PM told he is ‘toast’ as refugee scheme ‘pouring goodwill down drain’

Meanwhile Tory MPs “party through the cost of living emergency” by attending a “champagne bash” on Tuesday night.

One rule for them, another rule for us. – Owl

Andy Gregory 

Boris Johnson has been told he is “pretty much toast” if handed a Partygate fine, as the prime minister endured a grilling from senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee.

At PMQs hours earlier, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused the Tories of “partying through the cost of living emergency” by attending a “champagne bash” on Tuesday night, days before an energy price hike hits millions of families.

The bereaved families of Covid victims chanted “shame on you” as Conservative MPs entered the dinner party at the Park Plaza hotel, which came as the Metropolitan Police confirmed an initial 20 Partygate fines, prompting renewed calls for Boris Johnson to resign.

Meanwhile, Michael Gove’s Homes for Ukraine scheme has faced scathing criticism. The Home Office has said just 2,700 visas have been granted to people hoping to come to the UK under the initiative – despite applications reaching 28,300.

Robina Qureshi, director of refugee homelessness charity Positive Action in Housing, said the “goodwill of British people is being poured down the drain.”

“We are disgusted and ashamed,” she said.

Exmouth traders’ dismay over ‘massive hike’ in grassed outdoor seating rents

Interesting to read this in the light of Owl’s earlier post: “Local Tories sink into Nauseating Hypocrisy”. 

In their latest leaflet, endorsed by Simon Jupp, Tory attack dogs write: “Conservative councillors are…… questioning the use of tax payers money to subsidise one business over another.” (Obviously only applies where it suits!)

It is also interesting to note that Simon Jupp fails to mention that from Friday the VAT on the hospitality sector will rise from 12.5% to 20%.

East Devon deserves better, Simon. – Owl

Will Goddard 

An example of outdoor seating on a grassed area of the Strand in 2021 (The Grapevine Brewhouse)

An example of outdoor seating on a grassed area of the Strand in 2021 (The Grapevine Brewhouse)

Several Exmouth businesses have objected to rises in rental costs for using grassed areas on the Strand in Exmouth.

The charge paid to East Devon District Council for using the areas for outdoor seating was £100 last year, the businesses said. Now, it’s into the thousands.

For example, Franklins Cafe and Bar said it would now have to pay £1,700 (£4,080 pro rata), and Spoken £6,000 (£14,400 pro rata) for the grassed areas.

These charges are unrelated to the outdoor seating on the paved areas of the Strand, which cost £100 per year from Devon County Council.

Oliver Bainbridge, owner of The Grapevine Brewhouse near the Strand, said: “Our rent last year was £100. This year, it’s going to be £4,500, which is obviously a massive hike of 45 times the previous year.

“We are very aware this is public land and we need to pay for this. We don’t want this for free, what we want is a sensible and measured approach.”

‘East Devon deserves better’ – Simon Jupp MP

The businesses are being supported by East Devon MP Simon Jupp.

He said: “Charging businesses in the Strand several thousand pounds to put out a few tables and chairs is unacceptable.

“The government relaxed the rules around alfresco dining to help cafes, bars and restaurants after a difficult two years.

“I have called on East Devon District Council to rethink their rip-off rent increases which won’t help struggling businesses.

“After doubling the price of parking and announcing plans to close public toilets, local businesses need all the help they can get. East Devon deserves better.”

Response from district council

East Devon District Council has said that the issue is about whether or not it’s appropriate for the council ‘to subsidise local businesses that adjoin the Strand in Exmouth’.

Using an outside agency, the council has also said that negotiations with traders for the Queen’s Drive Space on Exmouth seafront have been ‘very successful’ – and it can see ‘no reason’ why it can’t be the same for traders on the Strand.

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council said: “This matter is the subject of a commercial negotiation that began last week.

“At its core is the issue of whether it is appropriate for the council to subsidise local businesses that adjoin the Strand in Exmouth.

“This happened during the COVID lockdown period when stringent social distancing arrangements were in place but as we know we are all now learning to live with COVID.

“Our request is that the traders interested in a space now engage with the council’s agents and we look forward to saying more in the very near future.

“We recently completed very successful negotiations through the same agency for pitches at Queen’s Drive Space on Exmouth seafront and can see no reason why the Strand traders would not wish to engage in the same process.”

Local Tories sink into nauseating hypocrisy

East Devon Tories, with personal endorsements from Neil Parish and Simon Jupp, have really sunk to new depths in their latest newsletter. (Owl received a copy from an outraged correspondent).

Amongst the tendentious attacks on the performance of EDDC’s Democratic Alliance Coalition, is this  mendacious little gem paraded as Example No4.

Does this stand a moment’s scrutiny?- The facts checked

Leisure East Devon Ltd was established as a not-for-profit Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) on 1 January 2006 with the specific purpose of managing the EDDC leisure activities previously operated through the Council’s Leisure & Lifestyles Team on a 30 year lease at a peppercorn rent, with EDDC paying an annual service charge. In other words Leisure East Devon was set up by EDDC’s Conservative councillors as an outsourcing operation.

[The name was changed in 2014 to “LED” when all IPSs were converted into regulated Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies. (Before that, unlike charities, IPSs were unregulated). This change also reflected the fact that LED had also taken over management of South Somerset District Council leisure facilities.]

The original ambition appears to have been to generate £1.6m working capital (on annual turnover of approx £5m) and gradually reduce EDDC support. This has never been achieved and EDDC has had to provide LED with annual grants, as required to balance the books. In 2012, for example, this grant amounted to £1.1m and in 2017 EDDC budgeted for £893,720. Over the years EDDC has also paid one-off sums for refurbishment. In other words Conservative controlled EDDC has always subsidised LED and it can hardly be described as “freestanding”.

In June 2015, The Tory EDDC engineered a take-over of the lease of Exmouth seafront “Ocean” facility by LED. Conservative Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme, said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who lives in Exmouth or who comes to the resort for holidays or leisure” Some disagreed when they looked at the generous guarantor terms provided for LED (tenant) and Harlequins (landlord) by EDDC. In other words EDDC Conservatives were quite content to subsidise one business over another and intervene heavily in the local leisure market.

In March 2020, although the Conservatives lost control in 2019, EDDC, under the Ben Ingham regime, completed the acquisition of the Ocean Blue leisure complex on Exmouth seafront for £2.7m using the council’s Commercial Investment Fund. (Ben Ingham, despite claiming to be “Independent”, continued with Conservative policies). The East Devon Watch post: “The sad planning saga of Exmouth’s Albatross, the Ocean Bowling Alley.” chronicles the events from 1993 to 2020. This purchase is the inevitable result of the Conservative led strategic interventions in the “regeneration” of Exmouth Seafront over this period which has turned out to be a commercial failure. In other words it is Conservative intervention in the local leisure market over more than two decades that has been a signal failure.

In June 2020 Democratic Alliance Coalition inherited this mess

In October 2020 LED estimated a loss of £1.3m in the current year as a result of COVID-19 restrictions over the leisure centres it operates in the East Devon area. It asked for funds ranging between £616,000 and £1.276m from EDDC. As a charitable trust it is unable to claim 75 per cent of lost income under a central government scheme whereas leisure facilities operated directly by Local Authorities can do so. Note that this is a Conservative imposed double whammy.

Yet in March 2022 Conservatives have the cheek to proclaim:

“EDDC owned leisure facilities have taken a huge financial hit during the Covid pandemic with the Council subsidising the activities of LED, a standalone company. Conservative councillors are concerned about these costs and are questioning the use of tax payers money to subsidise one business over another. This money could have been spent on keeping our public toilets open and prevent car parking increases.”

 Owl’s question to Conservatives:

When did you first have qualms about using taxpayers money to subsidise the “standalone” LED you created, especially in its relationship with the Harlequins “Ocean Blue” centre in Exmouth? 

Have you sanctioned Councillor Andrew Moulding for his playing off one business against another in 2015?

Why did Conservative councillors intervene so heavily in the local leisure market, with little or no consultation, for over two decades?

And has Simon Jupp MP fought really hard to get the 75% covid rebate paid to LED? East Devon deserves better  (to coin one of his very own phrases). 

Owls’ advice: Take anything said by a Conservative with a great big pinch of salt. Like Boris Johnson, it won’t stand much scrutiny.

In Touch or Out of Touch?

Simon Jupp on “moral bankruptcy”

Looks to Owl like Simon has been asking another of his “planted” questions in the House.

Photo of Simon JuppSimon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

I thank my hon. Friend for the strength of the Government’s response to the moral bankruptcy that P&O Ferries demonstrated at the Select Committee last week, and I welcome the Government’s commitments to protect seafarers in the future. Does my hon. Friend agree that every step needs to be taken to ensure that seafarers are properly protected in the future?

Photo of Robert CourtsRobert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Moral bankruptcy is precisely the point; my hon. Friend puts his finger on it. We are taking every step. We will come forward with a package. We want to make sure that we get this right and are keen to make sure that people are protected

Remember the government and Grant Shapps knew about the P&O sackings 24 hours in advance, but failed to intervene.

 In October of last year, new laws preventing businesses from laying off staff and taking them back on with different – often worse – pay and terms were rejected by the government, on the instructions of Boris Johnson.

Which way did our indignant Simon Jupp vote then? – Owl

‘It’s OUR local’ – East Budleigh celebrates reopening of pub now owned by the community

An East Budleigh resident who drank his first-ever pint of beer in the Sir Walter Raleigh pub in 1957 had the honour of officially reopening it as a community-owned venue. 

Philippa Davies 

Trevor Hayman, 78, cut the ribbon on Sunday, March 27 in front of a crowd of local residents who are now shareholders in the pub, after they joined forces to buy it. 

Trevor Hayman with pub committee chairman Mark Duffelen – Credit: Elsa White

Mr Hayman said: “I have lived in East Budleigh all my life and it is wonderful that the village has managed to save this wonderful pub. It gives me the greatest pleasure to open the Sir Walter Raleigh as our very own community pub.” 

With the pub officially open, residents gathered inside to raise a glass to their successful takeover. 

It had taken just six weeks and five days – from the day that the steering group launched the share offer in January – to complete the purchase of the Sir Walter Raleigh. In that time more than 300 people gave their commitment by becoming shareholders, volunteering, and committing to use the pub. 

More than 90 East Budleigh residents were directly involved in the venture, offering help with legal issues, marketing, refurbishments and general maintenance work. A new landlady and landlord, Carol and Darren Yates, were appointed to run the pub, having previously successfully managed the Bowd Inn and Blue Ball Inn near Sidmouth. 

Following the purchase, an army of volunteers came forward to redecorate the 16th-century pub in time for its grand reopening on Mothering Sunday. 

Pub committee member and East Budleigh resident Judith Venning said: “We thank all those local businesses who have given their time for free or at a discount. We have received offers of help across all areas of the refurbishment. What a wonderful community we live in!” 

The revamped Sir Walter Raleigh will soon also have a café, with volunteers serving hot drinks and cakes from 9am until 11am, prior to the pub’s lunchtime service. Walt’s Café will open on Monday, April 11. 

Resident and committee chairman Mark Duffelen said: “I very much hope that everyone will love what’s been done, and most of all love visiting the pub.” 

The pub will be open seven days a week, Monday 12-3pm and 5.30-11pm (no food, chef’s day off), Tuesday – Saturday 12-3pm and 5.30-11pm (food served 12-2.30pm and 6-9pm) and Sunday 12-3pm and 6-10.30pm (food served 12-3pm). 

Customers can keep up to date by visiting the pub’s Facebook page @sirwalterraleighpub, while a new website is being designed. For further information or to make a booking, email or call 01395 442510. 

Johnson could be forced to release secret Lebedev dossier

Labour will tomorrow try to force the government to release secret papers relating to Boris Johnson’s controversial appointment of Evgeny Lebedev to the House of Lords.

Adam Bychawski 

Tuesday’s vote will call on Steve Barclay, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to give up all documents held by Number 10 and the Cabinet Office relating to advice from the House of Lords Appointments Committee about Lebedev’s appointment. Deputy leader Angela Rayner will also use the vote – officially a ‘humble address’ – to ask for records of meetings at which the appointment was discussed.

It comes after Boris Johnson denied allegations that he had intervened to secure the peerage for Lebedev, who is a close friend, in July 2020 after intelligence services warned it would be a security risk. Lebedev, whose father is a former Russian spy, has fiercely denied posing any such risk to the UK.

Last week, former Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings turned up the heat on Johnson by claiming he was in the room when the PM was told by Cabinet Office officials that there were “serious reservations” from intelligence services about his plan to appoint Lebedev.

Cummings went on to claim that Johnson had “cut a deal” with officials to present a “sanitised” version of the security report to the House of Lords Appointments Committee, which is responsible for scrutinising the nomination of new peers.

openDemocracy previously revealed that Johnson had a “personal” meeting with the Russian-born oligarch just days after telling the British public to avoid ‘non-essential contact’ in March 2020.

Lebedev is the longstanding proprietor of two British newspapers – The Independent and the Evening Standard. His father, from whom he derives his wealth, is the billionaire oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev.

Lebedev Jr has previously defended Vladimir Putin and questioned Russia’s involvement in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the Kremlin critic poisoned with polonium at a London hotel.

Johnson has maintained a close relationship with Lebedev Jr since they met in 2009. He attended at least four parties at the Russian oligarch’s Umbrian villa during his time as London mayor, using Lebedev’s private jet to fly there and back to London.

Earlier this month, The Sunday Times reported that the head of MI6 had expressed concerns that the Russian businessman was “keen to ingratiate himself with the British establishment” a decade ago.

Rayner accused the prime minister of putting “personal interest before the public’s”.

“The British public have a right to know if and how an individual of apparent concern to our intelligence services was granted a seat in the heart of our Parliament by Boris Johnson, against security advice,” she added.

Since taking up his peerage in December 2020, Lebedev has spoken only once and never voted.

In February, he wrote an open letter to Putin, in which he urged the Russian president to “bring this terrible conflict in Ukraine to an end”.

Sidmouth: Walkway to Jacob’s Ladder beach cordoned off after cliff fall

An area of the walkway between Sidmouth and Jacob’s Ladder beach has been cordoned off after a cliff fall yesterday morning (Sunday 27 March).

Will Goddard

Jacob's Ladder, Sidmouth (Nub News, Will Goddard)

Jacob’s Ladder, Sidmouth (Nub News, Will Goddard)

The rocks fell on the path below Connaught Gardens. East Devon District Council and Beer Coastguard closed the path as there were still loose rocks on the cliff face which could pose a danger to the public.

A spokesperson for Beer Coastguard said: “We closed the path along with the council to protect the public as there was still loose rocks on the cliff face.”

Person collapses on Jacob’s Ladder beach

Beer Coastguard also assisted in helping an individual who had collapsed on Jacob’s Ladder beach on the evening of Saturday 26 March in a separate incident.

The person was taken to hospital.

A spokesperson said: “Tasked with Exmouth Coastguard, the Hazardous Area Response Team and SWAST, to a collapsed person on the beach, the casualty was stabilised before being stretchered to the Ambulance for onward transport to hospital.

“We wish them a speedy recovery.”

Big regional divide on some energy bill charges

South West to see one of the biggest price hikes – why?

More Tory levelling-up in action – Owl

Sharp rises in standing charges on standard electricity bills will see customers face very different cost increases depending on where they live.

By Rebecca Wearn Business reporter, BBC News

Customers in South Scotland, Merseyside, North Wales and the South West of England will see the daily payments double from April.

Those in London and the East of England will see increases of less than 60%.

All consumer bills include a standing charge; a fixed daily payment covering the costs of supply and other levies.

The regulator Ofgem caps them for consumers on standard default tariffs in England, Wales and Scotland, although the cap varies by region.

Standing charges are not the biggest part of an energy bill, but they are set to rise by more than £71 a year on average in April.

‘Not surprised’

Jeehan Saleh and Hesham Hussain told the BBC the wide regional differences were unfair at time when energy bills are soaring.

They say they “weren’t shocked” when they learned that standing charges where they live in Garston in South Liverpool would rise by double that of other areas.

“Surprise, surprise, Liverpool again isn’t it,” said Hesham.

“It’s always us being hit the hardest,” added Jeehan. “There’s people in poorer areas where we work who are choosing between food bills and energy bills. Thankfully we’re not in that position but it’s not too far from home. You’re already feeling it in so many areas, this is just another hit.”

The standing charge has always varied depending on where you live, due to different costs to supply homes with power in rural or more remote areas.

However, BBC research has shown that the increase this spring varies disproportionately in different parts of Britain, when comparing standard variable tariffs for electricity paid for by direct debit.

Analysts told the BBC that local suppliers are moving charges which were once part of a consumer’s unit price for energy (which now has a tight upper limit on it) over to their standing charge. They are also increasing standing charges to the maximum level for each region, which means a big jump for some places.

The average increase – of just under 20p per day – will add more than £71 a year to a standard electricity tariff. But in North Wales and Merseyside, the South West, the Midlands, South Scotland and South Wales the rise will add over £80 a year. In London less than £30 will be added.


The cap on standard charges will increase more in some areas than others

Price per day for Single Rate Electricity Meter from April 2022 by British region in order of percentage charge.

  • London: up 8p a day to 31p – a 38% increase
  • Eastern: up 13p a day to 36p – a 58% increase
  • South East: up 17p a day to 40p – a 73% increase
  • North West: up 17p a day to 40p – 73% increase
  • Southern: up 18p a day to 41p – an 80% increase
  • Yorkshire: up 21p a day to 46p – an 81% increase
  • North Scotland: up 22p a day to 48p – a 83% increase
  • Northern: up 21p a day to 46p – an 85% increase
  • East Midlands: up 20p a day to 43p – an 88% increase
  • Midlands: up 22p a day to 46p – a 92% increase
  • South Wales: up 22p a day to 46p – a 94% increase
  • Southern Scotland: up 24p a day to 47p – a 100% increase
  • South Western: up 25p a day to 49p – a 101% increase
  • North Wales & Merseyside: up 23p a day to 45p – 102% increase

The changes are slightly different for customers using prepayment meters.

It comes as households in England, Scotland and Wales prepare for an even bigger hit when the energy price cap – which limits what consumer pay per unit of gas and electricity – also goes up in April.

In Liverpool, David and Joan Boyle told us their energy bill was rising by £700. They are happy they will be able to manage but say they worry about other people.

Elsewhere there was more concern.

“Standing charges should be the same everywhere shouldn’t they,” said Kev Oloughlin. He was enjoying a day out in the sunshine with his son Leo. He told us they’d “normally shop around every year when bills come in, but at the moment it’s pointless”.

He added: “We’re managing alright with things but we’re conscious of having the heating and things like that on. Everyone’s got to tighten their belt at the minute haven’t they.”

The standing charge not only covers costs such network maintenance, administration fees and certain government schemes. It is also the part of your bill that will contribute to the cost of the 28 energy suppliers that have gone bust since last autumn amid a cost crunch sparked by sharply rising wholesale energy prices.

Ofgem told the BBC that the levy added to bills to pay for costs associated with energy suppliers going bust had been spread equally across the country.

It says standing charges in some regions are increasing more than others because of a reallocation of network costs, the level of which differs between distribution networks.

Unavoidable cost

The BBC contacted major suppliers British Gas, Scottish Power, EDF, EOn, Ovo/SSE, Shell, Octopus and Bulb, and almost all confirmed they now have a majority of customers on a standard default tariff, which is controlled by the Ofgem cap.

Three of the biggest suppliers, British Gas, Scottish and Ovo/SSE would not give details on their charges, calling them “commercially sensitive”.

But EOn, EDF, Shell, Octopus and Bulb confirmed they were increasing standing charges on these tariffs in line with the standard charge cap, with example prices (including VAT) from Bulb, EDF and Shell varying from 32p a day in London and 38p in the East, to around 50p in Northern Scotland and the South West.

And it is not an expense that can be avoided by shopping around. While tariffs actively chosen by customers, such as fixed rate tariffs, are not subject to the default tariff cap on standard charges, there are only a handful of such deals on the market.

Moneysupermarket told the BBC that as of 14 March, there were just five fixed tariffs available to consumers. This compares to about 96 fixed deals available at the same time in 2021.

Analysis box by Colletta Smith, Consumer affairs correspondent

Standing charges are certainly not the biggest part of your energy bill, and they are dwarfed by the massive increases in the unit price for the energy you use.

But in normal circumstances an extra £80 a year on your energy bill just from standing charges would not go unnoticed, especially as in some areas they are increasing by a lot more than others. So is something fishy going on?

Ofgem assures me that the extra costs for failed energy companies are being spread equally across the country.

But the Energy Networks Association say that no major network developments have happened in any areas in the last six months that would explain the regional divisions.

Local suppliers are moving charges which were once part of your unit price, which now has a tight price cap on it, and shifting them across to your standing charge. Most suppliers are upping their standing charges to the maximum level for each region, which means a big jump for some places, adding insult to the injury of a whopping energy bill.

Why the UK can’t rely on boosters to get through each new wave of Covid

The take-home message is that the pandemic is very much with us and evolving dynamically, with a long, bumpy road ahead. The option to sleepwalk through this, taking automatic-pilot choices based on what was “good enough” in the first wave is one we adopt at our peril.

(Danny Altmann is a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, who has contributed advice to the Cabinet Office, APPG on long Covid, and the EU)

Danny Altmann 

This time in 2020, we watched with horror as the realities of the pandemic and its death toll unfurled. Most hardly dared imagine that effective vaccines might appear in a fraction of the time taken for previous efforts, effectively stemming the pandemic tide.

But despite the success of the vaccines in greatly reducing the odds of hospitalisation or death, viral evolution had plenty more to throw at us. The onslaught of highly immune-evasive variants was, for most of us in immunology and virology, unforeseen. We’d come to think of the coronavirus family as being rather more stable – less error-prone in terms of mutations – than many viruses. And we had never before had to roll out relatively new ways of developing vaccines, involving mRNA or recombinant adenoviruses, at this scale and in the heat of battle.

Having started out brilliantly, the real-life state of play today is self-evidently suboptimal. The vaccines rapidly induce hugely high levels of protective, neutralising antibodies in most people, but these levels wane within months of each sequential dose. Meanwhile, Omicron and the subvariant BA.2 have managed to mutate almost every amino acid residue targeted by protective antibodies, escaping protection. And so you have the unhappy equilibrium currently endured by the UK: more than 300,000 new cases a day, as of late last week, and a continuing caseload of more than 3 million, with hospital admissions and excess deaths holding steady at a new – high – setpoint. All this despite one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

We are living in a precarious truce imposed through frequent mRNA boosters to keep the viral caseload “manageable”. But there are signs this isn’t sustainable, and that a strategy simply consisting of boosters in perpetuity may not be fit for purpose. Recent case surges in Hong Kong, Denmark and Scotland emphasise the fragility of that balance. And new evidence from the past two years suggests that encounters with different variants of Covid or different vaccine types can alter the effectiveness of later jabs in surprising ways – an effect called immune imprinting. This raises the possibility that booster performance could be even less predictable and effective in the future.

Sars-CoV-2 began as a single variant, which we term the Wuhan strain. But we now inhabit a world where no two people share precisely the same exposure history: we have never been infected, or were asymptomatically, mildly or severely infected during any or a combination of the Wuhan to Alpha, Delta, Omicron or BA.2 waves, and we’ve all had somewhere from zero to four doses of diverse vaccines. The combination of these exposures gives each of us a unique immune memory repertoire.

Imagine a huge jar of pills of different colours, each especially good for responding to a given present or future variant. Someone whose experience has been an Alpha infection plus three doses of Pfizer may have brilliantly built up lots of green pills at the expense of others. But this is less good for you if the next variant mainly needs yellow pills. It turns out the order and type of exposure can affect how our immune system responds later on.

In a recent paper reported in the journal Science, we compared protective immunity between people infected in the first wave with the original strain and in the second wave with the Alpha variant. In second wave-infected people, encounters with an Alpha infection plus two vaccine doses gave lower protective (known as neutralising) antibody responses against the Wuhan and Beta variant, yet higher responses against Delta. Given the number of vaccines and strains, these interactions are unpredictable, but will shape how our immunity holds for future waves. It needs more investigation.

These are complex problems demanding careful research, long-term planning, trials and even some intelligent crystal ball-gazing. We must evaluate many approaches. Some places have announced a fourth dose rollout for first generation Pfizer vaccines (which cross-neutralises recent variants, but very suboptimally); some vaccine makers have pivoted to targeting the Omicron spike; others are working on polyvalent vaccines to include several different versions of spike, or clever structural approaches to target those parts of spike that would be the same across all past and future variants, and maybe even across those coronaviruses still awaiting crossover from bats and pangolins.

This latter approach is exciting and the subject of recent efforts across many teams, including research trials through the US National Institutes of Health and at Cambridge University. There are also advanced programmes considering intranasal – nose – vaccination to achieve local mucosal immunity, increasing the chances of blocking transmission at that site altogether, and vaccine platforms that could be much more durable.

The take-home message is that the pandemic is very much with us and evolving dynamically, with a long, bumpy road ahead. The option to sleepwalk through this, taking automatic-pilot choices based on what was “good enough” in the first wave is one we adopt at our peril. We must look at options besides simply boosting through every successive wave. At a time when the US has cut future vaccine research funding, and the UK also needs to maintain its momentum, this should be an urgent priority.