June 02, 2020
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Peri peri difficult statisticsWhenever a government is in trouble, it’s not always the big shifts to look out for. The subtle changes of often just as much of interest. Yesterday, Matt Hancock introduced the No.10 press conference with the words: “We’re going to do things slightly differently today. I’m going to go through the charts.” The charts had also changed (no transport graphs).
Will Shifting The Goalposts On Covid Help The Government’s Cause?
And today, the health secretary again read out the statistics on tests, cases and deaths, “in keeping with the new format”. That new format basically means the minister now reads out the figures - figures that were previously the preserve of the medics and scientists. Could it be that those independent advisers have decided they would rather not do that bit any more?‌
Well, few would blame them after today’s scathing assessment by the UK Statistics Authority of the way the government has presented its stats on testing. The letter from chairman Sir David Norgrove was very strongly worded, referring to “misleading”, “inadequate”, “incomplete” data that is now “often mistrusted”.
His letter blew away the fiction that somehow it was OK to classify test swabs posted out as tests carried out. This fiction was first exposed by the Health Service Journal just before Hancock miraculously hit his 100,000 daily tests target for the end of April, but thanks to its endorsement by people like Prof John Newton many people moved on. Today, Newton himself had to admit “we are happy to report the numbers in any way we are asked to”.
Given that the public are more likely to go to a drive-thru McDonald’s (it reopened 168 more today) than to go to a drive-thru testing centre miles from their home, the home testing kits are seen as a key route to controlling this virus. The problem is that we have little clue how many are being returned or even properly administered.
If there was any doubt about how these posted swabs skew the figures, today’s stats underlined it again. Of the 135,000 tests classed as conducted, almost exactly a third of the total (44,758) came from tests posted out. Without this sleight of hand, even April’s 100k target would not be met. More encouraging is the 205,000 capacity figure, but we still lack detail on how many posted tests are actually completed.
Of course, the bigger picture is the number of deaths. Today, they hit 39,369, so in a few days (maybe two) the UK will cross the awful milestone of 40,000 deaths. That would be double what chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told us on March 17 would be “a good outcome” for mortality figures (20,000, he said).
And that’s just DHSC death totals. If you look at today’s new ONS death total, the figure is 48,106 (up to May 22). Worse still, the ‘excess deaths’ figure reported by the UK’s own official statisticians now stands at 62,000. That’s three times Vallance’s ‘good outcome’. When the chief scientist came out with his line at the start of the pandemic, many wondered what a bad outcome would look like. Well, 62,000 (and rising) looks pretty horrific.
Another subtle change that became more obvious today is the way No.10 has tried to shift the goalposts on its route of the lockdown. The Nando’s-style chart system featured varying alert levels from what you could call peri-peri hot risk (orange) of high transmission to the medium (yellow) of the virus just being ‘in general circulation’.
The PM himself actually told us in his TV address a few weeks ago that: “If the alert level won’t allow it, we will simply wait and go on until we have got it right.” He then said that the UK was coming down from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3. Oh, and his masterplan stated explicitly: “The JBC [Joint Biosecurity Centre] will be responsible for setting the new Covid-19 Alert level to communicate the current level of risk clearly to the public.”
But No.10 finally coughed today that things had changed. “In terms of the setting of the alert level, it is ultimately for the chief medical officers who are informed by the data which has been collected, collated and analysed by JBC,” the PM’s spokesman told us. So why are we still at Alert Level 4? Well, as the BBC reported, those chief medical officers decided last week to keep us there.
Despite all that, Boris Johnson still went ahead with its June 1 ‘easements’ because it had met its other condition: meeting its five tests on the virus.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that the ‘plateau’ of cases is longer than thought. Today, ‘Professor Lockdown’ himself, Neil Ferguson, warned “the level of transmission and number of cases will remain relatively flat between now and September”.
The chief suspicion must be that the PM thinks the public can’t wait that long in Covid lockdown limbo. And that he is so determined to get the UK out of lockdown that warnings from medical officers, from the statistics watchdog and even members of his own Sage group of scientists are being swept aside.
No wonder those No.10 press conferences are being cut back to weekdays. Some wonder how long will it be before they become once-a-week affairs. And what’s the most cynical way to avoid your own goals as well as those of your opponents? Don’t just shift the goalposts, pull them down altogether.Quote Of The Day“This is a particularly timely publication, because right across the world, people are angry about racial injustice. And I get that. Black lives matter.”
Matt Hancock on the new report into Covid-19 impacts on age, sex and raceTuesday Cheat SheetA Public Health England review found that Covid-19 had a disproportionate impact on the UK’s black and minority ethnic (Bame) communities. Although it did not take into account occupation, pre-existing conditions or obesity, the study also found age, sex and deprivation were big factors. Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch is to lead the government’s response into the causes.
The Commons voted by 261 votes to 163 to end the virtual voting system for parliament. Some 31 Tory MPs rebelled on an amendment to retain remote voting. The Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the change would exclude older MPs and those with health conditions or disabilities.
Labour MP Cat Smith, who suffers from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, nearly fainted and had to sit down after she was forced to stand in the sun too long in the MPs’ conga-queue. Other MPs complained bitterly about the 45 minute time it took to vote.
Jacob Rees-Mogg hinted that MPs could be forced to have a shorter summer recess if legislation cannot be speeded up under new voting systems. “I would not like to confirm that that date will be set in stone. It is at the end of July..” he said.
Matt Hancock announced that the next lockdown review period would be extended from 21 days to 28 days. It will be on June 25.
Downing Street press conferences on the Covid-19 crisis will no longer take place at weekends because of low TV ratings, No.10 has revealed.
Iain Stewart, Tory MP for Milton Keynes South (in England), was appointed as a junior minister at the Scotland Office.What I’m ReadingHistory Will Judge The Complicit Republicans - AtlanticGot A Tip?Send tips, stories, quotes, pics, plugs or gossip to waugh.zone@huffpost.com. Subscribe To Commons PeopleEach week, the HuffPost UK Politics team unpack the biggest stories from Westminster and beyond. Search for Commons People wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe.Related... Test And Trace Could Replace Quarantine For Travellers, Top Scientist Suggests BAME People Are More Likely To Die Of Coronavirus Than White People UK Stats Watchdog Slams Matt Hancock's 'Misleading' Testing Figures
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