Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Govt denies claims it intended to let virus rip to build herd immunity

Dominic Cummings has accused the government for failing to control the pandemic and for allowing the virus to run rampant. In a renewed Twitter tirade he repeated claims the government had planned to let coronavirus spread through the country to build "herd immunity", despite ministerial denials [Guardian / Sky News]. He has also claimed that the policy only changed when it was clear it would lead to a "catastrophe" [Sky News].

While it may be that Cummings only has his own self interests in mind, the accusations do stand up when looking at statements made by Boris Johnson and his scientific advisors before the country was forced to lockdown.


In early March 2020 as many as 10,000 people in the UK were said to likely be infected with coronavirus, and many people should expect to lose loved ones, the government said while announcing measures less stringent than those taken by other countries.

Debate

During a conversation with Philip Schofield on Good Morning Britain the PM seemed to indicate that strict measures were not required and that letting the virus spread throughout the population might be the best route [FullFactYouTube].

Asked whether he was "essentially trying to spread this out so it doesn't all happen at once and overwhelm the NHS'' Boris Johnson responded saying there had been a "lot of debate."

"One of the theories is, that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures. I think we need to strike a balance, I think it is very important, we've got a fantastic NHS, we will give them all the support that they need, we will make sure that they have all preparations, all the kit that they need for us to get through it. But I think it would be better if we take all the measures that we can now to stop the peak of the disease being as difficult for the NHS as it might be, I think there are things that we may be able to do."

While he didn't clearly state that the virus should be allowed to rip, his actions, or rather the lack of them seemed to point to Cummings's assertion that government policy was to allow the virus to spread.

Delay phase

On 12th March Britain moved from the "contain" phase of the crisis to the "delay" phase whilst the death toll for UK citizens was at 12, two of them having died overseas, and the official number of infected people reached 590 [BBC].

Meanwhile Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said that worst-case scenario planning projected that 80% of the country would contract the virus, with a 1% mortality rate. This equated to more than 500,000 deaths.

A year later nearly 150,000 had died. Tragic as this was, three successive lockdowns likely reduced the projected death toll [Guardian].

Herd Immunity

Recent government denials concerning Cummings's claim the policy was one of creating herd immunity appears also to contradict reports at the time when Sir Patrick Vallance, England's chief scientific adviser, defended the government's approach to tackling the coronavirus, saying it could have the benefit of creating "herd immunity" across the population.

Britain's chief scientific adviser stoked controversy on Friday 13th March when he said that about 40m people in the UK could need to catch the coronavirus to build up "herd immunity" and prevent the disease coming back in the future.

"Communities will become immune to it and that's going to be an important part of controlling this longer term," Vallance said. "About 60 % is the sort of figure you need to get herd immunity." [Sky News / Guardian / FT]

At the same time as the PM and the government's scientific advisors appeared to be following a plan of "allowing the virus to rip" through the population, ministers were facing growing questions about why the UK wasn't acting in a similar way to other European countries, such as France and Italy, who had taken measures ranging from banning large gatherings to quarantining the entire population.

Indeed at the very same time the Cheltenham festival took place attended by 251,684 people over the four day event, something regarded as having been a superspreader event since. Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, said it was "the best possible way to accelerate the spread of the virus" [Guardian / BBC].

Risk of variants

It might well appear academic and somewhat moot to analyse and criticise the UK government's past mistakes, whether they were made in good faith or because they failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic and the spread of the virus.

However, it is all too possible that the government may well be repeating many of the same mistakes.

One major mistake that may be unfolding is their apparent failure to see the risk posed by the COVID-19 mutations, often referred to as variants.

It has long been known that viruses mutate, be they DNA or RNA based viruses [CBC].

To survive, unlike plants, animals and other organisms, the only way a virus can reproduce is through a host cell, which it does by attaching its surface proteins to the cell's membrane and injecting its genetic material into the cell. This genetic material, either DNA or RNA, then carries with it the instructions to the cell's machinery to make more viruses. These new viruses then leave the cell and spread to other parts of the host organism.

But host organisms are not passive observers to this process, and over time a human's or other animal's immune system can learn from these encounters and develop strategies to prevent reinfection, in other words create an immunity to the disease. The next time the same virus comes to a host cell, it may find that it is no longer able to attach to the cell's surface membrane. So to survive, viruses must adapt or evolve, changing its surface proteins enough to trick the host cell into allowing it to attach.

However, the biggest factor in all this is population density of host organisms, in the case of COVID-19; humans.

"When you have high density conditions and overcrowding, like you would see in a pig farm, then the mutation occurs much more quickly as it passes from one snout to the next," says Dr. Earl Brown, a professor of microbiology at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine.

A virus that quickly kills its host as it spreads is more likely to thrive in densely populated areas where it can out-compete other viruses, but would die out when the supply of new hosts is in short supply, he says. Conversely, a virus that incubates in the host for weeks and spreads slowly is more likely to thrive.

Indeed by breaking transmission, such as locking down, increasing social distancing and wearing masks, viruses are less likely to mutate since one has essentially created a situation where the virus has no hosts in which to thrive and mutate.

Already there are more than a dozen variants that have sprung from the original COVID-19 virus, also known as SARS-CoV2. And in recent weeks the so-called Indian variant B.1.167.2 has raised concern.

Questions over vaccines

Recent studies seem to suggest that both the Pfizer BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines may well prove efficacious in preventing serious illness [BBC].

However, this is not enough in itself to 1. Stop the spread of the Indian variant, or 2. prevent further variants of the virus from developing.

It is clear that vaccination does not prevent infection, only reducing the serious effects, and as such could result in vaccinated people becoming asymptomatic carriers. This appears confirmed by the fact that American comedian Bill Maherwho had received both jabs of the vaccine subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 [NYPost]

Maher and the millions of others who have received the vaccine might well be 'safe'. But the millions of others who have not remain at risk of the virus.  And while it has generally been assumed that younger people are less likely to develop serious disease, their catching it could well result in more variants developing.

In the UK most under 40s have yet to receive their first jab, and in many countries around the globe vaccination take-up has also failed to create what scientists call 'herd immunity'.

Countries such as China, New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan essentially remain cut off from the world in lieu of their entire populations being vaccinated.

The rest of the world appears to be stumbling along, repeating the same mistakes and making up policy as each disaster strikes.

Cummings may well be attempting to rewrite his own history book and paint himself as being righteous. It is somewhat ironic that his criticism comes also exactly a year after he was forced to apologise for his own transgression of lockdown restrictions. But his criticism of government policy does seem to be founded in fact.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

UK govt “lacked plan” for pandemic despite claim it was “well-prepared”

An inquiry into how the UK government handled the coronavirus pandemic, though one has been promised, but it has already been revealed that the Government was under-prepared for the emergence of the pandemic and lacked a 'playbook' for dealing with key events that unfolded including mass school closures.

A new report [PDF] published by the National Audit Office criticised a lack of readiness for the emergence of COVID-19 - also known as SARS-CoV2 - despite frequent warnings in recent years that such a medical crisis could emerge.

"Like many countries, the UK was not as prepared for the pandemic as it could have been, and the government lacked detailed contingency plans to manage the unfolding situation," the report states.

This contradicts the government's own health secretary, Matt Hancock, who in January 2020, just as it was clear that a pandemic was on its way, claimed that Britain was "well-prepared" for such an outbreak.

"The public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well-prepared for these types of outbreaks and will remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in the light of emerging scientific evidence," the health secretary told the UK parliament on 23rd of January.

The National Audit Office report is not the first to conclude the UK was not prepared enough for a pandemic.

Last year, it was revealed a secret Whitehall document produced in 2017 had warned the government's plans for dealing with a health pandemic were "not sufficient" [Sky News].

It said contingencies worked up in the case of an outbreak would not be able to cope and concerns were also raised about whether the social care system could provide the level of support needed.

The report comes as the government continued to give out mixed messages concerning the lifting of travel restrictions and the lifting of lockdown rules while concerns grow over the spread of the so-called Indian variant B.1.617. [New Statesman / Sky News / BBC]

With criticism already mounting over the government's slow response to adding India to the red travel list it seems the UK seems likely to repeat all the same mistakes made in the early days of the pandemic.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Chinese rocket “could hit inhabited area” on Earth

The sky is certainly not falling, as Chicken Little might have warned. But there is a risk, albeit a small one, that debris from a Chinese space rocket could impact on an inhabited place on Earth in the coming days.

The object of concern is a 22 metric tonne part of the Chang Zheng 5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_March_5 rocket that was use to launch the first part of China's new space station into orbit.

The Long March 5B Chinese rocket launched a module of the country's space station on 29th April but the rocket's core is falling out of Earth's orbit and is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry this week. And many experts fear it could land on an inhabited area.

"It's potentially not good," said Jonathan McDowell, Astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. "Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast," he said. "Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We are very lucky no one was hurt."

This piece of space junk is of bigger concern however given both its size and weight, and also because it's unlikely to burn up as it falls to Earth.

On Tuesday the core was orbiting Earth around every 90 minutes at about 27,600 km/h at an altitude of more than 300km. The US military has named it 2021-035B and has added it to the list of some 27,000 pieces of space it tracks daily. You can track 2021-35B here: https://orbit.ing-now.com/satellite/48275/2021-035b/cz-5b/

It is highly likely the remnants of Chang Zheng 5 will simply crash into the sea, given the vast expanse of ocean it passes over. Indeed the chance of being hit by China's space junk is said to be one in a trillion, and obviously zero if living outside its current path of orbit. Nonetheless, the spent rocket does pass over parts of the US, South America, Africa, Spain, the Middle East, India, China and Japan.

There are worst case scenarios, such as landing on a nuclear power station or similar facility. And there are concerns its landing in a highly populated could kill and injure dozens if not hundreds of people.

These possibilities are of course slim. But McDowell says some pieces of the rocket will survive re-entry and that it would be the "equivalent of a small plane crash scattered over 100 miles".

Since 1990 nothing over 10 tonnes has been deliberately left in orbit to re-enter uncontrolled. And it is not the first time a large piece of Chinese space junk has crashed back down to Earth. In 2018 China's defunct space lab, Tiangong-1, came crashing down into the Pacific Ocean [BBC].

"It's really negligent on China's part,"  McDowell said, "Things more than ten tonnes we don't let them fall out of the sky uncontrolled deliberately."

It is expected to crash back to Earth on Saturday 8th May 2021, but while a Department of Defense spokesperson revealed the date of its expected reentry into Earth's atmosphere, its exact entry point can't currently be determined.

Even if Saturday passes off uneventfully there might be further concerns in the future as the launch was just the first of 11 missions needed to complete China's upcoming space station, intended to rival the ISS.

[BBC / CNNGuardian / Daily Mail / Space News]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, March 19, 2021

China exploits pandemic to position itself as No.1

As the global vaccine rollout continues with the hope it may bring an end to the global pandemic, there is one country in particular that is exploiting the vacuum left in its wake.

Whilst the virus may have originated in China [something China disputes], the country swiftly dealt with the spread, using draconian action, and has largely returned to normal.

There have been relatively minor outbreaks over the last year, but on the whole life in China is back to normal for many people. And with that normality the economy has stabilized and even grown.

And as life returns to normal in China so has normalcy returned to China's game politique.

Plans for the future

Over the last fortnight China's leadership congregated for the annual political gathering for the so-called 2 sessions https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Sessions . In the Chinese government, the term refers to the annual plenary sessions of the national or local People's Congress and the national or local committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

But while this year's session was somewhat different given it was being held amid a global pandemic, in many respects it was back to business as usual with China laying out its plan for the next 5 years, militaristically, economically and globally.

Key in Xi Jinping's plan for China is to double the country's economy in 15 years meaning a 4.7% increase every year. Currently China's GDP is around $15.5 trillion and its goal is to double it to more than $30 trillion [CGTN - YouTube].

Building China's military

It all appears to be part of what it perceives is a necessary plan to fund China's military which Xi wants to build to equal or even surpass that of the US.

China increased its 2021 defence budget by 6.8% to 1.35 trillion yuan [$209 billion], up from a 6.6% hike the previous year. The increase in spending, which has grown year on year for at least the last decade, is entirely affordable according to the Global Times which put China's annual defence spending at around 1.3% of GDP, far below an average global level of 2.6%.

China claims the need to build its military is due to an ever growing threat, particularly from the United States which it says was guilty of "repeated military provocations" by using warships and planes for reconnaissance of China's coastal regions as well as conducting military exercises close to China's territorial waters.

China also cites Taiwan as a reason to build its military strength and points to the provocative action displayed by the US in selling the disputed territory advanced weaponry [NYT / SCMP].

Defence or Offence

China claims its military build is all about defence. But while China has yet to display offensive action in conventional terms it has repeatedly been responsible for hacking into foreign computer servers from private companies to government systems.

Most recently China was blamed for hacking into Microsoft's servers [Wikipedia]. According to Microsoft, the attack was initially perpetrated by the Hafnium hacking group, which Microsoft alleged to be "state-sponsored and operating out of China".

It is not the first time China has been blamed for launching cyberattacks and hacking. From Google's claims of cyberattacks in late 2009 and early 2010, said to be part of a wider hacking enterprise known as Operation Aurora, to McAfee's Operation Shady Rat report, there is clear evidence showing China's concerted and sustained cyberattacks on western companies, institutions and governments.

In May 2013, the US DoD for the first time directly accused the Chinese government and military of cyber espionage against US networks.

The DoD's 2013 Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China states, ''In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military.'' The report then states, ''China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs.''

However despite harsh words from Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and the incumbent Joe Biden, China has continued with its activities whilst claiming that such accusations are not based in fact and that China itself is often the target of cyberattacks.

Following hacking claims in 2014 China's then foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei repeated the official line blasting the United States' cyber espionage track record and that "China opposes and severely cracks down on all forms of cyber-hacking."   https://www.zdnet.com/article/chinese-foreign-ministry-dismisses-deep-panda-hacking-claims/

While China has not responded to the latest series of attacks by Hafnium  its position is unlikely to have changed [BBC / Sky News / CNN] .

Strategy

The strategy behind China's espionage campaign is multifold. In part, it is economic. By acquiring information concerning the manufacture of technology it can position itself as a leading competitor of manufactured goods whilst not having had to invest vast sums of money.

Some too is to gain advantage militaristically speaking, be it the development of stealth or supersonic jets such as the J-20 or advancing its journey into space. It is widely believed that China stole stealth fighter technology, even smuggling parts of an F-117A , downed during the Balkans conflict, back to the mainland [tvnewswatch-China stole stealth fighter technology].

China is also setting its sights further afield with plans for a lunar base. However it is not going it alone. China is joining hands with Russia to develop what it calls a "complex of experimental research facilities created on the surface and/or in the orbit of the moon" [Guardian].

China was late into space, sending its first astronaut into orbit in 2003 [Guardian]. However in less than twenty years China's space program has achieved much from developing space weapons, to launching its own satellites, manned spaceflight and landing unmanned probes on the moon.

Of particular concern is China's ability to destroy satellites in orbit around the Earth. One of the first observed such events was as far back as January 2007 [tvnewswatch-China tests space weapon / Wikipedia]. But since then China's efforts have ramped up with Russia also believed to have developed similar technology [BBC].

Unrestricted warfare

All of these technological developments appear to be gathered together in order to launch what some call an asymmetrical assault on the West.

Such an assertion is nothing new. The threat of concerted cyberattacks are at least a decade old. Evidence, such as laid out in the book Unrestricted Warfare, makes clear that China's dominance, defence or the ability to win any future war, will only be achieved by employing every 'weapon', conventional and unconventional, at its disposal [tvnewswatch-cyber-warfare threat posed by China / tvnewswatch-China increase military to win local wars / tvnewswatch-China's divided loyalties].

Offence or Self-Defence?

Historically speaking China has not been an overtly warring nation, at least in recent history. Like most nation states, China does have a violent history. The country has battled with invaders from the Japanese, see the Nanjing massacre, and fought against colonialists, see the Boxer rebellion.  And China did participate in both the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Most conflicts over the ages have been internal ones, such as the so-called Warring States period c.260BC. Such periods of history could be likened to similar local conflicts seen in Britain and Europe which saw the forming of nations. Having essentially defined its borders China has held off from a colonialist approach much seen in the West. Nor has it sought to invade and take territories, or intervene in other conflicts [China at War].

Vietnam and Korean wars aside, which arguably could be seen as defending its neighbours and its own borders, China has not become embroiled in conflicts further afield.

It is arguable that China has been aggressive in its taking of Tibet and other neighbouring regions, but these conflicts and its moves concerning Taiwan, the Diaoyu Islands and the Arandul Pradesh region near India are different in as much as they are territorial disputes.

So is China's military build one of defence or offence? In some ways it could well be argued that China is merely attempting to strengthen its own country and to become self-sufficient. While on the face of it, China's hacking is indeed aggressive and often destructive, much is an attempt to glean information in order to build its own economy and infrastructure without the costly R&D.

Pots & Kettles

The West has continually accused China of IP theft, which of course some Chinese companies have exploited by selling cheap technology to the West which China of course benefits. But the West too has been guilty of such practices in the past. Throughout its colonialist past the west has exploited other countries of resources and technology. Two wrongs do not make a right, but the West's criticism of China, specifically concerning IP theft, is somewhat disingenuous and amounts to the pot calling the kettle black.

In terms of exploitation of resources China and the West are both equally guilty. But again, while the West throughout the last three centuries often simply stole resources from underdeveloped countries and continents such as India, China and Africa, China has sought in recent years to payback the like of Zambia, where it has mined much copper, by helping build roads and developed other infrastructural projects.

China has exploited every opening door to make profit and build its country further. Its Belt and Road Initiative https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belt_and_Road_Initiative is something which is almost unparalleled in global economic history and further strengthens China while increasing the world's reliance on China.

Pandemic slowdown

However, the global pandemic has slowed the global economy. And with that slowdown China's footprint has also retracted. With less custom abroad, China is refocusing its efforts on internal markets [CNBC / CGTN].    

China is now rich enough to go it alone and with increased hostility coming from the West there is a distinct possibility that just as China opened up to the West in the 1980s, it could just as easily shut its doors once again.

Effectively, the pandemic has already shut man doors on China. Visas issued before March 2020 have been revoked and visa centres around the globe have been shut for some months making it virtually impossible to visit China. As such China is learning to do without foreign tourism. Equally a slowdown in foreign exports has forced China to refocus on its domestic economy.

Pointing fingers

China is certainly no angel when it comes to its domestic agenda. Politically it has been aggressive when quelling Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. And its anti-Islamic terror drive has essentially tarred all Uighers with the same brush and become what many outside China describe as a form of genocide.

The West has continually pointed fingers at China over human rights abuses, hacking and IP theft. But China has shrugged off such criticism.  

It has all come to a head this week when a meeting between China and the US descended into bickering with each side sharply criticizing the other over human rights, trade and international alliances [Time].

China is unlikely to care much. It is already building strong alliances with Russia. Its economy is growing and building towards self sufficiency. And in many ways is surpassing much of the world technologically speaking.

Recently commentator and comedian Bill Maher described the US as a "silly people" who can't get anything done while China steams ahead into the future. Maher rightly points out that there are issues when it comes to China, but asks if there might not be a middle way between an authoritarian dictatorship that gets things done, compared to a representative democracy that doesn't get anything done [YouTube].

It might not have the military prowess of the United States but who is going to start a war with China? But in almost every other respect China has surpassed the US and the West.

China has 40,000km of high-speed railway, more than double the total that exists elsewhere globally. And the US has no high-speed rail network at all. In the last two generations China has built more than 500 cities from scratch, rolled out a mobile network where there are virtually no dead spots and has a health service that, while not free at source for all, is fast rivalling many western countries.

Some are concerned that the West will lose out to China. There has not been a war with China, but China has already won. As Sun Tzu [孫子] once said in his strategic book Art of War "the skillful leader subdues the enemy without any fighting". China is the global factory and hold much US debt. As such any criticism thrown at China by the US will only amount to empty rhetoric. Mao Zedong oft used to criticise the US calling them a paper tiger [Zhilaohu - 纸老虎]. When Mao died in 1976, nothing could have been further from the truth. Forty five years on the tables have turned.     

There has been very little fighting but China has virtually beaten its enemy, at least economically speaking.


tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Spectre of Brexit looms over Britain

In 'normal' times Brexit, and the disaster that is unfolding, might feature front and centre in the British media. However, the chaos and damage to Britain's economy by Britain's having left the EU is hidden by the ongoing pandemic which is leaving its own trail of destruction.

But hidden or not by the mainstream press, Brexit is already threatening to destroy businesses, affecting exports, slowing or disrupting imports and even taking business away from the UK's financial hub.

The government has insisted that much of the disruption only amounts to "teething problems". But those exporting fish, crabs and other seafood are telling an entirely different story.

Exporters who used only to fill out a single delivery note now have to fill in up to 70 pages of forms [BBC] . But it's not just the time it takes to fill in the forms, it's the cost that goes with it. Small firms in particular are not used to so much paperwork and have to farm it out to specialists which adds to the cost. There are also additional VAT charges applied by the UK government. This all results in a more costly product which makes Britain's products less competitive in the European market. Even David Cameron's wife Samantha publicly admitted that her clothing business is suffering because of post-Brexit trading difficulties with European countries [Twitter].

Fishermen, and particularly those selling mussels, oysters and the like to Europe are extremely miffed as to how things have gone. As a third country Britain cannot export live bivalve molluscs taken from class B waters into Europe without having processed them to cleanse them [Twitter]. The British media has labelled it as a shellfish ban, but the so-called ban always existed for third countries. The sticking point for Britain's shellfish exporters is there aren't enough purification plants. And even if there were, it is no guarantee Europe would necessarily take them.

Government adverts attempt to promote the benefits of Brexit, suggesting that the world is Britain's oyster. But for shellfish farmers there is no market outside Europe. Shipping live shellfish beyond the EU would prove impractical and costly. Furthermore such markets are unlikely to be open to new shellfish importers.

Opponents to Brexit have long maintained that opening up new markets would be a long haul and in many cases impossible to open up.

It is all well and good to suggest that Britain might sell its cheese to Japan or anywhere else come to that. But many such markets are already sewn up. Even if such markets had a strong liking for British cheese it is probable they already imported it anyway and Britain's leaving the EU isn't likely to increase their desire to eat more cheese.

Hardline Brexiteers such as John Redwood have suggested British fishermen merely sell their catch in the UK [Twitter]. But there is a catch here too. In terms of shellfish, purification plants are working overtime attempting to deal with cleaning up all those clams, oysters, mussels and scallops both for domestic consumption and export. More importantly Redwood fails to appreciate that most British people don't have the same appetite for the seafood that is exported to Europe.

Yes, of course there are some of use that would be happy to eat moules marinière regularly, tuck into platefuls of oysters, dine on octopus stew or munch through fresh whiting, mackerel, sardines, gurnard and red mullet. But the vast majority of Brits don't go for such fare. And when was the last time you saw such items in a supermarket or fishmonger?

The simple truth is, and was explained by remainers over the last 5 years, the UK exports most of its catch to Europe while importing Britain's favourites; cod and haddock.

Go to most fish counters in Britain and there is very little choice. Salmon, cod, haddock, sea bream, sea bass and prawns is often the extent of products on offer.

It's alright for arch-Brexiteer John Redwood to suggest fishermen sell their catch to Brits, but most would simply not buy it. And as such most retailers are unlikely to take the risk in purchasing such products given they'd be unlikely to move them [Scotsman].

Fish is only part of the problem. The bee industry is also reeling which could in turn affect agriculture if there aren't enough of the insects to carry out pollination [BBC / Sky News / Euronews].

Musicians and others in the entertainment sector have also found that Brexit will likely devastate their industry, making European tours cost prohibitive or choked with red tape [Classic FM].

And the City, already seeing business being lost, could further losses. Amsterdam ousted London as the largest financial trading centre in Europe in January as Brexit-related changes to finance rules came into force [BBC]. And a City AM report suggests London, at the heart of the UK's service sector economy, may lose up to £9.5bn in economic output a year from Brexit.

Reality is beginning to set in for many that far from sunny uplands, Britain is finding itself wading through a quagmire of red tape while businesses go to the wall, exports dry up and the economy, already severely damaged by the pandemic, looks set to collapse. The spectre of Brexit will loom over Britain for a long time yet [CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, January 18, 2021

UK travel quarantine rules too little too late

From today all so-called travel corridors to the UK have been closed with everyone now arriving in the UK required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test as well as self-isolate for 10 days [BBC].

The new rules have been introduced following increased concerns over new strains of the COVID-19 coronavirus considered more contagious. However, such rules were implemented by some countries nearly one year ago as the virus was first identified. Those that acted quickly have kept cases and deaths low and also kept their economies running.

But the failure of Britain, the US and some European countries, to close borders and impose strict quarantine rules has resulted in huge numbers of cases, a high death toll and massive damage to their economies.

First reports

In late December 2019 and early January 2020 reports emerged of a new respiratory virus [SCMP]. Dubbed 2019-nCov, later COVID-19 and SARS-CoV2, by mid-January several countries had reacted swiftly to stop the spread, locking down borders, imposing strict rules on the use of masks and imposing strict quarantine procedures on anyone arriving.

Those countries that acted in January 2020 have been least affected by COVID-19. From small island nations to large continents, swift action has been shown to be effective.

Rising deaths

On Friday 13th January this year the UK recorded another 1,564 COVID-19 deaths bringing the total number of people who have died to 84,767.

Discounting certain countries such as Brazil, Russia and India - where figures are contentious or disputable - Britain's death toll is the highest in the world in percentage terms.

Statistical comparisons

In Japan last weekend authorities were concerned about a rise in coronavirus cases. Tokyo had seen 1,494 new cases of COVID-19, and countrywide the level of cases peaked at 7,790. This prompted further action such as forcing employees to reduce worker levels by 70% at places of work. In itself such cases are concerning. But in a country of 126.5 million Japan has done exceedingly well in controlling the virus with a sum total of 289,000 cases and 3,850 deaths. This equates to 0.003% of its population having died from COVID-19.

On 8th January the UK [population 66.6 million] saw its highest peak of 68,053 cases recorded. The sum total in the UK thus far is 3.07 million cases and over 80,000 deaths. This equates to 0.12% of its population having died from COVID-19.

With a population of 328.2 million and a total of 374,000 deaths in the US, this equates to 0.114% of its population having died from COVID-19, slightly smaller than the death toll in the UK.

But it's when one looks at those who acted quickly at a spreading pandemic that Britain's failure in controlling the virus becomes stark.

On 8th January this year New Zealand [population 4.8 million] saw 0 cases [its highest peak of 89 cases was recorded on the 5th April 2020]. The sum total in New Zealand thus far is 2,222 cases and a total of only 25 deaths. This equates to 0.0005% of its population having died from COVID-19.    

On the same day South Korea [population 51.64 million] saw 641 cases [its highest peak of 1,237 cases was recorded on the 24th December 2020]. The sum total in South Korea thus far is 69,114 cases and a total of 1,140 deaths. This equates to 0.002% of its population having died from COVID-19.      

But it's Taiwan [population 23.78 million] that has perhaps done the best in controlling the spread. On the 8th January it did see a further 3 cases [its highest peak of 27 cases was recorded on the 20th March 2020] bringing the sum total of cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 828 cases. But only 7 deaths have been recorded equating to 0.000029% of its population having died from COVID-19. Much of this has been achieved by testing and strict quarantining of every arrival since January 2020 along with a robust and strictly enforced test and trace system.    

Meanwhile Australia [population 24.99 million] saw 24 cases on the 8th of January [its highest peak of 721 cases was recorded on the 30th July 2020]. The sum total in Australia thus far is 28,614 cases and a total of 909 deaths, equating to 0.004% of its population having died from COVID-19.  

Reportage and messaging

The media in Britain has failed to highlight how badly the UK has done in comparison to others, or hold the Boris Johnson government to account for its abject failure to stop thousands from dying whilst destroying the economy with repeated lockdowns.

On the 23rd January 2020 the health secretary told UK lawmakers that, "The public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well-prepared for these types of outbreaks and will remain vigilant and keep our response under constant review in the light of emerging scientific evidence."

Instead of closing borders, Matt Hancock merely said advice would be offered to those travelling from China should they fall ill. And during the statement to the UK parliament claimed the risk to the UK population from the virus had been revised by the chief medical officer from "very low to low" []Parliament TV].

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and no doubt the excuses given by the government would be they didn't know the seriousness of the threat. But it is evident from how well other countries have done that Britain's handling of the pandemic is nothing short of being an absolute failure.

tvnewswatch, London, UK


18/01/2021

Thursday, December 03, 2020

War of words after UK approves COVID-19 vaccine

This week Britain was the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, namely the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine. However, the swift approval has already triggered a war of words as the UK defends its approval process whilst being criticised by several corners of the EU and the US.

Claims that Brexit aided quick approval

Soon after the news was announced some UK politicians inferred that Britain's swift approval process was only possible because of Brexit.

"We could only approve this vaccine so quickly because we have left the EU. Last month we changed the regulations so a vaccine did not need EU approval which is slower," Tory MP for North East Somerset and Leader of the House of Commons, tweeted.
 


However he was immediately slammed down by the Senior Correspondent and Bureau Chief of ARD German TV in London.

Rees-Mogg's claim was, "Not true," Annette Dittert retorted on Twitter. "It was and is possible to accelerate the process while being a member of the EU. Which Britain did. While still formally being a member of the EU."


"The predictable attempts to make this into a big Brexit show are just misleading. Again," Dittert added.

Earlier the health secretary Matt Hancock had also asserted on Wednesday morning that "because of Brexit" the UK had been able to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, rather than wait for the European Medicines Agency [EMA] to do so [Guardian / Sky News]. 


The MHRA was given power to approve the vaccine by the government under special regulations before 1 January, when it will become fully responsible for medicines authorisation in the UK after Brexit [Guardian].


Brexit was possibly a factor in Britain's approval process. But it was likely to mitigate potential problems of distribution and hold ups at ports due to extra documentation required.

Should the EMA have approved the vaccine prior to 31st December Brexit would not have been an issue per se, at least as regards its use. However, a late rubber stamp might have created issues concerning imports if paperwork wasn't in order post-Brexit. 

British exceptionalism

Adding further fuel to the fire on Thursday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson claimed Britain's regulators were simply better than those in other countries. "We have obviously got the best medical regulators, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have," he told LBC Radio, adding, "That does not surprise me at all because we are a much better country than every single one of them." [Evening Standard].

Business Secretary Alok Sharma also drew criticism after saying history would remember the "UK led humanity's charge against this disease."

Andreas Michaelis, Germany's ambassador to the UK, criticised his comments saying, "Why is it so difficult to recognize this important step forward as a great international effort and success. I really don't think this is a national story. In spite of the German company BioNTech having made a crucial contribution this is European and transatlantic."  


Indeed the criticism didn't stop on this side of the Atlantic. In the United States Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also appeared to echo sentiments expressed in Europe that Britain's approval of the vaccine was "hasty".

Undermining confidence

Speaking to Fox News overnight, one of the leading figures from America's response to the pandemic offered some criticism of the UK's approval process.

"If you go quickly and you do it superficially, people are not going to want to get vaccinated," Dr Anthony Fauci said.

"We have the gold standard of a regulatory approach with the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]," Fauci asserted while calling into question the speed at which Britain approved the vaccine.

"The UK did not do it as carefully. They got a couple of days ahead. I don't think that makes much difference. We'll be there, we'll be there very soon." [CNN / FNLondon / Sky News].


Meanwhile in an unusually blunt statement, the European Medicines Agency, which is in charge of approving COVID-19 vaccines for the EU, said its longer approval procedure was more appropriate as it was based on more evidence and required more checks than the emergency procedure chosen by the UK [Al Jazeera]. 


European legislators also weighed in on the issue, with Italian health minister Roberto Speranza telling the country's parliament he would demand the EMA continues to keep "the bar on surveillance very high" concerning possible approval of vaccines.


"When the vaccine will be administered to people it will certainly have to be a safe vaccine but it will have to be an effective vaccine," Speranza said.

Peter Liese, an EU legislator and member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, struck a firmer tone, saying he considered the MHRA's approval to be "problematic".

"I recommend that EU member states do not repeat the process in the same way," he said. "A few weeks of thorough examination by the European Medicines Agency is better than a hasty emergency marketing authorisation of a vaccine."

UK health agency defends approval

Announcing its decision less than four weeks after Pfizer published the results of a clinical trial, the MHRA said it had used overlapping trials and "rolling reviews".

"This vaccine has only been approved because those strict tests have been done and complied with and everyone can be absolutely confident that no corners whatsoever have been cut," said June Raine, the agency's head.

However, Britain's quick decision to rubber stamp a vaccine within days of initial results of a phase 3 trial will likely dampen confidence and increase doubts in others concerning safety and side effects. 


[pictured: Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, prime minister Boris Johnson, Dr June Raine, head of MHRA, and Alok Sharma Business Secretary]

tvnewswatch, London, UK