Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Identifying new forms of the COVID coronavirus

Today the Health Secretary is offering the UK’s expertise in genetic sequencing to other countries around the world to help identify new variants of COVID-19. \this kind of international co-operation can help the entire world by improving our chances of  detecting and identifying changes in the virus and providing an early warning system for new mutations that could endanger all countries including both the UK and our global neighbours.  

  • Throughout this pandemic Britain has relied on the strength of the UK world-leading scientific community. As we see new variants emerging internationally it is only right we play our part in identifying them, helping our neighbours and keeping people around the world safe.
  • That is why Britain launching a New Variant Assessment Platform, which will offer UK laboratory capacity to support the work of the World Health Organisation and others. Through this platform we can build on our understanding of the virus and how it spreads in different places, strengthening our ability to protect people here in the UK and around the world.
  • The UK has led the way in gene sequencing and identified more than half of all the coronavirus strains since the pandemic began. By sharing our expertise with others, we can boost capability in this important field and better prepare everyone in the future.

Quote of the day 26th January 2021


Monday, January 25, 2021

Watch out for fraudsters


Vaccination update

 OVER 6.8 MILLION vaccination doses have been administered so far across the United Kingdom

On 23rd January, a record 491,970 people received their first dose of the vaccine. In total this means more than 6.3 million people across the UK have now had a least one dose of the vaccine, including three quarters of those aged over 80.

Yesterday the Health Secretary confirmed that the UK vaccinated more people in the last three days than France has done in its entire programme. Overall Britain has vaccinated more people than France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Austria and Belgium combined.

Only two countries – the United States and China – have vaccinated more people than the UK. We have administered more than four times as many vaccinations as Germany and only 1.65 million less than the entire European Union combined.

 Britain is also the third country in the world for vaccinations per head. Only Israel and the UAE have vaccinated more people per capita than the UK. 

The government is opening up new vaccination sites every day as part of our Vaccine Delivery Plan to ensure every community is within 10 miles of a vaccination centre. Vaccinations are already available from more than 1,000 GP-led services, over 200 hospitals and a growing network of large-scale NHS Vaccination Centres.

From today, a further 33 vaccine centres started delivering vaccinations, as we continue to accelerate the biggest immunisation programme in the history of our health service. 

This means there will now be a network of 50 large scale centres, capable of inoculating thousands of people a week across the country. New centres include the Black Country Living Museum, a former IKEA store in East London, the Nightingale Hospital in Sunderland and the Blackpool Winter Gardens.


And today the government begins funding 60 councils and groups across England to enhance their vital efforts to engage with the hardest to reach groups and to encourage vaccine take up. Through the Community Champions scheme, 60 councils and community groups across England will now benefit from £23 million to boost their work in communicating accurate health information and encouraging those amongst the hardest to reach groups to take up a vaccine when offered. 

Monday music spot: Jeremiah Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary

Also known as the Prince of Denmark's March (and often wrongly attributed to Henry Purcell)

Kickstarting Job Creation

It was confirmed today that over 120,000 jobs have been created by the flagship £2 billion Kickstart Scheme to date. The government is now making it even easier for employers of all sizes to sign up – redoubling efforts to support young people during the pandemic.

  • Young people are often hit hardest when the economy faces significant challenges, which is why the government will do everything practical to ensure they are not left without hope or opportunity - keeping the promise to level up opportunity across the country.
  • Since the launch of Kickstarted last Autumn, the government has been working with companies to create over 120,000 Kickstart jobs, to support young people on to the first rung of the job ladder; and to encourage more employers of all sizes to join. The requirement for a minimum of 30 vacancies requirement to apply is also being scrapped so more smaller and medium size businesses can take part and thus enable these businesses to create hundreds of thousands more high quality job placements.
  • In moving the Kickstart Scheme up another gear, the government will continue to work with companies across the country to invest in, and harness, the talents of our young people, putting them on the path to a brighter future as Britain builds back better.

Coronavirus testing in the workplace

More employers have now signed up to the government’s rapid testing scheme to protect the workforce and minimise the spread of Coronavirus.

  • Around one in three people who have coronavirus have no symptoms and may be unknowingly spreading the virus, therefore it is vital that rapid testing is available throughout the country, including in workforces.
  • Government departments are working with NHS Test and Trace to support businesses and public sector bodies to implement rapid testing. An estimated 734,600 lateral flow tests have now been distributed across the public and private sector so far.
  • Rapid workplace testing will offer additional peace of made to those who are unable to work from home during the current lockdown and help minimise the virus being unknowingly spread. 

Quote of the day 26th January 2021


Sunday, January 24, 2021

New Vaccination centres open

As mentioned in the vaccination update earlier today, over 30 new NHS Vaccine Centres are being opened this week to accelerate the biggest immunisation programme in the history of our NHS. 

  • As we fight against the Coronavirus pandemic and set out on a route to return to normality, vaccine centres, hospital hubs and local vaccination sites are enabling us to vaccinate as many people as possible.
  • 32 new NHS Vaccine Centres will start delivering life-saving Covid vaccinations this week, meaning there will be a network of almost 50 centres across the country. New centres include the Black Country Living Museum, a former IKEA store in East London, the Nightingale Hospital in Sunderland and the Blackpool Winter Gardens.
  • Britain's vaccine delivery plan has allowed us to make rapid progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable in society, but we must not drop our guard now and everyone must continue to stay home, save lives and protect the NHS. 
Remember: when the vaccination takes effect you will be at a lesser risk but it takes two to three weeks to kick in and does not make you invulnerable.

You will still need to follow social distancing rules to protect yourself and everyone else when you have had the vaccination until the pandemic is beaten and the rules can be relaxed.

Improving Britain's railway infrastructure

Yesterday the government announced a £794 million investment package to help restore two important railways, creating jobs and reconnecting communities.

  • At the 2019 election, the Conservatives were elected on a promise to level up infrastructure and restore many previously closed railways to their former glory.
  • That promise is being delivered in both the North and South. The next phase of East West Rail will reinstate direct rail services between Bicester and Bletchley, creating 1,500 jobs. Millions of pounds are also being committed to progress plans at pace to reopen the line between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington.
  • By levelling up transport infrastructure across the country, we can build back better after the pandemic, boosting economic growth, unlocking new housing and creating jobs.

First words in a new chapter of the relationship between Britain and the USA

Yesterday, the Prime Minister had his first phone call with Joe Biden since he was inaugurated as President of the United States, in which they discussed our shared priorities moving forwards. 

  • Building on our long history of cooperation in security and defence, the leaders recommitted to the NATO alliance and the Prime Minister welcomed the President’s decision to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change, the World Health organization and the COVAX programme. The two leaders also spoke about a potential free trade deal between our two countries, with the Prime Minister reiterating his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible.
  • The Prime Minister and the President also discussed how the UK and the US can deepen the close alliance between our nations and work closely together through the G7, G20 and COP26 this year.

Quote of the day Sunday 24th January 2021 "The Price of Freedom"


The above line is a clip from Wing Commander IV, "The Price of Freedom." 

It is of course an adapted version of a line from the 18th century,  the authorship of which has been hotly contested and attributed in various forms to numerous authors including John Philpot Curran, who really did originate the words

"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.

Similar words have also been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Wendell Phillips, and many others. There is even a comment among similar lines by the Demosthenes of ancient Athens which goes back to the fourth century BC. 

The makers of the game showed that they fully understand the full significance of the concept by giving the line "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance" to the character Admiral Tolwyn (portrayed by Malcolm MacDowell) who himself turned out to be the biggest threat.

Vaccination update

OVER 6.2 MILLION vaccination doses have been administered so far across the United Kingdom

On Friday, a record 478,000 first doses of the vaccine were given in a single day. Over 5.8 million people across the UK have now had at least one dose of the vaccine. Three quarters of over 80s have now received at least one dose of Covid vaccine.

The UK has vaccinated more people in the last three days than France has done in its entire programme. We have vaccinated more people than France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Austria and Belgium combined.

Only two countries – the United States and China – have vaccinated more people than the UK. 

Britain is also the third country in the world for vaccinations per capita. Only Israel and the UAE have vaccinated more people per capita than the UK.

Britain is opening up new vaccination sites every day as part of our Vaccine Delivery Plan to ensure every community is within 10 miles of a vaccination centre. Vaccinations are already available from more than 1,000 GP-led services, over 200 hospitals and a growing network of large-scale NHS Vaccination Centres, with a further 32 Vaccine Centres to start delivering vaccinations this week.

Sunday music spot: Bach's "Gloria in excelsis Deo" BWV 191

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Evidence from Israel on the effect of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID - 19 vaccine

Britain's record on getting people vaccinated against COVID-19 is one of the best in the world with more than 5.38 million people - more than one in ten adults - now having had at least one dose of the vaccine and the daily rate up to 285 jabs a minute (Britain vaccinated 478,248 people in the 24 hours prior to today, Saturday 23rd January, with a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.)

The best progress in the world has been made by Israel, which had vaccinated 10% of it's population by the end of December and is now up to 30%.

So naturally everyone is watching Israel for signs that this programme is bringing the infection rate down.

And although it is far too early to break out the champagne, the very early signs are encouraging.

Tracking of people over 60 in Israel who had the vaccine between 19th and 24th December suggests that although it took two weeks for any effect to start to show, thereafter there is a decline in infection rates in line with the clinical trials for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine compared with a control group.

As I say, too early to break out the champagne, and we all need to remember when we have the vaccine that it will take two or three weeks to start providing protection, but at least this result provides hope that the world's long nightmare may be about to start coming to an end.

Daniel Johnson on whether Britain is becoming a police state

The accusation has been made in a number of places - including the comments section of this blog - that Britain is becoming a police state.

In all candour, if some of the measures which the government has been forced to adopt to try to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic had not provoked vigorous debate including people asking that question, I would have been worried. 

When we have the vast majority of vulnerable people vaccinated and cases and deaths right down - and certainly not in the present situation where Britain is experiencing nearly as many premature deaths due to COVID-19 every day as we usually lose to road traffic accidents in a year - we will need to make sure that the powers and measures taken to deal with COVID are scrapped. But we are not in the situation where it would be anything other than utterly reckless to do that yet. Scrapping those measures now would cost tens of thousands of lives.

There is a good piece on the subject by Daniel Johnson, "Is Britain becoming a police state?" which you can read on "The Article" website here.

Saturday music spot: "Winter" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

Quote of the day 23rd January 2021

“We have steel processes, we have industrial processes which use coking coal and if we don’t have sources of coking coal in the UK we will be importing those anyway.”

(Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng explaining why the government did not call in the West Cumbria Mining application for a new coal mine, much of which is in the area I represent.

When some the words he used immediately after this about a "slight tension between the opening of this mine and our intention to decarbonise” are quoted out of context - as they usually have been, often without the word 'slight' either - they can be and have been presented as an admission that the government had decided to take no account of whether the mine will have an environmental impact. When the words are read in context this is clearly not the case ) 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Vaccination is proceeding at pace but here is an important reminder:

Even after you have had your COVID-19 vaccination - and even more so when you have only had one of the two - you still need to follow the social distancing rules.

Protecting people against flooding, continued

Yesterday the Environment Secretary chaired a further COBR meeting to co-ordinate the ongoing national response to Storm Christoph, helping to protect homes and properties from flooding, keeping families and communities safe.

  • The government continues to do everything possible to be fully prepared for the risk of flooding across the country, which can cause misery and stress for communities already suffering under Covid-19.
  • That is why yesterday the Environment Secretary held a further COBR meeting to review extensive plans in place to mitigate against any damage and to protect homes, and the government is working around the clock to support the Environment Agency who are on the ground now working with local partners and stand ready to respond to any flooding.
  • The government remains committed to tackling the risk of flooding, and will continue to push on with a £5.2 billion programme of investment in flood and coastal defences to protect 336,000 properties over the next five years

Vaccination update

OVER 5.4 MILLION vaccination doses have been administered so far across the United Kingdom.

On 20 January, a record 363,000 people received their first dose of the vaccine. This means that almost 5 million people across the UK have now had at least one dose of the vaccine, including over half of over 80s and care home residents, and about half a million have now had both doses..

Britain has vaccinated more people than Germany, Italy, Spain and France combined.  

Only two countries – the United States and China – have vaccinated more people than the UK. We have administered almost four times as many vaccinations as Germany and only 1.5 million less than the entire European Union combined.

 Britain is currently the fourth country in the world for vaccinations per capita. Only Israel, the UAE and Bahrain have vaccinated more people per capita than the UK.

 New vaccination sites are coming onstream every day as part of the Vaccine Delivery Plan to ensure every community is within 10 miles of a vaccination centre. Vaccinations are already available from more than 1,000 GP-led services, over 200 hospitals and a growing network of large-scale NHS Vaccination Centres, with a further 55 pharmacies, a cinema and a mosque all due to begin providing vaccinations this week.

Skills for Jobs

Yesterday the government launched a new Skills for Jobs White Paper, setting out landmark reforms designed to revolutionise post-16 education and reshape the training landscape to help our country build back better.

  • As we recover from the pandemic, the government is determined that everyone, no matter their circumstance or background, should have the opportunity to develop the skills they need to secure a good job.
  • The new Skills for Jobs White Paper demonstrates an ambition to deliver a first-class further and technical education system on par with Britain's world-leading universities, and by enshrining our landmark Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we are setting out the blueprint for a post-16 education system that will give everyone the opportunity to gain the skills and training that our economy need.
  • By investing in colleges, training providers and apprenticeships, this will put skills at the heart of plans to build Britain back better, as the government continue to deliver on the promise to level up opportunity across the country.

This is not the time to hold house parties

The great majority of the British people have behaved sensibly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, some have not.

In normal times it would be wrong for parliament to try to stop people attending parties but these are not normal times. There is a material risk that such parties could cause avoidable premature deaths.

That is why it was, sadly, necessary for the Home Secretary to announce yesterday that anyone attending a house party of more than fifteen people will be fined £800 from next week, ensuring our police have the powers they need to enforce the rules, to help stop the spread of the virus.

  • Whilst the vast majority of the British people are following the rules and staying at home, there are still a small minority who refuse to do the right thing, and the government and police have no choice but to crack down on serious cases of rule-breaking.
  • That is why the police have asked the government to introduce a new £800 fine for those attending house parties, which will double for each repeat offence to a maximum level of £6,400. These fines will apply to groups of more than fifteen people, with people gathering in groups of fifteen or fewer remaining subject to £200 fines that rise if the offence is repeated.
  • Our frontline police officers deserve our full backing – and these new powers will ensure they can enforce the rules so that everybody stays at home, to protect our NHS and save lives.

Quote of the day 22nd January 2021

"Some things are believed because they are demonstrably true. 

But many other things are believed simply because they have been asserted repeatedly—and repetition has been accepted as a substitute for evidence."

(Thomas Sowell, American economist)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Thursday music spot: "Salvator Mundi" by Thomas Tallis

A wonderful performance by The Sixteen.

Response to Flooding

Yesterday, the Prime Minister chaired COBR to help co-ordinate the national response and support communities at risk of flooding following heavy rainfall and has urged people whose homes are at risk to vacate their properties if they are advised to do so.  

  • The emergency services and the government are doing everything possible to ensure we are totally prepared for the risk of flooding across the country, which can cause misery and stress for communities already suffering under Covid-19, and have been clear that people temporarily staying with family or friends due to flooding will not be in breach of the lockdown rules.
  • The Prime Minister yesterday held an emergency COBR meeting to ensure plans are in place to mitigate any damage and protect homes, and we are working around the clock to support the Environment Agency who are on the ground now working with local partners and stand ready to respond to any flooding.
  • The government has invested record amounts in new flood defence schemes, better protecting hundreds of thousands of homes – with a further £5.2 billion of investment already announced – but regrettably it is impossible to eliminate the risk entirely and people should be in no doubt that the Government will stand behind them through this difficult time and ensure they have the support they need to recover.  

More Vaccination Centres open

From today, life-saving vaccinations will be delivered from more locations, from cinemas to mosques, as the number of sites providing jabs to people most at risk continues to increase.

  • The NHS vaccination programme, the biggest in the health service’s history, has got off to a strong start with our hard-working staff delivering more than 5 million Covid vaccinations.
  • Vaccinations are already available from more than 1,000 GP-led services and over 200 hospitals across the country, and as we accelerate our Vaccine Delivery Plan we are opening dozens of new sites – including a mosque, cinema and more than 55 independent pharmacies – helping ensure all parts are the country are well served.
  • As more vaccine supply comes online, we will be able to open even more sites helping us to vaccinate vulnerable people even faster, but it’s vital we do not lose our resolve: people must continue to do their part by following the rules to protect the NHS and save lives.

Tackling drug crime

Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced a £148 million investment to deliver a system-wide approach to tackle drug crime, helping protect communities across the country from its devastating effects.  

  • The government is determined to cut crime and make our streets safer, and is adopting a system-wide approach to take firm action against the scourge of illegal drugs, so as to tackle one of the key drivers of the violence that devastates communities and robs young lives.  
  • Building on recent success in combating county line gangs, the government is making an additional £40 million available to law enforcement to dismantle organised criminal gangs and cut off supply, bringing the total amount of taxpayers' money invested to £65 million, in order to bring to justice the dangerous criminal gangs who exploit young people.
  • The government is also committed to providing positive help to people trying to get off drugs, hence the launch of the £28 million Project Adder, a new intensive and localised enforcement approach to tackling drug misuse. This brings together police, local councils and health services. At the same time the government is promising an additional £80 million to support people into recovery for drink and drug addiction – which taken together represents the largest investment in drug treatment and support in 15 years.

PM congratulates Biden on his inauguration

The Prime Minister has extended his warm congratulations to Joe Biden on becoming the 46th President of the United States this afternoon, and Britain will work closely with his new administration as we defeat Covid and build back better from the pandemic.

In our fight against Covid and across climate change, defence, security and in promoting and defending democracy, our goals are the same and our nations will work hand in hand to achieve them. Britain looks forward to welcoming him to Carbis Bay for the G7 and Glasgow for COP as we join forces to protect our planet. 

Only through international cooperation can we truly overcome the shared challenges which we face.

Quote of the day 21st January 2021

"We've learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and, at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed. So now on this hallowed ground where just a few days ago violence sought to shake the Capitol's very foundations, we come together as one nation under God - indivisible - to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.

"As we look ahead in our uniquely American way, restless, bold, optimistic, and set our sights on a nation we know we can be and must be, I thank my predecessors of both parties. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. And I know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength, the strength of our nation."

"To restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy - unity. Unity. In another January on New Year's Day in 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper the president said, and I quote, 'if my name ever goes down in history, it'll be for this act, and my whole soul is in it'.

"I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal, that we are all created equal, and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism and fear have torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never secure."

"We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbours. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury, no progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America.

"If we do that, I guarantee we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we've acted together. And so today at this time in this place, let's start afresh, all of us. Let's begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another. Show respect to one another. Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war and we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured." 

"Here's the thing about life. There's no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days you need a hand. There are other days when we're called to lend a hand. That's how it has to be, that's what we do for one another. And if we are that way our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future. And we can still disagree."

(Joseph Biden, extracts from his speech at his inauguration yesterday as the 46th President of the United States of America)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Supporting Britain's fishing industry

Today the Environment Secretary confirmed that fishing businesses across the UK will receive up to £23 million in new funding to support those most adversely affected by the pandemic and to take advantage of the huge benefits of our trading relationship with the EU.   

  • Britain has taken back control of our fisheries. This will deliver considerable benefits in the medium to long term to fishing communities across the country, but there were always going to be changes for businesses and the government understands the unique circumstances our fishing sector faces.
  • That is why the government is providing up to £23 million of immediate support, which will help cover any losses incurred by the fishing industry since 1 January this year, up to a maximum of £100,000 per claimant, targeting small and medium businesses who can demonstrate a clear loss of exports to the EU as a result of delays and a lack of demand from the restaurant industry both here and across Europe. 
  • Separately, the Prime Minister has announced £100 million to help modernise both Britain's fishing the fleet and the processing industry, which make such a vital contribution to our coastal communities around the country.

Goodbye and good riddance

Donald Trump has left the White House for the last time as President and is flying to Florida.

I was never a huge fan of the Donald, but he has done more damage to his country, his party and his own legacy in the last couple of months after losing the election than he did in the previous four years - and his ungracious refusal to attend his successor's inauguration is typical of this.

It  has been said of a number of people starting with Charles I that "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it."

Similarly nothing in Donald J Trump's presidency became him like the end of it.

But the first statement was a backhanded complement indicating that King Charles died well.

The second statement is no kind of complement and meant that the end of Trump's tenure in the most powerful office in the world bas been a disgrace.

The world  will now be investing a lot of hope in the Presidency of Joe Biden. He faces a sea of challenges. Those who voted for him, those who voted against him, and friends of America looking on from other countries must all hope he succeeds in meeting those challenges.

Vaccination update 20th January 2021


Britain has administered over 4.7 million vaccination doses so far across the United Kingdom - to more than 4.2 million people - e.g. about half a million who have had both doses and about 3.7 million who will have some protection from having had the first dose once the effect kicks in after two to three weeks.

It is important to emphasise that having had one jab does not mean anyone can immediately act as if the virus has gone away - it takes time for the immunity to take effect and we all still have to be careful not to act in ways which might spread the disease to a vulnerable person who is not yet protected.


The NHS in England is vaccinating at a rate of 140 people a minute and we have now vaccinated more than half of of those aged 80 and over, and more than half of elderly care homes residents . 


Our priority remains vaccinating those in the top two priority groups. However, for areas where the vast majority of those cohorts have been vaccinated, they will now be able to move on to begin vaccinating the next two priority groups, including five million people aged 70 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable. 


The UK has administered more vaccine doses than Italy, France, Germany, and Spain combined. 


The UK is the third country in the world for total vaccine doses administered, behind the United States and China.

Quote of the day 20th January 2021

"According to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, we are now inoculating 300,000 people a day —more than twice the rate of Denmark, the second best European nation. Yesterday we passed the 4 million mark; Hancock claims that 50 per cent of the over-80s, those in care homes and other vulnerable people have had their first jab. Tom Whipple, The Times science editor, puts it another way: every 30 seconds another Covid patient is admitted to hospital in England, but during those 30 seconds more than 70 people will have been vaccinated."

"It is a truly national achievement, accomplished by countless thousands of ordinary people, paid and unpaid, medics and volunteers, professionals and amateurs — a veritable Dunkirk of the pandemic."

"Much of the credit for making the miracle happen goes to Hancock and his “minister for vaccination”, Nadhim Zadawi. But the idea of mass vaccination hubs is owed to Israel — the first country in the world to vaccinate three quarters of its over-60s, some 20 per cent of the 9.3 million population. After private talks with their counterparts in Israel, the British Government began multiplying mass vaccination centres and in just over a fortnight they have dramatically increased the rate of immunisation. Not everyone in the NHS welcomed the new initiative but its success has silenced any doubts."

"Looking back over the pandemic, it is now clear that initial fears of hundreds of thousands of deaths were no exaggeration. The second wave, driven by mutations, has been far more infectious and therefore deadlier than the first. And without lockdowns and social distancing to reduce its circulation, the death toll would have been far higher. These and other measures have almost certainly reduced the incidence of other infectious diseases too, so that the “flu season” has hardly registered this winter."

"Even though the NHS was incomparably better prepared for the second wave, with new treatments tipping the odds in favour of severely ill patients and equipment in plentiful supply, the hospitals are still under unprecedented pressure. A record 34,336 were being treated for Covid yesterday. Only now that the peak has been passed, and the vaccination programme is draining the pool in which coronavirus swims, can we see how close the NHS came to being overwhelmed in the last few weeks. And, as the PM admits, 'the situation is still pretty precarious'”.

"The vaccination programme is steadily defeating the coronavirus, by depriving it of its most vulnerable victims. It is far too soon to declare victory. It is not too soon to say that the worst of the pandemic is now behind us. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” wrote Dickens of the French Revolution. We can echo his mixed feelings — but not the conclusion of that long sentence: “…it was the winter of despair.” This is now the winter of hope."

(Daniel Johnson, extracts from a piece published yesterday on "The Article" site which you can read in full here.)

Next time someone tells you Britain's carriers have no aircraft ...

Here is a recent picture of HMS Queen Elizabeth, one of the Royal Navy's two new carriers, shared by the UK Defence Journal (@UKDefJournal) on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Tuesday music spot: Arne's "Rule Britannia." (Tenor: Edmund Barham)

Every Mind Matters

Public Health England has launched the a new nationwide Every Mind Matters campaign to support people to take action to look after their mental health and wellbeing and support those around them. 

  • Research has found that almost half of people in the UK feel that the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted negatively on their mental health and wellbeing. It is incredibly important that people look after their mental health and the PHE has launched a nationwide Better Health – Every Mind Matters campaign to help people do this.
  • The Every Mind Matters’ mental health campaign encourages people to get a personalised action plan with practical tips on how to support their mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of family and friends. The Every Mind Matters Covid-19 hub also includes practical tips for people on dealing with uncertainty, money and job worries and supporting others around them, as well as information for young people and parents and carers of young people.

Reforming the Prompt Payment code

Today the government has announced reforms to the Prompt Payment Code to crack down on delayed invoices owed to small businesses, providing them with further protections. 

  • Small businesses support millions of livelihoods across the UK and as with many businesses, many of them have been hit hard by the pandemic.
  • The government is overhauling and strengthening the Prompt Payment Code (PPC) to ensure that small businesses get paid on time by larger companies. Through these reforms, the time outlined in the current Code has been halved, meaning companies that have signed up to the PPC will have to pay small businesses within 30 days. Business owners, Finance Directors or CEOs will have to take personal responsibility in acknowledging that suppliers can charge interest on late invoices and that breaches will be investigated.
  • This will relieve some of the pressure on small business owners and will provide more assurance to our valued small businesses and further protections for the jobs and growth stemming from them.

Backing the Scottish fishing industry

The Prime Minister has announced a £23 million fund for the Scottish fishing industry.

  • The UK government has been working closely with the fishing industry to address the concerns they have raised recently and we will be setting out further details about this scheme in due course.
  • This funding comes on top of the £100 million package to help the fishing community take advantage of the full opportunities being an independent coastal state provides. The UK government has also provided the Scottish Government with nearly £200 million to help minimise disruption and guarantee business readiness now that we have left the EU.

Feeding hungry children

Yesterday the national free school meals voucher scheme opened to orders, allowing schools to purchase eGift cards for families to use at their choice of supermarkets, helping to support disadvantaged families through the coronavirus pandemic. 

  • With schools having to close, it is vital that we ensure disadvantaged children can continue to receive the nutritious meals they were used to receiving at school.  
  • The government is funding a national voucher scheme, allowing schools to place orders for supermarket gift cards for children who are eligible for free school meals. Schools will be able to send codes via email or gift cards in the post for vouchers worth £15 a week per child to eligible families. This gives schools another option for providing support, but they can also continue providing locally-arranged solutions or nutritionally balanced lunch parcels if this is preferred by the family.
  • Over the February half term, families will receive support from the £170 million COVID Winter Food fund, just as they did over Christmas, ensuring that the most vulnerable in society are supported at this time. 

Vaccination update

OVER 4.2 MILLION vaccine doses have been administered so far throughout the United Kingdom

They have been administered to 3.8 million people, four hundred thousand of whom have now had the two doses required for full protection..

The NHS in England is vaccinating at a rate of 140 people a minute and has now vaccinated over half of all over 80’s.

More five million people aged 70 and over, as well as those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable, are now being invited to come for vaccination.

The UK has administered more vaccine doses than Italy, France, Germany, and Spain put together.

Comparisons between several UK regions and other entire countries show how we are leading the way:

Here in the North West Region alone, more COVID vaccination doses have been administered than in the whole of France (and the South-West can say the same.)

The Midlands Region of the UK alone has administered more vaccines than the whole of Canada – so have the North East & Yorkshire.

The South East has administered more vaccines than France, Portugal and Sweden combined.

London and the East of England have each administered more vaccines than the entire country of Mexico.

Britain is making excellent progress in this vital part of the battle to end the pandemic.

Army to help deliver vaccinations in Scotland

The British Army will help to deliver the next stage of the vaccine rollout in Scotland by helping to identify and prepare 80 coronavirus vaccination centres across Scotland – helping to swiftly offer the vaccine to residents in every corner of our United Kingdom.

  • As we continue to rapidly increase the scale of our vaccine programme, it is vital that people throughout the UK have easy access to the vaccine and vaccination sites. 
  • That is why the British Army are deploying their logistical expertise to help identify and set up vaccination sites for NHS Scotland. Taking advantage of our military expertise will allow NHS Scotland and local authorities to prioritise the rollout of the initial 900,000 vaccine doses. 
  • This will ensure that easy access to vaccination sites is provided across Scotland as we continue to rapidly deliver the vaccine to the most vulnerable people at unprecedented speed, with one of the fastest vaccine rollout programmes in the world.

Quote of the day 19th January 2021


Monday, January 18, 2021

Copeland Local Committee - and Managing Radioactive Waste

A number of important things discussed at the Copeland Local Committee of Cumbria County Council today and I will probably report on more of them later on, but I want to focus on what will probably be the most contentious item - the issue of managing nuclear waste.

Before you say anything else about the issue of nuclear waste, from the perspective of people in Cumbria, it is really important to understand an extremely basic fact.

No matter how much you wish it was otherwise, Britain already has thousands of tons of waste material, including more than a hundred tons of Plutonium Oxide as a legacy of our existing and historical nuclear programmes.

And most of it is already in Cumbria.

Imagining that 116 tons of Plutonium and all the other nuclear material which is already here will somehow magically go away if you put up posters demanding that there should be no nuclear waste here, or worse, trying to sabotage any attempt to get a rational discussion going about how we can most safely manage the nuclear waste which we already have by vilifying anyone who takes part in a conversation about it is not just incredibly stupid but utterly irresponsible.

Sadly that is precisely what was allowed to stop the "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" programme a few years ago.

Now there is another attempt underway to look at how to best manage the nuclear waste which Britain already has. Cumbria County Council was invited to nominate a representative to take part in the working group which is looking at the issue.

We learned a few weeks ago that the Labour Leader of the council declined to respond to this offer. Previously the Copeland local committee asked if we could take up the place if he doesn't want it.

We were told today that the council has to decide and inform the working group whether they are going to take up the place before they can consider reallocating it. And that the matter was not brought to the Council cabinet for decision.

The council's local committees do have the power to refer an issue to Cabinet, so I proposed that we do so. This was unanimously passed.

Regardless of whether you agree with my views on nuclear power or whether you take a different view, it is absurd that the County Council should not even seek to be represented in discussion on something so vital to West Cumbria.

We should have locally elected councillors on that working group - from each level of local government - and reporting back to their councils about what is going on, and being held to account for their decisions in an open and transparent way.

Not to take part is a complete abdication of responsibility.

As vaccination rollout continues to move forward, part 2

Today Britain began the next stage of the vaccine rollout, as people aged over 70 and those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable are invited to book their vaccination.

  • The NHS has been working incredibly hard to vaccinate the first two priority groups recommended by JCVI, and now vaccination sites have the supply and capacity to begin targeting the next two groups.
  • From today, millions of people aged 70 and over and those clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 will be invited to get their vaccinations as the NHS begins roll out of the vaccines to these next two priority groups. In areas where a significant majority of priority groups 1-2 have been done, they can now move to priority groups 3-4.
  • We are on track to deliver vaccines to the first four priority groups by the middle of February, but at the same time we must all continue to play our part to stop the spread of the virus - helping us to save lives and protect the NHS.

As vaccination rollout continues to move forward:

The Health Secretary has thanked the public for their patience as the programme to rollout Covid-19 vaccinations continues apace, with over half of all over-80s now vaccinated, and set out three ways that everyone can contribute to the national effort - so that we can protect our NHS and our loved ones from the disease. 

  • After months of detailed preparations, rigorous scientific scrutiny, and an extraordinary amount of patience, Britain is are rolling out two highly effective vaccines - with a third coming soon - and are on track to deliver a vaccine to tens of millions of people by the Spring.
  • As Britain continues to ramp up our Vaccine Delivery Plan, with ten additional mass vaccination hubs opening today, the government is are urging people to contribute to the national effort in three ways: by helping people over 80 to access appointments; signing up to clinical trials that will help us defeat the disease and staying informed and sharing the latest official NHS vaccine advice.
  • The British public has contributed so much to the fight against the virus already, and by signing up to these three simple pledges, everyone can continue to play an important role helping us to defeat this disease, protect the NHS and save lives.

Venue for the G7 Summit

The Prime Minister has announced that the G7 Summit in June will be held in Cornwall – a region that is already a powerhouse for green innovation, providing an ideal setting for a Summit focused on tackling climate change and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

  • As the most prominent grouping of democratic countries, the G7 has long been the catalyst for decisive international action to tackle the greatest challenges we face. 
  • The pandemic is doubtless the most destructive force we have seen for generations and the greatest test of the modern world order we have experienced. As we approach the challenge of building back better from the virus and tackling the other global issues that unite all leading nations, Cornwall is the perfect location for such a crucial summit. 
  • We will use this summit to help the world build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, more prosperous future.

Monday music spot: "I need a hero" as music for the climax of "The Rescue," (Mandalorian season 2 Finale)

I've decided that "I need a hero" works even better as the background music to the climax of season 2 of "The Mandalorian" than it does for the climax of "Shrek 2" for which this version was recorded. 

The Mandalorian and his friends were trying to recue the kidnapped Grogu (a.k.a. "Baby Yoda") but they're now trapped on the bridge of an Imperial Cruiser and about to be attacked by an entire platoon of "Dark Trooper" battle droids. (Earlier in the episode the Mandalorian barely survived a fight with just one such droid.) Then a single X-Wing arrives ...

I am assuming most of those with any interest in Star Wars or indeed science fiction will already have seen "The Mandalorian." If you fall into that category - even if you hated the prequels and/or the most rec)ent films -but have not watched "The Mandalorian," you should, though in that case it might be wise not to watch this clip.

Quote of the day 18th January 2020

'Every 30 seconds across England, another patient is being admitted to hospital with coronavirus.' 

(NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

January meeting of the county council's local committee for Copeland

The January meeting of Cumbria County Council's Local Committee for Copeland will be held online tomorrow, Monday, 18th January, 2021 at 10.15 am.

The agenda, all the supporting documents, and a link to watch and listen to the meeting can be found on the CCC website by clicking on the link below:

Agenda for County Council Local Committee for Copeland on Monday, 18th January, 2021, 10.15 am | Cumbria County Council

Sunday music spot: "Let The Bright Seraphim" from Handel's "Samson"

The soprano in this excellent performance is Rowan Pierce: the trumpet is played by David Blackadder and the orchestral accompaniment is provided by the Academy of Ancient Music.

Christopher Snowdon responds to the extreme COVID-19 sceptics

Christopher Snowdon, who is a libertarian and works for a free-market think-tank, is not an automatic supporter of lockdowns. He thought the first one could have ended sooner, opposed the second one, and disagrees with, quote, "the likes of Piers Morgan and “Independent” SAGE who would have had us in lockdown all year if they’d had a chance."

He has spent most of his working life critiquing the excesses of the nanny state and he adds,

"I do not secretly harbour thoughts of creating a police state or bankrupting the economy."

Actually, I think hardly anyone does, but the accusation would make even less sense when made against Christopher Snowdon than it would if aimed against, say Boris Johnson (and I think anyone who makes it against Boris is losing it big time.) 

This makes it all the more powerful when he goes on to write

"Nevertheless, I don’t think it is necessarily a bad idea to prevent tens of thousands of people dying this winter from a disease for which we now have multiple vaccines. I had hoped that we could muddle through with local restrictions, but the emergence in December of an extraordinarily infectious new strain put an end to that. 

The number of COVID cases doubled in the first half of December and doubled again in the second half. Much of London, Kent, and Essex seemed impervious to even the stringent tier 4 restrictions. We did not need a model from Imperial College to see which way this was going. In London and the south-east, there are now more people in hospital with COVID-19 than at the peak of the first wave. There are more on ventilators too, despite doctors using mechanical ventilation less than they did in the spring. It is going to get worse for some time to come. 

We had to get the numbers down.

And so I reluctantly support this lockdown for the same reason I initially supported the first one, as a last resort. It seems to me to be the only way to ensure that everybody is able to access healthcare, whether they have COVID or not. As soon as it has achieved its goal, I will press for it to be lifted. I am fully aware of the social and economic havoc lockdowns cause. We will spend much of the remaining decade picking up the pieces."

His dissection and demolition of the arguments of the kind of extreme COIVD-19 sceptics who have been demonstrating outside hospitals and pretending that the present wave of COVID infections isn't happening is all the more powerful because it comes from someone who would have been instinctively inclined to support much of their position were there a shred of justification for it.   

His piece, "Rise of the Coronavirus cranks" does not pull any punches (as you can probably gather from the title") and is well worth a read. You can find it here.

Quote of the day 17th January 2021

"We’ve given over 3.5 million vaccine doses to protect against COVID-19, with over 324,000 doses yesterday alone.

Thank you to everyone who is helping in this fantastic national effort. Help our NHS by staying at home to save lives."

(Tweet from Boris Johnson,  Saturday 16th January, referring to the number of vaccinations issued on Friday)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Quote of the day 16th January 2021

“The conduct of the First Minister of Scotland must, however, be beyond reproach.”

(John Swinney MSP, who was then leader of the SNP, in 2001, referring to a Labour first minister. Today Swinney is Deputy First minister of Scotland.)

This gives rise to some difficulty for Mr Swinney, who much more recently described serious allegations by former SNP First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond against the present SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as "total nonsense."

Swinney is in a bit of a difficulty either way. Had he accepted the charges Alec Salmond is making, then he would be agreeing that the present First Minister of Scotland's behaviour is very far from being above reproach. He doesn't - so instead he is effectively accusing the former First Minister, who he tried to make leader of an independent Scotland not all that long ago, of smearing his successor.)

Another fraudulent message

I have been called not once but twice today by a recorded message claiming falsely to be from "BT internet department" and threatening to cut off my landline and internet service.

If you get such a call, HANG UP, do not press any buttons on your key-pad, ignore the message and do not return the call.

This message is not from BT.

BT would never contact customers in this way.

This message is from fraudsters and crooks who are looking for a way to rob you.


Friday, January 15, 2021

Review of Children's Social Care

An independent review of children’s social care has been launched today, delivering on the Conservative manifesto promise to look at the care system in order to make sure children and young adults get the support they need.

  • We want to tackle the problems that mean the children’s social care system is not always delivering a better quality of life and improved outcomes for those it is designed to help, despite the best efforts of hardworking and dedicated social workers.
  • Led by Josh MacAlister – the founder of social work charity Frontline – our bold and wide-ranging review will aim to raise the bar for vulnerable children. The review will reshape how children interact with the care system and will address major challenges such as the increase in numbers of looked after children, the inconsistencies in children’s social care practice, outcomes across the country, and the failure of the system to provide enough stable homes for children.
  • We want to radically reform the system and support the most vulnerable children so they experience the benefits of a stable, loving home – improving their life prospects and ensuring they are not held back from the futures they deserve.

Further update: making sure children are properly fed

The Prime Minister has thanked Marcus Rashford and others for their letter regarding children’s food provision – and will respond shortly.

  • It is fantastic that these people are so passionate about children’s nutrition – and, as Marcus Rashford points out in his letter, we share the same goals in ensuring all children have access to enough healthy, good quality food. The Prime Minister spoke to Marcus Rashford earlier this week. He will consider the requests of the letter and respond in due course.
  • As children are learning from home, the government has taken steps to maintain support for those children who would’ve received free school meals through vouchers and food parcels. The government has also put in place the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme, to help families pay for food and bills – including through the February half term – alongside the Holiday Activities and Food Programme, which is now expanded to £220 million. 
  • This is in addition to £280 billion of economic support, and steps are also being made to deliver targeted help to the most vulnerable in society, for example through the Universal Credit uplift.

School meals

The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have made it clear that some of the images of food parcels circulated online this week are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the high standard of free school lunches we expect for our children.

  • The government is committed to doing everything we can to ensure no child goes hungry during the pandemic, and the images of substandard food parcels we saw online earlier this week were completely unacceptable.
  • On Wednesday the Education Secretary met with leading food suppliers to make it clear in no uncertain terms that food parcels must meet the high standards we have set out in our guidance, so every child is in receipt of food which can be used to provide healthy lunches across the week.
  • We will continue to demand that the standards we have set out are adhered so every child eligible can benefit from a healthy and nutritious lunch while they are learning at home.

Protecting our NHS

On Wednesday the Prime Minister warned that our NHS is facing enormous pressures from the new variant of COVID-19. 

This week, tragically we recorded the highest daily reported number of fatalities from Covid-19 in our fight against this virus since it first appeared almost a year ago. So health experts and the government are once again urging the British people to stay at home and save lives.

  • Our NHS is facing perhaps the most dangerous situation anyone can remember, and as the number of cases continue to rise at alarming levels, many hospitals around the country will be in real difficulties soon if we do not stop the virus in its current trajectory. 
  • In this perilous stage of the pandemic, we must all play our part by following the rules to help save as many lives as possible. Although we are all tired of living under restrictions, now is the moment we must find our collective resolve to support our NHS through this critical moment by following one very clear message: stay at home, protect the NHS and saves lives. 
  • Unlike last Spring we now have a clear way out, but as we roll out the largest vaccination programme in our nation’s history, none of us can allow these hopes to make us complacent in our continued fight against the virus.