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My post yesterday discussed the analysis of what Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid might announce on Monday, July 5, with regard to England’s Freedom Day, pencilled in for July 19.

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle wanted to ensure that both men gave their announcements at the same time:

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus briefing

Rev.com has a transcript of Boris’s televised coronavirus briefing.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Boris acknowledged that cases would continue to rise for the time being, however, the highly successful vaccine rollout would mitigate the dangers to the general public:

As we predicted in the roadmap in February, we’re seeing cases rise fairly rapidly. There could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19th, and again, as we predicted, we’re seeing rising hospital admissions, and we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID. In these circumstances, we must take a careful and a balanced decision, and there’s only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to step four in circumstances where we’d normally be locking down further, and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine rollout.

Reopening now, in mid-summer, will be safer than waiting until autumn or winter, when demand for the NHS will be much higher for respiratory disease. As such, the only alternative would be not to reopen at all this year:

… we must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves, when will we be able to return to normal? And to those who say we should delay again, the alternative to that is to open up in winter, when the virus will have an advantage, or not at all this year.

The Government and SAGE will look at the latest data on July 12, which will determine a final decision on July 19.

Boris laid out his five-point plan. First, the vaccine rollout is being ramped up:

without preempting the decision on the 12th of July, let me set out today our five point plan for living with COVID, in the hope that it will give families and businesses time to prepare. First, we will reinforce our vaccine more, reducing the dose interval for under 40s from 12 weeks to eight, so that everyone under 18 should be double jabbed by the middle of September, in addition to our autumn program of booster vaccines for the most vulnerable.

Secondly, nearly all restrictions will be lifted, including working from home:

Second, we will change the basic tools that we have used to control human behavior, we’ll move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus. From step four, we will remove all legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors. We will allow all businesses to reopen, including nightclubs. We will lift the limit on named visitors to care homes, and on numbers of people attending concerts, theater, and sports events. We will end the one meter plus rule on social distancing, and the legal obligation to wear a face covering, although guidance will suggest where you might choose to do so, especially when cases are rising and where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet in enclosed spaces, such as obviously crowded public transport.

It will no longer to be necessary for government to instruct people to work from home. So, employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace. There will be no COVID certificate required as a condition of entry to any venue or event. Although businesses and events can certainly make use of certification, and the NHS app gives you a COVID pass as one way to show your COVID status.

Thirdly, test-trace-isolate will continue, and the Government will plan something different for schools in future:

Third, we will continue from step four to manage the virus with a test, trace and isolate system that is proportionate to the pandemic. You will have to self-isolate if you test positive, or are told to do so by NHS test and trace. But we’re looking to move to a different regime of fully vaccinated contacts of those testing positive, and also for children. And tomorrow, the education secretary will announce our plans to maintain key protections, but remove bubbles and contact isolation for pupils.

The fourth point involves maintaining ‘tough’ border controls (hmm):

Fourth, from step four we will maintain our tough border controls, including the red list, and recognizing the protection afforded by two does of vaccine, we will work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate on return from an amber country, and the transport secretary will provide a further update later this week.

The fifth, and final, point is to do everything possible to avoid a winter lockdown:

Last, we will continue to monitor the data and retain contingency measures to help manage the virus during higher risk periods, such as the winter. But we will place an emphasis on strengthened guidance and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions, with all the costs that they bring.

The rest of the transcript covers the latest data, which Sir Patrick Vallance presented, and answers to the press from Prof Chris Whitty, both of whom are SAGE members.

The BBC’s Vicki Young asked the three men about mask wearing.

Boris said that people should start taking personal responsibility for their own decisions:

On your question about will I personally wear a mask, I think that, as I said earlier on, it will depend on the circumstances. I think that what we’re trying to do is move from a universal government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility.

Boris doesn’t need to wear a mask, as he’s already had the virus. However, he probably wants to set an example for the nation.

Chris Whitty threw a spanner into the works with his answer:

In terms of wearing a mask, I would wear a mask under three situations and I would do so particularly at this point when the epidemic is clearly significant and rising. And the first is in any situation which was indoors and crowded or indoors with close proximity to other people. And that is because masks help protect other people, this is a thing we do to protect other people, as it’s by far its principle aim. The second situation I’d do it is if I was required to by any competent authority, I would have no hesitation about doing that and I would consider that within a reasonable and sensible thing if they had good reasons to do that. And the third reason is if someone else was uncomfortable if I did not wear a mask, as a point of common courtesy of course I would wear a mask. So under all those circumstances I would do so.

Sir Patrick confirmed Whitty’s response:

… just a reminder masks are most effective at preventing somebody else catching the disease from you. They have some effect to prevent you catching it as well. And the situation you’re most likely to catch COVID in is indoors crowded spaces. So that’s the obvious place where mask wearing becomes an advantage.

Tell me that will not cause mask rage on and after July 19.

Earlier that day, Guido Fawkes reported that Labour’s big city mayors all want to keep a mask mandate, as do union bosses (emphases in the original):

Labour mayors Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Dan Norris and Steve Rotheram all seem reluctant to bin the masks. As such it’s unclear whether masks will continue to be mandated on public transport – which is under the remit of mayors. If Khan had his way, Guido suspects that no one would be boarding the freedom train any time soon…

Unite the union are also calling on ministers to keep face masks mandatory on public transport, writing that optional face coverings would be “an act of gross negligence by the government”

However, a Conservative MP is rightly vexed by the ambiguity of the Government’s upcoming guidance on the matter:

Huw Merriman, Tory Chairman of the Commons Transport Committee has slammed the government’s “confusing” policy arguing that scrapping mask laws whilst simultaneously recommending they be worn is a “cop out.” He says guidance should be scrapped in its entirety… 

I couldn’t agree more. Why squander the success of the vaccination programme?

Sajid Javid

In his statement to the House of Commons, Sajid Javid said much the same as Boris.

He explained that hospitalisations and deaths are decreasing:

As such, even if cases continue to increase over the coming weeks, there will be less pressure on the NHS (the original reason for lockdown in 2020):

We cannot live like this ‘forever’. Furthermore, because of the pandemic, we have other challenges that need to be addressed:

Social distancing will go, except at ports of entry for travel and for medical settings:

Javid did warn that flu might be a problem this winter:

School bubbles will also be abolished:

It was then the turn of Shadow (Opposition) Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth to respond.

Not surprisingly, Ashworth wants masks to continue:

These photos are from Javid’s statement and the ensuing debate. Clockwise from top left are Jonathan Ashworth, Sajid Javid, Father of the House (longest serving male MP) Peter Bottomley and the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford:

On Tuesday, July 6, Javid returned to the Commons to make a statement on self-isolation, which will be relaxed in certain circumstances:

He reiterated the need for personal responsibility to begin, as there are other looming health issues that have gone unaddressed:

Jeremy Hunt (Con), his predecessor (before Matt Hancock), is rightly concerned about delays to cancer treatment:

Gavin Williamson

On Tuesday, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, laid out his plans for schools after Freedom Day.

Bubbles and isolation at home have been causing a lot of disruption. They will be abolished for test and trace:

Isolation will be mandated only when there are positive test results. Staggered starting times for schools will go, and there will be no restrictions on universities:

I watched the debates with interest.

My original suspicion from last year still holds true; only the Left want restrictions to continue.

More on that soon.

On Thursday, July 1, news emerged that some British schoolchildren are creating false positives on their lateral flow tests in order to avoid school.

i News reported that videos have been circulating on TikTok since April, causing disruption in certain schools:

Yes. I thought they were tested in school. It comes as a surprise to find out they can self-test at home.

The problem is that other students in the same school bubble must also self isolate:

The videos are still on TikTok:

Whole bubbles and whole classes have been broken up around the country this year. Pupils and students must self-isolate for ten days.

In another i News article, one father expressed his frustration. Matthew is not his real name (emphases mine below):

Matthew*, a parent in the Greater Manchester area, was dismayed when his 14-year old son was sent home from school earlier this week after a friend faked a positive test reading after following videos she’d come across on TikTok.

“We were told our child has been in close contact with someone who’s had a positive result, a girl who’s one of his close friends. He said that she’d faked it and that she’d seen it on TikTok, that there were loads of videos on how to fake it,” he told i.

As she wanted to fake the result as an easy way to stay off school, it meant around 10 of their close friends were all told to stay at home. I’d say around half of them don’t care, they’ll get to stay in bed all day.

“You are going to get kids who can exploit this. In the general scheme of things, their whole education has been fairly screwed up, so it’s annoying when it’s intentional and one person can have such a big effect on their immediate friends.”

Matthew said he had asked the girl to explain to her mother that the test wasn’t legitimate and to do a PCR test to confirm she didn’t have the virus after a second lateral flow test conducted in front of a teacher returned a negative result

While Matthew’s son is supposed to be off school until 8 July, it’s not currently clear when he’ll be able to return to school.

“Her mum has agreed to ring the school and lie and said she’d had a negative PCR test, but we’re not sure when my son will be able to go back,” he said.

“We know that he’s off because of this person, but because of data protection, we can’t prove it. There’s a chance it could be someone else who’s genuinely positive, but it’s all very murky.

“For my son, this is an inconvenience because if he’s told to stay inside for 10 days, we’ll make him stay inside for 10 days, other parents maybe aren’t as bothered. He’s the one that’s been pushing for her to come clean, which has been controversial because some of the other friends are just happy to have the 10 days of extra holiday.”

‘Lost children of lockdown’

On Sunday, June 27, the Mail reported that nearly 100,000 children have dropped out of full-time education since lockdown began last year:

Analysis of official figures by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has identified 93,514 pupils who were mostly absent between September and December – more than the capacity of Wembley stadium.

The figure for those off school more often than they were present has rocketed by more than 50 per cent on the previous year, with a particularly ‘alarming’ rise in primary schools, as the chaos caused by Covid made it easy for vulnerable youngsters to slip through the net.

It is feared many will end up being expelled or simply drop out of education altogether after the disruption of the past year, putting them at risk of being drawn into a life of crime

CSJ chief executive Andy Cook said: ‘When a child disappears from our school system, their future often disappears with them …

These are the lost children of lockdown. Charities working with these children are telling us there’s now a real risk of children being picked up by street gangs.’

These figures are on top of those missing class because someone in their bubble tested positive:

These absences were additional to the 33 million days lost because of Covid, which saw children either fall ill or forced to stay at home because a classmate tested positive. Bradford, Knowsley in Merseyside and Newcastle upon Tyne had the highest absence rates.

It is unlikely that parents of the ‘lost children of lockdown’ will care about advice from the Department for Education:

The Department for Education said it had acted swiftly to help minimise the impact of the pandemic on pupils’ education and provided extensive support for schools, colleges and early years settings.

Its guidance makes clear that parents have a legal duty to ensure children of compulsory school age attend school regularly, but schools should authorise absences due to illness, related to both physical and mental health.

It’s time to bring back truant officers rather than hire Covid marshals.

Conservative MPs have been vexed over this situation, and Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, has been a milquetoast about depriving so many children of their education.

MPs did not know about the TikTok videos at the time of the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday, June 30.

Williamson’s responses, such as the following, are unhelpful:

… more than 50 million tests have already been conducted across schools and colleges. We are very much aware that testing has been an important part of getting schools reopened, and we continue to work with colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care and in track and trace to ensure that testing is available to all pupils and their families …

I do not want to pre-empt the decision across Government on the next stage, but our direction is very clear about lifting the restrictions and ensuring that children are not in a situation where they have to bubble. That is very much part of the course of the road map, and of course we would very much expect that our children would not be facing that in September

On July 2, the Mail had an article about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government plan on bubbles, which might not be lifted before schools close for the summer on July 19:

Mr Johnson is under pressure after it was revealed that 375,000 children had been sent home because a member of their ‘bubble’ had tested positive for Covid.

They have to isolate for ten days if another pupil in their group gets the virus. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested that school bubbles will end when classes return after the summer holidays in September.

He has also indicated that the changes could happen when the next stage of easing restrictions takes place on July 19.

But this is the date that many schools are due to break up for summer, making it a meaningless promise in practice.

Conservative MPs are up in arms:

Senior Tories told the Telegraph today that the PM’s remarks had fallen ‘on stony ground’

The former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson joined the clamour for a swifter release from the bubbles today … 

Tim Loughton, a Tory MP and former children’s minister, told the Telegraph: ‘Common sense has been thrown out the window, they just need to get rid of all these bubbles asap.

The whole Department for Education operation has lacked a sense of urgency and the children have been the collateral damage.’

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith is among 48 MPs to have signed a letter to the Prime Minister warning that the current policy is ‘disproportionate’ and ‘unsustainable’.

They said it was essential that schools ‘go back to normal’ when lockdown is lifted, even if it is ‘just for the last few days of term’.

‘This will send an important signal ahead of the autumn that the route to freedom is a ”one-way road”,’ the letter said.

It added that pupils have suffered ‘unnecessary and significant disruptions’ in order to keep the rest of the country safe.

‘They have lost physical fitness, suffered mental health damage, and experienced catastrophic learning loss,’ it said.

Other signatories include former cabinet minister Esther McVey and Commons education committee chairman Robert Halfon.

I could see this happening last year. Education ministers said that the most vulnerable would be able to continue to go to school with children of necessary workers. Who would make vulnerable children attend? Certainly not their parents, in most cases.

How the UK will recover from this disaster is anyone’s guess at the moment.

 

 

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