Day: 21 March 2021

Delaying the First Lockdown May Have Saved Lives

Dr Raghib Ali, a Senior Clinical Research Associate at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge and an Honorary Consultant Physician in Acute Medicine at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, has written a comment piece for the Telegraph in which he argues that if the UK had locked down earlier, it might have meant fewer people dying in the first wave, but that saving would have been more than offset by a greater number of people dying in the second wave.

It is true that two countries – Norway and Finland – who locked down a week before the UK (and closed their borders) have been remarkably successful in having both small first and second waves and no excess mortality to date.

But they are the exceptions – what happened in many other countries in Europe who also locked down (and closed their borders) at the same time is that they did have very small first waves in Spring 2020 but this was followed by much larger second waves in autumn/winter 2021 (and now into spring 2021, too).

And this has happened despite second and third lockdowns in many of these countries as people understandably struggled to maintain compliance with restrictions for months on end.

Dr Ali’s argument is that suppressing infections more effectively in the spring of last year would have meant more people becoming infected in the autumn and winter when the NHS would have been less able to cope. Thanks to the comparatively high number of infections in the spring, the British population had more herd immunity going into the autumn and winter which meant a lower rate of infection than in other parts of Europe.

Worth reading in full.

EU Jab Export Ban Could Delay Britain’s Vaccine Rollout by Two Months

Britain’s vaccine rollout could be delayed by two months if EU members states decide to ban exports of the jab later this week. The Sun has the story.

Britain’s Covid vaccine rollout faces a two-month delay if EU members states go ahead with a jab export ban.

The ban, set to be debated next Thursday, would derail the UK Government’s roadmap to reopen the economy.

And according to analytics firm Airfinity, the move would not provide a significant boost to beleaguered vaccine rollouts in the European Union.

Research shows that the number of doses kept within the bloc would speed up European Union vaccinations by “just over a week”.

Yet, an export ban of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine made in Belgium and Germany would delay every British adult receiving a first jab until August 5th, reports the Guardian.

And a further ban to all jab exports, including those from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, would delay the rollout target even further to August 27th, the report says.

The British Government, as well as Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, has urged the EU not to go ahead with this export ban, warning of the consequences on the world’s vaccine rollout efforts.

Britain has received around 10 million vaccine doses from plants in the EU since the rollout started in December.

Reports say that Number 10 is expecting around 60 million more in the coming months.

Today, the UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned Brussels that the “world is watching” ahead of their decision next week. …

Meanwhile, Pfizer has urged the EU to back down on its threats to block vaccine exports to the UK as essential ingredients are made in Yorkshire.

The drug giant warned that production could “grind to a halt” if Britain retaliates, sparking further jab chaos on the continent.

Yorkshire-based firm Croda International has been delivering “fatty molecules” to Pfizer’s EU factories since signing a five-year contract in November.

Pfizer, and its partner BioNTech, have told the EU that Britain can strike back against any export ban by withholding vital materials, reports The Telegraph.

But the EU yesterday doubled down on its threat to block millions of vaccine doses to the UK.

While those most vulnerable to Covid have already been vaccinated in the UK, this delay would no doubt lead the Government into extending its “roadmap” out of lockdown. Meanwhile other countries, which are far behind the UK in their vaccine rollouts, are unlocking already.

Worth reading in full.

Masks and Social Distancing “Could Last Years”, Says Public Health England Official

Masks and social distancing could remain in the UK for several years after lockdown – “at least until other parts of the world are as well vaccinated as we are”, according to a Public Health England official. The BBC has the story.

People may need to wear face coverings and socially distance for several years until we return to normality, a leading epidemiologist has predicted.

Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at Public Health England, said basic measures could be in place until other countries successfully roll out jabs.

She also said a return of big spectator events required careful monitoring and clear instructions about staying safe. …

Dr Ramsay said restrictions such as face coverings in crowded places and social distancing had become accepted by many and still allowed the economy to function.

She said “people have got used to those lower-level restrictions now, and people can live with them, and the economy can still go on with those less severe restrictions in place”.

“So I think certainly for a few years, at least until other parts of the world are as well vaccinated as we are, and the numbers have come down everywhere, that is when we may be able to go very gradually back to a more normal situation,” she added.

Warning it was “very important that we do not relax too quickly”, Dr Ramsay said any circulating virus would inevitably pick on those who are vulnerable. 

“We have to look very carefully before any of these restrictions are lifted,” she said. …

A group of Government scientific advisers said last month that “maintaining a baseline of policies which reduce transmission” will be necessary for some time to come.

Those experts said these could include continuing test-and-trace, self-isolation, and public messaging that encourages “voluntary actions to reduce risks”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A record number of people have been vaccinated in the UK for the third day running. But what’s the point of the vaccine if it’s not going to allow us to return to normality?

Mixed Messaging on Lockdown Restrictions Has Created a “No-Win” Situation for UK Police

Mixed messaging from the Government on the enforcement of lockdown rules has created a “no-win” situation for British police, according to John Apter, the Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales. Writing in the Telegraph, John points to research from last month which showed “just one in 10 police officers in England and Wales thought the police powers previously introduced to manage the Covid crisis were clear”.

We have repeatedly called on the English and Welsh Governments to stop issuing mixed messages about Covid regulations to avoid further confusion when lockdown measures are finally lifted. We warned the Prime Minister not to repeat the lack of clarity over last year’s pandemic measures before he formally announced his “route map” out of lockdown. 

Fair-minded, reasonable members of the public – and I know that is the majority – will agree my colleagues have faced an almost impossible task during the pandemic. At Clapham Common, or during the Black Lives Matters demonstrations, anti-lockdown or the many other protests during the pandemic, they have been damned by some when they intervene, and equally damned by others when they do not.

Most members of the public continue to offer my colleagues incredible and much welcome support. But the role of policing the lockdown has become a no-win situation for front line police officers who are simply trying to do their best.

Does the police service sometimes get things wrong? Of course it does. Policing is complex and difficult and police officers often have to make split second decisions in very challenging circumstances. Do individual officers sometimes let their force and their colleagues down? Yes, just as individual politicians, journalists, doctors, teachers, footballers, you name it … there will always be people who do not meet the standards required of them.

But just as the vast majority of the public are fair and reasonable, so too the overwhelming majority of police officers are dedicated, competent public servants who take their responsibilities to their communities incredibly seriously. …

We know that good policing is policing by consent. It is why we listen to criticism, and why we are constantly striving to improve what we do. We strive for clarity in rules and restrictions, because in building that consent, we are often the people having to explain what they are. We strive for understanding of the public, because without it, we cannot properly play our role in keeping them safe.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: More £10,000 fines for breaches of coronavirus rules have been withdrawn than have been paid in full, the Telegraph has revealed.

Lancet Paper Flagging Up Risk of Reinfection is Garbage

We’re publishing an original piece today by Mike Hearn, the former Google software engineer who is the author of this site’s most read piece. (He used to contribute under the name Sue Denim, but has since come out.) It’s a review of a recent paper in the Lancet purporting to show that 20% of Danes infected in Denmark’s first wave became reinfected in the second wave. As Mike reveals, this conclusion was based on assuming the false positive rate of the PCR test is much lower than the researchers had any reason to assume. Here are the first three paragraphs:

A recent paper in the Lancet claims that one in five people might not get immunity from being infected with COVID. The study is invalid. Although these sorts of problems have been seen before, this is a good opportunity to quickly recall why COVID science is in such dire straits.

The research has a straightforward goal: follow a population of Danish people who tested positive in Denmark’s first wave, and re-test them during the second wave to see if they became infected a second time. Denmark has a large free PCR testing programme so there is plenty of data to analyse. Out of 11,068 who tested positive in the first wave, 72 also tested positive during the second wave. This fact is used to advocate for vaccination of people who’ve already had COVID.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that false positives can cause apparent reinfection even when no such thing has happened. The paper doesn’t mention this possibility until page 7, where the entire topic is dismissed in a single sentence: “Some misclassifications by PCR tests might have occurred; however, the test used is believed to be highly accurate, with a sensitivity of 97·1% and specificity of 99·98%.” My curiosity was piqued by this figure because, as I’ve written about previously, at least as of June last year nobody knew what the false positive rate of COVID PCR testing is. The problem is circular logic: COVID is defined as having a positive test, therefore by definition it has no false positives, even though we know this cannot be true.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The New York Times reports on a new study showing that eight months after infection most people who have recovered from coronavirus still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.

Record Day for Covid Vaccinations in UK with 51% of Adults Now Jabbed

The UK has set a new record for the number of people jabbed in one day, pushing the total number of adults vaccinated to over 50%. ITV News has the story.

The UK has set a new record for the number of Covid jabs given, the second time the record has been broken in two days.

The record number – 711,156 first and second doses – means that the major milestone of vaccinating half of the adult population has been reached.

Government data up to the end of March 19th suggests that 26,853,407 people aged 18 and over have now received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine – around 51% of the population – while 2,132,551 second doses have been administered. A separate milestone has been passed in Wales, where one in 10 of the total population is likely to have had both doses of the vaccine.

Boris Johnson was amongst those to receive a Covid vaccine on Friday, with all over-50s in England now eligible to book a jab.

Given the continuing success of its vaccine rollout, why is the UK still under strict lockdown? Other countries which have been slower in getting their populations jabbed are unlocking at much faster paces in order to preserve the aspects of life beyond that of merely existing. Steve Baker, writing in the Sun, is quite right to ask: “Why are restrictions tougher than they were last Summer – before we had the Covid vaccine?”

The scientists tell us that the vaccines save lives, yet our success at rolling it out is not translating into a return to normal life.

Following a recent warning of a “significant reduction” in vaccines next month, some suggested that lockdown could be extended even further. Rejecting this suggestion is not enough – with the most vulnerable now already vaccinated against Covid, we should be leaving lockdown sooner.

The report on the UK’s vaccine rollout is worth reading in full.

News Round Up

The Covid Models Were Tested Against the Real World, and Failed

As we pass through the anniversary of the week in which our freedoms became circumscribed by the outputs of a physicist’s dodgy computer model, Phillip W. Magness at AIER has revisited Imperial’s infamous Report 9 to remind us quite how wrong it was.

Ferguson’s model presented a range of scenarios under increasingly restrictive nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). Under its “worst case” or “do nothing” model, 2.2 million Americans would die, as would 510,000 people in Great Britain, with the peak daily death rate hitting somewhere around late May or June. At the same time, the ICL team promised salvation from the coronavirus if only governments would listen to and adopt its technocratic recommendations. Time was of the essence to act, so President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson both listened. And so began the first year of “two weeks to flatten the curve”.

It took a little over a month before we saw conclusive evidence that something was greatly amiss with the ICL model’s underlying assumptions. A team of researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden adapted Ferguson’s work to their country and ran the projections, getting similarly catastrophic results. Over 90,000 people would die by summer from Covid-19 if Sweden did not enter immediate lockdown. Sweden never locked down though. By May it was clear that the Uppsala adaptation of ICL’s model was off by an order of magnitude. A year later, Sweden has fared no worse than the average European lockdown country, and significantly better than the UK, which acted on Ferguson’s advice.

Pressed on this unexpected result, ICL tried to distance itself from the Swedish adaptation of its model in May. The records from the March 21st supercomputer run of the Uppsala team’s projections belie that assertion, linking directly to Ferguson’s March 16th report as the framework for its modelling design. But no matter – the ICL team’s own publications would soon succumb to a real-time testing against actual data.

A second ICL report, attempting to model the reopening of the United States from lockdowns, wildly exaggerated the death tolls that were expected to follow. By July, this model too had failed to even minimally correspond to observed reality. ICL attempted to save face by publishing an absurd exercise in circular reasoning in the journal Nature where they invoked the unrealised projections of their own model to supposedly “prove” multiple millions of lives had been saved by the lockdowns. That study soon failed basic robustness checks when the ICL team’s suite of models were applied to different geographies. 

Another team of Swedish researchers then noticed oddities in the ICL team’s coding, suggesting they had modified a key line to bring data from their own comparative analysis of Sweden into sync with other European countries under lockdown after the models did not align. A published derivative of this discovery showed that ICL’s own attempts to validate the effectiveness of its lockdown strategies does not withstand empirical scrutiny

Finally, in November, another team of researchers from the United States compared a related ICL team model for a broader swath of countries against five other international models of the pandemic, examining the performance of each against observed deaths. Their results contain a stunning indictment: “The Imperial model had larger errors, about 5-fold higher than other models by six weeks. This appears to be largely driven by the aforementioned tendency to overestimate mortality.”

The verdict is in. Imperial College’s COVID-19 modelling has an abysmal track record – a characteristic it unfortunately shares with Ferguson’s prior attempts to model mad cow disease, swine flu, avian flu, and countless other pathogens.

Not only did Ferguson’s modelling overstate mortality in the absence of restrictions, it also grossly exaggerated the effectiveness of restrictions in reducing deaths.