How a decade of privatisation and cuts exposed England to coronavirus
This latest Guardian investigation examines how a decade of privatisation, austerity and “reforms” to public services enfeebled the state before the coronavirus struck – and how private contractors have been used to plug the void:
Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, has said that herd immunity “was never an aim” of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and “never could be”.
In a piece first published in the Sunday Telegraph, Vallance sought to clarify “exactly what Sage is, and what it is not” after minutes from its meetings were made public for the first time this week following calls for greater transparency.
On the release of the papers, Vallance said:
Clearly it is right that ministers see the advice first and that they have a chance to consider it as part of their overall decision making, but I believe it is also right that the evidence base should become open for others to see too, so they can provide challenge and form new and important observations.
Science advice to Cobr and to ministers needs to be direct and given without fear or favour.
But it is advice. Ministers must decide and have to take many other factors into consideration.
In a democracy, that is the only way it should be. The science advice needs to be independent of politics.
The chief scientific adviser went on to say that Sage is “not an infallible body of experts” and that its advice will not always be right.
But he added that Sage “endeavours” to provide ministers with options to consider and to “explain the uncertainties and assumptions inherent in that science and evidence”.
He added that the publication of the papers would provide a chance to correct some “misconceptions that have taken hold”.
Specifically addressing accusations that Sage had proposed the government pursue a strategy of herd immunity early on in its response to the pandemic, Vallance said:
Allowing many people to catch Covid to create widespread immunity was never an aim and never could have been with a committee comprised of many doctors who have spent their lives dedicated to improving health.
Immunity on the other hand is something that prevents transmission and we all hope that a vaccine to induce immunity will become available.
Ministers are acutely aware of the coronavirus crisis facing care homes in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster has said.
More than half of all Covid-19 deaths have occurred among frail and elderly care home residents.
Providers have previously voiced concern about the provision of personal protective equipment and staffing levels amid the pandemic.
Measures have been taken by the devolved administration in Belfast in response.
Stormont’s First Minister Foster told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday:
If we have a low number of deaths in the first place, then understandably you are going to have a concentration where there are old and vulnerable people.
We are very, very conscious of the difficulties in care homes.
We will look back and there will be plenty of time to look back at how we dealt with this virus.
She said Northern Ireland’s overall infection rate has been below that in England and Scotland because of a lower population density.
She added lockdown restrictions were introduced earlier in the disease’s spread in Northern Ireland.
Care home residents account for 53% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland, official statistics show.
Of the 380 care home resident deaths in the year to May 22, 84% (318) occurred in their facility, with the remaining 62 taking place in hospital.
The Department of Health has said there are 69 active care home outbreaks and 52 clusters have been closed.
Local lockdowns could be used if coronavirus cases rise, says Raab
The government could impose geographically targeted measures to combat coronavirus such as locking down specific cities if an easing of restrictions in England brings a rise in new cases, Dominic Raab has said.
The foreign secretary defended the decision to allow bigger outdoor gatherings and other new freedoms, which has prompted alarm from some government scientific advisers, but said he accepted it was a “delicate and dangerous moment”.
Asked what would happen if the relaxing of rules, which allow groups of up to six people to meet outdoors from Monday, brought a rise in infections, Raab said the government did not want to reimpose national restrictions.
Peter Walker has the full report:
The term “Level 1” is currently trending on Twitter following the government’s announcement that restrictions will be eased for extremely vulnerable people who have been “shielding” in England.
It appears to be a reference to the government’s Covid-19 alert level – a scale from one to five which reflects the degree of threat to the country from coronavirus.
On Sunday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge that the UK is currently transitioning from Level 4 to the less severe Level 3.
Many on Twitter are accusing the government of easing restrictions as if the nation was at the least severe Level 1, while sharing the following graphic which appears to be from the Mail Online:
The graphic indicates that “sports events return” and “vulnerable leave home” at Level 1.
An official government graphic representing the Covid-19 alert levels can be seen in this pdf slideshow.
Unlike the Mail Online’s version, it does not specify details around the return of sporting events or easing of restrictions for people who are shielding.
The only action specified at Level 1 is “routine international monitoring”.
However, the action at Level 4 appears to advise that “current social distancing measures and restrictions” are maintained.
An entrepreneur has teamed up with medical experts to design a new protective product for treating coronavirus patients.
The clear one-piece head box developed by Michael Knight shields clinical staff when they are performing procedures that result in patients expelling aerosol spray.
Knight is managing director of County Down company Donite Plastics, which uses specialist heat technology – thermoforming – to mass produce moulded plastics.
For the last six weeks he was been working with innovation experts from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge to design the box for use when medics are intubating Covid-19 patients or connecting them to ventilators.
As those procedures result in patients expelling spray, they bring with them a high risk of virus transmission.
The inspiration for the project came during a conversation Knight had with a friend, Dr Madalina McCrea, who works as a consultant anaesthetist in Northern Ireland’s Western Trust.
Knight told the PA news agency:
Mada knew I made things from plastic and we were chatting about a device that would sit over a patient’s head, whether in a ward or an intensive care unit which would allow the medical practitioner to work on the patient, but also to protect them and the patient when carrying out procedures.
There were pictures on the internet of very simple square acrylic boxes being used for this purpose in Taiwan during the height of their Covid-19 epidemic.
Knight’s daughter Sarah then put him in touch with a former colleague, Maighread Ireland, who is part of the clinical engineering innovation team at Addenbrooke’s.
By coincidence, it turned out that Maighread had already been tasked by Addenbrooke’s to investigate these head box devices.
It made perfect sense then, that they would collaborate to develop a more sophisticated product suitable for use in the UK.
The relaxing of lockdown measures for the 2.2 million extremely vulnerable people shielding in England lacks “obvious rationale other than to add to an ongoing ‘good news’ narrative that appears to have little grounding in reality,” an expert has said.
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the University of Leeds’ School of Medicine, has said that there appears to be a lack of a “clear explanation” as to why the government is easing lockdown measures in England under the current circumstances.
As we have heard from Prof Van Tam, members of SAGE and its unofficial counterpart, and numerous other members of the scientific community, the daily case incidence, death rate and R0 in the UK does not represent a controlled, safe scenario.
Test, track and isolate protocols are still being established and are largely untested on the scale necessary to ensure a safe route out of lockdown.
Moreover, other relaxation measures recently announced mean that those venturing out will likely face difficulties in ensuring social distancing.
What appears lacking from this, as well as other relaxation measures announced recently, is a clear explanation of precisely why it is felt that the situation justifies such actions.
We must also consider the effects that this announcement might have upon those currently shielding.
How, without a clear rationale, are shielders supposed to judge whether it is indeed safe for them to alter their behaviour?
The perception for many will be that it is safe, but this can also apply considerable emotional pressure to those most vulnerable to either comply, or to repeatedly have to justify why they might not feel comfortable now seeing loved ones or leaving the relative safety of their homes.
Furthermore, should measures be further relaxed, shielders may experience difficulties relating to the workplace or childcare that were previously covered by simple criteria.
It is imperative that the sacrifices made during lockdown are not undone by relaxing measures in haste.
Clear guidelines in terms of why risks are now different are essential to provide the UK population with the tools to decide for themselves when it is safe.
Coronavirus test and trace system ‘creating false sense of security’
Ministers have been accused of creating a “false sense of security” by launching a test and trace system that is not yet capable of controlling local outbreaks.
A series of concerns have been raised over the gaps in the system launched last week, with local health chiefs warning that they have not been given the time, powers or data to prepare for outbreaks in their area. They said that they were given details of their roles just four working days before Matt Hancock, the health secretary, launched test and trace last week.
My colleagues Michael Savage, James Tapper and Sonia Sodha have the full report:
The easing of lockdown might have to be done more subtly in different parts of the country which have experienced the virus to different levels, according government adviser professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College.
He said it will be around two or three weeks before the effects of the latest easing of restrictions is known.
He told the Andrew Marr show:
It’s going to be very patchy, it may be that actually easing lockdown is perfectly OK in areas like London which were hit early and hit hard, and where the epidemic seems to have been virtually passed in many parts of the community, with a few exceptions.
But up north it’s still a very large number of cases. I think we need to be more subtle about the geography and we need to look at the particular areas where it may be appropriate to ease lockdown.
Maybe there needs to be a bit more subtlety to the way in which lockdown is eased.
MPs furious about forced return of ‘physical voting’ to Commons
Older members of parliament and those with health conditions will be “disenfranchised” and put at risk of contracting Covid-19 if they are forced back to the House of Commons for debates and votes this week, senior MPs have warned.
A furious argument has broken out between backbench MPs of all parties and the government over plans which, if passed, will end all remote voting from this week and mean members have to attend in person. Parliament is resuming on Tuesday with the row still unresolved.
Toby Helm has the full report: