Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the UK's former top diplomat in the US, said the mood from Washington 'has become increasingly hectoring and domineering.'
Boris Johnson is trying to build relationships with figures in Joe Biden's team amid a growing expectation in the UK that Trump will lose next month.
A Tory MP has said she “very much” hopes businesses offering to feed hungry children for free “will not be seeking any further government support”, as the row over free school meals continues. In a now-deleted Facebook post Selaine Saxby, who represents North Devon, wrote: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”Saxby is one of more than 300 Tories who voted against extending free school meals to the UK’s poorest children through the half term and Christmas holidays on Wednesday. Another Tory MP in a show of utter contempt for her constituents @SelaineSaxby actually having a go at businesses going out of their way to feed hungry kids Lower than low this https://t.co/qVtcjixy2Y— Liam Thorp (@LiamThorpECHO) October 24, 2020After facing intense criticism online for her comment Saxby insisted her words had been taken “out of context”, but did not explain the context they should have been read in. She added: “The portrayal of my recent comments on social media, out of context, does not accurately convey my views – I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.”Statement follows below: pic.twitter.com/7RPKTV9GPG— Selaine Saxby MP (@SelaineSaxby) October 24, 2020Leaders in North Devon – where the hospitality industry has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic – have responded furiously to Saxby’s comments, with the North Devon Liberal Democrats’s spokesperson telling Devon Live: “I am stunned at what I have read from Saxby.“Not only has she tried to justify the fact that she has voted in a way that could see children go hungry, but she’s also attacked the hospitality industry in North Devon who have taken one of the biggest beatings during this pandemic, but still step forward to support children.” The North Devon MP’s Facebook post began to circulate just ours after fellow Tory MP Ben Bradley, suggested free school meal vouchers for the children in his constituency “effectively” went to crack dens and brothels.Bradley, who represents Mansfield, claimed on Friday evening that one of the kids in his constituency “lives in a crack den” while another “in a brothel” and that extending free school meals would not reach these children. When one Twitter user responded suggested a ”£20 cash direct to a crack den and brothel” could be “the way forward”, the MP said: “Thats what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did.”The conversation has since been deleted from Twitter, but not before it was screenshotted and met with huge backlash on social media. Like Saxby, Bradley has also claimed his comments were taken out of context. Saxby and Bradley are amongst 112 MPs who signed letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer claiming that Angela Rayner’s “scum” comment had provoked “widespread abuse” towards Tories. We’ve written to @Keir_Starmer after @AngelaRayner’s comment resulted in widespread abuse towards our MPs, staff and families.Will Sir Keir take action against Labour MPs and party members who perpetrate abuse, and apologise for Rayner’s record of unparliamentary behaviour? pic.twitter.com/E0q7quLaAb— Amanda Milling (@amandamilling) October 23, 2020The letters calls for the opposition leader to “publicly apologise for Angela Rayner’s record of unparliamentary behaviour”, complaining that the deputy leader’s use of the word “scum” (for which she has since publicly apologised) had led to it trending on Twitter and sparking abusive phone calls. But critics of the government have accused the Tories of trying to shift the blame for public anger onto Labour, instead of addressing the widespread unpopularity of their vote against a motion to extend free school meals. Starves the nation's kids.Nation gets angry.Blames Labour. https://t.co/2fGcKd7bZx— Femi (@Femi_Sorry) October 24, 2020If I understand this correctly your saying widespread outrage across the country has nothing to do with Conservative MP’s wanting to let kids go hungry during the holidays & everything to do with one Conservative MP having been called a name in Parliament https://t.co/MwSBXdb6yQ— Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) October 24, 2020The reason Conservative MPs are on the receiving end of legitimate public anger is because people are reacting to how they voted & what they said, not because one MP used one word. This attempt to shift the blame is tawdry & desperate. You have no claim to the moral high ground. https://t.co/hIADt0HNNY— Alex von Tunzelmann (@alexvtunzelmann) October 24, 2020Related...
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It is hard for me to start writing this piece because I have started writing it in my head a hundred times. I have tried to format it into a tweet, then a series of tweets; a long Instagram caption, a Facebook status.This now happens with nearly every thought I have. It pops into my head and, as it does, I try to come up with a way of expressing it on a social media platform. It is frustrating because that didn’t used to be the case. Well, it was the case for a long time, then it wasn’t, and now it is again.Like a lot of millennials hovering around 30, I grew up online and spent my early and mid twenties glued to my laptop and phone screen. a new app or website would launch and within months I would be hooked. I never really questioned it, and the constant technological innovations were too exciting to care anyway.With every bit of myself I throw into the online ether, I dissociate a little bit more from what is happening to us.First we tweeted by text, then Twitter got on our phones; suddenly there was Instagram, and filters, and Snapchat, and stories you could post, and gifs were everywhere, and Vine compilations were brilliant – and so on. Then something changed, around a year ago; maybe it was that we had hit a tech plateau, where new apps stopped being novel and bold.Maybe I just aged; I had spent years live-tweeting my every thought, accidentally becoming semi-prominent in the process, and the constant exposure had started to feel draining. I also noticed that a lot of my friends were slowly separating themselves from their online personas. One by one, they started to tweet only sporadically, set their Instagrams to private, and generally became more guarded online.I can’t pretend I’d gone off grid by the time the pandemic hit; I was still posting frequently, but had been making efforts to scroll less, read more books, and generally not look at my phone when I didn’t need to. It was a process I was working on. I knew letting go of such a deeply ingrained habit would take time, but I felt I was on the right path.That all came crashing down the moment lockdown started, of course. Suddenly, there was nothing to do but scroll, and no-one to share my thoughts with unless I tweeted them. I even kept up an Instagram presence.Looking back, it is impressive I managed to post so many pictures given how starved my life had become of things worth picturing. I soldiered on regardless; selfies, sunsets, buildings encountered on walks, close-ups of the plants I kept compulsively ordering online.Related...
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What saddens me is not that I became so hooked to social media again in lockdown – there was nothing else for me to do – but that I am yet to reverse the habit. Even at the height of the summer, when us Londoners were lucky enough to have most of our lives back, I remained glued to my screen.I used to find it rude when friends scrolled through Twitter while we had drinks, but suddenly I started doing it. On several occasions, I stopped walking in the street to take selfies because the light looked nice on my face, aware and mortified that passersby were clearly judging me.Some nights, I would go to bed, think of a quip and make myself leave my bed to tweet it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep otherwise.I post pictures knowing that I will look at them again in a few months, and suddenly I am no longer stuck in the tedium of our current lives.Once again, social media is taking up a huge amount of space in my brain. I check my notifications on each app constantly and always in the same order, like a ritual, and I am frustrated if I have done something interesting on a Sunday afternoon but forgotten to post anything about it. I’d long wondered what it must be like to be a needy, angsty 13-year-old in the era of constant connectivity and now I know; at 28, I have become one.Still, I wonder if there is some deeper coping mechanism at work here. As middle-aged columnists used to claim, documenting our every move meant that we were not living our lives to the fullest. By obsessing over, say, the pictures we took on a night out, we forgot to actually enjoy said night out. I am not sure their worries were entirely founded – I’m fairly certain I did manage to have fun when I meant to – but perhaps they had a point.Every time I tweet a fleeting thought and post a picture from my daily walk, I break the fourth wall. I invite an audience into my head and welcome them into my life, and suddenly I am not alone anymore, nor am I living in the present.I post pictures knowing that I will look at them again in a few months, and suddenly I am no longer stuck in the tedium of our current lives. I’ve established a link to my future self, who will presumably want to remember what happened in the year of the plague, and scroll down her own Instagram for memories.With every bit of myself I throw into the online ether, I dissociate a little bit more from what is happening to us. Suddenly, my life becomes a performance; a show about a woman trying to keep going through life when everything is uncertain and she feels quite sad and small.Perhaps voluntary alienation isn’t the best way to go about all this and perhaps I should be feeling everything I need to be feeling so I emerge in one piece.But perhaps that prospect is too daunting to consider, and instead I will keep my face close to my screen, where everything is a little bit less real, until it is safe to go out and live fully again.Marie Le Conte is a freelance journalist.More in Opinion...
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The number of coronavirus patients on ventilators is already nearing the figure recorded at the peak of the pandemic at a handful of NHS trusts in England, new data have revealed. Figures published by NHS England on Thursday show there are four trusts where the number of mechanical ventilation beds occupied by Covid-19 patients is approaching the highest figure recorded between April and the start of October. It does not mean these trusts are close to being overwhelmed – but it’s an indicator of how the second wave of the virus is developing in England. Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were among those where the number of mechanical ventilation beds occupied by coronavirus patients is at 75% or more of the highest recorded figure. Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Trust and East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust also made the list. NHS England said it was vital the public did everything they could to try and control the spread of the virus.Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Peak number of ventilator beds occupied with Covid patients during first wave: 14 (April 14)Number of ventilator beds occupied October 20: 12 (85.6% of peak) Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation TrustPeak number of ventilator beds occupied with Covid patients during first wave: 27 (April 5)Number of ventilator beds occupied October 20: 23 (85% of peak) Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS TrustPeak number of ventilator beds occupied with Covid patients during first wave: 21 (April 5)Number of ventilator beds occupied October 20: 17 (80.9% of peak) East Lancashire Hospitals NHS TrustPeak number of ventilator beds occupied with Covid patients during first wave: 25 (April 7)Number of ventilator beds occupied October 20: 19 (76% of peak) It comes as England faces a second wave of Covid-19, with swathes of the country under additional restrictions in a bid to get the virus under control. On Tuesday, 26,688 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in the UK – the highest figure since records began. Almost 23,000 of these cases were in England. According to government data, there were 601 coronavirus patients in England in mechanical ventilation beds as of October 23.Kevin McGee, chief executive of the East Lancashire Hospital, said that the “huge rise” in infection rates across the north-west was having an impact on the trust and its ICU. But he added: “Our critical care capacity is fluid and we have the flexibility to expand and contract as required, dependent upon the acuity of our patients.“We have robust plans in place which we have escalated to ensure we can accommodate the growing numbers and also to prepare effectively for the coming winter months.” McGee was quick to emphasise the importance of the public following coronavirus guidance, including social distancing, washing their hands, covering their faces and making space.“It is absolutely essential that everybody reading this understands the seriousness of the situation,” he said. In a separate response on behalf of hospitals across Lancashire and South Cumbria – including Blackpool – McGee emphasised that while NHS services are “under a huge amount of pressure”, they remain open. “As a result of the increases in Covid admissions in our hospitals, it is important that we are continuing to provide services for our patients for treatments such as cancer and routine appointments and patient safety remains of the highest importance,” he said.“It’s important that anyone with concerns continue to come forward for help and treatment.” In a statement, a spokesperson for NHS England told HuffPost UK: “Coronavirus cases and hospital admissions are rising and so it is vital everyone does what they can to control the virus, particularly by following government guidelines.“Social distancing is the first line of defence, followed by the test and trace programme, but if infection still then spreads, the NHS has no choice but to activate local and regional escalation plans.” Related...
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Downing Street has refused to praise dozens of businesses that have offered to feed the country’s poorest children in response to Marcus Rashford’s anti-hunger campaign.Starting on Thursday night, the England footballer – who has spent months campaigning to stop child hunger through school holidays – shared posts from businesses and groups nationwide that are volunteering free food for children who may otherwise go hungry.From free sandwiches, sausages and curries to the offer of taxis to the nearest available foodbank, dozens of posts have now been shared online as millions of families face a half term of potential hardship. Some 322 Tory MPs on Wednesday voted down a motion to extend free school meals to the holidays.Asked whether Boris Johnson would praise those firms offering food, a No.10 spokesperson dodged the question and instead told reporters: “We’ve set out our position a number of times.“There’s no change.“As we have set out before we’re in a different position now with schools back open to all and the vast majority of pupils back in school.“And I believe the PM said during PMQs free school meals will continue during term time and he wants to continue to support families throughout the crisis and there is cash available to feed kids if they need to.”Asked whether the prime minister would applaud councils that have got involved of their own volition, he appeared to criticise them, saying: “Whilst schools continue to play an integral role in the community it’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during school holidays.” And he added, again: “As we’ve said before, we’re in a different position now with schools back open.“But we have done a lot to make sure the most vulnerable in our society are protected and that has included extending free school meals to support those eligible when schools were partially closed during lockdown, increasing universal credit by £20 a week, and £63m funding for councils to provide emergency assistance to families with food, essentials and meals.”Pressed a third time on whether the PM would praise or applaud those offering meals, the spokesperson responded: “The PM’s answered this question himself on Wednesday. You’ve got his words from Wednesday.”The prime minister did not answer anything of the sort on Wednesday. Downing Street was referring to Johnson’s comments during prime minister’s questions, when he refused three times to agree to extending free meal support – as he did through a voucher scheme in the summer – over the coming holiday periods.“We support kids on low incomes in school and we will continue to do so,” he told MPs on Wednesday.“What I want to do is to make sure we continue to support families through the crisis.”When asked directly by Labour MP George Howarth whether he would support the plan to extend meals to next Easter, Johnson replied: “What we want to do is continue to support people on low incomes throughout the crisis and that’s what we are going to do.”Related...
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People will die if the Home Office goes ahead with planned immigration rules allowing non-UK nationals to be deported for sleeping rough, outreach workers have warned. The government is set to introduce new powers at the end of the Brexit transition period that would mean rough sleepers’ UK status could be cancelled or refused if they turn down offers of support or engage in “persistent anti-social behaviour”. According to the Home Office – which insisted the rule would be used “sparingly” – this behaviour could include “aggressive begging” and street drinking. The proposed regulation has sparked a huge wave of anger from homelessness campaigners and charities, who say it will “dehumanise and criminalise” people for not having a home. Jon Glackin, who runs outreach project Streets Kitchen, called it a “vile, evil proposal”. “This will strike fear among all rough sleepers – people will be afraid to access services,” he told HuffPost UK. “People will die because of this.” This could happen in the UK, or after they’re sent back to their home country, he said. “We know people who have been sent back to Poland – cold countries – and have died on the streets.” The Outside Project has also raised concerns about what the new policy could mean for LGBTQ+ people sleeping rough, who face being sent back to countries which are becoming “increasingly hostile” to people from their community. “The Home Office is becoming increasingly hostile to migrants, but for some people a return to their country is extremely unsafe,” said outreach worker Harry Gay.“This is a disgraceful, harsh and deeply unethical policy announcement,” added Matt Turtle, from the Museum of Homelessness. “Not only that, but four years ago a similar move by the government was ruled unlawful by the High Court so it is very upsetting that they are trying to resurrect this flawed idea.”He continued: “The targeting of marginalised and destitute people who already face huge problems because of the hostile environment needs to end, and we will work tirelessly to make that happen.” Meanwhile, Glackin said that the government’s insistence that only people who refuse support will be affected was also misleading. “With all homelessness services, generally you are given one single offer.” Often, that offer is not suitable – or could put the person sleeping rough at risk, he said. This could be a woman offered housing in Manchester because she has connections in the area, despite the fact she has fled to London to escape her abusive partner. Or it could be someone with a drug issue offered a bed in a shelter that’s “full of drugs”.“If you refuse that offer, that’s you taken out of the system,” Glackin said. The new rule – which is set to come into force on January 1 – is made even more cruel by coming at a time when the UK is facing “a tsunami of homelessness”, Glackin said. “It’s going to be a dire winter.“We’re seeing more and more people losing their jobs, more and more people not being able to pay their rent, more and more homeless people.” It’s a thought that has been echoed by shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds. “These plans would be appalling at any moment, but what makes it even worse is putting this forward as we face the deepest recession in generations and in the middle of a global pandemic,” the Labour frontbencher said in a statement. “It’s completely unacceptable and tells you all you need to know about this morally bankrupt Tory government.”Homelessness charity Crisis said the government must end rough sleeping in the UK by offering housing and support, “rather than threatening deportation”. The Home Office’s new policy will push people facing homelessness “further into the fringe of society, rather than encouraging them to seek support”, chief executive Jon Sparkes said. “We know through our services that people who have no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status have little or no access to support in the first place, and are forced into rough sleeping if they are unable to work,” he explained.“This is a situation that will only worsen as the economic impact of the pandemic begins to bite.” A spokesperson for the government said ministers were “committed to transforming the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society and to ending rough sleeping for good”.“This year alone the government is spending over £700 million in total to tackle homelessness,” they said. “The new rules provide a discretionary basis to cancel or refuse a person’s leave where they are found to be rough sleeping and refuse offers of support or are engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour. “The new provision will be used sparingly and only where individuals refuse to engage with the range of support available.” Related...
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Nearly half of the public in England do not “fully understand” the current coronavirus lockdown rules, a study suggests.Researchers found that around half of adults (51%) in the country said they understand the current Covid-19 restrictions. Only 13% of the respondents said they “fully understand” them.And the people making the rules don’t seem to know them either. Numerous government figures have been caught publicly slipping up on the rules, including Boris Johnson, who stumbled over his explanation of the ban on households mixing last month as new restrictions were imposed on the north-east.On Thursday minister for crime and policing Kit Malthouse denied the tier 3 lockdown restrictions were confusing... and then promptly mixed them up.Kit Malthouse: ‘It behoves all of us to inform ourselves what conditions we’re living under’#KayBurley: ‘Can gyms open in Manchester?’Kit Malthouse: ‘I don’t know’ pic.twitter.com/729ww4bHTE— Toby Earle (@TobyonTV) October 22, 2020On the same day, the Treasury was forced to deny reports that chancellor Rishi Sunak had flouted lockdown rules by holding a meeting at a Waterloo pizza chain to discuss his latest business support package. Sunak was pictured in a branch of Franca Manca with communities secretary Robert Jenrick and members of the UK hospitality sector, in apparent contravention of tier 2 rules which forbid household mixing indoors. The Treasury said this was not the case because it was “not a functioning restaurant at the time.” A spokesperson for the prime minister later clarified: “There is an exemption for work meetings to take place in hospitality settings. Our intention when providing that exemption had been to provide the opportunity for freelancers or for the self-employed who didn’t have an office space to work in, to use hospitality if necessary.”The ongoing University College London (UCL) Covid-19 Social Study found the latest data was an improvement on the 45% who felt they understood the rules in England in July. Those responses came after lockdown restrictions were firstly significantly eased on July 4.But it was a significant drop from the initial lockdown period when 90% of respondents said they understood what was and was not permitted.Lead author Dr Daisy Fancourt, associate professor at UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said the findings were “especially worrying” at a time when case numbers were climbing.“Levels of understanding around what is and isn’t allowed under current lockdown restrictions have dropped markedly since nationwide ‘strict lockdown’ has ended,” she said.“This issue may well also be exacerbated by the newly introduced system of tiers in England and the differing policies of the devolved nations.“As well as this potentially leading to people breaking rules they don’t fully understand, confusing messages or unclear communication could result in people disengaging from trying to keep abreast of restrictions, which could well lead to lower compliance in the long term.“These developments are especially worrying at a time when the number of cases continues to climb. So it is vital that the government improves communication of lockdown restrictions and ensures they are as simple to understand and follow as possible.”The study of more than 70,000 people also found that understanding of the rules was lower in England than in both Wales and Scotland.It said that in Wales 15% “fully understand” and 62% understand “the majority” of the rules. In Scotland 15% “fully understand” and 66% understand “the majority”.The levels of control people feel around aspects of their lives have also improved in some areas since July, it added.Around three fifths of respondents (60%) felt in control of future plans compared with half in July. Meanwhile 70% now felt in control of their employment situation – up from 60% in July.Despite this the study found people were still feeling out of control of their mental health. Half of respondents (50%) reported they do not feel at all in control or only feel a little in control of their mental health.There was also a lack of improvement in people’s sense of financial control with two in five respondents (39%) not feeling properly in control financially, it added.The project was launched the week before lockdown started. It is the UK’s largest study into how adults are feeling about the lockdown, government advice and overall wellbeing and mental health, following more than 70,000 participants over the last 30 weeks.Related...
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.“I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.” As the country struggles with this second wave of coronavirus, many will hope that Benjamin Disraeli’s words are being taken to heart by his self-proclaimed “One Nation” heir, Boris Johnson.Way back in July, the PM did indeed echo his predecessor as he set out his new “Recovery Strategy”. “I know we can beat this virus,” he declared. “Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.”With his next breath, Johnson said: “I’ll now hand over to Dido…” Yes, as he tried to reassure the nation that things in the summer were under control after an awful spring, it was NHS Test and Trace chief Dido Harding who was standing next to him at that No.10 briefing.Today, almost exactly three months later, the PM’s tone had changed. Harding – these days dubbed “Dido Hiding” by some in Whitehall for her lack of public appearances – was notably absent at the Downing Street press conference. And even Johnson was forced to admit for the first time his frustration at her service’s latest performance failures.The system is continuing to fail on two key measures. First, it has never met Johnson’s target of 100% 24-hour turnaround of in-person tests. The latest figures show that just 15% of tests hit that metric in the week to October 14. Second, its contact tracing rate (taking into account all contacts identified) scored a new record low of 59.6%, way below the 80% that Sage said was needed to make the entire thing viable.Even on the contact tracing measure that is preferred by the department of health (“where communication details are available”), the figure was a new low of 75.1%. So no amount of spin could suggest the magic 80% figure was being achieved, as has all too often occurred in recent months when the stats were bad.Johnson, who normally bursts with pride at what he once called his “world beating” test-and-trace system, said: “I share people’s frustrations. We do need to see faster turnaround times. We need to improve it.” Chief scientist Patrick Vallance said the turnaround delays and contact tracing rate “could be diminishing the effectiveness” of the whole system. Vallance also suggested the virus was so widespread, test-and-trace’s impact would be limited anyway.Johnson was even reduced to saying test-and-trace was “helping a bit already to break the transmission” of the virus. Yes, it’s costing the taxpayer £12bn and its impact is to help “a bit”. Whatever happened to “gamechanger”? To be fair, “a bit” almost exactly the verdict Sage came up with in September. That bombshell data dump revealed the scientists felt that test-and-trace “is having a marginal impact”.So why is “NHS Test and Trace” (we use the quote marks these days because it is in fact “DHSC Test and Trace” and always has been) going backwards in recent weeks? Well, the good news is that its capacity has actually been growing, and is now around 345,000 tests a day. It’s perfectly possible that with a jump in lab space, staff and robotics at current labs, it can hit the 500,000 capacity by the end of the month. New rapid testing pilots also offer great hope.But the clue is in the name, test and trace. The system has sensibly recalibrated in recent weeks to cut its outsourced national call centre staff and instead boost numbers of public sector local contact tracers and (crucially) the clinicians who advise people over the phone. Yet so far, there has not been any prime ministerial “big target” for increasing tracing capacity, as there has been for testing.One irony is that it is the shift to hiring more local contact tracers that has made the performance worse, at least temporarily, according to insiders. Specialist training and access to the database takes time and there has been a hiatus of late, I’m told. If that’s true, the contact rate ought to improve after a blip.Local contact tracers are much better at finding and isolating contacts (a 98.4% success rate this week) than call centre staff (57.6%). But that is in part because those local teams have dealt with very localised outbreaks (called “complex” cases in the jargon), in hospitals or care homes where it’s easier to identify contacts. “Non-complex” cases’ contacts in the community or social settings are harder to reach.There were two stark numbers that underlined the problem today: 101,690 close contacts of people with Covid were not reached in the week to October 14; and 17,141 people who tested positive for Covid were not reached in the first place. Those are big, big numbers of people walking around the country potentially infecting others, and they are growing each week.Some people may be refusing to give their contact details, or ducking out of the system because they fear both the loss of income (statutory sick pay is still way too low) and the social isolation that comes from 14 days quarantine. Some may not want to admit they broke the social distancing rules either in their homes or elsewhere. You can have all the testing and even all the tracing but if people don’t self-isolate (and who is going to check on every home?) the system will fail.As hospitalisations and deaths rise, the hope must be that more people will be scared into doing the right thing to protect their friends and family. Insiders in test-and-trace do their best to give background insight, but the lack of a public, regular briefing on test-and-trace means there’s a vacuum when there should be reassurance. A full month after the NHS app was launched, DHSC has not published a single statistic on how many people it has helped self-isolate.Oxford University’s James Naismith said today that he had doubts whether the system could now ever be effective. The NHS Confederation said “without significant improvements, the situation will simply deteriorate”, while NHS Providers said the system was “falling short”. And don’t forget many in the NHS resent their brand being used for what is a ministerial brainchild.It’s possible that case numbers, then hospitalisations and deaths, will plateau in coming weeks. Everyone will hope the PM’s tier system works out. Test-and-trace could yet improve. But the real problem perhaps was the lack of a contingency plan for when things went wrong with tracing rates and test lab times. Then again, to misquote Disraeli, it’s hard to prepare for the worst when you think you’re the best.Related...
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This was the week when things fell apart. Rumblings of discontent about the government’s handling of the pandemic turned into open revolt as the Northern mayors – particularly Andy Burnham of Manchester – stood up and refused to accept proposals to place them at the highest level of the new three-tier system of Covid restrictions.Why? At first glance it seems eminently sensible that different areas of the country with different levels of infection should be subject to different measures. Why close the pubs in Lowestoft (where the case rate per 100,000 is under 50) because of the problems in Liverpool (where the rate is pushing 600)?Indeed, the general idea of local tiers is not in itself a bad one. However, we are not dealing with generalities.Somehow the tier system has managed to be even more unclear and generated a greater sense of inequity (and hence resistance) than before.Rather, we are faced with an acute crisis and we must consider whether the specific tier system devised by the UK government makes sense and whether it makes sense to impose it at this specific time. The answer to both questions is a resounding no.Let’s start by looking at the details of the present system. It has three core problems. First, a central justification for replacing the present hodge-podge of restrictions across the country with three tiers was to create clarity and a sense of equity. No-one – not even the prime minister – could remember who was allowed to do what and where, and there was a growing suspicion that some areas (the South) were being treated better than others (the North). In principle, a tier system would overcome that by creating a simple and transparent system where it was clear that the same rules applied to everyone. But that is dependent upon there being clear, health-based criteria for moving from one tier to the next, along with consistent restrictions within each tier. But in the event, the basis for deciding which tier you were in was far from clear and seemed dependent on political horse trading. Equally, the restrictions in a given tier were far from consistent, varied from area to area, and again seemed more a matter of politics than public health. Somehow the tier system managed to be even more unclear and generated a greater sense of inequity (and hence resistance) than before.Even if an effective local system might have been sufficient at some point, that point is now well past.Second, the notion of tiers is framed in an entirely negative way. It is all about the restrictions imposed on people – what they can’t do. This is encapsulated in the language of lockdown – a term we associated with prisons, with misbehaviour and with punishment. But infections are a function of exposure to the virus, and exposure is greater among those who are poorer and more vulnerable: they are more likely to have to go to work, more likely to use public transport, more likely to live in crowded housing. That is why the poorest areas of the country are four times more likely to be in “lockdown”. The reality is that infection reflects deprivation and the response should be greater support: support in terms of information, of testing facilities and, of course, financial compensation to workers and local businesses who are affected by the measurers necessary to combat the virus. That was the core of Andy Burnham’s concerns. On October 20, he tweeted: “I have fought for the ability to support low-paid people and businesses who will be most harmed by Tier 3 closures”. Had the government framed the tier system in terms of support and provided adequate funding, the disputes with the localities would not have happened.Related...
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Third, the measures in the tiers – even at the highest level of alert – were simply inadequate. On September 21, the government scientific advisory group SAGE met to consider the measures necessary to halt the start of a rise in infections. What they proposed went far further than anything the government is introducing: ensuring all but essential workers stay at home, closing all bars and restaurants, stopping contact between households in the home, moving all university teaching online where possible. On that day, new infections were at about 4,500 per day. Now they are about 20,000, some five times higher. If anything, even more would need to be done to bring things back under control. The government is doing far less.One might fairly retort that this is all very well, but would people actually accept such severe measures when many are already objecting to milder measures? But the objections are less to the imposition of restrictions than cynicism about measures, which people don’t believe will work and hence are not worth the sacrifice. This is backed up by recent research showing that perceived effectiveness is critical to adherence. What we have at the moment is the worst of all worlds: a fudge which has resulted in measures that do enough harm to damage livelihoods but are not effective enough to control the virus and save lives. People showed clearly in spring that they will make major sacrifices if they can see the point. What they won’t do is to make sacrifices just for the sake of it.So, the local tier system we have ruins a good idea through botched and half-hearted implementation. It would not be fit for purpose at any time. But it is especially inadequate right now.You don’t wait until your house is burning down before you call the Fire Brigade.The SAGE recommendations of September 21 weren’t just about what measures should be applied, but where they should be applied. They called for a national circuit breaker not just local action. And they called for it as the only way of bringing infections down to manageable levels across the country. The rationale for this position has only become clearer over time. It may be true that areas like Liverpool have far higher infection rates than places like Lowestoft. But infections are rising in every region of England, as are hospitalisations and deaths. It may be true that some areas have broken out into a blaze while others are just smouldering. But you don’t wait until your house is burning down before you call the Fire Brigade. Indeed, it makes far more sense to act early before the damage is too great. The longer you leave things, the more effort is needed to get things back under control, and the more is lost along the way. Even if an effective local system might have been sufficient at some point, that point is now well past. Each day now, indecision and fudge is costing lives. Remember the fateful week of 16-23 March when the government delayed going into a lockdown – a delay which probably inflated the deaths by many thousands. We must not repeat that mistake. Moreover, when the circuit breaker has done its job, when infections are brought down and restrictions are lifted, we must not repeat the mistakes of June when we failed to put in place measures that would suppress the virus and stop yet another set of restrictions being needed. Above all, we must demonstrate that the sacrifices we are asking for will not be wasted. Stephen Reicher is Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews and member of Independent SAGE.More in Opinion...
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possible pic > England’s tiered lockdown system, designed to simplify the rules and restrictions around coronavirus, appears to be causing even more confusion.Since the tier system came into effect it has been unclear what areas can do to move back down to lower tiers with fewer restrictions.This has fuelled growing unease among members of the public and MPs alike.Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, recently urged the government to “set a clear end date and a strategy for returning life to normal”.While we don’t yet have any firm details of a clear end date, here’s what we know – however vague – about how areas can move back to lower tiers.So, how can areas move down a tier?Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, Boris Johnson confirmed the way for areas to get out of the higher tiered restrictions is to “get the R [rate] down to 1 or below”.As well as following the rules of their specific tier, people should keep washing hands, wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces, and maintaining a sensible distance from others, he said.However when pushed on the finer details of the tier exit strategy by Labour leader Keir Starmer, there was not a huge amount of clarity offered. “Obviously the R is one of the measures we look at,” Johnson said, “and we will take a decision based on a number of things including the R but also, of course, rates of infection, rates of admission to hospital and other data.”Health minister Edward Argar was also asked about the criteria that impact whether or not a region can exit the tier it are in, and said the government will look at the area’s infection rates per 100,000 people, the impact on the NHS in terms of hospital capacity and hospitalisation rates, as well as relying on knowledge from local public health officials.“Areas in tier 3 or tier 2 will remain in those areas as long as is necessary to protect the health of the local people and the NHS in that region,” he said.The prime minister said when areas enter a new tier, they are “only in there for 28 days” before the government will review an area’s position within that tier.“Areas that have gone into tier 3, I believe, are already making progress and areas where there are restrictions in place are already showing signs of progress,” he added.Does the government have an exit strategy?As it stands, UK Covid-19 cases are continuing to rise, alongside hospitalisations and deaths. This week, the UK recorded 241 Covid-related deaths in a single 24-hour period, the highest number since the start of June.The lack of clarity surrounding how places like Greater Manchester might move back down a tier has left many wondering if and when they’ll be able to see loved ones again, and is causing a great deal of concern over how people will afford to live if they can’t work for months on end. “Tier 3 is a gateway to weeks and weeks, more likely months and months, of agony from which there’s no likely exit,” Starmer told the Commons. “Can the prime minister not see the problem if there isn’t a clear exit?”The measures for Greater Manchester will be reviewed by November 11, HuffPost UK understands.Related...
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Data on the spread of the virus across local areas is being monitored and then used to provide advice and recommendations on areas of intervention to ministers. After consultation with local authorities and leaders, the government makes a final decision on the appropriate tier for each area.In response to HuffPost UK’s request for comment on the matter, a government spokesperson said: “The Covid Alert Levels simplify and strengthen rules to help protect lives and reduce the transmission of the virus, whilst minimising the impact to livelihoods and the economy.“Decisions are made in close consultation with local leaders and public health experts, informed by the latest evidence from the JBC and NHS Test and Trace, PHE and the Chief Medical Officer for England.“We constantly review the evidence and discuss measures with local Directors of Public Health and local authorities, and do not wish for restrictions to be in place for longer than is necessary.”Are there alternatives to the tier system?Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have implemented a range of heavier, albeit temporary, lockdown measures to try and reduce infections – a method referred to as a ‘circuit breaker’. The aim is to try and reduce the R rate and prevent health services from being overwhelmed.The option of a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in England hasn’t been ruled out, however there is a reluctance from the UK government to resort to this measure, because some areas have a much lower number of infections than others.England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam acknowledged this week that infections are “heating up” across the country but said the virus was only “out of control” in some areas, mainly concentrated in the north, so a national circuit breaker lockdown wouldn’t be right.There are some experts who believe the tiered system isn’t having much of an effect. Independent Sage points out that cases have continued to rise despite the introduction of tiers “and although cases are highest in the North of England, they are rising rapidly across the country”.“We do not believe the current tiered system is sufficient to reverse the growth of the pandemic,” the independent panel of scientists said. Related...
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Professor Deenan Pillay, an expert in virology at University College London and a member of Independent Sage, tells HuffPost UK he believes there should now be a national circuit breaker, along the lines of the two-week circuit breaker introduced in Wales.Everyone in Wales is currently required to stay at home – this means working from home where possible, with the only exceptions being critical workers and jobs where working from home is not possible. All non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses have also been forced to close.Prof Pillay says: “The varying tiers [in England] are a blunt instrument for an infection which is rapidly spreading in all parts of the UK – albeit with varying numbers at present. It just makes no sense to wait until hospitals are starting to fill up, and deaths increase, to clamp down on the infection.” Instead, he says, we should be focusing on preventing that rise. Why test-and-trace matters just as muchScientists have been calling for improvements to the test and trace system in England for some time now, arguing that it is one of the key ways to keep cases down. At the start of October, the service reported its worst ever figures for tracking down “close contacts” of people with Covid.“The apparent dichotomy between protecting the economy on the one hand, and stopping virus spread on the other, is false,” says Prof Pillay. “Those countries which have implemented the most stringent lockdown, and have a fully functioning test and trace system, are those whose economies have fared the best.” Singapore, for example, has recorded fewer than 30 deaths despite almost 60,000 confirmed cases, which experts believe is down to its effective rapid test-and-trace programme.Currently, there isn’t a single part of England that would be classed as “safe” from coronavirus using the government’s own threshold for quarantining overseas travellers.When will the tier system end then? Ultimately, we just don’t know. Professor David Hunter, Richard Doll Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at the University of Oxford, tells HuffPost UK that “from an epidemiological perspective it might appear to make sense to have a tiered system, but from a social and political perspective it does not seem to be working very well”.Prof Hunter says it’s “impossible” to say how long the tier system will be in place “because the government has been conducting a series of U-turns at regular intervals for almost the whole of the epidemic”.“If the question is whether the system of tiers is going to control the epidemic, my expectation is that we would all wind up in tier 3 eventually,” he says.“It’s just a matter of time before tier 2 places become tier 3, and tier 1 places become tier 2, because the evidence is the epidemic is increasing across the country, it has just started with a higher baseline in the areas that are currently tier 3.”He says a nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ would “make more sense at this point” and would potentially stop tier 1 areas moving up to tier 2, “so it would be a benefit to the whole country” – but he caveats that it wouldn’t be easy (due to the obvious economic and mental health implications) and that we’d almost certainly need another circuit breaker in the future.We also need a fully functioning test, trace and isolate system that is “decentralised and effective”, he points out (not for the first time, either). For those wondering whether to make plans for the foreseeable future, Prof Hunter believes that realistically we won’t see an end to the restrictions and measures until well into 2021. “We won’t get to herd immunity without a vaccine, and I think no-one is ready to let the NHS be overwhelmed,” he says.“So we are stuck with intermittent lockdowns or ‘circuit breakers’ until the weather gets better in the late spring or early summer and we can be outdoors again and that does seem to help limit transmission.”Another way to return to normality is to have a vaccine widely available, he adds. But he estimates suggest that’ll be “Q2 or Q3 next year at best”.Related...
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Just say no. From Nancy Reagan’s famous war-on-drugs slogan (I’m old enough to remember the Grange Hill single) to Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to bail out manufacturing industry, saying ‘no’ was all the rage in the 1980s.By contrast, Boris Johnson has often seemed like the man who likes to say ‘Yes’. His love of being loved (politically and personally) is well documented, and his modus operandi is to give the impression that he hates disappointing anyone. Allies say his reluctance to sack people stems in part from him being uncomfortable with difficult conversations (though that doesn’t seem to be the explanation for Dominic Cummings and Gavin Williamson being retained).And early in the Covid pandemic, Johnson said ‘yes’ to plenty of demands that came his way. On the TUC’s furlough plan to pay 80% of the wages of workers, Sage’s advice on swift lockdowns, campaigners’ calls to ditch an NHS staff visa charge, parents’ demands to ditch A-level algorithms, the PM was acquiescent. He let borrowing rip to fund the billions needed to keep the country going.When Marcus Rashford caught the public’s imagination in the summer to demand the extension of free school meals to cover the summer holidays, Johnson again (after some pushing) said ‘Yes’. The financial cost was relatively tiny, the political cost relatively big and the PM made a calculation that taking action was worth it.Today, he said ‘No’. Despite all the arguments used by him and ministers today about alternative means of support for poor children, the fact is that the decision to extend meals through the summer holidays is not materially different from the decision to extend them through the winter holidays. He felt emergency help for deprived families was needed then, but he clearly thinks it’s not needed now.Part of this may be what hard-nosed charity staff used to call “compassion fatigue”. But it feels more like it’s spending fatigue, egged on by a Treasury which is rediscovering its own historic reputation of being the one part of government that likes to say ‘No’. The decision to end furlough arbitrarily at the end of this month was the early evidence of that change of heart.More broadly, No.10 appears of late to be simply trying to reassert its authority to call the shots whenever demands are sent its way. That sense of wanting to draw a line in the sand is part of the reason for Johnson’s patience snapping with Andy Burnham this week. “There comes a point when enough is enough,” said one ally of the PM.On both free school meals and on Greater Manchester’s business support, the sums involved are tiny compared to the billions already spent in tackling the virus. Yet it seems as if on both issues the PM just wanted to, to coin a phrase, take back control of the narrative.And most Tory MPs welcome the switch from ad hoc bailouts to what they see as a more sustainable approach. Saying no is seen by many of them as the same thing as their core political belief in personal reliance and responsibility. The real difficulty is the resurgent spread of the virus. A new emphasis on fiscal efficiency may well be appropriate once the pandemic is past its worst, but as we head into a worrying second wave this winter (today’s huge jump in Covid cases was dramatic) it seems too soon to shift away from emergency measures.On Thursday, Rishi Sunak is set to make yet another amendment to his Winter Economic Plan, with some expecting him to finally give more support to firms forced into Tier 2 restrictions. At present they are in the limbo of not being ordered to close but not being able to make much money either. With the furlough scheme’s end now looking premature, any new help will be desperately needed.The problem, as ever with this prime minister, is one of consistency. On Brexit, having sounded a Thatcherite ‘no, no, no’ to Brussels last week, today the talks are back on and we could see a ‘yes, yes, yes’ trade deal that smuggles UK concessions under the bravado of brinkmanship.On spending on the pandemic, the PM may yet prove similarly unpredictable. While the PM says ‘No’ to cash for more free school meals, he simultaneously says ‘Yes’ to cash for continued private sector roles in test-and-trace.“Winging it” has served Johnson well throughout his political career and he may not yet be ready to give it up. The fact is that he may now be more ready to say ‘No’ than ever before - but he’s still capable of saying ‘Yes’.The PM joked yesterday to businesses about spinning the roulette wheel and taking bets. Whether you’re a child on free school meals or a pub worker in Manchester or a lorry firm worried about a no-deal Brexit, it’s not clear from day to day whether you’ll end up in the red or the black.Related...
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