Breaking news: the system is broken – you couldn’t make it up!

UK runs out of Covid lateral flow tests on Freedom Day as millions order kits

Kelly-Ann Mills www.mirror.co.uk

Coronavirus lateral flow tests given out by the Government for free have run out as millions order kits on Freedom Day.

The government’s website tells people to “come back tomorrow”.

Sidmouth continues to crumble away!

Another Devon beach cliff fall is captured on camera

Anita Merritt www.devonlive.com

Another cliff fall at a Devon beach has been captured on camera just weeks after four other separate incidents were reported in the same town.

Yesterday (July 17) some more of the notorious crumbling cliffs tumbled down causing huge plumes of red dust and a “deafening” noise.

The aftermath of the cliff fall at Sidmouth was captured by Brad Palmer during a visit to the seaside town.

Read more: Prince Charles expected to ditch face mask when he visits Exeter tomorrow

He recalled: “I was walking in that direction and saw the whole thing. A large side of of the cliff face just dropped.

“The sound was deafening. People behind us and in front all looked over to see what it was.

The aftermath of the Sidmouth beach cliff fall

The aftermath of the Sidmouth beach cliff fall (Image: Brad Palmer)

“The aftermath was just a huge dust cloud which lasted about five minutes leaving a mound of mud and clay on the beach, which is accompanied by a previous rock fall in the background.”

Last month, Devon Live reported how a cliff fall had been witnessed for the fourth time over the past three weeks. It occurred on June 10, just two days after the most recent landslide in Sidmouth, which prompted a warning from Beer Coastguard team.

In May of last year there were three cliff falls which all took place within 24 hours in Sidmouth.

Were we turning a corner when Boris hit the gas?

Tim Spector’s studies have correctly spotted the turning points in the evolution of the pandemic in the UK so far. So is this another one or is it something to do with the sample?

New cases plateau ahead of Freedom Day

covid.joinzoe.com 

According to ZOE COVID Study incidence figures, it is estimated that among unvaccinated people in the UK there are currently 17,581 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID on average, based on PCR test data from up to five days ago [*]. A decrease of 22% from 22,638 last week. Suggesting that the wave in the unvaccinated population has now peaked in the UK. The overall number of estimated cases is 33,118 which remains similar to last weeks which was 33,723.

Comparatively there are currently 15,537 new daily symptomatic cases in partly or fully vaccinated people, an increase of 40% from 11,084 new cases last week. With cases in the vaccinated group continuing to rise, the number of new cases in the vaccinated population is set to overtake the unvaccinated in the coming days. 

In terms of prevalence, on average 1 in 142 people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID (Table 1). 

The UK R value is 1.0 and regional R values are; England, 1.0, Wales, 1.1, Scotland, 0.9 (Table 1). Across the regions, it’s a mixed picture. New cases in the North East and East of England are still rising but in Scotland cases are now falling. In Wales cases remain relatively low and are rising very slowly. The rest of the UK reflects the overall picture, which is one where cases have stopped in their tracks for now.

According to the ZOE COVID Study there are an estimated 550 cases of Long COVID a day among unvaccinated people in the UK. This is calculated by using the estimated number of daily new cases from ZOE and the rates of long COVID from the latest research on risk factors for long COVID [ref] and adjusting for age differences. This figure is smoothed, see Graph 2. 

The ZOE COVID Study incidence figures (new symptomatic cases) are based on reports from around one million weekly contributors and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have received positive swab tests. The latest survey figures were based on data from 10,303 recent swab tests done between 26 June and 11 July 2021. The data excludes lateral flow tests.

Tim Spector OBE, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, comments on the latest data:

“We are seeing the overall incidence rates plateau in the UK with an R value of 1.0, which is good news. But the rate of decline may be slower this time, as many of the restrictions in place previously will end. The numbers are still high with around 1 in 142 people with COVID, so we’ll keep a close eye on numbers and the effect of the Euro Football Championship in the coming days and weeks. Interestingly, comparing the UK globally, we are starting to see cases in the rest of the world catching up. This is probably due to the Delta variant taking hold, and the relative success of the vaccine roll out in the UK as well as vaccination rates slow in other countries. In the UK, new cases in vaccinated people are still going up and will soon outpace unvaccinated cases. This is probably because we’re running out of unvaccinated susceptible people to infect as more and more people get the vaccine. Whilst the figures look worrying, it’s important to highlight that vaccines have massively reduced severe infections and post-vaccination COVID is a much milder disease for most people. The main concern is now the risk of Long COVID.”

Graph 1. The ZOE COVID Study UK Infection Survey results over time 

Graph 2. Long COVID incidence in the UK

Table 1. Incidence (daily new symptomatic cases)[*], R values and prevalence regional breakdown table 

Map of UK prevalence figures

U.K. Counts More New Covid Cases Than Any Other Country, One Day Before Dropping Pandemic Restrictions

The world watches “the great experiment” – Owl

Carlie Porterfield www.forbes.com 

Topline

The United Kingdom reported a whopping 48,161 new coronavirus cases Sunday, more than any other country in the world, just one day before most of the country is set to pull all of its pandemic restrictions despite rising infections.

Key Facts

The figure represents a more than 43% surge in new cases compared to a week ago as the U.K. is facing another wave which experts attribute to the spread of the delta variant, which is believed to be more transmissible than earlier forms of the virus.

The new infections have occurred largely among young, unvaccinated Brits, who were among the last in line to be eligible to receive a vaccine from the U.K.’s National Health Service, which is now offering jabs for anyone 18 and older.

England, which makes up more than 84% of the U.K. population, is slated to drop all pandemic restrictions Monday, including masking rules and capacity guidelines.

The other three countries that make up the U.K.—Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales—will also loosen their existing restrictions, but not to the extent that England is.

Public Health England data show coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations remain far lower than during previous pandemic peaks, which experts attribute to vaccinations preventing serious illness, though the numbers have risen over the past week.

Surprising Fact

Even the new health secretary, Sajid Javid, tested positive for coronavirus over the weekend, sending some of the nation’s top officials—including Prime Minister Boris Johnson—into isolation.

Contra

The decision to open up the U.K. amid the spike in cases has drawn backlash from public health officials and members of the medical community. Earlier this month, after the U.K. government announced plans to loosen restrictions, 122 scientists and doctors signed an open letter calling the move “dangerous and premature” and urged the government to reconsider.

Key Background

According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, the U.K. has counted more than 5.4 million confirmed infections and nearly 129,000 deaths, making it the worst-hit country in Europe by coronavirus. Despite having a more effective vaccination campaign than most European countries, new infections began to gradually rise again in June, though hospitalizations and deaths tied to coronavirus have stayed low. 

Why ‘freedom day’ is the latest example of COVID propaganda

The lifting of most COVID legal restrictions on July 19 has been dubbed “freedom day” by some politicians and journalists. Though not an official designation, this popularisation of this moment with such a saying closely follows two of my 10 “golden rules” of propaganda that I’ve developed in my years studying the practice. First, appeal to the instincts rather than the reason of the audience, and second, build around a slogan. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

Colin Alexander theconversation.com

To this end, the media’s regular use of the phrase reflects its compliance with – and encouragement of – the government’s pandemic communications strategy. It is one of these phrases that you cannot quite place where it first emerged but which quickly seeps into public discussion to the point that we all know what it means.

Throughout the pandemic, the British government has utilised a wartime propaganda playbook to deliver public communications about COVID and the purported solutions to it. In these terms, we are now heading for the end of the “combat” phase of the government’s propaganda delivery and the beginning of the post-pandemic – or post-war – phase.

In this sense, “freedom day” could be compared to VE Day (Victory in Europe Day, May 8 1945) and ought to be regarded as the latest in a long line of rhetorical associations with the second world war that have been encouraged over the last 16 months.

References to blitz spirit, the militarisation of language around and heroisation of the NHS and the attention on second world war veteran Tom Moore as the flagship of British determination and sacrifice are just a few of the ways this history has manifested in COVID Britain.

Concepts like “freedom” and “liberty” have been invoked by propagandists since the 16th-century Protestant Reformation and subsequent Enlightenment period. They emerged as influential writers – Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin, to name a few – began to philosophise about the rights of the individual.

To this end, the popular use of “freedom” to describe the end of pandemic restrictions forms part of a populist audience seduction strategy, using emotional rather than rational rhetoric. The media’s purpose in using the phrase then is to be appear to be on the side of the public. As Harold Lasswell, one of the founding fathers of communications studies, wrote in 1927: the best propaganda is that which is the “champion of our dreams”.

The philosopher Patrick Nowell-Smith discussed the seductiveness of the propaganda of “freedom” in his 1954 work Ethics, noting its association with hedonism and its “deliciousness” within the human mind. He caveats that hedonism is not always about “gluttony and self-centredness” and is not always “carnal”.

From the propagandist’s point of view though, “freedom” is an effective rhetorical tool because it means whatever the target audience want it to mean. Its utility is that the term is vague but that it resonates with ease when uttered.

Understanding propaganda

One of the most common misconceptions around propaganda is that it always involves the communication of falsehoods to a mass audience and attempts to “brainwash” – evoking shades of North Korea or the Nazis. In the common mind, propaganda is synonymous with the use of dark arts to encourage a target audience to engage in behaviours or to think in ways that they would otherwise not. Undoubtedly, some propaganda does do this.

Propaganda is more complex than this and can also involve truth-telling, however selective or self-interested.

Today, propaganda is all around us. It is undertaken by governments, state institutions, corporations trying to sell us things, media organisations, charities and powerful individuals in advance of their own interests – just look at any billionaire philanthropist “doing good” while paying next to zero tax.

Individual citizens have obtained the means to broadcast for ourselves, particularly via social media platforms, and we too have become propagandists. “Influencer” is just a more acceptable way of saying “propagandist.”

“Freedom day” is not a lie, because restrictions will be lifted. However, the popularisation of it as such (rather than “most restrictions lifted day,” for example), is part of a strategy (endorsed by government and mainstream media alike) that has wanted the British public to think, act, associate and feel in certain ways since the pandemic began.

Indeed, the best, or most effective, propaganda is that which creates emotional bonds between the target audience and certain people, products, events or concepts. “Freedom day” has been so-called because the powerful want us to think in certain ways about this day, and to exclude or overlook other aspects of the pandemic that it deems undesirable.

To overwhelm the public’s conscience (or to subtly railroad it while making it seem like choices are available) is one of the highest art forms in propaganda. We see this perhaps most clearly within public discussion of the vaccine programme wherein government and media have sought to marginalise more critical views of it.

Calling it “freedom day” attempts to nullify the public by encouraging us not to scrutinise government and media performance as we should. It reflects an attempt to move the discussion from science, sociology and public health to patriotism and emancipation.

Labour accuses Gove of lying about extent of vetting for PPE deals

Michael Gove has been accused of falsely claiming all personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts for the NHS went through eight steps of vetting, as it emerged this did not happen with a deal for millions of unusable face masks linked to a Conservative adviser.

Rowena Mason http://www.theguardian.com 

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said Gove and other ministers were “apparently lying to the public and lying to parliament” by claiming that “every single procurement decision went through an eight-stage process”.

She uncovered the fact that the much-vaunted eight-step process was not undertaken in the case of Ayanda Capital, which was awarded £252m of deals for PPE supplies in spring 2020. Face masks provided by Ayanda were ultimately unusable because the Department of Health and Social Care had specified masks with ear loops, despite the NHS requiring masks that looped over the head.

The process was also not followed in the case of PestFix, a pest control supplies company with net assets of £18,000 that was awarded a contract to supply PPE worth £350m to the NHS, some of which also did not meet the health service’s technical standards.

In answer to a parliamentary question, the health minister, Jo Churchill, said: “The eight-stage process to assess and approve offers of support to supply [PPE] evolved over a short period of time at the end of April 2020 to formalise the checks quickly put in place by the cross-government PPE procurement cell in March 2020.

“Contracts with Ayanda Capital and PestFix pre-dated the formalised eight-stage assurance process but these suppliers were evaluated by officials on financial standing, technical compliance and ability to perform the contract. The contracts are awarded by the appropriate departmental accounting officer in line with our terms and conditions.”

Internal documents released as part of a judicial review case revealed in May that Ayanda, a “family office” finance house in London, was awarded two PPE contracts for a total of £252m after being referred to the VIP lane for assessing deals because its representative, Andrew Mills, was an adviser to Liz Truss, the trade secretary.

Officials pushed for the contracts to be processed as quickly as possible, with one marking emails “URGENT VIP CASE” and “VERY URGENT VIP ESCALATION”, saying that if the deal did not happen: “Andrew will escalate as high as he can possibly go!”

The two contracts were approved on 30 April 2020, five days after Ayanda was put into the VIP lane, but before required financial checks had been carried out on the company, despite a Cabinet Office official raising “major issues or concerns” because of inadequate availability of public financial information and a “low” credit score.

Ayanda has consistently said it fulfilled the contract according to the specifications it was given.

Rayner, who is the shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Gove’s opposite number, said:

“Why have Michael Gove and government ministers apparently been lying to the public and lying to parliament to try to cover this up? Michael Gove needs to explain why he has not been telling the truth.

“We need a fully independent investigation into the Tories’ VIP fast track for PPE and testing contracts to get to the bottom of who got the contracts, how they got them and what connections they have to Conservative ministers and the Conservative party.”

Jo Maugham QC, director of Good Law Project, which brought the legal challenge to the Pestfix and Ayanda contracts, said: “You begin to wonder if there are any statements from ministers that you can rely on. It looks like they’ve been infected by Johnsonism: total lack of interest in the truth.”

A government spokesperson said: “All PPE contracts went through a robust process of checks and controls led by officials. These contracts have delivered over 9bn items of PPE to protect frontline workers.”

The government is defending the judicial review over the PPE contracts, arguing the VIP route and the contracts awarded, including to PestFix, Ayanda and another company, were lawful and reasonable as the government tried to rapidly meet a serious shortfall of PPE at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A National Audit Office report in November said 144 referrals to the VIP lane had come from ministers’ private offices, but said of its investigation: “Ministers had properly declared their interests, and we found no evidence of their involvement in procurement decisions or contract management.”

East Devon receives £100k for climate change projects

East Devon District Council has been given £100,000 to help it tackle climate change. The money, from Defra and the Environment Agency is to be topped up with £10,000 from the council’s own budget for projects at Clyst Valley Regional Park.

Radio Exe News www.radioexe.co.uk 

The council is setting up what they call an environmental impact bond and triple the number of trees in the park through planting and natural regeneration.

Projects to restore kelp forests, create new woodland, deliver natural flood risk management, and improve water quality are among 27 schemes nationally, including the East Devon one, to benefit from the new fund to drive private investment in nature and tackle climate change,

Revenues will be generated through the sale of carbon and biodiversity units, natural flood management benefits and through reduced water treatment costs. In developing these revenue streams, the Fund will help create a pipeline of projects for the private sector to invest in, and develop new funding models that can be scaled and replicated elsewhere.

Projects receiving funding focus on tackling climate change and restoring nature through schemes such as woodland and habitat creation, peatland restoration, sustainable drainage and river catchment management.

Cllr Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, said: “The EDDC Climate Change Strategy 2020–2025 sets out how we will reduce our carbon emissions year on year and mitigate against the threat that climate will place on our communities. The strategy is being developed following research by Exeter University to establish our current carbon footprint. Our strategy will encompass all our 10 nature reserves and open spaces by increasing natural habitat and increase tree planting to sequester carbon and allow nature to recover, and this funding will help in our exciting plans for the Clyst Valley Regional Park. 

Simon Bates, East Devon District Council’s green infrastructure project manager said: “We want to explore whether an environmental impact bond is the solution. This would blend cash from publicly funded grant schemes and private finance from woodland carbon and biodiversity credits. With major companies such as EON, EDF and many smaller environmental start-up businesses on our doorstep, we expect high demand for voluntary carbon credits in particular.”

Freedom day dawns with Boris confined to the garret

It took 2 hours 38 minutes for Boris to realise that his latest “one rule for you, another one for us” little wizz of enrolling himself on “a pilot testing scheme” to avoid self isolating wouldn’t wash with the public or business.

Says a lot about Conservative arrogance these days that the thought came into his head at all (and Rishi Sunak’s head) and that Robert “three homes” jenrick was prepared to defend it on TV.

Maybe the arrogance runs deeper and Ministers have already dropped their guard and assumed that Covid would only infect the”little people”.

U-turn as Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to self-isolate after criticism

Ben Quinn www.theguardian.com

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been forced into a U-turn and will self-isolate after coming into contact with the health secretary, who has contracted Covid-19.

The UK prime minister and chancellor had initially tried to avoid isolation by saying they were part of a pilot testing scheme, prompting an outcry from members of the public and backbench Conservative MPs.

Their U-turn came after only three hours amid chaos at No 10 over plans to drop many Covid restrictions for “freedom day” on Monday, and minutes after the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, had defended their plans to continue working from Downing Street.

It means the prime minister, chancellor and health secretary will all be isolating, along with hundreds of thousands of others due to exposure to coronavirus, when restrictions are dropped across England from Monday.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister has been contacted by NHS test and trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid. He was at Chequers when contacted by test and trace and will remain there to isolate. He will not be taking part in the testing pilot.

“He will continue to conduct meetings with ministers remotely. The chancellor has also been contacted and will also isolate as required and will not be taking part in the pilot.”

Sunak tweeted: “Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential government business, I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong. To that end I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.”

Javid tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday. The prime minister is reported to have had a lengthy meeting with him at No 10 on Friday.

02:29

‘Important everybody sticks to rules’: Johnson explains U-turn on self-isolation – video

Downing Street earlier confirmed Johnson and Sunak were part of a pilot scheme that allows certain people to have daily rapid flow tests instead of having to self-isolate. “They will be conducting only essential government business during this period,” said a spokesperson.

Reaction to the news was rapid and furious, with instances on social media of people reporting they were going to delete the NHS Covid-19 app from their phones.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said many people across the UK would be dismayed by the “special, exclusive rule” for Johnson and Sunak.

“There will be parents across the country who have struggled this year when their children have been sent home because they were in a bubble and had to self-isolate,” he told Sky News.

“There will be workers across the country that have to isolate because they’ve been pinged, including in public services, including the NHS. For many of them, waking up this morning to hear that there is a special rule, an exclusive rule, for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, they will be saying that this looks like one rule for them and something else for the rest of us.”

Kate Nicholls, the CEO of UK Hospitality, which represents bars, hotels and others in the sector, said: “It cannot be right that only those on pilot projects are exempt from the need to self-isolate. We need a workable and pragmatic self-isolation policy which keeps people safe but also keeps the economy moving.”

Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Green party, said: “Hundreds of thousands of young people, including my children, had their education and lives repeatedly turned upside down again and again after dutifully and responsibly isolating. And now this. Anger doesn’t begin to cover it.”

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former director of communications at Downing Street, described it as the “Johnson-Sunak test pilot scandal” and predicted it would “cut through” to the public even more directly than the controversy surrounding the lockdown journeys undertaken to Durham by Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser.

Organisations taking part have to have an asymptomatic testing site set up. Individuals who have been “pinged” after being in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid can go to work on the basis that they are using lateral flow tests, but must self-isolate when not at work.

The organisations known to be part of the trial have given their consent to be identified, according to No 10, which added that a full list would be published after the results have been recorded.

A spokesperson said the study was separate from a better known pilot scheme, outlined online by the Department of Health and Social Care, which splits participants at random into two groups. In that study, those in a control group will be given a PCR test and must self-isolate as normal for 10 days, while participants in another group benefit from having a 24-hour release from self-isolation if daily lateral flow tests return negative results.

Javid was self-isolating on Saturday after testing positive for Covid, as senior public health leaders from across the UK accused Boris Johnson on Sunday of “letting Covid rip” by relaxing legal restrictions.

The health secretary, who is double-vaccinated, said he had mild symptoms and confirmed the result of a lateral flow test with a positive PCR test.

“I will continue to isolate and work from home,” Javid tweeted.