Day: 22 March 2021

HART’s Covid Report Attacked in the Times

HART’s must-read report “COVID-19: an overview of the evidence“, written about in Lockdown Sceptics on Thursday, has been making waves today. Former Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Sumption praised it in the Telegraph this morning, and then this afternoon Times Science Editor Tom Whipple did his best to bury it under smears of being anti-vaccine and “extremely irresponsible”.

In a mean-spirited piece that makes no effort to engage with the arguments of the report, Whipple rounds up the usual suspects to heap opprobrium on anything that deviates from the establishment line or raises awkward questions.

Originally headlined “Scientists condemn report claiming vaccines caused second wave deaths”, it now reads “Scientists condemn report questioning role of vaccine in second wave deaths”, presumably after someone pointed out to the editors that the report never makes such a claim but only raises questions based on patterns in data. The report clearly states that “we cannot infer causation from correlation”.

Whipple writes:

Among arguments about the harms caused by lockdown the 50-page document also states that the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine coincided with a large number of deaths and this may not have been a coincidence. “When something in data is this unusual, we have to ask questions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be,” it states, in a chapter written by a “quantitative analyst” called Joel Smalley. “It would be extremely unscientific and even negligent not to investigate whether the rise in deaths during this period is linked in some way to the vaccine rollout.” He suggested the Pfizer vaccine had not been tested sufficiently on older people.

Jeremy Brown, from UCL and a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said this was “ridiculous”. He pointed to the now extensive real-world data showing the vaccines were safe and reduced deaths. “It is quite conclusively true that the vaccine offers protection in the real world,” he said. Far from killing people, he said, “if you’ve been vaccinated you have around an 85% lower chance of ending up in hospital”.

The rise in deaths was caused by infections, he said, rather than vaccines.

He added that academics should not be endorsing the idea vaccines may be causing mass death. “The only way out of this mess is the vaccine so anything that undermines that is distinctly unhelpful,” he said.

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, added that to make the link “shows a blatant disregard for the facts” and “is irresponsible in the extreme”.

HART this evening published a response that clarifies they are not making claims so much as raising questions.

While scientists quoted in the article have dismissed HART’s suggestion that there is a possible link between vaccination and COVID-19 infections, it is worth highlighting that earlier this month a study led by Public Health England found a “notable” rise in COVID-19 infections in the over-70s immediately after receiving a vaccine.

We are not asserting that vaccines are the only possible cause of “second wave” cases and deaths. We are not asserting that the vaccines are, in and of themselves, dangerous or deadly. There are many factors at play here. For example, the increased contact from the vaccination programme or from possible relaxation of social distancing following vaccination have been suggested as possible causes for the correlation. It has also been shown that lymphocyte levels fall in the first three days after Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination. The phase two trial of AstraZeneca showed a transient neutropenia in 46% of patients in the vaccine arm (compared to 7% in the control arm). Whether this suppressed immunity sufficiently accounts for increased susceptibility is uncertain. These observations have no bearing on the efficacy of the vaccines which is a separate issue.

They draw attention to a number of studies that show a spike in infections in the days following vaccination: the FDA Pfizer report that found a 40% increase in the vaccinated versus placebo arm in the first week of the trial; an Israeli study reporting a doubling in daily incidence until about eight days after the Pfizer vaccine had been given; a Danish paper showing a 40% increase of COVID-19 in the vaccinated in the first two weeks; and a Public Health England study that noted a 48% increase in Covid in the first nine days after vaccination.

Those Who Break Covid Travel Ban Could Face £5,000 Fine

New Covid rules which come into force on March 29th will make it illegal to go to an airport without a “reasonable” excuse. Rule breakers will face a fine of £5,000. ITV News has the story.

A ban on leaving the country without a reasonable excuse is included in new Covid laws coming into force in England next week until at least early May.

The legislation for restrictions over the coming months was published on Monday, as the Government sets out its roadmap for coming out of lockdown.

From March 29th, leaving the UK is banned unless a person has “a reasonable excuse”. …

The rules will be up for review in 35 days, taking the travel ban through until at least May 3rd.

The ban is in place for all who don’t have a “reasonable excuse” to leave the country.

The document outlines those reasons that would allow for international travel – including work purposes, a course of study, elite sport, or fulfilling a legal obligation overseas.

People buying or selling a property outside of the UK can also leave the country, as well as those providing care, or requiring medical treatment overseas.

Rule breakers face a fine of £5,000.

The prospect of going on holiday outside Britain this year is becoming increasingly precarious – due in part to fears about the increase in Covid cases across Europe.

The move adds further doubt to the hope of holidays abroad for Brits this year.

Care minister Helen Whately told ITV News she would urge Brits to be “cautious” about booking travel overseas this summer.

“I would advise people to wait until the international travel task force has reported back before going ahead and booking international holidays.”

The Government’s global travel taskforce is assessing whether overseas tourism will be able to get ahead this year.

International travel for recreational purposes is set to remain off limits until at least May 17th in line with the PM’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Worth reading in full.

Care Home Workers to Face Mandatory Vaccination

Care home workers will be required by law to have a Covid jab, leaked Cabinet plans reveal. And this is just the beginning – the leaked paper notes that similar requirements are currently being considered for healthcare workers, such as those who work on hospital wards. The Telegraph has the story.

Care home workers will be required by law to have a Covid jab under a historic legal change agreed by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, the Telegraph can reveal.

Leaked details of a paper submitted to the Covid Operations Cabinet sub-committee last week show that the Prime Minister and Health Secretary have requested the change in law.

Ministers feel compelled to act amid alarm at the low take-up of vaccines among staff in care homes, where many of those most at risk from the virus live.

Only around a quarter of homes in London, and half in other parts of England, have reached the level of vaccination among staff and residents deemed safe by Government scientists.

If the law change is voted through, it is likely that the vast majority of the 1.5 million people who work in England’s adult social care sector would be legally bound to have a Covid vaccination.

The decision, in principle, is without modern precedent. One legal expert said the only comparable UK laws dated from the 1800s, when newborns had to be given smallpox jabs.

Legally forcing scores of workers to get a jab raises huge legal and moral questions. Ministers have previously called similar ideas “discriminatory”.

The Cabinet sub-committee paper warns that a “large” number of social care workers may quit if the change is made, and that successful lawsuits on human rights grounds could be possible. It makes clear that a similar legal requirement is being considered for some frontline healthcare workers, such as those on wards, but no decision on that has been taken.

The key line from this leaked document – which says the PM and Health Secretary intend to make the jab compulsory for care home workers – reads as follows:

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State [Mr Hancock] have discussed on several occasions the progress that is being made to vaccinate social care workers against Covid and have agreed – in order to reach a position of much greater safety for care recipients – to put in place legislation to require vaccinations among the workforce.

The paper acknowledges that there would be a “high risk” of a successful legal challenge against the change if it was made by secondary legislation (which is quicker to pass).

The prospect of Covid “certificates” has led many to question the extent to which the Covid vaccine is voluntary. Surely this change would prove that the vaccine is mandatory (for some, at least) in all but name?

This looks like a clear breach of the Prime Minister’s promise, made on November 23rd, that no one would be forced to get a Covid vaccination. “There will be no compulsory vaccination. That’s not the way we do things in this country,” he told a news conference.

Worth reading in full.

A Defence of the Great Barrington Declaration

Today we’re publishing a point-by-point rebuttal of the criticisms of the Great Barrington Declaration set out in Anti-Virus: The COVID-19 FAQ, Neil O’Brien’s website devoted to attacking “Covid sceptics”. It’s by George Dance, a former chairman of the Ontario Libertarian Party. Here are the first three paragraphs:

The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), under which thousands of scientists and medical practitioners have called for a end to lockdown policies, was drawn up last October 1st-4th, was announced on October 5th, and was already being denounced on October 6th. Over the next month, the GBD and its message were virtually buried beneath an “avalanche of scathing criticism condemning it as ‘very dangerous, unscientific, unethical, total nonsense, dangerously flawed, conspiratorial and grotesque’. Among the critics were prominent role-players such as World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, British chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, and US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci”. Defenders of the lockdown consensus released a counter-manifesto, the John Snow Memorandum, ironically named for epidemiology’s most famous dissenter from a scientific consensus.

At the time I read everything I could on the topic and made copious notes, hoping to write my own perspective on the GBD. Long before I was in a position to do that, though, the debate had moved on, and I never had an opportunity to revisit the subject.

Fortunately, there is a new FAQ in town: Anti-Virus: The COVID-19 FAQ. This new FAQ may not be the best place to go for scientific advice about the disease; the ‘doctors’ behind it seem to mainly have doctorates in economics and psychology (though I have read that there is an anonymous scientist involved), and some of their claims, such as “Covid still has a high fatality rate among younger people”, seem supported more by semantics than by science. (“Younger” in context turns out to be “younger than 65”). But at least the FAQ has revived the Declaration and assembled a ‘best of’ the criticisms levelled against it, making it worthwhile to revisit the debate.

This is an excellent, very thorough demolition job. Worth reading in full.

PM “Under No Illusion” That Europe’s “Third Wave” Will Hit UK

Boris Johnson has stressed the importance of keeping the vaccine rollout at its current pace due to the risk that the ‘third wave’ of Covid infections across Europe will hit the UK as well. Sky News has the story.

Boris Johnson has been “reassured” EU leaders “don’t want to see blockades” on the export of Covid vaccines – as he warned a third wave of infections in Europe would likely hit the UK as well.

Amid a dispute over a possible block on exports of coronavirus jabs to the UK, the Prime Minister said he had been “reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades”.

He stressed the UK was “on course” to vaccinate the top nine priority groups – including all over-50s – by April 15th, while the Government would “bash on” with its roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions.

Mr Johnson said he had talked to EU leaders “repeatedly over the period”, adding: “We’re all facing the same pandemic, we all have the same problems.

“I think one thing worth stressing is that on the continent right now, you can see sadly there is a third wave under way.

“And people in this country should be under no illusions that previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, I’m afraid it washes up on our shores as well.”

That last sentence is poorly constructed. If a person is “under no illusions” that “previous experience has taught” them a particular lesson, that implies “previous experience” hasn’t taught them that lesson, when Boris clearly means the opposite. Tsk, tsk.

The Prime Minister’s garbled statement follows recent warnings that an increase in Covid cases on the Continent could prevent Brits from holidaying abroad this summer.

Worth reading in full.

James Delingpole’s Report on Saturday’s Anti-Lockdown March

There follows a guest post by James Delingpole, the Executive Editor of Breitbart London.

I don’t know how many people went on the Freedom March through London at the weekend, but it was definitely a lot more than the “hundreds” initially reported by the BBC and Sky [did they get Neil Ferguson to do their arithmetic?], and probably ran into the tens of thousands.

We gathered beforehand in small ‘bubble’-like groups in Hyde Park and tried to avoid the attentions of the large numbers of police who were trying to find an excuse to disperse us or arrest us. Someone said it felt like being in Occupied Europe during the war. Everyone was slightly tense, keyed up, knowing that the police have shown themselves to be much more brutal and unforgiving towards anti-lockdown protestors than they are with, say, Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion mobs.

At a pre-arranged smoke signal – everything was organised on Telegram and announced at the last minute so as to keep the police guessing – we began to coalesce and marched out of the Marble Arch entrance, up Park Lane then right down Oxford Street.

It was, as always at these events, a good natured crowd. Only a minority, I’m guessing, had been ruined by a university education. These were people that we’d call ‘salt of the earth’ and Hillary Clinton would call ‘Deplorables’. There was a great deal more racial diversity than you’d find at a BLM or an XR rally.

As we weaved through the traffic on Park Lane which had been brought to a standstill I expected hostility from the trapped drivers. What we got, though, was solidarity – especially from the bus drivers. They beeped their horns and accepted fist bumps and flowers through the windows.

I joined London Mayoral candidate Laurence Fox, leader of the Reclaim Party, who got a lot of love from the crowd for his pro-freedom, anti-lockdown, open-up-London-immediately campaign ticket. We snaked with the long conga line the length of Oxford Street heading for Holborn, acutely conscious that any moment the Territorial Support Group vans circling us like hungry wolves could close off the side-streets and kettle us in for hours in order to inflict torture by boredom, claustrophobia and bursting bladder.

On this occasion, however, the police were mostly restrained. Some said it was because the crowd was simply too large to confront; others that the police were taking a softly-softly approach after criticisms that they had been too harsh at the previous weekend’s vigil for Sarah Everard. My own suspicion is that they would have welcomed some aggro in order to discredit the anti-lockdown cause (as the state is very keen to do) but that in the event they opted for the next best thing: denying it the oxygen of publicity.

The compliant media certainly helped here. How often do tens of thousands of people march through London’s main thoroughfares on a Saturday with barely a mention in the Sunday papers? I remember, for example, last year most of the Sundays devoting double-page spreads to the Black Lives Matter march – with huge photographs and swooning copy. But this march – in support of a far less politically tainted cause: quite simply an affirmation of people’s right to work and play free of government oppression – was ignored. Sad.

Stop Press: Read Laura Dodsworth’s account of being on the demo for Spiked.

Lord Sumption Praises HART’s ‘Overview of the Evidence’

Lord Sumption has written an impressive piece in the Telegraph criticising the Government’s application of the so-called “precautionary principle” (assuming the worst when there is little evidence) and highlighting that the extreme measures taken in the hope of reducing the Covid death toll should have been based on “good reasons backed by evidence” which they weren’t, obviously.

The “sunk cost fallacy” is a well-known source of distortion in human decision-making. A decision is made which has destructive implications. The limited benefits and immense collateral damage gradually become apparent.

It is next to impossible for those involved in the decision to change their minds. No one wants to admit that it might all have been for nothing, even if that is the truth. They have invested too much in the decision to reverse out of the cul-de-sac. So they press on, more to avoid blame than to serve the public interest. This is what has happened to governments across Europe and to the dug-in body of specialists who advise them. Their recipe is simple: if lockdowns haven’t worked, there is nothing wrong with the concept. We just need more of them.

The former Supreme Court judge points to the “Overview of the Evidence” published by the Health Advisory and Recovery Team (HART) last week, which he thinks is an impressive document. “We cannot contribute to the science, but we can at least understand it,” he writes. “Those who are unwilling to do even that much have no moral right to demand coercive measures against their fellow citizens.”

The HART overview concludes that lockdowns “must never be repeated”. They “serve no useful purpose and cause catastrophic societal and economic harms“. It calls for a return to the pandemic plans prepared over a decade for just this sort of event by the UK and other governments and endorsed by the WHO. They were based on two principles. Avoid coercion and don’t go for one size-fits-all measures like lockdowns when the risks affect different groups differently. They recommended balanced public health guidance, no border closures and targeted action to assist those who are most vulnerable. These principles were abruptly jettisoned a year ago. They were replaced by an untried experiment, which there was neither time nor research to consider properly.

Lord Sumption says that the HART paper covers three core points which the proponents of lockdowns have never been able to answer. These are: the availability of international comparisons which show no relationship between the stringency of lockdown and the level of Covid infections or deaths; the unwillingness of governments to confront the collateral costs of locking down; and the fact that the burden of the lockdown has fallen mainly on those who are the least vulnerable to COVID-19.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

If Lockdowns Work, Why Has Florida Done Better Than California?

A new study has appeared that shows once more that lockdowns have no discernible effect on COVID-19 infections or deaths, despite their colossal costs and harms.

Maria Krylova, writing in the Canadian publication C2C Journal, looks in detail at two pairs of similar US states that implemented contrasting measures in response to the pandemic to see if there were significant differences when it came to Covid infections and deaths.

She explains that her research is motivated by a wish to see rational cost-benefit assessments of policies responding to pandemics.

While aimed at fighting the virus’s spread, the interventions imposed a massive toll in areas including global hungerdomestic abusemental and physical health problems, suicides and bankruptcies. Despite these grim consequences and, more recently, the accelerating pace of vaccinations and the gratifying reduction in deaths from COVID-19, many North American governments remain reluctant to ease the restrictions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mused lately that the Canada-US land border would reopen “eventually”, while some public health figures are now calling for a third lockdown

Before we – again – do anything that drastic, we need to pose an important question: Did the lockdowns actually work? Not merely in the sense of keeping people at home and convinced that their governments were doing something; but in actually altering the course of the virus through the population. This should be a crucial matter of interest to every citizen and politician. It is key to rationally assessing the costs and benefits of imposing similar social and economic policies during the next serious epidemic.

She has gathered a wealth of information on the four states in question.

COVID-19-related state-level regulations and measures were gathered and examined in their temporal relationship to the pandemic’s development, reflected in the case and death statistics (daily and total) in two pairs of U.S. states. Each pair of states is broadly comparable in climate, population, urbanization and economic characteristics, but is contrasted in the degree of severity of its statewide rules.

Two are mid-sized, adjoining Midwest states: Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota had a hard and extended lockdown (many schools are still not open, for example), while Wisconsin had a short lockdown followed by moderate restrictions. The other two are southerly coastal states – California and Florida. California has had a hard and ongoing lockdown, while Florida has sought every opportunity to ease restrictions and reopen. Two other seemingly suitable cases were omitted: New York, a hard-lockdown state, because of its unique circumstances (including heavy mass-transit use in its largest city, and its deadly nursing home scandal), and South Dakota, North America’s only jurisdiction to remain fully open throughout the pandemic, because of its small and non-urbanized population.

There is an array of uncontrollable or unmeasurable variables related to the pandemic’s course, the public health response, the political response and the nature of the studied states that further complicates state-by-state comparison, increases uncertainty and, hence, lowers the confidence of conclusions. The process requires making a number of important assumptions. Among these are the accuracy of COVID-19 testing, the accuracy of case and fatality counts, and the state-to-state and temporal consistency of lockdown enforcement. The key assumptions are discussed in the Appendix.

Because the pandemic is ongoing, the observed trends are accurate to mid-March 2021. There is no intention to forecast the pandemic’s future course.

Every Day Britain Remains in Lockdown Adds £1 Billion to the National Debt

The Daily Mail has carried out an audit of the economic, social, educational and healthcare damage the continuing lockdown is doing to the UK and the headline figure is that it is costing the country £500 million a day in lost output and adding £1 billion to the national debt. But there are other, equally alarming findings.

Today’s lockdown audit illustrates the crippling impact that 12 months of curbs have had on swathes of the economy, with pubs and restaurants losing an estimated £1.7 billion a week, and some 15,000 shops expected to never reopen.

The grim Covid death toll, which yesterday hit 126,155, is well known. But today’s analysis also reveals the dire impact of the past year on the nation’s health. The NHS waiting list has soared to a record high of nearly 4.6million, with 300,000 waiting more than a year for treatment.

On cancer, 44,000 fewer patients started treatment last year and there were 4.4million fewer life-saving diagnostic tests. An extra 6,000 people died of heart disease and stroke. Mental health services saw a 27,000 rise in individuals seeking support, while child eating disorders doubled.

As the Mail points out, this makes the news that the EU is considering slapping an export ban on vaccines to the UK, which in all likelihood would delay Britain’s reopening, even more unwelcome.

Worth reading in full.