Tag Archives: Covid-19

Waiting for the all clear

It’s great news that our wonderful NHS staff and volunteers are storming forward with the UK’s vaccination programme. Still, I worry about people being lulled into a false sense of security once they have had their first and even second jab.

Most of us will have had, or be getting, the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine. It has an efficacy rate of 70 percent compared to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s 95 percent. These efficacy rates are based on the trials and mark the difference between those who had the vaccine and those who had a placebo (a solution that wasn’t the vaccine). If there’s no difference between the vaccine and placebo groups, the efficacy is zero. If none of those who became sick had been vaccinated, the efficacy is 100 percent.

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The party’s latest advice for campaigners in the pandemic

Mike Dixon, the Chief Executive Officer of the Liberal Democrats, has recently written to activists about campaigning in the pandemic, as follows:

In the last few days, anger has been growing about the Tories’ brazen attempt to skew the May elections and stop elected councillors and volunteers doing their jobs by safely delivering literature. Independent councillors and other parties have now joined us.

We have spoken with the Electoral Commission and National Police Chief’s Council at the highest level. In some circumstances it is legal and permissible for volunteers to deliver leaflets.

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Rabina Khan on BBC Newsnight on tackling vaccine disinformation in Tower Hamlets

Here’s a clip of Councillor Rabina Khan on BBC’s Newsnight discussing the steps we need to take to tackle vaccine disinformation. You can see Rabina and her husband going into their community, in a socially distanced way, to support local residents – addressing their concerns directly.

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The Tragic loss of 100,000 lives to Covid

According to official figures, the UK became the first country in Europe to record (very unfortunately) 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Currently, the UK has the fifth-highest number of deaths globally, after the US, Brazil, India and Mexico (as a percentage of Covid deaths to population, the UK percentage is higher than that of the US).

To put this into perspective, the 100,000 deaths registered are higher than the civilian death toll during all of World War II.

“I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost and, of course, as Prime Minister, I take full responsibility for everything that the government has done,” said Boris Johnson.

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We need to talk about the Healthcare workforce – again

So what’s changed since my last piece for LDV on this ten months ago? – nothing and everything, in a phrase, it’s got much worse.

Last March the fear of an unknown, rapidly spreading and possible deadly virus, the prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed; inadequate ventilators and ITU beds, terrifying pictures from Italy of a modern health system crumbling in front of our eyes and our own government indecisive and floundering, with no plan and even less preparedness, galvanised the NHS workforce as never before in living memory. Things happened fast; the NHS workforce rose to the challenge, found the energy, carried on under almost impossible odds, and paid the ultimate price.

I won’t recite all the twists and turns, everyone knows them very well, except to say that you can build all the Nightingale hospitals you want, but if you don’t have the skilled workforce to staff them, they are pretty useless.

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Telling Covid as it is in rural Shropshire

Last March, we didn’t know what we were getting in to. We just knew we had to get in. Up to our knees. Up to our necks. At times overwhelmed.

The Lib Dems are in opposition in Shropshire so we could not be decision makers. Our duty in a Lib Dem stronghold was to tell the town and its hinterland – an audience of more than 25,000 – what was happening. Tell Covid it as it is.

We have lived with a tension. Criticising one of the slowest local rollouts of vaccination in the country. Seeking expert advice from the vaccination frontline to ensure our constituents know what the game is and can make informed personal decisions.

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Should we thank Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon for 10 million vaccinations within a month?

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I could go on for hours about the government’s lamentable response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the one the government has got right, in my view, is the speed and volume of vaccination.

Some of my favourite heroes are Edward Jenner, Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain. – Not the sort of names you hear bandied about with your normal Shakespeare, Churchill, Nelson hero names. But, we owe much of our longer life expectancy to those scientists. The whole idea of the vaccine itself is a miracle. The fact that the scientists were able to come up with several vaccines for Covid-19 is a super-miracle.

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Families of those of who have died from Covid-19 deserve answers – Ed Davey

Ed Davey has responded to Boris Johnson’s refusal to lay out a timeline for a public inquiry into his Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis:

Boris Johnson says there will come a time to learn the lessons of the pandemic, but the public will rightly ask, if not now, then when? The best time to learn lessons and prevent the most deaths is today.

The Prime Minister can’t tell us exactly when schools will return safely, can’t tell us when most of the country will be offered a vaccine and can’t tell us when the current lockdown will end.

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A year on from the day that would go on to change our lives

The 31st January 2020 began, as it often does, with urgent Council business.  I was visiting the Network Rail Operating Centre in York, with other Council leaders from North Yorkshire and Leeds, to discuss rail investment in our region with the Secretary of State for Transport.

Immediately after the visit, I noticed a missed call from Sharon Sholtz, the Council’s Director of Public Health, which at the time was unexpected. On ringing back, I arranged to immediately walk into the Council’s offices to be briefed on what would soon to become a pandemic that would change our lives.

It is incredible to think that a year has passed since the first cases of Coronavirus were declared in our city and efforts to combat a virus, we knew nothing about, began. Whilst we still have some way to go in overcoming this unprecedented challenge, residents, businesses, and communities have time and time again showed the absolute best of our city. From the very beginning of this crisis, York has worked together to save lives and livelihoods.

I am grateful to all key workers, partners and council staff who have gone above and beyond to support our local communities and businesses. From the outset of the pandemic, the council has acted swiftly to support local businesses. From processing over £140 million in financial grant and relief support to businesses heavily impacted by the pandemic, to setting up our own £1 million emergency fund to help those businesses who missed out on Government grants.

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Privatised Covid Food Aid and Other Examples of Politics in Theory and Practice?

For children in low income families, who normally receive means-tested free school meals, support is provided via cash payments, supermarket vouchers or food parcels, the last being the  preferred choice of the Department for Education.

H. M. G spends millions on food parcel contracts to private companies. Two such, worth £208 million, awarded without tendering, resulted in parcels which did not meet minimum nutritional standards and had a 69% mark up on what could have have been provided by supermarkets. Welsh Local Authority parcels have been excellent and have included recipes. English children have received paltry amounts of poor food, shabilly packaged, sometimes in bank coin bags. 

The Welsh Government is a Labour/Lib-Dem/Independent coalition. It might be labelled “Left-Centre”.

The over-priced, low quality food parcels provided by large companies, often without tender contracts, are preferred by the “English” Government. Such seems to be a pattern, as is indicated by without-tender Personal Protection Equipment contracts, some of which resulted in dangerous equipment. “Track and Trace” contracts were the same.

The U. K./”English” government is single party. It is well to the right of the political spectrum.

This government was elected with the support of many Labour voters who believed that they, and their children, would be better off with a party which offered them benefits, aka “levelling up” and freedom from foreign interference.The actual Brexit agreement, as so far revealed, indicates that you cannot live and function without contact and involvement with other individuals, groups and nations. It demonstrates that the promises of Brexit have not been kept.

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Observations of an expat: Covid battles and diplomacy

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Squabbles, soft diplomacy, hard diplomacy, and even harder economics are all playing unseemly and seemly roles in the life-saving scramble for coronavirus vaccines.

The pandemic offered an opportunity for global cooperation to combat a global problem. It could have been a template for tackling other globalised problems such as post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change and future pandemics.

But vaccine nationalism has—in the words of World Health Organisation (WHO) Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – brought the world to the “brink of a moral failure.”

So far the developed world has done a reasonably good job of vaccinating its citizens. Excluding Palestinians, tiny Israel is streets ahead with about 31 percent of its population having received the first Pfizer BioNtech vaccine. The UK has delivered the first round of its immunisations to about 12 percent of its citizens. The US started slow but has picked up pace. About eight percent of Americans have received their first inoculation. EU countries lag behind at two percent.

The European Union’s relatively poor record is attributed to Brussels bureaucracy, political posturing among the 27 countries, poor contract negotiations by its lawyers and bottlenecks at the pharmaceutical companies’ production lines. National health ministers from the 27 countries have turned on Brussels who have responded with threats against the pharmaceutical companies Astra Zeneca and Pfizer BioNtech and warnings about restricting the export of EU-manufactured vaccines outside of the European Union.

The European Union has its problems, but they are nothing compared to those in the developing world. At the latest count 28 people in Sub-Saharan Africa have been vaccinated.

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United we stand. How Lib Dems can help keep us all united.

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To claim that ‘we’ are united when a majority of Scots are now apparently favouring independence seems controversial. But 85% of the UK population is English, and even the minority populations do seem to share a certain unity.

Compare our national spirit with that of Americans today. The new US President has to restore unity in a country where 74 million people voted for his populist predecessor who was prepared to tear up democracy there. Also compare it with the bitter divisions we remember too well in our own country in 2019 – families and friends divided, parties split, Brexiteers forcing through the increasingly doubtful will of the people who wanted to leave, and Remainers failing to find a consensus to fight Brexit.

Instead, in the past eleven months we have been united, forced together by pretty universal anxiety. Everyone has had a single united first aim, to save our hospitals and defeat Covid 19. Political dissent has been minor, opposition parties only criticising the late and contradictory responses of the government, plus the failures of the test-and-trace rollout and the confused messaging over school-teaching and exams. There has certainly been some harsh criticism, and a demand for enquiry by our own Leader, but there is a joint will in the country to defeat this plague and resume as normal a life as possible as soon as we can.

What is this normal life we want? No strong movement has emerged to urge change from what we accept as normal life. Change has been gradual. Much on-line shopping and working from home are likely to continue, with consequent modifications to home and work communities. As a national community we have stayed together, most people keeping the rules as they keep changing, with only minor questioning of the restriction of civil liberties and how far Parliament is endorsing the rules, while government ministers claim always to follow the science and trot out the scientists to prove it. There seems to be a national consensus at least that the hospitals must be protected and that the schools must be open as much as possible.

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Listen to Rabina Khan on the Vanessa Feltz Show

Yesterday we published a post by Cllr Rabina Khan titled “The danger of anti-vaccine propaganda“.

Last week Rabina was interviewed by radio interview on the Vanessa Feltz Show about the same subject. Well worth listening to.

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Conservative Government bans political leafletting – how should Lib Dems react?

Yesterday afternoon, a letter arrived in the inbox of our chief executive from Chloe Smith, the Cabinet Office Minister. It said in stark terms that the Government was banning volunteer delivery of political material in England. Parties who are rich enough can pay to have their stuff delivered. Some parties are so rich that they can afford to send the same leaflet to a house twice in a week, as the Scottish Tories did to me this week.

Last night, Lisa Smart, the Chair of the party’s Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee wrote to regional and local chairs saying:

This afternoon we received a letter from the Tory constitution minister, saying that the Government is changing the rules to make political leafleting no longer permissible.

This is a clear and brazen attempt by the Tories to stop our work to support local residents, and to fix the elections in their favour.

We know that the Tories will do best if campaigning is limited.

We should see that as a strong sign that elections will go ahead on 6 May.

Updated campaigning guidance will be on the website on Monday, following checks with our lawyers. In essence we expect this to say:

No further Liberal Democrat political literature should be given to volunteer activists, and party political materials must be delivered through paid routes.

Elected representatives and local teams may still deliver literature to residents, so long as this is focused on their non-political work of supporting local residents.

This is a vital activity at a time when millions of households do not have internet access and rules and support services are changing quickly.

We will be writing shortly to all members, asking them to support telephone canvassing and asking for donations for paid delivery.

Our national teams will be focused on bulk buy deals and helping organise telephone campaigning.
Let me reassure you. We won’t let Tory dirty tricks stop us from making a difference for our communities.

Our party’s decision to allow leafletting during lockdown in England was controversial both within and outside the party. Although we know that other parties were also distributing leaflets, the Conservatives snd Labour both complained about us. Ed Davey was tackled about this on Marr last Sunday. I wrote at the time:

There are some very strong views on both sides of this argument in the party. I tend to think that, while delivery is one of the safest things that we can do and we’re all having many deliveries to our homes at the moment, my inclination is that we have much more meaningful interaction with people if we phone them and talk to them. The difficulty with that is that the proportion of phone numbers we have is quite small. If you want to give out information to the widest possible number of people you need to do what David Penhaligon said – put it on a bit of paper and push it through their door. Even if it were allowed in Scotland, I wouldn’t choose to do it at this point in the pandemic, but if other Lib Dems feel it is appropriate in their communities, I’m not going to argue with them.

I do think it was a mistake to lead with a defence that was very legalistic and tenuous at best in its understanding of volunteer work. We should have limited our remarks to the importance of reaching those in the community who don’t have access to the internet with what is in many communities a trusted source of information.

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The danger of anti-vaccine propaganda

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I recently had Covid-19 myself and although it was not a serious case compared to many others, it knocked me for six and I was unable to do anything for several weeks. The first symptom I noticed was losing my sense of smell. Over the following 48 hours, I became very unwell. I suffered from severe headaches, which made me feel nauseous and every time I stood up, I had terrible vertigo. I could barely walk, so all I could do was to take painkillers, drink hot water with ginger, honey and lemon, and stay in bed. I requested an NHS home-test kit, which arrived within 48 hours and the results arrived within another 48 hours. An amazing NHS 111 staff member rang me 3 times on the fifth day of my illness to check on me as I had become so poorly and she was concerned.

Thankfully, by the 7th day I began to feel a little better. Even though I am no longer in quarantine, I am still suffering from the after-effects. I’m easing myself back into work as I still get tired and my sense of taste and smell have not returned fully. I have spoken to many people who say that the long-term effects of having COVDI-19 can be debilitating.

My experience, and that of many other people have reinforced my belief that it is absolutely crucial for everyone to have the vaccine as soon as it is offered to them. The medical professionals do not gain anything by endorsing the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines; they do it for our wellbeing and for the benefit of the country as a whole. The COVID-19 conspiracy theories are not initiated by medical professionals. For whatever reason, these myths are often invented by people with hidden agendas, or those who simply enjoy creating controversy. Some of these myths gain traction through social media, preying on the gullibility of some and others’ mistrust of government and the media.  These myths are far more dangerous than not having the vaccine.

In order to protect our communities and the economy, it is the responsibility of every individual in the borough take up the vaccine. Only by adhering to this collective responsibility can we hope to tackle this problem effectively.

Recent research conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health has shown that people on lower incomes appear to be less confident about a vaccine, with a wealth gap in take-up.  84% of high earners are planning to get vaccinated, compared with 70% of low earners. Ethnicity also appears to influence take up. 57% of Black, Asian and Minority Ethic people said they would take the vaccine compared with 79% of white people. The highest region for rejections was in London (14%). Several different surveys have also revealed that women are less likely to take the vaccine than men.

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Layla Moran: Protect frontline workers who have Long Covid

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if you caught a disease because of your work, that your employer would be obliged to look after you.

This is not the case for frontline workers, even public sector workers. In a parliamentary debate she’d secured on Long Covid, Layla Moran highlighted the cases of three who had experienced the wrath of HR departments after contracting long Covid.

Take Daisy, an NHS nurse in Wales. For four months she received reduced and then no pay from NHS Cymru, which told her that it was unable to support staff who contracted covid-19. Her case was resolved, but she continues to say that this issue has not been resolved at a national level in Wales. That story, and many others like it, have left me speechless—a headteacher and a nurse, key workers on the frontline, who have no choice but to do their job with inadequate personal protective equipment and testing, and now face financial ruin for doing their duty. It is unacceptable, which is why the APPG recommends that the UK Government recognise long covid as an occupational disease and institute a long covid compensation scheme for frontline workers.

She asked the Minister for three things – better reporting of Long Covid – with the daily stats – research into the condition and how to treat it and recognition of the condition in the social security system and by employers.

I know several friends who have Long Covid and it is really debilitating.

Alistair Carmichael also spoke in the debate, saying that he expected problems in the social security system which had already shown its utter uselessness in dealing with people with ME.

There must be more flexibility in how the system responds to people who are affected in this way. The point has been made to me by constituents that there is a lot of crossover between the symptoms and treatment of people with long covid and those who suffer from ME; I think that point was also made by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams). Certainly, looking back over the years at the way in which the benefits system has coped with people who suffer from ME, let alone the medical profession, we can see that this will be a problem with which we shall have to come to terms for some considerable time.

A Universal Basic Income would make a big difference, he said.

As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Long Covid, Layla can speak with some authority on these issues. I think that the UK Government has been better than the Scottish Government which doesn’t even have a decent strategy for dealing with Long Covid and that in part is due to the fact that Layla’s leadership on this has been so good.

Here is Layla’s whole speech:

I would like to start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for giving us time to debate long covid today. I also thank members of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, especially the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who co-sponsored the debate. Most of all, I want to thank everyone who has written to me, the all-party group or their own MP in the last few weeks with their stories. Their accounts are deeply moving. Today’s debate is for them.

In one such email, a constituent of mine said,

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LibLink: Vince Cable asks “What if the vaccine isn’t enough?”

Vince Cable has written in the Independent today asking that rather worrying question.

Most of us, including the government, are assuming that if the mass vaccination goes ahead speedily we shall see relaxation of the Covid restrictions in March and be largely free of them in the summer. The economy will bounce back and we can begin to enjoy the Roaring Twenties with a good holiday in the sun. My own sense of optimism is fuelled by the fact that I am in line to get my first vaccine jab this week and I already feel safer and freer.

But maybe that is wishful thinking? What if the vaccination rollout is slower than we hope (and impeded by idiotic NHS bureaucracy, such as the requirement that volunteers should have a level 2 “safeguarding” qualification in case they encounter children)? What if another variant of the virus arrives that requires new vaccines and repeat vaccination programmes? What if there are sufficient numbers who fail to get vaccinated – because of ignorance, groundless prejudice or fear – as to keep the pandemic alive?

He says that we need to plan for these eventualities to avoid restrictions through 2021 and beyond. Several actions are required.

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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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I spent over four hours in a cell for busking during lockdown – that was wrong

The increasing polarisation of politics across the globe is concerning for many reasons. The storming of the Capitol felt like a defining moment in this trend, while our government’s hollow pleading for the nation to unite over their shoddy Brexit deal has done nothing to bring opposing sides together. One area where this polarisation is becoming increasingly worrying is over Covid-19 measures. The world is not made up of Covid-denying conspiracy theorists and authoritarian-loving lockdown fanatics, but whenever a debate crops up, the position you take on that debate will inevitably see you lumped into one of those categories.

Most people accept that the temporary suspension of some liberties is a tragic necessity. But scrutiny has never been more important. John Harris’ excellent Guardian article goes into this at some length, so I will add the dimension of my own experience to this.

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Ed Davey volunteers to help with Covid vaccine

Our Ed has got himself in the Sun two weeks in a row.

He has signed up to the paper’s scheme to provide volunteers to help with the rollout of the Covid vaccine.

It is certainly going to be some job to get this vaccine rolled out.

My Dad, who has just turned 75, got his first jab this week. It is such a relief. I don’t think I will even start to rest easy until my Mum and husband have had theirs, though.

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Ed Davey: PM dodged the difficult decisions and acted too late

Boris Johnson as good as said in his address announcing a new “March-style” lockdown that we we would have succeeded in beating Covid if it hadn’t been for this pesky new variant. The variant he’s known about for three months and done little to combat. Brazen or what?

Not even 36 hours had passed since his Marr interview yesterday, when he said that parents should send their kids to school today. Now, the decision he should have taken before Christmas has been made.

Ed Davey pointed out these errors of judgement in his reaction to the PM’s statement. He had earlier called for a lockdown, and so the party will be supporting these measures. However, we also want to see better support for those who have so far been excluded from the Government schemes, investment in mental health services and an increase to Carer’s Allowance.

Ed said:

This is the public health policy the Prime Minister should have announced before Christmas, but yet again, Boris Johnson ducked the difficult decisions, failed to listen to experts and acted too late.

Just yesterday morning Johnson was telling parents that schools were safe and children should definitely go. Today he is telling us that they must all move to remote learning but without any proper future plan.

The Prime Minister’s failure to act earlier means we are seeing record numbers of new infections, a rising death rate, hospitals overwhelmed and NHS and care staff exhausted.

With this new lockdown, Liberal Democrats believe it’s urgent that the Government announce a new comprehensive economic plan for businesses and the self-employed; a plan to increase Carer’s allowance in line with the increases in Universal Credit and must fully take account of the impact of these developments on the mental health of young people and vulnerable individuals who are going through an incredibly difficult time.

All around the world, the evidence is that acting early is critical to minimising damage to the economy and protecting public health. We need a Prime Minister who can act in time, not one who acts when it is too late.

There’s one interesting difference between the PM’s statement and the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon this afternoon.

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Daisy Cooper: Close primary schools for two weeks to build Covid-safe plan

Lib Dem Deputy Leader and Education spokesperson Daisy Cooper has called on the Government to close all primary schools until 18th January to enable the development and implementation of a Covid safety plan.

We are calling for four things:

  • All primary schools to move to remote learning until Jan 18th, except for vulnerable children and children of key workers.
  • A review of Government plans for Covid testing strategies in schools.
  • A move to single-school transport.
  • A new pupil bubbling strategy to tackle the new Covid strain.

Daisy said:

With the government’s own scientific advisors saying that they cannot provide any analysis on what is required to control the new strain of the virus until mid-January, the Government must think again and adopt a plan to get ahead of the virus.

Time and time again, this Government has squandered opportunities to get ahead of the virus in schools and left pupils, parents and teachers understandably anxious if not terrified about returning next week.

For months, Liberal Democrats have been calling on the Government to come up with a proper plan to keep schools open safely. Instead, this latest botched decision and the Tories top-down attitude has once again led to last minute and inconsistent decisions that are wreaking havoc on people’s lives.

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Ed Davey calls on Government to make it easier for retired health professionals to work

We’ve all seen some pretty scary things on social media and the news about the strain that some hospitals, particularly in the South East, are under.

In the past few days, I’ve seen accounts of a friend’s relative waiting hours for an emergency ambulance and then spending more than a day in A & E before a bed could be found in a ward.

Just on my social media, I am seeing several people each day testing positive. I’m aware of people having the virus, too, although, thankfully, nobody I know has been seriously ill with it. However, the so called “mild” version is extremely unpleasant.

With all this in mind, you can just imagine the stress that front line health workers must be facing. Exhausted already by the first wave and the race to catch up with the backlog of things that didn’t happen during it, the intensity of the second wave is at times overwhelming for them.

And that’s before any of them catch the virus and have to take time off themselves.

They need reinforcements, so it would help if retired health professionals could take some of the strain, even if it is covering things away from the front line.

But apparently the system makes it difficult for that to happen seamlessly.

Our Ed Davey has got himself into the Sun today, calling on Matt Hancock to sort this out. He said:

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No, teachers should not be prioritised for Covid 19 vaccinations 

I was surprised yesterday to see a tweet from Layla Moran saying that after talking to local head teachers she thinks teachers should be in the first wave of the vaccine.  Later on I saw that there is a campaign by the NEU
for this and I was surprised when I said on twitter that I disagreed with her, how strong the reaction was.

There are three reasons why I think this is not a good idea.

The first and most important is that I do not believe that the  such a sensitive question as who gets priority for vaccines should be decided by politicians or pressure groups.  The current schedule is the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)an independent group of scientists. We would rightly be outraged if the Government started interfering with their recommendations and this is an area politicians should not get involved with.

The second reason is that logically if you wish to add half a million teachers to the first wave, you are going to have to not give it to some of those who would otherwise get it (given that supplies are currently limited). Those people are there though because either they are in NHS and care jobs who need to keep the NHS running or because they are at high risk. There is a very clear link between age and  mortality which is why as well of course as vulnerable people, the current recommendations are based on age.  The JCVI state that “taken together, these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19”.   99% is a  very high % so why would we want to vaccinate as a priority teachers who would cause that percentage to fall?

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LDV’s Christmas Break

We will be doing our best to take a Christmas break this year. We have all had a tough year, including the LDV team, so we need some down time.

We will be taking a festive break between 23 and 27 December.

Of course, there are things that may crop up that will inspire us to put digital pen to paper. After all, who knows what the situation will be with the Brexit trade deal?

If you are inspired to send us pieces, please do, and we will deal with them from 28th December. Mark Valladares would be delighted to come back to a full inbox.

To be honest, my plans for Christmas have not been changed at all, nor have they been affected by Scotland’s national lockdown. We continue to avoid as much human contact as possible until we can get vaccinated. I am fortunate though, to be able to spend it with people I love and a massive pile of unread books. And an even more massive pile of beautiful new Focus leaflets to deliver, so long as the guidance permits it.

My heart breaks for those who are stuck on their own when they didn’t want to be, who have been trapped by circumstance in the middle of a Tier 4 area or who can’t have the guests that they had hoped. Let’s all look after each other by picking up the phone and making sure our loved ones are ok.

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Lib Dems react to new Covid restrictions and Christmas misery

For the second time in 6 weeks, the prelude to Strictly involved the Prime Minister announcing tougher restrictions to deal with a new strain of Coronavirus which, although no more lethal, can spread up to 70% faster.

Much of London and the South East have been put on a much stricter Tier 4 from midnight tonight and the 5 day Christmas bubble is now no longer allowed. Outside of Tier 4 areas, bubbles will be able to see each other on Christmas Day only – but the advice is very much “only if you have to.”

The thing that struck me most …

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Observations of an expat: A bad year

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2020 has been a bad year. It is certainly the worst I can remember and I have been around for 71 of them.

The main cause is, of course, coronavirus or covid-19. It started in Wuhan, China almost exactly 12 months ago, and as the year draws to a close about two million people worldwide have lost their lives to this deadly virus.

Coronavirus has destroyed lives and livelihoods and although vaccines are now being distributed, it will be some time before the world returns to normal—if ever.

The Chinese were initially slow to respond to the threat. Whether their tardiness was in response to a lack of medical knowledge or political considerations is unclear. It was most likely a combination of the two.

The Chinese appeared to have relatively quickly stopped the spread of the virus; helped partly by long years of experience of pandemics and epidemics and partly as a result of a tightly-controlled society. As a general rule, Asians have fared better than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Most scientists have ascribed their relative success to experience of dealing with similar viruses such as SARS (an earlier form of coronavirus) and Avian bird flu.

Those that have fared better than most were countries who could quickly and efficiently shut their borders to the rest of the world. Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia are four examples, although almost everyone is suffering as winter and covid-fatigue set in.

The worst hit were the countries of the West – Europe and North and South America. There the combined emphasis on individual liberties, lack of experience and knowledge, political ineptitude and an emphasis on wealth over health led to the greatest number of deaths.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 25 Comments

How many people will miss the vaccine because they don’t have a GP?

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I am looking forward to having the Covid-19 vaccine. Well, not the actual act of having a jab in my arm (twice), but because it will open up my life. Apart from a short window in the summer, we have not had any social visits in our home since March and we still only leave the house for walks or for medical reasons.

We can both be confident that we will be called in for the vaccine at some point in the New Year. But it appears that an unknown number of eligible people may be missed. Thousands of people in the UK are not registered with a GP. We can only speculate on the reasons why anyone may not be registered – it could be down to something simple like moving house, or it could be something more complex around immigration irregularities, even because someone is the victim of trafficking.

To be effective, as many people as possible should be vaccinated, whatever their immigration status. So surely the NHS needs to know how many people in the country are not registered, so they can be traced and contacted?

Munira Wilson asked Health Minister Jo Churchill how many people are not registered in England, and was told “No such estimate has been made.” In other words, they don’t know.

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Munira Wilson leads parliamentary debate on Excluded

It’s a year today since Munira Wilson was elected as MP for Twickenham. Since then, she has held one of the most stressful roles, as Health Spokesperson, holding the Government to account for its often reckless and chaotic handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like all other MPs, though, she will have a lot of casework from people who have had the financial rug pulled from under them – owners of small businesses whose activities have been curtailed or stopped altogether during the pandemic. People who run events companies, creative industry freelancers such as make-up artists are just some examples of those who simply have had no income and no support since March. Then they were struggling. Now they are desperate.

Lib Dems have led the fight for support for this group. Jamie Stone set up an all-Party Parliamentary Group and our MPs have repeatedly pressed the Government  to do more.

This week, Munira led a parliamentary debate to highlight the plight of those 3 million people who have been excluded from the Government’s support schemes:

You can read the whole debate here.

In her opening speech, Munira highlighted the impact the Government’s failure to provide support has had:

There has, at times, been a suggestion that some of the excluded are highly paid and dodging tax in some way, especially those paid via dividends. My constituent, Fraser Wilkin, who runs a travel company in Twickenham, pays himself by dividends because of the huge fluctuation in annual income due to events outside his control, such as the coronavirus. If he had drawn a regular salary through the year, he would have been unable to fulfil his statutory and contractual obligations to his clients, in terms of prompt refunds when their holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Universal credit is cited as the fall-back. A survey of more than 3,000 individuals found that almost three quarters were unable to access universal credit. Let us face it: we all know that universal credit is not meaningful support. Otherwise, the Government would not have felt the need to create the furlough scheme or the self-employed income support scheme.

We know that the mental health impacts on many of those excluded from support have been stark. There have already been eight reported suicides, and one respondent to the House of Commons digital engagement team said that she almost took her life several times, and one week spent every day in contact with the Samaritans.

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Have the Government handled the Covid-19 pandemic well?

It’s a difficult question, and the Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for governments worldwide. The fact is that, while the government has done well in terms of an initial lockdown, there have been serious failings. It will be interesting to read the review when it’s published.

Firstly, the government, with SAGE’s advice, took the position that they did not want to lockdown too early as people may not accept it. This was obviously an error as thousands of lives could have been saved by locking down a week earlier. Later in the year, the government has again delayed a lockdown, going against the advice of SAGE who called for a short, sharp circuit breaker. I assume that they wanted to prove to their supporters that it was entirely necessary, but, again, it will have led to unnecessary deaths.

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 28 Comments
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