Tag Archives: covid

The shadow of Covid

Today is Long Covid Awareness day. It is strange that such a day should be necessary, given how many people’s lives Covid and Long Covid have touched in this country and around the world. Yet it is very necessary as the prevailing public discourse is that Covid is over, and it was never much of a problem to start with. Yet it still kills every week throughout the year, and an estimated 2 million people have Long Covid, affecting their health, and the country’s economy.

The ongoing Covid pandemic is a catastrophic example of the failures of the UK’s public health system. (I refer here primarily to English experience. The devolved administrations have done better than England, but are still affected to a large and tragic extent by the factors discussed below.) Covid requires both treatment and prevention, both medical and public health intervention, and both short and long term strategies with public, professional and political support.

The NHS did immensely well and the government moderately well in the initial phases; the public in general also did well in dealing with the restrictions and exigencies of lockdown. But there were clearly right from the beginning several negatives, which broadly compromised the capacity of public health approaches to be as effective as they could, and have badly compromised government action and professional and public response in the years since the emergency phase:

a) the instinctive reaction of our right wing governments that private provision must be better than public, so wasting billions of taxpayers’ pounds employing immensely expensive private firms to set up a ramshackle test and trace system rather than using existing public health capacity.

b) corruption in government, making sure for instance that funds for the provision of PPE went to their friends rather than to companies with proven track records in such provision.

c) vociferous anti-science and anti-clear thinking conspiracists given far too much air time on both social and traditional media.

d) a kind of neoliberal reductionism in which marginal increases in economic activity like enabling people to go to pubs again are valued far more than keeping people healthy; and school attendance is valued far more highly than reducing transmission – which has resulted in current high rates of absence of both children and teachers through sickness.

e) a refusal from government to take simple steps that might reduce transmission, such as ensuring air filtration in all classrooms and other public spaces which could easily and relatively cheaply have been done in the last four years.

f) short term and blinkered thinking in government and in public debate, in which the most important, and sometimes, the only important metric is death rates, leading us to ignore the creeping epidemic of long term illness and other forms of severe damage which Covid is wreaking on millions of people. We seem to be terrible at assessing long term risk: the fact that we got over a bout of Covid means we ignore the mountain of evidence that it will have done damage to one or more of our organs, which we will regret in ten or fifteen years time.

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Breathtaking – a personal perspective

Yesterday morning, Dr Rachel Clarke and healthcare professionals were disgustingly abused on social media for telling how it was as the Coronavirus Pandemic unfolded. The ITV drama Breathtaking, shown this week,  is an adaptation of Clarke’s novel about the impact of the pandemic on hospital staff. 

Healthcare staff making TikTok videos weren’t sacrificing patient care – it was on breaks and days off. With what we were dealing with, why do many begrudge us trying to raise our own morale then? When nurses couldn’t buy groceries because supermarkets were stripped by the time they got off shift? Hospital staff being assaulted in car parks because they were allegedly a) spreading Covid or b) refusing to permit people to see family members? 

Many insist we have vaccine injuries  – the vaccines that weren’t rolled out until late 2020. That Covid is just a cold and Long Covid don’t exist? 

Science is overwhelming in terms of the latter and a timeline proves the former. YouTube and social media are not peer-reviewed sources of scientific research. 

I see new people coming into Long Covid peer support groups. There is still no healthcare, no move from governments to properly tackle this economy-harming issue, no improvements to ensure our future – the kids now getting repeated infections from a relatively novel virus without any idea of what it might do to them in the long term.

Millions of us are still sick. In the U.K., we don’t have financial support. The data doesn’t exist. The situation is underreported and appalling. Governments refuse to acknowledge any culpability or responsibility for us. They won’t change ventilation or air purification standards and so on. 

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Covid is not over

The UK’s response to Covid has been, and still is, characterised by delay and indifference. This is largely but not wholly because Boris Johnson was Prime Minister when it struck. Johnson made being irresponsible fun, and we all paid the price for it, as the Covid inquiry is now slowly and painstakingly beginning to make clear. The British electorate was shallow enough to fall for it, and resistant enough to taking responsibility seriously to make it very risky for a political party to advocate it. But sometimes it is right for political parties to say unpopular things.

A liberal response to Covid would start from the basic principle: we should be free to do everything we want, provided we do not infringe other people’s freedom. Conrad Russell noted that that proviso is far more of a limitation than most people realise.

During the crisis we did all the things we were asked to do (unlike Johnson et al). Once it was over, most of us embraced our “freedom”, and stopped counting the cost to other people. More than a million clinically extremely vulnerable people remain effectively trapped in their own homes because they cannot count on the rest of us to keep them safe. The population at large (including, unfortunately, a lot of medical practitioners) embraces the fictions that it’s over (while the aptly named FU.1 variant is spreading globally 50% faster than previous variants) and that it’s just like flu. But currently 200+ people die every week with Covid on the death certificate (this is known to be significant underreporting). Flu doesn’t kill people in the summer. Flu doesn’t cause the long term sequelae that Covid does. People don’t get Long Flu, whereas currently in the UK alone two million are suffering from Long Covid (ONS figures).

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4-5 March 2023 – the weekend’s press releases

  • Rail fare rise: Betrayal of commuters and families
  • Lockdown files: Matt Hancock’s attempt to fire SAGE scientist ‘shocking’
  • Small boat ban will punish victims of human trafficking

Rail fare rise: Betrayal of commuters and families

Responding to a rail fare increase of 5.9% due on Sunday, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP said:

Liberal Democrats are fighting for a fair deal for commuters and families who will be left forking out even more for train journeys in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

Ministers cannot keep turning a blind eye to these problems, especially given people are paying more for

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2 March 2023 – today’s press releases

  • Ed Davey opens first Lib Dem office in Esher and Walton in bid to oust Dominic Raab
  • Surrey oil court case: A victory for local people against the Government and oil barons
  • The Government laughed at us while everyone else followed the rules

Ed Davey opens first Lib Dem office in Esher and Walton in bid to oust Dominic Raab

Today, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey opened the party’s first ever office in Dominic Raab’s ultra-marginal Surrey constituency.

The Liberal Democrats are under 3,000 votes away from ousting the Conservative Deputy Prime Minister at the next election.

Since the last General Election, the Liberal Democrats have been on a winning streak; gaining a host of council seats in Esher and Walton as well as achieving three historic parliamentary by-election victories in Chesham & Amersham, North Shropshire and Tiverton & Honiton.

The new office in Esher & Walton marks the party’s campaign ramping up in Surrey ahead of this May’s crucial local elections. The Liberal Democrats have re-selected Monica Harding as their General Election candidate, who came a close second in Esher & Walton in 2019, achieving a massive swing from the Conservative party.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

At the next election in Esher and Walton, it will be a two horse race between four more years of Conservative party chaos, or a hardworking local Liberal Democrat MP.

I am delighted to open the first ever Lib Dem office in the constituency, which is a landmark moment in our bid to oust Dominic Raab at the next election.

Every time I visit Esher and Walton, which neighbours my own constituency, I hear from local people who are fed up with being taken for granted by the Conservative party. There is outrage here at local health services starved of funding, sewage being dumped in rivers and taxes being hiked on hardworking families.

The Blue Wall is crumbling after years of Conservative party chaos in Westminster. The Liberal Democrats will be the challengers to Conservative MPs across vast swatches of the South East, especially here in Surrey.

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1 March 2023 – today’s press releases

  • PAC NHS report: Targets simply aren’t worth the paper they’re written on
  • Lockdown files: Rees-Mogg got Covid test couriered to own home
  • St. David’s Day – Welsh Liberal Democrats Call on Other Parties to Back Bill to Make St. David’s Day a public holiday
  • Hancock messages “lay bare the chaos at the heart of the Govt”
  • PMQs: Sunak refuses to cut energy bills
  • Hancock messages: How many more ministers received priority tests?
  • Williamson’s text solidifies his place as one of the worst Ministers to grace Government

PAC NHS report: Targets simply aren’t worth the paper they’re written on

Responding to the embargoed Public Accounts Committee report which finds the first year of NHS England’s three-year recovery programme is already falling short of expectations, Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said:

It‘s broken promise after broken promise when it comes to this government and the NHS.

The public has lost all faith in the Conservative government and can now see that its targets simply aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Lockdown files: Rees-Mogg got Covid test couriered to own home

Responding to reports in the Telegraph that Jacob Rees-Mogg had a Covid test couriered to his home by health officials during a national shortage, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper said:

This is yet more evidence that it’s one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.

The Covid inquiry must look into reports Conservative ministers were able to get priority access to tests at a time of national shortage. Rishi Sunak must also confirm what he knew about this scandal. The public deserves to know the truth.

St. David’s Day – Welsh Liberal Democrats Call on Other Parties to Back Bill to Make St. David’s Day a public holiday

This St David’s Day, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have reiterated their calls for the day to become a public holiday in Wales urging other political parties to back a Bill they have put to parliament that would allow the Senedd to designate the day as such.

St David’s Day is currently only a patron saint day and does not have any legal standing. Meanwhile, in Scotland and Ireland St Andrew’s Day and St Patrick’s Day respectively are already public holidays.

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What is ‘The Science’, anyway?

When Boris Johnson locked us all down in March 2020, he did so on the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). At the time, the group contained no molecular virologists, immunologists or social scientists. Despite Boris’ inability to attend a meeting, instead preferring to make speeches filled to the brim with vague Churchillian platitudes, practically all of his decisions throughout the pandemic were taken on the advice of SAGE. In fact, the only major instance of the PM ignoring SAGE was his decision not to increase restrictions beyond Plan B – incidentally, the COVID deaths in the following period were lower than SAGE’s predicted ‘best case scenario’ for this policy.

This article isn’t about disparaging the hardworking men and women of SAGE. I have no qualms with them as scientists. I do, however, have an issue with them as ‘The Science’. Certain scientists, and indeed non-scientists, discovered in the early stages of the pandemic that all they had to do to be taken seriously was to label themselves as ‘The Science’, in a statement of authority and arrogance that would make Emperor Palpatine blush. Independent SAGE, an organisation set up, confusingly, to oppose SAGE by pushing for harder restrictions at every turn, even used ‘Following the Science’ as their tagline.

The issue, of course, is that science is not fixed. It is built on discussion, disagreement and scepticism. There were a number of high-profile scientists – such as Sunetra Gupta (Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford), Carl Heneghan (Director of the Centre of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford) and Jay Bhattacharya (Professor of Medicine at Stanford) – who raised their concerns about the efficacy, ethics and negative consequences of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns. That is not to say that they were right. On some things, they were certainly wrong, just as on some things the likes of Neil Ferguson, Susan Michie and Eric Feigl-Ding, the quote-on-quote ‘other side’, were wrong. But the dismissal of these fine scientists as ‘fringe’, and in some cases ‘right wing’ – Sunetra Gupta had to reveal that she was a Corbynite to rebuke this particular attack – should concern us all. Science is not settled overnight. SAGE are not ‘The Science’, and nor are the signatories of the ‘Great Barrington Declaration’. ‘The Science’ is the illusion of authority and certainty in a field that is built on disagreement and scepticism.

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Covid: two years on the Government has abandoned any form of public health strategy

In March 2020, just before the first lockdown, I penned a piece for Lib Dem Voice on the Government being behind the curve in implementing Covid restrictions. Last year in March 2021, I wrote a follow-up article saying we weren’t out of the woods. Now another year on, where are we?

The Office for National Statistics estimated in the week ending 12 March that around 3.3 million people in the UK had COVID-19. Of course, sadly, this increase in cases is now leading to increased hospitalisations and deaths. According to official statistics, There were 13,844 people admitted to hospital with Covid in the week to 19 March and there were 877 deaths in the 7 days to 23 March (up 133 on the previous week).

The fact that Covid patients are now filling up more beds in hospital again means that non-urgent treatment and operations are more likely to be cancelled – compounded by the fact that NHS hospitals are facing critical under-staffing, both because of existing staff shortages and because more NHS staff are now themselves off sick with Covid.

Many health experts are deeply concerned about all this. Where is the plan? Almost all restrictions have now been lifted, certainly in England, and people can no longer protect themselves in public spaces such as on trains and in shops as mask wearing has fallen off sharply. For people who are clinically vulnerable – maybe because they have an immunological disorder or because they on medication that lowers their immunity – this is quite a frightening prospect. The fact that the Government is now introducing fourth Covid jabs for people aged over 75 or those who are clinically vulnerable is very welcome, but otherwise letting Covid rip through the population seems irresponsible, especially as there is evidence that more people are becoming reinfected with the newer Omicron variant. The herd immunity argument never worked.

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Welcome to my day: 21 February 2022 – “I’m still standing…”

It’s been a bit blowy in deepest mid-Suffolk, and I hope that our readers have come out of the trio of storms unscathed. Dudley, Eunice and Franklin have brought chaos to a country undergoing a fair bit of chaos already.

On this day in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published “The Communist Manifesto”, probably the most influential political manifesto ever written. Admittedly, those who claimed to be implementing it weren’t terribly keen on winning hearts and minds through simple persuasion and an intensive leafleting campaign, but its impact still hangs heavy, as the situation in Ukraine reminds us. Richard Trevithick ran his locomotive for the first time at the Penydarren Ironworks, Merthyr Tydfil in 1804, and probably didn’t have to worry about trees on the line. And, though it seems hard to credit, it’s ten years to the day since Emlyn Hooson died. Here’s what Eric Avebury had to say about him.

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Covid and authoritarianism: were we wrong-footed over Covid passports?

I’m hearing genuine concern about the increasing authoritarianism of the Johnson government and more complicated concerns about civil liberties and Covid regulations — particularly around the idea of Covid passports. But these are profoundly different. Joining them together is a bad idea, and plays into the government’s hands.

Creeping authoritarianism

The Tories thought nothing of illegally proroguing parliament. They responded to losing in the Supreme Court with a threat to stop “leftie lawyers” challenging the government. Proposals for compulsory voter identification and redrawing constituency boundaries are likely to help them at the next election, and they are alarmingly-happy to use “Henry VIII powers” to sideline parliament in facing the legislative consequences of Brexit. And it’s probably best not to mention the recent Conservative Party conference.

These are problems, and we should be concerned. But they are not about Covid.

A friend who travels frequently between the UK and Belgium makes a sharp contrast. In Belgium the messaging around Covid has been “this is what the doctors advise…” In the UK it’s been “obey the government and you will be fine” (even when the government ignores the advice of SAGE). Praise of obedience sounds horribly authoritarian.

But obeying the government isn’t about Covid.

People accept authoritarianism if it makes them feel safer. A government that stirs up people’s anxieties, ducks responsibility and presents itself as the answer has a way to hang on to power.

The medical piece

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LibLInk: Christine Jardine on the perfect storm that shows up our bad Governments

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine looks at the “perfect storm” of food and fuel shortages, health service crisis, Covid and high energy prices we are facing at the moment. She argues that the show how bad both UK and Scottish Governments are – and we shouldn’t let them away with blaming Covid and Brexit for our current travails. They were failing long before then:

It must be tempting for those responsible for the well-being of the NHS to blame its current predicament on all the other elements of the storm. That somehow the crisis which has necessitated calling in the Armed Forces to support our ambulance service is purely the result of the circumstances we find ourselves in. That they can look to the example of our energy industry which is defending itself with evidence of an unusual lack of wind and solar resources and a fire on an interconnector.

But that would be to ignore the reality which we have all experienced in different ways over recent, pre-pandemic years. The damage done by the increasing centralisation of public services and decision-making in Scotland.

On top of everything else, the FLu jag programme has been a nightmare this year.

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Global Vaccine Equity

Vaccines Without Borders
Vaccines are the most effective way out of the pandemic. However, there won’t be enough supply to vaccinate the world’s population until 2023 or 2024. That’s why I joined NOW! (@NOW4humanity) to pressure vaccine manufacturers such as Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer to allow other companies to develop its COVID-19 vaccine and have #VaccinesWithoutBorders.

But this is not enough. All companies must follow suit.

Oxford, Valneva, Novavax and CureVac, are now working with the Government to produce the vaccines in the UK. Johnson & Johnson have applied to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for emergency use listing to deliver doses to poor and middle-income countries. A Sussex-based company has begun developing a coronavirus vaccine in pill form, and trials have already started.

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Who gets the vaccine next?

I’m losing track of calls for vaccine priority for one group or another. Teachers, police, this morning port workers – one might logically add the whole food supply chain of 4 or 5 million people. Unpaid carers have been raised (currently in group 6 of phase 1 ahead of 60-64 year olds in group 7).

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Lockdown weak, NHS in danger, where next?

With coronavirus case numbers still growing strongly (though perhaps slowing a little according to symptom tracking) and the NHS struggling to cope with the numbers of people needing hospitalisation already, driven by the much lower case numbers of 2 or 3 weeks ago, this is clearly the most dangerous time of the whole pandemic for any of us to contract the virus; there is every chance, wherever we live, that the NHS may not be able to give us the treatment we might need.

Acceleration of the vaccine programme is of course essential and the delay to second doses to give more people the protection of a first dose is a proportionate response to a crisis of this magnitude. But it will take until mid February to vaccinate (first dose) the most vulnerable 15 million people, accounting for 88% of deaths. So we should expect a big drop in pressure on the NHS by mid March. But that is 7 weeks away. For now, growth in the virus is adding pressure faster than vaccination can relieve it.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…The demand is for statesmen rather than politicians…..

“We must all hang together, else we shall all hang separately” the words of Benjamin Franklyn on signing the declaration of Independence are as relevant today as they were back in 1776

When a future generation weighs the historical importance of the early twenty first century they might remember another quote – that the politician looks to the next election whilst the statesman looks to the next generation. We’re very short of statesmen but have an abundance of politicians!

Here in the UK, whatever the cost it’s 2024 and the election planned for that year that counts. Our government chose to continue with the withdrawal from the European Union even though circumstances in 2020 were vastly different from those of the referendum. The tiny majority that voted for us to leave had neither a virus nor probable economic depression to contend with and there were suspicions of a misleading leave campaign. Where did that £350 million a day for the NHS disappear to? And where are the crowds from Turkey hiding?

The messages of the politicians have led us into deep trouble and who knows where the end will finally be? People don’t trust hardly a word spoken by politicians and any promises Mr Johnson makes are treated with disbelief’ Whoever is Lib Dem leader has the massive task of rebuilding trust in the government of the United Kingdom and the new Labour leader is already facing mounting criticism within his own party. If we rebuild trust we might be on the way to shaping new statesmen and women.

But we must “hang together” globally. In the past few months we are seeing a better understanding between people of different backgrounds and respect for every person wherever they might be.

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A longer read for the lockdown: Compassion and Coronavirus

Thanks to COVID-19 we may well be on the cusp of a public mental health crisis. The ONS (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/
healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/
latest#understanding-the-impact-on-society
) reports that 48% of adults feel their well-being has been affected by COVID-19, with evidence of a continuing upward trend, while 31% of those whose well-being has been affected said it was making their mental health worse. Grief, loneliness, uncertainty, an inability to access health and social care, and rising levels of domestic abuse are only some of the factors that are affecting people’s mental health right now. Many I am sure will have seen the following chart indicating the potential size of this harm relative to other aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.

4 waves of impact

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