Day: 30 March 2021

Vast Majority of Positives in Schools Likely to be False

The “vast majority” of positives test results in schools are likely to be false, according to Jon Deeks, Professor of Biostatistics and head of the Test Evaluation Research Group at the University of Birmingham. The Telegraph has more.

Official data shows that the positive rate among secondary pupils is around 0.05 per cent, meaning there is a “high risk” that most rapid antigen tests carried out in secondary schools are false positives, according to Professor Jon Deeks.

Of the 3,867,007 lateral flow tests that were carried out on secondary pupils, just 1,805 were positive, according to the latest figures.

Health officials said that less than one in 1,000 results is a false positive overall. However, when the virus is on the wane, there is a higher likelihood of such results, as the number of true cases falls.

The positive case rate in schools equates to one in 2,142. At a rate of one in 1,000 false positives, from 3,867,007 tests you would expect 3,867 false positives.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Department for Education updated its official guidance today to say that all positive lateral flow tests taken in schools should be followed up by a confirmatory PCR test. Previously, this was only the case for tests taken by students at home.

More than Half of Britons Now Immune

According to an Office of National Statistics survey published today, more than half of people in England now have Covid antibodies. MailOnline has more.

A major Office for National Statistics (ONS) testing survey today revealed 54.7 per cent of people in England had the virus-fighting proteins in the week ending March 14, up from 50.8 per cent the week prior.

The figure is likely to be even higher now because millions more have been vaccinated since the blood tests were conducted a fortnight ago, and it takes about two weeks for immunity to kick in.

It highlights the success of the country’s mammoth vaccine roll-out, which has seen 30.5million Brits given their first dose and 3.7m fully vaccinated.

Boris Johnson is now facing demands to lift lockdown faster, with Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths having fallen to their lowest level for six months. People in England have to wait at least another seven weeks before pubs, restaurants and hotels can fully reopen and allow customers inside. Foreign holidays are also banned until at least May 17.

One Tory MP told MailOnline the PM must bring forward the arbitrary dates in order to ‘maintain public confidence that we are getting our freedom as soon as possible’. Steve Baker, of the Covid Recovery Group, called on No10 to ask SAGE to see whether the relaxation of restrictions could be safely brought forward.

Worth reading in full.

In other news, also in MailOnline, public concern about coronavirus has plummeted, with the proportion of Brits who say the disease is a big issue facing the UK having fallen by 23% in one month.

A new survey conducted by IpsosMORI revealed 49% of people view COVID-19 as one of the biggest issues facing the UK.

But that number is down 23% on what was recorded in February – the first significant drop in levels of concern about the disease since June 2020.

The polling firm said the figures suggested the “public may feel the end of the pandemic is in sight”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: According to Patrick Flynn in the Telegraph, whatever the Government says about its stage-by-stage roadmap it feels like the people have declared lockdown over.

Covid Involved in Fewer Than 10% of Deaths in England and Wales by Mid-March, ONS Says

Covid was involved in fewer than 10% of all deaths in England and Wales by mid-March, according to the latest figures from the ONS. New data also shows that the number of excess deaths has fallen below zero for the second week in a row. Here are the key findings from the ONS.

The number of death registrations in England and Wales involving the coronavirus decreased from 1,501 in Week 10 to 963 in Week 11 – a 35.8% decrease. Of all deaths registered in Week 11, 9.3% mentioned Covid on the death certificate.

In England, the number of deaths involving Covid in Week 11 was 912, accounting for 9.4% of all deaths compared with 13.9% in Week 10.

In Wales, there were 49 deaths involving Covid in Week 11, accounting for 7.9% of all deaths compared with 9.9% in Week 10.

And on excess deaths:

The provisional number of deaths registered in England and Wales decreased from 10,987 in Week 10 (week ending March 12th 2021) to 10,311 in Week 11 (week ending March 19th 2021). The number of deaths was 8.0% below the five-year average (894 deaths fewer).

In England, the number of deaths decreased from 10,277 in Week 10 to 9,673 in Week 11, which was 774 deaths (7.4%) fewer than the Week 11 five-year average. This is the second consecutive week that deaths have been lower than the five-year average in England.

In Wales, the number of deaths decreased from 685 in Week 10 to 621 in Week 11, which was 106 deaths (14.6%) fewer than the Week 11 five-year average. This is the third consecutive week that deaths have been lower than the five-year average in Wales.

Deaths in private homes continue to run significantly above average, as they have since the first lockdown, with 715 excess deaths or 27.7% above the five-year average in the week ending March 19th. Many of these deaths may be avoidable as they reflect people not accessing medical care.

Worth reading in full.

Visits to World’s Top 100 Museums and Galleries Fall 77% Due to Lockdowns

A new survey has highlighted the damaging impact of lockdowns on museums and art galleries across the world, with visitor numbers at the top 100 institutions plunging by 77% last year. The annual survey conducted by the Art Newspaper usually gives praise to the year’s most popular exhibitions, but its latest report makes for more sombre reading.

In an ordinary year, more than nine million visitors jostle for position in front of the Mona Lisa or Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, and half a million fashion-forward members of the public turn out for the spring opening of the Costume Institute’s annual exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But there was nothing ordinary about 2020 and the widespread devastation caused by the global Covid pandemic. Our annual survey reveals that last year overall attendance of the world’s 100 most-visited art museums dropped by a staggering 77% in 2020 – from 230 million in 2019 to just 54 million as museums worldwide were forced to close. …

Of the museums we polled, more than 280 provided the number of days they closed last year because of the health crisis. On average, museums were shut for an extra 145 days, which adds up to a staggering 41,000 days in total – more than a century’s worth of museum visits missed last year. …

European cities saw a steep decline in international tourism last year, especially during the lucrative summer months. Paris received just 5% of its usual number of tourists last summer, according to a report by the UN’s World Tourism Organization. The French capital’s three major art museums – the Louvre, Centre Pompidou and Musée d’Orsay – saw a 73% drop in attendance overall, down to 4.5 million from 16.5 million in 2019. Around 2.7 million visited the Louvre, which, despite a 72% dip, is the most-visited museum in our survey. This admirable figure was helped by its once-in-a-lifetime Leonardo exhibition, which closed in February. It drew more than 10,000 visitors a day, making it the museum’s most-visited show ever. Despite this, the Louvre reported losses of around €90 million in 2020. The Fondation Louis Vuitton was closed for a whopping 226 days and had just 253,000 visitors, down from 800,000 in 2019.

The past year has been no better for British museums and galleries.

On average, UK museums saw a 77% drop in attendance, and were closed on average for more than half of 2020. When institutions eventually reopened, all major museums had restrictions on visitor numbers. Although they varied, most museums were typically only able to operate at around 20% to 30% of normal capacity. 

The steep decline in footfall contributed to huge financial losses. The self-generated income of the Tate’s four museums fell from £94 million in the 2019/20 financial year to an estimated £38 million for 2020/21, a 60% drop. Similarly, the Victoria and Albert Museum saw a 63% loss of income, with its self-generated funds falling from £64 million to £24 million. The BM would not supply its raw figures, but a spokesperson says that income generated by visitors has plummeted by more 90% of the budgeted sum. The National Gallery emerged relatively unscathed, losing only £14 million, according to a museum spokesperson. It is important to note that, as well as reflecting loss of income through attendance (tickets sales, retail, etc.), these figures also include donations, which can be generated without getting people through the door. Most fortunate was the National Portrait Gallery, which had already planned to close for major building works in June but brought this forward by three months because of the pandemic.

The cultural and educational loss caused by these closures will have been – and, indeed, continues to be – immense.

Worth reading in full.

Canada Suspends Use of AstraZeneca Covid Jab for Those Under 55

The debate over the safety of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine is alive and well, with Canada now suspending the use of the jab for people under 55. Earlier this month, Health Canada (the country’s health department) said that “the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks”. But, following a recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the rollout of the jab is now being limited due to concerns it might be linked to rare blood clots. The Guardian has the story.

Canada on Monday suspended the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people under 55 following concerns it might be linked to rare blood clots.

The pause was recommended by the NACI for safety reasons. The Canadian provinces, which administer health in the country, announced the suspension on Monday.

“There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks,” said Dr Shelley Deeks, Vice-Chair of the NACI.

Deeks said the updated recommendations came amid new data from Europe that suggests the risk of blood clots is now potentially as high as one in 100,000, much higher than the one in one million risk believed before.

She said most of the patients in Europe who developed a rare blood clot after vaccination with AstraZeneca were women under 55, and the fatality rate among those who develop clots is as high as 40%.

Earlier this month, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that the AZ Covid vaccine is “safe and effective”, but that it cannot “rule out definitively” the vaccine’s link to a rare clotting disorder. The Telegraph reported:

The EMA has said they “cannot rule out definitively” a link to a rare clotting disorder.

The agency will update its guidance to include an explanation about the potential risks on both the patient leaflet and in the information for healthcare professionals, the chief of the EMA said.

A Canadian health official has said that more data is needed before the rollout of the AZ vaccine can be considered definitely safe – not just “probably” safe – for those under the age of 55. The Guardian reports:

Dr Joss Reimer of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation taskforce said despite the finding that there was no increase risk of blood clots overall related to AstraZeneca in Europe, a rare but very serious side-effect has been seen primarily in young women in Europe.

Reimer said the rare type of blood clot typically happens between four and 20 days after getting the shot and the symptoms can mirror a stroke or a heart attack.

“While we still believe the benefits for all ages outweigh the risks I’m not comfortable with ‘probably’. I want to see more data coming out of Europe so I know exactly what this risk-benefit analysis is,” Reimer said.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Germany is set to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people under the age of 60 over concerns it may cause potentially fatal blood clots.

News Round Up

Are the Vaccines Really “62% Effective” For Care Home Residents?

A new study from University College London published yesterday claims to find that a single vaccine dose provides 62% protection against COVID-19 for care home residents.

The Government-funded study looked at data from more than 10,000 care home residents in England with an average age of 86, between December and mid-March, comparing the number of infections occurring in vaccinated and unvaccinated groups (as determined by a PCR test). It found that a single vaccine dose was effective at preventing 56% of infections after four weeks, rising to 62% of infections after five weeks.

It is the first major study to show vaccine efficacy in the most vulnerable, with Minister for Care Helen Whately saying it is “brilliant to see this [vaccine] is having the positive effect the science suggested, not only by preventing death, but also reducing the chance of infection”.

But have we been given the full picture? Below is the table the 62% figure comes from. It’s the 0.38 after 35-48 days (5-7 weeks) among the figures circled in red. The 56% protection is the 0.44 above it.

Notice two things. First, what the story on the UCL website and in newspaper reports doesn’t mention is that the protection figure drops from 62% to 51% (0.49) after seven weeks (circled red), which is somewhat less impressive. Secondly, the infection rate in the three weeks following vaccination rises significantly (circled orange), with the rate at 2-3 weeks hitting 26.21 vs 21.39 in the unvaccinated, a 22.5% increase. As Lockdown Sceptics has reported before, this increased infection rate post-vaccination has also been found in other studies, with a PHE study finding a 48% increase in infection risk in the over-80s group 4-9 days after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the American FDA Emergency Use Authorisation for the Pfizer vaccine finding 40% higher “suspected Covid” in the first week after vaccination, and a large Danish study finding a 40% increase in infection risk among nursing home residents in the 14 days following the first Pfizer dose.

Brits Can Now Go to the Beach

Brits are now allowed to travel out of their local areas to go to the seaside, the Government has announced. (It still feels strange that such actions must receive approval from the state!) When half a million people flocked to the Dorset coastline last June, a “major incident” was declared. Brits won’t quite be able to enjoy the 33.3C temperatures that were recorded that week, but will still surely make the most of the “mini-heatwave”. The Mail has the story.

Britons are expected to flock to beaches over the next few days to enjoy this week’s mini-heatwave after the Government confirmed families from London and elsewhere can now travel to the seaside.

People in England will be taking advantage of the relaxation of lockdown measures as outdoor gatherings and sport events resume, with highs of 24C expected in the South East today.

There is now no legal limit on how far people can travel to enjoy day trips at the countryside or coastline, although overnight stays are still banned at hotels, self-catering accommodation and other people’s homes. 

But there will be concerns among ministers that the unseasonably warm weather will make social distancing very tricky on beaches after the likes of Brighton and Bournemouth were swamped with visitors last summer.  

The Government’s “stay at home” order ended this morning, with messaging moving to “stay local”, but people are still being asked to continue to work from home where possible and overseas travel remains banned. 

Government officials today confirmed to the Evening Standard that it is now legal to travel from London to the seaside for a day on the beach, and there is no limit on the distance you can travel to see friends or family.

The newspaper also put two examples to the Government, which it confirmed were acceptable. These were driving to the New Forest in Hampshire to ride a trial [trail], or taking a windsurfer or kayak to the coast for the day.

A Government spokesman said: “Whilst the ‘stay at home’ rule has ended, many restrictions remain in place. We ask everyone to act responsibly and cautiously and minimise travel where possible as these restrictions ease.”

The date at which these restrictions on internal travel differs across the UK.

In Wales, the “stay local” order ended on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation. The stay home order in Scotland is to end on Friday.

In Northern Ireland up to six people, or two households, will be able to meet outdoors from Thursday.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Bournbrook’s cartoonist ‘Crid‘ has released a cartoon on Brits going to – and working from – the beach.

40 MPs Call on Boris to Ease Travel Restrictions

Forty Conservative MPs have written to Boris Johnson urging him to ease travel curbs and bring back foreign holidays as pressure grows to lift the lockdown ahead of schedule as cases, hospitalisations and deaths plummet. The Mail has more.

Boris Johnson faced calls to lift lockdown faster last night as Covid infections, hospital cases and deaths hit a six-month low.

Four NHS regions – covering 29million [sic] people across southern England – reported no deaths on Sunday. Just 23 fatalities were logged elsewhere.

The average daily death toll is now 63 – 95 per cent below January’s peak. It stands at the same level as late last June – shortly before the ban on indoor socialising ended following the first national lockdown.

However, customers must still wait a minimum of seven weeks before pubs, restaurants and hotels can fully reopen. Foreign holidays are also banned until at least May 17.

It came as forty MPs, including former Cabinet minister Karen Bradley, sent the Prime Minister a letter urging him to avoid delaying the ban on travel.

The group of cross-party MPs warned that the country would not fully recover without a thriving tourism, travel and aviation industry and told the PM that foreign holidays were essential for the country’s economic rebound.

They stressed that it was ‘paramount that the restart of international travel provides the opportunity for businesses in the aviation, travel and tourism industries to begin their long journey back to recovery’.

Worth reading in full.