Tuesday, October 19

Covid experts are warning about vacations abroad, so why is Boris Johnson so interested? | Polly toynbee


“Fand now pay later ”, offers a finance company, which provides loans for vacations, including those from Portugal and other countries on the green list. We may all end up paying later for those that fly into the sun, the sea, and Covid. A travel company, Tui, has only 19 flights to Portugal next week, eight of them now use Dreamliners, which have space for up to 345 people.

Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says he finds the new travel rules strange. “Why Portugal? It might be fine if people only meet Portuguese and British vaccinated people, but they will mingle with others from France, Italy and Spain, mingle at airports, wait in queues. “Oxford University Professor John Bell from the government vaccine working group, is optimistic the vaccines will protect against the variant first detected in India, but still strongly warns against vacation abroad this summer, fearing importing fresh mutant strains. With about half of the UK population unvaccinated, a wait of several weeks after receiving the vaccine before vaccines are as effective as possible, and with some still vulnerable after vaccination, the risk abounds. In the last week, infections and deaths increased – look at the ministers who now blame any resurgence on those who reject vaccines, blame the poor and ethnic minorities.

How like deja vu this feels, how like last summer. The race to places like Greece brought back more than half of imported Covid cases, according to an article in Public Health England; McKee also notes that it accelerated infections in Greece. That’s when the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was subsidizing the country to eat sitting indoors, breathing for each other, but not for a sandwich to take with a friend on a park bench. “Paying people to sit inside, according to studies, hurt,” says Professor Susan Michie, a participant in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) through the behavioral sciences group.

Here we go again, opening up trips abroad and inland pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues, health secretary Matt Hancock notwithstanding, warning that this new variant is transmitted faster and could spread “like wildfire” among the unvaccinated. Ministers ignore their own preconditions to facilitate the quarter of which it requires that our “risk assessment is not fundamentally altered by new lines of concern.” But that test has surely failed, and the risk has fundamentally changed as new access point variants multiply. The University of Warwick models indicate that if it is 40% more transmissible, that would mean 6,000 hospitalizations a day, above the peak of the second wave.

The prime minister, an admirer of the mayor of Tiburon, is a stranger to the precautionary principle. Now he transfers responsibility from the state to the individual: “I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today.” But who can take care of other respirators in a restaurant or a movie theater?

Notice the change of mood in the air. The blame for his arrogant failure to close the borders as Covid swept through India is coming out of his own conservative press, the Telegraph Y sunday time punishing him for letting in 20,000 potentially infected travelers from India for three weeks after flights to Pakistan and Bangladesh were stopped. From everywhere comes the damaging accusation that Johnson delayed because he put the (exaggerated) hopes of a trade deal with India before the life or death of his people, canceling his trip to India just one day before his scheduled flight date.

The India scandal sets off red political alarms, because Johnson owes his spot at No. 10 to that dog-whistle Brexit promise to “regain control of our borders.” He closes the door on EU builders, caretakers and farm workers, but leaves the border wide open to places that turn hot with Covid.

The mystery is why vacations abroad are given such a high priority. Although risk is difficult to quantify, leading experts caution against travel. Yvette Cooper, chair of the select committee on home affairs, which first warned of failures in border closures, tells me: “No department is responsible for border decisions, without transparency on how the Joint Biosafety Center decides where it can travel people “. She urges the rules to have carriers run lateral flow tests on the ferry or Eurotunnel.

But here’s Cooper’s most blunt question (after revelations in David Cameron’s lobbying texts about “love DC” to his friends): “Who exactly has Boris Johnson’s ear on this?” Who is texting you? What business interests dominate reckless foreign travel? That’s the right question, after another buddy contract reveal in which Hancock helped a former minister landed a £ 180 million PPE deal and Lord Udny-Lister sat on a board that provided a massive state loan to a company that he had not fully disclosed its links to. Who knows what secret influencers are preventing Johnson from putting life or death before the trade?

For a prime minister eager for popularity, he strangely ignores public opinion at the borders: the public puts safety far above vacations abroad. Ipsos Mori finds 79% of Brits are alarmed by Covid-19 variants arriving in the UK, and 67% want to stop the spread of variants by banning arrivals to the UK from any foreign country. Up to 42% support the introduction of another national blockade if necessary. Johnson would pay a high political price for a third wave.

Most Covid experts are perplexed because the government encourages travel abroad, beyond some special family and work cases. The UK is beautiful, I went to Berwick-on-Tweed and Northern Ireland last summer, and now I don’t feel the need to fly. Labor should take the lead in this, urging citizens to spend their holidays here. That’s a triple win for Britain, with less Covid risk, more struggling UK hospitality aid, and fewer weather-killing flights.


www.theguardian.com

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