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On Monday, June 14, Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed Freedom Day from Monday, June 21 to Monday, July 19.

Quelle surprise!

Although the data for hospitalisations and deaths look better than ever thanks to the vaccine rollout, SAGE modelling shows that if figures of cases — positive tests — continue to increase ‘exponentially’, then we could be in for a big problem:

However, the reality is more like this:

Incredibly, Britons support the delay:

Protest at Downing Street

Earlier in the afternoon, when it became clear that Boris was going to delay England’s reopening, a protest took place outside of Downing Street.

The BBC’s Nick Watt got caught up in it on his way to the mid-afternoon press briefing for journalists. I have no idea why the crowd harassed him, but the Metropolitan Police did not seem bothered:

Coronavirus briefing

Boris held his televised coronavirus briefing at 6 p.m.

Boris should have had Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, go to Parliament first to make this announcement, then give his press conference. Hancock poled up in the House of Commons two hours after Boris’s press conference. More on that below.

At the coronavirus briefing, Boris was accompanied by Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty. Here are the highlights:

Sure, just as he announced June 21 would be a few months ago. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Some restrictions have been lifted for weddings and funerals:

The delay is partly because of the Delta variant from India:

Sure thing, Chris. By July, there could be another variant:

Even though Boris is trying to keep us hopeful, there is no way we would open in two weeks’ time instead of four:

This is because — as has been explained at previous coronavirus briefings — it takes four weeks for a full cycle of effects to complete before a decision can be made: cases, hospitalisations, deaths.

Keep in mind that our vaccination programme has been wildly successful. The elderly and vulnerable have had their second shot and 18-24 year olds are now invited to get their first inoculation.

The vaccines used thus far — AstraZeneca and Pfizer — are said to be highly effective against the virus, especially after two injections:

One of the three men said that we would have to ‘learn to live with this virus’. We know that, fellas, so open up.

We know that people are going to die, just as they do from flu:

That’s exactly what they said in April.

Labour are quite happy with an extension of restrictions. No surprise there:

Matt Hancock’s statement in the House of Commons

Matt Hancock announced the delay in the Commons that evening at 8:30.

Once again, the Government evaded going to Parliament first, followed by the media and public.

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, was not happy. This is not the first time Hoyle has reprimanded Hancock:

Sir Lindsay said that he is ready to arrange a private meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss these continuing evasions of Parliament:

Hancock said:

That tweet is spot on. In March 2020, it was about ‘squashing the sombrero’ of hospital admissions, as Boris put it.

Then we had the rest of the list in that tweet.

Now it seems to be about zero COVID.

That’s quite a leap.

Hancock’s statement and the subsequent debate are available on Hansard. Excerpts follow. All MPs below are Conservative.

Jeremy Hunt MP, the chair of the Health and Social Care Committee and former Health Secretary, said (emphases mine):

May I start by saying that I totally agree with your expression of disappointment, Mr Speaker, that in a parliamentary democracy Parliament heard about this news after the media, and much as I respect my right hon. Friend it should be the Prime Minister who is here this evening?

I happen to support these measures and the caution the Government are showing, but may I suggest to my right hon. Friend that one of the reasons for the disappointment many people feel is the use of words like “irreversible”? Tonight, Sir Patrick Vallance said that we will be living with covid for the rest of our lives. If there is a vaccine-busting variant that threatens another 100,000 lives, these measures will not be irreversible, and we have a duty to be completely honest with people about the bumpiness of the road ahead. So may I urge the Health Secretary to be as cautious with the language we use as he rightly is with NHS bed capacity?

Mark Harper is one of the few MPs who wants England to open up now. He said:

Before I ask the Secretary of State my question, I should just say—as a former Government Chief Whip, it does not give me any great pleasure to do so—that I wholly associate myself with your remarks earlier, Mr Speaker. This statement should have been made to this House by the Prime Minister before it was made to the media. I hope that we do not see a recurrence of it and I wish you well in your meeting with him.

The Secretary of State has set out that it is not the Government’s policy to get to zero covid—indeed, that is not possible. Can he say whether it is the Government’s policy to maintain a low prevalence of this virus? If it is not, can he confirm the Prime Minister’s sentiments today that 19 July is a terminus date, and can he rule out bringing back restrictions in the autumn and winter when we see an inevitable rise in what is a respiratory virus?

Hancock replied:

Well, it is not inevitable—I do not think it is inevitable. It may happen, but it is not inevitable because we also have the planned booster programme to strengthen further the vaccination response. But it is absolutely clear, based on all the clinical advice that I have seen, that a goal of eradication of this virus is impossible. Indeed, there is one part of this country that tried it for a bit in the summer and found it to be impossible. Therefore, we must learn to live with this virus and we must learn how we can live our normal lives with this virus, so I reflect the Prime Minister’s words, which, of course, I concur with entirely, on 19 July. Our goal is to make sure that we get as much vaccination done between now and then—especially those second doses—to make sure that we can open up safely, even if there is a rise in cases, by protecting people from hospitalisation and especially from dying of this awful disease.

Steve Brine was, rightly, unhappy:

Last week, the Secretary of State told me:

“Our goal…is not a covid-free world…the goal is to live with covid”.—[Official Report, 7 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 678.]

Well, you could have fooled me, and many of our constituents. There is dismay out there tonight. The reopening of the wedding industry is not a meaningful reopening and I think it is cruel the way some are being misled. The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend have been very clear today that 19 July is not a new “not before” date but an end to all this, so will the Secretary of State tell the country his assessment of risk and personal responsibility and whether he feels that as a country we remotely have that right at this time?

Hancock replied (in part):

Once we have the offer of a vaccine to everybody, and once we have protected and mitigated the large part of that risk, we do need to move back to a world based on personal responsibility. That is right, and that is where we intend to go. I think that we have made steps already in that direction in steps 1, 2 and 3. This country is freer than almost any other in Europe in terms of our economy and of our society. That is partly because of the very rapid vaccination effort here, but I hope that my hon. Friend can take from that the direction we intend to go.

Peter Bone made excellent points on the Government’s disrespect for the Commons:

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that the Secretary of State for Health heard what you said at the beginning of this statement. May I ask the Secretary of State how we got ourselves into this position? He has been very good at coming to the House and making statements on covid, but on the biggest, most important day, the press were given an embargoed statement at 3 o’clock and the Prime Minister had a big showy press conference at 6, yet he could not be bothered to turn up until 8.30. This is a clear breach of the ministerial code. How did it happen? Who thought it was a good idea, and who actually broke the ministerial code?

Hancock had little to say in response but said he would continue answering questions.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown asked on what basis the decision to delay was made. Hancock said:

Central to the judgment today is the fact that we are seeing a rise in hospitalisations, especially over the past week, and especially among those who are unvaccinated or have just had a single jab. Those people are not largely those who are unvaccinated out of choice; it is those who are unvaccinated because they have not yet had the opportunity because they are younger.

Until about a week ago, hospitalisations were basically flat. We thought that the link might have been completely broken between cases and hospitalisations or that it might be a lag. Sadly, hospitalisations then started to rise. For deaths, we have not yet seen that rise, which I am very pleased about; hopefully they will never rise, in which case the future will be much easier. It may still be that there is an element of it that is a lag, and we will be looking out for that very carefully over the couple of weeks ahead, but nevertheless our goal is to get those vaccines done in the five weeks between now and 19 July in order to make sure that this country is safe. I will commit to publishing anything further that we can that underpinned the decision, but I can honestly say to my hon. Friend that most of it is already in the public domain.

The morning after with talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer and guests

On Tuesday, June 15, Israel ditched its mask mandate:

They vaccinated quicker than the UK, which they could do as a much smaller country:

TalkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer interviewed three interesting guests, whose videos are all worth watching.

Clearly frustrated by this delay, she asked her audience about their mood:

She opened her show with an editorial on selfishness, because many people say that her civil liberties stance is ‘selfish’. She turned the tables on her accusers:

She interviewed David Paton, the Professor of Industrial Economics Nottingham University Business School. He has been running his own models and studying the national statistics since the early days of the pandemic last year.

This is his take. He observes that we are doing much better than SAGE models suggest:

He also told Julia that we are doing much better than the SAGE models purport:

Next up was Hugh Osmond, the founder of the Punch Taverns chain. He said that the medical experts wanted to remove all joy from our lives. He also pointed out that hundreds of pubs have closed because of the government’s handling of the pandemic and that if the pub summer season is short this year, hundreds more will go to the wall by the end of 2021:

Julia’s next guest was Mark Harper MP, chairman of the parliamentary Covid Recovery Group, quoted in the aforementioned Hansard excerpt. I agree with him in that these restrictions might never end:

He cannot understand why the Government is not more positive about the success of the vaccine rollout. He also discussed the negative fear-mongering from the media. Note the reply tweet which is spot on re the G7 get-togethers:

Julia’s third guest in her coronavirus segment was barrister Francis Hoar, who has been anti-lockdown from the start:

Before his interview, he reiterated his concern about increased government control via a (Chinese style) social credit system:

He also retweeted the following:

This appears to be a quote from Sir Charles Walker MP (Conservative), who is also against lockdowns:

It is hard to disagree with him as the Government keeps moving the goalposts:

Francis Hoar told Julia Hartley-Brewer that Boris looked as if he had been taken hostage at last night’s coronavirus briefing and that he is deeply concerned about the future of young people today because of continuing restrictions. He is very much a supporter of having our personal freedoms restored yesterday:

Conclusion

I really do hope that England reopens on July 19. I wanted the nation to reopen on June 21.

However, if it does not, then it is unlikely to reopen until Spring 2022. That could be June 2022.

My reasoning is as follows. September is the month when schools reopen, so that is a risk factor. Then comes flu season when coronavirus will worsen. The experts and the Government will say that we shouldn’t have big Christmas celebrations at home, in the pub or in a restaurant because it’s just too risky. Winter is always a bad time for illness, and we don’t want to overburden the NHS, so we have to wait until sometime during the springtime.

Therefore, if reopening does not take place on July 21, 2021, then the next possible date is between mid-March (after the Cheltenham Festival, likely to be a ‘pilot’ event) and June 2022.

I hope I am wrong. I truly do.

Early in March 2020, my far better half and I were optimistic that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his government and his advisers would not be too proscriptive about coronavirus restrictions.

In the end, they were, but the following timeline shows how quickly their thinking on herd immunity changed.

In light of Dominic Cummings’s testimony to the Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday, May 26, and his lengthy Twitter thread prepared beforehand (continuing afterwards), I offer a short and a long version of what happened.

Short version

The Government denies that natural herd immunity — catching the virus — was ever government policy.

Yet, here is Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, at a coronavirus briefing on Thursday, March 12, 2020:

It seems that Cummings might have advised the government to backtrack and deny it was policy, however briefly:

As Cummings said on Wednesday, once he received numbers from an NHS specialist/mathematician who extrapolated scenarios on what could happen, the Government changed tack:

Long version

I haven’t missed a single coronavirus briefing since they started in March 2020. As regular readers will know, I have been deep-diving into the pandemic since then.

February 2020

Lessons From The Crisis has an excellent article on how the herd immunity plan unfolded and changed. ‘It’s bizarre that this needs saying, but *of course* the UK had a Herd Immunity plan’ is well worth reading.

It includes a capture of SAGE minutes from February 4, 2020, advocating that policies for influenza be followed. The article summarises this as follows (emphases in the original):

On the 4th of February, at the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’s fourth Covid meeting, influenza planning, with its assertions that spread was “inevitable”and halting the virus “a waste of resources” was adopted as the official recommendation- tragically this was about ten days before Chinese covid cases peaked, never return to their early 2020 levels …

The scientific consensus presented to ministers was: mass infection of the population was inevitable, a vaccine would not be available in time, so the only choices were about how to manage the mass infection of the population until the country had accumulated enough cases to get to herd immunity

The alternative being attempted by governments elsewhere, trying to stop the disease from infecting the population, was regarded as folly; the UK government’s scientific advisors were certain that countries attempting suppression would fail …

March 2020

In his testimony on Wednesday, Cummings claimed he broke rank with the Government on Wednesday, March 11:

Publicly, however, he was still on board with the Government plan:

Vallance gave his aforementioned briefing on herd immunity on March 12. This is what appeared afterwards:

This is a summary of an interview Vallance gave to Sky News the next day (full video here):

The Independent quoted a BBC interview with him on March 13:

Sir Patrick told the BBC that the advice the government is following for tackling coronavirus is not looking to “suppress” the disease entirely but to help create a “herd immunity in the UK” while protecting the most vulnerable from it.

Asked if there is a fear that clamping down too hard on its spread could see it return, Sir Patrick said: “That is exactly the risk you would expect from previous epidemics.

“If you suppress something very, very hard, when you release those measures it bounces back and it bounces back at the wrong time.

“Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it.

“Those are the key things we need to do.”

That same day, SAGE’s Professor John Edmunds also advocated natural herd immunity in this Channel 4 interview:

Nigel Farage was outraged by the policy:

The Lessons From The Crisis article says that the turning point happened almost immediately:

Partly in response to this outrage, the government changed course; Boris Johnson swapped strategies and began locking down the country just 3 days after the herd immunity plan became public, with new priorities built around suppressing the virus with blunt instruments such as lockdowns to buy time for building countermeasures- testing and tracing capacity, vaccines, treatments.

That is not to give Nigel Farage single-handed credit. The media also helped a lot, especially with frequent footage of what was happening in northern Italy at the time.

On Monday, March 16, Prof Neil Ferguson released his (spurious) numbers from Imperial College London, which changed the Government’s policy. 

UnHerd reported on it the following day — ‘Why the Government changed tack on Covid-19’:

The Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the government’s science adviser Dr David Halpern indicated that the government’s strategy was to allow the virus to pass through the population, to allow individuals to “acquire herd immunity” at a delayed speed, while vulnerable groups were “cocooned.” This strategy, however, was subsequently contradicted by health secretary Matt Hancock, who insisted that “herd immunity is not our goal or policy”.

The quick reversals did not end there, as a ban was announced on mass gatherings just a day after the government’s initial claims that it was not the right time for such measures. On Saturday, the government briefed select journalists on “wartime measures” to quarantine the elderly at home or in care homes, away from any contact with the rest of the population; earlier than such measures were expected to be announced.

Finally, it was revealed yesterday afternoon that the Prime Minister had decided to dramatically step up countermeasures, and switch entirely to a strategy of containment as a result of advice from an expert response team at Imperial College London, which concluded that the strategy of delay would likely cause “hundreds of thousands” of avoidable deaths.

The initial plans — to establish herd immunity based on research on social fatigue and assumptions that effective vaccines would not be developed — contradicted the guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the wealth of evidence in the fields of epidemiology, behavioural science and immunology, so it is unsurprising that countless experts have already questioned and criticised the strategy, including epidemiologists, immunologists, and behavioural scientists.

On Saturday, March 21, Alex Wickham from Buzzfeed summarised a tense and confused week inside No. 10, and the road to lockdown (emphases mine):

While the scientific debate was raging last week between experts, officials, and ministers in face-to-face meetings and over emails and text messages, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus.

Political aides tacitly criticised other countries who had taken more dramatic steps, claiming Britain was being “guided by the science” rather than politics.

Towards the end of last week, some ministers and political aides at the top of the government were still arguing that the original strategy of home isolation of suspect cases — but no real restrictions on wider society — was correct, despite almost every other European country taking a much tougher approach, and increasing alarm among SAGE experts.

The thought of months or even a year of social distancing was simply not feasible, some in Johnson’s team still thought at that point. They continued to privately defend the controversial “herd immunity” approach outlined to the media by Vallance, even as other aides scrambled to claim the UK had never considered it to be policy.

And there was fury behind the scenes among members of Johnson’s team at the likes of Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt, who had been publicly saying the government had got it wrong.

But data from Italy — presented to the government before it was published by experts at Imperial College on Monday — changed all that. Their report confirmed the earlier fears of the epidemiologists who had been calling for more drastic action.

On Monday, March 23 — the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson took away every Briton’s civil liberties in five minutes by announcing the first lockdown — Byline Times posted a must-read article, ‘COVID-19 SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Part Three — Behavioural Scientists told Government to use “Herd Immunity” to Justify Business-As-Usual’.

SPI-B is our behavioural, or ‘nudge’, unit and is part of SAGE. Dr David Halpern, a SAGE member, runs the unit. This was allegedly their role in the herd immunity discussions:

A SPI-B document dated 4 March, which rejected the need for school closures, went on to refer to the medical concept of immunity. In a discussion about how the public might be confused about the disparity between the Government’s approach of “not applying widescale social isolation at the same time as recommending isolation to at-risk groups”, the document acknowledges disagreement within the SPI-B.

The document explains: “One view is that explaining that members of the community are building some immunity will make this acceptable. Another view is that recommending isolation to only one section of society risks causing discontent.”

The idea of immunity does not come up elsewhere in the SAGE corpus. But, Professor Chris Whitty, the Government’s Chief Medical Advisor, claimed that 20% of the population of Wuhan, China, had contracted the Coronavirus and acquired herd immunity. He believed that this explained why new cases had begun to fall in China

This flatly contradicted data from China showing that, by end of January, after the crisis had peaked, just under 95% of the Wuhan population remained uninfected by the virus. This was, therefore, nothing to do with herd immunity, but a result of China’s emergency containment response. 

The UK Government, it seemed, had made a gamble: one that Dr Brian Ferguson, Director of Immunology at Cambridge University, described as “not scientifically based and irresponsible” because typically “Coronaviruses don’t make long-lasting antibody responses”.

Whether or not it was a specific goal of the Government, its network of behavioural science advisors had fielded herd immunity as a way of justifying to the public why the Government was not taking early action – despite having no scientific evidence behind the idea

Social media discussions on herd immunity began to appear:

On Tuesday, March 24, Byline Times posted another must-read article, ‘The Coronavirus Crisis: Oxford Model Touting “Herd Immunity” was Promoted by PR Agency Tied to Ministry of Defence and Nudge Unit’.

Excerpts follow:

On 24 March, the Financial Times claimed that as much as half of the British population may have already been infected by the novel Coronavirus, according to a new model by Oxford University’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group

The conclusion, according to the FT’s science editor Clive Cookson, suggested that the country “had already acquired substantial herd immunity through the unrecognised spread of COVID-19 over more than two months”. If true, this would vindicate the Government’s “unofficial herd immunity strategy – allowing controlled spread of infection,” he stated.

Although numerous epidemiologists and scientists had questioned the validity of the Oxford model – which had not been peer-reviewed – it was promoted to the press by a PR agency with ties to the Government, raising questions about how and why this model was published and disseminated at this time.

The draft paper, which was originally posted to Dropbox, included a disclaimer noting that its content was “not final” and could be “updated any time”. The disclaimer also contained a contact point for journalists: “Contact for press enquiries: Cairbre Sugrue, cairbre@sugruecomms.com.”

Dr Lewis Mackenzie, a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Discovery Fellow, commented: “Why on earth has this been sent to the media via a third party PR company instead of the Oxford University press team? Seems very irresponsible to encourage reporting on this topic before the scientific community had a chance to comment and peer-review it.”

When asked why its own press team did not release the study, Oxford University said: “All Oxford academics have freedom of expression regarding their areas of specialism, including communication through the media. It is therefore not uncommon for academics to make their own arrangements for contacting the press. The university cannot comment on individual arrangements that it is not party to.”

Caibre Sugrue is the founding director of Sugrue Communications, a technology PR agency. He is also a non-executive advisory board member of 100%Open, an innovation consultancy – which has worked for several British Government agencies, including the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and a leading charity which co-owns the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or ‘nudge unit’.

This seems to be the first appearance of Prof Sunetra Gupta, later of The Barrington Declaration (a libertarian approach to coronavirus self-isolation), who works at Oxford University:

The original FT piece had claimed that, if substantial herd immunity had been achieved, restrictions could be removed sooner than expected. The article added: “Although some experts have shed doubt on the strength and length of the human immune response to the virus, Prof Gupta said the emerging evidence made her confident that humanity would build up herd immunity against COVID-19.

I contacted Professor Sun[e]tra Gupta, one of the co-authors of the study, to find out what this emerging evidence is. She did not respond to a request for comment. However, the model was reported worldwide and some commentators in both the US and UK used it to suggest that strong social distancing measures may be unnecessary

Scientists are divided on the prospects for achieving herd immunity, but most agree that, while achieving it may be possible at some point, it is not clear how long it would last. In any case, whether or not it is achievable, the immediate focus should be on minimising fatalities.

By the end of the month, confusion among journalists reigned:

April 2020

In April, it appeared that dealing with coronavirus was becoming highly complex. Author Ian Leslie tweeted a considered an explanation from a Financial Times reader:

May 2020

Two months later, Sir Patrick Vallance denied that natural herd immunity was ever a plan:

Prof John Edmunds gave Channel 4 another interview, wherein he appeared to backtrack on his previous claims about herd immunity. The first video is from his March interview and the second from May:

I’ll have more on the UK’s approach to herd immunity next week.

On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Dominic Cummings, former special adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee for an inquiry that lasted over seven hours.

The full session is on Parliamentlive.tv.

As one might expect from someone the media portrayed as the power behind the throne between July 2019 and November 2020, this was a highly gripping interview conducted by a number of MPs.

Cummings discussed Boris, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the coronavirus situation. With regard to the pandemic, he said that the Government, including himself, let the nation down at a time when Britons needed them the most. He apologised for not having insisted on urgent action sooner early in 2020.

Highlights follow.

Boris

Cummings’s opinion of Boris is not the highest at the moment. Cummings wondered whether to tender his resignation several times but decided to stay on to implement the reforms he thought would make No. 10 work better.

One of their big bones of contention was the way No. 10 — especially Boris — liaised with the media, especially during the coronavirus crisis.

According to Cummings, Boris wanted to please the media only to end up contradicting coronavirus policy.

At one point, Boris opposed parts of Cummings’s plan to reform the way No. 10 worked, admitting that he preferred the ‘chaos’ (his word) to giving Cummings the power to resolve said chaos and make it run more efficiently.

Cummings said that he does not think that Boris Johnson is a good Prime Minister.

The media

The media outlets, Cummings said, gave him a hard time because he wanted to manage — and perfect — the way that No. 10 interacted with them.

Cummings’s reforms would have distanced the media contact with the Prime Minister, something that they clearly do not want.

Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle

Last Spring, Cummings and his family went to Barnard Castle (a town and a castle) in County Durham. It was a huge deal. Boris even made him hold a press conference to explain his actions around a year ago at this time.

Naturally, MPs wanted to find out why Cummings went so far from London when people were told to stay at home.

Cummings confessed that there was something he did not mention during last year’s press conference. He said that staying in his home in north London had become untenable for him, his wife Mary Wakefield (a Spectator journalist) and their little boy. People were outside their home threatening Cummings’s life.

He said that he had spoken to Boris about decamping to Barnard Castle, where his father lives. Boris said that he could either go there or to a Government-owned property in London. Boris then went into hospital with coronavirus and Cummings himself also had the illness.

Cummings and his wife spent a few weeks deciding what to do. Then a newspaper article alleged that Cummings said something about coronavirus deaths that was patently false. Once again, people appeared outside his home.

The couple decided to go to Barnard Castle by car. Cummings wanted to get back to work, even though he had not recovered from the virus. Cummings’s wife did not want him to go back alone, so the family left Barnard Castle to return to London.

The story ran and ran in the news, agitating an already distressed general public cooped up at home. Cummings said that, once Boris returned to Downing Street, he said, ‘This cannot stand’ and told his adviser to hold a press conference, which one MP at the inquiry described as a ‘witch hunt’.

Carrie Symonds

Cummings was also frustrated with Boris’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, who, on one occasion when coronavirus was critical, wanted Boris to have someone complain to a newspaper about a story involving the couple’s dog.

He also said that Symonds had too much say in hiring No. 10 staff.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

On more than one occasion during the session, Cummings called Health Secretary Matt Hancock a liar for his lack of coronavirus plan.

Cummings said that Hancock should have been fired early last year for claiming that patients leaving hospital for care homes last year would be tested before discharge and for saying that a ‘protective’ (Hancock’s word) ring was placed around care homes.

Cummings said that neither claim was true. The Select Committee have asked Cummings to provide them with specific evidence for such serious allegations.

Barbara Keeley (Labour) was one of the MPs asking Cummings about the care home debacle:

The Science and Technology Select Committee will be interviewing Matt Hancock in a fortnight.

Afterwards, they will file their report from their many sessions on coronavirus. This can be used as evidence in a general inquiry into the Government’s handling of coronavirus, scheduled to begin sometime in 2022.

Coronavirus

Cummings answered a lot of questions about the 2020 coronavirus policy.

He said that a plan for lockdown should have been developed in January 2020. The general consensus in No. 10 was that it was a new type of SARS and that everything would blow over soon.

Cummings thought that air travel should be stopped, but that No. 10 and a number of Conservative MPs thought that would be seen as a ‘racist’ policy, therefore, nothing happened.

The idea of doing nothing was mooted and let people have ‘chicken pox parties’ so that there would be a natural herd immunity by September 2020.

By February, Cummings became increasingly concerned and wanted a southeast Asian style lockdown. In early March, he began consulting academics who had strong quantitative (number-crunching algorithmic) skills to project what would actually occur if there were no lockdown. Cummings referred to this as Plan B:

A specialist in the NHS who was also good with numbers advised Cummings that ‘chicken pox parties’ were out of the question. Coronavirus was too deadly.

Cummings said that he was reluctant to press for a lockdown at the end of January or in February because he was worried that his assumptions might have been wrong.

In any event, the scenario given to him in March helped him persuade No. 10 that a lockdown was necessary. Yet, even then, he said that SAGE members disagreed among themselves as to whether lockdown was a good idea.

After the first lockdown, he said, Boris had deep regrets as to whether it was the right thing to have done. He was worried about the economic impact on people’s lives at the same time he regretted the loss of so many Britons to the disease.

When autumn rolled around, Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty alerted Cummings that a second lockdown was needed. Boris disagreed, because he did not want any more distress inflicted on the public or the economy. In the end, we had a very lengthy lockdown from Christmas 2020 through to April 2021.

Conclusion

Cummings said that many things need to change in No. 10 and Whitehall (civil servants).

Too few people want emergency processes that would streamline procurement, for example. Cummings managed to get some reforms in that area in times of crisis. He also managed to get a special situation room set up at No. 10, which he said that Downing Street officials like because electronic equipment can be taken in for meetings. The COBR room does not allow that option.

Cummings is also frustrated that civil servants cannot be fired easily. Some, he said, clearly need to go.

He also says that our political system needs a rethink. He said that the 2019 choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was not good.

Although I do not agree — even now — about Cummings’s views on lockdown and masks, I am sorry that he will not be able to implement his changes in Downing Street and Whitehall.

Those interested can read detailed live coverage from The Guardian.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021, marks the first anniversary of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown and restrictions, many of which are still in place as I write.

We had a brief reprieve during the summer, but everything closed again on Saturday evening, December 19, 2020, just in time to put a stop to the promised Christmas family get-together.

I was and continue to be a lockdown and restriction sceptic. Others are free to decide for themselves.

The Telegraph has a lengthy Twitter thread on the past year. Excerpts follow:

Two areas of England have been locked down since July 2020:

Today, a number of commemorative events took place across the nation:

Still under COVID-19 house arrest, my far better half and I have not left our town since March 18, 2020.

Of course, Boris and the two most senior members of SAGE, Vallance and Whitty, gave a 5 p.m. coronavirus briefing.

When is one of the reporters going to ask one of the following questions?

I am too angry to write any more about this subject right now. I never imagined Western countries would become police states.

Yesterday’s post introduced Neil Ferguson’s interview with The Times, which the paper published on the evening of Christmas Day.

This was the biggest statement he made:

How Ferguson, he of the hopelessly outlandish — and false — predictions, could enter the fray on a worldwide pandemic using CCP methods beggars belief:

The other chilling statement made in the article was that lockdowns will be employed in future pandemics. That’s because they worked so well, we had to have one long lockdown — under various guises — for the better part of nine months, not the promised two or three weeks:

Yet, Matt Hancock relies on what this man and SAGE members regurgitate every couple of weeks:

My prayer for 2021 is that divine providence shines a light on the evil that Ferguson, a NERVTAG member, SAGE and Matt Hancock have been perpetrating on the British people:

Thank heaven that Bosnia and Herzegovina ruled against an inhumane coronavirus programme. I hope that we do the same:

Someone also needs to have the guts to investigate Ferguson and the rest of them:

Let’s look at The Times‘s article, which Science Editor Tom Whipple wrote: ‘Professor Neil Ferguson: People don’t agree with lockdown and try to undermine the scientists’.

Tom Whipple was absolutely gushing in his reporting, overlooking Ferguson’s previous bogus predictions over the past 20 years of notional pandemics. Some of those predictions put a severe dent into British farming (emphases mine):

He moved from Oxford to Imperial as part of the country’s leading infectious disease modelling group. They modelled the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, as well as the 2009 swine flu outbreak, in which at one point, before better data came in, they estimated a “reasonable worst case scenario” of 65,000 deaths.

When he returned to advise the government once again, this projection, two orders of magnitude above the real total, was cited by his critics. So too was foot and mouth, where the cull of millions of cattle and sheep, partly on the basis of predictions about the disease, still causes deep bitterness among farmers.

Whipple at least calls lockdown ‘a medieval intervention’. However, I would posit that, even in the Middle Ages, there were policies of sequestering the vulnerable and quarantining the sick, leaving the rest to work. People needed food and goods. Anyway, Ferguson describes how he embraced the CCP policy of overall lockdown:

In January, members of Sage, the government’s scientific advisory group, had watched as China enacted this innovative intervention in pandemic control that was also a medieval intervention. “They claimed to have flattened the curve. I was sceptical at first. I thought it was a massive cover-up by the Chinese. But as the data accrued it became clear it was an effective policy.”

Then, as infections seeded across the world, springing up like angry boils on the map, Sage debated whether, nevertheless, it would be effective here. “It’s a communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought.” In February one of those boils raged just below the Alps. And then Italy did it. And we realised we could.

Whipple gushed:

That realisation was a fulcrum in British history, and in the life of Professor Ferguson.

That ‘fulcrum’ meant poor health and/or imminent penury for millions of the rest of us.

This was Ferguson’s outrageously erroneous prediction that prompted Britain’s continuing lockdowns:

a quarter of a million Britons would die. If we wanted to stop that, he also projected, it would require extreme social distancing measures until a vaccine arrived.

Whipple’s next sentence reads:

That was when he went from unknown epidemiologist to academic superstar.

That is incredibly disingenuous. Millions of Britons knew who he was from his previous predictions. Our celebrity astrologer Mystic Meg could have done better by staring into her crystal ball. She would not have advocated lockdown or masks, either.

Ferguson expressed his surprise that people would criticise him:

“It’s bizarre,” he says. “Particularly given that I’ve never been a public servant. We volunteer for scientific committees, we don’t get paid anything.” He says he has not read most of the coverage, but can’t help hearing some of the criticism.

“Where it’s been disappointing is if people start out from a viewpoint that they don’t agree with lockdown, then try to undermine the science and scientists behind it. That hasn’t been a pleasant experience.”

Those statements puzzle me greatly.

His own track record speaks for itself, yet, his and SAGE’s policies have been ruling all our lives for the better part of a year. He doesn’t think people should criticise him because they are losing their livelihoods? Pure bunkum.

Whipple then goes into the assignation that Ferguson and his married mistress had during the springtime lockdown. The rest of us were holed up in our homes and she travelled across London for an afternoon’s pleasure. My account of it is below. The title expressed my hope that this charlatan would be exposed and that we would be liberated. Alas, no:

Prof Neil Ferguson resigns: will coronavirus lockdown start ending in the UK now? (May 5)

Ferguson told Whipple that he had expected some sort of mercy, at least to be ignored. Why, oh why, did the media start digging into his private life? Oh, woe:

“I made some mistakes. I’ve been completely open in terms of saying they were mistakes. But, nevertheless, the fact that journalists were digging into my private life at that level of detail was not something I could ever imagine. That’s not something you want to be on the end of.

My wife and son and my partner had journalists on the doorstep. I was actually in my flat in London, they didn’t know where I was. It was a very difficult time.” He and Sir Patrick Vallance, the present chief scientific adviser, agreed he should step back from Sage work.

Unfortunately, NERVTAG — New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group — allowed him to stay, hence, his continuing participation in these illiberal restrictions upon our lives.

Returning to lockdown, this is a curious statement:

These days, lockdown feels inevitable. It was, he reminds me, anything but. “If China had not done it,” he says, “the year would have been very different.”

Yes, it would have gone on as normal, with Rishi Sunak’s fantastic budget putting an end to austerity and giving us a better economy and hope for our post-Brexit transition future.

This month, the new variant — B.1.1.7, or B117, as it often appears — has caused more panic. Ferguson and his ilk have determined it is more infectious. However, it might also be less damaging to COVID-17 patients in hospital:

Nevertheless, Ferguson now wants even harsher measures:

he strongly implies that schools will have to shut in January, and even then the virus might evade lockdown.

Goodness knows what ‘the virus might evade lockdown’ might mean for Britons.

Whipple actually believes that Ferguson is some sort of scientific saviour. Good grief:

This is, I say, petrifying. It is also extremely interesting. Nowadays, it is orthodoxy that lockdown was right. In the next pandemic, we won’t hesitate to use it. But as this new variant shows, lockdown does not always work.

However, it also seems as if our first lockdown, sold to us as ‘flattening the sombrero’, to borrow Boris Johnson’s term, was done so on a false premise:

It was never guaranteed that lockdown would crush the curve. He is all too aware of this. “During late March, early April, we kept looking at the data as it came in. Was there any sign of hospital admissions and deaths hitting a peak? It was a very, very anxious time.” We now know that when we got it to its lowest, R, the reproduction rate of the virus, hit 0.6. Lockdown worked. If the professor’s modelling of the new variant is correct, it won’t be so easy to control. In the same circumstances it could have a rate just over 1 and the pandemic would not have retreated.

Ferguson says to his critics:

It’s clearly unfortunate that a minority of people almost don’t like the idea that you can just have random bad things happen in the world, and want to attribute it to some malign plan.

Ferguson and his family are largely unscathed from the policies he helped to develop.

Two other sites that reported on this interview had pertinent insights.

NewsWars noted:

In the Christmas interview, the epidemiologist admitted “there is an enormous cost associated with” lockdowns, specifically the erosion of civil liberties.

However, thanks to the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian measures, he said, “people’s sense of what is possible in terms of control changed.

And how! A year ago, who could have imagined that the CCP would be indirectly controlling our health policy?

At UnHerd, Freddie Sayers wrote similarly (italics in the original):

He almost seems at pains to emphasise the Chinese derivation of the lockdown concept, returning to it later in the interview:

“These days, lockdown feels inevitable. It was, he reminds me, anything but. “If China had not done it,” he says, “the year would have been very different.””

To those people who, still now, object to lockdowns on civil liberties principles, this will be a chilling reminder of the centrality of the authoritarian Chinese model in influencing global policy in this historic year.

Let us look at what Laura Perrins, ex-barrister and co-editor of Conservative Woman, a haven of common sense, has to say about said policies. Let’s start with testing of schoolchildren, something likely to come in January, along with the current hue and cry to close schools again:

The Government, advised by SAGE, NERVTAG and other quangos — quasi-NGOs — have lied and lied and lied this year, culminating with Christmas:

In conclusion:

I could not agree more.

Pray that this scourge leaves us and other Western countries in 2021.

Freedom is never free.

Happy New Year.

As most of England is now in either Tier 2 or Tier 3, including London (in the latter), some scientists are clamouring for previously approved Christmas gatherings to be cancelled.

This is the exchange that took place on Wednesday, December 16, the day when London and surrounding areas entered Tier 3. Communist Susan Michie, a member of SAGE and independent SAGE, told Good Morning Britain that we should cancel Christmas this year and replace it with extra ‘bank holidays’ next year. She’s a smooth talker. Laura Perrins, an ex-barrister who co-edits Conservative Woman, saw right through this:

Well, London mayor Sadiq Khan has cancelled the capital’s New Year fireworks. The Tube will also stop running at 12:30 a.m. this year.

Laura Perrins had a lot to tweet on Wednesday from her article that day, ‘Matt Hancock wants to ruin your Christmas. It’s sheer cruelty’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

YOU’RE making your list, you’re checking it twice and Matt Hancock is deciding whether you’ve been naughty or nice. Yes, once again the government have decided to inflict more psychological damage on the population by putting in doubt the Christmas relaxation of rules which will ‘allow’ you to spend some time with your family. The anxiety that this causes, the dread, the cruelty: that is the point of this latest government move

At the time of writing it looks as if (for once) Boris Johnson will hold his nerve and not hand over complete control to Matt Hancock and the ‘scientists’ who seem to run the country. All this anxiety has been triggered because the BMJ published an editorial saying that the rules ‘allowing’ you to see your family at Christmas are a ‘major error’ which would cause the health service to be overwhelmed. As usual you have to sacrifice your basic freedoms so that the NHS can do the job you pay them a great deal to do. All must be sacrificed, it seems, for ‘our’ NHS. 

Even if Johnson does hold his nerve this time, it should be said every day that Matt Hancock is a dangerous man who has set out to destroy this country. Some people think I am too strong in my language. I am not

What the government are doing is evil. You need to understand that. They are destroying thousands of businesses, thousands of jobs in arts and culture, they have closed pubs and restaurants as a way of crushing your spirit. Meeting your friends down the pub is uniquely British, speaking to them in the flesh, arguing with them over a pint; these are the small joys that ordinary people look forward to. This is something that the elite in the media and politics, and certainly the scientists, simply do not understand. They’re all right, Jack. What’s a trip to the pub anyway – that’s for the little people

This tweet from Camilla Tominey caught my eye yesterday. 

She is right – this landlord has had his business wiped out ‘in the blink of an eye’. Destroying the livelihoods of so many in the blink of an eye is something that used to happen only in communist Russia. It is not quite a knock on the door in the middle of the night, but it is not far off. Oh, but don’t worry, they will get compensation from the government, you tell me. That is not the point. This landlord runs a business, he wants to provide this service, I have no doubt he takes pride in providing this service, it’s not just the money he wants. It’s his sense of dignity in a job well done.

This is why I believe that any future legal cases should claim this entire Covid government strategy is a breach Article 3 of the Human Rights Act which states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Perrins ended her article with thoughts on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol:

In the great Christian story of redemption, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge famously did not observe Christmas. In addition, he hated anyone who did. He refused a generous invite to share the Christmas meal from his nephew. This was rightly seen as cruel, mean, mean-spirited and immoral. Scrooge was incapable of any joy or love. Matt Hancock wants to ruin your Christmas. He wants you to uninvite the relations you have invited to share your Christmas meal. Hancock, like Scrooge, is mean, mean-spirited and cruel. Ignore him. Keep Christmas as you will.

I wish you and yours every comfort and joy this Christmas. Know in the New Year that we at TCW will not rest until every last mask is burnt and 2m sign is peeled off the pavement. Anything less is defeat

Excellent!

On Tuesday, December 15, she opined on the type of people who love lockdown. Someone from Scotland responds:

In case anyone thinks Labour would be any better on Christmas celebrations, their party leader Sir Keir Starmer also wants celebrations on the feast day of Christ’s birth scrapped:

This came up at Wednesday’s PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions).

Fortunately, Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed the words of one of his cabinet ministers, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay:

Guido Fawkes reported Steve Barclay told Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday that Britons should (emphases in the original):

“try and minimise their contacts” in the week before Christmas. Yet still sticking to the four nation, five day relaxation. For now…

Barclay also advised that when families gather they do so “in a way that isn’t the maximum of what the rules require but the minimum that they as a family need to do.”

That means that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’s subsidy of public transport is still on …

… and Conservative rebel MP Mark Harper — one of the good guys — can rest easy:

Returning to public transport, anyone travelling to London will be greeted with Christmas cheer:

Bob Moran has been doing some great political cartoons for the Telegraph mocking lockdown. He’s found a fan in Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens:

I hope that Bob Moran — and Peter Hitchens — have a happy Christmas.

Here’s Bob at work:

Here are the Models, mocking Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance:

Jokes aside — and as necessary as they are right now — it is alarming to think about how a three-week lockdown turned into one that lasted over nine months.

I wrote a few weeks ago here that this is the wildest conspiracy ever. We’ve moved beyond ‘theory’. We’re living it:

As regular readers of mine know, my principal worry is the economy.

Here’s Klaus ‘Great Reset’ Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, discussing the COVID-19 group that will address — and, in his mind, solve — all the problems of coronavirus and the world in general. Business, he says, will be a big part of this. Be afraid, be very afraid. This is what he’s actually saying:

In closing, let’s return to London.

Deaths are normal for this year. This is a five-year chart:

London’s hospitals are not overly burdened either, especially compared with 2018 and 2019:

And why do we not receive any information from the Department for Health and Social Care about a prophylaxis for COVID-19? Instead, we’re pushed into taking a vaccine with messenger RNA. Revolutionary, for sure, but can we be certain it will work and is safe?

One wonders what will happen next year.

What a week. It’s been full of coronavirus news here in the UK.

Vaccine

The UK was the first country in the world to distribute a coronavirus vaccine.

A 90-year-old grandmother, Margaret Keenan, was the first person to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock wept. He’s never openly cried about those made unemployed and destitute during the coronavirus crisis for which he is largely responsible. Sickening:

Good Morning Britain‘s physician, Dr Hilary Jones, explained that Mrs Keenan could still get COVID-19 and transmit it:

It seems to work the way that a flu vaccine does. If one gets the virus, the effects won’t be as bad as if one weren’t vaccinated.

I wouldn’t advise thinking about that too much, because it could lead down a rabbit hole:

The great scientists of SAGE also said life would not return to normal (see Select Committee section below). We are likely to be in the same situation well into next year, probably the autumn. This is what the ex-barrister and co-editor of Conservative Woman says:

Continuing down the rabbit hole re the vaccine:

Wales

Meanwhile, in Labour-controlled Wales, coronavirus hospitalisations are higher than they were early this year — despite a short, sharp lockdown, ‘firebreak’, that recently ended:

Guido Fawkes opined (emphases in the original):

Lockdowns, even short ones, evidently temporarily drop cases. Yet selling them on the promise that they enable more things to open once they end, as Welsh Labour did, appears to turbocharge case numbers far more than having simple, predictable and steady rules. The psychology of re-openings could well mean that in the long run, Wales’ “short sharp firebreak lockdown” – modelled on Keir Starmer’s demand – did more harm than good…

The Prif Weinidog — that’s First Minister in Welsh — Mark Drakeford blamed his own countrymen for the failure of his ‘firebreak’:

I couldn’t agree more. Lockdowns, firebreaks — whatever one calls them — do not work.

Why would anyone trust a government to dictate their lives? This is a photo of Grenfell Tower (public housing) in London, which burned in June 2017 because of faulty cladding:

And that brings me neatly to the next topic.

PCR versus Lateral Flow testing

The UK Government rejected a petition about PCR (swab) testing because they said they are not responsible for it. Hmm:

This is the nub of the problem. The Government absolves itself of responsibility. So do the scientists. People actually believe this guff.

Where do Government ministers get the idea for lockdown and excuse potentially faulty test results if it weren’t for the scientists and health organisations working with them?

But I digress.

Returning to testing, a few weeks ago, nearly all of Liverpool’s residents took the Lateral Flow test in a pilot programme. The Lateral Flow test works similarly to a pregnancy test and could be used on a daily basis as an ‘all clear’ strategy to give people more freedom and certainty to go about their lives. If successful, its use could allow visits to patients in care homes.

Very few of the Lateral Flow results were positive. If I remember rightly, the figure was 0.3%.

No doubt if those same people had taken the PCR test, the results would have been very different.

Therefore, this is interesting:

I’m just posting it to show there is a huge question over which test is more accurate.

PCR could work, provided the cycle thresholds were lowered from 40 to 35. But that is not happening.

The scientists of SAGE: Susan Michie

Anyone who reads Guido Fawkes regularly will know that SAGE has some questionable members, including this woman who appeared regularly on BBC News during the first lockdown. She might still be appearing on the BBC. I only watched between March and June to watch the spin they put on the Government’s coronavirus briefings:

Michie’s mother was worth a fortune:

The Daily Mail said the owners of the painting were a mystery, until all was revealed (emphases mine):

The painting was in fact sold by 30-year-old Ms Murray’s mother, Professor Susan Michie. She and her two siblings had been left the picture by their mother, the celebrated IVF pioneer Dame Anne McLaren.

When she died in 2007 she left an estate valued at £52,105,910. The vast bulk of that sum represented the value of the painting.

In her will, the Mail can reveal, she stated that if her children chose to sell then ‘if possible it should be sold to an art gallery or museum in the United Kingdom’.

According to a source, family members were ‘disappointed’ at the decision to put the painting on the market. While the sale attracted a tax bill of £20million, that would have left the trio about £10million each — more than enough to share around other members of their extended family.

Three SAGE members appear before Select Committee

Moving on to other SAGE members, Sir Patrick Vallance, Prof Chris Whitty and Dr Jenny Harries appeared once more before the Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday, December 9, for a year-end review of lessons learned during the pandemic. Greg Clark MP, who heads that Select Committee, and MPs from both Conservative and Opposition parties asked probing questions. You can watch the three-and-one-half hour session here.

Unfortunately, Vallance, Whitty and Harries were no clearer about lessons learned. In fact, they were vaguer than they were in earlier sessions:

– The vaccine will not be a fix for coronavirus. Not everyone will be able to take the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine because it will not be suitable for them.

– Human behaviour (Harries’s speciality) is very hard to predict. Harries admitted that.

Hospitality has been the scapegoat because that is where alcohol can be consumed.

– Conclusions on BAME communities’ susceptibility to the virus are unclear.

– Lockdown restrictions will be with us well into next year.

The worst admission — and I have been saying this to my far better half for at least a month — was when Vallance said that self-isolation is better for the person who has a steady job and can work from home. Self-isolation, he said, is not suitable for someone in precarious employment who has to show up to work every day! (Who knew?) Good grief!

They have no real answers, yet they’re still ruling our lives via the Government!

Sky News suspends newsreader

Kay Burley, one of Sky News’s star newsreaders, celebrated her 60th birthday on Saturday, December 5, in London.

Unfortunately, the celebrations did not take place in an entirely COVID-compliant way.

Ms Burley was suspended until early January 2021. (See update below.)

Guido Fawkes has the story:

Some people won’t see that as big news, but it is.

It points out the hypocrisy of the media, who were clamouring for a lockdown in March then flout the rules when we are still in one via the tier system. London is in Tier 2.

This was Kay Burley’s apology:

The Guido Fawkes team delved deeper. This is what they discovered (emphases in the original). Guillaume Depoix (point 5 below) owns the Folie restaurant:

The trouble for Kay is that this statement does not address the whole story, and contradicts what the owner of the restaurant told Guido about the event yesterday. Either the restaurant owner was not telling the truth to Guido, or Kay has been fibbing…

    1. Her party at the “Covid compliant” club was made up of ten people, split across two tables. Yet the ‘Rule of Six’ apples to social events like birthday parties inside or outside. The only other gatherings such as business meetings can exceed it...
    2. Kay’s statement presumes she walked all the way to the restaurant Folie to spend her penny. Despite it being not exactly next door to the club she came from.
    3. Kay does not mention the other people who came with her into the second restaurant. Yet the owner admitted to Guido yesterday that “several people” came in to the restaurant.
    4. Guido was initially told by the restaurant owner that Kay and her friends had gone in to the second restaurant after curfew “to pay a bill, that was it”. Not to go to the loo…
    5. When Guido put to restaurant owner Guillaume Depoix that Kay and company had been in the restaurant for quite a while, “a couple of hours”, this was not denied. Guido certainly got the impression the group were there for a considerable amount of time.
    6. Kay does not mention the other people who came back to her home. Yet she didn’t deny it.

Whilst Kay’s statement tries to take all the blame, Guido has yet to hear what her Sky News colleagues and party guests Beth Rigby, Inzamam Rashid, and Sam Washington have to say …

On Tuesday, December 8, i reported (emphases mine):

Sky News presenter Kay Burley has been taken off air after she admitted to breaching coronavirus restrictions, i understands. She has been replaced on the breakfast show for her remaining shows this week and is already due on annual leave until 4 January …

The TV host is facing an internal inquiry for what she described as “an error of judgment”.

Sources told i the presenter was called into Sky’s headquarters in Osterley, west London, for an urgent meeting with bosses on Tuesday morning. The channel’s most senior staff, John Riley, head of news, and Christina Nicoletti Squires, director of content, were seen entering the newsroom at the time the meeting was due to be held.

Burley will be replaced by early morning presenter Niall Paterson on Wednesday and other presenters will cover her programme for the remainder of the week. Burley was already set to be on annual leave from next Monday until 4 January 2021.

A source close to the presenter said she “doesn’t have a leg to stand on” after breaking the Government’s rules, while being employed to grill politicians over the need to follow guidelines.

It is not clear if she has been removed from air as part of formal disciplinary proceedings.

When the news of the breach broke on Monday night, Burley was in Coventry, where she was due to anchor the news channel as the first Covid vaccines were administered. She was hastily replaced and ordered back to London for Tuesday’s meeting

Too funny.

Burley, along with colleague and birthday guest Beth Rigby, were among the media stars who endlessly criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisor Dominic Cummings, who is staying on until the end of the year, for his lockdown breach during the first lockdown during the Spring:

Burley, who presents a daily breakfast show on Sky News, has grilled politicians on lockdown throughout the pandemic.

In May, she questioned cabinet minister Michael Gove on the controversy over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle.

A Sky News spokesman said: “We place the highest importance on complying with the Government guidelines on Covid, and we expect all our people to comply.

“We were disappointed to learn that a small number of Sky News staff may have engaged in activity that breached the guidelines.

“Although this took place at a social event in personal time, we expect all our people to follow the rules that are in place for everyone. An internal process is under way to review the conduct of the people involved.”

Sky News declined to comment on Burley being taken off air.

This tweet shows Beth Rigby having a go at Dominic Cummings in May during his press conference:

The Guardian had more on the story:

All of the Sky staff are facing a review of their conduct by their employer, which said it was “disappointed” by the incident.

Burley’s usual 7am breakfast programme was presented from Coventry University hospital on Tuesday by Sarah Hewson. Burley is understood to have already been in the city, where the UK’s first vaccine dose was administered, when the decision was made. There was no mention of the reason for Burley’s absence when the show began

Burley is understood to have blamed the situation on misunderstandings in planning and organising the event. But she did not address why a group of four people, including Rashid and former Sky News royal correspondent and Huawei PR executive Paul Harrison, returned to her home after the dinner, a claim that is not believed to be in dispute. Other Sky News staff are understood to be irritated by details of the event.

Under the tier 2 restrictions in London, indoor social gatherings of any kind are barred except among those who live together or have formed a support bubble. Groups of up to six can socialise outdoors. Police can impose fines of £200 for a first-time breach.

Under the rules, Burley’s initial gathering would only have been allowed if the two tables remained separate throughout and sat outside. It is not clear how many of the group went to the second venue, but Burley’s tweets suggested that the rules were broken during this part of the evening. A group of four gathering at her home would be against the rules unless they remained outside throughout.

Burley has been a stern interrogator of politicians who have been perceived as making excuses over lockdown breaches this year.

In May, she conducted a widely shared interview with the cabinet minister Michael Gove about the Dominic Cummings affair, repeatedly asking him to clarify what the government advice would be for a member of the public “struggling with Covid-19 and you think you’ve got a problem with your eyesight”, in reference to Cummings’ explanation of his trip to Barnard Castle.

She also interviewed the health secretary, Matt Hancock, after Prof Neil Ferguson was forced to resign as a government adviser and asked: “What did you think when you read it? Did you bang your head on the desk?”

Burley’s colleague Adam Boulton, the other star of Sky News, was deeply unhappy with her. The Guardian told us all about it in ‘Kay Burley row could undermine Sky News, warns Adam Boulton’:

The Sky News presenter Adam Boulton has warned that the row over a breach of coronavirus restrictions by his colleague Kay Burley has raised concerns over “the credibility of our journalism”.

With executives at the broadcaster weighing their decision over what sanctions are merited by the actions of Burley and three colleagues who attended her 60th birthday party last weekend, Boulton retweeted several posts about the story on Wednesday, including one that read: “Look at the state of Sky News. The morons spent all summer preaching to us and now look at them!”

Speaking to the Guardian, Boulton noted that his retweets did not necessarily constitute endorsements. But he went on: “That said, I retweet things because I think they’re of public interest, and certainly my feed has reflected a lot of people who are very concerned about the credibility of Sky News, and that I think is the important issue: the credibility of our journalism.”

The intervention from the station’s editor-at-large and former political editor is the first significant comment on the situation from a senior broadcaster at Sky News, where executives have been considering how to deal with the fallout from Burley’s celebrations since Monday.

Boulton said: “My view is that Sky has worked very hard during the whole Covid crisis and has taken a very clear line about public safety, and obviously something like this perhaps underlines [the importance of] that.” And he noted that he believed the matter to be “of widespread concern” to colleagues at the station.

Since Guido Fawkes broke the story on Monday, December 7, Burley’s fellow colleagues who celebrated her birthday have also been suspended:

Beth Rigby, Inzamam Rashid and Sam Washington have all been taken off air during discussions over what sanctions will be imposed. On Tuesday, Burley was withdrawn from consideration for a prestigious TV award, while two of the group signed non-disclosure agreements as Sky sought to limit damage from the row.

Other staff at Sky share Adam Boulton’s consternation:

“The situation is just excruciating,” one producer said. “The longer it goes on, the worse it gets and the harder it is to see this ending without serious punishment.”

Boulton noted that he viewed Burley as a “remarkable” journalist who deserved her success on the station. And he added: “Whatever happens next is not my decision and obviously it’s not up to me to criticise colleagues.”

Nonetheless, his comments will be viewed with alarm by executives hoping to keep staff concerns under wraps until they reach a decision, which is expected to be this week.

It appears that Burley had a safari holiday booked:

Burley herself deleted a tweet saying she was going on holiday on Friday to go “sit with lions”, adding: “They kill for food, not sport” – a possible reference to the media coverage of the situation.

Well, she can take her time and enjoy an extended safari holiday.

————————————

UPDATE: Early this evening, news emerged that Sky News has suspended Burley for six months! Excellent.

Furthermore, Beth Rigby has been suspended for three months; Sam Washington and Inzamam Rashid have also been suspended pending an internal Sky News enquiry. Result!

How pleased Kay and Beth were with themselves only a few days earlier …

————————————

It is a bit rich to defy coronavirus regulations then pole up to a hospital, especially one giving COVID-19 vaccinations:

I’m really glad this has come to light:

Agree. I don’t understand why people give these hypocrites any credibility.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

On the evening of October 31, 2020, the English received a Halloween trick rather than a treat.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference to announce that England would be going into a second nationwide lockdown on Thursday, November 5.

How ironic that the Government chose November 5, Guy Fawkes Night, when, in 1605, Fawkes and group of his mates tried to blow up Parliament. This is England’s night for fireworks and bonfires remembering that Fawkes and his pals were imprisoned and that traitors will never succeed. But I digress.

The Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, and Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, accompanied Boris. They showed yet another alarming set of statistics, an incomplete set of hospitals (showing 29 out of a total of 482) and updated heat maps showing that even regions of England with low rates of ‘infection’ were in potential danger if ‘no action’ were taken:

At the time of the press conference, half of the country, including London, had been in either one of the two new designations, Tier 2 or Tier 3. People in those tiers were told that it would take a few weeks to see any tangible decrease in the R (‘infection’) rate. Action was being taken.

Yet, Boris — urged by SAGE, of which Whitty and Vallance are members — did not bother to wait to see if the numbers in Tiers 2 and 3 were decreasing. He went straight for another national lockdown.

Once again, Boris circumvented presenting the plan to Parliament first for scrutiny. He claimed it was so urgent that he had no time for that.

What made matters worse is that an unknown someone leaked the lockdown plan to the media. MPs were in recess at the time. They returned to the Commons on Monday, November 2.

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle was not happy.

No. 10 launched a enquiry with regard to the leak. The police might get involved, if necessary.

The Daily Mail has a full timeline of events from Friday, October 30. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Furious Speaker Lindsay Hoyle today demanded a personal apology if a Cabinet minister is found to have leaked the PM’s lockdown plan.

The Commons chief read the riot act to the government after the bombshell news spilled over the weekend, rather than being announced to Parliament first

‘I expect the Prime Minister to keep the House updated on his leak inquiry,’ he said.

‘I also hope that if the leaker is identified and if a member of this House, that member will make a full apology to the House for the discourteous and unacceptable behaviour.’

Separately, science chief Patrick Vallance is facing a backlash over a grim off-the-record briefing to reporters on Friday afternoon, in which he underlined SAGE’s push for an immediate lockdown – alongside figures suggesting more than 85,000 people could die this winter.

Sir Patrick’s office insist his briefing on Friday afternoon was just a regular off the record discussion with journalists, and dismiss the idea he was pre-empting any government move

Sir Patrick suggested to reporters that it was too late for a two-week circuit breaker, and a four-week lockdown similar to that introduced in France was the best way to control the R number.  

Mr Johnson had still been wavering on the issue that morning, when Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was sent out to defend the local ‘Tiers’ system on the airwaves.

But, confronted with Sir Patrick and Chris Whitty’s dire predictions he set the wheels in motion on a month-long lockdown

Within hours the tentative decision taken by the elite group was leaked to the Daily Mail and Times – before the full Cabinet had been informed – in an apparent effort to prevent the PM changing his mind. 

By Saturday morning the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg was giving details of two key documents that were shown to the ‘quad’ [core group of decision makers], a controversial prediction that the daily death toll would hit 4,000 a day and that NHS hospitals would be overwhelmed

There has since been criticism that the 4,000 a day projection was already out of date. It was produced by experts from the University of Cambridge and Public Health England who have since revised their numbers and lowered the possible numbers of deaths

Nevertheless, both slides formed a key part of the data finally officially presented on Saturday night, when a livid Mr Johnson brought forward his announcement after a call with his clueless wider Cabinet.

A formal leak inquiry has now been launched to find the culprit – with claims that just 15 people, including Sir Patrick, chief medical officer Chris Whitty and NHS England head Sir Simon Stevens were in the meeting.

There have even been dark threats that the police could be called in to find who undermined the PM’s approach …

A former Cabinet minister told MailOnline that the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring over the lockdown was ‘very odd’.

They suggested that the intervention from Sir Patrick could have been part of an effort to ‘bounce’ the PM. ‘It does sound like a bounce. If he was briefing people in advance he was obviously trying to build up a head of steam behind the notion of a lockdown,’ they said …

The MP said the figures being used to support the lockdown move, including claims that deaths could hit 4,000 a day, were questionable

‘The figures don’t appear to have been updated to reflect the true state of affairs,’ they said …

Mr Johnson will today try to head off a mounting Tory revolt against his nationwide lockdown by warning coronavirus deaths this winter could otherwise by double the first wave. MPs have been raging at the ‘evil’ new rules, likening them to something from a ‘totalitarian regime’.

On Tuesday, November 3, Whitty and Vallance appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee, headed by the estimable MP, Greg Clark.

The Telegraph details the reasons why they were asked to appear at such short notice: spurious statistics given at Saturday’s press conference used to justify a second lockdown.

The two physicians faced questions not only from Clark but also the other MPs who sit on that committee:

That link is still working, so, while there is no transcript, you can watch the proceedings, which last a little over two hours.

It was an engrossing session and, based on the replies to that tweet, no doubt many lockdown sceptics tuned in to watch:

What follows are highlights of the Select Committee hearing. MPs asked good questions:

An MP was able to get Whitty and Vallance to admit that they had not taken the effect of the tier system into account before the press conference last Saturday:

Greg Clark did an excellent job of chairing the hearing:

The duo explained that the reason they pushed for a lockdown was because R >1 across England, even in regions which are in the Medium (no tier) range. I disagree that this means ‘cases are doubling’; they are not:

Graham Stringer (Lab) is one of my favourite MPs. He said that Saturday’s alarmist graphs scared the public. Vallance’s response follows:

Jeremy Hunt (Con) also asked about the projected 4,000 deaths:

The duo were also asked about the subtle blame they were putting on university students as being part of the cause of the increase in R. They quickly walked back the insinuation:

The duo were asked whether it might be a good idea to have an economist on SAGE to present the economic damage of lockdowns. Whitty seemed more open to this than Vallance, who was vehemently opposed. He said that SAGE were not responsible for economic modelling and said that was the remit of the Treasury:

The replies to the next tweet mention soundbites on other questions:

Around halfway through, it was apparent that the duo were uncomfortable with the probing nature of MPs’ questions. Vallance glared at one point.

Chris Whitty is shown below:

When asked about the test and trace system in place, they said that it works best at the beginning of a pandemic when cases are just beginning to climb rather than later on. The Government has put a huge emphasis on our test and trace system. As such, it is viewed as being essential by MPs and the public:

They were asked about excess deaths taking place because of all the emphasis being put on COVID-19:

There is doubt that much of the NHS was overrun, even at the height of the pandemic:

Later on, talk turned to the ban on public worship and outdoor sports for children which come into effect today. The two admitted that their ‘evidence’ about closing houses of worship was ‘anecdotal’. When pressed, Whitty said that he would not answer theological questions. When Greg Clark pursued the subject of outdoor sports for children, Whitty refused to say it was a low-risk activity that would help keep youngsters in better health.

Not everyone was happy with the line of questioning, although it was much better than I’d expected.

Barrister Francis Hoar had submitted questions to the select committee which were not asked. I, too, would like answers to these but think the discussion would have taken up much of the two hours:

The following day, Chris Whitty sent a letter to Greg Clark retracting a statement he had made earlier about infection rates in the over-60s in Liverpool:

The following statement is correct:

Based on the admittedly bogus data, it seems incongruous that we should have a second England-wide lockdown:

Nonetheless, after a debate in Parliament on Wednesday, October 4, MPs voted overwhelmingly — 516-38 — for a second lockdown:

I am pleased to say that, during the debate, several MPs from both sides of the aisle pressed the Government for a change of tack on banning public worship and certain outdoor sports, including for children. Unfortunately, the Government refused to budge.

Guido Fawkes has a list of the MPs who voted No. Four of those were from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP); sadly, I did not see Jim Shannon’s name among their number.

Clearly, there weren’t enough rebels, but I am most grateful for those who stood up for their principles — and for us.

On November 5, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivered a statement to Parliament announcing an extension to his original furlough scheme:

Lockdown ends on December 2, at which point the Government with local officials, including the NHS, will decide what regions need to return to the Tier system.

On Monday, October 12, 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-tier system for England in an attempt to make new coronavirus restrictions easier to understand:

He delivered a statement in Parliament and later addressed the nation. In the video clips below, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty is on the left and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is on the right:

These plans run for the next six months:

Earlier that day, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam presented an update. It is unnerving when SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) members make an announcement of upcoming health policy before the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. They did this on September 21 as well, against a Government backdrop. They have official permission to do so, but it is unsettling to see. It looks as if they are in charge. Perhaps they are.

Hmm.

I very much agree with this tweet about SAGE members who are physicians, such as the aforementioned three men (emphases mine below):

‘Drs’ go into epidemiology and PH because they want the same salary as the frontline grafters without the hours, stress or risk.

So, how accurate were Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming projections from September? Not very accurate at all, as many people in England suspected three weeks ago, and deaths are thankfully minimal compared to springtime statistics:

The SAGE members spoke on Monday morning. Boris addressed MPs that afternoon.

The Conservative MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, rightly pointed out that a Conservative government should let citizens make informed choices for themselves:

As Conservatives, we often speak of levelling up. However, now is the time to level with the British people. There is no silver bullet. All measures to stop the spread of covid have painful effects on our economy, social lives and mental wellbeing. Voices on the Opposition Benches believe that British people are incapable of understanding complex issues such as Brexit. The Conservative party is the champion of individuals’ rights to make autonomous decisions without state interference. Will the Prime Minister double down on our party’s historic commitment to invest greater trust in the individual to decide what is best for themselves?

Boris gave his standard communitarian response:

Indeed, and I hope that the individual will also recognise that the risk that we carry—he or she carries—is not just to ourselves, but to the whole of the community because, in the end, we are all potential vectors of this disease and we may bring it inadvertently to someone who is more vulnerable than ourselves. That is the risk. That is why we are bringing in these measures, why we have had the package of measures that we have had throughout this pandemic, and why we now need to intensify them in some local areas now.

Boris answered over 100 questions in two hours. The session ended just before 6 p.m.

He addressed the nation on television at 7 p.m.

The adjournment debate in Parliament that evening revealed that the National Health Service would be more aptly named the National Covid Service.

Labour’s Fleur Anderson, who represents Putney in south west London, spoke about the continued closure of the Urgent Care unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. Excerpts follow:

In August 1997, Queen Mary’s Hospital, which is in Roehampton, ended its A&E service, and has since had a minor injuries unit, which the trust gave a gold-standard accreditation in November last year. So there is no A&E service in my constituency. The minor injuries unit was upgraded to an urgent treatment centre, with a GP added to the excellent nurse practitioner staff, earlier this year. In a normal year, the centre serves 16,000 to 18,000 people, so it is a vital service in our community.

During the peak of the pandemic, the decision was taken to temporarily close the service because of a lack of space for social distancing and to be able to adhere to Government guidelines, and also to move the staff to other areas that needed them more. The pharmacy for out-patients has only recently been closed, and at very short notice. Of course I understand, as do local residents, that changes had to made and that health services had to adapt. I fully appreciate that our NHS managers had to make some extremely difficult decisions on service provision as they faced the prospect of being overwhelmed, which they are now facing again, with the second wave. The continued closure makes us in Roehampton feel overlooked, and it is putting additional pressures on NHS services at Teddington, the walk-in centre at Kingston, St George’s Hospital A&E and local GP surgeries. I am concerned that this will cause untold long-term damage to the health and wellbeing of our community.

I have been asked, “What about the person with the dislocated shoulder, the chest pain, the allergic reaction?” They all need to be assessed and stabilised urgently, but at the moment they are being turned away. I have met the chief executive of the hospital trust and raised these issues. I asked her to assure me that the centre would be reopened as soon as it was safe to do so, but she has not confirmed when it will reopen, if at all. That is very worrying. I hope to hear from the Minister this evening that he will support the trust in making plans to reopen the walk-in urgent treatment centre. 

I would like briefly to explain the impacts that the closure is having on local people. Anyone who goes to where the minor injuries unit used to be is asked to travel far away to the Teddington walk-in centre, to Kingston A&E or to St George’s A&E in Tooting. Those bus journeys can take an hour, which can result in painful journeys or in many people not making the journey, not being seen and not being treated. I am sure the Minister will agree that an hour on public transport is an unacceptably long journey time when there is a really good hospital right there in Roehampton, but it is just not open for walk-in urgent care. One of my constituents wrote to me this week to say:

I took my elderly father, who is nearly 90 years old, to Queen Mary’s just over a month ago, because he had cut his fingers quite badly and they were bleeding. The kind staff there had helped us when my father had a similar problem last year and they knew how to bandage his fingers because he has very thin skin…Because the Centre was closed, we had to go all the way to Kingston Hospital which was quite stressful. While his treatment there was good, it would have been far easier if we could have gone somewhere more local to him as my father isn’t used to travelling that far.”

Also, some patients are unable to travel or should not travel. An example is patients with diabetic foot ulcers, who should keep their activity to a minimum to allow ulcers to heal. At the same time, if they have an infection, it needs treating immediately as it could deteriorate rapidly leading to the need for amputation. That is one group of patients who are not getting the care they need because the urgent treatment centre and the pharmacy are not open. There is an obvious health risk to people needing to travel further if they are seriously ill.

There is also an increased risk of covid infection through asking people to travel greater distances by public transport during the pandemic, especially when they are unwell or chronically ill. They could have an underlying condition, which might be the reason they are going to the urgent care centre in the first place. That would make them more susceptible to the effects of covid-19. Closing the pharmacy is having the effect of delaying patients receiving treatment, as they are now being referred to their GP by the clinics. If they cannot immediately get an appointment with their GP, this can lead to delays of up to 48 hours before starting their treatment. That is another impact.

There is also a knock-on effect on services in other places. The fact that 16,000 to 18,000 people a year used to be treated at Queen Mary’s is putting pressure on St George’s and Kingston, along with the increasing demand at the momentGP surgery appointments are already at a premium, and this demand will only worsen as the difficult winter months approach. Even before the pandemic, it was reported that over 11 million patients had to wait more than 21 days for a GP appointment. In my constituency, there are 14 main surgeries and three branch practices. My team has called round all the local GP services. Several are still only doing appointments over Zoom, and in one local medical centre, a member of staff begged for the urgent care centre to reopen due to the pressure its closure is causing for GP surgeries.

Increased demand for overstretched GP surgeries with finite resources ultimately means fewer local people’s conditions or illnesses receiving treatment, and even more concerningly, serious and urgent illnesses such as cancer being missed and going undiagnosed. It is cancer diagnosis that I am particularly concerned about. As the Minister knows, lots of cancers are diagnosed when people present at hospital with a symptom. With the doors of the urgent treatment centre still closed, many cancers that might otherwise have been spotted will have been missed

Edward Argar, Minister for Health, responded on behalf of the Government:

… I am conscious that the trust has yet to set out a firm commitment to a reopening date, but I join the hon. Lady in saying that I hope it will set out its future plans as soon as possible. I am conscious that she has met the trust’s chief executive, Jacqueline Totterdell, to discuss these issues and plans for the reopening of the urgent treatment centre. Although that reopening date is still to be confirmed, I understand that the trust and local commissioners are undertaking work to agree a new covid-secure model of care before reopening, which is the right approach.

The hon. Lady highlighted not only the urgent treatment centre but its role in helping early diagnosis and treatment of cancers. I completely understand and recognise her concerns about the impact of the pandemic on cancer services and the importance of ensuring that cancers do not go undiagnosed. The NHS is working to restore the full operation of all cancer services, with local delivery plans being delivered by cancer alliances. Systems will be working with GPs and the public locally to increase the number of people coming forward and being referred with suspected cancer to at least pre-pandemic levels—I will come on to the performance of her local trust in a moment.

To support that, systems will help to ensure sufficient diagnostic capacity in covid-19-secure environments, through the use of independent sector facilities and the development of community diagnostic hubs and a rapid diagnostic centre. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that diagnostic capability is a considerable challenge, not least because, to put it perhaps a little bluntly, many diagnostic tests are very close and personal, and the equipment used is intimate in terms of looking inside the human body. The cleaning and infection control measures that are necessary between each patient make it challenging to see as many patients as would have been the case before the pandemic.

That last sentence worried my far better half, who asked, ‘Does that mean they weren’t cleaning between patients before coronavirus?’

After discussing cancer services, Argar discussed the Urgent Care pharmacy in question:

The hospital pharmacy is absolutely vital for people being able to have timely access to the medicines they need and being able to get them on site. Although people using it will have been treated and advised in hospital, they can none the less get very helpful advice from the pharmacy as well, so I share her view about the importance of that. As I have said, I include that in my offer to her—to discuss that with her and with the chief executive. I will endeavour to do that later this week …

I simply reiterate that I share the hon. Lady’s view that, where services for perfectly good and legitimate clinical reasons have been temporarily closed or altered, it is extremely important that they are reopened as soon as trusts are able to do so and, where in the future any changes are proposed, that they are subject to the usual full public consultation, engagement and consideration. I do not want to see temporary measures becoming permanent by default, and she can read that as perhaps an expression of my view on what is happening in Roehampton

I hope that I have been able to offer the hon. Lady some reassurances today. I thank her for securing the debate, and I very much look forward to meeting her

Fleur Anderson was reassured. I hope that Queen Mary’s Hospital gets back to full service soon.

The content of that debate was alarming.

Apologies for the digression, but this is the state of play for the NHS, or should I say NCS, not only in Roehampton but all over the nation. It is an absolute shambles.

Tuesday, October 13 — the almighty SAGE, no evidence needed

On Tuesday, October 13, Treasury Minister Steve Barclay laid out the Chancellor’s expanded plans for financial support during the continuing coronavirus crisis.

The 10 p.m. curfew for pubs was also voted on later that day.

Mel Stride, the Conservative MP representing Central Devon, asked for scientific evidence about the curfew:

My right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have done a great deal to support the economy, but there has to be a careful balance struck between protecting against the virus and avoiding further economic destruction. With that in mind, what scientific evidence has the Treasury received that closing pubs at 10 pm gets that balance right?

Steve Barclay did not answer the question and inadvertently pointed out SAGE’s woefully inaccurate modelling (see graph at the top of the post):

We have to balance the evidence that the Government receive from a range of quarters. My right hon. Friend will recall that when the initial advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was put forward, the Government came forward with a range of measures, such as the rule of six and the curfew. Indeed, if we look at the projections that were made at that time, we see that we could potentially have had 49,000 or so daily cases by 14 October when in actual fact the figure on that date was 12,872. That indicates the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have had an influence. However, listening to the SAGE advice, it is recognised that we need to go further and that is why the tiered approach has been set out.

Mike Wood (Con, Dudley South) sounded the alarm about pubs in his West Midlands constituency:

A tenth of pubs have not reopened since lockdown in March while two thirds were already trading at a loss, even before restricted opening times, mandatory table service and the new restrictions announced yesterday. Will my right hon. Friend look at the support that is available for pubs that are not yet compelled to close, but are legally prevented from operating economically, and in particular state aid limits that threaten to prevent 10,000 pubs from receiving the support they need? Without that support, many thousands of pubs will close their doors and never reopen.

Barclay responded:

Ultimately, that is why the Chancellor set out the wider package of support, recognising the concerns he speaks of with the tax deferrals, the loans, the business rate support and the measures on VAT, which are targeted at the sector because of the very real concerns he correctly articulates.

Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) asked for evidence that compels swimming pools and gyms to close in some areas under the new restrictions:

Is there any specific evidence that swimming pools and gyms are centres for covid transmission? Has any research been done into rising obesity and unfitness levels, and has any research been done into rising unemployment caused by the closure of gyms and pools that is now happening in parts of the UK?

Barclay reiterated that those sectors were part of the reason for the Chancellor’s expanded support package. Again, he could not provide any scientific evidence:

In some ways, that is slightly more of a Health question than a Treasury question, but I recognise that there is read-across from those businesses into the economy. In short, the opinion of the chief medical officer and the chief scientific officer is that those businesses do carry significantly more risk, which is why they have been harder hit in the guidance that has been issued.

What if it turned out that Whitty and Vallance were as wrong about that as they are with their astronomically mistaken ‘case’ projections?

I fully agree with the assessment of Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough):

It is not surprising that more and more Members are calling for more Government support, because the Government are forcing more and more businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, out of business. The Chief Secretary says that his priority is to help business. The best way to help businesses is to let them get on and do business. We are going bankrupt as a nation—there will not be the money to pay for the NHS or pensions. What is the Treasury doing to row back against other parts of the Government and insist that we must allow British business to operate? He did not answer the question from the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—what is the scientific evidence for pubs closing at 10 o’clock? Is he leading the fight to help Britain to stay in business?

Barclay replied:

With respect, I did answer it. I pointed to the projection given by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser at that time, the SAGE guidance and the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister has resulted in a lower infection risk. The CMO and others would recognise that this is a range of measures. My right hon. Friend says that the Government have gone too far and that there is no evidence for the curfew. The tenor of most of the questions one gets is that we have not moved far enough and should be taking more drastic actions. That speaks to the fact that this is a balanced judgment. One needs to look at the range of measures we are taking, and that is what I would refer him to.

After that, MPs debated then voted on all the new coronavirus measures. All passed, including the 10 p.m. curfew for pubs across the nation.

Matt Hancock delivered the statement which opened the debate.

He took strong exception to the Great Barrington Declaration:

Some people have set out this more relaxed approach, including those in the so-called Great Barrington declaration. I want to take this argument head on, because on the substance, the Great Barrington declaration is underpinned by two central claims and both are emphatically false. First, it says that if enough people get covid, we will reach herd immunity. That is not true. Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, such as measles, malaria, AIDS and flu, and with increasing evidence of reinfection, we should have no confidence that we would ever reach herd immunity to covid, even if everyone caught it. Herd immunity is a flawed goal without a vaccine, even if we could get to it, which we cannot.

Well, not all of us get flu every year, and, in the wide scheme of things, COVID-19 has a 99% survival rate.

I agree with Hancock’s second point about the impossibility of isolating older members in multi-generational households.

However, overall, Hancock really is in thrall to SAGE. They must be relishing the power they have over him:

John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) asked a simple question:

How long do the scientists think we will need these lockdowns for, and what is their exit plan?

Hancock had no real answer. The one he gave proves that lockdowns do not work. So much for SAGE advice:

We have seen the exit plan from local lockdowns. For instance, in Leicester, where we had a firm local lockdown, the case rate came right down. We lifted that and we have sadly seen it start to rise again. The case rate is determined by the amount of social mixing, and it reduces during a lockdown. In some parts of the country where the case rate has continued to rise, there is an argument for further ensuring that we do not reach the level of contact that is at the root of the virus spreading. The challenge is how to calibrate the lockdown to get the virus under control while doing the minimum damage to the economy and to education.

Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle) pointed out the futility of a 10 p.m. curfew, as everyone pours out into the street and onto public transport at the same time:

The Secretary of State talks about a regulation on pubs closing at 10 o’clock, which has been in force for four weeks. There may be some undoubted positives for health, but we see some negatives with people amassing together on public transport and in the streets. Do the positives outweigh the negatives, as far as the science is concerned?

More waffle from Barclay, I’m sorry to say.

You can see some of Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth’s reply to Barclay in the video below. Ashworth says that the Government have not gone far enough, even if he opposes another full lockdown, or circuit-breaker, as it is now called.

The debate continued.

Addressing Matt Hancock, Dr Andrew Murrison (Con, Southwest Wiltshire), who is a physician, cautioned him against being closed-minded and advised looking at other voices in the medical world, including those of those who say that lockdown serves little purpose and should be confined to the vulnerable only:

I support these restrictions with a heavy heart. On balance, I will be supporting the Government this evening, but I want to make just a few quick points.

I would be very careful about subscribing to the Vallance/Whitty orthodoxy that informed these regulations, while not at all examining very carefully respectable bodies of medical opinion to the contrary. I would cite particularly the Heneghan/Sikora/Gupta line. It is important that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team address those things head-on and treat them with the respect that they deserve

We need to be careful about groupthink, confirmation bias, a thin evidential basis and uncertainty masquerading as certainty. There is a huge margin of uncertainty with all this, and we all need to develop a level of humility in our attitudes towards dealing with this crisis. That is why I shall be supporting the Government this evening …

In all this, we simply do not know and we are learning all the time. We have to accept, I think, the expertise of those advising Ministers and that we have experts for a reason, but there is an alternative view. Unless we get a vaccine—goodness me, I hope we do—I think we may find that the cure is worse than the disease in terms of lives lost directly to covid, incidental lives lost to other common diseases—stroke, heart attack and particularly cancer—loss of liberty, loss of livelihood and the compete trashing of our economy. That is what is at stake. I do not envy the Secretary of State in his work.

Labour’s John Spellar (Warley) made excellent points. I agree with every one of them:

There is a huge principle to be debated here. At the heart of it is the false dichotomy posed again by the Secretary of State today between hospitality and the economy and jobs, as though hospitality were not part of the real economy and millions of jobs did not depend on it. Tell that to the workers and businesses owners in pubs and clubs, restaurants and cafes, hotels and wedding venues, theatres and cinemas, betting shops, bingo halls and casinos and gyms, all of which are facing really hard times and challenges. They are facing closures, ruin and job losses on a massive scale. At the same time, as we heard earlier, Treasury support is weakening and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only losing the cost of support but suffering a major loss of revenue.

Unfortunately, the approach seems to be driven less by deep analysis and more by the dreaded doctrine of “something must be done”. This is something; therefore we must do this irrespective of proportionality, outcome or impact. But this time it is even worse. It seems to be “something needs to be seen to be done” without any cost-benefit analysis or considering the impact on a beleaguered industry and a workforce facing mass redundancies. Accordingly, I and many other Members are unclear about the basis, either at a local or national level, of these proposals. The Chief Secretary talked earlier of anecdotes. I want a bit more than anecdotes.

Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, rightly said on Radio 4 today that a far better way than closures and curfews is to give powers to local councils to take rapid action to shut down non-compliant venues. In my authority of Sandwell, which has an enviable contact rate of 85% led by the excellent public health director Dr McNally, we have had one case linked to a hospitality venue, and that was early on in the pandemic in a pub in Smethwick. The Express & Star, our evening newspaper, investigated and found that across the Black Country, which is home to 1.25 million people, there have been just 10 such incidences of covid, again all early in the pandemic.

In his opening speech, the Secretary of State did not give an indication of how long he thinks this can go on. It could last almost indefinitely unless we develop a vaccine, an event that, as the Prime Minister candidly admitted yesterday, is uncertain and would not be 100% effective. One of the tests of an exit strategy is considering how we contain the virus if we are not able to eliminate it, as we have had to do with major diseases throughout history and as many of parts of the world still have to do today.

Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe) brought up the economic damage done and his support for the Great Barrington Declaration. He said that the Government must find a middle way:

three problems. The first is that a vaccine may not come. The second is that a vaccine may not be effective. The third is that all this is propped up on quantitative easing and ultra-cheap credit. Indeed, now we are reading in the newspapers about negative interest rates, and this is why I declared the interest. I think you have to have a peculiarly high level of economic education to believe that we can head towards £745 billion of QE and ultra-low or negative interest rates and that all this will not be a problem. I will not say any more about it. I think it will be a problem, and it is precarious indeed that the Government’s strategy is propped up on such a monetary policy

Personally, I think that privately the Government are a little more optimistic about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned, but here is the thing: even suppose the Government had vaccinated the public with a successful, safe vaccine by Easter or possibly the summer, that still leaves our economy and Government spending propped up on ultra-cheap credit. The problem with that is that the Bank of England has told us on the Treasury Committee that if inflation comes in it will have to, under its mandate, fight inflation. That would effectively mean pulling the plug on Government spending. This is precarious indeed …

For the reasons that I have given, I am convinced that the Government must find an alternative strategic plan between the Great Barrington declaration and where we are today.

All Government measures passed in the votes that night.

Labour’s mixed messages

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow cabinet are all over the shop.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Ashworth opposed a national lockdown, while saying that the Government were not going far enough with measures:

However, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced on national television that he wants a national lockdown, as Guido Fawkes points out (emphases in the original):

Why does Keir Starmer support imposing a national lockdown on areas with low Covid incidence whilst opposing regional lockdowns on areas with high Covid incidence? Whatever side of the argument you are on, surely it is clear that being on both sides of the argument at the same time makes no sense logically? Unless it is pure political opportunism…

Ashworth said, rightly that a national lockdown “would be disastrous for society… but I don’t believe anyone in the house is proposing that…” Hours later Starmer proposed precisely that…

Tiered lockdown: public money from taxpayers or private enterprise?

In closing, this is what is allegedly happening in Essex, which is just to the east of London. This is puzzling, because Essex has low positive test rates.

Adam Brooks is a publican:

Essex Council deny that money is involved. The councillor giving the following statement said that the Council is doing it for health, not financial, reasons:

Fair enough.

The leader of the Council issued this video announcement, which was not well received by Essex residents (read the replies):

Essex aside, on the subject of lockdown money, Laura Dodsworth has written a lengthy article for Spiked, ‘There’s a financial incentive for councils to lock down’.

She stands by her article:

She explains that Liverpool Council made sure they received commitment to a financial package from the Government before entering Tier 3:

Liverpool mayors Steve Rotheram and Joe Anderson said that they did not agree with some aspects of the Tier 3 lockdown, but were aware that government would bring in rules ‘with or without them’. And so rather than argue forcefully against lockdown, they negotiated to secure the best financial package possible.

This policy is not without its drawbacks:

The new funding package for councils is designed to alleviate the pain of lockdown, to sugar the pill. But the structure of the funding might end up providing local authorities with the ingredients to make lockdown cake indefinitely. It is specifically intended to support more testing, including door-to-door testing, sometimes with help from the military. But more testing leads to more cases. More cases lead to more lockdowns.

the funding is also going towards enforcement of lockdown regulations and self-isolation, which there are fines for breaching. That, in turn, raises more funds – the revenue from fixed-penalty notices, whether they are issued by local police, environmental-health officers or new Covid marshals, goes into local-authority coffers. In theory, the lockdown fixed-penalty fines should be going straight back into public health (as littering fines would go towards the environment). But, in reality, revenue from fines is not always that well ring-fenced in local authorities.

Liverpool Council is nearly broke:

Back in April, Liverpool council warned it was facing bankruptcy. It’s easy to appreciate that local leaders are anxious to secure funds to deal with the ongoing lockdown crisis. I am not suggesting that councils and local politicians would make calculated decisions to push areas into lockdown. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This financial model has the potential to become a vicious circle. Seasoned disaster-planner Lucy Easthope tells me: ‘There is a tendency in reactive disaster funding to create dependency and to actively avoid thinking through the long-term harms and over-reliance [on emergency funds].’

Allegedly, London is likely to be next:

It will be interesting to see how this turns out in the months to come. I hope that the Treasury have terms and conditions attached to this funding.

The end of the road for England’s pubs?

Since the smoking ban in 2007 and the financial crisis the following year, the number of pubs decreased from 50,000 to 39,000 in the UK. That was as of 2018.

Because of the earlier lockdown this year, more have no doubt closed — for good.

The new coronavirus regulations began on Wednesday, October 14:

Below is a video of the ‘last hurrah’, as my parents’ generation would have called it, in Liverpool, before Tier 3 regulations set in.

Regardless of what one thinks of the video, according to the pie chart, when workplaces and schools/universities are factored in, according to Public Health England, hospitality accounts only for 3 per cent of coronavirus ‘case’ sources:

Not all pubs have to close, but in order to stay open, they must serve ‘a substantial meal’, as in New York City. A packet of crisps or pork scratchings will not do. The Pub Curmudgeon said that the Government have not precisely defined the term ‘substantial meal’, which could be problematic.

Meanwhile, Adam Brooks, the aforementioned publican from Essex, has given an interview to Spiked:

More to come tomorrow on how his business has fared during the coronavirus crisis.

Andrew Neil’s Spectator TV posted its sixth episode of The Week in 60 Minutes on Thursday, October 8, 2020:

Guests included Prof David Nabarro, World Health Organization special envoy for Covid-19; Andy Preston, mayor of Middlesbrough; Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times and a few Spectator journalists.

The programme began with the status of coronavirus measures in Ireland.

Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times, says that the Irish government was surprised by the recent recommended lockdown which they ultimately rejected. The Irish government were highly critical of the proposed measures, privately and publicly. Leahy explained that the head of the public health advisers has been off work because of compassionate leave, then, last Sunday, he returned and recommended another lockdown. The Irish government took it as, he says, a ‘power play’.

The government objected to the health experts’ very quick meetings amongst themselves and with government officials. Leahy said that the government were ‘annoyed’.

The government did not disagree with the recommended measures per se, but there was a fine balance to be achieved. The minister of finance warned of employment and social consequences, because a number of jobs would not be coming back. He and his staff needed to consider if other measures could be taken instead.

Neil mentioned today’s minimal COVID-19 deaths in Ireland. Leahy agreed and said that the so-called second wave has much less severe than the first. That said, the admissions to hospitals have been rising dramatically. So, there is a question about whether the second wave is different from the first. The Irish government felt they could weigh the statistics, adopting a wait-and-see approach. Leahy said that Dr Leo Varadkar, a physician who was formerly the prime minister and is now the deputy prime minister, essentially threw the nation’s chief medical officer Tony Holohan ‘under the bus’.

Leahy said that the part of Ireland’s problem was assigning decisions to scientists and doctors in the first wave earlier this year. Currently, scientific advice ‘is only one factor’ in the decision making process that the Irish government will take with regard to coronavirus measures. Leahy said that time will tell whether the public will back the government. The economic factors are such that things could change in the weeks to come.

Katy Balls was up next, advocating Swedish models that a number of Conservative MPs back. A number of backbenchers disapprove of Drs Whitty and Vallance.

Conversation then turned to the WHO’s Prof David Nabarro who says we are still in a bit of the first wave and we’re not over it, so we need to learn how to live with the virus without lockdown and the ‘closing down of economies’. What he calls ‘the middle path’ requires holding the virus at bay while allowing the economy to resume in order to make certain we can put safeguards in place, so that we can stop the virus whilst getting local ‘actors’, as well as testing and tracing, involved as much as possible and a common commitment to each other to keep everything as safe as possible. He said that lockdowns serve only to give a health service some breathing space.

Nabarro said that is what South East Asian countries are doing, also Germany and Canada. As lockdown lifts, nations can deal with increased cases ‘elegantly’.

As for Ireland, Nabarro sided halfway with the Irish government and halfway with the scientific advisors. He did caution that public buy-in was necessary for any success.

Nabarro predicted many more weeks of uncertainty but that we would feel ‘much more comfortable’ in the New Year.

Neil asked Nabarro about Prof Sunetra Gupta’s views on a milder lockdown. Nabarro said that the WHO do not advocate lockdowns as an absolute principle. (UK government: please take note!) He cited the damage done to the Caribbean and Pacific tourist industry. As a result, many more people could lapse into poverty.

Neil brought up Scotland’s coming lockdown and a possible one in the North of England.

Kate Andrews had current statistics, comparing them to Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming case graph from the third week of September. So far, we are not close to Vallance’s projection, but the UK is higher than France’s and Spain’s cases, respectively.

The effect of local lockdowns showed a skyrocketing in positive tests (‘cases’).  According to statistics, it is possible that Leicester should have already been taken out of lockdown.

Kate Andrews showed graphs that revealed that hospitality was responsible for a very low number of cases: around four per cent, not dissimilar to this pie chart, which I cited last Friday.

Nabarro intervened, saying he preferred ‘local integrated responses’, because breaking the virus involves input from every institution, be it a factory or a house of worship. He praised Leicester for its diversity, holding it up as a model for the world.

The Spectator‘s political editor, James Forsyth, came on to comment about the former Labour ‘Red Wall’ in the North. Much of that Red Wall voted for Conservatives in December 2019. Forsyth said that lockdown will be viewed as flooding has been in recent years: even if measures taken are not political, they look as if they ARE political. Northerners see that London and the surrounding Home Counties will not be locked down, and, as a result, will suffer fewer socio-economic casualties.

Andy Preston, the Independent mayor of Middlesbrough, was the next guest. He has been positively incandescent about lockdown. The transmission is a bit choppy, but Preston said that many of his residents didn’t personally know many people who had or died of COVID-19. He added that Middlesbrough’s residents have paid more in tax whilst losing out locally. He felt that ‘the Government is doing stuff to us’.

Preston has asked for a temporary ban on in-house socialising but supports frequenting restaurants. He said that local government and the UK government need to work together on measures.

Preston said that he thought there was an ‘inside group’ of advisers to the government, with no one from Middlesbrough involved.

He said that this type of decision making could go ‘very badly wrong for the country’.

Talk then turned towards the American vice presidential debate. Freddy Gray covered this segment. He said that Mike Pence is ‘a very accomplished performer’, ‘intelligent and he spoke very fluently’. He disclosed that he has never been a Pence fan but predicted that he could be the next Republican nominee in 2024.

Neil said that a Trump-Biden virtual debate would not be the first. Nixon broadcasted in 1960 from Los Angeles. Gray said that no one knew what is going on in Trump’s mind and said that the American president had gone ‘full gonzo’.

Viewers’ questions came next.

The first had to do with successful measures against COVID-19. Nabarro commented on coronavirus success in South East Asia, which he attributed to community buy-in and no delay in taking action, which can result in more problems later.

Another viewer said that England’s mayors needed to come together with regard to England’s lockdown. Andy Preston said he would back Manchester’s Andy Burnham, a former Labour MP.

A third viewer wondered about the vote coming up this week on England’s 10 p.m. curfew. Katy Balls said she doubted whether Labour would oppose the vote, but Conservative rebels might have their chance in the weeks to come to succeed in voting against the Government. (Personally, I don’t think it will happen. Most of the Opposition support lockdown measures and restricting civil liberties.)

James Forsyth says that half the Conservative MPs really detest the Government’s coronavirus restrictions. He cited the communications surrounding them and questioned what the £12bn poured into the ‘test and trace’ programme has actually achieved. He said it was ‘not delivering’.

Andrew Neil asked about the Great Barrington Declaration, which Prof Sunetra Gupta and many other physicians signed a week ago in Massachusetts. Kate Andrews said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there would be a ‘game changer’ with no social restrictions a year from now. As such, time is not a big deal for Boris. Neil said that Boris sounded like Chauncey Gardiner. I don’t like saying this, but I tend to agree with his assessment. Boris seems off the rails right now.

Leahy had the final word, measuring the rising positive tests with closed pubs and other measures. The Irish government, he says, needs to give these new measures time to work, including buy-in from the public to avoid another lockdown. He predicts another two to three weeks.

The final question came to Nabarro about the origin of the virus. He said, in short, that there was no definitive answer. ‘You [have to] bring in independent actors’, therefore, the WHO would need ‘to bring in other staff to help’.

Hmm. Interesting.

Then, in an abrupt change of tone, Nabarro sounded a blast at certain countries, including Belarus and Spain, saying that a second wave could come soon and that no nation should be complacent.

Hmm.

Charles Stanley Wealth Managers sponsored this week’s programme. For that, we are most grateful. Agree or disagree, Spectator TV is manna in a desert of dry, one-way MSM broadcasts.

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