Winging it

The COVID Diaries -67 3rd June

There seems to be a growing sense of unease among Conservative backbenchers in parliament about the performance of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The Labour leader Keir Starmer, by accusing Johnson of “winging it” and needing to “get a grip”, has successfully focussed on doubts that the government is sufficiently competent.

It increasingly looks as though the government is incapable of organising the proverbial p…up in a brewery, having bungled the timing of the lockdown, the distribution of personal protective equipment, the decision to stop community testing for the virus, the failure to produce a track and trace app, and now a belated quarantine for people arriving in the UK.

The sense of a government not in control of events has been exacerbated by Johnson’s sporadic absence and speculation he has yet to fully recover from his very serious bout of Covid-19.

Biden says “I won’t fan the flames of hate”

The COVID Diaries – 66 2nd June

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign appears to be on the move following a coronavirus-imposed lockdown.

Deliberately taking a positive tone in contrast to President Donald Trump’s inflammatory and confrontational approach to the racial unrest sweeping the US, Biden visited Philadelphia’s historic city hall, where he gave a high-profile, widely televised address.

Biden pledged to push for policing reforms, including a ban on the use of chokeholds like the one that resulted in George Floyd’s death.

The former vice-president is trying to draw a sharp contrast with the current White House occupant – both by making concrete proposals for how law enforcement should operate and in suggesting that Trump’s tone and attitude is ill-suited for the perilous moment in American history.

“I won’t traffic in fear and division,” Biden said. “I won’t fan the flames of hate.”

Schools not out so much!

The COVID Diaries – 65 1st June

From the BBC website this evening:

“Head teachers are reporting “highly variable” levels of attendance, ranging from 40% to 70%, as primary schools in England bring back more pupils.

Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL heads’ union, says the return has been “very mixed” – with some schools not yet open and some children staying away.

Children in Reception, Years 1 and 6 are the first groups able to return.

It comes as lockdown measures are eased in England, including groups of six people being allowed to meet outside.

Schools have remained open throughout the coronavirus restrictions for the children of key workers and vulnerable children – but from Monday more than two million more pupils have been invited back.”

Too much, too soon?

The COVID Diaries – 64 31st May

Are we going too far too quickly?

Senior public health officials have warned that England is not prepared to deal with any surge in infection and that the population’s resolve to cooperate in conforming to the actions that limit transmission has been eroded.

The Association of Directors of Public Health said new rules, including allowing groups of up to six people to meet outdoors and in private gardens, were “not supported by the science” and that pictures of crowded beaches and beauty spots over the weekend showed “the public is not keeping to social distancing as it was”.

On Saturday and Sunday, parks and seafronts were packed as people didn’t wait for the lifting of restrictions on what has been dubbed “happy Monday”. Car showrooms and outdoor markets will be reopened, millions of children will return to primary schools and the most vulnerable “shielded” people will be allowed out for the first time since lockdown began in March. But all of this requires physical distancing to be maintained.

Poll shows how trust has collapsed

The COVID Diaries – 63 30th May

A new opinion poll by Opinium for the Observer newspaper shows a massive 81% of the population think Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings broke the rules. The poll also found that support for the Conservative party is collapsing, with the Tories now just four points ahead of Labour, having had a commanding lead of 26 points just two months ago.

More than two-thirds of voters – including more than half of Conservatives – want Cummings thrown out of Downing Street for breaching lockdown rules.

In the past week alone, the Tory lead has fallen by eight points, the largest weekly drop the polling organisation has recorded since 2017.

For the last week the news has been dominated by the row over Cummings’ family trip with his wife and child during lockdown from London to Durham, and his refusal to apologise. The Opinium poll confirms the level of public anger. Some 68% think Cummings should resign. If he does not, 66% believe he should be sacked by Johnson.

At a time when it is essential for everybody to maintain social distancing and continue to work together to stop further COVID – 19 infections, the behaviour of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings is deeply disturbing and is destroying trust in the government.

Too early to ease lockdown?

The COVID Diaries – 62 29th May

John Edmunds, a professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a government adviser who attends meetings of Sage, the scientific advisory group on emergencies, has voiced unease over the decision to ease England’s lockdown while thousands of people a day are still becoming infected.

World Health Organisation statistics suggest our infection rate is the fifth highest in the world. “We cannot relax our guard by very much at all,” said John Edmunds. There are still 8,000 new infections every day in England without counting those in hospitals and care homes, Edmunds said. “If you look at it internationally, it’s a very high level of incidence.”

Boris puts politics before people

The COVID Diaries – 61 28th May

The UK’s contact tracing system was due to launch next Monday, but was suddenly brought forward to this morning when it was then plunged into chaos with many staff unable to access the system. The government has also admitted that it will not be fully operational until the end of June.

The official reason for the early launch was to build confidence among parents and teachers ahead of the reopening of primary schools next Monday. However, many believe this was a desperate attempt by Boris Johnson to push the Dominic Cummings scandal off the news headlines.

This looks highly probable as there are several indications the whole thing has been introduced in a rush before it is ready: as well as NHS staff not being able to log into the computer system, doctors also said they had not been briefed and learned the details only when they watched last night’s Downing Street press conference.

Blown off course

The COVID Diaries – 60 27th May

The government’s attempts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be blown off course by the ongoing row about the conduct of the Prime Minister’s top adviser Dominic Cummings and his lockdown trip to County Durham.  Boris Johnson has been grilled again about this, but speaking to senior Members of Parliament he ruled out an inquiry and insisted it was time to “move on” from the row.

The Prime Minister also announced a major test and trace system which aims to find people who come into close contact with those infected with the coronavirus. It remains to be seen if the row about Cummings will undermine the new system.

Meanwhile in the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on Donald Trump’s re-election plans. His promise to maintain record-breaking economic expansion and “keep America great” has been swept away by record unemployment and the financial toll that the nationwide business-closure and shelter-in-place orders have taken.

Having relied on his favourite method of communication, Twitter, to bypass mainstream media he has now attacked it after a “fact check” label was added to his tweets. Just a few hours after Twitter’s move, the president began threatening “big action” against the company (although it is unclear what power the president has to do anything).

Barnard Castle

The COVID Diaries – 59 26th May

Public anger about the Prime Minister’s chief advisor has continued unabated, with his explanation of the reason for his visit to Barnard Castle during the “stay at home” period of lock down being the subject of particular ridicule. Would you really test your eyesight by going for a drive with your son and wife in the car? Of course, it was Easter Sunday and it was his wife’s birthday and Barnard Castle is a beauty spot……..

Among the many comments circulating on social media, this one caught my eye:

Specsavers or Bishops Auckland?

The COVID Diaries – 58 25th May

In a bizarre press conference held in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings confirmed he had driven over two hundred miles to Durham during the period when everybody was being told to “stay at home.” He also confirmed that while “locked down” in Durham he had driven 60 miles to and from Bishops Auckland on Easter Sunday with his wife and child in the car “to test his eyesight.” Just how irresponsible is this guy?

The acting Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, tweeted: “Cummings’ statement confirms he broke the guidelines. When millions kept to those rules.

“The PM must now terminate his contract – if he wants to regain any credibility in leading the country on dealing with the coronavirus crisis.”