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On the evening of Saturday, June 26, many Britons were relieved that Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed a new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care so soon after Matt Hancock’s resignation.

Although lockdown supporters say that Sajid Javid has no experience in health, that is why many of us think he is a good choice. He will give the department a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective, one that isn’t tied to SAGE or ‘our NHS’, which has become a cult religion over the past 16 months (March 2020 – June 2021).

Since the pandemic began, it has become very difficult being able to see a general practitioner (GP) in person.

The Telegraph‘s Ross Clark wrote (emphases mine):

… many patients struggle to get a doctor to see them even at the surgery. Hancock’s vision of us all consulting medical staff via smartphone app doesn’t allow for the fact that, according to Ofcom, only 55 percent of the over-65s – ie those who need the NHS the most – use a smartphone. Even if it did, it ignores the views of cancer specialists who have warned that cancer is often diagnosed via subtle changes in a patient’s appearance – something you can’t capture by uploading a photograph of a spot.

Hopefully, the new health secretary will bring a keen eye to Hancock’s failures and won’t shy away from tackling vested interests so that we can a real doctor, in real life, when we need to.

GB News covered the appointment on their Sunday morning programme:

TalkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer also thought Javid’s appointment was good news:

Mark Harper MP of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) in Parliament tweeted his congratulations:

The Sunday Times said that Carrie Johnson, who once worked for Javid in government, was influential in getting him the job:

The Mayor of London appeared on Andrew Marr’s show on Sunday to congratulate a fellow son of a bus driver (video here):

This confused Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner, who also said ‘fragrant’ instead of ‘flagrant’ in an interview this week:

Later that day, Times journalist Steven Swinford was told that the security camera in Hancock’s former office — now Javid’s — had been turned off:

Monday’s front page of the Telegraph reported a positive outlook from the new Health Secretary:

That morning, Javid gave an interview to Sky News expressing his desire for a quick lifting of coronavirus restrictions:

However, as Guido Fawkes pointed out, Javid has voted with the Government on continuing restrictions (emphasis in the original):

Co-conspirators will be relieved to hear that given hitherto he has voted in favour of every lockdown. Javid also confirmed the notorious camera lurking in his new office has now been disabled, though not by him personally…

Late Monday afternoon, Javid delivered his first statement in Parliament as Health Secretary. Excerpts from Hansard follow, emphases mine.

He stated the positives about the vaccine rollout, beginning with a brief tribute to Hancock:

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), who has worked hard throughout all these testing times. He achieved a great amount in the work that he did, and I know that he will have more to offer in public life. I wish him the very best.

There remains a big task ahead of us to restore our freedoms—freedoms that, save in the gravest of circumstances, no Government should ever wish to curtail. My task is to help to return the economic and cultural life that makes this country so great, while, of course, protecting life and our NHS. That task has been made all the more difficult by the delta variant, which we now know makes up some 95% of new cases in the UK. Not only does it spread more easily, but the evidence points to a higher risk of those who have not been vaccinated needing hospital treatment, compared with the previously dominant alpha variant.

This narrowing of the race between the virus and the vaccine led to this Government’s difficult decision to pause step 4 on our road map until 19 July. We are using this extra time to protect as many people as we can. When the Government took that decision on 14 June, more than 4.3 million over-40s had had a first dose but not a second. The figure is now down to 3.2 million people over 40. We can all be reassured by how many more people are getting the life-saving opportunity that a vaccine offers.

At this two-week review point, I want to update the House on our progress on our road map to freedom. Our aim is that around two thirds of all adults in this country will have had both doses by 19 July. We are bringing forward second doses, and bringing forward our target for first doses too, so we can meet that 19 July goal. Vaccine uptake remains sky-high. We have seen that age is no barrier to enthusiasm for getting the jab: as of this weekend, more than half of adults under 30 have taken up the chance to be vaccinated—including, in the past couple of weeks, all three of my own adult children.

Our vaccines are working, including against the delta variant. The latest modelling from Public Health England shows that they have saved more than 27,000 lives and have prevented more than 7 million people from getting covid-19. We know that, after a single dose of vaccine, the effectiveness is lower against the new delta variant, at around a 33% reduction in symptomatic disease, but two doses of the vaccine are just as effective against hospital admission with the delta variant as with the alpha variant.

The jabs are making a difference in our hospitals, too. In January, people over 65 who were vaccinated earlier in our programme made up the vast majority of hospital admissions; the latest data shows that that group now makes up less than a third. While cases now are ticking up, the number of deaths remains mercifully low, and we will continue to investigate how our vaccines are breaking that link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths. I am also encouraged by new data just today from Oxford University’s mix and match trial, which shows that a mixed schedule of jabs, such as getting the AstraZeneca jab first and the Pfizer second, could give our booster vaccination programme more flexibility and possibly even some better immune responses

I spent my first day as Health Secretary—just yesterday—looking at the data and testing it to the limit. While we decided not to bring forward step 4, we see no reason to go beyond 19 July because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for covid. We know we cannot simply eliminate it; we have to learn to live with it. We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so we want every step to be irreversible. Make no mistake: the restrictions on our freedoms must come to an end. We owe it to the British people, who have sacrificed so much, to restore their freedoms as quickly as we possibly can, and not to wait a moment longer than we need to.

With the numbers heading in the right direction, all while we protect more and more people each day, 19 July remains our target date. The Prime Minister has called it our terminus date. For me, 19 July is not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country. At this crucial moment in our fight back against this pandemic, we must keep our resolve and keep on our road map to freedom so that together we can beat this pandemic and build back better. It is a task that I am deeply honoured to lead and one I know will succeed. I commend this statement to the House.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Lab) responded for the Opposition, pointing out that Javid’s optimism might be misguided:

Can I just say at the outset that, despite our fierce political differences, my dealings with the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), were always courteous, respectful and professional, and I wish him well in resolving his personal difficulties.

I welcome the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) to his place and thank him for advance sight of his statement. He will find working with the NHS and social care staff both inspirational and rewarding, and I hope he will agree to make arrangements for them to receive a fair pay rise and not the real-terms pay cut that is currently pencilled in.

Today, the Secretary of State has let it be known that the 19 July reopening will effectively go ahead. He told the news this morning that there is “no going back” and that lifting restrictions will be “irreversible”. A word to the wise: I have responded to a lot of these statements these past 15 months, and I remember Ministers telling us there was “nothing in the data” to suggest that 21 June would not go ahead. I remember children returning to school for one day before the January lockdown. I remember, “It will all be over by Christmas”. I remember, “We will send it packing in 12 weeks”.

Well, we have seen around 84,000 cases in the past week—an increase of around 61%. Today, we have seen the highest case rate since January. If these trends continue, we could hit 35,000 to 45,000 cases a day by 19 July. That will mean more long covid—the Secretary of State did not mention more long covid—and it will mean more disruption to schooling. For some, it will mean hospitalisation, and we know that even after two doses, someone can catch and transmit the virus, so what is he going to do to push infections down? Vaccination will do it eventually, but not in the next four weeks.

I want to see an end to restrictions and our constituents want to see an end to restrictions, but I hope the Secretary of State’s confidence today about 19 July does not prove somewhat premature or even, dare I say it, hubristic. Can he confirm that by “irreversible” he is ruling out restrictions this winter? Has he abandoned the plan that the previous Secretary of State and officials were drawing up for restrictions this winter? …

Javid responded, without addressing possible winter restrictions:

With all the data I saw yesterday—I sat down and discussed it with the experts and my colleagues—it is very clear that we are heading in the right direction, and I am very confident about that date of 19 July

Lucy Allan (Con), who has voiced her scepticism about coronavirus restrictions before, asked about the terminus date:

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that 19 July will mark the end of the road map out of lockdown, that “terminus” means the end of the line, not an interchange, and that it is his intention that all restrictions will be lifted on that date?

Javid replied:

… As she will have heard in my statement, it is absolutely our intention to have step 4 commence on 19 July and to remove restrictions and start returning to normal. She asked me specifically about all restrictions, or which restrictions. It is certainly our intention to remove restrictions, but as we follow the data in the coming days, we will set out more in due course.

Jim Shannon (DUP), a staunch Anglican, asked about loosening restrictions on church worship:

… If we are aiming for progression and moving away from restrictions such as the wearing of masks, may I ask when people will be able to attend worship and sit in churches self-distanced, without wearing a mask, just as diners can sit in a restaurant self-distanced without a mask? If we are going to have parity, then I believe that churches should have parity with restaurants.

Javid gave a reassuring reply:

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I agree with him that as we move towards removing restrictions and step 4, we should take seriously into account what he said about people attending churches and the restrictions that they currently face. That is certainly my intention.

John Redwood (Con) asked whether Javid would look into improvements in ventilation and cleaning for various types of establishments to improve the air flow. Javid said that he would do so.

Theresa Villiers (Con) also asked about church, specifically singing hymns:

Now that thousands of people are allowed to gather together at a football match to shout and cheer as much as they want, is it not time that we allowed congregations in church to sing hymns together?

Javid responded positively, which is more than Hancock ever did when asked similar questions:

I can tell my right hon. Friend that that is certainly what I would like to see and it is certainly my intention to allow that to happen as soon as possible. When it does, I hope we can sing a hymn together.

Richard Drax (Con) asked how long it would take before people could see their GPs in person again.

It looks as if Javid will address that issue, which Hancock did not much care about, insisting that phone and video conferences were highly successful:

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. Even before I had this job, that issue came up again and again when I was a constituency MP just like him, and I absolutely understand it. It has especially been raised by older members of my constituency; people have brought this issue up where they are perhaps not as familiar with technology and they want that face-to-face meeting. I have already asked for advice on that and I will write to him on it, if I may.

Liam Fox (Con) asked for more data to be made public:

As for the data we get, it is not just about the number of infections—it is about who is infected, what age they are, whether they have pre-existing conditions, and whether they have been offered a vaccine, but have refused. It is not just about hospitalisations and how many people are in hospital. How long have they been hospitalised compared with the figures for previous parts of the pandemic? How many of them require extra care and how many are in intensive care units? We need to understand much better how the Government are reaching their decisions. The British people are not stupid, and Parliament needs to be taken into the Government’s confidence much more. I trust, given the previous examples of how he has conducted himself, that my right hon. Friend can do that.

Javid replied:

… On his important point about data, I saw the data in the Department for the first time yesterday. I saw the detail that it provides and how granular it is. I was impressed with that data, so I can give my right hon. Friend reassurance that the Government are looking at the data, and are absolutely taking it into account. I would also like to find a way to make sure that we can share as much of that data as possible so that others can benefit from it, and I will certainly look at ways in which we can do just that.

Dr Ben Spencer (Con) asked about winter measures:

… Does he share my concerns regarding this winter, when we predict that an increase in covid hospitalisations may be superimposed on normal NHS winter pressures? Can he confirm that plans and preparations are being put in place now to support our NHS in what may be a very difficult winter indeed?

Javid responded in the affirmative:

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I can absolutely confirm that plans are being put in place. A huge amount of work was done by my predecessor and, of course, I will continue that work—just yesterday, I had meetings on winter plans. I can give my hon. Friend the absolute assurance, not just on vaccinations but on dealing with the backlog, that there are plans in place, and in due course I will come to the House and set them out.

Huw Merriman (Con) asked about a return to international travel, especially for those who have had two vaccinations.

Javid said:

First, my hon. Friend will know that, in terms of 19 July and the restrictions that will be removed, we are focusing on domestic restrictions. He knows that, separately, we also take very seriously the border controls, the border restrictions and the so-called traffic light system. In terms of making any further decision on that, he will know that it is kept under constant review on a very regular basis, and it is something that I intend to sit down and discuss with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary as soon as I can.

Mark Harper (Con) pressed Javid with a question on winter restrictions:

… I welcome my right hon. Friend’s tone and his intent to get us back to normal, but let me pick up on his earlier answer to our hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer). There are those in government, from documents that I have seen, who are preparing the ground for the return of restrictions in the autumn and the winter. Will he rule out the use of lockdowns and restrictions in the winter as a mechanism for managing covid, and look at alternatives to ensure that the NHS is able to deal with us getting back to normal?

Javid answered:

I am very happy to meet with him to discuss the issues in more detail and listen to his views. He should know that it is my intention, and the Government’s intention, as I have said from day one on this job, to remove all restrictions as quickly as possible.

Steve Brine (Con) asked about the disruptive self-isolation rules following positive test results, especially for schoolchildren:

I am looking for a change in policy as much as a change in tone. I return him to the subject of education. Estimates suggest that a quarter of a million children are missing school today due to precautionary isolations, the vast majority of them sequential due to the bubbles that they are caught in. Under the current rules, 10 days of isolation is then unavoidable, even with a negative PCR test. Have our young people not suffered enough? Are we really going to continue to do this to ourselves? Is this not an area, given the availability and reliability of testing now, where I might find the change of policy that I am looking for?

Javid replied:

Other hon. Members have rightly raised this very important issue, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it once again. It is something that I have focused on from day one on the job. That is why I have asked for fresh advice on it. As he knows, that decision was made with the data that was available at the time. Clearly, data is changing all the time, and we must ensure that we keep that under review for exactly the reasons that he has just set out. As I say, I have asked for advice on that and will hopefully be able to say more on it as soon as possible.

This is what journalists and the public picked up from that debate.

The Sun‘s Deputy Political Editor Kate Ferguson tweeted about the terminus date …

… and singing in church:

GB News was a bit more cautious:

The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson gave Javid five suggestions for improvement, including sacking SAGE and publishing COVID-19 recovery data with the public:

It was pure speculation by Sage that led to the cancellation of Freedom Day on June 21. Subsequent figures have shown that we are not seeing any sign of hospitalisations for Covid “rocketing” or “surging” as we were warned two weeks ago. On the contrary, NHS England currently has just 1,445 Covid patients (one per cent of all beds). The rolling seven-day average of deaths after a positive test with Covid is 17. Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, says the vaccines are holding up really well against variants. Asked about the large number of “cases”, he said, “This is trivial, actually. Most who test positive are under 30 and they don’t get very sick.” Sir John is clearly far too sane to qualify as a government adviser. Maybe have a word with him?

As for publishing the recovery data:

Matt Hancock promised he would last summer; the slippery eel never did. We are among the only countries in the world not to trust its people with positive information from which they can calculate their own risk. Please stop infantilising us.

The Telegraph‘s Jeremy Warner has hope that, by working together, Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak can turn this parlous situation around:

Like the new Health Secretary, Sunak has always been at the libertarian end of the debate on lockdown, as he must given his interest in a functioning, tax generating economy. So unusually, we for now have a Chancellor and a Health Secretary who are actually on the same page. The Prime Minister should enjoy the harmony while it lasts. The Treasury and Health department are not natural bedfellows.

On the other hand, Bob Moran, the Telegraph‘s cartoonist and a coronavirus sceptic, was unimpressed:

Someone picked up on ‘Build Back Better’:

However, author Carl Vernon, also a coronavirus sceptic, was positive:

I tend to agree with him.

As Sajid Javid has worked for some of the world’s greatest investment banks, I hope that he will cast a gimlet eye over all of the data and ask probing questions of SAGE when they make recommendations on continuing restrictions.

I wish our new Health Secretary all the best.

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