Covid UK: Social distancing may remain in place ALL YEAR

Grim new graphs lay bare the dilemma facing Boris Johnson’s government as officials try to work out how to reopen the country without causing a third wave of coronavirus infections, as SAGE recommends keeping social distancing measures in place until 2022.

Modelling passed on to No10 suggests that restrictions including the dreaded Rule of Six may have to remain in place until the end of the year, while coronavirus vaccines would need to be 85 per cent effective to prevent a surge in deaths if curbs were totally eased.

A downbeat paper commissioned by SAGE subgroup SPI-M and produced by the University of Warwick showed that the UK could experience a large spike in deaths if inoculation fails to significantly cut transmission of Covid-19 while draconian shutdown measures are relaxed.

It warns that a ‘high uptake’ of vaccinations is also vital to getting the country back to normal without risking a dreaded third wave of the disease, which has now claimed more than 100,000 lives according to official figures.

The paper also claims that even with Britain’s breakneck jab roll-out well underway, the decline in deaths would be crushingly slow – and that even in a best-case scenario lockdown would have to be kept in place until June to prevent another significant spike in deaths.  

‘Only vaccines that offer high infection-blocking efficacy with high uptake in the general population allow relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions without a huge surge in deaths,’ the paper recommends.

The modelling, which helps to explain why Boris Johnson is so reticent to end the third national coronavirus lockdown, comes amid renewed pressure from Tory backbenchers for a ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.

So far the government’s route out of the cycle of shutdowns initiated last March would see schools closed until at least March 8, with hospitality businesses including pubs and restaurants to reopen as far away as April.  

But with Rishi Sunak mulling increases to capital gains tax to pay for the massive £400billion blackhole in public spending accrued during the pandemic and warnings that the economy could take a decade to recover, Tory MPs are likely to be rattled by the new graphs.  

It comes as minister are told by government scientists to ease the lockdown ‘slowly’, and after an extraordinary diplomatic spat between Britain and the EU over coronavirus vaccines.

In other coronavirus developments:   

  • Figures showed daily positive Covid tests have fallen by 31 per cent in the past week to 23,275, with hospital admissions down by 16 per cent over the same period, and deaths down six per cent to 1,200;
  • German claims that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective in over-65s were rubbished by senior government adviser Professor Andrew Harnden, who said: ‘We are absolutely confident the vaccine is safe and effective’;
  • Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer writes in today’s Mail on Sunday in support of the Jabs For Teachers campaign for all school staff to be vaccinated during half-term so pupils can return more quickly – although a major teaching union repeated its opposition to classes reopening;
  • Mr Johnson signalled that he wanted to relax lockdown rules on exercise, but was urged to move quickly by allowing cooped-up children to enjoy half-term sports;
  • Some of the UK’s biggest firms, including John Lewis and Tata, told this newspaper that rapid workplace tests have prevented thousands of sick days and the closure of sites;
  • A major US study found proof that Covid-19 originated in China, undermining Beijing’s claims it may have come from elsewhere.
  • Germany’s government on Sunday threatened legal action against laboratories failing to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the EU on schedule, amid tension over delays to deliveries from AstraZeneca. 
Grim new graphs lay bare the dilemma facing Boris Johnson as officials try to work out how to reopen the country without causing a third wave of coronavirus infections, as SAGE recommends keeping social distancing measures in place until 2022

Grim new graphs lay bare the dilemma facing Boris Johnson as officials try to work out how to reopen the country without causing a third wave of coronavirus infections, as SAGE recommends keeping social distancing measures in place until 2022

Grim new graphs lay bare the dilemma facing Boris Johnson as officials try to work out how to reopen the country without causing a third wave of coronavirus infections, as SAGE recommends keeping social distancing measures in place until 2022

Wendy Milbank, aged 75, from Newmarket, receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the Newmarket Racecourse. Modelling passed to Downing Street showed the UK would see a large spike in deaths if inoculation fails to significantly cut transmission

Wendy Milbank, aged 75, from Newmarket, receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the Newmarket Racecourse. Modelling passed to Downing Street showed the UK would see a large spike in deaths if inoculation fails to significantly cut transmission

Wendy Milbank, aged 75, from Newmarket, receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the Newmarket Racecourse. Modelling passed to Downing Street showed the UK would see a large spike in deaths if inoculation fails to significantly cut transmission

The Health Secretary said he was confident that a high percentage of the UK population would have had their jab within the next six months, enabling a roll-back of restrictions that have been in place since the new year.

The Health Secretary said he was confident that a high percentage of the UK population would have had their jab within the next six months, enabling a roll-back of restrictions that have been in place since the new year.

Public Health England's Dr Susan Hopkins warned that relaxing lockdown measures would have to be done 'very slowly, very cautiously' to avoid a surge in infections.

Public Health England's Dr Susan Hopkins warned that relaxing lockdown measures would have to be done 'very slowly, very cautiously' to avoid a surge in infections.

The Health Secretary said he was confident that a high percentage of the UK population would have had their jab within the next six months, enabling a roll-back of restrictions that have been in place since the new year. Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins warned that relaxing lockdown measures would have to be done ‘very slowly, very cautiously’

 

 

The UK has streaked ahead of Europe in terms of the number of vaccines administered (pie chart shows the number of vaccines given by January 26)

The UK has streaked ahead of Europe in terms of the number of vaccines administered (pie chart shows the number of vaccines given by January 26)

The UK has streaked ahead of Europe in terms of the number of vaccines administered (pie chart shows the number of vaccines given by January 26)

Cabinet minister Liz Truss hints the UK WILL export Covid jabs before everyone in the UK is covered saying new drugs ‘won’t benefit people in Britain if we become a vaccinated island’ with disease rife elsewhere 

A senior Cabinet minister refused to rule out sending doses of Covid jabs earmarked for British citizens abroad today as she blasted ‘vaccine nationalism and protectionism’.

Trade Secretary Liz Truss said that Britain becoming a ‘vaccinated island’ while the disease remained rampant elsewhere would be bad for the UK.

Ministers and officials have not ruled out the possibility that vaccines could be sent abroad after the most vulnerable domestic recipients have been covered if it does not slow its plans for all adults to be jabbed by the autumn.

Ms Truss told Sky this morning: ‘It’s a bit too early to say how we would deploy excess vaccines. But we certainly want to work with friends and neighbours, we want to work with developing countries, because we are only going to solve this issue once everybody in the world is vaccinated.

‘Some of these supplies there have been supply issues so we need to make sure the new drugs that are coming online are delivered, the population is vaccinated. But of course as we are developing that, we are also working with other countries about how we can help. 

‘Because it won’t benefit people in Britain if we become a vaccinated island and many other countries don’t have the vaccine, because the virus will continue to spread, so we need to tackle this on a global basis.’ 

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It comes as Matt Hancock today hinted that Britons will not be allowed to fly abroad this year after claiming that Britons will be able to enjoy a ‘great British summer’ this year  thanks to the coronavirus vaccination programme.

The Health Secretary said he was confident that a high percentage of the UK population would have had their jab within the next six months, enabling a roll-back of restrictions that have been in place since the new year. But he comments to BBC local news came as a senior government health expert warned against rushing to lift the lockdown.

Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins warned that relaxing lockdown measures would have to be done ‘very slowly, very cautiously’ to avoid a surge in infections. 

Speaking on BBC Politics East this morning, Suffolk East MP Mr Hancock said: ‘In six months we’ll be in the middle, I hope, of a happy and free Great British summer.

‘I have a high degree of confidence that by then the vast majority of adults will have been vaccinated.’ Mr Hancock has long been a summer optimist despite the horrific coronavirus death rate.

In December he revealed he had already booked his summer holiday, travelling to Cornwall with his osteopath wife Martha and their three children.

The success of the UK vaccines programme has fostered hopes that lockdown restrictions can be lifted sooner rather than later, with a review expected to take place late in February.

However, Dr Hopkins today cautioned against excessive speed, despite fears over the economy and the impact on schoolchildren. 

‘We have learnt, as we did on the first occasion, we have to relax things really quite slowly, so that if cases start to increase we can clamp down quite fast,’ she told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.

‘The NHS is going to be under pressure until the end of March, as normal in winter, but even more so with the amount of inpatients they still have with Covid-19.

‘Any releases that we have will have to happen very slowly, very cautiously, watching and waiting as we go, with a two-week period to watch and see the impact of that relaxation because it takes that to see what’s happening in the population.’ 

It comes as Tony Blair today criticised the EU’s short-lived move to override the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland under its vaccine export controls as a ‘very foolish’ move that jeopardised the peace process.

The former prime minister, a vocal supporter of the UK remaining in the bloc, said Brussels’ action in triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to control the movement of coronavirus jabs was ‘unacceptable’.

The EU backtracked on the move, imposed unilaterally as it faces shortfalls on vaccine supplies, after facing universal criticism from London, Dublin and Belfast.

Asked if the move was irresponsible, the Labour grandee told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘Yes, it was a very foolish thing to do and fortunately they withdrew it very quickly.

‘I was somebody who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, it’s brought peace to the island of Ireland and it is absolutely vital that we protect it and that’s why what the European Commission did was unacceptable but, as you say, fortunately they withdrew it very quickly.’ 

Shoppers queue outside during the opening day of Rogers Wholesale, a supermarket which only sells food that's past its Best Before date on January 30 in Stockport

Shoppers queue outside during the opening day of Rogers Wholesale, a supermarket which only sells food that's past its Best Before date on January 30 in Stockport

Shoppers queue outside during the opening day of Rogers Wholesale, a supermarket which only sells food that’s past its Best Before date on January 30 in Stockport

What is Article 16 and why has the EU invoked it? 

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows either the EU or the UK to override part of the Brexit trade agreement in relation to border controls in Northern Ireland.

The protocol itself was designed to avoid a re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 

But in the deal, both parties agreed to a get-out clause, which could be used if the protocol was thought to be causing ‘serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties’.  

However the EU has now invoked the clause, to put measures on vaccines coming from the EU to Northern Ireland.

The move is being introduced amid a huge row between the UK and EU over vaccines supplies, with Brussels accusing the UK of ‘hijacking doses’.

The row started after Oxford vaccine maker AstraZeneca announced it would not be able to supply as many vaccines as it had first hoped to the EU by Spring.

The EU has since unveiled plans for an export ban which could stop 3.5million Pfizer vaccines – made in Belgium – from being exported to the UK.

The aim of this move will be to prevent the possibility of the UK bringing vaccines into Northern Ireland ‘through the backdoor’, by using the controls-free border to bring in vaccines from the EU. 

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Mr Blair also said there is a ‘very strong case’ for teachers to be vaccinated before schools are reopened to all students in England, which the Government has earmarked for March 8.  

The move would require a delay for some older people to receive the jabs, but it is not suggested it starts before the top four priority groups are vaccinated, which is aimed for mid-February.

‘Well, I am suggesting I would push back,’ Mr Blair, 67, said. ‘If it’s 500,000 people it is two days of vaccination.

‘I think that is a reasonable thing to do in these circumstances if it helps allow you to get the schools back sooner.’ 

Mr Blair was joined in his criticisms by former Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said it was a ‘huge wrong step’ for the EU to have triggered a provision in the Brexit deal to control jab exports.  

He told Sky News: ‘It (the EU) got it completely wrong and I think the Government is being very wise to lower the temperature in a situation like this.

‘Because this year the big threat, which is not something many people predicted, is around these new variants, particularly from South Africa and also Brazil.

‘If we are going to tackle these new variants, and they could happen to be South Africa and Brazil this time, could be anywhere else next time, we are going to need to have high levels of close co-operation and collaboration across the world.

‘We all know the problems that happened because we didn’t find out about the virus in China as quickly as we might have, so we really do need to be working closely with everyone and we have the capacity to do that in this country with our world-beating genomics capacity.

‘That’s why I think this was a huge wrong step for the EU to take, but I think it’s very welcome that it’s been resolved.’

However, Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin has disagreed with the assessment of Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster that the EU displayed an ‘act of hostility’.

‘My observation is that the terrible row is an acrimonious row between AstraZeneca and the (EU) Commission over the contractual obligations of the company in respect of supplying vaccines to European member states took centre stage here, and people were blindsided by the decision that was taken and the implications for the Protocol,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

The Taoiseach stressed it took four years to negotiate the Protocol to facilitate access for Northern Ireland’s economy to the single market as well as to the UK market and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Critically ill Covid patients are dying unnecessarily because they REFUSE to go on ventilators amid fears the machines will kill them, doctors warn 

A refusal to go on ventilators is putting critically ill Covid-19 patients at unnecessary risk, senior medics have warned.

The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine has reported an increase in the number of patients and their families who are confronting doctors over fears the machines will kill them.

The body has said this follows theories put forward that the widespread use of ventilators at the start of the pandemic was linked to the high death rate.

The survival rate for ICU patients then improved following the first spike, correlating with a decline in the use of ventilators.

But Dr Alison Pittard, the dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine in London, has said evidence shows the two trends are not related.

Speaking to the Telegraph, she said: ‘It’s really difficult for doctors working in ICU when you see a patient deteriorate and you know that if you don’t put them on a ventilator they are going to die, but they are refusing.

‘They get sicker and sicker and sicker, then you have a situation when they become semi-conscious, so you can’t have an informed conversation.

‘We have to honour our patients’ wishes.’

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‘It’s a good thing, the Protocol, overall. There are issues there that we have to fine-tune and work out, but essentially I think there are positives there medium term for Northern Ireland in terms of its economic development which we should not underestimate.

‘We are only four weeks into the operation of the Protocol, there are bound to be teething problems but I do acknowledge the need for engagement here on all sides, between the European Union, the United Kingdom and the Irish Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive.’

During two phone calls just 30 minutes apart, the PM made European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ditch plans to stop 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer jab from reaching the UK from a factory in Belgium and abandon the ‘nuclear option’ of imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland to prevent them reaching the UK.

Following his diplomatic victory, Britain yesterday recorded a daily record for first-dose jabs – 487,756 – to bring the total to almost 8.4 million.

In his phone calls, Mr Johnson warned Ms von der Leyen that her actions risked denying millions of British pensioners their second Pfizer injections. She immediately capitulated in a tweet sent out shortly before midnight on Friday.

As part of an implicit ‘peace deal’ with the EU, No 10 yesterday adopted a conciliatory tone. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the EU recognised that it had ‘made a mistake’ and both sides agreed on the need for a ‘reset’.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster was less diplomatic, branding the EU’s move an ‘incredible act of hostility’. 

Meanwhile Tory MPs were jubilant, with one describing the EU’s surrender as Mr Johnson’s ‘Falklands moment’.

The Mail on Sunday understands that before Brussels was forced to blink twice, the Government had drawn up contingency plans to break any EU blockade. 

Under a ‘vaccine security exercise’ adapted from plans for a No-Deal Brexit, supplies of the Pfizer jab could have been airlifted out of the continent.

The EU – and Ms von der Leyen in particular – were savaged by the European media for their handling of the row as governments across the bloc faced a backlash from their voters.

And with the EU having only vaccinated 2.5 per cent of its population – compared to 12 per cent in the UK – Ms Foster suggested that Northern Ireland could help to provide vaccine supplies to Dublin. 

The simmering row over vaccines exploded on Friday evening when Brussels said it would trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – thereby creating a hard border on the island of Ireland – and take other measures to stop supplies of the Pfizer vaccine from reaching Britain.

Intensive care doctor says Covid crisis in hospitals has ‘stabilised’ and staff are no longer having to plan for extra capacity – but warns there is a ‘very hard year ahead’ 

The coronavirus crisis in hospitals across the UK has ‘stabilised’ and staff are no longer having to plan for extra capacity, an intensive care doctor has said.

But Professor Rupert Pearse from the Intensive Care Society said 2021 is going to be ‘another very hard year’ and warned of the mental health impact on NHS staff.

There are currently nearly 35,000 people in hospitals in the UK and 3,832 patients on ventilators, according to the latest official figures. 

The second wave has seen bigger numbers of coronavirus patients in hospitals, with 21,684 patients during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic last April. 

The consultant in intensive care medicine at a London hospital told BBC Breakfast the situation had ‘stabilised in most areas’ as a result of the national coronavirus lockdown – calling it a ‘big step forward’. 

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Mr Johnson called an emergency meeting at No 10 to decide the UK’s response, then spoke to the Commission President just before 10pm to set out his demands and warn Ms von der Leyen her actions could threaten the Irish peace process. 

They spoke again at 10.30pm when Ms von der Leyen agreed to issue a climbdown message that ‘there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities’.

The fiasco has put Ms von der Leyen’s position in doubt, with one senior EU source saying ‘the disquiet is growing’. 

Tory MPs on both sides of the Brexit divide heralded Mr Johnson’s efforts. One Remainer said: ‘If this had happened in 2016, I would have voted to Leave without blinking.’ 

Elsewhere the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the EU’s U-turn was ‘welcome’ but added ‘lessons should be learned’. 

In a statement on Twitter, he said: ‘Welcome news, but lessons should be learned; the Protocol is not something to be tampered with lightly, it’s an essential, hard won compromise, protecting peace & trade for many.’

Brussels had triggered the controversial Article 16 just 29 days after the UK and EU struck the post-Brexit trade deal when Britain left the transition period. 

The EU’s chief negotiator in that agreement, Mr Barnier, today called for ‘co-operation’ between Brussels and the UK over the supply of vaccines across Europe.

Mr Barnier told the Times: ‘We are facing an extraordinarily serious crisis, which is creating a lot of suffering, which is causing a lot of deaths in the UK, in France, in Germany, everywhere.

‘And I believe we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of oneupmanship or unhealthy competition. I recommend preserving the spirit of co-operation between us.’ 

Last night, Lord Ricketts, a former UK ambassador to France, accused Brussels of ‘escalating recklessly in an attempt to get more doses [of the vaccine] from the UK’. He added: ‘The EU is all at sea on this.’

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tweeted: ‘The European Union was originally inspired by Christian social teaching – at the heart of which is solidarity.

‘Seeking to control the export of vaccines undercuts the EU’s basic ethics. They need to work together with others.’ The World Health Organisation also said the export ban was a ‘very worrying trend’.      

Link hienalouca.com

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