England Covid cases almost doubled within a week, according to ONS

“Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, who leads the Covid symptom study, said the data suggested a second wave of Covid had begun. “The data from the app is painting a worrying picture, with cases on the rise across the UK, with the only exception to that rule being the south-west, where we see numbers staying low,” he said.”

Nicola Davis www.theguardian.com 

Coronavirus cases in England almost doubled in the space of a week, with infections becoming more widespread across all ages, leading one expert to say a second wave had begun.

Almost 60,000 people are thought to have had the virus from 4 to 10 September 2020 – one in every 900 people – with about 6,000 new cases per day, according to the ONS survey of randomly selected people in the community.

The previous week, about 1 in 1,400 people are thought to have had the virus, with 3,200 new cases per day. “The estimates show that the incidence rate for England has increased in recent weeks,” the ONS team writes.

There was evidence of higher infection rates in north-west England and London. The R figure – the average number of people one infected person infects – was also revealed to be 1.2-1.4 in England and 1.1-1.4 UK-wide, up from 1.0-1.2 last week.

Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, who leads the Covid symptom study, said the data suggested a second wave of Covid had begun. “The data from the app is painting a worrying picture, with cases on the rise across the UK, with the only exception to that rule being the south-west, where we see numbers staying low,” he said.

Prof Steve Riley from Imperial College London said the ONS findings were consistent with data from the recently released React-1 study, which suggested cases of the virus in England were doubling every seven to eight days. “This is additional evidence supporting the need for reduced social contact to avoid future increases in Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths,” he said.

The ONS figures also confirm that, in the week that schools returned in England, cases appear to be have risen most among primary-school-age children and adults under the age of 35.

However experts said the data also showed some increase in older adults, with the average percentage of individuals testing positive for Covid-19 rising from 0.04% to 0.12% among 50- to 69-year-olds between 19 August and 10 September – although the ONS cautions there is uncertainty around the true size of this increase.

The figures come the same day that Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, stressed the virus was not confined to the young. “We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading widely across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase in rates of admission to hospital and intensive care among older people.”

The government has applied tighter restrictions to nearly 2 million people living in north-east England, including a 10pm curfew for venues such as bars and restaurants and a ban on people socialising with those from other households. Similar restrictions are set to be rolled out in the north-west, the Midlands and West Yorkshire from Tuesday.

The ONS has also reported on the situation in Wales, revealing that about 1 in 2,000 people are thought to have had the virus in the week from 4 to 10 September 2020, an increase from 1 in 2,600 people the previous week.

However the ONS team say they detected very few positive tests and the results show no clear sign of a rise. “Our modelling suggests that the number of Covid-19 cases in Wales is currently relatively stable,” they write.

A rise in cases has also been reported by researchers behind the Covid symptom study app, which revealed cases to be highest in the north of England and the Midlands.

While the ONS survey captures symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, the Covid symptom study from Spector focuses on people with symptoms, but covers the whole UK.

Based on 8,124 swab tests, results suggest that over the two weeks up to 13 September there were an average of 7,536 daily new symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK. The team add that the data indicates almost 70,000 people in the UK currently have symptomatic Covid – almost twice the figure of 35,248 from the week before.

Responding to the ONS figures, Dr Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, said the situation was concerning. “The time between the reporting periods for the ONS’s latest figures was five days rather than the usual seven. Since these changes occurred over a five-day period we might expect that the doubling time is even faster than a week.”

According to the latest R data, only the south-west has an R number that could be below 1; the Midlands and the north-west have the highest values, with both having an R number thought to be between 1.2 and 1.5.


UK government faces legal action over ‘moonshot’ Covid testing project

The UK government is facing legal action over Boris Johnson’s “moonshot” project, which could involve up to £100bn being spent on an attempt to increase Covid-19 testing capacity to 10m per day.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, and the minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, are named in a case that alleges the project, as described in leaked papers, is unlawful because it ignores scientific evidence, involves potentially huge private contracts that may not have been tendered and breaks the government’s own value-for-money rules.

The project has been widely criticised as a misdirected effort when between 3 and 9 September, only 571,400 people were tested for infection in England in NHS and community settings, according to official figures. Community testing has been getting slower, with the median time taken to get a result at local test sites increasing from 24 hours to 35 hours.

Supporters of the project say it is the kind of ambitious thinking required to enable life to return to normal until an effective vaccine can be rolled out.

The legal action is the latest in a series of challenges aimed at government handling of the Covid crisis by the Good Law Project, a not-for-profit membership body that has issued proceedings about the award of contracts for personal protective equipment.

Now it wants a judicial review of the moonshot plan, alleging the government should have consulted the National Screening Committee, which advises on mass testing and screening programmes, and that the possibility of the programme generating large numbers of false positives risks “personal and economic harm to tens of thousands of people”. It claims that private contracts should be publicly tendered.

Leaked documents obtained by the British Medical Journal and the Guardian showed that the accountancy firm Deloitte had been identified as a key partner in the project, alongside potential partners including G4S, Serco, Boots, Sainsbury’s, AstraZeneca, GSK and Smith and Nephew. The project promises “a huge new operational infrastructure” with testing available in pharmacies, schools and workplaces as well as health settings.

A pre-action letter sent to the government’s lawyers cites concerns that ministers are effectively “punting unprecedented sums of public money on technology that does not exist”.

It states: “As far as we are aware, no public consultation has been undertaken in respect of this decision to approve and commit £100bn of public money to Project Moonshot and no documents recording the decision-making process leading to the decision have been published by the defendants, or otherwise released into the public domain. At present, it is unclear (and there is no transparency) as to what considerations and evidence have, or have not, been taken into account by the defendants in making the decision(s)”

The action could flush out government papers about decision-making around moonshot, HM Treasury’s involvement in approving plans for the spend and how far the companies said to be involved initiated proposals for contracts.

Maugham said: “This is a staggering sum of money – a generational-sized millstone of debt. Yet we know nothing about who has made the decision to spend it, or with what safeguards, or with whom, or why with them. There is the sense about it all [being] a bet made at the whim of a single unelected Svengali.

“What we do know is that all the experts – Sage, the Royal Statistical Society, the National Screening Committee, the World Health Organization, all of them – have grave concerns about whether it is the right thing to do.”

The Department of Heath and Social Care and the Cabinet Office have been contacted for comment.


Hitachi failed its nuclear test. If only it had the vanity of HS2 (or Hinkley Point)

“If I were starting a business school I would offer an honours course in vanity infrastructure.”

Simon Jenkins www.theguardian.com 

Poor Wylfa. The nuclear power station nestles in a landscape of bliss in north Wales, but it was never glamorous enough for Westminster. This week the Japanese firm Hitachi failed to get sufficient government subsidy for its rebuilding, and pulled out. Wylfa lacks the political magnetism of the only other spearhead into Britain’s new nuclear age, Hinkley Point.

Hinkley Point was different. It was blessed by France’s then economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, and seen as talisman of the “golden era” of Anglo-Chinese relations under David Cameron and George Osborne. This was despite doubts over its security and a blistering national audit report on its £22bn cost and £50bn lifetime energy bill surcharge. The project was not about money or energy but about preening diplomacy. Wylfa could eat its heart out.

If I were starting a business school I would offer an honours course in vanity infrastructure. In April, Boris Johnson finally issued “notice to proceed” on the most lavish construction project in Europe, Britain’s new railway, HS2. Its value for money was plummeting even before coronavirus, at just £1.20 for every £1 in cost, and possibly heading towards 70p.

Inquiries by the National Audit Office and Commons Accounts Committee were scathing not just at costs soaring from £34bn in 2010 to £106bn today, but at the morass of consultants, facilitators, conflicts of interests and dubious bonuses swilling round HS2 Ltd, its boss pocketing £660,000 a year. Supporters continued to weave and dodge between arguing the case for speedier journeys, more commuter capacity and a “boost for the north”.

What has been intriguing about HS2, like Hinkley Point, is its political invulnerability. From now on it will be charging British taxpayers over £100m a week for the scheduled 20 years of the project. The sums are so stupefying as to have an inverse effect. They are taken as a sign of political machismo, of “build, build, build”. Opponents have included even Johnson and his svengali, Dominic Cummings. Other ministers are only too aware that £100m a week cannot avoid impacting on their projects.

Over last winter, HS2’s still uncertain Whitehall champions were desperate to get it across the threshold where cancellation would appear more politically damaging than proceeding. Despite increasing evidence that the line would largely benefit rail capacity into London and may never go beyond the Midlands, they spliced it on to Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda and demanded a decision in April, in the midst of the Covid crisis. They won what is currently Whitehall’s most coveted prize, Johnson’s U-turn of the week.

The absurdities of vanity politics were no less evident at the other end of the spectrum in this week’s total closure of Hammersmith Bridge in London. The bridge’s owners, Hammersmith and Fulham council, had been screaming for years to London’s mayor about its deterioration, which they could not possibly afford to repair. The bridge was closed to traffic 18 months ago and the public is now banned from walking over it and even boats from passing under it. That scuppers next year’s boat race.

The chief target of the screaming was London’s previous mayor, Johnson. At the time he was splurging money on vanity projects, including a cable car, a giant helter skelter, rear-entry buses, police water cannon and a £175m “garden bridge”. By the time the garden bridge was halted by Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, £43m of taxpayers’ money had vanished into the project. That is almost exactly the sum needed to stabilise Hammersmith Bridge.

Since closure coincided with that of London Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, the story was a gift to last week’s New York Times: “London’s bridges really are falling down”. The headline instantly had the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, racing to Hammersmith to declare himself “fed up” with Khan and promising urgent action to save the bridge. He seemed unaware that his boss was chiefly to blame. Now the cost of full restoration of the bridge has risen to £141m, or 10 days’ spend on HS2.

Business students will note the role the media plays in these projects. Whitehall has a formal audit monitoring of infrastructure projects, meticulously charting their value for money. This appears to have no bearing on what gets cabinet approval. Meanwhile, the Treasury’s traditional scepticism towards public extravagance, savagely austere towards local government spending, vanishes in a puff of glory when the rate of return is measured in headlines rather than public benefit. .

The assumption that all public infrastructure must be good is now holy writ. Every political speech, every party manifesto, bows before it. The Trades Union Congress and Confederation of British Industry cry in unison. Infrastructure is “investment” – in power stations, railways, prisons, schools. Anything built, its mere creation, implies a positive rate of return. No one questions priorities or asks who will pay for what goes on inside. As for Wylfa, it is clearly the Hammersmith Bridge of power stations. Perhaps it should call the New York Times.

  • Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist


Meeting to discuss Cranbrook Town Centre postponed

A meeting of East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee due to take place next Wednesday (September 23) to discuss Cranbrook Town Centre has been postponed following significant changes to the original proposals by developers.

18 September 2020 eastdevon.gov.uk 

A meeting of East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee due to take place next Wednesday (September 23) to discuss Cranbrook Town Centre has been postponed following significant changes to the original proposals by developers.

A key element of the meeting was to discuss the proposal put forward by the East Devon New Community Partners (EDNCp) who are the developers for the majority of Cranbrook and have control of the land in the town centre.

However, the proposals put forward by the EDNCp were significantly amended earlier this week. The scheduled meeting has now had to be postponed so that the proposed changes can be fully considered and councillors properly advised of the proposed deal and its impacts.

A new report for the Committee will now be written detailing the amended proposals from EDNCp and help Committee councillors and the community to understand the proposals that are being put forward. The report will be published at least five working days before the Committee meets.

Cllr Dan Ledger, the district council’s portfolio holder for Strategic Planning, said:

The council understands the need for services and facilities to be delivered in Cranbrook Town Centre as soon as possible and remains committed to moving forward with discussions as a matter of urgency.

It’s vital however that the discussions are informed by the most up-to-date and accurate information and that the proposals to be discussed are in the public domain and discussed in an open and transparent way. This would not have been the case had the scheduled meeting gone ahead.”

He added that the council will be looking to set a new date for the meeting in October.


More on Sasha’s view of Claire Wright and extracts from “Secret Diaries” now in the local press

On Claire from Harry Motram:

“…And yes I did spend the night with Sasha Swire while her husband watched – if only from time to time. It was election night in 2015 at the count in Sidmouth in Devon. We were all unsure of how the vote would go as the Independent candidate Claire Wright had been closing the gap on Hugo’s massive majority election after election. With one flick of her lustrous hair Claire could increase her vote by 10% at a time amongst men of a certain age, such were her seductive charms. And she was also a highly popular county councillor who had gathered support from all corners of the political spectrum by campaigning on local causes.

In the end Hugo’s vote just about held up on what turned out to be a good night for the Conservatives. I sat next to Sasha all night chatting away about life, families, Hugo and work as a journalist. Charming, fair and with a wicked sense of humour she was very good company. And Hugo wasn’t bad either – although he was on his best behaviour since the room contained several journalists.

I felt sorry for Claire who had made a spirited attempt to usurp Hugo’s very comfortable East Devon seat but Sasha wasn’t so compassionate. “All she wants to be is an MP,” she said, “she doesn’t care about anything else. Look at her counting up the votes as they come in. She’s not had a drink, a chat or a break. She’s obsessed.” Unlike her husband a very relieved Hugo of course who clearly didn’t want to be an MP as he worked the room thanking supporters and congratulating party members who were standing as councillors in local elections counted at the same time….”

Harry Mottram http://www.harrymottram.co.uk 

Now to the local Press which reports the comments of a well known local blog that the Swires probably regard as “scurrilous”  – Owl

Ex-Devon MP referred to local councillors as ‘toilet seats’

Colleen Smith www.devonlive.com 

The wife of former Devon MP Sir Hugo Swire has shocked Westminster with her explosive diaries – but they also lift the lid off the long-standing Tory MP’s attitude to local politics in East Devon.

Lady Sasha Swire’s new book reveals that she and her husband refer to a pair of diligent local councillors as “toilet seats” and that he launched a campaign to save Ottery Hospital – even though he wasn’t standing for re-election – “for no other reason than to annoy” independent Claire Wright.

Local voters rarely get a look-in and party supporters in East Devon are described as being as dotty as the church stalwarts in The Vicar of Dibley .

The diary casually lets slip snippets which show how much independent candidate Claire Wright had become a thorn in Sir Hugo’s side.

The diary entry from just prior to the December 2019 election says: “Hugo launches a campaign to save a local hospital for no other reason than to annoy an independent candidate in his constituency who’s been getting on his nerves……”

Sir Hugo announced his retirement from Parliament months before the General Election. He was Member of Parliament for East Devon from 2001 until 2019.

Claire Wright was supported by actor Hugh Grant and was widely predicted to be within a whisker of winning her election battle, but lost to Conservative Simon Jupp by 6,708 votes.

She said after reading extracts which were serialised in The Times: “Yes it will be an interesting one to read when it’s out although I have no intention of buying a copy.”

“Regarding that specific quote in the Times I think my reaction was firstly, yes I remember that very short-lived campaign and that I had thought at the time that was his motivation.

“I think it’s an insult to Ottery residents and confirms really what we all thought, that he didn’t ever really care about East Devon. I will read the book, if I manage to source one, with much interest.”

Martin Shaw, county councillor for Seaton and Colyton, said the diary entry proved that “the Tories don’t really care about our community hospitals”.

A war of words had broken out just before the election following the government’s announcement that Ottery St Mary Hospital’s future had been secured.

Sir Hugo said at the time that he hoped Ms Wright would not ‘stir up’ more anxiety about the building’s future.

The East Devon Watch local blog commented after republishing extracts from The Times: “We learn from “Sasha’s Secret Diaries” that Hugo was so in with Dave he was the first one Dave called to get drunk with after his defeat.

“So pally, yet Hugo couldn’t get him to do anything for East Devon. (Toilet seats too small to bother with?)”

The Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power is due out next week and the indiscriminate indiscretions have been described as “social suicide”.

The book — described as the most indiscreet political memoir in decades – has 500 pages of disclosures from the last 20 years of politics.

When Lady Swire was asked in an interview by The Times if she had been in touch with those mentioned in the book – her private diaries – for their permission, she blankly replied ‘Oh, I haven’t done that.’

Lady Swire is the 57-year-old daughter of the former defence secretary and one-time Lazard bank chairman Sir John Nott (who once confessed that he fancied Margaret Thatcher something rotten).

The book is creating a storm in the corridors of power, with many greeting it as the best insight ever into the last two decades of politics.

But there is also a backlash. Sarah Vine, writing in the Daily Mail, said of Lady Swire: “I certainly always got the impression that she thought the whole lot of us were utter fools, and that she and Hugo were the only people with any iota of sense. And I’m not sure she was even that certain about Hugo.”

And Marina Hyde in The Guardian says: “Sasha is married to the former MP and minister Hugo Swire, a Cameron-era Tory so obscure I’m amazed even his own wife has heard of him.”

Sasha reveals the nicknames she has for everybody. Former Prime Minister Teresa May is ‘Old Ma May’, George Osborne is ‘Boy George’ while Dominic Raab is ‘Raab C Brexit’. She dubs Donald Trump ‘a filthy, racist misogynist’.

She talks about the dinner at 10 Downing Street in August 2019, when Sir Hugo Swire informed the Prime Minister of his plans to retire as an MP.

During the evening, she reports watching Boris Johnson as he ‘stuffs in more mouthfuls and knocks back the cheapo plonk at an alarming rate’.

In 2019 when Michael Gove is caught in a hoohah about youthful drug-taking, Hugo is asked how he would respond if asked if he had ever taken drugs.

“Five-one-zero-three-nine-four,” barks Hugo. Why? “That’s my army number, the only thing I’m trained to give under hostile interrogation.”

Lady Swire recalls visiting the Camerons for a weekend at their Oxfordshire home, in the wake of the fateful Brexit vote in June 2016.

She claims that then Prime Minister David Cameron asked Sir Hugo Swire to bring ‘two fat Cohibas and plenty of booze’ and was ‘chomping on cigars’ over ‘endless bottles of wine’.

She adds that Samantha Cameron had to muster up some Dutch courage before joining her husband for his resignation speech, feeling unable to do so ‘without drinking a large negroni’.

She also reveals that Cameron is a huge fan of Devon’s own Agatha Christie, describing how he spent his downtime at Chequers watching Poirot murder mysteries.

She wrote how Cameron, in August 2011 while holidaying in Cornwall with the Swires, said: “What more do I want? A great day on the beach, I’m with my old friends and I’ve just won a war.” He was talking of Libya.


South west ‘R’ rate is most uncertain in England


It could be country’s highest or lowest

“Now what we want is facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” That’s Mr Grandrind, from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times in 1854. Jump through the best part of two centuries and the facts of coronavirus in the south west are somewhat dubious.

The rate of infection – the ‘R’ rate in the Uk could be the highest in England, at 1.6, or it could be the lowest at 0.9. These are the facts, known as statistics.

If the R rate is above 1, each person infects more than one other person and the disease spreads quickly. In every part of England except the south west (a large region that includes Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, as well as Devon), the range is one or above. Only here could it be 0.9.The south west range of 0.9 to 1.6 is the broadest of anywhere. In short, it’s likely to be one or more. That spells trouble. The range is broad when the number of cases of deaths falls to low levels or there is a high degree of variability in transmission across the region. For example, the rate could be different in rural Devon than it is in urban Bristol, Swindon or Gloucester.

Across England, the daily rate of infection is now as high as it was in April. Nationally the R rate is now between 1.1 and 1.4, with the number of cases rising by two to seven per cent every day.

The late summer sunshine has encouraged people out to Devon’s beaches, with many groups numbering more than six. Police and community support officers have been giving larger groups advice; which many groups have listened to politely before deciding it’s not advice they wish to follow. Some people suggest government messages have been rather inconsistent; chivvying people to eat out on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and go back to offices so that sandwich shops, bars and restaurants have passing trade, whilst at the same time telling people to stay away from one another.

[Owl’s advice is to keep an eye on Tim Spector’s symptom tracking app. (the only real-time data we have). This still shows relatively low levels of prevalence across the South West but illustrates what is happening nationally – see graph below]

Troubled test-and-trace system drafts in management consultants

The government is preparing to shore up its £10bn coronavirus test-and-trace programme by drafting in teams of management consultants.

[Yet Dido Harding says “I strongly refute that the system is failing.” And Jacob Rees-Mogg attacks ‘endless carping’ about Covid testing shortages. False news? – Owl]

Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com 

The programme, where 90% of tests are failing to hit the 24-hour turnaround target, has been touted as a key way in which the country can return to relative normality in the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine and manage any second wave of the virus. However, the system has struggled despite the prime minister pledging earlier this year to create a “world-beating” service. It has been condemned as “barely functional” as it struggles to handle demand of up to four times capacity.

The Guardian has learned that “hundreds” of staff from consulting firms including KPMG have been put on standby to work on “back office” parts of the system “on a short-term basis” over the next six months. Other firms thought to have been contacted for help include EY.

While the government and the consulting firms are said to still to be negotiating contracts, the consultants are understood to be required in areas including programme management, data, project support and supply chain, and could start work in the next 72 hours.

One person with knowledge of the process said: “The government has gone out to a wide number of firms asking for support on this.”

It is not clear how much the consulting services will cost the taxpayer.

The move to hire hundreds of consultants to shore up the test-and-trace programme comes as millions of people across parts of north-west England and Yorkshire face bans from mixing with other families under tougher restrictions announced to control the spread of coronavirus.

In response to the more stringent rules, the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “I urge local people to isolate and get a test if you have symptoms, follow the advice of NHS test and trace, and always remember ‘hands, face, space’. By sticking to these steps, we will get through this together.”

Earlier this week, the Guardian reported how documents show that tracers are taking up to two weeks to contact friends, relatives and colleagues of people diagnosed with Covid-19 – the entire length of the self-isolation period.

Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson, said on Friday that the UK’s testing system “seems barely functional”, adding: “The testing system is in meltdown. People can’t access tests, turnaround times are down, cases are rising. The government is at risk of losing control of the virus.”

However, amid the growing anger and lengthening queues at testing centres, Dido Harding, the head of the test-and-trace programme, told MPs on Thursday: “I strongly refute that the system is failing.”

She said that a sudden increase in demand for the service had not been anticipated, even though capacity had been increased in anticipation of schools reopening.

“We’ve seen a very marked increase in the number of young children coming forward to be tested. So, a doubling of the number of children under 17 coming forward to be tested. And more than that in the ages of five to nine,” she said.

Well-designed and resourced testing regimes have the potential to reduce the reproduction rate of Covid-19 – the R number – by up to 26%, according to a study undertaken by Imperial College.

KPMG and EY declined to comment.

The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to requests for comment.


Sinking without trace: rightwing press turns on Boris Johnson

“Where’s Boris?” asked this week’s Spectator, the weekly magazine the prime minister once edited and from which Johnson might once have expected a better press had it not been for the coronavirus crisis.

Dan Sabbagh www.theguardian.com

With a front cover image featuring a distant blond dot on a tiny boat bobbing rudderless and oarless on a stormy sea, the message of chaos and drift from the title was emphatic – a criticism of the prime minister’s leadership in the battle against the pandemic that is being replicated across an increasingly sceptical rightwing media.

“The question now is whether he can become a proper leader with a sense of direction and purpose,” said the magazine’s editor, Fraser Nelson, effectively arguing that Johnson’s premiership was at a crossroads, that a narrative was close to being set.

After a week in which Britain’s test-and-trace system – once intended by the prime minister to be “world-beating” – was at the point of collapse, Nelson asked “whether the pattern we have seen in recent months – of disorder, debacle, rebellion, U-turn and confusion – is what we should henceforth expect”.

Others writing in the same magazine put it more idiosyncratically. “What on earth happened to the freedom-loving, twinkly-eyed, Rabelaisian character I voted for? Oliver Hardy has left the stage, replaced by Oliver Cromwell,” said columnist Toby Young, complaining of a “lack of engagement with the detail”.

Earlier on Thursday, the same day the Spectator cover emerged, the Daily Mail had reached a similar conclusion. “Boris: We’ve Failed” the front-page headline blared, with the paper claiming it had warned of a “looming test crisis five months ago”.

The rightwing tabloid highlighted Johnson’s subdued performance the day before in front of parliament’s liaison committee, where he had been forced to admit that “the short answer” was that there were nowhere near enough Covid tests available.

Only a week earlier, the prime minister talked optimistically about a “moonshot” plan to test millions of people a day as way to return to pre-coronavirus normality. Now he had humiliatingly been forced to admit there were nowhere near enough tests for worried parents at a level closer to 230,000 a day.

“Too often the government has over-promised and under-delivered,” concluded a leader in the Times on Friday morning. “Policies have had to be swiftly abandoned after the exposure of entirely predictable problems,” the centre-right broadsheet continued, adding the A-level fiasco and the problems with the contact-tracing app for good measure.

The paper – perhaps with one eye on a promotion for the former Times journalist Michael Gove – argued that Johnson needed to appoint “competent deputies” before “the public come to a settled and unflattering view about his ability to do the job”.

It was a few months after another surprising general election win in 1992 that John Major’s reputation was shredded on Black Wednesday. But for all the growing criticism and pandemic policy failures the situation is nowhere near as grave for the current prime minister: the Conservatives remain ahead in polls at just over 40%.

Neither the Times nor the Mail nor other traditional rightwing titles are talking about switching support to Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer. And there remain good arguments that the British public takes far longer to change its mind than Britain’s fickle and fast-moving press.

Pollster Deborah Mattinson, author of a new book, Beyond the Red Wall, that analyses Johnson’s seizure of Labour strongholds in last December’s election, said: “Red Wallers, though disappointed, are more forgiving than you might expect. They have taken this big decision to leave Labour and are seeking to justify that.”