Tag Archives: Covid-19

When catching up means losing out

Children and young people have spent the last two years trying to learn how to cope with isolation, loss and a world turned upside down. Why do we now need to harass them into making sure they’re at the same academic level as a hypothetical young person who hasn’t spent the last 2 years living through a pandemic when that child doesn’t exist anywhere on earth? We have to ask who are we trying to catch them up to and why?

This cohort of students has faced challenges to their education most of us will never experience and we have the ability as a society to decide we’re going to cut them some slack and let them adapt to yet another change in circumstances. That we are going to expect less of them in terms of pure academic knowledge and instead focus on promoting their mental and emotional well being. As long as children have the basics covered and older young people have the functional academic skills they need to function day to day let’s take anything else as a bonus, let them take fewer qualifications and use some of that time to make sure they have the coping strategies to become emotionally healthy adults. Education can happen at any time of life but the longer maladaptive coping strategies are left in place the longer it takes to recover from them.

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Cutting sick pay for unvaccinated employees – what do you think?

I’ve been really concerned this week that some major employers are cutting sick pay for unvaccinated employees to the statutory minimum. ITV reports how companies like Next, Morrisons and Ikea are only going to pay employees who have to self-isolate Statutory Sick Pay of only £96.35 per week, whereas those who have been vaccinated will get their usual pay. And the majority of affected employees will be the lowest paid.

In England, if you are a close contact of someone with Covid, you don’t have to self isolate if you are fully vaccinated. You just need to take daily lateral flow tests. However, if you have not been vaccinated and there are no medical reasons why you can’t be, you have to isolate for ten days. If you do not do so, you could be fined £1000. The rules are set out here.

I don’t agree with employers making these sorts of value judgements about an employee’s liability for their own condition. That is a rabbit hole we really do not want to go down because it could end up in some really nasty places. Broken your leg while hillwalking? Imagine your employer telling you you could have avoided that and they are only going to pay you SSP.

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The damage caused by this Government now includes psychological harm – we need them gone

This morning I was looking on Twitter at the heartbreaking messages from people who had not been able to see their loved ones before they died in May 2020 due to the Covid rules in force at the time, or to attend family funerals or visit relatives in care homes. These are deeply hurtful and scarring experiences.

I also thought to myself, how do most people feel about being told in the Spring of 2020 that they could, legally, only meet up with one person outdoors, now they know that there were parties with 30 or more people held in Downing Street at the very same time? Or about members of the public being fined by the police for breaking the same rules the Prime Minister introduced – yet broke – himself whilst, of course, concealing the truth from everyone?

I turned to thinking about Brexit and the damage and uncertainty caused to multiple interests, especially famers and fishing communities, but also to students and people who used to move regularly between the UK and the EU. This article is not about comparing the tragedies of Covid and Brexit, as Covid is infinitely worse due to the enormity of the loss of life and the associated heartache, but it is about the same way the Conservative Government has handled these two major catastrophes and continues to do so – and the kind of damage their duplicity has surely done to many people’s mental health.

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Ed Davey: Boris Johnson must resign

Ed Davey has said that Boris Johnson must resign over the Downing Street parties. He said:

“Boris Johnson has broken the law and lied to Parliament and the country, and he must now go.
“Millions of people obeyed the lockdown rules, often at huge personal cost. They missed funerals, cancelled weddings and said goodbye to dying loved ones on video calls – some on the very day that Number Ten illegally hosted a garden party.
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Why we’re so livid about the Downing Street parties

I’ve not had a huge amount of sleep. I went to bed too late and woke up too early.

Why? I’m livid. And, like many millions of people, emotions that I’ve been struggling with but keeping below the surface, are breaking through.

We’ve been going through hell, and the more we hear about the culture in Government that made them think that it was fine to sit outside in the sunshine and party when millions couldn’t comfort their dying or bereaved relatives, or had to endure intolerable suffering alone, the more we relive our experiences.

If you watched the BBC News last night, you’ll have seen a woman called Lisa recount how she had to watch her brother take his last breath on an iPad at around the same time the May 2020 BYOB party was going on in the Downing Street Garden. She is a friend of mine. So is her sister Jenni, who spoke to the Daily Record:

Jenni said: “They were telling us to stick to the rules but they thought it was OK to have a party.

“We couldn’t comfort one another but they’re having cheese and wine in the garden. They’re laughing at us and think this is OK?”

“We feel traumatised by what has happened, almost like we have PTSD because of our experience and then all these revelations come out that Boris and his staff are telling us to do one thing while they do another.

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Daisy Cooper: Government must keep free lateral flow tests as long as they ask people to self isolate

They say that you shouldn’t believe anything until it has been officially denied. Education Secretary Nadim Zahawi has been doing the Sunday media telling us all that the Government “absolutely” has no plans to stop sending out free lateral flow tests to people. This is news to our health spokesperson Daisy Cooper who says that Ministers have already said to her that they would.

In Scotland, we are asked to test before we meet anyone, so my family of three is currently going through a box of seven tests every week. Everyone should be testing a couple of times a week as a matter of course.

My Facebook timeline has been full of friends posting pictures of their positive lateral flow tests for weeks and only discovered through testing that they had the virus and needed to stay away from others. If they had not tested, they may have gone home and visited Granny at Christmas time and spread the virus to her and other vulnerable members of their families.

Many others have been feeling pretty awful with what is supposedly a “mild” version of the virus, a reminder of how unpleasant t can be. And while hospitalisations and deaths are not, thankfully, rising in proportion with the huge rise in cases, the longer term damage from things like Long Covid is as yet unknown.

Zahawi’s denial certainly doesn’t convince me. We know already that there are tensions in the Government between those who want us all to get on with it and live with Covid with no government support and intervention and those who want us to get on with it and live with Covid with minimal support and intervention.

On the immediate issue of free lateral flow tests, Daisy said that the Government must not plunge us into a “cost of living with Covid” crisis and that the tests should remain free as long as people were being asked to self isolate:

It seems this Government is happy to hand out billions in crooked Covid contracts to their chums, but intends to scrap free covid tests plunging millions into a cost of living with Covid crisis.

Scrapping free tests when cases are at record levels would be hugely counter-productive and would hit those who can least afford it hardest, at a time when families are already being clobbered by rising taxes and energy bills.

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Painting yourself into a yellow corner? The future Liberal response to Covid

The Lib Dems have a knack of swinging wildly on the side of public opinion (e.g., Iraq War) and back to the fringes (e.g., Revoke Policy). The latter is often buoyed by coming off the back successful elections, giving the party a false sense of confidence that such policies are far more popular than they are and indeed we can be the party of governance. Though such fringe policies have a lasting and damaging impact. Easy to make accusations that the party is neither “Liberal” or “Democratic” is easy to make when such positions are taken and particularly when the public doesn’t see it as justified.

And so, we come off the back of an incredible victory, in a by-Election, over the floundering Tories, in a pandemic. Emboldened by this and the quiet, lack lustre opposition; the Lib Dems are vibrant in their opposition to this government. They see the current state and utter incompetence of the Tories and they see an open goal.

Where the Tories have been cautious about further restrictions, the Dems feel this is dilly-dallying. Restrictions are needed and the country needs strong leadership (which they offer) to put these in place.

This puts the Dems in a precarious position. By being on the side of illiberal restrictions (protections also, but still illiberal), they expose themselves to those allegations. However there has always been a liberal justification for such restrictions. Even the most libertarian of libertarians, Ayn Rand would have seen the justification for lockdowns; in light of no vaccine. And the Lib Dem position has been in line with the public mood, for most of the pandemic.

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The Christmas vaccine dilemma – what would you do?

Last night’s  Radio 4 PM had a discussion with a mother and son who were dealing with an issue that many families will be trying to resolve this Christmas. This particular family had members who are particularly vulnerable to Covid and the son had chosen not to get vaccinated.

The compromise they reached was that the son would have a PCR test before mixing with the rest of the family.

It made me think about what I would do in these circumstances. I am about as Covid cautious as they come and my household is being very careful about who we mix with. We are following the Scottish Government’s advice and doing a lateral flow test before seeing other family members and they are doing the same. I’m lucky that we don’t have the vaccine issue as we’ve all been vaccinated and boostered to the max. In fact, the last member of our household got his booster on Monday, rather than the previously earliest appointment he could get which was 17th January thanks in part to Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP. The vaccination centre at Ingliston had been going to be dismantled to make way for a rave the weekend before last. Alex raised the problem with Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and the rave was cancelled and the vaccine centre reinstated.

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Daisy Cooper: Boris Johnson needs to go

The constant drip feed of stories of Government Covid rule breaking continues, most recently with the picture of Boris Johnson taking part in a quiz as the Daily Mirror reports:

After this latest revelation, Lib Dem Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper said that the Prime Minister was undermining the ongoing fight against Covid and needs to go.

She said:

This slew of rule-breaking revelations leaves Boris Johnson with nowhere left to hide.

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30 November 2021 – today’s press releases

  • Storm Arwen: Govt “abandoning” rural communities hit by power cuts
  • Zahawi breaks yet another promise as school absences soar by 80,000
  • Bring back work from home to help save Christmas

Storm Arwen: Govt “abandoning” rural communities hit by power cuts

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that the Government provide emergency support to rural communities who have been left without power for days after Storm Arwen.

In a letter to ministers from Liberal Democrat Communities Spokesperson Tim Farron MP, Welsh Party Leader Jane Dodds MS and local North Shropshire candidate Helen Morgan, the party warns that rural communities in areas like North Shropshire are being taken for granted and “abandoned by the Government in their time of need.”

Tim Farron also raised the issue in Parliament yesterday and criticised the Government for failing to make an official ministerial statement on the issue.

The letter calls for ministers to step in and provide food, emergency accommodation and other essential supplies to vulnerable people on the ground impacted by the storm. It also urges the armed forces to be brought in to provide emergency electricity generators to communities until power is restored, and for the Government to provide additional support to engineers working hard to bring back power as soon as possible.

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Daisy Cooper outlines Lib Dems’ 5 point plan for clinically extremely vulnerable people

As the world’s scientists try to work out the extent of the danger posed by new Covid variant Omicron and Governments grapple with with what it might mean for the Winter ahead and Christmas in particular, Lib Dem Health spokesperson Daisy Cooper has set out a 5 point plan to address the needs of one group of people let down by the Government.

In the first lockdown, those who were clinically extremely vulnerable had to completely isolate. Our Mary Reid wrote a brilliant Isolation Diary which she later expanded into a book.

The impact on those who had to shield was profound but in recent months they have been forgotten. In fact, the Observer reports that over 100,000 people with compromised immune systems have yet to have their booster.

The emergence of Omicron will no doubt be yet another moment of anxiety for those who were shielding and those who love them.

Daisy said that the Government needs to do much more for the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable:

It’s often said that how a society treats its most vulnerable is the measure of its humanity, but if that’s the case, then this Government does not measure up.

People who are clinically extremely vulnerable and their families are incredibly worried about the news of a new variant on our shores. For too long, the Government has ignored these people, their concerns around the vaccine programme and the lack of guidance and support.

The Government must not ignore them any longer: it must be proactive in tackling this new variant and protect those most at risk. The clinically vulnerable deserve clear guidance and support from ministers instead of being treated as an afterthought.

The decision to end the shielding programme – when many continued to shield – left our most vulnerable feeling like the rug had been pulled out from underneath them. It’s high time the Government put support measures back in place, including getting on top of the utter mess surrounding third primary doses and introducing a shielding programme that genuinely supports those who need it.

The five point plan is as follows:

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26 November 2021 – today’s press release

Government must reverse £30m aid cuts to Southern Africa to help tackle new variant

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that the government reverse aid cuts and launch an emergency Covid support fund, to help countries in Southern Africa contain the new variant spreading there.

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats has found that the UK is slashing aid to Southern Africa and Zimbabwe by £30m next year, or by over a third (35%), a move the party described as “cruel and short-sighted.” In addition to this, UK aid spending on global health funding has been slashed by £243 million, from over £1.1 billion …

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The Elephant in the Room

I was once told I have a memory like an elephant! I didn’t realise what that meant, and the friend who told me explained. She said that elephants have long memories. They remember. It is true. I do.

I remember a time when governments were at least able to behave in a way we could say was responsible, in carrying out their duties, because they knew they were responsible for the delivery of services. Now we have a dereliction of duty. And appallingly stretched public services.

I remember when even this government, late with everything, at least, though late, did something. Now they are doing not much more than nothing.

There is an elephant in the room. It has a long memory. It knows that there was a better way of doing things, through long past and recent history. It understands that it was never acceptable to accept unnecessary deaths. It realises that the preservation of life itself is the greatest instinct of humanity itself. It remembers when, in progressive, tolerant societies, preventable deaths were not tolerated.

A crisis has not been solved. Vaccines have not solved it. They have lessened it. It could have been solved by the vaccines, to a greater extent, if the virus had been dealt with more effectively, and the variants not emerged as a result of ineffective government.

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Munira Wilson: Ministers are burying their heads in the sand over rising Covid cases

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that the Government hold an emergency SAGE meeting to discuss surging Covid cases, and what measures may be needed to curb infections and protect the NHS and schools this winter.

It comes as it emerges that Government scientists have not met to discuss Covid for weeks and cases are running at nearly 50,000 a day.

Health Spokesperson, Munira Wilson MP said:

Covid cases are surging and millions of vulnerable people are yet to receive their booster jabs, yet ministers are burying their heads in the sand.

The Government cannot simply ignore the scientific advice and act as though this pandemic is over.

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Lib Dems call for half term jab blitz due to 8000 classrooms sitting empty

The Liberal Democrats have called for the Government to speed up the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines over half term after new Department for Education figures reveal over 216,000 pupils are absent from school for Covid-related reasons.

The figures, released today (12:00pm), show infection rates in schools are rising at a concerning rate and this is having a huge impact on young people’s education – with 2.6% of pupils absent for covid-related reasons over the last two weeks.

Across the UK schools are grappling with soaring case numbers, which has seen institutions like Eton bring in a wave of new strict …

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UPDATED: Commons committees’ report says government’s Covid response was “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”

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The “Lessons learnt to date” report has been published by two key House of Commons committees.

It says the government’s early planning was based on a risk assessment that a pandemic would result in 100 deaths and be like flu: “the likelihood of an emerging infectious disease spreading within the UK is assessed to be lower than that of a pandemic flu”.

It lists a catalogue of errors concluding:

…decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice

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Getting a story out – the Liberal Democrat press team in action over furlough extension

The Press Team at Lib Dem HQ don’t just write press releases and send them out, hoping that journalists will publish them. They actively go out and try and get them published. A great success story is a push on the end of furlough, highlighting a letter written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak by Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Christine Jardine asking him to extend furlough for six months to those sectors which are still struggling such as tourism, travel and the creative arts.

Christine says this is important to avoid a “tidal wave” of job losses as the scheme comes to an end.

Christine points out that the cost of six months’ vital support would cost less than last year’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Christine urged the Chancellor to “consider the impact on the lives of those that could find themselves out of a job at the end of the week.” She added it would be “devastating for countless families already facing a winter of spiralling bills and cuts to working benefits.”

Christine said:

The withdrawal of furlough risks having a devastating impact on countless families already facing a winter of soaring energy bills.The government needs to rethink its approach or the country could face a Coronavirus Black Thursday.

The Liberal Democrats are demanding that furlough is extended for the industries that are being hardest hit by the pandemic, to prevent a tidal wave of job losses in the coming weeks.This would support the most vulnerable workers through winter and cost less than what ministers spent on last year’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Thousands of people relying on furlough are worrying about their livelihoods at a time when the impact of the pandemic is far from over. Supporting them and their families is both the right and responsible thing to do.

So where was this covered?

Basically everywhere:

The Independent 

The Standard

Wales online

ITV

The Graun

Sky News

Trade Travel Gazette – article by Christine

Trade Travel Gazette – report

City AM 

The Metro 

The Scotsman 

The Mirror 

The Express and Star

The Torygraph

Planet Radio

Even the Fail

Well done to the press team.

And if you want to see Christine’s letter to the Chancellor, it’s here.

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COVID, holidays and vaccine hesitancy within Eastern European communities

If someone told me a few years ago that any other issue will divide our communities as much as Brexit did after the EU referendum, I would not have believed.

This year, I was lucky enough to travel over the summer holidays. A lot of people like me, who live abroad, are often left with very little choice. COVID restrictions, stress around planning and cost of tests is putting many people off, however there are not many alternatives if we want to see our loved ones.

The health pandemic was a central part of many of my conversations in Poland and Croatia. Although most of my friends had at least one dose of the vaccine, what are the reasons for “vaccine hesitancy” within the Polish and other ethnic minority communities?

The most recent data from the Hertfordshire County Council Public Health team shows that 69% of any other white backgrounds of residents living in the county received at least one dose of the vaccine. This is significantly lower than e.g. white British individuals (around 90%). There is still some work that needs to be done to address the issue of relatively low levels of the vaccine roll-out within minority ethnic groups.

It is also clear that there are many reasons why some people, also from my community, are hesitant towards the vaccination programme. Social media plays a big part in shaping people’s views on whether to have the vaccine or not. Targeted online campaigns, believing only in one source of information, being fed up with listening to “experts” often means that it is not easy to change people’s “fixed mind-sets”. For those living in the UK, occasional language barriers could be some of the motives of vaccine resistance.

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Ed Davey: Johnson’s refusal to self isolate “Barnard Castle on steroids”

Boris Johnson’s blatant avoidance of self isolation as a staffer who tested positive for Covid further undermines confidence in this Government.

I feel sorry for anyone who has to be around him over the next few days. He could pass a potentially deadly virus on to them or ultimately their vulnerable relatives. It is an anxious time for them.

The Guardian has the story and Ed Davey’s reacton:

The group were tested upon landing, and the official’s result was positive so they went into isolation. Some whose result came back negative were told to make their own way home, while others, including Johnson, finished the tour. The prime minister was then pictured meeting the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, and the Conservative MP Andrew Bowie.

Johnson and several members of the No 10 contingent are not isolating – but a government source said “the whole lot should be”. The Downing Street spokesperson also refused to say if he had been tested since the positive case was discovered.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, also called on Johnson to confirm he had not been asked to isolate again. Referring to the excuse Dominic Cummings used for breaking lockdown rules last spring, Davey said of the prime minister: “If it turns out he has scorned his own government’s policy on self-isolation again, the public reaction will be Barnard Castle on steroids.”

This is the second time in 3 weeks that the PM has tried to get away with not isolating after being in contact with someone who has tested positive. It’s not acceptable. If anyone becomes ill as a result of his behaviour, then he will have to take responsibility.

This comes close on the heels of the story about Alok Sharma, our climate change minister, dotting back and forth around red list countries and not quarantining despite being in risky situations of indoor mixing.

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Layla slams Government for “opening floodgates to new variants” and failing to protect troops

Good work from Layla Moran in today’s press.

First, the Guardian reports the Commons Library research commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, which Layla chairs, which shows that the number of positive cases tested for variants has fallen dramatically.

The results suggest that in the three weeks to 17 March, there were an estimated 1,769 to 1,827 positive tests from people entering the UK from red list countries, of which somewhere between 63% and 68% were sequenced to determine the variant involved.

By contrast in the three weeks to 30 June, there were an estimated 445 to 507 positive tests from people entering the UK from red list countries, with estimates of the proportion sequenced ranging from 12% to 33%.

Layla highlighted the dangers of this:

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Pandemic restrictions are over… sort of… Where do we go from here?

You might find yourself wondering why, when the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Health are all self-isolating, and new cases have reached the peak levels seen last over the New Year, today is a good day to declare as “Freedom Day”. And yet, for all of the bombast that the Prime Minister offered in the days leading up to today, even he is now quoted as saying;

So please, please, please be cautious. Go forward tomorrow into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people and the risks that the disease continues to present.

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Munira Wilson: Coercion is not the answer to vaccine hesitancy

Last night, Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the Government’s Statutory Instrument which made vaccinations compulsory for care home staff.

Munira Wilson, our health spokesperson, had a right go at the Government for its approach, pointing out that the care sector had long been undervalued and the Government’s approach had let down so many staff and residents during the pandemic.

She said that, while Liberal Democrats were absolutely in favour of vaccination, we would not support making it mandatory. She said:

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We need to shout about …….. Community choirs


No sooner are we past the so-called freedom day than the Johnson government finally starts believing in the vaccine programme, having systematically undermined it for the last two months by pretending that vaccinated people pose a risk, should not socialise, travel  and must be treated in the same way as those who have not been vaccinated. This makes a complete nonsense of the vaccination programme and has sent the message to vaccine ‘hesitants’ that there is therefore no point in getting the jab and maybe even that there is something bad about vaccines we aren’t being told. Quite why Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance have allowed themselves to be part of this anti-science strategy is a subject for another time.

I’ve enjoyed watching all those mostly young, male, football fans hugging each other and shouting their heads off over the  last few days, but bearing in mind that very few if any will have been vaccinated, what exactly is going on? – is this a social experiment in herd immunity? Perhaps so, and why not, as most, if not all, of them are very unlikely to be ill enough to need hospital if they do get infected. We do need to test the herd immunity hypothesis; and although it’s unfashionable I still believe it has an important role to play. Many middle and low income countries, which are unable to hoard vaccines far in excess of any possible requirements (e.g. UK and USA) are relying on herd immunity, and are doing a lot better than we are – that’s interesting.

There have been several sporting event pilot studies in England over the last few months but we have not seen the results of any of them, I wonder why that is? Possibly because the results are clear-cut and don’t fit the muddled and contradictory messaging from Ministers? What is very clear is that the current messaging strategy has far more to do with saving the Prime Minister’s political skin than with science.

For context, currently ten times more people are dying every day from alcohol-related diseases than from Covid.

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Local lockdowns by stealth?

The Government has been having to deal rapidly with the cock-up over the restrictions in areas where the Indian variant is spreading.

Munira Wilson was in the Guardian today, after confusion reigned in Westminster:

An appearance in the House of Commons on Tuesday by the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, failed to clarify the matter.

“What we’re asking people in those affected areas is to be cautious, is to be careful – so on visiting family, meet outdoors rather than inside where possible. Meet 2 metres apart from people you don’t live with, unless you have formed a support bubble,” said Zahawi. “Yes, people can visit family in half-term, if they follow social distancing guidelines.”

But then he added: “Avoid travelling in and out of the affected areas, as the prime minister said on the 14th, unless it is essential, for example for work purposes.”

In the House of Commons, the Twickenham MP, Munira Wilson, challenged Zahawi about whether her constituents should be avoiding travelling across the borough boundary into neighbouring Hounslow to shop or go to school.

The minister replied: “People need to exercise that caution, that common sense.”

It’s a pity that the Government didn’t follow it’s own advice and act with common sense in the first place.

Layla Moran, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, joined in on the BBC News:

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How easily we have surrendered our private freedoms….

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On Sunday we had a visit from a relative in the garden at a two metre distance.

On Monday they kindly returned and we hugged several times.

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India COVID disaster: Layla Moran calls for UK to begin donating vaccines through COVAX immediately

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The Liberal Democrats have written to the Prime Minister calling for the UK to begin donating vaccines through the COVAX programme immediately.

The letter, co-signed by all the party’s MPs and spearheaded by Layla Moran, echoes calls the party made to join COVAX as part of a ‘parallel rollout’ back in February. With the situation in India now worsening, the urgency of the call has intensified.

It also highlighted how aid cuts are making the global situation worse and called for a number of other proactive measures such as safely accelerating approval processes in regulatory bodies.

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One year on from the first lockdown: still not out of the woods

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog for Lib Dem Voice on the Government being behind the curve in introducing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. Little did we know then what was coming then. By 21 March last year, there had already been more than 400 deaths from Covid in UK hospitals , and that seemed shocking at the time. A year later, there have been 125,580 deaths within 28 days of a Covid test  and 143,259 deaths where Covid was listed as the cause on the death certificate (all data in this article are quoted to 15 March 2021). This amounts to one of the highest Covid death rates in the world.

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Linking the Test and Trace scandal to local election campaigning

Conservatives despise local government.  English local authorities have been starved of funds since the coalition government began, with a sharper downward curve since 2015. The one-size fits-all model of elected mayors has been imposed on successive ‘city regions’ – in the case of Yorkshire, against the settled preference of almost all the local authorities in the region.  Worst of all, ministers bypassed local authorities when the pandemic struck, ignoring local public health officers and the local knowledge that councillors and staff embody, and spending huge amounts of money on contracts with outsourcing companies. When Russian spies poisoned the Skripals Salisbury’s public health officer efficiently led the complex response.  But ministers ignored that lesson when COVID-19 struck.

The Test and Trace scandal is potentially one of the worst that Britain has suffered since the war.  £37bn has been committed over two years, with £23bn spent so far.  Let’s put that into context.  The total estimated cost of renewing the UK’s nuclear deterrent is £30bn..  The Department of Transport’s annual budget for England in 2020-21 is £16.6bn.    £23bn is almost 10% of the annual central government transfer to local authorities, spent on a project that local authorities could have provided for a fraction of the cost.  We do not yet know how much excess profit the contractors made, but we do know that the scheme has so far been less effective than in comparable countries – and that it would have been more effective, as well as far less expensive, if it had been run by local government.

Remember all those volunteers who came forward – and who were often ignored?  And those small companies that offered to provide PPE for local hospitals, whose proposals were forwarded to central government and then left unanswered?  It’s a mark of how far the careerists who run today’s Conservative Party are from politics on the ground that it did not occur to them to use the resources of local government and communities rather than exorbitant consultants and multinational companies.

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NHS pay rise of a measly 1% is too little to reward the health heroes of our nation

We have stood on the streets and applauded our front line NHS staff. We have wondered at their resilience in the biggest health crisis of our lifetimes. We have sympathised with them when they have fallen ill and with their families when they have died.

The reward health service workers will get for their efforts is a measly 1% pay rise. Ministers seem not to recognise that those who have worked themselves into exhaustion, taken on extra shifts, faced danger every working day need a boost. With tax allowances frozen, the lowest paid staff and frontline nurses should at least get the 2.1% pay rise they were promised.

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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.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 55 Comments
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