You are currently browsing the daily archive for July 15, 2021.

The cost of coronavirus in England has been immense.

There is no end in sight for some restrictions and, as I wrote earlier in the week, there will be no Freedom Day on July 19, except for theatres and nightclubs.

London

On July 15, The Telegraph‘s Tanya Gold wrote about London’s ongoing ghost town appearance (emphases mine):

It is too early to say that London is dying, but something is wrong with the city and Covid has accelerated it. Certainly, there is a sense that things are slipping out of control

I was in central London last week, and it felt ever more ominous. Perhaps it was the weather – again, the rain was monstrous. Or perhaps it was the silence: the department stores in Oxford Street were glassy and empty

What will happen if offices shutter forever, and most people work from home? This will work for the affluent with spare rooms for offices, and gardens; or they might just leave for Amersham and its Britain in Bloom awards stacked on posts. For those renting in inner cities, it won’t; employers will pass a business expense onto an employee, one whose home is already small.

Will central London’s beautiful buildings become flats? John Lewis [a nationwide department store chain] is moving into housing. Will anyone want to live in them if the city declines?

Restaurants 

On the topic of London, Mark Hix, one of Britain’s best chefs, has had to close his two restaurants in the capital.

He has moved back to Dorset and opened a restaurant there.

Hix Soho in Brewer Street is now a taqueria and Tramshed, his old 150-cover restaurant in Shoreditch (East London), will become a furniture showroom.

He wrote about the two establishments for The Telegraph.

The owners of the El Pastor taqueria invited him to visit, which he did:

My strongest feeling was not one of regret, or even missing the time when this place was my flagship, but rather of pleasure at seeing it busy and buzzy again. It has a new lease of life. And therefore I wished them well, especially with the landlord, the same greedy one who had doubled the rent when I was the tenant and began the collapse of my London chain of restaurants because we just couldn’t make any money at the rate he was charging.

We have all learnt some important life lessons these past 16 months of Covid. Perhaps the landlord has too in the new business climate it has produced. Most of all, though, what that walk down memory lane did was give me courage.

As for the Tramshed:

I’ve got a date in my diary to go back to the kitchen at the Tramshed, my old 150-cover restaurant in Shoreditch. It is going to be less return in triumph and more fond farewell, for my presence there is, as the theatre posters put it, ‘for one night only’. The guys who have been running it since my business went into administration are moving out and are staging one last hurrah with my help.

Lockdown has killed the place off and it is going to be converted into a furniture showroom of some description. When I took it on in 2012, this handsome building had been used for chemical storage, so I suppose it is a case of back to the future. Which rather neatly sums up my life story since I handed back the keys in March of last year after breaking the news to the staff there that they had lost their jobs.

He foresees a difficult return for hospitality:

I’ve come back to Dorset, where it all started, and am now building a new future. All being well, on Monday we will be taking one more step towards that with the lifting of all Government restrictions on how we trade, but the hard work of repairing the damage done by Covid has only just begun. The road back to prosperity for the whole hospitality industry remains a long one.

As I write, Hix is taking a brief fishing break in Iceland, a country on the Green list.

However, a question remains over whether he and other restaurant owners will be able to trade freely on Monday with the lifting of restrictions. 

Hospitality chiefs are still trying to interpret what Boris Johnson said on Monday, which sounded to me like a U-turn on what he said on July 5. The Times says that masks and outdoor service are still recommended, as is checking customers in with contact details. That is what is in place today.

Furthermore, coronavirus passports, which the Government had previously denied would be recommended, are, in fact, on the table.

On Wednesday, July 14, The Telegraph reported:

Ministers on Wednesday published delayed sectoral advice for businesses on how to operate when the country moves to step four of the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown next Monday

The Government was accused of widening the net of companies encouraged to use domestic coronavirus passports, after Boris Johnson initially signalled on Monday that they would be recommended for nightclubs and venues with “large crowds”.

The Prime Minister said relevant firms should show “social responsibility” and “make use” of the NHS Covid pass app, which shows proof of double vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity, as “a means of entry”.

The updated guidance sparked a backlash among Conservative MP and hospitality chiefs, after advice specifically for restaurants, pubs, bars, nightclubs and takeaway services encouraged the use of Covid passports.

It stated: “Consider the use of the NHS Covid pass to reduce the risk of transmission at your venue or event.”

So far, only Steve Baker MP (Con) has spoken out against this recommendation:

I am simply astonished that after everything the Prime Minister and Michael Gove said in the past about ID cards that they are advancing this fast down this really quite appalling path.

Kate Nicholls, the head of the industry body UK Hospitality, expressed her disappointment and said:

the guidance for pubs and restaurants was “disappointing” in the wake of a select committee of MPs and a Cabinet Office consultation “acknowledging that this was a very difficult thing to implement in a domestic hospitality setting”.

She said ministers needed to provide a “whole suite of guidance” to explain how Covid passports should work in the sector “for us to decide whether we are willing to adopt this on a voluntary basis”.

Predicting few businesses would adopt the measure by Monday, from which date the guidance is meant to apply, she said: “I don’t think anybody would be able to introduce this on a voluntary basis from Monday until we have clarification.”

Ms Nicholls added that “more work is needed by the Government” and warned that there were “real concerns” around equalities legislation, and “practical issues” around the type of testing that qualifies and how businesses should handle customers’ personal health data.

This is an unfortunate development.

Transport

Still on the subject of London, the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan (Lab), a strong opponent of his predecessor Boris Johnson, intends to continue with mask mandates on Transport for London (TfL) vehicles and the Tube as a condition of carriage.

Douglas Murray wrote an editorial for The Telegraph in which he says:

Sadiq Khan, for instance, has tried to look super responsible by insisting that even after the rules for mask-wearing are relaxed masks will be compulsory on public transport in London. Obviously, throughout the pandemic, there have been the rules and there has been what people do. I have seen plenty of people get on the bus with their mask on and then pull it under their chin as soon as they are in their seat. We have become used to the theatre of masks.

But the Mayor of London has ordered Transport for London to enforce mask wearing after July 19, making the prospect of a journey on the London Underground even more enjoyable. Citizens of the capital not only have to pay the highest fares of any commuters in the world for one of the world’s worst services, but must now mask up under threat of the London Transport Police if they do not. What a wonderful way to get the capital moving again.

Agreed. It makes no sense, and Khan has complained for months that TfL’s finances have been dire since lockdown started last year. It’s pure political theatre just to oppose Boris Johnson’s government.

Office work

On July 5, the Government encouraged office workers to go back to their workplaces.

This Monday, they backtracked because they got complaints in the media.

The Times has an article about the travel company Tui, which has told its employees they only need to come into the office one day a month, regardless of what happens on July 19.

Other companies have followed suit. However, in the United States, fully-vaccinated employees are expected to be back at their desks by September:

Other businesses adjusting their working practices include KPMG, the accountancy firm, which has told its 16,000 UK staff they should work in the office for up to four days a fortnight. In the US, by way of contrast, Bank of America yesterday followed Goldman Sachs in telling all fully-vaccinated staff to be back at their desks by September.

The policy director of the Institute of Directors says that the Government’s advice this month has been confusing:

Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said: “Like everybody else, businesses across the country having been awaiting ‘freedom day’ with bated breathbut we have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from government that have dampened enthusiasm.

“Return to work or continue to stay at home. Throw away your masks or continue to wear them. The guidance has done little to dispel that confusion.

Business leaders are understandably confused as to the legal status that this guidance has and are concerned about vulnerability under health and safety legislation, as well as the validity of their insurance.

“Government needs to inspire confidence in businesses and the workforce that we can all return to work safely.”

School

We have little idea of exactly how much school-age children have been suffering over the past year.

One mother and her ex-husband saw how their daughter’s scholastic performance had been declining and put her in an independent school, with financial help from both sets of grandparents.

The mother, Mel Sims, told The Telegraph her story, beginning in the Spring of 2020:

My daughter was in Year 5 when the first lockdown brought her education to an abrupt halt. A bright only child, mature for her age because she spends so much time with adults, she’d been doing very well in the classroom. But then the state primary she attends in our village in Essex closed its doors to all but key worker children. I’m a 49-year-old single mother. My daughter’s father lives in Durham. I had no choice but to become her full-time teacher.

While some of her friends in private or religious schools were receiving a whole day of live Zoom teaching, my daughter’s school was very disappointing. What they did provide was an email every Monday morning, packed with multiple different lessons for parents to print off, somehow quickly get their heads around, then teach to our children as best we could.

My business – a children’s play centre – shut down along with the schools, so I was at home. I found myself teaching my daughter from 9.30am until 4.30pm every day. Other than the weekly email, we received no contact from the school, which, like many, lacks funding and has class sizes of 30-plus. My daughter’s after-school club, where she mixed with older children, was closed. Extracurricular dance classes went on hold and the swimming pool was shut.

Since Covid, my daughter has received very little or no homework as the teachers seem to feel the children already have enough on their plates. I don’t know what happened to her foreign language lessons. My previously high-achieving daughter was starting to fall behind the level she had been at before – not just a little, but dramatically. By the end of each week of lockdown, her maths and English were worse. She’d lost interest in doing better; any desire to excel. It was heartbreaking to see her sliding backwards.

This caused tension between the mother and the school:

Friction began to develop between us and the school, as they resented me trying to push her beyond the slow pace at which her class was moving. Many of the families in our village didn’t even have enough computers for their multiple children. My daughter’s academic success was riding on all the other local parents’ capabilities, and that felt deeply unfair on her.

Schools reopened last autumn then shut down at the end of January 4, 2021 for several weeks. By then, the cumulative negative effect had kicked in:

When the second lockdown arrived, my daughter was in Year 6 [the year before secondary school]. This time, there was at least a school registration every day, which took place over Zoom. But my daughter gained little from it, as everyone on the call was at such different levels both academically and behaviourally. There wasn’t the opportunity for much academic input from the teacher and my daughter quickly grew bored.

Fortunately, the girl had passed her 11-plus exams, which opened up more education opportunities. Her parents decided that she would have to go to an independent day school, but, even pooling their savings together, they could not afford school fees of £5,500 per term. With the help of the girl’s grandparents, they are able to meet the cost of the new school.

Mel Sims concludes:

We’ll all be making big changes. But we’ll do so in order that, if schools do close again, our daughter’s education will not grind to a halt. The new school staff have already assured me that if we go back into lockdown, exactly the same learning will continue over Zoom, full-time and unaided by parents.

I never thought it would come to this. Pre-pandemic, I’d always believed we didn’t need private school; that whatever happened at state school, we could get our daughter through.

School closures have changed all that. Yes, we’re paying a price. But I feel we’ve had to invest in a lockdown-proof education. With so many children off school again even now, as their “bubbles” have burst, it seems we have made the right decision.

Care homes

Recently, Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, a group which runs 45 private care homes in England and one in Wales, wrote to Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for the Department for Health and Social Care to ask that mask mandates be relaxed.

On Thursday, July 15, The Telegraph reported that:

some of these measures are now damaging the well-being of care home residents.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) is expected to issue updated guidance on care homes, and whether or not masks will be mandatory in them, later this week …

“For many residents, a visit from their family member has provided invaluable improvements to their well-being, but the requirement for these visitors to wear a face mask degrades the level of connection and therefore devalues the positive impacts their visits can have.

“This restrictive policy, along with various others from both the DHSC and PHE [Public Health England], should be reconsidered as we approach this next step in England’s roadmap out of lockdown.”

The letter said the success of the vaccination programme among care home staff and residents meant the majority of homes “are now set to confidently return back to an enhanced degree of normality”.

All 46 Sunrise and Gracewell homes have at least 90 per cent of residents vaccinated and all but one have more than 80 per cent of staff jabbed. This is the threshold that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) says needs to be met in each setting to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid outbreaks.

Helen Whately MP (Con) oversees social care provision. It is unclear as yet whether she will change any requirements for July 19. The Telegraph quoted her as saying:

I’m also really aware that there will be circumstances I’m expecting to continue in health and social care, clearly, where people will need to continue to wear PPE [personal protective equipment], which includes masks.

Conclusion

I find it concerning that the Left, whether in Parliament, SAGE and elsewhere have caused the Government to backtrack on Freedom Day.

As Douglas Murray says in his aforementioned article:

It is inevitable, perhaps, that politicians like Khan want to score some political points. But again what is so strange is that all the points are scored from that side. Putting aside a few MPs on the Tory benches there is no political pressure on us to go the other way. To do so – to advocate the path of greater risk and greater freedomis still presented as though it is somehow irresponsible or otherwise risky.

But society is risky. Life is risky. The biggest leap towards normal life has already been taken. It is the success of the mass vaccination programme which this country has rolled out so well. But after that we do not need politicians and private companies policing us ever more. We need to take a different leap. Not into greater safety, but into greater freedom. Our allies and competitors are up for that. The question now is whether Britain is. An awful lot rides on the answer.

I couldn’t agree more.

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