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Shifting towards Zero January 28, 2021

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Intriguing to see a few straws in the wind from within the current Coalition articulating a pro-Zero Covid approach.

Government TDs have urged Ministers to look at adopting a “zero-Covid” strategy in response to the pandemic. The remarks by Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan and Fianna Fáil’s Christopher O’Sullivan come in the wake of the latest Government announcement on Covid-19 restrictions. Mr O’Sullivan also said he is “disappointed” that the Cabinet stopped short of the kind of mandatory quarantine measures in place in Australia and New Zealand for people travelling to those countries. 

And in the Seanad:

Minister of State at the Department of Health Anne Rabbitte…warned the Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s partners in government, of the need for the need to avoid “mixed messaging” on Covid-19. Green Party Senator Vincent P Martin said the current strategy to combat the virus was not working but the Government would not give “proper and due consideration” to a realistic proposal by the Independent Scientific Advisory Group of academics and experts calling for a zero-Covid strategy. The group he said described the strategy as “simply doing what is possible to suppress this virus towards elimination”. 

Mentioned before that even something short of Zero-Covid would in and of itself be worth the effort – that being an approach that sought to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level even in the current context. One wonders why there’s such hesitation, such aversion, to this approach given the lamentable track record of the status quo?

Stupid beyond comprehension… January 28, 2021

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This from the Guardian yesterday evening, reports of…

Lives are being put at risk and the care of patients disrupted by a spate of hospital incursions from Covid-19 deniers whose online activity is channelling hatred against NHS staff, say healthcare and police chiefs. In the latest example of a growing trend, a group of people were ejected by security from a Covid-19 ward last week as one of them filmed staff, claimed that the virus was a hoax and demanded that a seriously ill patient be sent home “He will die if he is taken from from here,” a consultant tells the man on footage, which was later shared on social media. Following contact by the Guardian, Facebook took down footage and other shocking posts in which conspiracy theorists described NHS staff as “ventilator killers”.

These people are incredibly dangerous and it really is time they were treated as such. And social media platforms who allow video to posted up by those people should be sanctioned too. This is a workers rights issue as much as it is a public health issue.

The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), a union representing frontline medics, said it was unacceptable that staff working themselves into the ground to keep patients safe were having to worry about a new threat from Covid deniers and anti-maskers. It said Twitter and Facebook had a responsibility to ensure those breaking into hospitals to film footage were not given a platform. “Staff are exhausted and are running on fumes. They should not be having to deal with abuse and even death threats on social media,” said Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, the president of the DAUK. “Nor should they be worried about turning up for their shift due to crowds of people chanting ‘Covid is a hoax’ outside hospitals full of patients who are sick and dying. This is decimating morale, but worse still, could be obstructing patient care.”

Mentioned the Anti Virus FAQ the other day. Here it is. As noted in comments, a very good resource and particularly good at pointing up the soft denialists in the media and elsewhere whose expedient scepticism is giving space to the sorts of activities seen above.

A bad Brexit January 28, 2021

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From the moment of the referendum was passed this site argued that Brexit was going to happen, that any talk about otherwise on foot of the referendum was delusionary, not least given the Tories were driving it, and that likely whatever form taken would be reactionary. Well, reactionary it most certainly has been, but I’m not sure anyone quite saw how stupid matters would be. For example, at the weekend there was this from the Guardian:

British businesses that export to the continent are being encouraged by government trade advisers to set up separate companies inside the EU in order to get around extra charges, paperwork and taxes resulting from Brexit, the Observer can reveal. In an extraordinary twist to the Brexit saga, UK small businesses are being told by advisers working for the Department for International Trade (DIT) that the best way to circumvent border issues and VAT problems that have been piling up since 1 January is to register new firms within the EU single market, from where they can distribute their goods far more freely.

The heads of two UK businesses that have been beset by Brexit-related problems have told the Observer that, following advice from experts at the Department for International Trade, they have already decided to register new companies in the EU in the next few weeks, and they knew of many others in similar positions. Other companies have also said they too were advised by government officials to register operations in the EU but had not yet made decisions.

And if those examples of taking back control don’t suffice there’s this from Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer:

The bill for Mr Johnson’s Brexit is coming in and that bill is a punishingly steep one. It is being paid by the fishing fleets in Scotland and the West Country that are tied up because they are unable to export their catch. It is being paid in a slump in activity at Welsh ports because the trade they used to handle is being diverted to France and Spain. It is being paid in billions of pounds worth of transactions disappearing from the City of London, which may not be much loved by all that many Britons but employs a million people, because the deal was so threadbare for the financial sector. It is being paid in car manufacturers shutting down some production because they can’t get parts across borders in time. It is being paid in tonnes of British meat exports rotting at European harbours. It is being paid by many UK businesses, especially the kind of smaller, exporting enterprises that the Tories always profess to love, which are being overwhelmed by the heavy burdens and high costs of the thin deal the prime minister rushed through parliament at the turn of the year.

Meanwhile in the SBP this weekend Brian Keegan of Chartered Accountants Ireland offered this insight:

The Brexit referendum result was partly viewed as an expression of a desire to curtail immigration, and you cannot have cross-border services without allowing people to move. If anything, the EU line on services is hardening as evidenced by the European Commission’s strategy for the European economic and financial system launched last week. The problems for cross-border trade in goods do not derive from what the Trade and Cooperation agreement contains but, rather, from what is missing from the agreement, such as the removal of customs paperwork. Customs compliance is proving to be more challenging than many businesses, even those who had geared up for it, had expected.

And:

Agri-food imports and exports are worst affected, because agricultural projects and foodstuffs require additional sanitary checks as well as customs inspection. The sanitary checking and customs checking systems are not integrated, thereby duplicating the virtual paperwork and increasing the scope for error.Things will be much worse in the coming months because trade volumes were artificially depressed by pre-December 31 stockpiling, and also because Britain is not implementing the full rigours of its customs regime until next June. These problems cannot be lobbied away.

What is most distinctly striking is how some of those who sincerely placed their hope in Brexit are being directly impacted very very negatively by the process – as with fishing fleets. Fed inflated and exaggerated tales by those who had no attachment to their welfare, they now face a dismal prospect.

But while the extremity of matters is a surprise, the broad thrust is not. As Rawnsley notes:

What Brexit has actually done is impose a vast amount of cumbersome and costly new bureaucracy on exporters and importers. British companies have been put in a chokehold of regulations, customs declarations, conformity assessments, health and rules-of-origin certifications, VAT demands and inflated shipping charges. While some ministers talk about reducing worker protections in the name of “cutting red tape”, a move for which there is little demand even from employers, Brexit is ensnaring British businesses in writhing snakes of the stuff.

Which suggests once more that Brexit was never a practical or thought-through process of disengagement from the European Union but rather something emotional and uncontrolled. It is not that there were not those who had actually thought about this in considerable detail. Richard North’s Flexcit was a sensible and considered effort to square some circles around the issue of that disengagement. But in the crucible of those emotions such a plan was always going to be sidelined.

And the disengagement now being seen – and Rawnsley is particularly good on noting how far from passing ‘teething troubles’ many of the worst aspects are going to persist because they are precisely what this form of Brexit demands, means that of course British companies are going to have to, as noted in the first quotes, find workarounds that in essence see them having to establish a very real presence in the EU.

Perhaps Keegan sums this up most succinctly: We are all having to change the way we trade with Britain, whether by learning and applying the customs rules, or by developing new supply chains and trading routes to get around the rules in the first place…The sooner we all make these changes, the better. Trade with Britain is not going to get any easier.

Great idea… January 27, 2021

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I think we all can get behind Donald Trump’s idea of a new ‘third party’ to represent his politics in the US!

Trump spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, splitting rounds of golf with discussions about maintaining relevance and influence and how to unseat Republicans deemed to have crossed him, the Washington Post reported. Trump, the Post said, has said the threat of starting a Maga (Make America Great Again) or Patriot party, gives him leverage to prevent senators voting to convict, which could lead to him being prevented from seeking office again.

Split the conservative vote? I’m all for it.

Border poll(s) January 27, 2021

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Interesting to see Arlene Foster so exercised about the idea of a Border Poll after fresh polling from The Sunday Times on surveys about attitudes to the UK within the UK. Two thoughts strike on seeing her saying “it would be “absolutely reckless” to be distracted by the topic of a border poll at a time when it is about “coming together” to fight against a pandemic.” First up, how long does she think the pandemic will last if a possible border poll five years hence might interrupt the response to same? Secondly how does she take the rest of the polling data? Because that might prove cold comfort about the entirety of the Union and if that is the case then Northern Ireland might find itself in a most difficult position. 

There’s clear evidence that the Union far from being stronger than ever is fraying remarkably around the periphery. 

In Scotland, the poll found 49% backed independence compared to 44% against – a margin of 52% to 48% if the undecideds are excluded.

And Foster’s stance is a bit curious given there’s a majority of opinion in favour of it, even if there’s not quite a majority in favour of unity yet:

In Northern Ireland, 47% still want to remain in the UK, with 42% in favour of a United Ireland and a significant proportion – 11% – undecided. However, asked if they supported a referendum on a United Ireland within the next five years, 51% said yes compared to 44% who were against.

Of course one could take the line that all will come to those who wait – as was expressed last week by George Osborne when he essentially said that unity was a foregone conclusion after Brexit. I’m not immune to that argument but… there are countervailing forces who would likely do all they could to prevent that outcome. 

Meanwhile expectations are high about Scotland:

Across all four regions, more voters expected Scotland to be out of the UK within 10 years than thought it would still remain. In England, the margin was 49% to 19%, in Northern Ireland it was 60% to 28%, in Wales 49% to 23% and in Scotland itself 49% to 30%.

And politically? The SNP are running away with support – at 70% at the moment, with the Tories on 25% and the BLP on 19%. We’ve mentioned how on earth the latter can possibly square the independence project with their project. Still not clear that they can. But come what may this is quite some place we’re all in.

Podcast -The Democratic Socialist Party January 27, 2021

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Latest Episode covering The Democratic Socialist Party

Level 5 continues January 27, 2021

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And no great surprise there – and indeed it is the correct approach. But Paul Murphy of RISE hits the nail on the head when he notes that:

“It’s very clear that the Government’s Living with Covid’s Strategy, which they announced last September, is a complete failure,” he said.

And there’s a curious contradiction in what the Taoiseach says. As quoted on RTÉ he said:

‘…he does not think a Zero Covid strategy is ‘possible or sustainable’. He said that once you reopen again the prospect is there for reseeding the virus.’

But simultaneously he argues;

…the Government has decided to extend the Level 5 restrictions until 5 March with a view to crushing the numbers of those contracting the disease and in turn the numbers needing hospitalisation and intensive care. Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, the Taoiseach said the message for the next six weeks is very simple, stay at home, do not travel, do not make any journeys outside your 5km unless you absolutely have to.

But, but, surely in the latter instance ‘once you reopen again the prospect is there for reseeding the virus’? Same diff, no? So doesn’t it make sense to go for the greatest possible level of suppression in order that track and trace and other controls can be brought to bear when matters do reopen?

Varadkar’s statement was even more puzzling.

‘If you can seal your country off entirely when do you ever unseal?’ Tánaiste Leo Varadkar asks, in response to a question about the introduction of a Zero Covid strategy

Obviously you unseal when it is possible to do so – that being when transmission internationally is at the lowest possible levels and/or vaccination is sufficiently widespread. I’ve some sympathy for the idea that has gained currency that in some ways because of an unwillingness to seal the island and the state everyone within it is sealed in. Because the logic of Varadkar’s argument seems to point to lockdowns one after another until… well… when, precisely?

Or do they believe that once the vaccine rolls out in sufficient numbers the problem goes away? Given the twists and turns of this pandemic I wouldn’t want to bet the house on that proposition. Or perhaps they’re going for a de facto suppression strategy as close to Zero-Covid as is possible. But… dunno, does that sound likely from this crew?

Needless to say the IT are in on the action – Pat Leahy asks this question but from a completely different perspective:

It is not clear what follows the suppression of the virus or what the next reopening will look like. What level of new infections would permit, say, the reopening of schools? What does being “cautious and conservative” mean in practice? Insiders shrug that this will be worked out in the coming weeks. But just as chance favours the prepared mind, Covid-19 punishes drift and uncertainty. This lockdown is scheduled to end in March; widescale rollout of the vaccine won’t be here until the summer. The Government needs a plan for what happens in between.

Let’s put that last line another way. Leahy could ponder what precisely is the difference that could be made to avoid lockdowns? Given that all other states outside of the Zero-Covid cohort are unable to offer any guidance as to an alternative perhaps Leahy might care to suggest precisely what plan will suffice? And as per usual there’s a little spin:

According to two senior officials, there is little expectation, including among the leaders of Nphet, that the measures announced will make much difference. The truth is, said one senior source on Tuesday night, the infection numbers are plummeting anyway.

It is a week since we announced our highest number of daily deaths of 93. Yesterday 90 people died. 928 cases were announced today. Just shy of half the number of cases on the day that the highest daily number of deaths was recorded. Even accounting for the fact that numbers of death do not exactly map onto the days announced (in the sense the numbers can come from across the previous month) that is an enormous number of cases and every communication from NPHET has been that numbers of deaths will remain high for the period to come. Moreover in the run up to Christmas daily numbers of cases were a third of what they current are and less. Indeed they’re only a couple of hundred lower than the peak of the last surge in October. I wouldn’t want to do anyone an injustice, but it is remarkable how sanguine some in the media seem to be at this, others of us may be a lot less so.

What you want to say – 27 January 2021 January 27, 2021

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

A dereliction of duty January 26, 2021

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Putting aside Will Hutton’s perhaps too rosy view of where matters in the US will proceed with a Biden presidency – ‘radical centrism’ indeed, there was this from his weekend article:

It is now so minded. Biden is directing a “full-scale, wartime” Covid strategy, for example, to use the Defense Production Act to co-opt and direct the private sector to produce whatever is needed on the scale it is needed, from vaccine to PPE equipment. Masks are to be worn in federal buildings and on interstate public transport; incoming travellers will be required to quarantine; 100m vaccinations are to be rolled out by April.

This alone shows the sheer lack of effort on the part of the Trump Administration to take the crisis in the slightest bit seriously – that we are now almost a year on and these measures are only now being taken? It’s a crushing indictment of Trump and ‘Trumpism’ and a clear example of how the power of nation-states remains very real indeed.

How about a bit of radical radicalism eschewing the ‘centre’? Never needed more than now.

Getting there… but… January 26, 2021

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Great to see Alan Kelly of the ILP adding his voice to the growing chorus to the idea of a ‘national aggressive suppression strategy’. And he’s likely not wrong that the Leaving Cert may well be cancelled. 

Mr Kelly said there has been a “failure of politics throughout this whole pandemic” and that the country cannot be moving in and out of different levels of restrictions. He said mistakes were made by Government and the Opposition back in December. “When it got to the point of early December we didn’t stick with levels of lockdown. It was the wrong choice made by absolutely everyone.

Just one thought. Not “absolutely everyone” did make that choice. The political left in the Dáil for one group – that being PBP/SP and so on sought a Zero-Covid strategy from the off. 

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