Sun, 20 Sep 2020
With his ministers locked in debate this weekend over whether to introduce a second lockdown that would devastate the economy, the Prime Minister (pictured today at Westminster Abbey) announced that he was creating a new legal duty for people to self-isolate if they test positive for the virus or are told to do so by Test and Trace staff.
Matt Hancock warned today that Britain was at a 'tipping point' in its battle against a second devastating wave of coronavirus - and refused to rule out Londoners being told to work from home again.
Comment: The effect on the economy and people's lives in the short and long term is a lot more disastrous than just 'working from home'.
The Health Secretary also warned that a second total UK lockdown was a possibility as ministers brought in fines of up to £10,000 under strict new laws on self-isolation, amid fears rules were simply being flouted.
Mr Hancock said there was a danger the numbers could 'shoot through the roof' unless effective action was taken to halt the spread of the virus.
The UK recorded 3,899 new Covid-19 cases and another 18 deaths today, slightly down on yesterday's 4,422 but still part of a large spike.
Despite dire warnings about the economic impact of another complete shutdown, the Health Secretary said it was still an option if the measures already taken were not effective.
Gesticulating enthusiastically, Mr Hancock told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show: 'This country faces a tipping point.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock trying to sell the crisis to public
'We have a choice, and the choice is if everybody follows the rules and does the self-isolation if they need to, follows the rule of six, which is really simple and clear, and the basics, hands, face and space, then we can avoid further measures.
'But the alternative to that choice is that we will have to bring in more action. And we don't want to do that, but every single person has a part to play in this and everybody watching has a choice: do you follow the rules or not? And if everybody follows the rules, then we'll be able to get the virus under control.'
Comment: Follow the rules, even though they don't make sense, even when they change without warning, and even though doing so harms those you love, and, if you don't, we'll hit you with bankrupting fines, and then blame you for the total lockdown that we are scheming towards anyway.
With his ministers locked in debate this weekend over whether to introduce a second lockdown that would devastate the economy, the Prime Minister announced that he was creating a new legal duty for people to self-isolate if they test positive for the virus or are told to do so by Test and Trace staff.
'I don't want to see more measures, more restrictive measures. But unfortunately if people don't follow the rules that is how the virus spreads,' Mr Hancock added.
'It comes down to individual choices of the 60million people who live in this country as to whether we can keep it there with a local lockdown approach or whether we have to take further national action.'
Boris Johnson has been desperate to avoid another nationwide lockdown amid concerns about the economic damage it will inflict just as activity was beginning to pick up again.
However, as of Tuesday, around 13.5 million people across the UK will be facing some form of local restrictions as the authorities grapple with the disease.
In what could be a hammer blow for businesses, London mayor Sadiq Khan is reportedly pressing for new coronavirus restrictions for the capital on Monday, including a 10pm pub curfew, believing the city is just 'two or three days' behind the hotspots of the North West and North East of England.
Asked if London office employees could be advised to work from home from some point next week, Mr Hancock told Times Radio: 'Well, I wouldn't rule it out.'
But there has already been pushback from the PM's own backbenches. Tory Windsor MP Adam Afriyie said: 'If the aim is to save lives, it feels morally wrong, irrational and scientifically questionable, to enact destructive lockdown measures that may prevent one COVID death today, but kill several people tomorrow.
'In consequence MPs and minister must carefully reflect and debate lockdowns, before driving people from their jobs, restricting NHS access, crashing the economy, cutting billions from tax-take to exchequer & crushing civil liberties.
'We know more about Covid today and must take it into account.
And Professor Carl Heneghan, director for the centre of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, told Sky News the country cannot afford to introduce 'harsh measures' immediately to curb the spread of Covid-19, adding: 'What we have to do now is slow down, this is a long winter.'
'What we're seeing is that the virus is operating in a seasonal way.
'As we've gone back to schools, actually what's happened now is we've seen about a 60% increase in consultations for all the acute respiratory infections and that's what's driving the problems in the Test and Trace programme.
'All the young children who have coughs and colds and these infections, one is called rhinovirus.
'We can't afford to go now with harsh measures ... the impact on the economy here is going to be significant.
'What happens is as soon as you pause and then open up again, it tends to come back.
'We still have to be vigilant about ensuring the infections stay manageable across the board.'
The Health Secretary also told Britons to grass up their neighbours if they break the rules - and admitted he would do it himself.
The Health Secretary said people should 'absolutely' tell police if they see rule breakers as he warned he could not rule out a second national lockdown if rules continued to be flouted.
Comment: Hopefully most citizens will not wish to emulate an MP of such obviously questionable morals.
But the Government appears to be at sixes and seven over whether Britain should become a nation of narks, with contradictory views around the Cabinet.
Mr Hancock's comments were at odds with Boris Johnson's position, after the Prime Minister said last week that he did not like 'sneak culture' and urged people to inform on neighbours as a last resort, 'if there is some huge kind of Animal House party taking place ... hot tubs and so forth, and there is a serious threat to public health'.
However Home Secretary Priti Patel had earlier backed people informing on their neighbours if they were breaking the new rules, adding: 'It's not dobbing in neighbours, it's all about us taking personal responsibility.'
Comment: Priti Patel is another proponent of the tyranny and who has proven herself absent of integrity: UK MP Priti Patel resigns after admitting to secret meetings with Israeli politicians and trying to divert taxpayers money to Israeli army
Asked this morning on Sky's Ridge on Sunday if he would report a neighbour Mr Hancock said: 'Yes, and everybody should. And the reason for that is that the way we control this virus is by breaking the chains of transmission.'
Repeating this view later on the BBC's Andrew Marr show he added: 'I'm not in this for a popularity contest. I'm in this to keep the country safe.'
The development came as:
- The number of daily cases reached 4,422, the highest level since early May, with scientists fearing that infections are growing between two and seven per cent each day, with a national R rate between 1.1 and 1.4;
- Sources said that Mr Whitty was on 'resignation watch' over fears he may quit if Ministers resist his calls for tougher restrictions - but Mr Johnson is said to be in Whitty's 'grip';
- Supermarkets ran out of online delivery slots as the spectre of a second national lockdown prompted fears of panic buying, as Morrisons introduced limits on the number of shoppers across its 500 supermarkets for the first time since the height of the pandemic in March;
- Hospitality industry leaders warned they faced 'economic disaster' from a second lockdown with one in five of their venues - rising to a third in London - still closed and 900,000 employees on the Treasury furlough scheme which runs out at the end of October;
- No 10 reacted angrily to a 'brutal and personal' report in The Times claiming that Mr Johnson was miserable and short of money;
- Mr Sunak called for tough measures to balance the Treasury's books in the wake of the Covid crisis, including a freeze on benefits and public sector pay, as officials mocked Mr Johnson's 'Operation Moonshot' plan for mass testing as 'Operation Moonf***';
- Anti-vaccine protesters clashed with police in London; leading to 32 arrests;
- A third of the people recorded to have died from Covid in July and August may actually have passed away due to other causes, researchers at Oxford University suggested;
- The British Medical Association called on the Government to consider further tightening rules about who can meet, in the wake of the rise in daily cases.
A second wave of coronavirus cases in Europe is not causing deaths to spike.
Although cases in Spain have soared to almost 15,000 a day - leading to a new lockdown in parts of Madrid - the number of deaths remains relatively low compared with the peak in spring.
There were 240 deaths in Spain on Thursday - much lower than the 929 daily deaths reached in late March when there were a recorded 9,000 cases a day.
In France, another 13,498 cases were reported yesterday. But the latest 24-hour death toll - 154 on Friday - is much lower than in mid-April when there were 1,400 deaths but 5,500 confirmed cases.
The difference may be explained by an increase in testing in the countries in recent months, but could also be a sign that the virus is mainly infecting younger, healthier people who survive the illness.
Sweden, which did not impose a lockdown, continues to have a significantly lower rate of cases and deaths from Covid-19.
On Tuesday, Sweden had its lowest number of new cases since March. In April, Covid deaths in a single day in Sweden peaked at 115. Now, some days, that figure is zero.
Reported infections have been climbing steadily across most of Europe over the past two months, with more than half of countries seeing an increase of over ten per cent in the past two weeks.
Under a 'carrot and stick' approach, four million people on low incomes who cannot work from home will receive a £500 lump sum if forced to self-isolate.
Comment: A paltry amount that will ultimately do nothing for the soaring numbers of those most in need.
But fines for those breaching the rules, which come into effect a week tomorrow, will start at £1,000 - rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders and 'the most egregious breaches', which would include business owners who threaten self-isolating staff with redundancy if they do not come to work.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party supported the action that would target 'a small number' of people.
'There are a few people that are breaking the rules and something has to be done about that,' he told Ridge on Sunday.
'But it's not going to be the silver bullet ... we have a testing system that, when we need it to be effective, is barely serviceable.'
Comment: And all these destructive actions are based on tests that are provably flawed.
He added that reporting neighbours for suspected breaches of the rule-of-six restrictions should be done cautiously, saying: 'It depends on the circumstances. If someone is repeatedly flouting the rules, I think all of us would want to do something about it and I think that's where the majority of people are.
'What I've seen in policing across the country is actually it being done by consent, cajoling people, getting people to do the right thing, and I think that's how we need to go forward.
'I don't disagree with the Government that in the rare cases where people are flouting the rules, something's got to be done about it, so we support them on that.'
He also warned the Prime Minister that he needed to take immediate and hard-hitting action to avoid a miserable Christmas for millions of British families.
In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, the opposition leader said: 'He has to act swiftly and decisively now to get infections under control so that Christmas is not lost.
'It is astonishing that the Government didn't anticipate that we would need to boost testing when children went back to school and people went back to work.'
However reports today suggested that the PM might be prepared to relax any stringent new lockdowns over Christmas to provide some much-needed respite to families.
'The PM is anxious to avoid being portrayed as Scrooge,' a source told the Sun on Sunday.
'He's fully aware that millions of people are making big sacrifices to defeat this virus and is considering ways to allow them to experience the joy of Christmas for at last part of the holiday season.'
Large groups of walkers enjoy the warm sunshine in Hyde Park undeterred by government propaganda
Plenty of people were seen in on Saturday in large crowds at Stables Market in Camden, London, and in Nottingham, where people hit the pubs before they potentially close their doors again.
Comment: This is not behaviour people engage in when suffering an actual pandemic. People can see the propaganda doesn't match the reality are are acting accordingly.
Long queues were seen around Nottingham, with security having to step in and ask people to space out more due to zero social distancing going on. Police and community protection were doing patrols.
A sharp rise in the number of cases over recent weeks has triggered alarm in Downing Street, with the Government's scientific advisers pushing for a 'circuit breaking' second lockdown - but Ministers led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak are warning of the devastating economic impact.
Comment: There's nothing scientific about the government's advisors: Pandemic pushers, economy destroyers and sold out science: Imperial College are still open for business
A No 10 source admitted last night: 'It's not looking good.'
In a carefully choreographed move, the advisers, including Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, are expected to release data showing the rise in cases at a public event tomorrow.
Rishi Sunak is considering a freeze on benefits and public sector pay as he tries to get a grip on the spiralling cost of the coronavirus pandemic - and boost his own political ambitions.
With unemployment projected to rise to more than four million as a result of the crisis, the Chancellor has told fellow Ministers that he is deeply concerned about the long-term damage to the Treasury's balance sheet.
In an attempt to claw back billions of pounds in economic bailouts, Mr Sunak has discussed scrapping inflation-linked increases to both welfare payments and public sector salaries - and is trying to persuade Boris Johnson to rip up the 'triple lock' which protects the income of pensioners.
It comes as Mr Sunak - whose public poll ratings during the pandemic have outstripped his colleagues, including the Prime Minister - has been making increasingly energetic efforts to meet 'Red Wall' MPs who entered Parliament in the 2019 Election to set out his political priorities.
This has led to mutterings on the Tory backbenches about the growing strength - and independence - of Mr Sunak's operation.
Treasury staff are becoming increasingly outspoken about Downing Street's grip on the Covid crisis, with Boris Johnson's 'Operation Moonshot' plan to mass test ten million people a day by 2021 dismissively referred to in the department as a 'Moonf***' moneypit.
Mr Sunak has been the most hawkish Minister in the Government over the need to reopen the economy as quickly as possible, in the face of opposition from Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Government scientific advisers, led by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
Mr Johnson could then make a televised appearance on Tuesday to set out new measures.
Meanwhile senior Tories are planning to try to stop ministers imposing new coronavirus lockdown restrictions without the say of Parliament.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the powerful Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, has said he intends to table an amendment which would require the Government to put any new measures to a vote of MPs.
Sir Graham told The Sunday Telegraph that he would take the opportunity to seek to amend the legislation when the Government comes to renew the emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020.
The move is likely to attract significant support from Conservative MPs unhappy at the extensive powers taken by ministers with little or no parliamentary scrutiny.
Sir Graham told the Telegraph: 'In March, Parliament gave the Government sweeping emergency powers at a time when Parliament was about to go into recess and there was realistic concern that NHS care capacity might be overwhelmed by Covid-19.
'We now know that the NHS coped well with the challenge of the virus and Parliament has been sitting largely since April. There is now no justification for ministers ruling by emergency powers without reference to normal democratic processes.
'It is essential that going forward all of these massively important decisions for family life, and affecting people's jobs and businesses should be exercised with proper supervision and control.'
But he added that it is still possible that there could be a coronavirus vaccine before the end of the year.
Comment: Not a safe nor effective one: AstraZeneca suspends US COVID-19 vaccine trial amid serious concerns, trials continue in South Africa
'There is still hope that we will get one of the vaccines over the line this year. The Oxford vaccine is still at the front of the queue. More likely is next year, and probably the early part of next year.
'We have got the cavalry coming over the next few months - the vaccine, the mass testing and the improvements in treatments - but we have got to all follow the rules between now and then to keep people safe.'
The Prime Minister said last night: 'The best way we can fight this virus is by everyone following the rules and self-isolating if they're at risk of passing on coronavirus.
'And so nobody underestimates just how important this is, new regulations will mean you are legally obliged to do so if you have the virus or have been asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace.
'We need to do all we can to control the spread of this virus, to prevent the most vulnerable people from becoming infected, and to protect the NHS and save lives'.
Under the new rules, Test and Trace call handlers will make regular contact with those self-isolating and will pass on suspicions about those breaking the rules to local authorities and the police.
But one Government adviser, Professor Robert Dingwall, argued that it would be premature to reintroduce tougher measures, especially as existing rules have become 'unenforceable' because people do not buy into the spirit of the restrictions.
'There is a sense among some of the scientific advisers that the Government is perhaps jumping the gun,' he said.
'It's a bit premature to say that we're on this exponential growth curve when we may just be drifting up to a stable situation at a slightly higher level than we were a few weeks ago, which you would expect with the re-opening of the economy.'
Prof Dingwall also asked whether 'we are drifting towards a situation where people are quite comfortable with the idea that 20,000 people will die every year from Covid as we are comfortable with the idea that 20,000 people will die every year from influenza. And we shrug our shoulders and get on with our lives.
'We need to be having more of a national conversation that starts from the lives of ordinary people and what is practical to achieve, and what the costs of these measures are.'
Professor Heneghan added: 'There's no evidence right now of what's called a second wave.'
Asked if Prime Minister Boris Johnson was wrong in that assertion, he told Sky News: 'I get for our ministers this is an incredibly complicated area, some of the issues we're talking about require five or six years of healthcare experience to really get your head around.
'This is about good advice, to the Prime Minister, to the Health Secretary, that allows a wider range of expertise to come on board, and if they did that they might look at the problem slightly different.
'I think over the next few weeks if we can see a slower, analytical approach to the data, and a different approach to the advice, the Prime Minister might see a subtle change in his language that reflects a need to normalise what's going on.
'This is a seasonal effect now, if it becomes worse and it impacts on disease, then, yes, that's the point when we have restrictive measures, but that time is not now.'
Business leaders echoed the Chancellor's concerns and warned that a second lockdown would tank the economy, with the British Chambers of Commerce saying: 'Uncertainty and speculation around future national restrictions will sap business and consumer confidence at a delicate moment for the economy'.