More on covid pandemic 2020
July 4th – ‘Independence Day’ or Armageddon
With less than 24 hours to go before ‘The Great Relaxation’ how prepared is England to face the ‘new normal’?
‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.
How will people act in the relaxation of the lock down?
Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology Health Behaviour Research Centre Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, Radio 4, World at One, 23rd June;
Q. What is your understanding of how the public will react to the easing of the lock down on 4th July?
‘We’ll see a mixed response. There are people who, definitely, are nervous and rightly so, and not just because they are nervous people but also because they’re in a vulnerable group … and there will be others who will take the opportunity [to live a more normal life].
One thing that is really important to understand is that if the Government does decide … to reduce the social distancing level from two to one metres essentially what they are announcing is the end of social distancing. It’s not just the question of whether people have a choice, to decide whether they are going to go to the cinema, what this means is that employers will be able to, in effect, require people to come to work even if they don’t necessarily feel safe. There will be compulsion here and that’s something that needs to be taken into account.’
Q. Rightly nervous because they won’t be able to stay at home?
‘The reality is we still have something in the region of 3,500 new infections a day, which down the track is going to lead to 25 deaths a day at the current level, which is low, or we are considering it low, but without a test/track/isolate support system … there will be outbreaks and we’ll probably be quite slow to detect those outbreaks and act on them.’
People are essentially being put in a situation where they are having to manage risk without adequate information. For some people that will be fine, for others it won’t be.’
Q. You think the Government’s moving too quickly on this?
‘I think they are. I know it’s really hard news for people who want to open up businesses and so on but the reality is that without an adequate test/track/isolate system in place we are putting people at risk. Not to put too fine a point on it across the country lives will be lost. That’s a political decision and I understand why the Government makes that but they have to be clear about, transparent about, their reasoning. We haven’t seen the SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] advice, what they’re saying about this so that people can weigh it up and make their own decisions.’
Q. Isn’t it always going to be a balance of risk?
‘There will always be a balance of risk but we’re used to that in society. We still have more than 1,000 road traffic deaths a year, we have several thousand people a year dying of smoking. This is something that we’re used to but what we really need in a situation like this is good information on what the level of risk is and what is being done to absolutely minimise that risk and that’s what’s lacking at the moment.’
Q. Would you like to see the SAGE advice published as soon as possible?
‘Yes, I, and independent SAGE, and many other people, have been calling for this, for much greater transparency, not least because it’s not just for our edification but also because we need to be able to trust the decisions that the Government is making and if they say they are making this decision on a balance of risk versus benefits let’s see the evidence on what the risk and benefit is.
…. One of the problems is that some of us have felt that the kind of behavioural advice that we’ve been giving, it may be getting as far as SAGE but the Government hasn’t always been acting upon it. This is an example of that.’
Q. Professor Peter Piot has said that he would prefer to be a metre from someone wearing a mask that two metres from someone without. Is that part of the piece missing here?
‘That’s one relatively small part of it, to be honest. What he’s absolutely right in saying is that you have to look at the whole risk situation. For example, outside, when you’re passing people on the street or in a park, the risk is really minimal because you’ve got a lot of ventilation, the concentration of virus you will be exposed to is very low even if you’re right next to someone for a short period of time.
But if you’re in an enclosed space, with a lot of people with not necessarily good ventilation, then you’re risk is greater. So it’s a combination of time spent in a risky environment, how many people there are, how close they are and, potentially, face masks, if they are worn properly – which mostly they are not [my emphasis].’
Leicester locked down before it was unlocked
We are constantly being told that the Government ‘is following the science’. But when it comes to dealing with the covid pandemic there’s more than one ‘science’ – it’s just a matter of following those views which agree with the policies the Government wants to follow.
Much of what has developed in the last 100days/14 weeks/4 months has been very much a knee jerk reaction to events. The Government has tried to gauge what will get it the most support from the general population – their eye always being on the popularity polls.
But it has to be said that the Buffoon and his cronies have been spectacularly inept in dealing with the first major crisis since the General Election of last December. Witness the increasing number of U-turns in policy and the cries of despair and disbelief which inevitably follow in the wake of any of their decisions, witness the imposition of the 14 day quarantine for anyone entering the country and whatever ideas they might have of getting schooling back in some form or other, to mentuion just two.
That reaction also followed the re-imposition of restrictions and the postponing of the greater relaxation on the lock down in Leicester on 30th June.
Dr Nathalie MacDermott, Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics (Infectious Diseases), Kings College London, Radio 4, World at One, 30th June;
‘It’s crucially important to follow the data, in part to try and find a reason why we might be seeing an increase in cases in a certain area. For instance, it might be that there is a virus outbreak in a school or following a specific event, in that circumstance all of those individuals could be traced and asked to self-isolate at home. It then avoids the need to do a lock down of an entire region.
But if you have a situation where the case number is increasing and you can’t pinpoint an exact reason behind that, or there may be many reasons, or you can’t trace everyone who might be involved then you have to start considering implementing more stringent lock down measures.
That doesn’t necessarily mean introducing a full lock down but it might be, for instance, closing schools again if the increase is all seen in children of all ages or it might be not opening restaurants and bars because you’re concerned about the direction the trend is going in.’
Q. Where else should we be looking at the numbers to see how to get on top of this?
‘Everywhere should be looking at the numbers the entire time and monitoring the situation. But looking at the data that was in The Telegraph this morning [isn’t it strange that scientific commentators have to use a newspaper to get up to date information and not finding it from an official, Government source?] I would suggest that Doncaster would be the most concerning at the moment simply because the numbers have tripled from last week to this. The case number is relatively low anyway so a tripling isn’t that big a jump but obviously what we’re looking at is a trend.
What we want to understand is; is there a reason that we know of why the cases might have increased there or is there a general trend that we’re seeing and would further lock down measures be required in that area.’
Q. We’re still talking about low numbers, aren’t we?
‘Yes, but what we need to remember is that these are the individuals that presented themselves for testing. For all those that test positive there’s probably quite a big group behind that haven’t been tested who may well be also positive to the virus.’
Professor Carl Heneghan, Director Evidence-based Medicine, Oxford University, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;
Q. What does the evidence from across the world, that we now have, tell us about what we should do in Leicester, for example?
‘That’s a complex question. But firstly let’s say the first thing about deaths is that in March and April they went up very sharply in a number of countries – Italy, Spain, France and the UK, and in America but more so in New York. The death rate as we currently stand has diminished.
This is a radically different disease now than what it was a few months ago. About 6% of all people in hospital were dying then, now it’s down to about 1%. The key about lock downs is that it’s a very blunt tool and it should be used for one reason, and for one reason only – because the health system is becoming overwhelmed.
What we see in Leicester is an increase in the number of people coming forward for testing and an increase, but a small increase because we are at low rates, of the number of people with covid. I would say that right now [a lock down] is a very blunt tool and a mistake for us to be locking down Leicester. It’s a perfect opportunity to let the test and trace system start working. In fact we’ve seen a 30% reduction in the cases in the last week already – so it is having an effect.’
Q. You’re saying it has nothing to do with lock down or not?
‘What you are trying to achieve with lock downs is to preserve the health system because you’re being overwhelmed. This is a very complex disease and, in fact, when you do lock down people for a week or two you will increase the rate of transmission because we know the ‘attack rate’ in households is very high and in particularly multi-occupancy households it is high.
Let’s be clear. The system that we should be putting in place is a test and trace and working through the summer preparing for the autumn when we’ll see rates of respiratory infection go up. The current rate does not require a lock down.’
Q. If test and trace was working you would still have a situation of people isolating and have a higher incidence of the disease?
‘Let’s be clear. When we talk about respiratory infections through the summer some infection will have to circulate and it’s generally – in the summer – about 40/50 people per 100,000. In Leicester right now we’re talking about double that rate.
Now, in winter, we get up to rates about tenfold higher and we don’t close down areas. So what’s happening in Leicester is what we’ll see in most other areas, a slight spike, but the key is how you can control this by saying we’ll close whole cities.
This will be so difficult to do in London or Manchester, the real ‘super-cities’, that we need a different approach and we need to be very clear – what is it that defines the number of cases that the Government thinks we should shut down on.
At the moment it seems to be made up in a sort of ad hoc way.’
Allyson Pollock, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, formally Director of Public Health and Society, Newcastle University, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;
Q. Do you accept what Professor Heneghan is saying there that what we see in Leicester should have been dealt with by test and trace?
‘You’re absolutely right. The whole purpose of the lock down is to try and stop the transmission of the virus, that was the really important thing and it is a very heavy tool and that’s partly because the epidemic was rising. But by now, four months into it, we should now have a really effective test and trace system in place and that’s a very real anxiety that it’s taken four months and we still haven’t got evidence of an effective test and trace system.
That’s for two reasons. One is because the local Directors of Public Health and the Councils have not been receiving the data they need of the positive tests and the cases. And that’s essential to do effective contact tracing. What we know so far is that only just over half of all the cases this month that have been transferred to the test and trace system have given their contact details.
And another problem is we don’t know how many of the cases and contacts are actually going into self-isolation and quarantine and how easy or difficult it is for them to do that. That’s another part of the system that isn’t being monitored and about which we have no information. And that’s particularly important for Leicester.’
Q. It seems there was a large data dump but it didn’t include post codes. It seems the Councils have to sign up to data protection laws to be able to do that.
‘The data privacy is just a red herring. The fact is that the data was flowing centrally, they were being processed in an aggregate and what people need on the ground is the post codes, occupations, age and gender so they can actually map the places, and the clusters, in order to identify the community where the outbreaks are happening. That’s particularly important when you’ve got multi-generational households as you have in Leicester. This data was not being made available until 24th June and they are still not being made available in some local authorities.’
Q. If this was working properly would it mean local lock downs could be avoided?
‘Yes, if it was operating successfully, in combination with all the other public health measures, then you would be able to do this as has happened in Germany, in Switzerland. In Zurich recently they had an outbreak in a night club of 300 people who were asked to quarantine and actually they were monitored and supported because an important aspect of this is that it is very difficult to self-isolate if your financial situation, your housing situation, is precarious.
So the Government, again, needs to put in the support part of effective contact tracing and we have no knowledge of that and how it’s working.’
Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and formerly Health Policy advisor to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;
Q. You have written that the policy followed in the UK was a major over-reaction.
‘Yes, that was the experience that we had … during the avian flu epidemic. We got some dire warnings about dreadful consequences if we didn’t close down ports, if we didn’t shut down airports, if we didn’t engage in all the lock down measures we have followed this time. … We were told there would be seven million dead and, of course, it was very alarming and it turned out, of course, to be wildly exaggerated and luckily we did not respond.’
Q. Who were the warnings from?
‘Ultimately the WHO [World Health Organisation].’
Q. Essentially the same people who put out warnings about this disease [covid-19]. But this disease is more dangerous than avian flu.
‘It’s clearly worse but the lesson we learnt from that experience was that you have to be careful about applying the ‘precautionary principle’. Epidemiologists tend to operate very much on the ‘precautionary principle’ which basically says ‘if you’ve got no data, no information, you’ve got a dreadful risk of some calamity, it’s better to be safe than sorry’. Which makes a great deal of sense at the first stages but what it doesn’t take into account of are the costs involved and what you do when you’ve got a little more data.
We are now in the situation where actually we do have more data. … We do now know that infection rates in Leicester are incredibly low, it’s something like 140 out of 100,000 – which is 0.14%. This is a tiny risk … which I don’t think [as do a number of other people] are worth the costs involved in locking down the city.’
Q. Except we do know what the worse case scenario is, as we saw in Northern Italy.
‘That’s when there was a cost, or a certain advantage, to an early lock down which was trying to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and that was successfully achieved. We’re not in that situation now and it has got to a point when the blunt tool of a lock down is, essentially, too blunt, it carries the ‘precautionary principle’ too far and we ought to move to a much more targetted system of trying to curb the transmission of the disease.’
Q. You think it’s a mistake for the lock down in Leicester to be extended?
‘Yes, I certainly do. What we should be doing, and what we should have done from the beginning actually, is to concentrate on old people in care homes and hospitals. Those are the principal routes of transmission and infection and are also the ones who are the most vulnerable.
… The fatality rate for under 45s is virtually zero so we should have been concentrating on the elderly and we should have been concentrating on the care homes. And that’s basically where the focus should be now.’
Q. And those people who refer to the experience of Sweden?
‘In Sweden they are making the point I’ve just made. What the experts in Sweden say is that the problem is in old people’s homes, its care homes and to some extent hospitals and that’s where the restrictions should be more generally applied and not in a blunt fashion, city wide.’
Once it was clear that infection and deaths rates were particularly high in care homes (not really a surprise when it was known long before the virus hit the UK that the elderly were much more at risk, especially those with other underlying health conditions) there had been a call for more support to that sector, especially in the region of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and regular testing of both staff and residents.
When it came to testing I thought that had been resolved some time ago, but no. This will only take place from the start of next week. Why does everything always take so long?
On 3rd July results of a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), about fatalities in care homes, showed that there were 29,000 ‘excess deaths’ over the five year average since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in the UK – full, downloadable report
Nadra Ahmed, Chief Executive of the National Care Home Association, Radio 4, World at One, 3rd July;
Q. What do you make of the ONS survey?
‘It’s an interesting survey … and what it tells us is that the people we knew had to be shielded from the very start, the services that needed to be shielded, were the ones that have had this enormous impact of the virus entering those services.
What it shows is, perhaps, at the very beginning, when we were being told that care homes were not going to be impacted [the report] blows a hole in that and that the impact was going to be substantial.’
Q. What is the lesson for the future and a possible ‘Second Wave’?
‘What we’ve learnt is that at the very start of this PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], which was not something we knew much about, was something we needed as a matter or urgency. [Care home] providers are now prepared, we need to ensure they have a good supply of PPE – it was all being requisitioned by the NHS at the point all this started.
The other thing is we have pushed and pushed and pushed to make sure that testing became available and we know, of course, today it’s been announced that testing will now be available in care homes but it should have been from the very beginning. It would have been one of the things that would have mitigated the challenge.’
Q. What about the point of agency staff and sick pay?
‘One of the things we have to remember is that coming into this pandemic there were already 122,000 vacancies in our services. So the recruitment of care staff has been a challenge for the past decade at least, if not longer. The image of social care has been such that we don’t have a professionalised pathway and then, of course, there’s the matter around the low pay bit, which is the National Living Wage when I know many providers pay above that just in order to recruit. That led us to the fact that we were already using agency staff, which is why we’ve seen a growth of recruitment agencies for care staff.
As the pandemic hit and we started to see 20 – 30% of staff self-isolating, going off sick, the numbers were quite enormous. What we found was that people were transmitting from one home to another. A lot of homes tried to stop that by shutting the doors to agency staff.’
Q. What about sick pay? I have heard that people were going into work sick because they needed the money.
‘That’s something we would need to dig a bit deeper into. Because the majority of providers that we have spoken to have said that they were very keen, as soon as there were any symptoms, that staff went off sick.
The problem is the asymptomatic bit where people were continuing to work. Because we didn’t have the testing we didn’t know they had the symptoms.’
Q. The correlation is sick pay, isn’t it?
‘People [care home providers] were paying sick pay because they wanted people to come back and that’s why we will need to look a bit further into this. We’re required to pay Statutory Sick Pay so you can’t not pay sick pay if somebody goes off sick. ….
Q. Do agency staff get sick pay in the same way?
‘That depends on the agency staff. They should do. If you have a contract with an employer then you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.’
The Buffoon and his ‘Roosaveltian’ speech in Dudley, 30th June
About the inefficiency and inability of his Government to properly deal with the pandemic;
‘There are plenty of things people will say we got wrong and we owe that discussion and that honesty to the tens of thousands who have died before their time, to the families who have lost loved ones and, of course, there must be time to learn the lessons – and we will.’
A mea culpa but nothing about a promise of an investigation or a holding to account.
About how the Buffoon thinks the country will get out of the deepening economic crisis following their inefficiency and inability to deal with the pandemic in an effective and constructive manner;
‘I just serve notice that we’ll not be responding to the crisis with what people will call ‘austerity’ [then what would he call what has been forced on the British people in the last eleven years or so?]. We’re not going to cheese pare our way out of trouble because the world has moved on since 2008. We not only face a new but, in some ways, a far bigger challenge.
… Next week the Chancellor will be setting out our immediate plan to support the economy through the first phase of the recovery. But this moment also gives us a much greater chance to be radical and to do things differently.
To build back better and to build back bolder and so we will be doubling down on our strategy – we will double down on levelling up [rhetoric with no substance, what does it actually mean? – just playing to his ‘core’ audience].’
… This Government is not just committed to defeating coronavirus. This Government is determined to use the crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades [three decades which are a result of the fundamentalist, monetarist policies introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s].
To build homes, to fix the NHS, to solve social care, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK, to unite and level up [all allowed to get worse under the previous Tory (and Labour) Government’s. If these services and social policies had been strengthened the country would have been much more able to confront the problems caused by the pandemic].
And to that end we will build, build, build. [Although often misquoted, Danton has a lot to answer for. Every pretentious politician in Britain seems to think they have to repeat one word three times at least once in their miserable political lives – and often more than once.]
Build back better, build back greener, build back faster!’ [This one’s down to Aristotle.]
Britain, covid-19 and poverty
Just as Trump has done the most for the Black population of America since Lincoln, the Buffoon claims that the Tories have done the most in the last ten years to reduce poverty in the UK. How true is that?
A report from the Resolution Foundation, published on 9th June, shows how the pandemic (and the lock down) has had an impact on families throughout the UK – the brunt of the negatives being taken by the poorest in society.
Things also don’t look so good for those in the 50s and 60s – the next generation of retirees.
And the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that things are getting worse for poorer families with children. The Foundation also published ‘diaries’ of four different so-called ‘key workers’ and the problems they are having just getting by during the covid pandemic.
The Resolution Foundation also produced a report on the prospects for youth unemployment.
Another report, this time by the Social Metric Commission, shows that the UK has seen a 39% rise of those living in ‘deep poverty’ – meaning their income is at least 50% below the official breadline.
Test, track, trace and isolate – perhaps
Testing was the key to getting on top of the covid-19 outbreak. That was universally agreed from the very beginning – even before the first cases were reported in the United Kingdom. However, the problem the British people have is the government they ‘democratically’ elected to manage such situations – at almost the same time as the first reports were coming out about a new and not understood virus – has quickly proven itself to be one of the most inept in history.
What the Buffoon and his gang has never understood is that if you wish to win any war – and the statements made about this pandemic have been replete with military analogies and language – then first and foremost you need a strategy. There has not been, there is not now and, in all probability, there will never be one in place.
When the decision was taken, way back on the 12th March, to end testing and to go for the lock down approach that shouldn’t have meant that testing was just forgotten. A ‘task force’ [even I’m getting into the military terminology] should have been set up so that when testing was restarted the infrastructure needed to make it truly ‘world beating’ was actually in place. No such force was set up, the testing has been a shambles (to say the least) and all decisions have been made based upon what was seen as the best way to deal with a particular crisis. In management/politician speak ‘there was no joined up thinking’.
And as the independence day/end of the world as we know it approaches, whose success will very much depend upon the testing regime in place, there have been a deluge of articles, reports and commentaries on the perilous state of the testing system which is being provided in one of the richest countries in the world.
The story that has been unfolding in the last seven or so days can speak for itself.
This one from the beginning of the restarted test, trace, track system – mainly to remind people of how the system is supposed to work and also why sometimes it doesn’t – or hasn’t.
This one goes back a couple of weeks but hasn’t been reported here before so worth adding. Issues over supply of necessary material, from Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ventilators, have bugged the battle against the pandemic from the beginning. To that list can now be added testing kits.
You would have thought that the Government was aware that not everybody in this country has access to a private vehicle and the placing of drive in testing sites on the outskirts of major towns made it virtually impossible for a huge proportion of the population to take advantage of the facilities. ‘Walk-in’ testing centres, a whole 6 of them, were announced more than three months AFTER the lock down was declared.
One of the impacts of a ‘not fit for purpose’ testing regime is that it doesn’t inspire confidence and in the climate of fear that has been created in the last three months those anxiety levels are likely to increase.
You would also have thought that with all the publicity about potential covid-19 carriers being released into the community without first being tested (and probably/possibly one of the main causes of the spread of the disease in care homes) that by the beginning of July this wouldn’t be happening. Not in Hertfordshire it seems. And where else?
And, not surprisingly, it’s more than likely that the poor testing system has cost lives.
And will the testing regime be robust enough to deal with any potential ‘second wave’?
What has been like working in one of the testing laboratories? Again a sign of lack of planning.
That’s the way to do it. Instead of just talking about being ‘world beating’ the UK Government should have been learning from elsewhere. Germany can do it well, why can’t Britain?
The app that never was – or ever will be?
There might be a working app in Britain – whether it talks to the ones used in any other country is another matter – before the arrival of the next pandemic (or even the one after that) but whenever it arrives there will still be issues over privacy and who does what with what information and for how long. Perhaps worthwhile bearing this in mind. As stated before states are quite adept at using ’emergencies’ to introduce policies and practices ‘under the radar’ or under the pretence that it will only be temporary. Once such practices are entrenched they are very difficult to get rid of – the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
‘Immunity passports’ rise their heads – again
This idea has been around since the beginning of the pandemic and not just in Britain. It ties in with both the testing regime and the use of a Smartphone app and starts to become complicated as it starts to divide societies into people who can do certain things and those who can’t. And when it crosses borders it determines who can travel and to where.
The desire of States to know as much as possible about their own citizens – as well as those of other countries – it’s almost certain that some sort of system will be introduced in the coming months/years. But it comes with its own problems – not least it’s unlikely to do what it promises, that is proving that the carrier is no longer a threat from transmitting the disease.
And as if we didn’t need any other divisions in society these ‘immunity passport’ could potentially create an ‘antibody elite’ – as well as providing opportunities for fraudsters and gangsters.
Devolution means the need to do things differently
The nationalist continue to follow their ‘independent’ course. The most recent decision of the Scottish variety is making the mandatory use of face covering in shops north of the border.
The problem of ‘symptomless transmission’
Away from the best measures to deal with the pandemic the covid-19 showed itself to be tricky and the virus was able to spread more widely as the concept of symptomless transmission was difficult to accept in many countries.
Does ‘symptomless’ possibly indicate increased ‘herd immunity’?
The lack of a vaccine definitely makes the idea of herd immunity very attractive to speed the return to normality (even though a ‘new’ one). In a way that makes those locations (be it cities or countries) with high infection rates possibly those locations with a greater herd immunity, so suggests a study from Sweden.
Not protecting the NHS for ever
With so many billions of pounds being thrown around it’s difficult to keep track – and that’s what the Government wants, to confound people with numbers. Now that the pressure has been taken, somewhat, off the NHS the Tories start to show their true colours and what they give with one hand they take with another.
A quote from the Buffoon when he was released from hospital at the beginning of May;
‘We are making progress in the national battle because the British public formed a human shield around the country’s greatest national asset – our National health Service.’
Schools returning in September
This is another to watch. The so-called ‘guidance’ published at the beginning if July, will without a shadow of a doubt, go through so many revisions before September that it won’t be recognisable in two months time. Just an example that even when the Buffoon and his gang make a decision it is so badly thought through that has to be changed beyond so much it’s really a new one – something that could have been avoided if all the plans of how the Uk comes out of the lock down were part of an overall strategy.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union, Radio 4, World at One, 2nd July;
Q. One of the concerns of the unions has been safety. Are you re-assured by what you’ve read in the guidance?
‘We need further re-assurance, both from Public Health England (PHE) and SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies]. That re-assurance is in two areas.
… It’s important that SAGE tell us explicitly that they have modelled what the guidance is in practical reality, what the effect of that would be on transmission networks. We are talking about big groups of children where there is no social distancing. Within a class of 30 there won’t be any social distancing, in reality our classrooms aren’t big enough for us to allow it.
In Secondary Schools that will often be that group of 30 within a year group of 280/330, so they are very big groups. It would be important for public confidence for SAGE to say that they have modelled that.
The other form of re-assurance that SAGE needs to tell us about is the question of vulnerable parents and vulnerable staff. If you are a member of staff, a teacher or a support assistant, who is on the clinically vulnerable list … certainly in a primary school you cannot do your job and stay socially distant from the children. Teaching assistants there work alongside the children so if they are clinically vulnerable what do Public Health England and SAGE say about the level of risk for that person? Obviously it depends upon the level of the virus within society
The same thing in Secondary Schools for clinically vulnerable people. The Government is saying ‘try to stay two metres away’ but you’re in a class of 30, it’s quite an enclosed environment, often with not very good ventilation. Thirty children who aren’t socially distancing, who are meeting lots of people during the day, those things we need re-assurance on.
We want children to go back, we want the virus level to be lower in September so that makes it possible but the Government does need to work on re-assurances.
That needs to be about practical reality because this idea of big ‘bubbles’ which can be distant from one another at break time, at lunch time, that feels like it’s quite an organisational challenge in a big school.’
Q. Do you think the ‘bubbles’ are too big?
‘Yes, we do. We prefer a situation where there are lower numbers of children in the ‘bubbles’. That’s why we’ve been arguing, from earlier on, that they might need to have to look for extra classrooms, ‘Nightingale’ classrooms. We’ll have to bring teachers back who have left the profession, mobilise supply teachers.’
Q. There are many challenges. Is there anything that can fully satisfy you on the matters you are raising?
‘We absolutely recognise that there’s a balance of risk in this. There are risks with children being at home. We want children back at school. As the virus level drops then obviously the balance of risk shifts in favour of children being at school.
But there are people with particular risk factors. … If you’re a 55 year old man from a Black background, then you’re at more risk than other people. So the idea that some teachers should be doing work that is supporting children who will still be at home and other teachers being brought in to teach the classes. That doesn’t seem to me to be an unreasonable thing to ask about. That does give you, then, a graded way of looking at the level of risk. It’s not the same for every teacher, it does depend upon the vulnerability that you have as an individual.’
The fact that children have been out of school for a few months is bad enough – the fact that when they return they could be receiveing a much worse education is another. Due to lack of imagination and will instead of confronting the problems of a return to proper full time education it seems that too many are looking to reduce the provision to make a basic return easier to manage. The curriculum could be altered for most children and the guidance is far from clear on how matters will progress in September.
And in a demonstration that Government ministers don’t understand that the idea of local schools is a thing of the past and far too many children have to travel long distances every day the plan that they should find alternatives to public transport is laughable – if it wasn’t so serious.
Quote of the week
Buffoon at Prime Minster’s Questions, Houses of Parliament, Wednesday 24th June;
‘ … [Starmer] has been stunned by the success of the tracking operation … [that it was] a formidable achievement … [in response to the UK app failure] no country has, so far, developed a successful tracing app … [and it] got up much faster than the doubters expected.’
More on covid pandemic 2020