Day: 4 April 2021

MPs to Get Vote on Vaccine Passports

The Government risks being defeated in the Commons over Covid vaccine passports, which MPs will be given a vote on before being introduced. So far, 73 MPs have signed a pledge to oppose domestic vaccine passports. The Telegraph has the story.

MPs will be given a vote on plans for vaccine passports before they are introduced, risking a Government defeat in the Commons, the Telegraph has learnt.

Michael Gove, who is leading an official review of the scheme, has privately promised MPs who are critical of vaccine checks that they will be given a chance to vote them down.

More than 70 MPs, including 41 Conservatives, have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister opposing the use of vaccine passports. If more than around 60 Tory MPs rebel and all opposition parties refuse to support the passports, Mr Johnson could be defeated in the Commons, and the scheme abandoned.

Mr Gove held a phone call with a group of MPs about the measures last week, after dozens went public with their concerns.

One MP told this newspaper: “Michael made a very clear statement on the call with MPs that there would be debates and votes before anything like this came into force.”

The Government is currently conducting a review into a passport scheme and has not yet finalised any plans.

Earlier today, Michael Gove asked readers of his article in the Telegraph to “keep sharing their views on the way ahead” regarding Covid vaccine passports. Many of the responses were very amusing, and can be read here.

For the Government to be defeated in a Commons vote on Covid certification, Tory rebels would have to team up with Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

A source on Sunday night indicated that the shadow cabinet has not yet decided whether Labour MPs would be whipped to vote against the motion, but Sir Keir Starmer has previously said he would regard a passport scheme as “un-British”.

Clive Lewis, a Labour backbencher who opposes the passport plans, said many Labour MPs would join the rebels when the vote takes place.

“I imagine there is a calculation [in Labour HQ] that this is something for which there isn’t support across the party,” he said.

“It would also be an opportunity, if there is a large number of Tory rebels, to inflict a possible defeat on the Government which, especially with an 80 seat majority, is a rare opportunity.”

A vote in the Commons could see an unlikely alliance between libertarian Tory MPs and the Socialist Campaign Group, a caucus of MPs on the Left of the Labour Party. Both have been critical of any vaccine checks in the UK, other than for international travel.

Worth reading in full.

Sir Graham Brady, one of the leading anti-vaccine passport Tory MPs, has said that “we should be vigilant in defence of liberty, where the state has reached too far into our lives, we should kick it out”.

The idea of vaccination passports will seem to some like a short cut to freedom but on closer examination it makes no sense at all. According to the baby steps in the Government “roadmap” indoor hospitality resumes on May 17th but not all adults will have been offered vaccinations until July. Second doses will take much longer. To introduce ‘Covid Status Certificates’ when not every adult has been offered would be impractical, so pubs, restaurants and cinemas will have been operating safely for weeks – perhaps months – before the scheme could be put in place.

Meanwhile the high take up of vaccines among vulnerable groups has all but removed the risk of serious illness from Covid. The evidence is that the current vaccines are also effective against the variants that have been identified overseas. Against this backdrop, we should ask ourselves exactly which problem this scheme is intended to solve. If your answer is that we should introduce an intrusive, costly and unnecessary certification scheme just in case a future variant comes along that is impervious to our vaccine, then surely there would be no point whatsoever in having a phone app to tell the world that we’ve had the out of date vaccination?

He goes on to brand the banning of those without vaccine passports from events, such as concerts and football matches, as “divisive and discriminatory”.

Also worth reading in full.

Telegraph Readers Give Their Verdict on Michael Gove’s Vaccine Passport Proposals

Michael Gove has asked readers of his article in the Telegraph today to “keep sharing their views on the way ahead” regarding Covid vaccine passports.

Certification will be an inevitability for international travel. It could be a valuable aid to opening up our domestic economy and society faster. Unless the Government takes a lead we risk others establishing the rules of the road. So where should the lines be drawn to help protect freedoms, respect privacy, promote equality and get us back to normality? And how can we ensure our approach is proportionate and time-limited? Those are the questions we need to ask in the days ahead – and I know Telegraph readers will help us find common-sense answers.

Judging from some of the top-rated comments, Gove may regret having asked!

Sam Spencer (761 likes at the time of publication): Absolutely abhorrent idea, forcing a vaccine on people for a virus so deadly most people need to be tested to know that they have it… 

89 deaths for people under 40 in England without pre-existing health conditions (according to NHS statistics) – why on EARTH should we tolerate any more of this dictatorship?!

You and your party have completely misjudged the mood of the nation and to be quite frank with you most people aren’t listening to the “rules” anymore. You’ve become obsessed with Covid to the point where no other death matters, we’re all sick to death of the goalposts constantly shifting and the barrage of lies.

I, like clearly every other Tory voter here will be voting with our feet. You’re a disgrace.

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Nick Jones (790 likes): Why do we need any of this if 99% of those at risk of dying are now vaccinated?!

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David Barlett (780 likes): It’s a disgraceful idea without justification.

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Jane Kerr (217 likes): If the aim is to “get us back to normality”, then there is absolutely no role for Covid certification of any type. It absolutely is not normal to have to prove you’re not infected with any particular disease in order to participate in normal life.

Your own Government is warning vaccinated people they mustn’t meet indoors because the vaccine is not 100% effective, so it would be utterly nonsensical to allow/exclude people from anything on the basis of whether they are vaccinated or not. Vaccinated people can still catch/transmit Covid.

If this is allowed, don’t imagine it’ll stop with Covid: how long before everyone is being tested for flu twice a week, or any other virus the Government cares to conjure up as the new bogeyman?

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James Wright (303 likes): You needed to address in your article why you were previously against vaccine passports whereas now you are in favour of them.

And don’t pretend this is some kind of consultation – we all know you are pushing it through, regardless of what anyone says, and regardless of your previous public commitments.

Can’t you see you are the epitome of why politicians are distrusted?

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Peta Seel (911 likes): I didn’t get past the first paragraph. The average age of death worldwide of (or with) Covid is 82. Almost all of them were either very old, had severe underlying conditions or both. That hasn’t changed from the start. Children almost never get it. Few young people who get it even show symptoms. Worldwide deaths are under three million since the beginning of last year. Spanish flu killed 50 million, mostly young people, in the same time span. Now just go away, you lying, deceitful, power-hungry and power-grabbing charlatan.

Perhaps most plainly stated:

Clare Spencer (833 likes): No, no, no. That clear enough for you?

Read more comments at the bottom of Gove’s article here.

Stop Press: The Telegraph has published its own compendium of the best responses to Michael Gove’s article. Here’s one of the comments:

Jonathan Powell: “Absolutely and emphatically not. It is a terrible idea that will destroy freedom, divide society and enable government overreach. And that’s the best that could happen. The worst is more chilling than can be imagined. It should not even be discussed.”

Well worth reading in full.

Blood Clot Cases Could Reduce Take-up of AstraZeneca Vaccine Among Young Women

Younger people – particularly young women – may turn down the AstraZeneca vaccine because of fears about blood clotting, health officials have warned. Thirty blood clot cases were recorded after the first 18 million doses of the jab. Two-thirds of patients with these rare conditions are female. The Observer has the story.

Health officials are becoming increasingly worried that younger people will reject Covid jabs as concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to grow. A total of 30 cases of rare blood clots have been linked to the jab in the UK, resulting in seven deaths. Eighteen million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far.

It is feared that younger women will be particularly anxious and may refuse to accept the vaccine because two-thirds of patients with these types of blood clots are female.

The link with blood clots, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, CVST, has led Germany and the Netherlands to halt giving the vaccine to people under 60. However, the European Medicines Agency has said there is “no evidence” to support such restrictions, while the WHO has also urged countries to continue giving the jab.

Professor Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, said that it was not uncommon to get clusters of rare events purely by chance. “But once you find that cluster in one population and it then crops up in another – such as previously in the German and now in the English – then I think the chances of that being a random association is very, very low,” he said.

“Clearly more work needs to be done, but I think the evidence is shifting more towards it being causally related at the moment.” However, he added that the risks of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine were still far outweighed by the risks of not getting it.

Faith in the AstraZeneca vaccine has fallen on the Continent because of reports of blood clots. A recent survey suggested that concerns about the AZ jab are now widespread in Denmark. More Danes would decline to get an AZ vaccine than would refuse to get a Covid jab altogether, highlighting that lower take-up is not simply the product of general vaccine scepticism. Reuters reported:

One in three Danes would decline to get a Covid shot using AstraZeneca’s vaccine, local media outlets TV 2 and Politiken reported late on Wednesday, citing a recent survey. …

The survey, conducted by Megafon among 1,053 persons, showed 33% of Danes would decline to get a shot with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. However, only 7% would decline regardless of which Covid vaccine they were offered.

British officials fear that the same concerns may be emerging here.

The Observer’s report is worth reading in full.

Weekly Deaths in England and Wales Now Lowest Since 2014

There were 10,311 deaths registered in England and Wales during the week ending March 19th. The weekly number of deaths was below the five-year average in both nations, as this chart from the ONS indicates:

In a piece for The Observer, David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters note that 10,311 deaths is the lowest figure since 2014 for the same week (i.e., the week ending on or around March 19th). This is noteworthy, given that the number of deaths in England and Wales has been trending upward since 2011, due to population ageing (the increase in the number of people in the oldest age-groups).

The authors suggest several reasons why the number of deaths is so low at the moment. First, the weather is fairly mild. Second, because of the lockdown, there are fewer road accidents than usual (though this is a minor contributor).

Third, there are fewer flu deaths than usual: the influenza virus is less infectious than SARS-CoV-2 (it has a lower reproduction number) meaning that lockdowns and social distancing have resulted in fewer people catching flu this year. Fourth, some of the people who would have died now sadly lost their lives in the spring of 2020 or the winter of 2020-21 instead. (One could say their deaths were “brought forward” by the pandemic.)

Spiegelhalter and Masters’ article is worth reading in full.

PCR Expert: UK’s Testing System is a Mess, Monopolising PCR For Covid is Killing People and We Should Follow in Florida’s Footsteps

We’re publishing an interview today with Kevin McKernan, a PCR expert. He is the Chief Scientific Officer and founder of US company Medicinal Genomics, the former CSO of Courtagen Life Sciences Inc and former Vice President and Director of R&D of Life Technologies. He was also the President and CSO of Agencourt Personal Genomics, a start-up company he co-founded in 2005 to invent revolutionary sequencing technologies that dropped the cost of sequencing a human genome from $300 million to $3,000. According to McKernan, the UK’s testing system is “a mess” and not using PCR tests to diagnose other diseases, because all the reagents are being used to diagnose Covid, is “killing people”. He also thinks the UK’s glacial reopening is “madness” and that the we should follow in the footsteps of Florida. Here he is talking about the Lighthouse Labs:

It’s pretty messy in the Lighthouse Labs. They do not have a great reputation from the people I have interacted with there. The people who push back on the PCR thing are the lab folk who say, ‘Well, we found RNA there’ – and they probably did, they’re probably right about that. But what they couldn’t sort out is whether it was infectious RNA or not and they will say, ‘Well that’s not PCR’s job, that’s not our job.’ Well, if you are calling things medical cases off a single test then it is your job to figure out whether that person needs to be quarantined.

It’s a mess and it’s very heterogeneous data, you cannot assume all of the labs are running the same protocol, so that adds further to the smoke and mirrors. That’s why I’m sceptical that the people doing this actually care. You see what’s going on and it’s clearly a mess and anyone who brings it up gets shouted at. But it’s quite clear for anyone who is in the field and not on the gravy train. And there is clear evidence that it has false negatives too, which makes the whole contract tracing stuff a mirage. There’s reports of up to 30% false negatives, where the swab just doesn’t find anything and you get nothing even though you have it. For Matt Hancock to say that it [PCR test] is rock solid, he is just a moron.

There are ways to use PCR responsibly. You either run it twice, such as day one and day two and, if your viral load is going up, you’re on the front end of the infection curve. If it’s going down, you’re clearing it. But they’re just being lazy and don’t want to do it. There is no argument they can make that they [labs] can’t run it twice. They will say it doubles the amount of testing we have to do – they just scaled up 100 fold in a year, you can’t do twice to get accurate on this? They want positivity because positivity brings in more revenue. Once you’re positive, all your family members come in for testing. So they want that bar of positivity set as low as possible so as many people get sucked into the vacuum as possible. They’re financially motivated for false positives.

The interview is by Oliver May, a staff journalist at a national newspaper group. Oliver May is a pseudonym because the journalist is concerned that if he was to disclose his identity he would get into trouble at work.

Worth reading in full.

Thousands of Primary School Leavers Lack Basic Reading Skills After Months Out of the Classroom

The number of primary school leavers struggling with literacy has risen by 30,000 over the past year, taking the total up to over 200,000. In the past 12 months 840 million days of in-person schooling have been lost. The Sunday Times has the story.

More than 200,000 pupils will move from primary school to secondary school this autumn without being able to read properly, according to unpublished Government figures.

The findings, which have sent a jolt through Downing Street, show the impact of lockdown on learning, with the number of children struggling with literacy rising by 30,000 over the past year.

Boris Johnson will use a key speech to launch a “four-year emergency” plan to help disadvantaged children catch up.

Senior Government sources said the problem was the prime minister’s top priority after the coronavirus vaccination programme and would remain a central focus until the next election.

A week ago Johnson met Sir Kevan Collins, who is leading a review of the impact of the coronavirus on schoolchildren. He is said to have “put a rocket up” No 10 about the scale of the crisis. …

At his Downing Street press conference on March 23rd, the prime minister said: “It’s the loss of learning for so many children and young people that’s the thing we’ve got to focus on now as a society.” He expressed concern about those “unable properly to read or write as a result of Covid”.

A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner drew attention to the damage done to education by the lockdown policy.

A report by the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, found that about 840 million days of in-person schooling, equal to roughly 19 weeks a pupil, had been lost since the start of the pandemic until March 8th.

De Souza called last night for a “supercharged educational catch-up”. She said: “We asked children to make a huge sacrifice to help control the virus and now we need to give them something back.”

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Scientific American Compares Lockdown Sceptics to Stalin and Accuses Them of Causing ‘Mass Death’

Lockdown sceptics are akin to mass-murdering Russian dictator Joseph Stalin in promoting “antiscience” and causing “mass death”, an article in Scientific American has claimed. The inflammatory piece by Peter J. Hotez, a Professor of Paediatrics and Molecular Virology at Baylor College of Medicine (he’s on Twitter if you want to contact him), lights into sceptics for dismissing the severity of the epidemic, attributing Covid deaths to other causes, claiming the epidemic would eventually end by itself, and downplaying the importance of masks.

“Antiscience has emerged as a dominant and highly lethal force, and one that threatens global security, as much as do terrorism and nuclear proliferation,” he writes. The world must therefore “mount a counteroffensive and build new infrastructure to combat antiscience, just as we have for these other more widely recognised and established threats”.

His thinly-veiled summons to a new global regime of anti-lockdown censorship continues:

Containing antiscience will require work and an interdisciplinary approach. For innovative and comprehensive solutions, we might look at interagency task forces in the U.S. Government or among the agencies of the United Nations… We must be prepared to implement a sophisticated infrastructure to counteract this, similar to what we have already done for more established global threats. Antiscience is now a large and formidable security issue.

Hotez defines antiscience as “the rejection of mainstream scientific views and methods or their replacement with unproven or deliberately misleading theories, often for nefarious and political gains”. He singles out the American Institute of Economic Research (AIER), the Great Barrington Declaration, Trump coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University as purveyors of antiscience, accusing this movement (without evidence) of targeting prominent scientists and attempting to discredit them. Without pausing for a moment of self-reflection, he then launches into a gratuitous smear-by-association of his own, likening his targets to Stalin and his eccentric guru Trofin Lysenko:

The destructive potential of antiscience was fully realized in the U.S.S.R. under Joseph Stalin. Millions of Russian peasants died from starvation and famine during the 1930s and 1940s because Stalin embraced the pseudoscientific views of Trofim Lysenko that promoted catastrophic wheat and other harvest failures. Soviet scientists who did not share Lysenko’s “vernalisation” theories lost their positions or, like the plant geneticist, Nikolai Vavilov, starved to death in a gulag.

Now antiscience is causing mass deaths once again in this COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s right. Anyone who disagrees with “mainstream scientific views” on lockdowns (the ones that appeared just over a year ago and which flew in the face of the WHO’s advice about how to manage pandemics) is basically Stalin and responsible for mass deaths. This, apparently, is what passes for respectful and reasoned discourse in the pages of Scientific American.

Bizarrely, and with a strong political slant, he then claims that scepticism about lockdowns and the official narrative on Covid stem from a movement “that began modestly under a health freedom banner adopted by the Republican Tea Party in Texas” in 2015.

So it’s not because the radical new authoritarian approach to pandemic management contradicted all the science and official advice from before 2020. It’s not because people are free thinkers who can see for themselves that there was no great disaster in Sweden, South Dakota, Florida or Tanzania. It’s because of the insidious influence of a grassroots conservative movement begun in Texas five years earlier. That’s very flattering to the health freedom movement and the Tea Party, I’m sure, but also completely inadequate as an explanation as to why so many eminent scientists and others are not convinced by the new lockdown orthodoxy. Seems the lockdowners are partial to a few conspiracy theories of their own.

As for the claims Hotez identifies as “antiscience”, let’s take a closer look at them.