Thursday 31 December 2020

Councillor complains that Wembley ASDA are putting residents at 'significant risk' over lack of Covid safety measures


Following a shopping trip to Wembley Asda with his mother last Wednesday Alperton councillor, Anton Georgiou, wrote to the store on Christmas Eve to express his concern over the non-observance of Covid safety measures:

I was horrified by what was going on in your Wembley store yesterday afternoon. I understand this is a really busy time, though we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and we will only get through it if we all do everything possible to limit the spread of COVID. I would like to speak to the store manager ASAP as I wish to make a formal complaint.

 Asked to elaborate on his concerns he said:

I was appalled at the lack of mask wearing by customers and staff, the fact that security and staff were not helpful when I was personally threatened for asking a customer behind me with[out] a mask to step back, I was threatened and verbally abused, there is little to no social distancing in store, anti bac is not available anywhere and the store is a mess.

Asda replied that they were sorry about Antons 'unpleasant experience' and had reported the feedback to the store manager for them to act on it and prevent it from happening again.  Anton responded that he would like to speak to the manager and asked when this could be arranged.

Asda ignored the request saying that they could pass on any further comments. Anton then asked for a telephone conversation with the manager to 'discuss what exact measures the store will be putting in place to ensure the safety of residents I represent who use the store and others in Brent.'

Asda replied that as a result of the complaint the issue had been raised with the store manager. The issues raised had been taken seriously and the store would be revisiting the safety measures and initiatives outlined in a blog .   'Thanks again for raising your concerns with us and please be assured that this has been addressed and you should see an improvement going forwards.'

So no direct contact between a local councillor and the store manager was agreed.

Cllr Georgiou told Wembley Matters:

I was appalled at what I saw in Asda Wembley last Wednesday.

With Covid cases rising locally at an alarming rate, it is crucial that supermarkets do everything possible to ensure the safety of constimers and staff. This has generally been what we have seen in supermarkets and businesses across Brent, however Asda Wembley simply aren't doing enough.

I witnesed too many people not wearing masks in store, including staff, and limited social distancing. I have tried to engage with the management directly since Thursday but have so far not heard back on tangible actions they will take.

I am extremely concerned that many Alperton residents and others in the local area who use this store are being put at significant risk. We will only be able to control the spread of the virus if everyone plays their part. I am hopeful Asda Wembley will be in touch soon on changes they will make to keep people safe.

As of yesterday Covid cases around the Forty Avenue area was 627 per 100,000 up 104 from 523 the previous week.


Wednesday 30 December 2020

UPDATE: Brent Council were not consulted about two week delay in return to school for Brent children

The London Borough of Brent has been included in a government list of Covid 'hot spots' where schools will not open to the majority of pupils in the first two weeks of January.  Primary schools will be open only to the children of key workers and vulnerable workers. Other children will receive on-line learning. The guidance is available HERE and will be revised on January 18th. 

Cllr Thomas Stephens, Lead Member for Education, Business, Employment and Skills said: 

Following the Government’s announcement about the reopening of schools for the 2021 spring term, I would like to reassure parents that we are working closely to support all our schools and settings as they welcome children back over the next few weeks.
The decision to delay face to face teaching was made by the national Government, and neither the schools nor the council were consulted before these arrangements were put in place.
We appreciate that the phased opening may cause some disruption to families, but the health and safety of our children and residents is of paramount importance. We are pressing the Government for firm commitments on mass testing, priority vaccination for school staff and support for the most vulnerable families.

The guidance makes it clear the schools should consult with the DfE before implementing it.

This is what the  guidance says about primary schools:


Primary Schools


Primary schools should only allow children of critical workers and those defined as vulnerable to attend.


Attendance expectations


Children of critical workers: Where a critical worker parent or carer notifies a school that their child requires full-time on-site provision, the school should make this available.


Vulnerable children: Vulnerable children are expected to attend full-time on-site provision where it is appropriate for them to do so. This should remain a priority for primary educational providers and local authorities. If they do not attend and it is not a previously agreed leave of absence, schools should:


•work together with the local authority and social worker (where applicable) to follow up with the parent or carer to explore the reason for absence, discussing their concerns using supporting guidance, and whether any adjustments could be made to encourage attendance, considering the child’s circumstances and their best interests


•work together with the local authority and social worker (where applicable) and other relevant partners to encourage the child to attend educational provision, particularly where the social worker agrees that the child’s attendance would be appropriate.


Where schools grant a leave of absence to a vulnerable child they should still speak to parents and carers, and social workers (where applicable) to explore the reasons for this and any concerns raised.


The discussions should focus on the welfare of the child and ensuring that the child is able to access appropriate education and support while they are at home.


High quality remote education should be provided for all other pupils.


Attendance recording Vulnerable children: As vulnerable children are still expected to attend school full-time they should not be marked as Code X if they are not in school (except if they are shielding, self-isolating or quarantining).


Schools should encourage vulnerable children to attend but if the parent of a vulnerable child wishes for their child to be absent from school, the parent should let the school know that the pupil will not be attending.


The  Department for Education expects schools to grant such applications for leave given the exceptional circumstances. This should be recorded as code C (leave of absence authorised by the school) unless another authorised absence code is more applicable.


Children of critical workers: As with vulnerable children, critical worker parents and carers should let schools know if their child will not be attending and, if not, schools should grant a leave of absence (code C) given the exceptional circumstances.


Pupils who are not expected to be in school: All pupils who are not expected to be in school should be marked as Code X. They are not attending because they are following public health advice.

  The full list of areas can be found HERE


Yesterday a zoom meeting of NEU London activists quickly reached its limit of 500 attendees indicating how seriously education staff see the present crisis.  There was particular concern over what appears to be  a directive that nurseries and special schools should open next week despite the decision to delay the opening of primary schools in most London boroughs. The union will be discussing what action to take to maintain the safety of chidlren and staff in these circumstances.

London boroughs excluded from the list of London boroughs reopening late were seeking explanations from the Secretary of State. These include our neighbouring boroughs of Harrow and Camden. On social media it was pointed out that many children and young people cross borough boundaries to attend school or college.

Harrow MP Gareth Thomas write to Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP:



Cllr Ketan Sheth, Chair of Brent Comunity and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee summed up the reaction of many on Twitter:


It is expected that Brent Children and Families will issue guidance to schools before the start of term. 


NEU: Schools are not safe enough for education staff to work

 I haven't been able to find the list of schools in hard hit areas that will not open next week, referred to by Gavin Williamson a few minutes ago in the House of Commons but this is a statement from the NEU following his statement:

Commenting on today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said:

“We are astonished at today’s announcement by Gavin Williamson.

With warnings from eminent scientists of an ‘imminent catastrophe’ unless the whole of the UK is locked down, and with more cases in hospitals than ever before and our NHS facing an enormous crisis the Secretary of State is sending the majority of primary pupils and staff back on Monday to working environments which aren’t COVID secure.

The Government has not, despite being repeatedly asked, published the scientific guidance on the risks involved in school and college reopening. This information is desperately needed - particularly as the new variants of the virus are 50% more transmissible.

The Government in Scotland will not reopen schools till 18 January at the earliest. The Government in Westminster should have done that at least.

A longer period of online working for all primary, secondary and college students could suppress virus levels and buy time both for the roll out of the vaccine and to put in place measures that can keep schools safer.

Uniquely school and college staff are being required to work in overcrowded buildings, with no effective social distancing, no PPE and inadequate ventilation. 

We would like Gavin Williamson to explain, if schools are not centres of transmission why school age pupils are now the most infected age groups?

Why is it that Primary age children are the second highest infected of all age groups, or that levels of infection amongst Secondary pupils have multiplied by 75 times since the start of September?

Serious questions also have to be asked about the Government’s plans for lateral flow testing in secondary schools, in particular about the effectiveness of these tests in identifying COVID infection in young people who are highly likely to be asymptomatic, with the tests being supervised by non medically trained volunteers.  We do not think it likely that these tests alone can make our schools Covid secure nor protect the communities they serve.

We believe the Government's steps will fail, that cases will continue to rise and that the question of school opening will have to be re-visited but in a worse situation than now. We again call on the Government to engage with us and with the suggestions we have made.

We do not believe, as they are currently organised that schools are safe enough places for education staff to work. We demand the following:

  • A review of all risk assessments in the light of the much higher transmission of the new variant.
  • Social distancing of 1 metre between pupils in all schools and colleges to replace the current practice of cohort distancing which allows whole year groups to mix without any social distancing.
  • Masks to be worn by pupils and staff in secondary school classrooms and colleges
  • School staff to be made a top priority for vaccination - along with health care staff and starting with the most vulnerable.
  • Until vaccinated, Clinically Extremely Vulnerable staff and other high risk groups to work from home, supporting children who are at home.

We reiterate that even with these steps we are concerned that cases will continue to rise making the spread of the virus in our communities more dangerous. We repeat our call on the Government to release its scientific advice and modelling”.

Independent SAGE: Safe re-opening of schools not an option for at least a month Another 100,000 Covid deaths possible by end of June 2021


 This morning's Independent SAGE Briefing


This is part of the statement issued this morning by Independent SAGE.  The full statement is available on their website HERE


With a highly effective vaccine being rolled out, with more vaccines to be approved shortly, it is unconscionable that Covid-19 be allowed to run rampant through our communities just when protection is on the horizon. We urgently need a new plan to control Covid-19 into 2021 and aggressively drive down cases across England. 


Delayed and tentative decision making will result in the deaths of tens of thousands more people. 


Modellers from the SAGE modelling subgroup estimate that even under national Tier 4, another 100,000 people could die before the end of June 2021. In that scenario, hundreds  of thousands others would go on to suffer long term effects from Covid-19 and the NHS would be brought to its knees. The government needs to act now to prevent this catastrophe.  


We strongly urge that  the following strategy be adopted immediately.

  1.  A nationwide lockdown with immediate effect is vitally necessary now. 
  2. Schools contribute to the increasing transmission (R rate). We all want staff and children in schools safely, but sadly that is not an option now for at least a month. The unprecedented crisis requires Government immediately provide digital access for all children, recruiting retired teachers and others to help provide excellent online teaching, enabling children who can’t work from home to attend school along with vulnerable and key worker children. The Government should use January to make schools safe, e.g. extra space from unused buildings to enable 2 metre distancing, free masks and encourage all to wear them, multiple sanitiser stations and support for improved ventilation. There should be an immediate Government taskforce, including teaching unions, local authorities, governing bodies and parents, to implement this plan. 
  3. There must be a clear strategy to mark the end-point of the new lockdown.  This is when the number of new cases has dropped to the point where all those with the disease and in contact with them are isolated, with support where necessary,  from the rest of the population.  A fully operative Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support system must be in place through local public health services and the army, which will need appropriate funding.
  4. Meanwhile, an explicit strategy for vaccine rollout is required. Current rates of immunisation, whilst a good start, are insufficient to ensure coverage of priority groups by Easter 2021. The necessary primary-care-led upscale requires new resources and staffing now. Appropriate support and messaging to all communities is required to ensure sufficient uptake to establish population immunity, and minimise death, disease and long-term physical and mental ill-health. 
  5. We must also support and contribute to the rapid roll out of the vaccine to low and middle income countries – the more Covid-19 is allowed to spread, the more opportunities it has to develop new mutations. 
  6. We must institute an effective Covid control strategy at our borders. As in other countries, personal travel, especially international travel, must be monitored and regulated effectively, with advance application for travel to and from the UK, a negative PCR test prior to travel and managed isolation on arrival. 


The lesson should by now have been learnt by the decision makers.  Prompt action will be better for the health of the country and our economy.  Delay can only lead to further rapid growth of this pernicious disease, paralysing our ability to manage it.  



Tuesday 29 December 2020

Brent Council officer responds to concerns over lack of mask wearing in local supermarket


As Cvod rates rise in the borough the Brent and Harrow Trading Standards Officer has responded to concerns expressed on the Next Door Community Forum regarding customers not wearing masks in Wembley ASDA and other supermarkets. 

He wrote:

Brent Council can only advise shops to remind customers (and staff) to wear face masks (many shops do it by announcements using the loud speaker system).


Displaying the 'wear a face mask sign' in shops is mandatory and the Local Authority enforce that part of the Emergency Legislation.


Only the police can issue fixed penalty notices to people who are not wearing face masks in shops (without justifiable medical excuse).


There is no requirement to have a doctor’s letter about why you have a medical reason for not wearing a face mask.


If it was ASDA's policy to refuse entry to people without masks it is likely there would be a lot of verbal abuse on staff and possibly violence which would need the police to be called (We have seen reports showing this fear of abuse by some customers is well justified).


 Under Health & Safety considerations for their staff well-being ASDA and many other supermarkets have decided the risk to their employees from verbal & physical violence is greater than the risk of the virus.


For a short time Morrison's said on TV adverts they would enforce the law on customers wearing a mask but I have not seen those adverts recently.


 I am sure the council will visit ASDA to look into this problem but until the Met Police also put some resources into this problem it will continue.




Monday 28 December 2020

NEU presses Government to release advice from Chief Medical Officer and calls for a New Year start with period of online learning


Figures at 6pm Monday December 28th 2020

As the number of active Covid cases continues to rise in Brent and nationally the National Education Union has written to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education  calling for schools and colleges to be closed for at least the first 2 weeks  of January, with on-line learning for all pupils except for vulnerbale children and children of key workers who woul;d attend school.

The Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union have written to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education asking for Government to share the evidence and advice they are receiving about school opening including over the decision to overrule Greenwich council in the run up to Christmas. 
With little time left before schools and colleges are expected to start back for the new term Government has still given no clear indication of what will be happening in the week of the 4th of January.
The NEU Joint General Secretaries have also reiterated their call on the Prime Minister to keep schools and colleges closed for at least the first 2 weeks in January, with online learning except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. 
Full text of letter below. 
Dear Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education, 
We last wrote to you on 21st December, calling for on-line learning in schools and colleges for the first fortnight of January 2021, for the Government to use that time to support local directors of Public Health in setting up mass testing programmes for schools and for the beginning of vaccination of education staff. 
As we explained in that letter we believe each of these steps would help provide more continuity of education for our young people – and we expressed our willingness to be involved in discussions of how best to implement such programmes. You have not replied to that letter. 
Today we are writing to ask you to share with the teaching profession and with education staff the advice you have been given by the Chief Medical Officer and/or the Chief Scientific officer or their deputies on: 
The Education Continuity Order issued to Greenwich Council on 14th December and 
Your proposals for education in the New Year 
Your modelling of case rates given the best understanding of the new variant 
The order issued to Greenwich on 14th December had the effect of ensuring that secondary and primary schools that would have otherwise begun a period of online learning during the last week of term continued with physical teaching: it also meant that other London borough councils contemplating similar advice withdrew from those positions. 
Yet in the latest Coronavirus test data it is clear that the infection rate amongst school age children continued to increase sharply during that last week of term. 
And it is clear that by the end of term school age children had the highest infection rates of any of the age demographics analysed by the ONS. Primary, Secondary and Higher Education age groups all have more than 2,000 cases per hundred thousand; much more than any other demographics. 
Secondary aged pupils have by far the highest rate of all age groups and the highest increase in multiples since September – with cases having increased 75 time since then. 

Age Group

September 1st

Cases per 100k

December 18th

Cases per 100k

Increase in        multiples

Aged 2 - Year 6




Year 7 – Year 11




Year 12 - Aged 24




Aged 25 –  34




Aged 35 -  49




Aged 50 – 69




Aged 70 +




Table shows Cases per 100,000 from the ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey, tabulation by the NEU


Given the recent, though late, acknowledgements that school age children can transmit the virus, including to their families and staff, we think it is very important that the advice given by the CMO and/or the CSO is public. 
This paper from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial college argues that Tier 4 will not be enough to control the new variant without school closures:
It is very important that you also release your own modelling of what might happen to cases amongst pupils, parents and staff given the best current understanding of the new variant of the virus.
For all of these reasons we call on you to release the advice and modelling we ask for in this letter. It is not too much to ask for this nor to ask that you implement the steps we called for in our previous letters to you. 
You are asking teachers and support staff to teach in often poorly ventilated classrooms, with no PPE in those classrooms and with the ability to socially distance very limited. As it is your Government that is making these plans it is clearly your responsibility to ensure safe working for staff and for you to understand, mitigate and communicate the risks. 
We have previously asked the Secretary of State to share with us the numbers of education staff that tested positive in each week since September, the number who have been hospitalised and the number who have died. So far that information has not been shared with us. 
You certainly cannot expect education staff to show good will towards your plans for education if you do not at least share all the information you have about this dreadful disease with them. 
Yours sincerely, 
Mary Bousted Kevin Courtney 
Joint General Secretary Joint General Secretary

On a lighter but telling note this was posted on Twitter by DystopianHeadteacher

Thursday 24 December 2020

Please support Sufra Foodbank's Covid-19 Winter Appeal as they call for a more just and beautiful world

I am sharing this message from Sufra Food Bank and Kitchen as it puts their amazing work into a wider context and because they deserve support.


What would Jesus do? Some 2000 years ago He spoke of love, goodwill to all and the importance of being a good Samaritan. 
Today, the whole world is on the brink of an unprecedented economic depression, the gap between rich and poor is obscenely wide, and millions more people are unable make ends meet. Independent food banks like Sufra never dreamed they would be so busy 

How did this happen? 

We could go back to the 1980s, when social housing and our sense of community was first undermined by government policies. Then there was the financial crisis of 2008, which led to years of austerity that devastated public services and critical safety nets. (Cue Universal Credit fiasco.)

Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, we were hit by a pandemic of biblical proportions. Never have the consequences of decades of injustice and inequality been so starkly revealed and painfully borne by society – especially the BAME communities we support. 
We’ve dug ourselves a hole so deep that there can be no going back to the fantasy of pre-pandemic ‘normality’. There’s been nothing normal or good about Sufra’s Food Bank queues over the past 7 years. No, we need a far more radical vision for creating a truly sharing society that upholds the Common Good. One that our food bank guests would approve of. 

Beyond Food Aid

Food banks are not the solution to hunger. Indeed, they are a part of the problem when people of goodwill  - not governments - provide the crucial safety net that prevents hunger and destitution in our communities. 
But for now, we have no choice but to continue. 
As I write, our staff and volunteers are preparing a hearty feast for 600 people, to be freshly cooked and delivered on Christmas Day, and we’ve been distributing surprise Christmas hampers and presents to our food bank guests all week – alongside their food parcels. 
And we’ve already transformed our work to deliver more food and other essentials to people in crisis during the pandemic. You can read more about what we did here.

We are busier than ever and we still really need your help. So please consider volunteering over Christmas/New Year or supporting our Covid-19 Winter Appeal.

A Community United

No matter how much food aid we distribute, it will never be enough. That’s why we will be raising our voice to call for real change in 2021 – and I hope you will join us. 
Until then, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to all our phenomenal volunteers, donors and supporters who have made what we do possible this year – under the most challenging circumstances imaginable. 
It’s been utterly inspiring to see our community unite against the threat of hunger and destitution and provide a lifeline to thousands of families experiencing crisis and isolation during the pandemic. 
I imagine that’s what Jesus would have done too. 
The heartfelt community response that underpins our work should give us all hope this Christmas that the creation of a more just and beautiful world is not only necessary, but possible. 

Wishing you all a safe Christmas and a much improved new year. 

Rajesh and the Sufra Team.