A global archive of independent reviews of everything happening from the beginning of the millennium
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1 October 2021
Whilst on the subject of arbitration, I have always been mystified as to why there is a fad for opposition to investor state dispute settlement mechanisms in trade agreements.
Far from being a mechanism for multinationals to extract damages from powerful governments like that of the U.K. in so called secret courts, I am led to understand that the reality is that they are a recourse for much less powerful investors in weaker states where they do not have a contract with the government.
A multinational would not risk obtaining an award that might not be enforceable as enforcing against a government is fraught with difficulty.
The mooted alternative is not appealing - naming a cross-border court as the arbiter of disputes.
The ECJ has a residual role in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol and the U.K. has respected its rulings whilst in the EU but were a ruling adverse to the U.K. to be handed down and not complied with that would eventually lead to a loss of authority for that court, an unappealing outcome for any court.
So, for the main run of trade agreements, it would be best to leave things to ISDS.
As for political disputes, they are best solved by political means.
25 January 2020
Inevitably a change of Prime Minister means changes in policy - necessary changes in policy - and that is no reflection on predecessors. Though I have designed parts of railway stations and so have no lack of a soft spot for railways, it is hard to see how, say, severe reductions in benefits, which can cause hardship, can be combined with spaffing (to borrow the word) the same amount of money on HS2, especially by advocates of the first policy. Neither can raising taxation for it, which can also cause hardship and depress badly needed economic activity, be seen as sound. The project, interesting in some respects, is highly uncommercial and already projected to cost 10 times HS1.
The civil engineering industry has some of the least good management attitudes of all Britain's engineering industries - witness Carillion - and so it cannot be the recipient of all infrastructure spending any more than the PFI package providers can now be the recipient of all sums for new hospital building, which they are not going to be.
Some revised thinking is needed and some longstanding civil service policy has to go. The north and Midlands cannot be regenerated extensively by infrastructure spending without the bias of business taxation, indeed all taxation, switching to favour smaller enterprise.
Token schemes run by the civil service for smaller business do not really work - only making it attractive through the taxation system for people not to be employees and instead take on commercial risk will work. The civil service is a place of secure long term employment and though it contains some of the most thoughtful minds, it finds it hard to make this intellectual leap.
Brexit will mean the exit of many large companies going off in a huff.
Others will arrive attracted by the reduction in EU regulations, traditionally gold plated more than in any other country by the civil service (spurring the perception of a need for Brexit) and now frequently unenforceable due to reductions in trading standard officer numbers - but they will not greatly outweigh those leaving, if they manage to do so.
Only regeneration of enterprise from below can work, otherwise consider forgetting about it.
Any immediate alternatives? Literally fix the roofs of schools and police stations, and the pavements outside, while the sun shines, training people in construction skills and putting in solar panels at the same time.
The benefits of mega-infrastructure spending alone may not endure. The bigger the contractors the less likely this is to be the case. Look at the legacy of many overseas Olympic projects for evidence.
The same will have to apply to who the banks lend to and take risk on. They can, of course, continue to skew their lending to big corporates and wait to take the big losses in the next downturn. Who wants owners of out of town shopping centres or diesel engine manufacturing plants now?
Only multiple and expanding smaller businesses encouraged by taxation policies and better non-bureaucratic lending can provide the aggregate scale of new economic activity needed everywhere in Britain.
28 February 2020
Something that needs to be established fast is whether the coronavirus, Covid-19, dies quicker the stronger the sunlight.
If it does then the virus will survive less time in outdoor environments when a hot sun in shining. The spring equinox (or vernal equinox) is on 20 March, so we are three weeks away from a turning point in sunshine levels. If it does, after the equinox it will become less easily transmitted in the northern hemisphere and more easily transmitted in the southern.
We are not qualified to comment on what medical action should be taken but we can comment on the political.
China, Iran, Italy and South Korea should consider voluntarily suspending nearly all travel in and out of their territories until the equinox when the suspensions can be be reassessed. (The markets, too, would welcome such firm action over the weekend).
Other countries are probably still in a position where they can contain the outbreaks on the basis of the contacts made by those infected.
This is the biggest issue of the decade so far. Bigger than climate. Bigger than Brexit.
Every week that passes without it being acted upon will double the amount that central banks and governments will have to eventually pump in to stabilise the world economy.
Two weeks is the time for the virus to cease being infectious. We are entering the month most critical for the wellbeing of human kind.
6 March 2020
Arbitrators are constantly asking themselves two questions: do I have jurisdiction and I am being scrupulously impartial? These are the grounds on which their awards are ultimately most likely to be set aside and not on the facts or the law without a broader appellate mechanism being written into the system.
Arbitrators can make jurisprudence these days that extends wider in its effect than that of national courts but you have to be a lucky arbitrator to be appointed to decide cases with that reach.
Any trade agreement between the EU and the U.K. is fated to have disputes resolution clauses providing for arbitration. (I would argue - but this is not a legal forum and this is a piece of journalism - that this is necessary in the interests of justice).
The European Court of Justice gets its jurisdiction from treaties between sovereign states. The U.K. is not party to those treaties so it cannot be subject to its jurisdiction except by treaty with those sovereign states. The EU is not a sovereign state.
It eventually became a matter of fact that Napoleon was an emperor and Queen Victoria was an empress - they each had sovereigns who were their vassals.
But what jurisdiction did the Congress of Vienna have to declare Napoleon Bonaparte sovereign and emperor of the island of Elba? If the congress had been an arbitral panel the correct decision would have been to rule that it did not have jurisdiction.
Queen Victoria at Temple Bar and G.E. Street's atmospheric Royal Courts of Justice
The Court of Arbitration for Sport was established in 1984 by the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne and it is subject to the arbitral law of Switzerland which does not provide for its arbitral decisions to be challenged.
So parties that have referred cases to CAS have chosen it to be final arbiter.
However, you could argue before CAS and elsewhere that it does not have jurisdiction.
Likewise, though CAS has largely distanced itself from its founder, you could argue that it is not impartial.
In the Caster Semanya case, an argument has been advanced that CAS was not qualified to decide matters of human rights.
Challenges as to jurisdiction, impartiality and lack of effective choice of forum have already been made and an outcome in a national court is awaited.
However, jurisprudence with global reach has been made. It is said that the alternative to a case brought to CAS would have been one before the South African courts and its persuasive force beyond the reach of that country would have been, in most likelihood, limited.
For sport there are clear advantages in going to arbitration. If you want to lift a ban on competing in the Champions League you want a decision in days or a few short weeks not after months or even many years as might be the case for a case before a national court.
Whilst the U.K. was a member of the EU you could theoretically have referred a matter of EU law from a U.K. arbitral tribunal directly to the European Court of Justice for a decision - if national recourse had been exhaused as it could have been as appeals are limited - which is not to say it happened.
The point, though, is that the European Court of Justice is probably best able to decide difficult points of EU law if the trade dispute arbitrators want to refer them prior to making an award just as the U.K. courts would be best able to decide difficult points of U.K. law. What surely must be the case is that none of these courts has automatic jurisdiction.
At the moment, however, it is a matter of politics so it would be interesting to hear the competing arguments.
A law firm in the City where I met some who decide or advocate in CAS cases
2 April 2020
We could not rely on a herd immunity strategy during the foot and mouth outbreak because there is no herd immunity.
We cannot rely on herd immunity for Covid-19 because there is no herd immunity.
In the event of another foot and mouth outbreak in Britain we must proceed at once to an immunisation strategy and stick to it thereafter accompanied by emergency herd isolation on a temporary basis.
Assuming a vaccine can be available one year on from the genetic sequencing of Covid-19 we must also move to an immunisation policy as the medium term solution.
For a virus so virulent herd immunity is only in practice achievable through immunisation.
An antibody test is useful to release healthcare personnel back into the frontline and to tell a few people who might otherwise be considered at high risk that they are at lesser risk because they have had the virus. The risk will always be lesser because a test may not have 100% accuracy and the virus may mutate though it is said to be fairly stable at present.
An antibody test is also very useful and should be extended to the whole population but it does not of itself reduce the risk to those in the population that have not caught the virus.
As a means of allowing widespread release of people back into the workforce it is flawed. It will be full of risk and practically divisive. As an extreme example you cannot tell politicians that they can be defence ministers because they have had the virus but that their colleagues who have not cannot.
The absolute priority must be the saving of life followed by the preservation of livelihoods.
The economy will recover but not in this quarter and will be irrecoverably changed. Businesses will therefore have exit strategies that take advantage of different opportunities not the status quo ante.
Social distancing must remain in force for at least two or three calendar months.
Those who fail to endeavour to maintain social distancing are not only putting lives at risk they are also endangering the livelihoods of those they know. Businesses will not seek to return to former operations if they know it will put lives at risk.
Should the virus not merely peak but decline to being residual the strategy should then move to testing all the contacts of those who have the disease in order to isolate it. Planning and providing for this testing should begin now.
Beyond that only an immunisation programme can deliver security.
21 April 2020
To continually say that you will be guided by the science is at times to abrogate sound political judgement. Occasionally it is trotted out by those who are not good enough politicians themselves, especially in the community that advises politicians. It also skirts the facts that science is continually being subject to new hypotheses that have to be tested against reality and that peer review approval does not necessarily mean that a piece of science is right, merely that it has won the argument for now amongst peers.
Yet we must give science much weight.
Then there is professional judgement and experience we must have regard to.
For Covid-19 that of the medical profession is probably more important than streams of data, and possibly more so than science, however much we have witnessed over decades the withholding of medical information from patients, inbuilt into the culture in Britain, costing lives and patronising them, and leading to an informed distrust of public health policy.
Engineering expertise must intrude, too.
Most sophisticated air conditioning systems do not merely extract used air and deposit it outside, though they could be set to do that in the warm weather we have now. They condition the air and recirculate part of it at a desirable temperature and humidity and at a rate that conserves total energy usage. This may result in flawed ways of doing things in the time of Covid-19.
So it is not merely what distance you are from someone but what air you are likely to share, especially with multiple people.
This tends to rule out certain activities and places in the first stages of relaxation - partying, dancing, audiences standing or sitting tightly packed, the indoor spaces of bars and pubs and intensely occupied open plan offices.
In a relaxation the two metre rule may not be critical. If you work in a factory coming closer than that regularly to a person working next down the production line may be of little risk and manageable in terms of keeping a record of your contacts. (You may not be allowed to take a mobile onto the production line so contact tracing apps do not work for all cases).
Closing the national borders of infected countries has come too late. On a continent scale level this may not work - the U.S., Schengen etc although it might for Australia. This is because outbreaks are likely to spring up from internal sources of infection at least as much as from border crossing.
So in a relaxation it may not be so critical to insist on particular distancing or restriction of travel as to limit the number of contacts made.
Law enforcement officials cannot go into a restaurant and say that table is not two metres apart because serving staff pass them anyway. What you can say is you can travel to the restaurant's outdoor area but you must only go alone, in your family group or to meet one other person sitting opposite. So you could meet your accountant for lunch in place of an open plan office.
Some business has to start again in a relaxation and there will always be limited risk until vaccination is widespread but the political judgement calls have to be made.
10 May 2020
For countries which have taken a big infectious hit from Covid-19 due to acting too slowly and the wrong type of testing and contact tracing infrastructure, insisisting on masks and quarantining of international arrivals at this stage are the wrong policies.
They need to stay in lockdown for a greater number of weeks than other countries and then move to allowing limited travel based on necessity, a switch to outdoor activities in preference to indoor, strongly limiting the number of contacts a person can make in a day, meeting people one person at a time and keeping a log of who they are manually on their mobiles or in a notebook with the dates so that in the event of infection they can report contacts and, finally, reducing the social separation distance to one metre.
That way some modicum of normal life and trading can return.
A contact tracing app as originally proposed by NHSX for Britain is likely to produce chaos if it is the mainstay going forward.
Everything suggests that the number of people who have had the disease in Britain is over a 100 times the number of deaths. That produces a number of at least 3 million people.
To these people the app will be close to useless based on proximity for 15 minutes or more with someone who self-reports infection. They are not themselves carriers as far as current knowledge can ascertain. They cannot catch it either. They will simply be receiving a call telling them that they must self-isolate, not go into work or go about their business.
This is the same public health nonsense that has prevented families getting their relatives out of care homes to where they can be better isolated from infectious risk.
The sight of Public Health England refusing to use offers from the animal health community of testing and the underuse of private hospitals and their staff to treat Covid-19, though contracted to provide capacity, is unappealing.
The obsession of public administration for nearly two decades with establishing prerogatives of governance over the population instead of providing services by which it can be loved has been exposed in public health policy. The NHS was meant to be the one example to show that the state could still do things itself and properly but it has been hamstrung by public health policy.
Care homes have not been able to access the best testing and treatment. Even now animal health testing facilities and private hospitals, under contract to the state, could rescue them.
29 May 2020
Experience over the past three months in the U.K. has shown that the concepts of imposed shielding and herd immunity are incompatible with liberty. No one who believes in liberty should be advocating them.
Experience has also shown over the same period that renewable lockdown periods and social distancing have been remarkably effective at braking the rise in infection and, thanks to the individual and collective resolve of citizens, bringing down the incidence of infection. The emphasis on outdoor activity in preference to indoor during warm and hot weather will also reduce transmission within indoor spaces.
Lockdown and social distancing have not been incompatible with liberty, except when they have crossed humane behaviour. What they are is a brake on economic activity.
If families and individual institutional organisations had been free to make their own judgements as to where and how people could be kept protected in detail from Covid-19 the outcome in the number of deaths would have been lower than with the shambolic behind the scenes regulation that we have had. Never again must the health of people be managed centrally by the state in this illiberal manner. Especially if the civil service is to retain respect.
People should nominate themselves if they have a need to be protected and then taken at their word. I have observed couples in their thirties stay indoors throughout receiving nothing but deliveries from supermarkets and online. That is okay.
I have also seen people in their seventies and beyond go out every few days to buy what they need from supermarkets and elsewhere and none have come to harm. The taxi drivers, who provide a useful service outside supermarkets, and whose services they decline, speak among themselves of colleagues who have gone down.
For the purposes of economic activity there have to be exceptions from lockdown.
For economic activity to resume fine judgements have to be made.
It is hard to see how the airline industry can return to activity if the social distancing, at least for it, remains at two metres in Britain. The same can be said of the hospitality industry. One metre might work for them. Airports might be asked to do basic temperature testing.
Heathrow has been the transport hub of Europe, Britain the place you send your children to be educated. A blanket 14-day quarantine on arrivals says the U.K. has no ambition for either to be restored.
By all means suspend flights and quarantine detoured arrivals from countries that temporarily have measurably higher incidence of infection than London, the location of arrival for most air travellers.
As for citizens, they can be made aware of a greater risk existing when using both transport and hospitality venues and be permitted to arrive at their own judgements. This is because Covid-19 is likely to be around until a vaccine speeds its elimination but economic activity must return and people need to be offered the health benefits of being outside during the warm weather.
Forget herd immunity. What we need to temporarily do is suspend pack behaviour. That can be policed. We might, indeed, like to go clubbing or employers might like packed training seminars but the guidelines have to say these are out, as they already do in effect.
We should allow individual judgement to have much more rein. "British common sense" would be the outcome.
20 August 2020
You impose travel restrictions to protect others from your high infection rate just as you wear a mask now to protect others from Covid-19 in the event of you having it. China should have imposed a ban on outbound flights as soon as it had a plan for the Wuhan outbreak .... but we have to move on.
Wearing a mask is not going to protect you much outside and the U.K. imposing new travel restrictions on additional European countries every time the Scottish government panics about infection at home or importing it from nearby English counties is going to have minimal effect. It smacks of kneejerk nationalism. The European countries nearly all maintain a lower death rate than England and Scotland.
At this point in the infection, travel restrictions, whether between the north of England and Scotland or anywhere else in Europe, have little effect. At this stage you would have to be pretty remote, like the Antipodies, for such a policy to have a chance of working but by all means Brazil can voluntarily ban outward flights. Should Belgium's infection rate, which is falling, fall below that in the U.K. it should promptly be taken off the quarantine list.
Britain is currently about being global Britain and that aspect is being wilfully killed off. Many people were working, staying, studying or doing business in Britain prior to and during lockdown but they will not be coming back with quarantine policies and its international transport businesses will be in trouble.
Changes in behaviour, not travel, whether between English counties and Scotland or internationally, are increasing the infection rate in these late summer months and than can happen as much in Bournemouth or Aberdeen as in the Canary Islands. Those able to travel are not the most obvious source of infection.
Open plan offices, which by definition are internal, are going to be a risk going into winter. Work from home if you can - currently so in Belgium - will bring infection rates down.
Limiting the number of contacts per week even more so as full lockdowns are becoming invidious policy options, inviting public disorder.
Giving little access to relatives to visit nursing and care homes whilst letting staff travel to and from them daily is scrambled public health policy. Governments should pay for a proportion of staff to live on the premises so cut-outs are established between those delivering supplies, tending to gardens and so on and those working at close quarters. Nothing is perfect but infection control has to improve continuously in medical and quasi-medical facilities. This time Covid-19 cases should be shipped out to hospitals. Relatives' visits in outdoor spaces should not be restricted beyond commonsense and basic distancing.
Nannying public health decisions delivered the first disaster in nursing and care homes. There is an order of magnitude less of this on most of the Continent, with executives less evident prisoners of their civil services than in the U.K's four nations, though disasters abound. Families and these institutions may know better than the central state.
Educational establishments are going to be a wild card this autumn in all countries - it could go either way.
29 October 2020
Educational establishments have indeed been the wild card.
The reality may be that while schools are open Covid-19 incidence will rise whatever measures are taken, even to the extent of the lockdown of most other activities.
The testing ground for this hypothesis will be France which will be going into near lockdown from this Friday but which showed minimal Covid-19 incidence in the summer preceding the return to school, which generally is earlier than in the U.K.
This is one hypothesis one would hope will be proved wrong but there probably is some price societies are willing to pay to keep schools open, though not unrestrained transmission.
This is not to say that schools are the biggest risk. Workplaces, medical facilities, nursing and care homes and the number of social contacts made per week if high have probably been greater risks until this autumn's return to school.
The re-imposition of working from home, restriction in the number of social contacts per week and special additional measures in some areas did put the rise in incidence in reverse in Belgium in August only for it to turn upwards again with the return to school and work.
The hypothesis does, however, beg the question whether U.K. guidance to citizens has been wrong. Instead of interfering in what family groups do a better policy may have been to give maximum information about the disease, and preventive and mitigating measures, and let members of family make the decisions as to what is best for their own household unit.
The government has never published the full list of symptoms but if a person has more than a few of this long list it is a near certainty that they have the infection and need to isolate at once irrespective of whether they have been tested, tested promptly or not at all. Testing's greatest usefulness is to catch the disease in those with no or few symptoms and thus forestall transmission.
Something similar might apply to living units that are not family units. The return of students to universities has also resulted in a spike in cases but these have been largely contained on campus and so thus far have presented a lesser risk to the community. Students can understand complex good advice which they can follow on return home or elsewhere at Christmas.
Due to what looks like an early muddle, the initial advice in March for those with the disease to isolate for 7 days and those in contact with someone with it to isolate for 14 days seems to have been the wrong way round.
People with the disease may be in the most danger in the second week, even if not infectious, and need the fortnight off to conserve their energy and build up their strength. Those who have been in proximity, especially if they get a negative test, are fairly likely to be in the clear after 7 days, provided they monitor themselves carefully. The government would save a lot of money on off work support this way round, too.
The 7 day policy has been adopted by some European countries and if it were adopted for international travellers as well, Britain could open properly for business sometime in 2021. Let us not kid ourselves that much disease has been imported since March, blaming an external source. It has been resident in the four nations since before then and has persisted.
You can imagine the university campus. A student meets someone infected, isolates for 14 days missing practical, distanced work in a lab or similar, comes back and meets another infected person and goes back into quarantine for a further 14 days. Proper study is not going to be achieved. As for the student who has had it, why subsequent periods of 14 days quarantine?
Whilst the policy of corraling in care homes was wrong, mutual support within campus buildings has some logic to it ... and potential legal problems if some students want out. Let the student, let the citizen, make the decision whether they individually consider themselves at unacceptable risk and give them all the information they could need to reduce it. They will also need some support options.
The current system of tighter restrictions in areas of high incidence may be a better one than uniform near lockdown leaving the schools open because eventually most people will have to go out there and judge some risk for themselves.
9 November 2020
Look at central London in the second lockdown and you will find most of the really expensive cars, probably owned by foreign visitors, off the streets.
There are the compensating advantages of less vehicle pollution and noise of sports cars revving.
The international rich have forsaken Britain with its quarantines, lockdowns and pockets of high Covid-19. Up until midsummer they were doing business, living, working and studying in London. They have largely gone and will not be returning next year, especially if travel restrictions prevent their children returning home at Christmas and re-entering Britain for the new term without over-extensive self-isolation periods.
The airlines, Eurostar and travellers show a fair deal of commonsense about Covid-19 which is not witnessed by those making public health policy.
Heathrow is a shadow of what it was, its transport businesses under the cosh but with British airlines managing with limited support money unlike the big subventions doled out on the Continent. Charles de Gaulle airport in the summer bogged people down with bureaucracy that made people miss their flights but it still did more business.
Instead of being full of medical chatter about better ways to treat Covid-19 patients, and ways they can look after themselves and self-isolate promptly, the media is full of near pointless statistics putting everything at one remove from reality. Epidemiology is not everything. Science is theoretical of its nature, medicine real when it is allowed to be.
Unless it has detected concentrations of Covid-19 it wishes to protect other nations from, the Welsh government's policy of today of having no restrictions on internal travel but banning most travel outside the principality is unacceptable and makes Jonathan Sumption's case for him. Surprisingly, it has made the first serious argument against devolution.
16 November 2020
The upturn in cases of Covid-19 in young women after the return to school is ominous. There is a strong possibility that they contracted it from schoolchildren, their own or others they have been looking after. Children have been inevitably mixing with people from other households again upon return to school, something the majority of adults have cut back on.
To return to the above hypothesis, it is also possible that children contract the disease more readily than adults but keep it in an asymptomatic state more often as adult immune systems are more experienced and so may rebuff low viral loads more readily whilst immature immune systems may be more open to them.
There may be ethical issues raised about testing young children asymptomatic of Covid-19.
As children are much less likely to be harmed by Covid-19 than most adults (exceptions amongst adults might include those who have already had it) they cannot, in the majority of cases, be priority candidates for vaccination but their ability to be carriers is an issue. If you could identify a category of adults who are potential super-spreaders would you push them up the priority list to avoid risk to others?
Comparison between lockdowns that closed schools and lockdowns that did not may have to made to get a quick perspective.
These look like issues for science in the first instance.
17 November 2020
Napoleon Bonaparte was confined to Elba of which he was designated sovereign.
He had limited options so it was not too bad a deal.
He was not happy with it. His liberty was at stake.
If he had been made sovereign of the larger landmass we now call Italy he might not have minded too much. He had already worn the iron crown. Josephine's son was still nominally his viceroy and his brother-in-law was the independent King of Naples. He had once been ruler of much of it before he became First Consul. He was not a peace loving man and Italy would have provided what he needed. He would have had more options.
We are in a pandemic; people are being sensible and not particularly belligerent.
In the still unlikely combination of an independence referendum in Scotland being held soon, it proceeding to an outcome that leads to independence and Scotland acceding to the European Union as an independent nation, would a person of Scottish descent living somewhere else in the United Kingdom choose to become a citizen of Scotland to accede to some benefit of the EU?
That may be a question of individual choice but their liberty might be at stake.
Nicola Sturgeon is proposing to make it illegal to travel to other parts of the United Kingdom other than if it is essential (or at least that is what is reported).
The situation is similar to England but by no means identical. She is not the ruler of the whole of the United Kingdom but seeks to place restrictions on travel within it.
The Welsh situation is not quite the same. Independence is not being sought by those making the health regulations. Nonetheless, are, say, Japanese business people going to be so keen to invest in the principality in future if they are at risk of being detained in a small entity unable to go home?
What if Covid-19 is not unduly spread by travellers but by being resident in a section of the population that cannot be vaccinated because vaccines cannot be cleared on an emergency basis for use in them as they have not been subjects in the trials, namely schoolchildren. If all children are outside vaccination programmes because they are not themselves in any danger, how will vaccination herd immunity be achieved?
Those choosing the nationality of the smaller entity might find themselves with less options.
It is looking like Jonathan Sumption and now Lord Neuberger are right.
18 November 2020
So you can see the political binary coming up for the elections to the Scottish Parliament:
Vote SNP for lockdown and lock-in on the wrong premise or vote Conservative for liberty and the union.
We need to get to liberty first.
27 November 2020
In financial markets, in particular, it never harms to submit orthodoxies to contrarian thinking.
So here is a little in that vein.
21.3% of the population is under 18. It will not be immunized against Covid-19 next year. If 70% of the remaining population is reached by a vaccination programme the total level of immunization will be in the order of 55% of the population.
As vaccines are not 100% effective and errors may be made in their administration, the effective vaccination rate might be around 50%, on these figures.
Add those who may be immune due to having had the disease, from outside the vaccinated group, and the likely percentage with at least short term immunity would be 55%-60%, in Britain.
The most at risk will have been vaccinated, the death rate will fall and health systems will be past the worst but financial markets would be wrong to assume that there will be a return to normal in 2021.
For a long time it has been hard to challenge the predominance of open plan space in office environments but if schools are to remain open one or more terms a year (contrarian thinking would say have two terms in the summer and none in the winter so that education can be conducted partially outdoors) then a mitigating casualty will have to be the return to work as normal.
Individual offices are easier to keep covid-free and office property owners are not in for an easy ride with their existing predominantly open plan portfolios.
The Georgians, in the main, built rickety and draughty houses. They knew a thing or two about elegance and they stand up well enough but it was not till the Victorians and Edwardians that we got really well made houses attuned to living in. They balanced natural ventilation and minimization of condensation with heating, keeping cool in summer, natural light, sturdiness of construction, and even noise separation, very well.
The idea that you can retro-insulate mediaeval and Georgian buildings (conservation and listed building issues arise) or most Victorian and Edwardian buildings, and many subsequent ones, with sometimes nasty and flammable materials, without creating condensation problems and a diminution of the natural ventilation that is necessary for Covid-19 prevention is approaching those found in science fiction, especially as a high percentage of retro-insulate projects use these potentially toxic materials. Remember the widespread urge post-war to use the wonder material, asbestos, as an insulant that was also fire retardant? It may still be there as pipe lagging, panels or sprayed into ceiling or wall surfaces.
If you simply ordered all non-domestic building owners to reduce non-IT energy consumption next year by 20% you would produce a bigger energy saving than a 20-year programme to retrofit domestic buildings.
The Treasury will know that the cost of the latter would be horrific. Remember, we have a public admnistration that cannot organize or finance the recladding of a few hundred tower blocks at fire risk.
So energy saving really does have to target the low hanging fruit first. New passenger vehicles by 2030, new buildings soon.
Why try to phase out aviation fuel, even if you could, without even mentioning filthy bunker fuel ripe for substituting?
Science can postulate possible ways out but it does not mean they will be delivered. That is why some things more than others approach science fiction.
For now we are living with Covid-19. The vaccines look as if they will work and it may get less virulent.
Theoretical, non-natural means of carbon capture have been advanced but how about taking the low-hanging fruit first? We may have to live with varying levels of elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Which is the greater risk to humanity just now? Covid-19? Particulate pollution? Species reduction? Plastics pollution? Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide? Which actions would impact on more than one of these?
29 November 2020
Small fish for this site.
Why is it you cannot get a fresh herring caught in British waters in London (you can get one looking 5 days old, just about, and not even fit for a cat) but you can in Denmark?
Because small boats do not land them here. The six miles nearest the coast should be reserved for coastal fishing. No big trawler licenses. This would be probably lead to more British-based catch, assert sovereignity in rule making and leave open the possibility of a less changed regime for other waters which the EU would like to fish in.
It might annoy some other people, too, but otherwise we are stuck with pickled herring from Denmark.
8 December 2020
Lockdowns or no, transmission of Covid-19 is hard to restrain while the schools are open. When term universally finally ends a week of respite in transmission may happen before Christmas, counter-balanced somewhat by grandchildren meeting grandparents and over-busy shopping locations. If Christmas has a rising mortality rate it will, as ever, be a trailing indicator. If a lot of those most at risk are vaccinated before Christmas this will be a strong positive.
When people consciously avoid mixing with strangers, keeping chance interactions short, transmission is much reduced. Counter-intuitively, this happened when people went away, either domestically or internationally, in the summer. People met less people than they would have done if they had been in an office, at school or at a university, were aware of distancing requirements, did more outdoor activities and quasi-isolated in advance so that they were healthy to travel.
Get the vaccination programme working, the infection rate down and reduce late hours partying opportunities, especially indoors, and summer should be fine again.
The government made the right call in removing shielding in the summer.
The red flag abroad was seeing children mixing as term commenced.
Relying on what data was available, it was clear Britain was about 3 weeks behind France throughout the summer and that an upturn in transmission was likely after school commenced if infections turned up in France a fortnight or so after its own return to school.
The nations appear to be in a fairly similar position now (or Britain is a week or two behind France)..
Wales had an early semi-lockdown and also produced some research linking school attendance to transmission and has been a little unfortunate to have cases pick up again but the end of term may restrain the upturn.
In retrospect a family-based, or residence-based, policy should have been adopted early on - each family adopting protocols to support and isolate any member who caught the disease, then sending out anyone who might have had it to face the world most whilst minimising exposure for others. Keeping family members apart on anything other than a voluntary basis made and makes little sense.
Such a policy would have worked at its best with students, amongst whom serious complications are rare. Those who might have had it would have willingly gone out to shop for food for those isolating and self-isolation for more than seven days for anyone who did not have symptoms made little sense if they were, in all events, remaining within the student community. The risk factor was greater for teaching staff.
The bubble concept, if used defensively - quasi-isolation before joining one, keeping those of greatly differing age relatively apart, sending out anyone who has had it to attend to the world but otherwise keeping others in well-ventilated surroundings and not mixing with those outside the bubble - could work well at Christmas.
As for educational establishments, some are getting their marquees in place now so that they can do outdoor education next term.
10 December 2020
This site has had influence in multiple capitals for some years. If one government is not listening others will. If one political party will not listen others may.
On 28 February we called for countries with high Covid-19 incidence to voluntarily suspend most travel to and from their territories.
This did not result in the suggested action but Donald Trump, who also urged that a vaccine could be found in less than a year, did move promptly to impose further restrictions on travel from Iran.
Voluntary movement bans by countries make sense when a new disease, strain or mutation has just emerged because they are much more effective than 200+ countries having to put their own restrictions on them days or weeks late.
Had the Covid-19 mutation in mink in Denmark not been brought under control as early as it was we would also have called for Denmark to introduce a total travel ban. In all events the Danish government had introduced a regional movement ban and the strain has not been found in the latest outbreak in mink in France and is provisionally assumed to be extinct.
One is always tempted to think that this or that public authority will have thought of an issue and nothing need be said but increasingly across many policy areas this has proved not to be the case. Better access to information does not necessarily lead to better conclusions. If you like, thinking has to be outsourced come what may.
Travel bans now are pointless for mainstream Covid-19 except to protect places with genuinely very low or absent incidence. It is fighting today's war with yesterday's weapons. It is like introducing travel bans against flu when it has escaped the location of its latest mutation.
Britain and the Schengen area are creating problems for their own economies with travel bans that do nothing to impact Covid-19.
The purpose of testing has also been subject to a lot of confusion which is why except on 28 February we have not mentioned it as a weapon in the armoury in Britain though others are welcome to. Old fashioned diagnosis, as performed by general practioners, and even self-diagnosis, can tell people if they have the disease. Delay in self-isolation due to being urged to have a test first to find out is illogical if a family doctor could tell someone that they have the disease over the telephone.
Contact tracing appears to be working well in societies with low incidence but less well where Covid-19 has taken off. It is a tool for handling reasonable numbers.
Only a percentage of contacts will contract the disease, for a number of reasons, so their self-isolation may become questionable where geographical containment is unfeasible.
Testing the contacts to alert the asymptomatic makes more sense.
11 December 2020
I was negotiating all sorts of things in Brussels on a monthly basis at the time Boris Johnson was filing his startling journalism from the city.
Truth was some of the European Commission's DGs were a pain to deal with and others a pleasure highlighting the importance of individuals and the legislative frameworks some had created for themselves. Nonetheless, it was far from a chore.
One thing that stood out was that while most countries eventually signed on the dotted line by transposing directives and regulations into domestic law, you could rely on what might then have been called Mediterranean countries to mostly take no further notice whilst the United Kingdom over-implemented and other countries steered a middle course.
On nearly everything to do with physical trade in goods no one sought recourse in the courts and least of all went to the European Court of Justice.
The Commission has since become more impenetrable to non-insiders - a bad sign for governance - so things may have changed but it did highlight the importance of philosophical principles to the Continental legal systems and textual picking to pieces to common law systems.
Nowadays much British legislation gives the impression of being drafted by theoreticians rather than hard-nosed practitioners, consequently cannot be implemented anyway and so has moved in the direction of Continental systems. The recent raft of legislation, supposedly in support of Brexit, has little to do with Brexit and is what the administrative class wanted anyway but is labelled as Brexit legislation for cover. That much of it can be introduced by statutory instrument is convenient.
What this suggests is that if what is being called a trade deal with the EU is available after hard negotiation it should be signed and then Britain should adopt the 'Mediterranean' attitude of old because it does not have the enforcement structures to attend to much paperwork anyway.
Maybe the disputes resolution arbitration mechanism could refer a few issues occasionally to the ECJ for an opinion, if they were matters of EU law as well, before making its own ruling. This is unlikely to be needed or happen much.
Penalties are not the way around for anything. Reference to a political forum where negotiations can take place might be.
It seems unlikely in the short to medium term that Britain is going be a supplier of physical goods which undercuts the EU. More likely is - if there is a hiatus in trade should no agreement be reached - that Britain, a profitable market to most EU exporters to it, will turn to some import substitution and that Britain will lose export opportunities in the EU due to shipping difficulties.
27 December 2020
Lockdown and the arguably harsh sacrificing of the hospitality, retail and transport industries have failed to have the desired result of a sharp braking of Covid-19 whilst simultaneously keeping schools open.
Evidence now points to schools being open having had an amplifying effect on the virus. This is still a matter for science but had the schools been shut a lighter touch could have been applied to these industries, as during July and August when in many towns in Europe there were no Covid-19 related deaths at all.
The high mortality rate in Christmas week is a trailing indicator of transmission in November when lockdown was in operation but schools remained open [to 11-18 December depending on type of school].
Recent developments, both positive and negative, such as vaccination or the emergence of a new mutation have been too recent to have affected Christmas mortality.
If the increased transmissibility of the new mutation is confirmed by harder evidence than modelling then the case has been made for the partial or full closure of schools next term, options which it is reported are under consideration.