Month: April 2021

12 Year-Old Schoolgirl Suing School for “Requiring” Pupils to Wear Face Masks

MailOnline has picked up on the story we’ve been highlighting in our daily newsletter for over a week: a 12 year-old schoolgirl is suing a Sheffield multi-academy trust for “requiring and encouraging” pupils to wear face masks. The case is being supported by lawyers at the Law or Fiction group.

A schoolgirl is suing a school for “requiring” pupils to wear face masks which she says “risks causing children serious harm” to their physical and mental health. 

The pupil is suing the Tapton Academy School Trust, which runs a number of primary and secondary schools in the Sheffield area, to stop it from “requiring or encouraging” children to wear masks at school to prevent the spread of Covid.

The 12 year-old, known only as AB, who is exempt from wearing a mask at school, says mask-wearing could lead to “long-term” harm.

But the Trust argues that it only encourages the wearing of masks, in line with Government guidance, in order to protect children, staff and visitors.

The Trust also says that 120 members of staff across its various schools, representing more than 10% of its total staff, have contracted coronavirus since the end of August last year.

At a remote hearing today, AB’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant an interim injunction preventing her school and the Trust from making children wear masks.

Francis Hoar, representing AB, told the court: “The school’s policy risks causing children serious harm to their physical health and their mental health.” …

“If the Trust had done its job properly… it would have gathered evidence and reached a view as to the effectiveness of this particular measure, but it has done no such thing.

“There is no evidence, effectively, of the efficacy of these instruments that are supposedly necessary to avoid the risk of transmission of the virus.”

He argued in written submissions: “The available evidence shows that not only is there no additional risk of transmission of the virus in school settings but also that, by comparison to any ordinary social or work setting, the risk is likely to be lower given the extremely low prevalence of the virus in schools.”

Mr Hoar accepted that AB did not have to wear a mask at school, but added: “The child is still faced with a school environment where a child, save those who are disabled should, must rather, wear masks, and that is enforced, the child says, aggressively.”

Worth reading in full.

If you want to contribute to AB’s CrowdJustice fundraiser, you can find it here.

Public Inquiry into Government’s Handling of Covid Should Be Launched “as Soon as Possible”, Says Lord Fowler

Pressure is building on the Prime Minister to launch a public inquiry into his Government’s handling of Covid, as the outgoing Lord Speaker said a probe should take place before “memories fade”. Lord Fowler’s concern, predictably enough, is that the first lockdown might not have been implemented soon enough. MailOnline has the story.

The outgoing Lord Speaker has piled the pressure on Boris Johnson to launch a formal public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

Lord Fowler, who is stepping down today after five years in the role, said a probe should be held “as soon as possible” and before “memories fade”. 

Lord Fowler, who served as Tory health secretary between 1981 and 1987 in Margaret Thatcher’s Government, said the inquiry should be “automatic” and should focus on whether there was a “delay” to announcing the first lockdown last March.

The peer is the latest high profile figure to call on the Prime Minister to launch the inquiry after Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the same earlier this month. 

Mr Johnson has committed to holding a probe into the crisis but he is yet to set out a timetable for it to begin…

He had originally committed to a public inquiry last July, telling the House of Commons: “As I have told the House several times, I do not believe that now in the middle of combatting still as we are a pandemic, is the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry.”

Lord Fowler – quoted in the MailOnline report – told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that he supports those who believe the first lockdown should have been introduced earlier rather than those who are sceptical of the alleged benefits of lockdowns.

I think that what concerns me is that I would support those who are saying that there should be an inquiry into the early stages of whether there was a delay in the lockdown.

Because if there was we would want to know why and if it was in the face of medical advice then that is quite a hurdle because I think that politicians need to be guided by the best medical advice in positions of this kind. 

So I would back an inquiry into this area. Incidentally, inquiries of this kind should be automatic. 

But what I also think is that the inquiry should take place as soon as possible. 

Worth reading in full.

Small Proportion of Vaccinated People Have Died Of Covid – and Most Caught the Virus before the Vaccine Could Have Taken Effect

NHS data shows that only a very small proportion of people who have received a Covid vaccine have been admitted to hospital with the virus and died. Around 70% of these people caught Covid before the vaccine would be expected to work, according to a new study, and many were also elderly and frail. The Guardian has the story.

A small number of people vaccinated against Covid have been admitted to hospital with the disease and died, researchers have found, but most were frail and elderly and caught the virus before the jab could have taken effect.

Scientists say their findings are reassuring. They bear out the conclusions of trials of the vaccines in use in the U.K., which show the jabs are highly effective but do not protect everyone.

The ISARIC/Co-CIN study was designed to give the Government’s scientific advisory body, SAGE, an early signal of whether or not the vaccines were working. 

“We’re saying that the vaccine does work. In fact, this is good real-world evidence of it working, but there are some few failures. And when these failures do occur, sadly, people die, but that’s because they’re elderly and frail,” said Professor Calum Semple, a Co-Lead of ISARIC (International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium).

More than 52,000 people were admitted to hospital with Covid in England, Scotland and Wales between December 8th and March 10th. Of those, 3,842 had been vaccinated. The researchers had information on the date of the first dose of vaccine for 3,598 of them and information on the date of a second dose for 140.

The vaccines would not be expected to work fully until three weeks after they were given, said Dr Annemarie Docherty, an Honorary Consultant in Critical Care at the University of Edinburgh. Most of those admitted post-vaccination were infected just before or in the couple of weeks after receiving their jab. The median time from vaccination to symptoms in the study was 15 days.

“Around 71% of the vaccinated patients that we have in hospital in Isaric developed their symptoms before the vaccine would be expected to work,” she said. “So we’re really only talking about 29% of these patients where we would have hoped the vaccine to prevent hospital admission.”

A total of 526 patients out of 52,000 (1%) had been vaccinated more than three weeks before they developed Covid symptoms and were hospitalised. Of those, 113 died. Most of them (97) were in the two highest risk categories, so frail, elderly or otherwise highly vulnerable.

Worth reading in full.

Lancet Paper Claims Zero Covid Is a Sensible Strategy, but It’s Not Very Convincing

Yesterday, a short paper titled “SARS-CoV-2 elimination, not mitigation, creates best outcomes for health, the economy, and civil liberties” was published in The Lancet. The authors claim, “Countries that consistently aim for elimination – i.e., maximum action to control SARS-CoV-2 and stop community transmission as quickly as possible – have generally fared better than countries that opt for mitigation – i.e., action increased in a stepwise, targeted way to reduce cases so as not to overwhelm health-care systems.”

This claim is supported by three charts, each comparing “OECD countries opting for elimination” with “OECD countries opting for mitigation” (see below). The first chart shows that “OECD countries opting for elimination” had fewer deaths per million; the second shows that they had smaller declines in GDP; and the third shows that they had less restrictive lockdowns.

The authors note, “With the proliferation of new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, many scientists are calling for a coordinated international strategy to eliminate SARS-CoV-2.” They also note, “Countries that opt to live with the virus will likely pose a threat to other countries” whereas those “opting for elimination are likely to return to near normal”.

One might be tempted to conclude that “elimination” (or “Zero Covid” as it’s sometimes termed) is a sensible strategy going forward. However, I don’t find the authors’ analysis very convincing.

First, they don’t explain how they classified countries as either “opting for elimination” or “opting for mitigation”. For example, did they simply look at outcomes (which would be circular), or did they examine statements by politicians from the spring of last year? (E.g., “This Government will pursue an elimination strategy.”) It’s not clear.

Only five countries were classified as “opting for elimination”: Australia, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. All other OECD countries were classified as “opting for mitigation”. It may have occurred to you that the five “eliminationist” countries are not exactly representative. Four are islands and one is a peninsula (with a fairly impenetrable border to the north). Two are East Asian. And in fact, these two – Japan and South Korea – are the only East Asian countries in the OECD.

As I argued in a piece for Quillette, all the Western countries that have kept their death rates low are geographically peripheral countries that imposed strict border controls at the start (Norway and Finland, plus a few islands). Their geographic circumstances not only made border controls practical, but also gave them a head start in responding to the pandemic.

It’s very unlikely that large, highly connected countries like France, Italy or the US would have been able to contain the virus during the deadly first wave. And although Britain is an island, we probably wouldn’t have been able to either. The epidemic was already more advanced in London and other international hubs by the time most Western countries introduced lockdowns and social distancing.

In other words, “elimination” was probably never a realistic option for Britain and other large Western countries – even if it could have a passed a cost-benefit test. But what about Japan and South Korea?

Although South Korea did use a combination of early lockdowns and strict border controls to contain the virus, the same cannot be said for Japan. According to the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, Japan has had only two days of mandatory business closures and zero days of mandatory stay-at-home orders since the pandemic began. (And the two days of mandatory business closures were the 25th and 26th of April this year.)

Japan did introduce border controls quite early, which may have protected it during the first wave. However, these were not sufficient to prevent an epidemic from burgeoning in the winter of 2020–21. (By early February, the number of daily deaths was in the 90s.) Yet this epidemic retreated without any real lockdown measures being imposed, which suggests that some other cultural or biological factor accounts for Japan’s success.

Second, even if you believe an “elimination” strategy was feasible for Britain and other large Western countries in the early weeks of the pandemic, that ship has arguably sailed. This is particularly true for Britain, where almost 70% of adults now have COVID antibodies. In other words: while it might have been sensible to “eliminate” the virus last spring (assuming that was possible), the costs of doing so now would almost certainly outweigh the benefits.

Overall, the Lancet study does not provide a strong case for “elimination” of COVID-19. And in fact, a survey by Nature of 119 experts found that 89% believe it is “likely” or “very likely” that SARS-CoV-2 will become an endemic virus. As Michael Osterholm – an American epidemiologist – noted, “Eradicating this virus right now from the world is a lot like trying to plan the construction of a stepping-stone pathway to the Moon. It’s unrealistic.”

22 Million Brits Are Living In Areas That Have Seen Zero Covid Deaths in a Month

Fear of Covid may not be subsiding in the U.K., but the virus is. New Government data shows that a third of Britain has seen zero Covid deaths so far in the month of April. Some areas have gone even longer without reporting a single Covid death – 57 days in Plymouth and two whole months in Oxford and Maidstone. MailOnline has the story.

Around 22 million people are living in areas across the U.K. where there have been no Covid deaths so far in April, official figures revealed today. 

Data from the Government’s Covid dashboard suggests the threat of the virus has almost been eradicated in a third of the country, despite everyone still being subjected to harsh lockdown restrictions. 

It marks a seismic shift from the U.K.’s dire situation in January at the height of the second wave, when fewer than 50,000 Britons were in places with zero coronavirus victims during that month.

Analysis by BBC News shows some areas have gone even longer than a month without reporting a Covid death – Plymouth last recorded one 57 days ago and Oxford and Maidstone, in Kent, have gone two months.

The statistics, which go up to April 29th, show fewer than 600 deaths within 28 days of a positive test have been reported this month, compared with more than 30,000 throughout the same period in January.

More than half (56%) of local authorities in Scotland haven’t yet recorded a virus fatality this April, with only Glasgow posting more than nine so far.

In England 44% of authorities are yet to record one. The areas are scattered all over the country, showing how the situation is improving everywhere and is not limited to certain regions…

England faces at least seven more weeks of restrictions. June 21st has been earmarked as the earliest possible date that most curbs can be lifted. The rest of the U.K. has yet to announce when it will drop measures.

Given the waning of Covid across much of the U.K., along with the success of the vaccine rollout and the damage which continues to be inflicted on so many aspects of our lives because of lockdown, how can the Government continue to justify the implementation of lockdown measures until June 21st (at the earliest)?

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

News Round Up

We Need to Hear Much More About Florida and Texas and Less About the Latest Covid Hotspots

Would that journalists and broadcasters paid as much attention to places with no restrictions doing fine as they do to the latest places experiencing a Covid surge.

All eyes are currently on India and especially Delhi where, after a year of little impact, the virus is making its nasty presence felt. But as Ivor Cummins points out, India for whatever reason has a long way to go to catch up with countries in Europe and the Americas when it comes to Covid deaths. The country is not a good comparison for the UK where the virus is endemic and substantial population immunity is now present.

If only our media would spend as much time telling the population about how Florida lifted its restrictions back in September, how South Dakota never had any, and how Texas and Mississippi reopened in full at the start of March, as they do telling us about how many people are in hospital in Delhi. The latest positive-test data for these open states is in the graph above, along with two other light-restriction states, South Carolina and Georgia. Note the conspicuous lack of surge despite being basically back to normal. What more evidence do our politicians and scientists need that the threat from the virus is overblown and does not warrant social restrictions or emergency measures? Is the Government interested in data which contradict their preferred narrative?

The Telegraph today is reporting that as of June 21st – another seven weeks away – Brits will be permitted once again to attend large events without anti-social and uneconomic distancing requirements and hug one another. Our ultra-cautious scientists are advising that these things might just be okay by then. Though in case you might have thought they would then end the seemingly endless state of emergency, they have said measures such as staggering entries to venues accommodating large groups and good ventilation will still be required. What part of normal don’t they understand?

Nor is there any indication of a move to return international travel to normal, as the country faces more limitations on travel this summer – when most of the country is vaccinated – than last summer – when nobody was. What this has to do with following the science is, as ever, unclear.

What’s strange is that even in America where parts of their own country are living free and showing that the measures aren’t needed, state governments, with popular support and backed by federal agencies, just carry on with their restrictions, lifting them only very slowly and with no obvious commitment to bringing them finally to an end. It’s as though people don’t want to know. Too much has been invested in the lockdown narrative, it seems, for people to be able to cope psychologically with the trauma of facing the truth that it is fundamentally false. Too many reputations are at risk. Too many interests coincide.

Are we doomed to live forever in this Covid state of emergency? I confess it is hard to see what will prompt governments to bring it to an end, now that we live in permanent fear of the appearance of variants and believe we must continually top up the whole world’s antibodies through rolling annual programmes of vaccinations. One of the most depressing thoughts is I find it almost impossible to imagine Boris Johnson facing the camera and announcing: “My friends, our ordeal is over. The data is clear. The virus is now one among many hazards with which we daily must live. Vaccines are available to the vulnerable, as are effective treatments, and we will continually strive to find the safest ways to protect those at risk from this and other illnesses. It is time to resume our old lives. I declare the state of emergency to be over.”

Will we ever reach a point where we no longer even think about whether some activity is “Covid secure”? Where we no longer see our fellow human beings as sources of infection? It would be good to hear much more often from the Government that this is where it believes we are headed, sooner rather than later.

23% Of British Health Workers Wary of Covid Vaccine, According to New Research

New research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, suggests that almost a quarter of British healthcare workers are hesitant about taking a Covid vaccine. Key reasons include concern about the speed of vaccine development, presuming Covid immunity because of previous infection and a lack of trust in the Government. As expected, ethnicity was also a major factor. The Guardian has the story.

Up to a quarter of British healthcare workers have expressed hesitancy towards Covid vaccines, the first comprehensive study of NHS and care staff suggests. Conspiracy beliefs, a paucity of black and ethnic minority participants in vaccine trials, or assuming immunity to Covid because of previous infection were some of the key reasons cited.

“Understanding these drivers is important, because without this understanding you can’t implement any interventions,” said Dr Manish Pareek, Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester who led the study.

Pareek and his colleagues previously identified lower rates of vaccine uptake among black and south Asian health staff, workers under 30, and those living in more deprived areas. To better understand the reasons for this hesitancy, they recruited 11,584 clinical and non-clinical staff working for the NHS and other health providers, such as dental practices and pharmacies. As well as completing detailed questionnaires about their attitudes to Covid vaccination, some of the participants were interviewed more extensively to better understand their concerns.

The research… found that 23% of health staff, were hesitant about Covid vaccines, and that hesitancy was more common among BAME health workers, particularly those from black Caribbean groups. However, some white healthcare workers were also hesitant, particularly those in white other ethnic groups. Younger staff, pregnant women and those who had not taken up the flu vaccine were also more hesitant – as were those who had previously tested positive for Covid…

Other leading reasons for hesitancy included concerns about how safe the vaccine was due to the speed of development and – particularly for black African and Caribbean health workers – the lack of ethnic diversity in vaccine studies. Experiences of discrimination and structural inequalities also contributed to hesitancy among these groups.

New NHS data shows that almost a fifth of staff at older care homes in England have still not had a first dose of a Covid vaccine. The Government is currently conducting a consultation on whether to make Covid vaccination a “condition of deployment” for care home staff.

The Guardian’s report is worth reading in full.

Update on EU’s Vaccine Passport Scheme

We have an update today on yesterday’s vote in the European Parliament, which essentially waved through the Commission’s plans to roll out a vaccine passport scheme across the EU, which we covered yesterday. This is a guest post from a source within the EU.

In Brussels yesterday the European Parliament adopted a negotiating position on the Commission’s Digital Green Certificate proposal. 575 MEPs voted for a compromise text, with 80 against and 40 abstentions.

Voting took place remotely after three hours of speeches to a mostly empty chamber.

The Commission’s desire to create a universal system of health check points within the EU was apparent before the Plenary Session. During the debate it became increasingly clear that these checks will be taking place beyond Member State borders.

MEPs were resigned to passing the Regulation in order to “return to normal” even if it “puts Schengen at stake”.

Voter concerns that European society would be divided were occasionally relayed, usually as a prefix to a bald statement that the DGC would neither discriminate nor function as a pass for entry into Member States.

A handful of MEPs asked to examine the Proposal more critically.

With Parliament’s approval – and the three EU Institutions already in alignment – negotiations between Commission, Council and Parliament on the final text will be a mere formality.

We can expect the rubberstamp by June, ushering in a sophisticated and probably enduring system of health checks across Europe, enhanced by the draconian Passenger Locator Form, also on its way to becoming law.

Arizonan Parents Take Over School Board and Reverse Mask Mandate

Earlier this month Arizonan Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order lifting the requirement for staff and pupils to wear face masks at school. The order also permitted school districts and charter schools to “institute and enforce” mask-wearing policies – among other “anti-Covid” measures – if they so wished. The Post Millennial has published a great report on how some parents in Vale, Arizona, responded when they found out that their local school board had decided to keep the mask mandate in place.

The school board in the town of Vail, Arizona, had implemented a mask mandate in public schools. Parents weren’t having it, so they showed up at the Vail School Board meeting to tell the Board to make the masks optional. Even before the meeting began, the Board walked out in protest.

So what did the parents do? On Tuesday, they voted in a new School Board on the spot, then voted to end mandatory masking in Vail Schools. Parents gathered outside the School Board meeting to make their positions known…

Vail was one of those school districts that decided to continue the mask mandate through the end of the school year, noting that they intended to discuss the plans. In response, parents showed up at the scheduled meeting to state their preference for the masking orders to be lifted.

With parents in the parking lot, carrying signs that read “unmask the kids”, the School Board cancelled the meeting right before it was set to start. They cited “safety concerns”.

After the Board cancelled the meeting, the parents demanded to speak with the Board. Only a few were allowed to do so, while the rest crowded into the building. The Sheriff was called in. It didn’t quell the parents or their demands to free their kids from masking in schools.

One parent told local news: “These are my rights as a parent and they don’t get to decide how I raise them and what I believe is true and factual. It’s disgusting what’s being done and I don’t agree with it. I don’t. When you look at the flu, it also causes death. It also hurts people.” …

A video of the aftermath of the School Board walkout shows parents organising and taking charge in a very orderly, if impassioned way. They figure out how many School Board members are needed, and go about nominating, seconding, and confirming School Board members who are eligible to serve, based on the Roberts Rule of Order.

Once the fifth School Board member was elected, the brand new Vail School Board took up a meeting, and the first order of business was to do exactly what their predecessors had refused to do – make masking optional.

One of the new Board members, Anastasia, says: “I motion that the entire Vail School District be free of mask policy and it will be optional to all teachers and students alike, with no fear of retribution.”

Amid cheering, another Board Member seconds the motion, and it passes unanimously.

A great example of change being brought about from the grassroots up. But will the local authorities allow it to pass?

“School officials say district leaders are working on a letter to send to all parents as a reminder that the mask mandate remains in place,” reported local news.

Worth reading in full.