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Sensemaker: Sajid Javid Covid

Sensemaker: Sajid Javid Covid

Thursday 21 October 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Flash floods triggered by heavy rainfall killed more than 180 people in Nepal and the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala.
  • A Brazilian senate committee recommended that Jair Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity over his “macabre” handling of the country’s Covid pandemic.
  • US authorities requested the extradition of eight Nigerian men from South Africa to face charges of defrauding more than 100 victims of almost $7 million in a long-running Internet dating scam.

Key number: 471 – years before Columbus that Vikings settled in North America, according to an analysis of timber-framed Norse buildings in Newfoundland.

Sajid Javid Covid

Britain’s health secretary Sajid Javid said even though number of Covid cases could rise to 100,000 a day this winter, he would stick with his Plan A – few domestic restrictions – if the 4.5 million or so people eligible for a booster jab come forward.

But public health leaders are calling for restrictions labelled Plan B – mandatory masks, working from home, Covid certificates – to be imposed now. They cite worrying evidence:

  • The number of new cases has increased by 17 per cent in the last week alone, despite fewer tests being conducted.
  • The daily death toll increased to 223 on Tuesday, which was the highest level since March, before falling to 179 yesterday.
  • Hospitalisations increased by 11 per cent over the past week. There are now around 869 daily admissions to hospital. There are some 8,000 people in hospital with Covid, around 10 per cent of them on ventilators.

“The Westminster government said it would enact plan B to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association. “As doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now.”

Javid said that, for now, wearing masks, meeting outdoors, and lateral flow tests before going out will do. His own party’s MPs are refusing to wear masks in the House of Commons and the government more generally is trying to shift the blame for rising cases on the NHS, which has been slow to roll out boosters. The NHS, meanwhile, is briefing journalists that they have the capacity to do boosters but that people aren’t coming forward, suggesting that poor government messaging is to blame. At least in this respect, Javid’s announcement seems to have worked: his announcement on boosters led the news last night and is all over today’s newspapers.

But it isn’t just about boosters for the vulnerable. Some experts think cases are rising because large numbers of schoolchildren are unvaccinated, and schools don’t require them to wear masks. A think tank led by Tony Blair released a report today recommending, among other things, prioritising vaccines for under-12s. Perhaps that should be the government’s focus.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Taliban bureaucrats
One of Kabul’s new police chiefs used to run Taliban suicide-bombing squads in the Afghan capital. “Previously I was serving Islam, and now I’m also serving Islam,” Mawlawi Zubair Mutmaeen tells the Wall Street Journal. “There is no difference.” In one of his cases, a woman complained that she could no longer live with her interfering mother-in-law. Mutmaeen told the husband Islamic law required that he provide his wife with shelter and then persuaded him to move his mother to the house of her other son. Mutmaeen’s new role is an example of how Afghanistan’s government bureaucracy is trying to adapt to the exodus of thousands of educated professionals. It’s failing. As Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace, said: “There is no indication that the Taliban has any idea how to run a country.”

New things technology, science, engineering

Donald Trump, still most Republicans’ favourite leader, said he will launch a new social media platform called Truth. “I created Truth Social and TMTG [Trump Media and Technology Group] to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump wrote in a press release obtained by the Financial Times. “We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American president has been silenced. This is unacceptable.” Trump used Twitter extensively during his 2016 campaign and his time in office before it and other platforms banned him following the 6 January attack on the US Capitol. Truth Social can already be pre-ordered on Apple’s App Store, where it describes itself as a place for “open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology”. The truth may be more simple: it’s a stage for Trump’s next presidential run.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Pig kidney
New York surgeons attached a pig’s kidney to a human patient and found the organ filtered waste and produced urine: it worked. It’s the first real sign that animals could one day provide a steady new supply of transplant organs for human patients. In the US there are 90,240 people waiting for a kidney. But there are caveats: the pig was genetically modified to grow an organ that would be unlikely to be rejected by a human body, the human patient was brain dead and on a ventilator, and the kidney was attached to blood vessels in the patient’s upper leg outside the abdomen. Many more test cases are needed before a transplant into a living human is made, but doctors are optimistic. Robert Montgomery, who performed the procedure at New York University’s Langone Transplant Institute, told the New York Times genetically engineered pigs “could potentially be a sustainable, renewable source of organs — the solar and wind of organ availability”. We’d need to breed them first.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

IPCC leak
Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia, among other countries, lobbied the team of scientists writing a major UN report on how to tackle climate change. The countries pushed back on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendations to move rapidly away from fossil fuels. The lobbying came to light in a leak of 32,000 submissions made by governments and companies to the scientists. They were shared with the BBC. In one document, an adviser to the Saudi oil ministry demanded that “phrases like ‘the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales…’ should be eliminated from the report”. In another, a senior Australian government official rejected one of the report’s conclusions that closing coal-fired power plants is necessary. Closing them is, in fact, one of the stated objectives of the UN’s Cop26 climate conference where many of these officials will soon be meeting. The IPCC insists it’s not swayed by lobbying, and there’s a sound argument for opening its processes to consultation, but this is the first time this sort of naked self-interest masquerading as advice has been made public. 

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Poor Britain
In the UK, some four million low-income households – those earning £25,000 or less – are behind on rent, utility bills, council tax bills, mortgage payments, or personal debt repayments. These struggling households represent a third of all working-age households in the country, a threefold increase over the course of the Covid pandemic. The charity that produced the figures, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, called for urgent government support. Last month, the government withdrew a £20 uplift in universal credit.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Produced by Phoebe Davis edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Images