3 min read
Concerns have been raised that London’s Covid-19 infection rate could be higher than recorded after testing capacity was redirected to other areas of the UK.
In a letter to directors of public health in London, seen by PoliticsHome, government officials said they were “experiencing exceptionally high demand” for Covid-19 tests.
Writing in late August, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) coordinator admitted they were having to “tightly manage testing capacity” in the capital to “protect the availability of testing in areas of highest risk”.
And they added that it had been necessary to “pause the booking portal for short periods to help smooth out peaks in demand”.
London council leaders have now expressed their concern that this reduction in capacity could have “ramifications” for Covid-19 data and mean estimates of the rate of infection are “unreliable”.
“[Council leaders] were all pretty furious about it. It coincided with an increase in the number of Covid cases which have dramatically, dramatically increased and every indicator demonstrates that,” said Nesil Caliskan, leader of Enfield Council.
She told PoliticsHome: “And the testing indicators are unreliable because, as [the Department of Health] has told us, the capacity had been removed.”
“But every other indicator showed that we are comparable with the North East and the North West, and when you consider that they’ve had additional lockdown measures it indicates just how serious things are.”
She continued: “It’s already a huge, huge spike. It’s already a dramatic increase and the spread of the virus is, if it gets out of control in London it’s very difficult to contain.
“The key to everything is testing. So, not only do they have to put back the testing capacity that they took out, they have to dramatically increase it as well.”
Ms Caliskan also warned that the drop in capacity meant that many care homes in her borough were not able to access tests, adding that the government’s promise of mass testing for staff and residence had “never been realised”.
“To be honest with you, the fact that I’m still talking about only 70% of my care homes having testing in the last month is just outrageous. 50% of our deaths in this borough in the first wave were in care homes,” she said.
Matt Hancock admitted to MPs in mid-September that there were “operational” challenges” with the NHS testing system which led to many people being unable to access tests, or being offer slots at sites far from their homes.
The health secretary said that “demand had risen” and he did not “shirk from decisions about prioritisation” of testing capacity.
But Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, said there was “no communication” with local authorities about those decisions, adding that council officials were “literally told on the day” that a walk-up centre in the borough would be closing.
“At the very moment people were kind of being asked to do more, come into more contact with each other, was the period when London lost its testing capacity,” Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, told PoliticsHome.
“And that has huge ramifications I think, for the data that people are receiving and also where we register individual community response.”
He continued: “Confidence that people have had in the whole system is really taking a knock rfom when that testing availability fell back, and it’s taking a while to recover.
“And clearly, localised clusters could have gone on untested during that time and I think that that’s really problematic.”
A DHSC spokesperson has been contacted for comment.
Australia’s coronavirus epicenter records no new cases as the US and Western Europe struggle to contain the pandemic
Announcing the relaxation of restrictions at a news conference on Monday, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said starting on Tuesday at 11:59 p.m., Melbourne residents will be allowed to leave their homes and most businesses in the state can reopen with restrictions on the number of people.
“With 0 cases and so much testing, we are able to say that now is the time to open up. Now is the time to congratulate every single Victorian who has stayed the course,” Andrews said.
The steep decline in cases has allowed the government to lift major social distancing measures that have been in place for weeks.
As cases began skyrocketing this summer, Andrews put in place the type of strict anti-epidemic measures that governments in Western Europe and the United States have been hesitant to enact out of fear of damaging the economy and trampling on civil liberties.
East Asian governments including those in China, South Korea and Taiwan have not needed to put in place such restrictions because early efforts to contain the virus focused on testing and contact tracing, combined with the readiness of their respective populations to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, which helped keep the pandemic in check.
Andrews said Victoria was able to rein in the pandemic because of the public’s willingness to endure hardship, listen to the science and follow the rules.
“I could not be prouder than I am today to lead a state that has showed the courage, the compassion, and the character to get this job done. But it is not yet absolutely finished,” he said.
“We have to be vigilant in the weeks and months … until a vaccine comes, there is no normal. There is only Covid-normal.”
Under the relaxed measures, staff are allowed to immediately return to their businesses in order to prepare for customers and put in place anti-epidemic measures.
Some restrictions, including a 25-kilometer (15-mile) limit on travel and an internal border between Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, will remain in place until November 8.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated the state for the drop in Covid-19 cases and lauded Victorians for the making “great progress in reducing the rate of Covid-19 infection.”
“They have played their part and sacrificed much in the pursuit of reaching those targets in the belief restrictions would be eased,” he said.
Morrison added that Victoria would open state borders by Christmas. They were closed as part of the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
Victoria and its capital Melbourne faced Australia’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 this Australian winter.
Andrews said Monday the government was not going to be “pushed by the loudest voices” to reopen before public health experts deemed it was safe to do so.
Andrews hinted earlier this month that authorities were considering lifting more restrictions if trends continued in the right direction. However, a small cluster of cases in Melbourne’s northern suburbs prompted him to put in place a “cautious pause” in order to test more than 4,000 residents, further delaying reopening.
Nearly all tests have come back negative. Andrews said health authorities can now rule out widespread community transmission.
“It was worth waiting to be sure,” he said.
A previous version of this story misstated Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews’ political affiliation. This has been corrected.
Democrats already angling to take out Ron Johnson in 2022
Johnson, a two-term senator who hasn’t said whether he’ll run again, has been an adamant defender of President Donald Trump — and Democrats think that record will not play well in the perennial battleground in 2022.
While an announcement eight days before the presidential election might rankle some in the party for sidetracking from an all-hands-on-deck attempt to oust President Donald Trump from the White House, the move gives Nelson a head start on other Democrats expected to flock to challenge Johnson in the weeks after the presidential election.
The early start could allow Nelson to take advantage of sky-high Democratic enthusiasm that’s translated into fundraising records across the country, which could wane after Nov. 3, especially if Joe Biden wins.
Other Democrats whose names are already circulating as possible candidates include Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry, who also served as the Democratic National Convention host committee finance chair. Lasry, the son of billionaire hedge fund manager and Democratic bundler Marc Lasry, could quickly mount of a formidable, well-funded campaign.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who took on a national role speaking for Wisconsin in the wake of police shooting of Jacob Blake and the subsequent Kenosha riots, is another name in the mix, as well as state Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Nelson’s announcement coincides with an expected Monday confirmation vote on Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Nelson criticized Johnson, who, after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, vowed to wear a “moon suit” to return to the Senate and cast a vote in favor of Barrett if needed.
“I think his record, I think his behavior and what he has done and what he has said — not just the last couple of years but for the last nine years — makes him very vulnerable,” Nelson said. “Ron Johnson is an unmitigated disaster and a conspiracy nut, among other qualities. Every time he opens his mouth he embarrasses himself and our state.”
Nelson said his county — about an hour-and-a-half north of Milwaukee — has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, putting him on the frontlines of the pandemic as the state has undergone one of the most severe spikes in the nation.
Nelson assailed Johnson for recent remarks seeming to underplay the virus, as well as Johnson’s decision to attend a fundraiser while he awaited the results of a Covid-19 test. He later tested positive. Nelson said the senator was especially vulnerable electorally because he had voted against the first coronavirus relief package.
Nelson, who rolled out an announcement video on Monday, served as a Bernie Sanders delegate earlier this year. He argues he’s well-positioned to win statewide because he’s demonstrated he can win over voters in a key swing area. He was elected three times to the state assembly and elected three times as Outagamie county executive, most recently in April. The county, which voted twice for Barack Obama, swung to Trump in 2016, along with the rest of the state.
That year, Nelson ran unsuccessfully for an open seat in Congress, losing to now-Rep. Mike Gallagher by more than 20 points.
For his part, Johnson, first elected in 2010, has not announced his 2022 intentions, refusing to rule out any of three scenarios: retirement, reelection or a potential run for governor against Democratic incumbent Tony Evers. When he last ran for reelection in 2016, Johnson said it would be his final term in the Senate — but he backtracked last year.
Even if they retain control of the Senate in next week’s elections, the 2022 cycle will be a challenging one for the GOP. Two swing-state Republican senators, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have already said they will retire in 2022 rather than run for reelection. Also on the ballot in two years are Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who will be 89 years old on Election Day 2022.
If he does seek a third term, Democrats view Johnson as vulnerable because of his steady loyalty to Trump and controversial remarks about the Covid crisis, including downplaying the severity of the virus, even as Wisconsin hospitalizations have soared.
“We have unfortunately been snookered into this mass hysteria that isn’t even close to the real risk,” Johnson said in recent remarks to Wisconsin business leaders. “And so we’ve shut down our economy. We’ve had this economic devastation.”
Democrats have also cast Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as hyper-partisan because of his role in releasing a conflict-of-interest report on Biden’s son, Hunter, and attempting to bring outsize attention on his business dealings overseas. Democrats have also hammered Johnson for comments he’s made about everything from outsourcing to calling media coverage of coronavirus “panic porn.” He also drew a rebuke from Dr. Anthony Fauci for comparing deaths caused by coronavirus to traffic accidents: “We don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways,” Johnson remarked.
Since January, Johnson’s favorability numbers have hovered in the 30s, according to the Marquette Law School poll, under-performing Trump, Evers and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
“He has defended Donald Trump to the hilt,” Nelson added, predicting that would come back to haunt Johnson.
But Republicans point back to 2016, when Democrats predicted Johnson was headed for sure defeat, only to watch him overcome former Sen. Russ Feingold, the liberal icon he had ousted six years earlier.
“He’s been a dead man walking two times before, and it just never really sticks when it comes down to the ballot box,” says Brian Reisinger, a former Johnson adviser, also referencing Johnson’s 2010 victory. “He’s the sort of person that it becomes fashionable for the Democrats and for the national Beltway media to bash him because he sticks his neck out there.”
Manchester Leaders Have Until 12pm To Accept The Government’s Coronavirus Deal Or Have Tier 3 Restrictions Imposed Unilaterally
3 min read
Leaders in Greater Manchester have been issued an ultimatum to accept the government’s offer of coronavirus support by noon on Tuesday or have tier 3 restrictions imposed on them.
Writing to the region’s mayors and council leaders, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said that if the deadline was not met he would “advise the prime minister that despite our best endeavours we’ve been unable to reach agreement.”
The letter was sent just hours after the most recent meeting with Manchester representatives ended without progress, marking the end of the 10th day of talks with the government.
It is understood that the prime minister will impose the strictest tier of coronavirus restrictions on the region later this week if an agreement is not reached by 12 pm on Tuesday.
Mr Jenrick said local leaders had been “so far unwilling to take the action that is required to get this situation under control”.
He continued: “The deteriorating public health situation in Greater Manchester means that we need to take action urgently. We have held discussions in good faith with local leaders for 10 days in order to ensure that the measures put in place were tailored to the local community.
“We have offered an extensive package of support for local people and businesses, proportionate to the approach we have taken in the Liverpool city region and Lancashire and in addition to the wider national support.”
He added that Great Manchester has been offered £22 million to support the area’s 2.8 million people throughout the additional measures, and ministers were “open” to discussing further support.
But the city’s mayor Andy Burnham accused the government of “trying to respond to a pandemic on the cheap.”
Many local officials have expressed frustration that the sum offered to Manchester is much less than other regions, with Lancashire and Merseyside getting £42 million and £44 million respectively despite having smaller local populations.
Speaking to Sky News’ Kay Burley, Mr Burnham said: “We’re in a crisis, and people need support in a crisis, but it does appear there’s been an abrupt change since the summer where it’s the opposite.”
Asked if he would oppose the restrictions were they imposed once the deadline passes, Mr Burnham said he would “accept that decision” as it was the “government’s prerogative”.
“But I would say to them at this point, are they sure that that is a wise thing to do because this isn’t just Greater Manchester’s problem,” he continued.
“Everywhere could end up in tier 3 over the winter and if they imposed tier 3 on places without providing that support… it will be the poorest people that will suffer the most as a result of that.
“And I would say to them that the government will be at risk of losing what public support remains for the approach that they’re taking.”
But speaking on LBC, business minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “The important thing is to focus on saving lives”.
He said the government had been “negotiating in good faith for 10 days” but there were now fears that “there will be no ICU beds left in greater Manchester by the second week of November.”
He also confirmed to Sky News that “there’s more to come if [Andy Burnham] wants to negotiate”.
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