Is the UK Back in Lockdown?

Yves here. Both Richard Murphy and the Financial Times were puzzled by the apparent fall in Covid cases after Boris Johnson’s much criticized July 19 “Freedom Day,” when most Covid restrictions ended. Even the Government was cautious about declaring victory prematurely.

We pointed out the real test of whether the decline was some sort of anomaly would be whether Covid deaths fell, and that’s a lagging indicator. Murphy argued that there were several reasons, starting with the pingdemic, why actual Covid cases might not be reported right now.

Murphy has a new observation: many are still acting as if the lockdown rules are largely or entirely in place. This is the opposite of what happened in the US when the Administration declared “Mission Accomplished” and effectively ended masking by saying the vaccinated no longer needed to bother, and making sure the data supported their action by not tracking Covid cases among the vaccinated. We know how well that is working out.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

July 19 was meant to be Freedom Day. Entirely rationally, given my age, I decided it was the exact opposite and as a result have increased my measures to reduce exposure to Covid as a result of the end of many restrictions. I know many who have done the same.

I now note that those of us doing so are not isolated examples. This is from the Politico email this morning (which is worth subscribing to):

There has been bafflement as to falling case numbers (which are now increasing again). Much of that looks to be down to reduced testing, motivated by the start of the English school holidays. But voluntary lockdown seems to be another factor to me. People are still, quite reasonably, isolating. They have more sense than this government, which is a cause for hope.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    They were showing video of a massive concert in the UK with thousands of young people packed together and having the time of their lives. To enter, you had to be double-vaccinated. ‘Come on in – the water’s fine!’ The message here was when Australians were double-vaccinated, then we can do the same too. This was the lead up to Scotty from Marketing announcing his grand plan. Elements include that when we are 70% vaccinated, then no more lock-downs and no more closed borders. At 80%, we open up to the world with no quarantining or anything. At that point, the virus will be treated “just like the flu” (bangs head on keyboard).

    1. bwilli123

      New Australian Federal Government slogan.
      “Welcome to Long Covid. Goodbye to the immune-suppressed.”

      1. The Rev Kev

        If Israel is at 80% double-vaccinated but is experiencing all sorts of grief with the Delta strain of this virus, what does Scotty from Marketing think will happen when we will be at 80% and open our borders up to the world?

        1. bwilli123

          And that 80% minimum for Australia is only 80% of those eligible for vaccination under current guidelines. It does not include under 18’s.
          So the correct figure at which they are proposing to open the floodgates is 80% of 80%
          A grand total of 64%

          1. The Rev Kev

            Scotty from Marketing will go down in history, like Bolsanaro of Brazil, as one of the greatest killer of his own fellow citizens. His performance during those ferocious bush fires should have been warning enough. And what really grinds my gears here is that there is not a single reporter asking him about such facts at his press conferences. Nearly two years off hard work and sacrifice being just thrown out the window so that he can make nice with the business council. Does he really imagine that if Delta is allowed to run rampant throughout Australia, that people will be keen to go into a movie theater? A restaurant? A plane? A footy game? They may at first – and then they won’t. And then what will those business groups say then?

  2. JohnA

    As a resident in England, I can say from my own observations of apparel and behaviour, that the most obvious sign of taking precautions, wearing a face mask, is very much an educational divide where the less educated are the maskless.

    1. Count Zero

      That’s a remarkably snotty remark. So you can check the educational qualifications of everybody you see on the basis of ‘apparel’? I would be very interested to know how that works. Are you a tailor?

      And how do you judge education by behaviour? Some of the rudest and most ill-behaved people I have come across are public-school educated brats. One of them has played an important role in relaxing any restrictions on public behaviour vis a vis Covid and encouraging people to go mask-less anywhere they want.

      1. JohnA

        Well, as someone who does not own a car for environment reasons and therefore takes the train and bus when travelling, I observe who wears and does not wear a mask on public transport and how they speak to their companions and the way they dress. Maybe if I were cocooned in my own private car, I would have no idea of how the world looks outside. As I said, it was from my own observations, and clearly that is limited to what I can observe. I would prefer everyone to wear face masks on trains and buses, but clearly many people choose not to. And I can see a pattern of who does, and who does not wear a mask. If you want to call that snotty, that is your perogative, I prefer to use my sense of observation.

        1. Basil Pesto

          So you can check the educational qualifications of everybody you see on the basis of ‘apparel’?

          And how do you judge education by behaviour?

          Do you have answers to those questions though?

          It’s possible that if your powers of observation limit you to such galaxy-brain hot takes as “Maybe if I were cocooned in my own private car, I would have no idea of how the world looks outside.”, then they might need some honing.

          1. c_heale

            As someone from the UK, we learn from a very young age how to identify people’s class, since it is extremely important in our society. So I think JohnA may have a point.

          2. Terry Flynn

            Thanks. I have found this whole thread (with a few exceptions like your contribution) rather distateful. I was born in a slum of the perhaps exact median area of England in a terrace with BAME, dirt-poor, down-on-their-luck and other people. When I say “born in a slum” I don’t mean “born in a hospital when my parents lived in a bad house” I mean “born in one of the two rooms of a slum long since cleared to parents who didn’t reach age 18 education but were worldly wise.

            Via scholarship etc I attended the 9th(ish) best secondary school in the country, got an Econ degree from Cambridge, a PhD in med stats, got to full professor level, went back down the “snake” in the “snakes and ladders game of life” because I wouldn’t accept behaviour in academia that the average person would shudder at. Ran own company, went back to family biz producing PPE, now do caring for a sick parent living in an area that was the key “brick in the red wall” that the Tories took in getting Boris his 80+ majority but which is full of what SOME people might call “deplorables”.

            I’m drafting a blog post on what I experienced re masks and also WHAT THE SUPERMARKET WAS DOING when helping mum do her weekly shop in Sainsbury’s (posh) and Aldi (not posh) this morning. It wasn’t what some around here might think. What class am I, I wonder?

        2. Count Zero

          Observation is a tricky process. We often see what we think we see and call it “observation” — as if it is simple and transparent, as if what I observe is simply objectively there. So, for instance, a person can see people not wearing masks, note a few other characteristics and then draw a conclusion about them — all in a fraction of a second.

          I am struck, in my occasional adventures on public transport in London these days, just how many people do wear masks. Most people are continuing to be cautious and thoughtful about others. The only pattern I have noticed among those who don’t wear a mask is their youth and to a lesser extent their gender — they seem to be female more often than male. But then that might be my bias — so I treat it lightly as a dubious observation with no statistical significance whatsoever; and from which it would be foolish to draw any conclusions.

          A final note: some highly-educated people are very stupid about the practical business of life and have little sensitivity about other people; conversely many people who left school at 15 or 16, without educational certificates to wave around, are very intelligent and perceptive people. This shouldn’t need saying of course.

    2. Redlife2017

      I live in a very mixed area (very wealthy and very poor only blocks away from each other) and I’m noticing a lot of the people from poorer areas remaining masked and even wearing masks outdoors.

      It honestly feels rather random who wants to stay masked and take other precautions. I am friends with a very well educated man over 60 and I can tell ya, he just figures we have to get on with it and stop worrying. He’ll wear a mask when required but not really bothered if he’s not required. And he’s a lefty.

      1. Terry Flynn

        Me too. Mask usage is best among us deplorables. Covid rates are plummetting across Nottingham – yet there are heavily partisan splits within the city (unlike North Norfolk) and the “donut” of boroughs around it so if there are statistical shenanigans I’d personally have expected them to have been called out by now. If there’s “suss data” it’s because of basic psychology affecting everyone – that people don’t wanna be singled out for potential isolation. Saying people are “doing the same thing since 17th” is simply not true in Nottingham. MY anecdotal evidence in a key city today shows this. Who is correct?

        We can’t be sure. But a lesson is that I don’t rate anyone’s academic background – it’s your background in terms of factors that matter (near BAME groups? Rich/poor? Live in a marginal seat? So SEE stuff across various groups) that make me take notice. See UK example of the picture Yves et al have called out w.r.t the USA.

    3. Tarquin

      The English and their obsession with class! Always looking back. They’re now looking to reintroduce the teaching of Latin as a foreign language at State schools. The private schools always have of course. The snobs do love their Latin. Such an essential requirement in the 21st century. But really, Latin with a working class accent! How deplorable.

      1. Karl Greenall

        Ita Vero!!
        I’m a working class lad who passed his 11Plus and wen to grammar school.
        I got my O’Level in Latin and enjoyed it, but this latest idea is ludicrous.

        1. Terry Flynn

          Latin was great. Did it for 5 years. It rectified “the big mistake in teaching of English that occurred in late 70s – failure to teach tenses, conjugation etc”.That change has IMHO contributed to deterioration in written English on the web and elsewhere….. Though made THAT scene in Monty Python Life of Brian so much more funny to us gen Xs!

          Plus we studied Catullus. 2k year old porn. Believe me nothing on the web surprises me after reading his stuff.

          1. Terry Flynn

            Plus those “missing” K numbers in Mozart’s directory. Look them up. Preferably using a VPN with private browsing enabled. Dirty doesn’t even begin to describe them…..totally NSFW

            And many think us homos are the “dirty ones”. Sheesh. Plus Mozart didn’t suffer from sudden outbursts of inappropriate behaviors so likely didn’t have Tourettes as some speculate.

            1. Terry Flynn

              Yes! I particularly like that his “domum” answer was right but for the wrong reason – as the Centurion taught us via a fantastic joke.

              My Latin teacher quickly ascertained I had a filthy sense of humour and played to it (despite being “old school”). He knew how to engage young teenage boys in learning Latin…. Teach us how to swear and give us Roman pron. Legend.

          2. Nick Alcock

            Yes yes, because *obviously* English grammar is so similar to Latin that learning Latin is going to materially improve your English grammar.

            hint: it’s not: it will probably worsen your English grammar if you make the mistake of trying to apply your Latin knowledge to English. Latin is not English, is two thousand years removed from it, and does not have an especially similar grammar; historical attempts to force English into a Latin straitjacket have had hilariously terrible consequences (trivial and infamous example of many: in Latin it is literally impossible to split infinitives, since they are textually part of the verb: English has no such thing, and the “to” preceding a verb in the thing they used to call an infinitive is often not particularly closely associated with the verb at all. Splitting it off from the verb is not only often necessary but sometimes mandatory: not doing so often changes the meaning of the sentence and can easily render the sentence into clunky and ungrammatical word salad.)

            Native speakers, *by definition*, have perfectly good English grammar, since what defines English grammar is what native speakers do — it has to, since linguists don’t actually fully understand English grammar even yet, just as they don’t fully understand the grammar of any other natural language: it’s insanely complex and varies across both space and time, and most attempts to describe it are several thousand pages of dense academic textbook that nobody other than linguists is going to read: all these textbooks are, of course, wrong (and in most cases later editions will improve things incrementally).

            It doesn’t take education to speak grammatically correct English: it takes being raised by and around people speaking English, and the astonishing learning system known as child language acquisition does the rest, and somehow almost never gets it wrong despite a total lack of formal tuition, unless you have really serious and incredibly rare neurological disorders. The same is true for every single other natural human language, without exception.

            What you’re pointing at and calling “deterioration” is purely a thing used to do down those speakers (native and otherwise) who don’t have the right class markers, and mostly relates purely to choice of written register, not anything whatsoever to do with grammar: eliminate that shibboleth, which is nearly impossible, and the snobs will right away introduce a new one. In particular, learning Latin will make not one whit of difference to it. It might mean you can drop in more stupid Latin tags that are not actually part of English, which serve no purpose other than pretentiousness, and which probably almost nobody other than Boris Johnson will actually understand anyway. I’m sure that’ll be *really useful* for the key purpose of language, i.e. *communicating with people*.

    4. Terry Flynn

      You REALLY need to get out more or do more research. For those who think I’m just being bitchy for sake of it I’ll refer you to the observations of Yves et al concerning masking and vaccinating by race in parts of the USA. (Horrible experiments on blacks).

      Since you give an anecdote, what city is closest to you? Pretty sure if you made that statement with no reference to state and city in USA you’d be questioned.

    5. Equal > equitable

      Your comment implies a lack of real world experience. In countries like the UK and Netherlands, many of the most reckless people are those from wealthy families. Often educated at a prestigious school, they sell find themselves arrested for gbh and other public offences regularly. Or perhaps they are now wearing masks while doing so?

  3. Lou Anton

    Have trouble with this one. You would think the same behavior would be in place in the weeks preceding the 17th, and it’s in those weeks where positive cases accelerated the most. If someone were avoiding contact now, they’d certainly be doing it before the 17th as well.

    Still left with “Boris Lucky”, “data are fudged”, and “this virus acts weird” (paraphrasing IM Doc on the last one).

    1. R

      – The European football championship was in progress throughout June and July and England made it to the final. 14-45 year old males were throwing caution to the wind. Lots of pub gatherings and indoor parties – especially in the weeks when it rained a lot – up to the final, sad Nobby Nomates afterwards
      – schools broke up across July (Private first, state last)
      – universities packed up for the long vac in end of June
      – heatwave (30degC) broke out in mid-July sending everybody outdoors

      Mid-July onwards in England must have had an R number several tenths lower because of weather and leisure and education changes than June and early July. And that is before the perfectly sensible grassroots decision to hang onto our masks, draw in our horns and hide in our shells until the exit wave is over. The “back to the offices” wing of the Tory is sitting alone, in the pocket of the property barons.

      The Club 18-30 crowd are all off on package holidays and will no doubt transmit and receive covid from abroad (3% plus positivity in returning pax at LHR) but they are also in a minority.

      If you want a good analysis of the drop in new cases (incidence) from public health England diagnostic testing and the continuing rise in prevalence from the office of national statistics random testing, check out this thread.

      Basically, the same thing happened in Scotland in midJuly because their schools broke up earlier and they were knocked out of the Euros after the first couple of rounds.

  4. ChiGal in Carolina

    Just listened to the latest Osterholm podcast from CIDRAP. He voices humility every week, making a good case that much as we would like to think human behavior can explain the rise and fall of the virus, in fact it has a life of its own that we do not yet even begin to understand. Vaccines and other public health measures like masking are critical in his view but it is hubris to think that we are anywhere near being able to control the virus. Recommended listening.

    1. Eustachedesaintpierre

      I have noticed a few instances of proclaiming victory in the UK from very well educated people & perhaps the fact that I basically gave up on school aged 12 & have never taken a serious exam, means that I am just proving my stupidity by strongly disagreeing with them, as I happen to believe that until it is swept from the face of the earth, it’s likely to eventually fly in from somewhere.

      The numbers most people & the media refer to are from the government website which at 27,734 on Wednesday, conflicts with the proven as reliable Covid symptom tracker which estimated 60,478. John Campbell who is pretty spot on despite not wearing a tie, believes one reason for this is that unlike the CST, all those very educated & likely very dapper Gov people have not yet updated the symptoms to Delta as they are different to Alpha etc which would skew the stats. He also puts forward other possibilities which can be found on his last video.

      Meanwhile the Daily Mail ( probably temporarily ) goes all Dr. Doom due to a new report from SAGE.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        About a week ago, Campbell offered an interesting though as he emphasized purely speculative idea that the time between shots was greater in England (12 weeks rather than 3) and that that may have something to do with longer and greater efficacy. I believe the initial goal was, due to scarcity, to spread it out so more initial shots got into more arms to at least provide some protection. Whether or not others have looked into that or if there are solid reasons eliminating the possibility, I don’t know. Haven’t heard anything on the subject since.

        1. Eustachedesaintpierre

          Nor I, although I think that the Israeli data has since been questioned.

          Yet another don’t know to add to the collection but it’s perhaps illuminating that Dr. John got most things right while admitting when he didn’t from the very start. Masks, Aerosols, the need to stop flying the damned thing all over the place, all of which the majority of the Pols & their experts didn’t – assuming that the latter were not overuled by the former. It has also been interesting watching him gradually in his small c conservative way, realise that his initial confidence that that those running the show, would soon get on top of it was totally misplaced.

          His inclusion of the Ugandan doctor’s videos being just one of the signs that he is primarily a humanitarian, which is something that I really like about him.

  5. lordkoos

    Since restrictions were lifted in my part of the world (western USA), when out and about I see very few people wearing masks. Supermarket staff are masked but otherwise I’d say it’s 25-30% of people, at best. Folks around here are either not reading the news about the Delta and Gamma variants, or are ignoring it.

    1. marku52

      Same here is SW OR. Signs still up about masks and distancing (uselessly, as it turns out). Nobody complies. Everyone has just decided the pandemic is over.

      I’m in a distinct minority when I’m out and masked.

  6. Brooklin Bridge

    Here in my neck of woody Massachusetts, particularly in super markets ( the only places I go to pretty much), people simply are NOT wearing masks (on either side of the check-out) other than myself and a few other age similar relics of the last millenium. At least up until about 5 days ago – before the CDC barfed up it’s latest bromide, “Watch this speech Ma! I’ll keep a straight face all the way through.”

  7. Boomka

    Here in west London there are no signs of “lockdown”, restaurants and pubs are full, and there are plenty of shoppers. People continue to mask indoors, I would say 80% of people are masked in the stores and on the tube. Given how contagious delta is, I don’t think behaviors would explain the drop – we probably should look to other explanations, like school being over, weather getting better, etc

    Btw number of people in hospital has gone down as well now, suggesting that this isn’t just bad data on testing numbers:

  8. Terry Flynn

    Yeah I also believe there was a growing effect of vaccination which BY ITSELF wasn’t sufficient but in conjunction with high mask usage in certain parts of London has now enabled a “threshold to be crossed”. This might not stay the case with variants but for now things looking better. Why do I think this? My Dad’s company supplies clinical grade masks. Demand explosion.

    Customers for his “usual” product (shoji blinds made using polypropylene etc rather than paper to defend against cats /babies) usually demand masks too. Mask demand has grown relative to blinds etc. His mask washable up to 10x. Value for money is huge. Rich people pay attention to that in our experience. Sceptical? Read Terry Pratchett.

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