Reopening

Boris Announces Next Step in Reopening as Daily Covid Deaths in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland Fall to Zero

Boris hailed what he called a “very considerable step on the road back to normality” at a Downing Street press briefing this evening, outlining what he’s graciously going to “allow” us to do from May 17th. MailOnline has more.

Pints inside the pub are back from Monday, along with hugs for friends and family and staycations, Boris Johnson said tonight. …

But he urged people to be cautious, saying the country must remain “vigilant” about fuelling cases and the threat from variants.

When the next stage in the roadmap is reached groups of six or two households will be allowed to meet indoors for the first time in months.

Overnight visits will also be allowed, while outdoors the limit will rise to 30 in the most significant loosening yet.

Staycations can also get properly up and running, with hotels and B&Bs that do not have self-catering facilities permitted to open – as well as cinemas and theatres if audiences wear masks.

Crucially the government has decided the risk is now low enough that social distancing can be left more to “personal choice” – meaning that while people are urged to be ‘cautious’, hugs are allowed at private gatherings.

However, despite the very low infection rate and stunning vaccine rollout, social distancing rules will still be maintained at bars and restaurants.

Together with a requirement for table service indoors it means many venues will still struggle to make ends meet.

Advice to work from home where possible will also stay in place.

In other elements of the changes from next week, the much-criticised cap on the number of mourners at funerals will be lifted, while up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings and other life events.

Indoor sport and exercise classes can restart, along with sauna and steamrooms. And secondary pupils will no longer need to wear masks at schools in England.

In a huge relief for many isolated elderly people and their families, care home residents will be able to have up to five named visitors – and up to two at once provided they are tested and follow guidelines. Residents will also have greater freedom to leave homes without having to isolate afterwards.

Worth reading in full.

During the announcement, Boris thanked the public for their commitment and said infections were now at the “lowest level since last July”. That’s also true of Covid deaths in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with zero being recorded in the last 24 hours in all three nations. MailOnline has more on that, too.

The UK has confirmed another 2,357 coronavirus cases and four deaths – all four in Wales – as the country’s Covid alert level was downgraded from four to three, suggesting the virus is ‘in general circulation’ and not rising.

Both figures mark increases on last Monday’s numbers, although that was a bank holiday and the counts are so low that even relatively small changes can appear to have a big effect. The longer-term trend remains flat.

July 30 was the last time that the reported death count was zero and the return marks a huge milestone after England’s toll peaked at 1,243 at the height of the second wave on January 19. The figure includes only death certificates processed yesterday; it does not mean that nobody died of Covid.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Telegraph Science Editor Sarah Knapton has interviewed a number of scientists, including Prof. Carl Heneghan, to ask them whether we really need to wait until June 21st before reopening in full. One of those in favour of reopening sooner is Dr. Jason Oke of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford. He said: “We are rapidly approaching the figure required for population immunity, if we haven’t already reached that point. Even the modellers who have been the most pessimistic in the past have revised their concerns about another wave in the summer.”

UK Covid Deaths Stay in Single Figures for Second Day Running for First Time Since September

The Department of Health’s daily update showed four more Covid deaths in the UK yesterday, making May 2nd and 3rd the lowest two-day total for eight months. MailOnline has more.

The Department of Health’s daily update showed infections are also down more than a quarter compared to last week after 1,946 positive tests were processed in the past 24 hours.

It comes after just one Covid fatality was recorded yesterday. It is the first time there have been single-digit deaths for two days running since September 14th.

The small number of deaths may be partly explained by the bank holiday, when the figures are often lower to due the way fatalities are logged. The seven-day rolling average number of daily Covid deaths is now 13.

People have also been less likely to come forward for tests on weekends or public holidays and many of the daily swabs are now conducted in schools and workplaces.

Meanwhile, latest figures show another 208,362 second vaccine doses were dished out across the UK on Sunday and 79,304 people were given their first injection.

It means 34.6million Britons — more than half — have been jabbed at least once and 15.6million — nearly a quarter of the population — have been fully vaccinated.

The promising data will be seized upon by MPs, pubs and restaurants, who have called for England’s lockdown to end sooner. One restaurant boss claimed reservations have been cancelled because of the ‘terrible weather’ and hospitality chiefs said it was essential that trading goes back to being “unrestricted” on June 21.

Sir Robert Syms, Tory MP for Poole in Dorset, yesterday said: “We need to push the Government to get on with it. A lot of normal life could be returned.” He said the country would “lose another summer” if rules aren’t eased soon.

The PM has so far refused to budge in the face of calls for more freedom, with restrictions set to stay in place until June 21st — touted as England’s independence day.

Worth reading in full.

Britain Records One Covid Death in Lowest Daily Toll in Nine Months – Yet Boris Doggedly Sticks to Roadmap

The U.K. recorded its lowest Covid death toll in nine months yesterday, while infections fell to a level not seen since September. MailOnline has more.

Department of Health statistics showed this was only the third time deaths had fallen to this level, after August 3rd and 30th. July 30th was the only day of the pandemic to see zero victims recorded.

Health bosses also posted another 1,649 coronavirus cases, down by a fifth on the 2,064 last Monday. It was the fewest positive tests since September 2nd, before the second wave spiralled out of control.

Figures tend to be lower on Mondays because fewer people are available over the weekend to process paperwork to record a death. Separate date of death statistics, which lag by around a fortnight, show around 15 Brits are still succumbing to the virus every day – similar to levels seen at the end of summer, when ministers were happy to let Britons mix with few curbs despite no one being inoculated.

Britain today passed the landmark of having dished out 50million Covid vaccines, after another 250,000 jabs were dished out yesterday. Around 34.6million people have now had their first dose, and 15.4million – or 30% of all adults – are fully inoculated.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the “massive” achievement and insisted we are going to have a “great British summer”, while Boris Johnson said he could see no reason why England’s next planned relaxation on May 17th could not go ahead.

Despite the success of the vaccine roll-out coming alongside falling cases and deaths, the PM poured cold water on holiday hopes, warning putting lots of countries on the travel ‘green list’ could risk an “influx of disease”. His comments came hours after the EU unveiled plans to let vaccinated Brits in for summer trips.

Mr Johnson insisted Number 10 will be “cautious” amid bitter Cabinet wrangling over how far to loosen the border restrictions this month. Mr Hancock and chief medical officer Chris Whitty are said to be among those pushing for quarantine-free states to be kept to an absolute minimum.

On a pre-election visit to Hartlepool this afternoon, Mr Johnson also claimed there is a “good chance” that current social distancing rules will be scrapped on June 21st – touted as England’s independence day.

Worth reading in full.

Cold Weather Takes Shine Off Reopening

According to a retail analyst Springboard, shopping activity didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels yesterday thanks to the cold weather. Meanwhile, only two in five pubs opened in England due to the lack of suitable outside space. The Times has more.

Britain’s notoriously fickle spring weather dampened the high street’s recovery yesterday as lockdown restrictions were eased.

People going to shops, pubs and restaurants for the first time in more than three months endured cold conditions and even snow. On the south coast, temperatures were as low as 5C, half the usual average for the time of year. Little Rissington in Gloucestershire recorded 4cm of snow.

Shoppers who braved the cold appeared to be preparing to party. John Lewis reported that decanters, tumblers and highball glasses were “by far” the most popular purchases yesterday morning, with champagne and gift bags the two next most popular categories.

Some stores, such as Primark and Ikea, had queues first thing, but the number of people visiting high streets overall was a quarter lower than the equivalent day two years ago.

The retail analyst Springboard said that shopping centres had fared better, although they were still down on a normal day, suggesting that the weather had been a deterrent for many people.

Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital, said: “The cold and snow will have kept an awful lot of people at home, particularly older people. That said, the pandemic is still casting a long shadow over retail.

“Shoppers are more cautious and the shift online represents a big structural challenge to high street stores.”

The British Beer and Pub Association estimated that only two in five pubs reopened yesterday because most venues lack a big enough outdoor space to trade profitably. It acknowledged that the cold weather would have deterred some customers.

You can read the article here.

The Paralysis of Caution

We’re publishing a new essay by Guy de la Bédoyère about the excessive cautiousness that is preventing the Government from being more bold. Guy traces it to the cautiousness of the modellers and points out how odd that attitude is to the adventurousness of pioneering scientists like Edward Jenner and Marie Curie. Here’s an extract:

Regardless of your views about vaccines, it is a fact that Edward Jenner took the reckless step of infecting his gardener’s eight-year-old son first with cowpox and then with smallpox. As we all know, the experiment was a success. By today’s standards of gibbering caution, it was the most outrageous example of recklessness imaginable. Yet how else was he ever going to find out if it worked? If that happened today, Jenner would probably never have dared try his theory out and if he had he’d have been struck off and imprisoned. I have no doubt that had a predictive modeller been on hand, busy calculating the risk, there wouldn’t have been a virus in hell’s chance of him being allowed to go ahead.

On December 23rd 1750 Benjamin Franklin electrocuted himself when he tried to kill a turkey with electricity, believing the meat would be more tender. He survived, chastened by the experience. In 1839-43, James Clark Ross took two sailing ships, the Erebus and Terror, on an epic voyage of exploration and scientific experiment around Antarctica. Today he wouldn’t have been allowed out of port.

There are so many other examples from those days of early science it would be impossible to list them. But the underlying approach reaches right into more recent times. We have aviation because people were prepared to throw themselves into the air with bizarre pieces of winged equipment or brave their way across the Atlantic in a Vickers Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland, as Alcock and Brown did in 1919. Imagine the risk assessment if anyone had bothered to think of writing one at the time, and the same applies to Marie Curie’s work on radiation.

Worth reading in full.

Fact Check: “Rishi Sunak Was the Main Person Responsible for Covid’s Second Wave”

The Times has published the latest instalment in Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott’s new book Failures of State, an exercise, it seems, in recording the Official Narrative.

In the excerpt the authors lay the blame for the second wave at the feet of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, quoting a SAGE source that he was “the main person who was responsible for the second wave”. The editors picked this incendiary quote as the title of the piece.

Calvert and Arbuthnott write:

The Government had been warned about the consequences of a second wave but, by the end of July, the scientists on SAGE were reporting that they had no confidence that R was not now above the one threshold. The Government’s limited room for manoeuvre was acknowledged by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, at a hastily arranged press conference. “We have probably reached near the limits, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society,” he said.

The following Monday, August 3rd, was going to be the start of Eat Out to Help Out, come what may. According to a Conservative MP source, both Matt Hancock and Michael Gove were concerned about pressing ahead, but “the voices that were prevailing in government, for whatever reason, were those that were pushing a case that was based purely on economic recovery at all costs as fast as possible”.

By mid-August, positive tests had risen to more than a thousand a day. The Commons all-party coronavirus group wrote directly to the Prime Minister. “It is already clear that to minimise the risk of a second wave occurring . . . an urgent change in government approach is required,” said the letter.

Grannies Gone Wild

A reader has sent us the following email about older people among his family and friends becoming much more blasé about social distancing rules since being vaccinated. Heartwarming stuff.

My 62-year-old and vaccinated wife took advantage of our bountiful government’s magnanimity and met up with a 70-year-old vaccinated friend for a walk today at a local beauty spot. They mused on the very obviously more-than-two groups walking around brazenly. Her friend told my wife that her husband (70), also vaccinated, has given up on lockdowns and is now routinely visiting his ailing father in his late nineties, likewise vaccinated, on the simple basis that neither of them have time to waste on fooling about with precautions that no longer have any serious validity. Their remaining opportunities to see each other are more important. According to the pair, this is happening on a wider scale, as we already know. Life’s simply too short. Perhaps we have already reached the point of no return? Professor Chris (‘clunk click, every trip) Whitty’s dire warnings today of another biblical apocalypse heading our way over the summer might already be blurring into the proverbial fart in a hurricane. We can live in hope.