Omicron is an Anagram of Moronic – Which Helps Explain the Government’s Idiotic New Measures to Curb the Spread of the New Virus

At a special Downing Street press conference convened at 5pm, the Prime Minister announced that face coverings would become mandatory in shops and on public transport and everyone arriving in the U.K. would have to take a PCR test, regardless of their vaccination status, in an effort to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant. BBC News has a summary:

* PM says anyone arriving in the UK will be asked to take a PCR test for COVID-19 on the second day
* They would then have to self isolate until they provide a negative test, he says
* Rules on face coverings will be tightened up in shops and public transport, with a review in three weeks

Rather confusingly, Chris Whitty said there was a “reasonable chance” the new variant can partially escape the Covid vaccines and, in the next breath, said it was therefore very important for people to get the booster jab. Eh?

So, if I’ve understood the Government’s reasoning correctly, because two cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in England, it’s essential that as many people as possible should get a booster of a vaccine that is already largely ineffective against the spread of the Delta variant and is even less effective at preventing the spread of this new variant. Clear? Oh, and in addition masks are now going to be mandatory on public transport and in shops, but not in pubs, bars or restaurants because, as any fule know, the Omicron variant poses no threat to people eating or drinking. And this new mask mandate has been imposed in spite of the fact that there’s little robust evidence that tight-fitting, disposable, surgical masks do anything to suppress infection, let alone loose-fitting, multi-use, cloth masks.

Is this a new low in Government idiocy? Has anyone else noticed than ‘Omicron’ is an anagram of ‘Moronic’?

Postcard From Botswana

We’re publishing a postcard from Botswana today by local resident Felicity FitzGerald, pointing out that putting Botswana back on the red list and naming the new variant the “Botswana Variant” will have a devastating effect on the local tourism industry, which is already on its knees. Here’s an extract:

Our population is only two-and-a-half million in a country the size of France so we have plenty of social distancing. Lumbering Botswana with responsibility for a new, vaccine-evading Covid variant is attention grabbing and thoughtless and will cause a huge increase in poverty and poaching, particularly elephant and rhino.

Failing to do their homework, journalists have prompted many safari tourists who’d booked for Botswana this year and next year to cancel those bookings. Southern Africa and the rest of the world has registered ten cases of this new variant, but by unfairly naming it “The Botswana Variant” journalists have made sure the stigma will remain long after the danger has passed and tourists will unnecessarily avoid the country for the next two seasons. Of course, any new variant should be treated with extreme caution, but the world has suddenly cut Southern Africa off causing a new variant of poverty.

The game lodges in northern Botswana employ hundreds of local people and most have managed to scrabble through the last two years. This season they have started to get business again, but this will now be cut off overnight. The lodges are very remote so although they only cater for few guests at a time, they each employ dozens of local people. Game guides, trackers, drivers, maintenance men, chefs and all the kitchen staff, waiters, cleaning staff, grounds men, support staff back at base, aviation, transport getting food and supplies and staff to and from the camps – everyone will again be without work which impacts conservation and communities. The presence of tourists in Botswana effectively assists the anti-poaching units patrolling the game areas on remote bush tracks and roads.

Worth reading in full.

SAGE Adviser Says That The New Omicron Variant Is “Not a Disaster”

Professor Calum Semple, a SAGE adviser, has stated that the new Omicron variant is “not a disaster”, although the WHO has labelled it as a ‘variant of concern’. Semple claims that many, including his own colleagues, are “hugely overstating the situation” and how dangerous the variant is, as they are ignoring that “immunity from the vaccination” can still, most likely, protect members of the public “from severe disease”. MailOnline has the story.

Last night the World Health Organisation branded the so-called Omicron mutation a ‘variant of concern’ as countries including Britain and the U.S. moved to shut their borders to six countries from southern Africa, the area of suspected origin.

The variant’s sudden appearance this week sparked panic in Whitehall circles, with Downing Street’s scientists warning that it could be vaccine-resistant and Health Secretary Sajid Javid threatening to reimpose lockdown if necessary.

In a rush to limit the spread, the E.U. suspended all flights to southern Africa after the first case was confirmed in Europe. Britain had already put six nations on the travel ‘red list’ and was poised to add two more last night.

But microbiologist Professor Calum Semple today urged calm, insisting that vaccines are “still likely to protect you from severe disease”.

The SAGE adviser told BBC Breakfast that he supported new travel restrictions on South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, but added: “This is not a disaster, and the headlines from some of my colleagues saying ‘this is horrendous’ I think are hugely overstating the situation.”

“Immunity from the vaccination is still likely to protect you from severe disease. 

“You might get a snuffle or a headache or a filthy cold but your chance of coming into hospital or intensive care or sadly dying are greatly diminished by the vaccine and still will be going into the future.”

Semple said that while it may not be possible to stop the variant coming to the U.K., it is still important to delay its arrival.

“If you can slow the virus coming into your country it gives you more time for your booster campaign to get ahead of it,” he went on. “It also gives the scientists longer to understand more about the virus in case there is anything we really should be worrying about.”

Asked what other measures he thought were advisable, Semple said he was in favour of compulsory facemasks in shops and on public transport, and handwashing.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said “it is extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen”. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, he also insisted that vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the Omicron variant. 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Two cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the U.K., according to BBC News.

Sajid Javid said the UK Health Security Agency had detected cases in Chelmsford, Essex, and in Nottingham.

He said the cases were linked to travel in southern Africa and they and their households were self-isolating as more tests and contact tracing take place.

The new variant has also been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be holding a press conference at Downing Street later with the chief scientific advisor to the government, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty.

Chris Whitty Worried That the Public Won’t Accept New Covid Restrictions

Chris Whitty has said that his “greatest worry at the moment” is whether, should new restrictions be implemented to fight Covid variants, the Government can “still take people with us” and ensure public compliance with tightening Covid laws. The Chief Medical Officer further stated that it will now be harder to gain public acceptance for more restrictions given that the “people put up with two years of their lives being interfered with”. BBC News has the story.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has said his “greatest worry” is whether people will accept fresh curbs on activities to tackle Covid variants.

His comments came after the Government announced quarantines on travellers from some African countries following the emergence of a new strain.

Whitty said he questioned whether “we could take people with us” if restrictions had to be imposed.

But he added that “my overall view is, I think we will”.

England has been through three national lockdowns since Covid first struck. There have also been many local restrictions imposed at various points during the past 20 months.

Whitty told a panel discussion hosted by the Local Government Association: “My greatest worry at the moment is that people… if we need to do something more muscular at some point, whether it’s for the current new variant or at some later stage, can we still take people with us?”

He admitted that some of the changes the public has had to make have been “very destructive” to society and the economy. However, despite his worries, Whitty struck a positive note, saying he believed the Government will be able to maintain public support for Covid measures.

“I think the extraordinary thing has been the ability of the U.K. population, with very, very small exceptions, to just accept that there are things we collectively have to do to protect one another and do collectively, including things that have been very destructive to social and economic situations for individuals and families,” he said.

“Obviously, we want to avoid having to do those at all if we can, and to do the minimum ones necessary, but will we be able to maintain public support?

I think my overall view is, I think we will.”

There have been a further 50,091 Covid cases in the U.K. and another 160 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the latest Government figures show.

Both deaths and the number of people admitted to hospital continue to trend lower despite the rise in cases. It is likely we’re seeing the impact of the booster campaign protecting the most vulnerable people and keeping them out of hospital.

Worth reading in full.

NHS Backlog for Missed Cancer Diagnoses May Hit 50,000

According to MacMillan Cancer Support, there have been close to 50,000 missed cancer diagnoses since the time of the first lockdown, with the charity warning that the number could increase drastically over the coming months due to winter pressures placed on the NHS. The charity have also commented that there is currently a shortage of qualified cancer nurses to assist in tackling the backlog, exacerbating the initial problem. The Express has the story.

The NHS is struggling to work its way through the number of people waiting for treatment which spiked during Government-imposed lockdowns, when citizens were told to avoid using health services where possible. And figures suggest that the situation will get much worse before it starts to get better, with upcoming cancer checks likely to add significantly to the patient waiting list.

Macmillan Cancer Support has estimated that more than 47,000 people in the UK have missed a cancer diagnosis since the first lockdown.

Amid warnings of new Covid variants and further disruption to the NHS this winter, the charity added that the number of missed diagnoses could increase further still.

Steven McIntosh, Executive Director of Advocacy and Communications at the charity, said: “Nearly two years into the pandemic, there is still a mountain of almost 50,000 people who are missing a cancer diagnosis.

“Thousands more are already facing delays and disruption as they go through treatment.”

In order to catch up with the number of people who should have started treatment since March last year, Macmillan Cancer Support estimated that NHS England would have to work at a staggering 110% capacity for 13 consecutive months.

McIntosh added: “While hard-working healthcare professionals continue to do all they can to diagnose and treat patients on time, they are fighting an uphill battle.

“Cancer patients are stuck, waiting in a system that doesn’t have the capacity to treat them fast enough, let alone deal with the backlog of thousands who have yet to come forward.”

The charity warned that a primary issue faced by the NHS in its challenge to work through the cancer backlog was a lack of cancer nurses.

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From Austria

We’re publishing a postcard from Austria today by former academic Mark Frood describing the full horror of the Austrian Government’s recent shift to untrammelled authoritarianism. Here’s an extract:

A former colleague from Bonn insisted that “the Balkans begin in Austria”. She was hinting that for Germans, there was a slight whiff of the disorderly east about the place – too many rakish non-conformists and shady deals. I felt at home in that Austria. However, there is another Austria – a neuralgic, curtain twitching, obsessively orderly, dyspeptic place, obsequious and worshipping of authority.

Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve observed both Austrias: the Austria of stubborn transgression with the barn parties, impromptu gatherings around a crate of beer and a refusal not to enjoy life; and the other Austria of pandemic narks, tipping off the police about a game of farmyard horseshoes, or youths in the park doing what youths do. Beyond the caricatures, the situation is getting sinister. For months, the population have been saturated with angst filled news broadcasts claiming that the Austrian health system (one of the best resourced in the world) was on the verge of collapse. The press called for deeper and more stringent measures against the unvaccinated. A ‘new enemy within’ that might divert attention from the manifold failings of the Austrian political establishment to better prepare the health and social care system for winter.

The pandemic was reframed (against all evidence) as a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’. How that phrase flew. In the space of a few weeks there was a palpable mood change. Newspaper comment sections were stuffed with hateful diatribes about the unvaccinated; TV programmes made little attempt to understand the reasons why many people were reluctant to consider the new novel vaccines, despite their being evidence that many of the unvaccinated would be willing to accept one of the conventional vaccines in development (Novavax) or those already in use across the world (Sinovac). There was little objective coverage of emerging vaccine breakthroughs which might lead us to question whether vaccines remain the only way out of the pandemic. In this simple public morality tale, the unvaccinated were portrayed as the only barrier to taming the pandemic. Pressure grew for compulsory vaccination and on November 19th the Chancellor announced that Austria would become the first European state to introduce compulsory vaccinations, coming into force on February 1st 2022.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Republic of Ireland to Begin Vaccinating Children as Soon as Possible

Paul Reid, the head of the Republic of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE), has said that the Government has already begun planning a child vaccination campaign which he hopes begins “as quickly as possible”. Yesterday, the the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved use of the Pfizer jab for five to 11 year-olds, with the vaccine now waiting approval from the country’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee, which will most likely follow the EMA’s original decision. The Times has the story.

Reid said delivery of the children’s vaccine across Europe was scheduled towards the end of December. “What we would be doing in the meantime is mobilising a plan and the channels in which we would prepare the vaccination of those younger age groups,” he said at a HSE weekly briefing.

The EMA said that a lower dose of the vaccine would be administered to primary school children (10 µg compared with 30 µg), with research showing that younger children produced a comparable immune response with the lower dose to that seen in people who received the higher dose.

The agency said the most common side effects in children aged five to 11 year-olds were mild or moderate, and similar to those recorded in older age groups. It said the benefits of vaccinating younger children outweighed the risks, particularly among those with conditions that increase the risk of severe forms of the disease.

Reid told yesterday’s briefing that there was a “really serious and continued escalation” of Covid transmission in the community. He noted that the public had responded to calls to work from home and curb social activities, but said this needed to be sustained because transmission levels were “still far too high” and putting severe pressure on the health system.

“We are still in a very volatile position overall in terms of where the virus is at,” he said.

There were 4,764 new Covid cases reported yesterday, with 598 people in hospital (down 13 from Wednesday) including 126 in intensive care (up six). The briefing was told that in the past week 395 Covid patients were admitted to hospital, an increase of 29% on the previous week. The five-day moving average of daily cases is at 4,665 compared with a peak of 6,867 in January.

Reid acknowledged the recent delays in accessing PCR tests during a week in which there has been no availability for testing in many counties across the country. The briefing was told that the HSE had increased its testing capacity and that 210,000 tests were completed in the past week. Three more PCR test centres are expected to open over the next week, including one in the Midlands and two on the east coast.

Reid said the healthcare system was “not elastic” and “not infinite” in terms of the demands it could meet. He said it would be misleading to suggest it could keep “surging up” and that there would be some testing delays.

“We put in the capacity but there are limits as to what capacity we can keep pumping into a system at these levels,” he said. “There does come a point where we have to be up-front, and we have been up-front, to set out that there will be people who experience some delays in terms of getting their test.

“Those who have been clinically prioritised are receiving tests in a very timely manner on either the same day or next day. But we do acknowledge some people are waiting with the significant numbers that we have coming through in terms of self referrals.”

Worth reading in full.

Nu Variant: Sajid Javid Says U.K. “Must Move Quickly, and At The Earliest Possible Moment”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has told the Commons that the new Nu variant identified this week in Botswana is of “huge international concern” and that: “One of the lessons of this pandemic has been that we must move quickly, and at the earliest possible moment.”

Although he said we don’t know “definitively” whether the exponential growth in reported infections in South Africa is directly associated with the new variant, he added that analysis suggests there may be many cases that haven’t been detected so far.

“We’re heading into winter and our booster programme is still ongoing, so we must act with caution,” he said.

The FTSE 100 crashed 3.4% on the news of the new variant’s emergence, revealing investors’ worries about the impact a new, potentially vaccine-evading variant might have on economic activity.

Ross Clark summarises the reasons for the concern:

Victoria’s Mandatory Vaccination Law Comes into Force

In Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, a mandatory vaccination law impacting the lives of close to 1 million Australians has come into effect. The mandate stipulates that those working in jobs on the state’s authorised worker list, such as professional athletes, mining workers, and journalists, must now be double vaccinated. The Mail Australia has more.

About 1 million Victorian workers must now be fully vaccinated to continue working after a major vaccination deadline passed overnight.

All those in jobs on the state’s authorised worker list were required to have two doses of a Covid vaccination by Friday, November 26th.

Industries on the list include the  Australian Football League and other professional athletes, lawyers, journalists, mining workers, court staff and personal trainers.

It comes as the Services Vic app has been updated to allow parents and guardians to add their children’s vaccination certificates.

Previously, parents had to carry printouts to prove children under 14 years-old had been vaccinated to attend places like non-essential retail stores and events.

But the app now allows dependents to be added, so a child’s digital vaccination certificate can be included with their parent’s or guardian’s.

Foster carers will also be able to add a kid’s certificate to their app, as long as they have access to the child’s Medicare account.

Young people aged over 14 years-old can have their own Medicare account and can therefore share their digital certificate on the Services Vic app in the same way as adults.

Victoria passed a major vaccination threshold on Thursday, with more than 90% of all people aged over 12 years-old now fully vaccinated.

The Health Department announced late on Thursday that the state’s domestic travel permit and traffic light system had ended, with anyone from all states and territories now allowed to enter regardless of their vaccination status.

Acting Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie said the permits, which were introduced in January 2021, were “designed for a time before we had a vaccine” to prevent virus incursion from other states and territories.

Worth reading in full.