Covid cases in over-55s now twenty times higher than in last two years.

Among those aged 55 and over, the estimated prevalence on 31 March stood at 8.31%. “This is around 20 times higher than the average for that group across the whole period from May 2020 through to March 2022, so these are absolutely unprecedentedly high levels.” 

Overall the south-west had the highest infection rate at 8.13%.

These findings come from the REACT study that the government will no longer fund.

In the absence of any viable Public Health “test, track and trace” system, random studies such as this, and the ONS study, provide vital data on the spread of the disease. 

Remember, very early in the pandemic, on March 12, 2020, Public Health ceased Covid testing in the community and retreated to testing principally within hospitals. 

It seems that this government doesn’t like to be bothered with facts and figures, especially inconvenient ones that get in the way of policy making. – Owl

Covid deaths in England may rise as cases in over-55s increase

Linda Geddes

A rise in Covid infections in the over-55s could see an increased number of hospitalisations and deaths in the coming weeks, experts have warned.

Imperial College London’s latest React-1 study found that while infections appeared to be slowing down or plateauing in most younger age groups in England, they were rising in over-55s, with no clear sign of when they will peak.

According to their latest data, the average prevalence of Covid-19 across England stood at 6.4%, based on swabs collected between 9 and 31 March from a random sample of nearly 100,000 people. “That’s by far the highest we’ve seen at any time since [the study began] in May 2020,” said Prof Paul Elliott, who led the research.

The south-west had the highest infection rate at 8.13%, and West Midlands the lowest at 5.28%, with reliable increases in infections observed in all English regions apart from London.

Among those aged 55 and over, the estimated prevalence on 31 March stood at 8.31%. “This is around 20 times higher than the average for that group across the whole period from May 2020 through to March 2022, so these are absolutely unprecedentedly high levels,” Elliott said.

“Obviously there’s the vaccination programme, which has been hugely important in protecting us as a population, but if you see more infection, you would generally expect to see more severe outcomes [such as hospitalisations and deaths],” added Prof Christl Donnelly at Imperial College London, who was also involved in the study.

“We don’t yet know when we’ll see a peak in the over-55 age group, and because those people are at higher risk of severe outcomes that is a particular worry.”

The team also identified eight cases involving “recombinant” forms of the coronavirus, which can occur when a person is infected with two variants at once, including five of the XE variant, a combination of Omicron BA.1 and BA.2. Separate data has suggested this is spreading about 10% faster than BA.2 in the UK, with 637 cases identified as of 22 March.

The figures came as the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that Covid-related deaths in England have jumped to their highest level since mid-February.

There were 780 deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate in the seven days leading up to 25 March – up 14% on the previous week. This increase follows several weeks where deaths appeared to have levelled off.

Coronavirus infections have been rising across the UK since early March, driven by the Omicron BA.2 variant. Prevalence of the virus is currently at a record high, with ONS figures suggesting approximately 4.9 million people had Covid in the week to 26 March. This increase may now be having an impact on the number of deaths, which typically lag behind infections by several weeks.

The death toll is the highest since 18 February when 863 deaths were recorded – although this is still lower than at the peak of the first Omicron wave when 1,484 deaths were registered in England and Wales in the week to 21 January. It is also well below the 8,433 deaths registered at the peak of the second wave of coronavirus in the week to 29 January 2021.

In total 190,053 deaths have now occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, according to the ONS. The number of people in hospital in the UK with coronavirus is close to the total reached at the start of this year but is still far below levels recorded in early 2021.

This relatively low number of deaths and hospitalisations largely reflects the success of the vaccination programme – in particular the rollout of booster doses at the end of 2021. A fourth “spring booster” dose of vaccine is being offered to people aged 75 and over, care home residents and those aged 12 and over with weakened immune systems.

Wednesday’s React-1 figures are the last that will be published by the study group, as the government has now axed funding for the project. Throughout the pandemic, it has played a key role in tracking the spread of Covid-19 infections in the community, alongside the ONS study, which will continue.

Elliott said he was “extremely proud” of what the study had achieved, providing “very rapid, real-time information that we endeavoured to report very quickly to the public, to the press, as well as to the government.

“There will be a bit of a loss. But I’m very hopeful that with the [ONS study] continuing we will still be ahead of other countries in terms of population level surveillance.”

Partygate: ministers refuse to disclose pictures taken by No 10 photographers

We paid for them but we can’t see them, what do they show? – Owl

Rowena Mason 

Ministers are refusing to disclose any pictures taken by official No 10 photographers of illegal gatherings held inside Downing Street, prompting Labour to call on Boris Johnson to “come clean and release these photos”.

The Cabinet Office refused to confirm or deny the existence of any photographs of events in the cabinet room, leaving parties, and a party in the prime minister’s Downing Street flat, after official pictures of the gatherings were requested under freedom of information laws.

It said disclosing such information could prejudice the investigation, and contravene the principle of “fairness” under data protection regulations.

It has been reported that photographs taken by taxpayer-funded official photographers for No 10 are among the evidence handed to Sue Gray for her investigation into the parties, including one of Johnson’s birthday gathering on 19 June 2020, where he is allegedly holding up a beer towards the camera in a toast.

“The Downing Street photographer is funded by the taxpayer. The public have every right to see the photos that their hard-earned money has paid for,” she said. “By blocking their publication, Boris Johnson is trying to cover up his own rule breaking.

“As this government inflicts crippling tax hikes on working families during a cost of living crisis, the least they can do is be honest about what that money is being spent on. Boris Johnson must come clean and release these photos.”

It comes as the government is under fire over its lack of transparency over who has been issued with fines over the Partygate scandal. The government is not requiring civil servants to disclose to the Cabinet Office if they receive penalties after a police investigation. Only Boris Johnson and Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, have committed to revealing whether they are hit by fines.

Jill Rutter, a senior fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe thinktank, wrote on Tuesday that Partygate “should not degenerate into a Whitehall version of Cluedo … the Met should stop dribbling out fines; there should be a commitment to name the most senior civil servants and all ministers fined”.

Helen MacNamara, the former head of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office, issued an apology after a leak named her as one of the 20 people issued with fines as part of the Met investigation.

A leaving party for Kate Josephs, who ran the Covid taskforce, has also attracted fines in the first wave of penalty notices. Josephs is now on paid leave from her job as chief executive of Sheffield city council pending an investigation and it is not known whether she has personally received a fine.

Gray has the power to name senior civil servants in her report although she may choose not to use it. In her interim report, she named no names and referred only to the “senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the prime minister” – thought to be an allusion to Martin Reynolds, the principal private secretary.

Covid-19 weekly deaths in England and Wales highest since mid-February

The number of deaths involving coronavirus registered each week in England and Wales has jumped to its highest level since mid-February.

By Ian Jones, PA 

A total of 780 deaths registered in the seven days to March 25 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is up 14% on the previous week and follows several weeks where deaths appeared to have levelled off.

The latest figures could signal the start of a new upwards trend.

Coronavirus infections have been rising across the UK since early March, driven by the Omicron BA.2 variant, and prevalence of the virus is currently at a record high.

This increase may now be having an impact on the number of death registrations.

The total for the week to March 25 of 780 is the highest since 863 deaths in the week to February 18.

During the previous surge of infections at the start of this year, which was caused by the original Omicron variant, Covid-19 deaths registered in England and Wales peaked at 1,484 in the week to January 21.

But this was well below the 8,433 deaths registered at the peak of the second wave of the virus, in the week to January 29 2021.

The relatively low number of deaths during recent months reflects the success of the vaccination programme, in particular the rollout of booster doses at the end of last year.

A fresh campaign is now under way to give a “spring booster” – a fourth dose of vaccine – to people aged 75 and over, residents of older adult care homes, and those aged 12 and over who are immunosuppressed.

Fourth doses of vaccine can be given to people who are at least six months on from their most recent jab.

Figures published last Friday by the ONS showed prevalence of Covid-19 in the UK is at a record high, with an estimated 4.9 million infections in the week to March 26.

The number of people in hospital in the UK with coronavirus is close to the total reached at the start of this year, but is still far below levels seen during the second wave in early 2021 – again reflecting the impact of the rollout of vaccines.

Overall, 190,053 deaths have now occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.

The highest number on a single day was 1,487 on January 19 2021.

During the first wave of the virus, the daily toll peaked at 1,461 on April 8 2020.

Around nine in 10 deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate since the start of the pandemic have coronavirus as the primary cause of death, with a minority listing the virus as a contributory factor.

Rising Rural bills

Households in rural areas will be worst affected by rising energy bills, according to new Labour analysis. The party found that rural households will pay around a third more to heat their homes on average as prices rise, partly due to a higher proportion of low-energy-efficiency homes in those areas. Shadow DEFRA Secretary Jim McMahon said the government’s £200 energy discount/loan would “do nothing to tackle the bill hikes people in rural communities have been facing every year.”

POLITICO London Playbook Tuesday 5 April

MPs have claimed £420,000 on expenses for their energy bills

A suitable post for the day taxes go up for many – Owl

British MPs have charged taxpayers £420,000 for energy bills in their second homes over the last three years, openDemocracy can reveal.

Martin Williams 

The government has refused to step in to curb record high energy costs as millions in the UK face bill hikes of 54%. Senior Tories also blocked proposals for a windfall tax on energy firms.

Yet government ministers are among the 405 MPs who have claimed expenses for their heating bills since April 2019. They include foreign secretary Liz Truss, two senior Treasury ministers, and even a minister from the department for energy.

Meanwhile, ordinary consumers have been hit with an extra £700-a-year cost for heating their homes. Official figures show 40% have already been finding it difficult to afford gas and electricity.

George Freeman, who is a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, claimed £1,565 for electricity and other fuel.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, claimed £1,548 for gas and electricity.

Treasury ministers Simon Clarke and John Glen also claimed expenses for household energy.

Meanwhile, the government’s attorney general, Suella Braverman, racked up a £3,945 energy bill, which she charged to taxpayers.

And the disgraced former health secretary, Matt Hancock claimed a staggering £4,800 on energy costs – mostly during the pandemic.

But Labour MP Liam Byrne claimed the most on energy in his second home, charging taxpayers some £7,808 over three years.

Under the expenses system, MPs are allowed to claim for utility bills at their second homes if their constituencies are outside London.

Last week, MPs also got a £2,212 pay rise, bringing their standard salary up to £84,144 a year.

In reality, many MPs earn far more than this, as they are often paid extra for taking on additional roles like being a minister or chairing a select committee.

In November, openDemocracy also revealed that MPs had earned £6m from second jobs since the start of the pandemic.

But outside Westminster, the UK’s poverty crisis is deepening – and the government has faced calls to rein in energy companies by introducing a windfall tax.

Last month, openDemocracy revealed that the Big Six energy companies had made more than £1bn in profit ahead of the bill hike.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng dismissed proposals for a windfall tax, saying it would be “completely the wrong message to send investors”.

“We believe a windfall tax would be a tax on jobs, would destroy investment and would add to the uncertainty in oil markets,” he said.

Speaking in a Commons debate on the issue, Tory MP Andrew Bowie said the tax proposals were “stunts”. But records show that he has claimed expenses for almost £1,300 of electricity bills since 2019.

The energy price rise has sparked fresh concern about the UK’s spiralling poverty crisis, with low-earners, elderly and disabled people being hit the hardest.

The total cost to taxpayers for MPs’ energy bills is expected to rise even further as not all claims for last year will yet have been made.

The week in Tory – you couldn’t make it up

(Tweets in text below)

1. Grant Shapps (who has more identities than Jason Bourne, somebody else people would travel halfway round the world to punch) was ooooh, livid about P&O, and demanded workers be reinstated.

2. He tweeted “P&O Ferries has ripped up 800 workers’ rights and hung them out to dry”.

3. P&O’s owners pointed out that they’d told Shapps they were going to do this a year ago, and he’d implicitly given them the go-ahead for the sackings, telling them “you will need to make commercial decisions” that are best for P&O.

4. Boris Johnson told parliament P&O had broken the law – and he hates that kind of thing – so “We will take them to court to defend British workers”.

5. This week the government dropped plans to take P&O to court, leading experts to say “it looks like they’ve got away with it”.

6. Last month’s relaxation of public health measures has been so successful that this week Covid infections reached a record high, and hospitalisations of older people are 15 per cent up on the last Omicron peak.

7. So, obviously, from today, free Covid testing has been scrapped too

8. And funding for tracking Covid has been axed, cos if you don’t look, it isn’t really happening.

9. When presented with the option of reintroducing basic public health measures, the health secretary instead went with advising primary school children to “socialise a bit less”.

10. The “protective ring” thrown around care homes was breached (again) as the cost of tests for visitors rises to £73 per month, and becomes voluntary.

11. And then, to thank health staff for their work, sacrifices and avoidable deaths, Sajid Javid scrapped their free parking.

12. So, sad news for the NHS, but fabulous news for Tory peer Michelle Mone.

13. She was reported to have directly lobbied government ministers to place orders for PPE from a company she was secretly involved in, via a tax haven – cos you wouldn’t wanna pay tax on your profiteering.

14. The Mone-adjacent company bought PPE for £46m, then sold it to the government at three times the price, and pocketed the difference.

15. And the PPE was never used cos it failed inspections.

16. And it looks like the PPE was somehow – surely by accident – issued with fake approval certificates.

17. And the entire thing had been negotiated between Mone and ministers using private email accounts, so there would be no papertrail.

18. Government guidelines forbid the use of private emails for government business. But they also forbid illegal profiteering, and look where that got us.

19. Rosa Klebb tribute act Priti Patel didn’t want to miss out, so made a “flagrant breach” of ministerial code by intervening to get a PPE contract for a company represented by her friend and former advisor.

20. Startled turbot Michael Gove was involved in granting the contract.

21. That company’s profits jumped from £38m to £166m.

22. After the last lobbying scandal – and I know it’s hard to keep track – the PM said he would “crack down” on the practice, and put a cap on MPs’ earnings from second jobs.

23. This week he quietly scrapped those promises.

24. And so ex-social care minister Caroline Dinenage immediately took a lucrative second job at a social care business owned by a Tory donor.

25. The Met continued their Cosmo-questionnaire-based approach to crimefighting, and issued 20 fines for people involved in PartyGate.

26. The fines coincided with the opening of the Covid Memorial wall, and also with the day Tory MPs chose to throw a jolly party for themselves; what larks!

27. Tories entered the shindig via a line of mourners from Covid deaths, and not one Tory MP looked at them. Not one. [Another question for you Neil and Simon: did you “avert your eyes”?- Owl]

28. Follicular fire-hazard Michael Fabricant, having experienced this, was moved to tweet his outrage – not about the flatly ignored mourners, but about the wine at the party being merely a “passable” House Merlot, and not up to his usual standards.

29. On the way in he said “We’re going to have a lot of fun”.

30. On the way out, clearly briefed by somebody smarter, such as the animal corpse on his head, he said it “wasn’t a party, just colleagues having dinner and drinks”, which is exactly what they just got fined for.

31. Months ago, as PartyGate kicked off, Solicitor General Alex Chalk put it in writing that he would resign if there was “a scintilla of a suggestion” anyone had broken the law over Downing St parties.

32. Alex Chalk has not resigned as Solicitor General. I know! I’m amazed, too

33. Boris Johnson suggested the fines simply showed that he was being honest when had told parliament “There was no party and no rules were broken”.

34. The ministerial code says “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.

35. Dominic Raab, the kind of Justice Minister you’d expect to find on Gumtree, admitted laws had been broken.

36. Johnson listened politely, then said he would remain “pretty firmly on his position” that no laws were broken.

37. And then Number 10 said laws had been broken.

38. But Johnson refused to admit laws were broken.

39. To help out, the police said laws had been broken.

40. Number 10 then had some sort of episode, said “we do not formally accept laws were broken”, and began denying Raab had said laws had been broken. Which he had said. On TV.

41. Number 10 then claimed the PM denying parties wasn’t a lie, even though police had fined 20 people for those parties.

42. Faced with a paradox hard for any mind to handle, let alone his, Raab said the PM’s bullshit was merely him “telling the truth, to the best of his ability”.

43. And then, in a magisterial challenge to irony, Raab complained we “can’t believe a word that comes out of Putin”.

44. So, off to the NATO summit, where our world-leading PM, Sir Plankton Churchill, was ignored by everybody, and ended up alone, gazing forlornly at the ground.

45. The government boasted it had sanctioned 18 oligarchs, cos we don’t want dodgy Russian money queue-jumping honest visa-applicants.

46. 8 of those 18 got into this country via the Tory policy of “golden visas”, using dodgy Russian money queue-jump honest visa-applicants.

47. Rishi Sunak, the rejected first-draft of an Aardman sidekick who is pretending to be a chancellor, said “I want to make it clear that there is no case for UK business investing in Russia”.

48. His family has a £727m stake in Russian business, but he blamed his wife for that.

49. He said anyone blaming his wife should be ashamed, but at least he hadn’t gone all Will Smith on their ass.

50. He’ll go slap-happy when he finds out the ministerial code says ministers “must ensure no conflict arises between their public duties and their private interests”.

51. Sunak told MPs he was a “tax-cutting chancellor”, and to prove it he introduced the biggest rise in taxes since the 1950s.

52. Energy bills rose 54%, so his brilliant plan for people with terrifying fuel debt was to force them into deeper debt, with a mandatory £200 loan.

53. He then – and bear in mind he’s supposed to be an expert on this stuff – said just because he was lending money to people who then had to repay it, that didn’t mean it was a loan.

54. David Davis – so good they named him once – said Sunak is “making the economy worse”

55. To celebrate this glowing review, Sunak, who’s primary skill appears to be taking his jacket off, got his official photographer to snap him (jacketless) posing as he filled up his very own Kia Rio.

56. Except he’d borrowed the Kia from a supermarket worker.

57. But he paid for the fuel, bless him, although it wasn’t easy. Footage showed the guy in charge of our nation’s money battling heroically as he got confused between a credit card and a can of coke, while desperately attempting to negotiate a till at a petrol station.

58. After his wily Kia Rio ploy fell through in about 4 seconds, he told MPs he really drives a “battered old Golf”.

59. He seems to have forgotten about the Range Rovers and 3 other luxury cars he owns, some of which he keeps at his modest, man-of-the-people pad in Santa Monica.

60. He told MPs it was impossible to say whether Brexit had hurt the economy, mainly cos he didn’t give a shit, what with him being massively rich.

61. Then, seemingly having cleared the cache in his brain, he told MPs it was “always inevitable” that Brexit would hurt the economy.

62. At the last general election Rishi Sunak had campaigned for a party promising their Brexit would make every person in Britain £993 a year richer.

63. It’s made every household £3,600 a year poorer.

64. That’s very nearly enough money to fill up a Kia Rio.

65. Research found the £20 Covid increase in Universal Credit lifted 400k children out of poverty, so, naturally, Sunak scrapped it.

66.And then, in a major shock to those who have been observing his levelling up plans, it was shown his changes to student loans hurt the poor most.

67. He’s clearly holding his levelling-up-o-meter upside down.

68. Economists said his plans leave one fifth of the UK in poverty.

69. He said “I am comfortable with the choices I made”.

70. 3 hours later, he was reported to be “panicked” into considering throwing his entire plan away.

71. As previous Tory decisions to scrap green investment added £190 a year to energy bills, an SNP MP asked Johnson in parliament how people in Scotland could afford to heat their homes.

72. Johnson – the actual Prime Minister – responded by calling him a fatty. In parliament.

73. Priti Patel, the Gnome of Sauron, promised a “fairer, more compassionate” Home Office after a report found her department was cruel, incompetent, and badly managed.

74. This week the report’s author said in 2 years since then, Patel had done almost nothing to fix her department.

75. Only 8 of 30 recommendations have been even partly implemented, and the report said it was “disappointed” 13 times.

76. So Patel, stalwart in her adherence to reality, said she was “pleased the report says significant progress has been made”.

77. She also designed a scheme for EU citizens to keep living in the UK, which is so good it means 2 million of them now face deportation.

78. A new independent (but Tory) head of Ofcom was announced, responsible for overseeing social media regulation and protecting broadcasting.

79. He immediately said he wants to privatise Channel 4 and scrap the BBC funding model.

80. The man now in charge of regulating social media ,proudly stated that he’s never used social media, but “is aware of it” because his children told him about TikTok.

81. He went on to say how much he admired Laurence Fox, that waxy, lurching manifestation of entitlement and stupidity, because “I know his family”, which I think we can all agree is a GREAT reason to support Fox constantly undermining public health in a pandemic.

82. Nadhim Zahawi, a child’s drawing of pure greed superimposed onto a competitively evil gonad, announced he would force all schools to become academies by 2030.

83. This was because “evidence” showed academies “deliver the best possible outcomes”.

84. The “evidence” actually shows academies perform 23 per cent worse than council-run schools.

85. Then Zahawi proudly announced a bold new idea – never tried before, not at any parents’ evenings ever – of getting teachers to tell parents if their kids were doing badly in school. Cool.

86. Local elections are coming, and the public need honest communications about what they’re voting for.

87. So the government was found to have illegally spent £100,000 of public money on “Tory Propaganda” ads on Facebook, targeted on areas where they are defending small majorities.

88. Etch-a-sketch thunderc*nt Dom Raab was back, with a new bill of human rights to guarantee free speech.

89. But you have to exercise your free speech in monastic silence, cos Priti Patel has simultaneously banned any protests that is loud enough for anybody to hear.

90. Patel, the Shetland Pony of the Apocalypse, was also found this week to have breached human rights by her policy of literally stealing phones off asylum seekers.

91. More human rights news, as Johnson promised to ban conversion therapies that claim to “cure” gayness.

92. He then did a U-turn on that promise.

93. Then he did a U-turn on the U-turn… do we need to coin the phrase “W-turn”?.

94. But he hasn’t banned conversion therapy for being transgender.

95. And then Tory MP Jamie Wallis came out as transgender.

96. And so, as a consequence all this, Jamie Wallis is now a member of a political party with a stated policy – at least for the next 10-15 minutes – of “curing” Jamie Wallis of being Jamie Wallis.

Stressed Out Community GIF

OK, so… first, an apology, cos that must have been a nightmare.

But if you like nightmares, consider supporting my forthcoming book, which has more jokes and less stress, and at least you can burn it for heat when you run out of furniture.

Originally tweeted by Russ Jones (@RussInCheshire) on 01/04/2022.