Will Nicola Sturgeon’s mask restrictions have any effect?

As England axes the last of its Covid regulations, Nicola Sturgeon is extending Scotland’s – saying that mask wearing in shops, on buses, trains and taxis will be continued ‘for a further short period’. You can see why. Cases are surging and Scottish hospitals have more Covid patients than at any point during the winter. Weekly Covid-related deaths are 14 per cent higher than in England. But given that England didn’t bring in any additional Christmas restrictions and ended mask wearing at the end of January – and now has lower Covid cases than Scotland – it seems fair to ask: will Sturgeon’s measures actually help? When Omicron reached Britain’s

Covid is rising again. Should we worry?

For some time now, Covid has been rising in Scotland – there are now more Scots in hospital with Covid than at any time throughout the winter. A freak, or a sign of what’s to come nationally? The ONS survey answers that question today, confirming that Covid cases are rising nationally: some 4 per cent of England’s population, it says, would test positive. In Northern Ireland it’s closer to 8 per cent and in Scotland 5.7 per cent. Have waning vaccines created space for another wave – and do we need to worry? Just as Gauteng and South Africa then Lambeth and London were the early warning signs for Omicron’s rise

Is this the real reason Boris introduced Covid restrictions?

If a day is a long time in politics, 36 hours is a lifetime with this government. On Tuesday morning, Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Today programme: ‘We don’t think Plan B is required. Why? Because of the success of the vaccine programme.’ It was a reasonable analysis and a sound conclusion. The UK has delivered an incredible 120 million Covid vaccines in the last year, including 21 million booster doses in the last few months. In South Africa, the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak, only 25 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated and almost no one has had a booster shot. Whatever the situation in southern

Will the public take Plan B seriously?

After holding strong for two weeks, fears over the Omicron variant look set to change the government’s course on Covid restrictions. Reports this morning suggest that Plan B could be implemented as early as tomorrow, including advice to work from home and — more controversially — the introduction of vaccine passports. The timing is interesting: rumours about the possible decision landed hours after a video clip — showing the Prime Minister’s former press secretary joking about last year’s alleged Downing Street Christmas party with No. 10 aides — was leaked. Downing Street still adamantly denies the party took place. Many are wondering if this is a ‘dead cat’ strategy: one that

Boris’s festive fear

Until a few days ago, ministers could see how the government might regain its footing after several weeks of self-inflicted damage. The argument, as I say in this week’s magazine, went like this: as Christmas approaches, voters will see that life in Britain — and specifically England — carries on with very few Covid restrictions whereas elsewhere in Europe more draconian measures have been imposed. This scenario seemed plausible. Austria was in lockdown and heading for compulsory vaccination; there had been rioting in Holland after the announcement of an 8 p.m. curfew and several German states had cancelled Christmas markets. In private, secretaries of state were making the case that the

Javid says no to restrictions – for now

Is the government considering activating its ‘plan B’ Covid plans? Not yet.  After the Business Secretary played down talk of new restrictions this morning, Sajid Javid used today’s press conference to confirm that he would not be implementing the back-up plan ‘at this point’. However, the Health Secretary suggested that further measures – namely vaccine passports, work-from-home orders and mask mandates – could not be ruled out if the data substantially worsens. The main message from the press conference: get vaccinated There was a marked change in tone from Javid since the days soon after his appointment as Health Secretary when he declared that there was ‘no going back’. He said that

Javid avoids Tory fightback – for now

Tory MPs were not happy when Sajid Javid unveiled the Covid winter plan in the Commons this afternoon. They’re dissatisfied with the government holding so many powers – such as vaccine passports, further lockdowns and other restrictions – in reserve as part of its Plan B, which will be activated this winter if cases breach what the NHS can cope with. The Health Secretary explained Plan B thus: ‘It is absolutely right that the government have a contingency plan, and the trigger, so to speak, for plan B, as I mentioned in my statement, would be to look carefully at the pressures on the NHS. If at any point we deemed them

Boris’s three unlocking options for 21 June

What will Boris Johnson announce on Monday? The Prime Minister is due to update the nation on whether the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown can proceed on 21 June as planned. However, with cases on the rise and the Indian variant spreading, various government advisers have spent the past few weeks taking to the airwaves to warn of calamity ahead should Johnson lift all restrictions. There is also a push from some in the Cabinet to either delay the roadmap or opt for a more limited easing. In truth, no final decision will be made until Sunday. The Prime Minister is currently busy in Cornwall attempting to woo

The creeping authoritarianism of the Covid-19 restrictions

How can a country abide a government that consistently says one thing and then does the exact opposite? Whether it’s lockdown two, lockdown three, or masks in schools, the government has consistently stated one thing and then changed its mind months, weeks, or even hours later. This not only exacerbates the problem of trust in politicians, but in ‘the science’, which they have clutched as a shield to cower behind whilst making political decisions. The latest example is the shifting of the goalposts around when lockdown will finally end. Ministers began by saying they would ‘cry freedom’ when the vulnerable were vaccinated, but now it seems entirely possible that we

Boris can’t afford to move slowly on lifting Covid restrictions

At 3.48pm on Thursday the Sun’s political editor tweeted out an explosive story that Steve Baker, the co-convenor of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, had warned that Boris Johnson’s party leadership would soon be under threat if restrictions were not lifted soon. Less than 100 minutes later, Baker put out his own tweet as follows: ‘What this country needs is the complete success of Boris Johnson… I am clear Boris is the only person to lead us out of these difficulties and I support him in that endeavour.’ In short, Baker had overplayed his hand to an embarrassing extent – much to the delight of those parliamentary colleagues

Steve Baker’s warning for No. 10 points to the next Tory battle

As government ministers avoid putting a date on an easing of restrictions, let alone an end to them, scientific advisers have stepped in to fill the silence. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam has suggested the lockdown could remain in place well into spring while Professor Neil Ferguson – who briefly stood down from his role last year for breaking lockdown rules – has suggested measures could be in place until the autumn. This, however, is not going down well with the Tory MPs who make up the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group. As the Sun reports, Steve Baker has issued a rallying call to his fellow members over the situation. He suggests that opposition

Sweden’s Covid Christmas farce

Sweden has become an international phenomenon for its relaxed response to the Covid-19 pandemic – which some critics describe as careless. Its no-lockdown strategy has been based almost solely on personal responsibility. This point has been made to Swedes by solemn-faced politicians, most recently before Christmas. It’s up to every Swedish citizen to maintain social distancing and, if possible, work from home. Restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, and even malls have stayed open throughout the crisis. Face masks have not been recommended nor encouraged (although in a surprising change of heart from the authorities, masks will be made mandatory from January 7 in certain situations, such as on public transport during peak hours).

Sunday shows round-up: primary school children should ‘absolutely’ return, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson – Restrictions ‘probably about to get tougher’ The Andrew Marr Show returned this morning, and with it came an in-depth interview with the Prime Minister. It will surprise no one to hear that the bulk of the interview focused on the coronavirus, and Boris Johnson signalled throughout that the new year could see fresh restrictions being brought into place. He did not go into any detail about what measures could be introduced under a potential ‘Tier 5’, but it was clear enough that his 5pm Downing Street press conferences were not yet a thing of the past: BJ: It may be that we need to do things in

Full list: the Tory tier rebels

This evening, the House of Commons voted to enact the new tiered system, which will come into force when the national lockdown ends this week. Boris Johnson did not emerge unscathed though, with 78 MPs voting against his proposals, including 55 MPs from his own party. Labour leader Keir Starmer instructed his MPs to abstain on the vote, but 15 decided to vote against the government’s plans. Below is the full list of MPs who voted against thetier restrictions: Conservatives Steve Baker Robert Syms Adam Afriyie Imran Ahmad Khan Graham Brady Andrew Bridgen Paul Bristow Christopher Chope Greg Clark James Daly Philip Davies David Davis Jonathan Djanogly Jackie Doyle-Price Richard

How new Covid restrictions are stalling the economy

The theory behind a V-shaped recovery relied on the assumption that the economy would open up almost as quickly as it shut down. This did not happen. The UK moved at a much slower pace than its European counterparts exiting stringent lockdown measures. And already restrictions are being implemented again. August’s GDP figures were surprisingly dismal, and now all future monthly updates for economic growth will be affected by a longer list of restrictions that are bound to impact recovery. As a result, scenarios for the UK’s economic recovery are being revised to reflect this. In the last day, we’ve had two updates: one from the IFS’s Green Budget (in association with