covid through lockdowns and closed borders was a triumph to start with. As the pandemic has dragged on, and borders remain sealed for years without end, it is going to take a huge economic toll. Australia is heading back into recession even as the rest of the world recovers. New Zealand is seeing investment flee.

In truth, in an increasingly globalised and networked world, countries cannot exist in semi-lockdown forever and borders cannot remain permanently closed without doing huge economic damage. They can turn themselves into hermits if they want to – but the price will be a very high one. …

After a record 30-year run without a single recession, the [Australian] economy shrank last year, and it is now expected to contract again over the next couple of quarters.

Huge swathes of the population are back in lockdown as Covid infections rise, and output is inevitably starting to fall. As the rest of the world recovers, and growth accelerates in the United States, Britain, and, even if slightly more sluggishly, across most of mainland Europe, both countries are illustrating the cost of ‘zero-Covid’ strategies.

Worth reading in full.