Sunday, January 31, 2021
OVER 8.3 MILLION people across the UK have now received at least one dose of vaccine
Britain has now vaccinated over 5 in 6 of the 80s and 2 in 3 of the 75-79-year olds.
In the last week, Britain averaged over 350,000 vaccinations each day and we continue to scale up our capacity to deliver. Yesterday (Saturday 30th January 2021) the total number of vaccination doses given in the UK was 598,389.
(The remainder, obviously, were in Northern Ireland)
Only two countries – the United States and China – have vaccinated more people than the UK.
I have seen a report that Gibraltar has moved into the top spot for vaccinations per head but whether you count the rock as a country or not Britain is certainly one of the top four for vaccinations per capita.
This was the Sun Newspaper's leader on the superb work done by Kate Bingham as head of the UK's vaccines task force and a reminder that the Labour party and others on the left attacked her appointment because of who she is married to, suggested that the UK should have gone in with the EU vaccination programme (which has been a catastrophe,) etc, etc, etc ...
Saturday, January 30, 2021
I used to have a great deal of time for former MP and current Times columnist Matthew Parris.
I confess that I have found myself agreeing with what Matthew writes much less often since June 2016 than was usually the case before that. The EU referendum was only the highest profile of a number of instances where, even though he and I may well have voted the same way, he has had more difficulty than I in coming to terms with the outcome of a ballot.
But when he is, in my humble opinion, right, Matthew's words are often really clear and powerful, and his piece in today's Times,
is very good indeed.
I take issue with him on just one issue - he writes that "a handful" of councils with elected mayors work well and most don't.
In my humble opinion it is the other way round. Several Metro Mayors like Andy Street and Ben Houchen are doing a fantastic job, most councils with a directly elected mayor are working far better than they would with a less accountable "leader and cabinet" executive and only a handful don't.
But the main thrust of Matthew's article is that, whatever options for further devolution may be made to satisfy the desire of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish people for more control over their own affairs, it should not included breaking up England.
I could not agree more.
I am totally in favour of devolving more power to LOCAL councils covering an area no larger than our present counties in a way which as far as possible respects bottom-up initiatives and reflects genuine local communities of interest, history and culture. I would love to see a metro mayor for Cumbria with real devolution to our county who can deliver some of the benefits Andy Street has brought to the West Midlands and Ben Houchen in Tees Valley.
I am totally opposed to imposing another level of politicians in England at the regional level governing what would inevitably be huge, remote and artificial regions.
When the last Labour government wanted to go down the road of Regional Government I will give them credit for putting it to the public (they undoubtedly thought they would win) starting in the North East which was then one of their strongest bastions of support and where they thought they had the best chance of getting it through.
The idea of an elected Regional Assembly was smashed to smithereens in the referendum - North East voters threw it out by not far short of four to one.
That was enough to kill the idea for a decade and a half. Three years later the government quietly scrapped the unelected regional assemblies they had set up as a precursor to elected ones.
But memories fade and perhaps a few people need reminding of how the voters of the North East reacted in 2004.
Matthew Parris writes
"Nothing would be better calculated than to galvanise an English identity than an attempt, in a panicky bid to coax Scotland into staying, to smash England into pieces.
So there are three words for those whiz-kids who would dismember England to win Scotland.
Don't go there.
Hit than idea on the head now."
With a big hammer."
I agree with Matthew.
By all means let's consider further devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - though it would be nice if the SNP government of Scotland had the guts to take responsibility for the huge areas of competence for which control and authority has already been devolved to them instead of constantly blaming the UK government for things they have been running and fouling up for years.
But the last thing we need is more regional government in England.
Those who have committed crimes and been convicted should be punished.
But once they have completed that punishment, it is not only right but in everyone's interests to help them go straight.
That's why the government has announced an additional £70 million to keep prison leavers off the streets – helping tackle homelessness, cutting crime and making our streets safer.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Where do we start with this one?
At first I thought the issues around the row between the EU and AstraZeneca over vaccines which a reluctant Britain has been dragged into was a classic case of sound and fury, and as so often happens, the hardline Brexiteers and hardline Europhiles both interpreting and misinterpreting the same set of facts to retrospectively fit the positions they took in 2016 and have held on to like grim death ever since.
But it rapidly became clear that this is not the case.
I will try to moderate my language in this post because I still think the advice from Alistair Burt which I quoted on my blog within the last 48 hours, urging caution on all sides and warning against harsh words, saying "learn fast and say less" was good advice.
For a start, it is increasingly clear that the EU's response has utterly horrified not just many moderate Remainers but a good chunk of those quite strong Remain supporters whose attitudes are not completely immune to evidence (and for the avoidance of doubt, there are people on both sides of the Brexit divide who are utterly proof against having their minds changed by the strongest evidence and others on both sides who are not.)
One of the most powerful early shots against the EU position came in a twitter thread from Robert Peston, former BBC Economics editor and now the Political editor of ITV, who I don't think many people would accuse of pro-Leave bias.
Peston explained that the UK not only got their orders in for vaccines three months ahead of the European Commission but used those three months to sort out the supply chain issues in advance. Peston quoted a "pro-EU source" at AZ as saying "I understand Brexit better now." Today he suggested that the EU strategy on the subject of vaccinations could be seen as an act of self harm.
Robert Peston's source is far from the only one who backed Remain but think the EU has got their response to the vaccination issue dead wrong. One member of my family who voted Remain asked me this evening "Have you seen that the EU have gone completely mad?"
Similarly The Economist magazine, which always tries to give both sides of any given story but very much came down on the Remain side in 2016 has published slightly different wordings of their report on the issue for different audiences here and here, but both essentially taking the view that for the EU to block exports of vaccines "would be a grave error."
Owen Jones wasn't impressed:
Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has weighted in this evening, tweeting that "Seeking to control the export of vaccines undercuts the EU’s basic ethics. They need to work together with others."
There are of course both right and wrong reasons to criticise the EU.
I totally understand why the EU Commission and member states are extremely upset that AstraZeneca are having trouble meeting their promised schedule for delivery of vaccines for which the EU paid up front.
I do not blame the EU in the slightest for pushing back when AZ informed them that they might only be able to supply 40% of the number of doses in the first quarter of 2021 which the EU had ordered and expected.
I don't even blame the EU for asking whether it might be possible to make up some of the shortfall with supplies from Britain (and, contrary to one of the falsehoods being put out by those who are trying to pretend that the supply problems in the EU are somehow Britain's fault, the UK government hasn't threatened to block any export of vaccines to our European neighbours - I read that "Downing Street declined to rule out vaccines being sent to the EU.")
Where I do blame the EU is,
- First, that their bureaucratic procedures added three months to the process of signing the contract for AZ vaccines compared with when Britain signed and when several member states including France and Germany wanted to sign up, leaving less time to sort out the supply chain issues, and
- Second, some Commission officials and continental politicians started talking the language of trade wars and threatening to block exports of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, to which Britain has every bit as much right as the EU has to the AZ vaccine for exactly the same reasons, as an opening move in the negotiations, not a last resort.
A vaccine war is very much against everyone's interests - especially those of the patients - and all sides need to work hard to avoid it.
And focus on sorting out the supply chain issues so that everyone can have enough vaccines.
I was quite surprised when reflecting on this issue to realise that I cannot remember a single instance between the 2016 referendum and this week when any of literally hundreds of attempts by hardliners on both sides to persuade me to shift my position on Brexit made me seriously consider doing so.
The Brexit side never once managed to make me wonder if I was wrong to vote Remain. The Remain hardliners never once managed to make me wonder if I was wrong to think that the result of the referendum must be respected and implemented.
I think the main reason for that is that virtually all those attempts, from both sides, were so arrogant and aggressive in their tone that they usually pushed me in exactly the opposite direction.
The Brexiteers still have not succeeded in making me wonder whether I was wrong to vote Remain. But this week, the EU did.
I am pleased to see that a few minutes ago, just after I posted this, the EU commission president tweeted
"Constructive talks with Prime Minister @BorisJohnson tonight.
We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities."
Main Street St Bees will be closed at the Oddfellows Arms from Monday 1st February 2021 for twelve days
A temporary road closure has been put in place to allow Cumbria Highways to carry out drainage works on a 120 meter stretch of Main Street, St Bees which are expected to commence next Monday (1st February 2021) and will probably take about 12 days to complete.
OVER 7.9 MILLION vaccination doses have been administered so far across the United Kingdom
In total, more than 7.4 million people across the UK have now had a least one dose of the vaccine, including nearly four in five of everyone aged over 80.
Only two countries – the United States and China – have vaccinated more people than the UK, and only a different two - Israel and the UAE - have vaccinated more of their residents per head of population.
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 1400 sites across England alone.
But remember: when you have had your vaccination, it will begin to greatly reduce your risk of suffering serious harm from the disease beginning after two weeks, but it will not instantly make you invulnerable.
We all still need to follow the rules.
Extracts from an Alistair Burt piece on "The Article" website:
"As someone who believed, voted and campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, and bears a certain number of scars for the effort, I think it would be retreating under fire if I said nothing about the current dispute over vaccines.
So, cards on the table first. The UK Government has played a blinder on vaccines."
"On vaccines and vaccinations, it appears as though many lessons of earlier difficulties were learned."
"By contrast, the EU response on vaccination has been poor. While its processes recognised the need for solidarity between richer and poorer nations, that admirable principle in itself seems to have got in the way of the more important one: just get hold of the bloody stuff."
"With a virus which is indiscriminate, if all are not safe, then no one is safe. Our weakest points are not European delivery chains, they are the neglected health systems of countries without sustainability. I wonder how the row over how we divide up the millions of doses of vaccines rolling towards us looks to those in the poorest communities in the world, who do not know in which year they might receive any vaccine at all?"
"I would advise caution on all sides."
"This is not a simple trade dispute. There are lives depending on the decisions being made, now and for some time to come."
Those, like Taiwan, who learned the lessons of SARS, understand what humility is in these circumstances. Learn fast, and say less."
(Rt Hon. Alistair Burt. You can read his full article here.)
Thursday, January 28, 2021
“We feared a Singapore-on-Thames; these ideas are turning us into Cuba-on-the-Seine.”
(A European diplomat wondering this week how the EU could credibly respond to protectionism by, say, India if it used export controls itself as a first resort in a scrap over vaccines.
As quoted in The Economist in an article on COVID vaccine delays which you can read here if you either register with them to read a number of free articles or subscribe.)
The worst possible way to attempt to deal with a shortage of vaccination doses is to engage in vaccination protectionism or to start a trade war, and some people both in the EU and in the UK need to tone down their rhetoric on this subject before they make matters worse.
Today the Prime Minister reinforced the importance of the strength of our United Kingdom in the fight against Covid-19, and underline the crucial role that cooperation across our country will play in building back better from the pandemic.
Anyone who regularly visits the West Cumberland Hospital (WCH), as I do, cannot have failed to notice that building works and preparations have been proceeding at pace as some of the older wings replaced in the first major redevelopments funded and signed off by the Coalition and Conservative governments have been removed in preparation for the construction of more new hospital facilities.
Yesterday it was confirmed that the £40 million investment plan for those new facilities has been approved, a fantastic development for West Cumbria.
A £40 million investment to deliver phase 2 of the WCH redevelopment has been approved by NHS Improvement. It will bring a huge upgrade in facilities for both patients and staff creating a better environment, retaining bed capacity and services for the site and improving the capacity to undertake additional planned operations in the future.
North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust has developed an ambitious plan to replace approximately 40% of the original structure at WCH and build upon the £90m phase 1 of the project which was completed in 2015 and on other developments since such as the improvements to A&E which have been taking place this month..
Demolition of the previous hospital buildings replaced by the new facilities which opened in 2015 has already been undertaken to make way for 60 inpatient beds, encompassing Elderly Care, Step Down facilities and End of life care. The plans also include a Short Stay Paediatric Assessment Unit, Assessment area and 7 inpatient beds.
The formal approval of the Outline Business Case is a key milestone in the project, and the next phase will be to further engage with staff and the community to develop final detailed designs for the Final Business Case (FBC) by the end of June 2021.
The Trust will hold virtual events for staff and the wider community to gather views and feedback on the plans.
Lyn Simpson, Chief Executive said:
“We’re thrilled that the outline business case has been approved by NHS Improvement and is a proactive step towards the next stage of development. This sends a very positive signal about the future of healthcare provision in West Cumbria and following an incredibly difficult year for our staff and the community, this news couldn’t come at a better time. The approval of the £40 million scheme will allow us to move forward with our ambitious plans for phase 2 of the build.”
People can find out more about the plans by visiting our website and can ask questions by attending our virtual meetings dates will be confirmed via our website in the coming days.
Work is now underway to develop the Full Business Case which will be submitted to NHS Improvement in June.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Seventy six years ago today allied forces liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau genocide camp.
To commemorate the victims murdered there and elsewhere in the Nazi Holocaust an all other genocides, 27th January has been designated Holocaust Memorial Day.
This evening everyone who is able to safely do so is encouraged to light a candle and put it in your window at 8pm as a symbol of remembrance of those who died. The theme for #HolocaustMemorialDay this year is #LightTheDarkness
Here is a quote which is particularly relevant to that theme, and was written in her diary bv someone who became one of the best known victims of the Holocaust, while she and her family were hiding from the Nazis. Most people reading this will probably know that she famous after her death when that diary was found and published.
OVER 7.3 MILLION vaccination doses have been administered so far across the United Kingdom
In total more than 6.8 million people across the UK have now had a least one dose of the vaccine, including nearly four in five of everyone aged over 80.
Britain is third in the world on both measures of vaccination rollout. Only two countries – the United States and China – have vaccinated more people in abosolute numbers than the UK. Only Israel and the UAE have vaccinated more people per head than the UK. And we are the only country in the world which is in the top three on both measures.
New vaccination sites continue to open every day as part of Britain's 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.
A further 33 vaccine centres have started delivering vaccinations this week, 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 jabbing 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.
I usually allow comments on almost all posts on this blog and usually allow them to stay up even if I strongly agree with them.
I didn't think that was appropriate on the last three posts because of their nature, although I did seriously consider trying to allow only signed comments rather than blocking all comments.
The reason for this is perhaps best captured by what the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, tweeted about the questions at last night's No 10 press conference:
He tweeted that "This press conference is unbearable. The 100,000 death figure is appalling, of course. But the parade of questions seeking to apportion personal blame to the PM and those working with him is a truly foul spectacle."
If you've got something constructive to say about how we can learn from these terrible events, of have any other constructive point to make, please feel free to post it in the comments below.
If you want to use a hundred thousand deaths to score a cheap point, please go away and grow up.
No government anywhere in the world has handled this perfectly. As a crowded island which is very exposed to international contact with a large elderly population which has a significant proportion of the population with weight problems and other pre-existing health conditions of the kind which we now know to be particular risk factors, the UK has been particularly vulnerable and I think we need to make sure our planning for any future pandemics must reflect this.
We should also recognise that those countries which did their pandemic planning based on models for diseases similar to SARS have done better than those whose pandemic planning used Flu as a template and plan on the future to be able to cope with arrange of diseases including those similar to each and similar to neither.
Did it have to be this way?
No, it could have been worse.
We will never know for certain what would have happened, had different policies been followed, but I suspect that if the government had acted on the advice of those who oppose all lockdowns, we might very well have had a quarter of a million extra premature deaths by now, or even more, instead of a hundred thousand.
On the other hand, had the government followed the advice of those on the opposite pole of the argument who, as Christopher Snowdon put it in the article I linked to on 17th January, "would have had us in lockdown all year if they'd had the chance" we might possibly have reduced the number of COVID-19 deaths but would have an even more badly devastated economy and even worse damage to the health and wellbeing from the effects of that and from the harm done by the lockdowns themselves.
There are are just no easy answers.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
The official measure of the number of deaths in the UK following a positive Coronavirus test has now passed a hundred thousand.
The number of excess deaths compared with the average at the same point of the year, which is probably the best measure of overall direct and indirect impact of the virus, passed the same terrible milestone a few days ago.
Every one of those death represents a life which ended earlier than it would have, and a devastated family and friends who have lost someone.
There are no adequate words to reflect the grief and regret that this represents for the families and friends of all who have died and for all of us.
We must all do all we can to bring this terrible pandemic to an end, ensure that we keep opportunities for the virus to be transmitted to an absolute minimum, and take the vaccine when it is offered to protect ourselves and others.
We will remember all who have died.
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.
Monday, January 25, 2021
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.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
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.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
"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)