Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sunday Music spot: "Glory to thee, my God, this night" (Thomas Tallis)

Trade with Pacific nations

Today, one year after our departure from the EU, the UK has formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – a trading partnership that accounts for £9 trillion of trade and provides access to some of the fastest-growing markets in the world.

This demonstrates the UK’s ambition to champion global free trade and bringing enormous economic benefits for the people of Britain.

  • As Global Britain looks to continue to grow our economy and build back better, joining the CPTPP presents the next opportunity for UK companies to deepen ties with the fastest-growing markets in the world.
     
  • That is why the UK has formally applied to join the CPTPP, which covers a market of around 500 million people and generates 13 per cent of the world’s income. By joining this fast-growing free trade area, we will be able to support and create high-value jobs across the UK.
     
  • Britain is seizing the opportunities presented by Brexit to extend new friendships and partnerships across the world, supporting our companies with lower tariffs and increased access to exciting new markets.

Vaccination update

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.

Flag of England
549,943
Flag of Wales
25,299
Flag of Scotland
23,055

(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.

Quote of the day 31st January 2021

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

Saturday music spot: The Seekers - Morningtown Ride

Matthew Parris: Don't wreck England to foil Sturgeon

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,

"Don’t wreck England just to foil Sturgeon"

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."

Hard.

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.

Helping former prisoners to go straight and stay off the streets

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.

  • Releasing prisoners without addressing why they ended up there in the first place, only leads them to re-offend and causes more harm than good. 
     
  • These new funds will be used to support prison leavers at risk of homelessness getting them into temporary basic accommodation, giving them the foundation for a crime-free life. The funding will also provide the provision for more close supervision of prison leavers - boosting public safety, tackling homelessness, and cutting crime. 
     
  • By tackling re-offending at its roots, we can not only tackle crime before it happens but also potentially save billions for the taxpayer while preventing thousands of people becoming victims.

Quote of the day 30th January 2021


 

Friday, January 29, 2021

AstraZeneca and the EU

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.


POSTSCRIPT

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."

Novonax vaccine clinical trial results

Last night Novavax published the results of their latest vaccine trial – showing this vaccine to be around 90 per cent effective in preventing coronavirus, and being effective against new UK variant.

  • The results of this vaccine trial look extremely promising. If approved by the medicines regulator, the Novavax vaccine will be a significant boost to our vaccination programme and another weapon in our arsenal to beat the virus. 
     
  • In August the UK government moved quickly to procure 60 million doses from Novavax. The majority of this vaccine will be manufactured on Teesside and delivered during this year, if approved for use. We owe our thanks to the brilliant UK scientists, researchers and volunteers who took part in clinical trials. 
     
  • This news puts the UK at the forefront of yet another medical breakthrough against Covid. The NHS stands ready to roll this vaccine out as quickly as possible to those most at risk if it is authorised – helping us defeat this virus.

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.

To reduce disruption to the network Northern Gas Networks will also be working within the extents to carry out utility works, residential vehicular access between the closure points will be maintained through Norther Gas Networks working area.


Details of the extents of the closure and alternative route are available as follows: the relevant legal notice can be viewed at https://one.network/downloads/tm/1026/notice_67bdfab3fa.pdf and a location plan showing the extents of the road closure and diversion route can be found on one.network via link https://one.network/?tm=120498223


Location: Main Street, St Bees, from its junction with Outrigg extending in a southerly direction for approx. 120m. 


Alternative Route: A way for pedestrians and dismounted cyclists will be maintained at all times and a suitable alternative route for vehicles will be made available via the unrestricted section of the B5345 St Bees Road, A595, Mirehouse Road and the unrestricted section of Main Street.



Vaccination update

 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.



Friday music spot: Bach's Toccata and fugue in D minor BWV 538

Quote of the day 29th January 2021

 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

Quote of the day 28th January 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.)

Thursday music spot: Bach's Fantasia and fugue in G minor (BWV 542)

Two friends of mine who studied music told me years ago that they and their friends at college sang the fugue which is the second part of this lovely piece of organ music by Bach, referring to Ebenezer Prout who arranged many Bach fugues, to the words, 

"Oh Ebenezer Prout, 
 You are a clever man 
'Cause you make Bach fugues as easy as you can, 
'Cause you make Bach fugues as easy as you ca - a - a - a - an!" 

 Now I always remember those words when I hear it played!

Making more vaccination doses

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.

The best way to get more jabs into people's arms is to sort out the problems with the supply chain and make more doses faster. 

That is why the UK government has announced today that new large-scale coronavirus vaccine manufacturing will begin in Scotland, securing millions of vaccine doses for our country and supporting hundreds of highly skilled jobs in Scotland.

  • Through the Vaccines Taskforce, the UK has secured early access to 367 million doses of seven of the most promising vaccines so far – including 60 million of Valneva’s promising vaccine if it proves to be safe, effective and suitable in its clinical trials this year. 
     
  • The UK Government’s investment will support 100 new highly-skilled jobs for scientists and technicians at their Livingston facility – doubling the workforce, putting Scotland at the forefront of the UK’s fight against Covid-19, and boosting the UK’s resilience in dealing with current and future pandemics by establishing a permanent vaccine manufacturing base. 
     
  • This is set to deliver millions more jabs across our four nations, and is another example of the strength of our United Kingdom.

Fighting the pandemic together - we are stronger as one United Kingdom

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.

  • This pandemic has demonstrated, more than ever, how every part of our United Kingdom benefits from working together, it is clear that cooperation has been vital in supporting lives and livelihoods throughout this difficult period. 
     
  • In Scotland, the UK Government has delivered an additional £8.6 billion to the Scottish Government to tackle the pandemic, whilst also supporting one in three jobs in Scotland, and deploying our armed forces who are also helping to establish 80 new vaccine centres across Scotland. 
     
  • These actions show how the UK Government has been working tirelessly to support all parts of the country throughout the pandemic, so we are ready to build back better in the months ahead.

Fantastic news for West Cumbria as next phase of WCH development gets final approval

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

Special quote for Holocaust memorial day

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.



Midweek music spot: Purcell's Rondeau (from Abdelazer) performed by Voices of Music.

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.

Getting young people into work

Today the government announced new funding to help businesses get young people into work boost job creation and ensure more young people can gain the skills they need to progress in their careers as we build back better from the pandemic.

  • The government's top priority after protecting the NHS and saving lives has been to support, protect and create jobs throughout the pandemic and we want to give businesses of all sizes an incentive to create more trainee opportunities to give young people a vital route into work.
     
  • So new funding has been announced as part of the Plan for Jobs, offering firms a £1,000 bonus for every trainee that they take on, up to a maximum of 10 trainees. The programmes last between 6 weeks and 12 months, and focus on developing vital employability skills, alongside additional English, maths and digital skills. 
  • This is in addition to the apprentice scheme announced last year, which offers employers up to £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire, and our £2 billion Kickstart Scheme. 
     
  • As we build back better from the pandemic it is vital to help young people get the skills and confidence they need to progress as well as supporting businesses to create and fill more jobs up and down the country.

Opportunity for comment

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.

Condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one during the pandemic

The Prime Minister has issued his deepest condolences to all those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, and committed to honouring those who have lost their lives once we have come through the crisis. 

  • Deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one: fathers and mothers; brothers and sisters; sons and daughters and the many grandparents who have been taken.
     
  • When Britain has come through this crisis, we will come together as a nation to remember everyone we lost. We will also remember the courage of countless working people – not just our amazing NHS and care workers, but shop workers, transport staff, pharmacists, teachers, police, armed forces emergency services and many others – who kept our country going during our biggest crisis since the Second World War.
     
  • And when the vaccines have finally freed us from this virus and put us on a path to recovery, we must and will make sure that we learn the lessons and reflect and prepare. Until that time, the best and most important thing we can all do to honour the memory of those who have died is to work together with ever greater resolve to defeat this disease.

Quote of the day 27th January 2021

 A statement made by the PM yesterday.



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A terrible milestone

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.    

Tuesday music spot: Henry Purcell. Sonata for Trumpet & Strings in D major

Unlike yesterday's music spot this one really is by Purcell ...

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)